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Awakenings “Dutch Night”, Paget High School, Branston, Staffordshire, 13th September 2014

Line-up:
Ron Boots and Friends:
Ron Boots (synthesizers, sequencers)
Eric Van Der Heijden (synthesizers, electronic woodwind)
Harold Van der Heijden (drums)
Frank Dorritke (guitar)

Rene Splinter

Beyond Berlin:
Martin Peters (synthesizers, sequencers)
Rene de Bakker (synthesizers, sequencers)

Venue:
Paget High School Business & Enterprise College
Burton Road
Branston
Burton on Trent
Staffs
DE14 3DR

The Awakenings Evening of Ambient and Electronic Music is held four to five times a year and is a series of live ambient, electronic and experimental performances that showcase both new and establish artists in these fields. These performance are frequented by fans and electronic music artists alike, they are expertly organised by electronic music artists, namely Phil Booth, Martin Greenwood and Jez Creek.

This particular Awakenings evening was quite special because the three acts on the bill hailed from the Netherlands and possibly represent the very best that country has to offer at this time. Walking into the auditorium was like walking into a synth-nerd’s wet dream – it was pure wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling synth porn.

bbawake139140005acopyrightFirst on the bill this evening were duo, Beyond Berlin, comprising Martin Peters and Rene de Bakker. As their name strongly suggests, their music is very much in the traditional Berlin School style of electronic music, featuring long repetitive sequences over-laid with electronic textures and synthesizer leads. Their set was a tour-de-force of analog sequencer-based music, going very much back to the basics pioneered by the likes of Tangerine Dream. Without doubt, it was the perfect start for the evening, as their excellent cosmic space music really set the mood for what lay ahead. And one thing that I must mention, purely because it reinforced the sense of it really being live was that they had to take a short break between the second and third tracks to re-patch their modular synthesizers – now THAT is live music and more power to them for it. As far as the set as a whole was concerned, a fine demonstration of quality sequencing, great textures and soaring leads making it a very enjoyable start to the proceedings.

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renesplawake139140005acopyrightNext up was one artist that I personally was looking forward to – Rene Splinter. I had seen Rene perform live in 2013 at the E-Day Electronic Music Event in Holland (I was playing in the electronic rock group Code Indigo who performed immediately after Rene’s set on that day), and was blown away by his music. On this night, he did not disappoint, his set was simply stunning. Performing his brand new “Frames” album, which was released at this event, with assistance from Eric and Harold van der Heijden and Frank Dorritke on two tracks, Rene performed an incredibly powerful set that was strong on content with it’s high quality blend of melody, form and performance. With music and performance of this standard, it’s no exaggeration to state that Rene Splinter is now one of the best electronic music artists in the Netherlands at this time, something echoed by his contemporaries. A highly recommended act to catch live.

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And so we came to our third and final treat for the night, Ron Boots and Friends. When one talks about the Dutch Masters, I no longer simply think of the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, and certainly not when you have Ron Boots about. Ron is a part of what you think of as a third generation of electronic music artists and has been making and performing since the mid-1980’s. A larger than life character, he brings bags of personality to the music as well as his talent, something which greatly enhances his live performances.

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ronbooawake139140002acopyrightHis Awakenings set was no different and served as a most enjoyable reminder as to why Ron is as successful as he is and why he has the reputation he has. Joined by long-time partners in crime Eric van der Heijden on synths and electronic woodwind, Harold van der Heijden on drums (electronic of course!!!) and the outstanding German guitarist Frank Dorritke, Ron’s set was full on from start to finish and was a fine example of how modern Berlin School-style electronic music should sound, be presented and be performed – many of those in attendance felt that we should be seriously talking about Dutch School, such was the impact of tonight’s performance. Two tracks from Morpheusz (Ron’s side project with the van der Heijden brothers and Frank Dorritke) got things underway and met with considerable appreciation from the audience, and then we were given a 30 minute, full-on, in-yer-face, master class in live sequencing in which no prisoners were taken and Ron co totally ravished the ears of all present with a piece that, at one point, had Ron Boots running 13 (thirteen), yes I said 13 (thirteen) separate sequences at the same time, with the other three doing their bits as well. Take a look at the concert images using the link below to see the intense concentration on Ron’s face.

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All too soon, the set came to a close, but it wasn’t over. Coming back for another two encore tracks, all of this evening’s performers joined together to create a fantastic finish to what was a fantastic evening of the highest quality electronic music. And Ron’s reputation as a bona fide Dutch Master remains more than very intact.

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As a side note, it was heartening to see this event so well supported and good see a number of veteran U.K. musicians in the audience including Michael Shipway, David Wright, Robert Fox and John Dyson as well as another leading Dutch synthesist, Michel Van Osenbruggen, aka Synth.nl.

Links:
RON BOOTS
RENE SPLINTER
BEYOND BERLIN
AWAKENINGS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Awakenings “Dutch Night”

I Speak Machine, Southbank Centre, London, 21st September 2014

Line-up:
I Speak Machine:
Tara Busch (vocals,synthesizers)
Maf Lewis (visuals)

CUTS (support)

Venue:
Purcell Room
Southbank Centre
London
SE1 8XX
U.K.

The Southbank Centre in London is a world-famous arts centre, situated on the South Bank of the Thames. It was built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, and thus draws on its heritage as a festival site, with art and activities inside and outside and offering a wide range of cultural events. The Southbank Centre occupies a 21-acre site and comprises the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery, and the Saison Poetry Library. Alongside these venues are numerous restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. The itinerary shows that the Southbank Centre contains a most varied of arts from classical, world music, rock, pop, jazz to dance, literature and the visual arts, and as such, attracts perhaps the most diverse audience of any UK venue.

Held in the Purcell Room, it was the perfect venue for this evening’s incredible performance of music and video from two respected and highly professional acts.

cutsrfh219140001acopyrightThe support for the evening was by U.K. based audio/visual artist CUTS. According to his Facebook page, his influences are drawn from “abandoned spaces, white noise and sleep paralysis” and from what I saw of his performance on this night, I would agree completely – and in a very good way. Appearing on stage dressed very plainly and simply in jeans and t-shirt with a blank white face mask, CUTS provided the audience with what can only be described as a mesmerising and original set, superbly realised and expertly executed. I want to use words such as “haunting”, “edgy”, “sinister” and “intense” because they are the very words that stuck with me throughout the performance, so much so that momentarily I forgot to take photographs. CUTS, to me based upon my experience of his set, is about mystery, shadows, complex atmospheres and an altered perception of a given situation. The images displayed upon the video screen mentally pulled you backwards through some kind of psychological hedge, as your ears were treated to some quite innovative layered sequences, beats and atmospheres.

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Images of stuttering electric elements and lightbulb filaments, distorted and kaleidoscopic visions of metal staircases and close-up pixelated television screens accompanied by a soundtrack of intense synthesizer pads and a persistent beat loop/live percussion track. Abandoned buildings, broken glass and an overdriven guitar drone. Dancers busting zombie-like moves and captured with jerky and distorted camera-work, create surreal and edgy shapes to an electronic pulsing sequence, driven by an almost tribal beat comforted by a crunchy and distorted audio backdrop. This to me is electronic music performance for a modern age and served as the perfect warm up for the headline act.

To quote a scene from one of the video montages, “I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful”. If you get a chance to catch CUTS in action, do it.

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And so we come to the the evening’s raison d’être – I Speak Machine.

I Speak Machine are an audio/visual performance duo comprised of husband and wife team, film-maker Maf Lewis and composer/vocalist Tara Busch. They create and present their art by way of film and score using something they call Synchronika – essentially synchronised audio and visual composition, working from an original concept to create a synthesized piece of art. This evening’s performance was to feature the screening of science fiction film “The Silence” and horror shorts from “Gaggle Box” and “There’s Someone in the House Next Door” with Tara Busch performing a live electronic music score. What made this evening a little more special and ( particularly from Tara’s point of view) a little more dangerous was that she was to use some seriously vintage electronic music equipment, supplied to her by none other than Dave Spiers of the GForce software house (GForce have created some truly amazing software emulations of classic synthesizers and keyboards), including the legendary ARP Odyssey synthesizer, upgraded with LEDs in the sliders, a rare OSC OSCar synthesizer and the amazing ARP 2600 synthesizer.

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The set started with an introduction by Maf Lewis where he talked about the concept of I Speak Machine and basically what we might expect, before introducing Tara Busch and the commencement of the performance.

At this point, I would like to throw in that I’ve seen Tara Busch perform live once before when she provided a brilliant support for electronica pioneer John Foxx and the Maths back in 2011. I’m also a follower of her work, owning as I do, the “Pilfershire Lane” album and the sublime “Rocket Wife E.P.”, the latter of which had its sales benefit the very worthwhile Bob Moog Foundation. My point is that I believed I knew what to expect from this seasoned and well-respected performer. No I didn’t.

The set opened with the horror short “Gagglebox”, about what one might describe as a very disturbed child – this was a horror short that was deliciously un-nerving and gloriously as disturbed as the child portrayed within. Tara appeared on stage, a diminutive red-head, dressed in a grey all-in-one boiler suit and took her position surrounded by the electronics and synthesizers. The ethereal, and at times, seriously creepy nature of the soundtrack, an intense combination of the vintage electronics and Tara’s rich and almost operatic vocals, made for a most incredible audio/visual experience. Such was the clever staging of the performance, you never felt compelled to look at either the film or Tara, it was like you looked at both simultaneously without that being a conscious act, something which prevailed throughout the evening – still getting my head around that one!!!

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Next up was the second horror short, “There’s Someone in the House Next Door”. This short was filmed in an abandoned house next door to Tara’s parent’s house in North Carolina. The house was apparently abandoned several years ago and her parents looked after it from time to time, but still the house was rife with spider webs and dead flies. This of course made it the perfect, and most definitely, an instant film set for Maf and Tara because nothing needed adding or changing because the previous owners had pretty much vanished into thin air. Everything you see in the film is as it was, from a car in the garage, an old pool table, plenty of old family photos, a bizarre collection music boxes and odd little ornaments everywhere. The black and white imagery of Tara walking through the abandoned property and what happens thereafter is wonderfully realised, with the live soundtrack again providing the necessary tension and thrill a movie short of this nature requires.

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Of course, all of this has been building up to the main film, “The Silence”. I have to say that what passed before was nothing in comparison to what we were about to see, visually and sonically. The mix of sci-fi horror visuals, vintage electronics and Tara’s chameleon vocals took the set to a new level. “The Silence” is basically about a scientist who is driven close to madness by the noise of everyday life, who just wants peace and quiet in his life (and I certainly a few others like that as well – I digress……) and uses his scientific genius to create a machine that induces silence. And so it goes from there as we join the scientist going into the depths of despair as he certainly should have been careful about what he wished for. The music goes from quiet, almost minimal to loud and soaring, wonderfully evoking memories of the gloriously over-the-top soundtracks from the B-movies of yesteryear – in my book, that’s a completely fantastic thing.

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All too soon, “The Silence” was finished and it was very well received. But the show didn’t stop there.

No.

As mentioned a couple of times earlier, Tara was using a collection of vintage synthesizers, one of which was a 40 year old ARP 2600, and so we were treated to a quirky, intriguing and completely beguiling cover of the Beatles’ classic song “Ticket To Ride”. An outstanding end to a complete and proper evening of fine electronic music and a real feast of original visuals.

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It’s safe to say that the evening was a success and well supported by musicians and fans of the artists as well, in the audience were Ben “Benge” Edwards (with whom Tara has worked alongside John Foxx), U.K. electronic music artist Robin Rimbaud (Scanner and Githead), renowned blogger Rob Puricelli (FailedMuso blog) and Chris Macleod and Dave Spiers of GForce software (who lent Tara the five vintage synths). If you happen to be lucky enough to be anywhere near a venue that I Speak Machine put on one of their performances, don’t even think about it, just go. As I said earlier, I had seen Tara play live before, but tonight she excelled that performance with something that will stay with me forever. Positively spell-binding.

Vintage Synths Used:
ARP 2600
ARP Odyssey MkIII
OSC OSCar
Roland SH-101
SCI Pro-One

Links:
I SPEAK MACHINE

TARA BUSCH & MAF LEWIS
CUTS
SOUTHBANK CENTRE

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
I Speak Machine
Tara Busch’s Stage Rig
CUTS

Hazel O’Connor, Open, Norwich, Norfolk, 8th August 2014

Hazel O'Connor live at Open, Norwich 8/8/2014

Hazel O’Connor live at Open, Norwich

Line-up:
Hazel O’Connor (vocals)
Clare Hurst (saxophone, vocals)
Sarah Fisher (piano, vocals)

Tensheds (support)

Venue:
Open
Bank Plain,
Norwich
Norfolk
NR2 4SF
U.K.

An evening that turned out to be an unexpected delight.

Open, is a relatively new Norwich live music venue, housed in the former regional headquarters of Barclays Bank and comprises two live music spaces, a recording studio, dance studio and media lab. This evenings’ performance was held in the smaller and more intimate “Club Room”, which proved the perfect space for Hazel O’Connor’s set. For it’s size, the sound is very good and visibility of the small main stage is, by and large, quite good from most parts of the room.

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Tensheds, Open, Norwich

This most excellent evening of acoustic music kicked off with a genuinely excellent set from one-man-band, Matt Millership, aka Tensheds, interestingly describing himself as “a piano bashing, guitar swinging husky voiced hobo freewheelin’ around the U.K.” – nice. Without fanfare, Tensheds (legend has it that the name came about after hearing a bloke in a pub bragging about the number of sheds he owned) took to the stage, resplendent in velvet jacket and grey woollen Trilby hat blasting off with a boogie number. “Jeepers!!!” thought I, totally didn’t expect that – but you know what, it worked, it was great and it was the perfect start to his set. The set that followed was an amazing showcase of this man’s talent from his rich husky voice to his intricate piano playing and buskeresque piano/voice/harmonica tracks, all carried along with intelligent and clever lyrical depth and sincerity.  The Tensheds set was a carefully blended recipe of blues, boogie, a bit of soul and in places, a little something of a nod to Bob Dylan, and for some that’s not a bad thing. Without doubt, it set the bar for the evening and it really didn’t take long for the audience to be won over. I hope to see Tensheds live again one day, and if you get the chance, so should you. A great choice for a support.

So, once Tensheds had finished wooing us with his unarguable talent, it was time for the lady we had come to see, Hazel O’Connor. A little bit background on Hazel here before I continue. Hazel is probably best remembered for her fantastic performance in the 1980 film, “Breaking Glass” which also starred Phil Daniels (“Scum”, “Quadrophenia” and “Eastenders”) and Jonathan Pryce (“Miss Saigon”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”), and for the soundtrack album from the film which went (deservedly so) platinum and peaked at number 5 in the U.K. album charts, and proving to be the most commercially successful aspect of her career. Hazel has continued recording and has a very healthy 19 album  catalogue to her name, the latest being the 2014 release “Here She Comes”, which the current tour is promoting.

And so the time came for the main act. Joining Hazel on stage are two incredible musicians who have worked with her for the last few years, Clare Hurst (Bellestars, Communards, David Bowie) on sax  and Sarah Fisher (Eurythmics) on keyboards.

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I was immediately surprised by the fact that we were to watch a three-piece and not a band as I had expected. However, from the moment they started, I knew this was going to be quite something and ultimately, the three-piece set up more than worked in my view. The set was a perfect mix of Hazel’s newer material and the anticipated “Breaking Glass” tracks, but this wasn’t an evening of nostalgia. No sir, gone are the post-punk snarling attitudes and fierce coiffure we’re talking little black dress and red head-scarf, all presented with a gloriously jazz/blues ambience and Hazel’s all-encompassing stage presence.

And so to the performance. As mentioned before, the set comprised material from Hazel’s newer work and the iconic “Breaking Glass” songs, the latter of which had been deftly re-worked for the piano/sax/voice set up. Hazel, Sarah and Clare have been working together for roughly 6 years and it’s very obvious from the standard of the performance. Throughout, Hazel is both chatty and engaging, relating anecdotes from her 30 plus years in the music business including her preferred modes of travel (he doesn’t do planes, but she does do boats and loves her home, perfectly presented in the song “Going Home”), a heart-warming moment regarding the passing of her mother (the associated song, “I Give You My Sunshine”, was simply beautiful), the sexism that’s still rife in the music scene (the song “Don’t You Call Me Darling” was simply great) and of course plenty of tales surrounding the “Breaking Glass” songs.

hazel98140016acopyrightAnd talking of the “Breaking Glass” songs, they were very well represented by really clever and involving re-workings of “Decadent Days”, “Black Man”, “Who Calls The Tune”, “Shape of Things To Come” and of course the two that really took Hazel to the top, the apocalyptic “Eighth Day” and the one that we all wanted to hear, “Will You?”. I was hugely curious as to how “Eighth Day” could possibly be performed with just piano and sax, bearing in mind it’s epic stance on the album and in the film. “Eighth Day” done in jazz-style, surely not. Oh my, I simply could not have been happier with what I heard – it was fantastic and still had that certain something that the original version had, and even that quieter, slowed down section when machine just got upset, a problem man had not foreseen as yet, which has me on the edge of my chair every time I listen it at home, gave me that same sense of awe, the camera was lowered, as was my jaw, and yes, I was on the edge of some virtual, imaginary, unseen chair before Hazel, Sarah and Clare burst into the final chorus. A-mazing. Then there was the performance of “Will You?” where we all sang along, marvelled at Clare Hurst’s gut -wrenching sax solo and then roared with appreciative applause. The intimacy of the venue was lost for a moment as collective cheering and clapping of the assembled crowd brought the place down.

The encore was blinding. The trio played their take on the Snow Patrol song “Chasing Cars” – it was moving, beautiful and musical perfection, for me, one of the highlights of the set, far superior to the original. After this was a sing-a-long. Yes, you read that right, a sing-a-long. The lovely Sarah Fisher took the mic to teach us the words and melody to the chorus of a really fun and up-beat little something called “Still breathing”. A fantastic end to a fantastic evening of music.

Throughout the entire performance, Hazel’s voice was nothing short of powerful, Sarah Fisher and Clare Hurst played with precision, perfection and total professionalism throughout. When you see your favoured artists so many years after they were truly at their peak (in commercial terms of course), it can be a bit hit and miss, we’ve all seen them, the ones we all think, “oh dear” – let me tell you now that Hazel O’Connor most definitely NOT one them. I would go as far as to say that her voice is better now than it was 30 years ago and her stage-craft should be looked at by many younger performers on the circuit today.

I like this more intimate style of venue and I liked the fact that Hazel was out amongst the audience within minutes of coming off stage. I was fortunate enough to get a little time with her, during which time she employed my back as to sign autographs(!!!) and found her to be one of the most pleasant and engaging artists I have ever met, no sign of ego at all and she’s fun, a lot of fun with a big laugh. If she’s playing near you, go. You won’t be disappointed.

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Links:
HAZEL O’ CONNOR
TENSHEDS

OPEN

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Hazel O’Connor

Tensheds