Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Upside to Downturn with Downsize Reprise

Belated bleating return to the lately neglected posting.
Last Friday saw the long awaited return of Downsizesound, a sort of preparatory post-apocalyptic hoe-down.

Volk-mensch Drew Wright aka Wounded Knee ("A man hard at play"- Plan B, "a collaboration between Scatman John, Steve Reich and Alasdair Roberts"- Alternative Ulster, "Tuvan-Paul Robeson throat singing"- Buzz, "We won’t be needlessly cruel, but avant-garde is still French for bullshit"- NME) was joined by Alisdair Roberts, Issho Taiko Drummers and One Ensemble's Peter Nicholson for an evening of strange, ageless chicanery, electricity free.

Wright's opening gong assisted incantation welcomed us in a cheery, well considered hymn before getting down to his purple scanties, jaunty socks and snug fitting vest in a shameless piece of exhibitionism designed to get a large turnout on side. Mission accomplished and away we went. Plugged in the Knee ranges over a lot of territory, incorporating ideas from super traditional Scottish folk to noise, to Sun Ravian freeness, to house music and out to a ever sprawling transit through world musics. In downsizing he still managed to fit a lot in, an audience-assisted noise piece dedicated to ill friend, collaborator and drone prince Fordell Research Unit, some old favourites (21st century worksong "Lanyard", the hummable, plaintive ecological call of "Canary"), devastating, age-old folk songs like "Glenlogie" and "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" were interspersed with illuminating and engaging introductions to the songs and great singers and recordings of them. He finished positing the interesting and convincing theory that come a world where our worst predictions are realised that the humble cassette tape will be our only remaining available connection with recorded history before wondering whether his final tape would be the ones we treasure more. He pressed play on a battery operated tape machine and a tape of birdcall, complete with RP-inflected commentary. A magical and evocative beginning from someone who is clearly comfortable in their skin, practice and possessed of a burgeoning creative energy. Well done fella!

A quick pee and beer break later and One Ensemble's Peter Nicolson launched into a stirring set with a (open to correction) Central European folk song that suits his soaring voice and cello to a t. He played a longer free piece that was riveting, as he careened up to the bridge, playing high, jarring staccato, jagged wrong notes and leaping around matching his voice to each and every note. I don't know enough about Nicolson's work to speculate but he's a virtuosic player without ever shutting an audience out, although some people I spoke to found it really intense, coiled and nervy and dark. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I was a bit overawed by the Alasdair Roberts performance, had heard a couple of his albums but never really returned to them, this was the first time I was able to see him live after repeatedly been too lazy to go and see him. It's difficult to describe the music he makes, you could call it folk or traditional or even stick him alongside the likes of Smog or Will Oldham or Joanna Newsom but I don't think it really does him justice. Some of the new songs from his new album "Spoils" are absolutely fantastic, especially "Eternal Return" and a hilarious and cynical about the three aspects of Man that inspire us all to be "complete bastards". His lyrics are complex and on the surface can seem a bit hokey, there's much talk of types of trees and birds and esoteric heraldry but have a pleasantly baffling contemporary resonance. He's a really inquiring, questing writer and his lyricism is occasionally flabbergasting. Sometimes when he delivers a line it's a bit like the sun coming out, it actually warms your face to hear it, the lines elemental inevitability is exhiliarating. Steady!

To finish the evening off we had the Ishoo Taiko Drummers. Four Taiko drums dominated the setup all evening and I alternated between excitement and apprehension, I've been to too many places where bombastic, directive massed drumming completely batters any sense of nuance out of a performance. Ishoo are a fundamentally "plugged" group, as a band member said early on the show required a significant rethink of how they'd perform. A beautiful introductory piece with restrained taiko tempos, acoustic guitars and flickering flute stops quickly dispelled any fear this was going to be a juddering, predictable drum circle. A later piece used four tuned acoustic guitars played with steel skewers, letting the reverberations echo through the space. A later piece saw two performers demonstrate the xylophone's hypnotic synthy possibilities in a piece that was strongly reminiscent to everything that's wonderful about Steve Reich, a sort of motorik, percussive Mogwai.

I ended up buying a CDR on the strength of the performance which was a great end to an interesting and varied evening. Well done and thanks to Drew to organising it.

Hopefully I'll get some pictures from the evening.
Everyone loves pictures of a man in purple pants.

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