Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beatboxing with a Didgiridoo

Some weeks are like makeshift festivals in your life, adrenaline rushes, exhausted collapses, highs and lows. Hard to get perspective. And sometimes the only thing to do is to "pull yourself out of the oxygen tent" and carry on, and carry on.

Starting a new project always involves a lot of work, and energy, particularly when the kick off meeting takes place in Brussels with a room full of 40 or more people. As an "old hand" you find yourself explaining, talking, explaining again. Brussels is my current favourite grey, rainy city, and nice food, good beer and wine, and a little bar where I danced with a panoply of European colleagues to "Exodus" by Bob Marley, was somehow fitted in between two flights, and 18 hours of meetings. Returning to Manchester on Friday afternoon, I felt tired, but reasonably exhilarated, but keen to get back to normal life whatever that is.

I'd said I'd pop to TV21 for the launch of the Death Jeans album by local band Monkeys In Love. I've only heard them briefly before and this was the first time I've seen them. Riot Grrrl meets Swell Maps, with an added bit of their own art school surreality would sum them up, all in a good, unpretentious way as well. Several support acts were also entertaining including the second (?) gig by Manchester writing stalwarts David Gaffney and Clare Conlon. Taking the short story places it doesn't know it wants to go, Gaffney has previously given Powerpoints a good name in his performance, and he's now gone further off piste, with Conlon reciting his words whilst he plink plonks on a portable keyboard, and in the background, images sail by. Gaffney's tragicomic stories of everyday life are funny and poignant at the same time, though afterwards he said that some people had complained about his Greggs-obsessed opener. I thought it was hilarious (and I went to a comprehensive, so there!) So a good, vibrant, only Manchester can do this kind of night... at least if you could screen out the dickheads and idiots that seemed to be out in full force in the Northern Quarter that evening. Thin-skinned after a tiring week, I remembered why I don't often go out in town. Not that anything bad happened, just the atmosphere was always walking that tightrope of the tense.

So, given that, and the dull reality of the mountains of work that await my return, I was feeling a little battered down; but dragged myself out of bed to go to Liverpool where our little group of "north west poets" met for the 3rd time. Always invigorating, was pleased to discover a little of the Welsh poet, David Jones, who's declamatory style seems to predate Geoffrey Hill, and brought me to musing over the lexicons we now use, and whether my generation - whether religious or not - are the last where the King James Version runs throughout our cultural identity. More of that another time. Coming back into Manchester, and with an hour before I met a friend I sat in Kro opposite the university, having walked down the carnage-zone that is Oxford Road. Manchester seems to have a particularly feral edge at the moment, and almost every town bar you go into has someone drunk and potentially dangerous. Over the road at Big Hands, the post-Kaiser Chiefs crowd wasn't there yet, but Guy Garvey of Elbow was, and seeing how gracious he was with the couple of young fans who came over for a chat and a photograph, was a reminder of what real Mancunia is.

But if I've felt pretty tired of our dysfunctional, self-obsessed, dog-eat-dog city this last couple of weeks, last night at the Contact Theatre remind me that I'd miss it if I was gone. Audio Visual Meditations saw Baba Israel and a number of musicians and video producers put on two sets of improvisational music and visuals linked by video conferencing between NYC and Manchester. With no noticeable latency, a sitar player and vocaliser in New York (Neel Murgai) jammed with a guitarist and double bass player in Manchester, with Baba providing electronic beats and a range of acoustic instruments. A warm, late night, ever evolving set that had numerous melodic highlights (such as when classical double bassist Micheal Cretu "duelled banjos" a little, "trade some eights," said Baba, with Murgai's sitar). At one point, conjurer Israel pulled out a didgiridoo from beneath the desk and preceded to beatbox through it, definitely a first. Overpinning it all, VJ-mixed visuals from the two guys who make up Albino Mosquito and a live visualisation by a New York artist, provided a visual accompaniment to the beautifully balanced sound palette.

It's strange isn't it - the experimental poetry crowd, the digital art crowd, the classical music crowd, the jazz crowd and others would have loved this live collaboration - but though free, the audience was mostly appreciative friends of the Contact Theatre. I'd say its one of the most unexpected and edifying musical experiences I'd had in Manchester for ages. I'm quite into the improvisational at the moment, and if at some times all improvisational music edges into King Crimson territory, this is more because Crimson were one of the greatest bands ever, than because of any tendency to cliche. The mix of electronic and acoustic instruments, and the willingness to use Schwitters-like vocalisations in the multi layered live mix, provides a salutory lesson for so called "real" or "live" music. A one-off collaboration - but hopefully something that will be regularly played around with. Next time, make sure you're there.

Sunday is therefore my shortened weekend, with a lot to come next week. I've writing projects to work on, as well as my February "single". The sun, unexpectedly is shining on this computer screen. All is well in Mancunia.

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