Category Archives: Live Perfomance Reviews

Gary Numan, O2 Forum, London, 21st October 2015

gary-numan-tubeway-army-replicas-album-cover-full-size-high-resLine-up:
Gary Numan (vocals, guitar, synthesizer)
Steve Harris (guitar)
Tim Muddiman (bass)
Richard Beasley (drums)
Gareth Thomas (synthesizers,keyboards)

Support: I Speak Machine
Tara Busch (vocals, synthesizers, electronics)

Venue:
O2 Forum Kentish Town
9-17 Highgate Road
Kentish Town
London
NW5 1JY

For me, 2015 has been a year of some truly great live music, and this was carried onwards and upwards by the positively sterling performances given by Gary Numan and support artist Tara Busch (aka I Speak Machine) at the O2 Forum in London’s Kentish Town on Wednesday 21st October 2015.

Sometimes, you go to a gig, the music is great, the performances are on the mark and you really enjoy the evening. However, it can sometimes be a little tricky to put into words because, great and all as the night was, a lot of the acts doing the gig circuit start to look and sound the same. I think this is more directed at the newer slew of bands around at the moment such as Lower Than Atlantis, Paris, We Are The Ocean, Peace etc – great musicians, tightly performed sets and solid music but, well, nothing that really makes them stand out from one another or anything that makes them particularly memorable. Then, you get two acts that basically knock the ball out of the park, on the same bill.

Gary Numan is basically a music icon, considered by many as perhaps one of the most influential musical figures of the last 40 years and even at the ripe old age of 57, still very much on top of his game.

gn79I clearly recall, as a spotty-faced, hormonally surgent 13 year old, the very first time I saw Numan, then as part of a combo calling themselves Tubeway Army, making his debut appearance on the sorely missed weekly chart show Top of the Pops. He was performing a song that was to become a genuine, bona-fide classic, “Are Friends Electric?”. Quite frankly, I was totally blown away by what I saw, what I heard and what I experienced. The look and the sound hit such a harmonious chord in me that I was out into Great Yarmouth (when it was a nice place) the following Saturday, armed to the teeth with my pocket money, buying the “Replicas” album purely for the “Are Fiends Electric?” track, without hearing what else the erstwhile Mr. Webb had to offer on it (these are the days when we listened to albums and bought albums for THAT track – older folks amongst you will no doubt smile nostalgically at this). This album was, I suppose, something of a musical epiphany for me and sparked the beginning of a pretty much lifelong admiration and respect for the music of Gary Numan. The rollercoaster fortunes of this man are very well documented and I’m not really sure that there is a need to cover what every other review has covered already, so I won’t, suffice to say, that, along with John Foxx (the very man who he admired and was inspired by), Gary was at the forefront of a new era of music and of public acceptance and assimilation of a new wave within the electronic music genre, paving the way for the million and one acts that would follow.

Fast-forwarding to a new century and a lot of water under the bridge, Gary Numan is still an artistic force to be reckoned with. The move, way back in the mid-1990’s, to a darker and heavier feel to his work has paid dividends on a number of levels, and none more so than with the re-imagining of his earlier works, which was the focus for the three “Classic Albums” concerts he played at the O2 Forum. Each night focused on a particular album, those albums being “Replicas”, “The Pleasure Principle” and “Telekon” and in that order as well. These three albums represented the absolute pinnacle of his earlier success, they are the albums that are held most dear in the hearts of the fans and the albums that paved the way for a host of acts thereafter. I was present at the first night, being the “Replicas” concert and it couldn’t have been a more fitting one for me as “Replicas” was my first Numan album (okay, Tubeway Army for the pedants out there) and to this day, still my favourite Numan (yes, I know, Tubeway Army) album. The fan-girl thing didn’t stop there either, as the support act was none other than I Speak Machine, aka the lovely and quite amazing Tara Busch, whom I was lucky enough to both see in live performance and photograph last year at the Royal Festival Hall (review HERE). This time around, Tara was performing without her usual visual backdrop created by her talented film-maker husband, Maf Lewis. And on top of that, I had been asked to take a photographs during Gary’s set.

classic-tubeway-army-gary-numan-iconography-replicas-back-coverSo, to the venue. Located in North london, the O2 Forum Kentish Town is one of the U.K.’s best-preserved theatres as well as one of London’s top live venues. Built in 1934, it’s an art deco building and according to the venue’s website, it had a:

“35 foot tall proscenium (the part of the stage between the front of the curtain and the orchestra pit) and a 25 foot deep stage. It had six dressing rooms, a Compton organ and a safety curtain weighing 5 tons. It seated 2,175 in stalls and a single balcony. The first floor accommodated a large tea room and dance hall where tea dances took place; there was even a cosmetics room for the lady patrons.”

It was taken over in March 1935 by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) took it over in March 1935, not changing it’s name to ABC until 1963. The ABC cinema closed in 1970, becoming first a bingo hall and then a dance hall. In the 1980’s, it was re-named as the The Town & Country Club and became a very well-known and popular live music venue, a definite must-play location for emerging bands on the independent scene as much as the more well-known ones, such as The Velvet Underground, Pixies, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and The Wedding Present. 1993 saw it being bought up by The Mean Fiddler Music Group, becoming a Grade II listed building and going back to it’s original name of O2 Forum Kentish Town. Ownership changed again in 2007, when it was bought by the MAMA & Company (formerly MAMA Group), “a U.K.-based entertainment company who own a number of music venues and festivals (see here), artist management companies and other music-related businesses such as the UK’s most widely circulated music magazine, The Fly.” A £1.5 million refurbishment saw standing downstairs remaining, but also a fully seated option, a new P.A. and lighting system, a new bar and an increased capacity of 2300.

And now on to the concert.

garytara211015-11The support act was the excellent I Speak Machine, featuring the acclaimed, accomplished and simply  amazing American singer/composer/performer Tara Busch, as stated earlier, performing without the visuals normally associated with an ISM set. Oh, and you need to know right now, I’m unapologetically biased when it comes to these guys.

Yes, I’m a fan.

Moving on.

Tara has an impressive background, with close links to the Moog synthesizer family and a highly respected standing within the global electronic music world, having created official remixes for Annie Lennox, Gazelle Twin, Bat For Lashes, iamamiwhoami & John Foxx, as well as sound banks for premium software instruments and performances around the world. And talking of which, an I Speak Machine live performance is something you really must see if you get the chance – contemporary and progressive electronica, spiced with acrobatic vocals that are sometimes laced with a resonant vocoder embellishment, and when you have Maf Lewis’ brilliant visuals as well, you are transported off to something of a dystopian cinema-of-yesteryear experience.

garytara211015-3As the smoke gently billowed, Tara cut a solitary silhouette within the mist, surrounded by her electronics and accompanied by “Suzy“, Tara’s workhorse Moog Voyager synthesizer, a festival of LED lights blinking on the subdued stage before the sounds created by this diminutive figure ranged forth. Performing elements of the film-score material used with husband Maf Lewis’ “Gagglebox” and “The Silence” movie shorts, and battling on-stage technical issues, Tara presented a very strong and solid set, maintaining the standard set by the last two occasions I have seen her live. For this reviewer, I Speak Machine was the perfect kind of opening for someone such as Gary Numan, with the almost proto-industrial rhythms and sounds intertwined with wonderfully experimental layered synths and THAT voice. It was a pure pleasure to once again experience Tara’s amazing vocal range in a live situation, going from dark and brooding in one breath, to mysterious and sultry in another, to positively operatic in the next. Further manipulations using a vocoder added a strangely sensuous tension to the natural dynamics of her voice, creating a near “other-world” dimension that  aligns itself with the heady twisted samples and synthetic overlays of the accompanying music. Tara uses her voice as much as she uses the small machines that surround her, the most natural of instruments commanding and yet supported by the quirky synthesized orchestra at her fingertips.

Her vocal is very distinctive and was used to incredible effect on two very interesting covers. The first was Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, stunningly sinister, claustrophobically dark and probably the best version of this song I have heard outside of the original. The second was a little tune called “Cars” written by some bloke called Gary Numan apparently. In the absolute tara211015-2spirit of what a cover version should be, and in true TB style, Tara took this electronica classic to a new, gritty and brilliantly disturbing level. It had everything to expect from this lady and all the better for it, with her soprano voice taking the high instrumental hook with what seemed little effort, interspersed with her laid-back near-spoken/vocoder-enhanced vocal over a brittle, shattered glass bed of voice samples and insistent synth bass.

There were a few technical issues, not least a poorly-levelled vocal on the main mixing desk, but these things didn’t affect the overall performance at all and acted as a clear demonstration of Tara’s experience and professionalism as she over-came them whilst performing. Generally speaking, Tara’s set was well-received, however there was an element of the audience, probably fuelled by alcohol and closed minds, that didn’t get what was happening before them and sadly exposed their ignorance – a lack of audience respect is an unfortunate aspect of being a support act. But for me and a number of people I spoke to , it was the opening salvo for this night of electronica.garytara211015-15The lights dimmed and at the back of the stage was a very youthful peroxided Numan replicant image, looking down upon the stage and audience, safely entombed within the pyramid of “The Pleasure Principle” and guarded by the red criss-crossed double bars of “Telekon” and the seemingly-traditional crowd chant of “Nuumaaaan” crescendoing with every exalt. Very soon after, a backing track boomed out, and the arrival of Gary Numan was now imminent. Flashes of white light danced around the stage before a blood-red wash of light heralded the full impact of the opening track “Replicas”, and almost immediately we were back to 1979, but with 21st century ears, eyes, sights and sounds.gnsoundcheckGary Numan entered the stage to a rapturous response from the audience, a dark posturing shadow in a crimson veil of light, wielding his Gibson guitar like a modernist reaper collecting the souls of his believers, breathing in the tremendous energy from this hot and sweaty gathering. And so the show began.

garynuman211015-8One of my favourite tracks from “Replicas” was up next. The new reworked versions of Numan’s older material give them a new and very current vibe, none more so than “Me, I Disconnect From You”. As a photographer, I usually have three songs to get the pics and when tracks like this are played, it’s sometimes important to remember what I’m there for as I found myself joining in, possibly to the bemusement of my fellow toggers. It’s a very strong track in it’s original form, but live and with the re-imagining to suit Numan’s current style, it was easily the first of many highlights of this evening.

Between songs, Gary Numan’s banter is sparse, minimal and perfectly right I feel, there were no awkward gaps, the songs flowed well and so it was as we went from “MIDFY” to “The Machman”. I loved the underlying sinister ebb of the original, but it went to a new level of disturbing  with the new arrangement and Numan’s delivery in the splendid lighting that arced around him. All too soon this song was done and “You Are In My Vision” blasted from the speakers followed by another favoured “Replicas” track and the second of this evening’s highlights – “It Must Have Been Years”. This song that has seriously benefitted from the darker and heavier style Gary adopted over his last few releases – “It Must Have Been Years” sounded to me as though it could have been written last year, it’s compositional structure such that it has the hallmarks of a timeless song. The energy that this track created was immense and hit hard – brilliant.

garynuman211015-26One of the many things that enthralled me on this evening, was that Numan had chosen to include the B-sides to the singles (ah, the B-sides – them were the days), and next up was a favourite B-side and yes, the next highlight – “We Are So Fragile”. The moment the pulsing synthesizer bass started, I was there, and from my place in the photographer’s pit (I had a AAA pass and was thrown – quite literally – back into the photo pit by the venue’s security dudes at the end of the fourth song when they saw it – a big shout out to them as well, they were a great bunch) it looked and sounded awesome. The next song was really not one of my favoured songs on the “Replicas” album, but “Praying to the Aliens” took on a new life of its own, the lighting illuminating Numan’s on-stage writhing and posturing movements to great effect making this previously over-looked (on my part) song seriously stand out.

A change of pace as the album’s instrumentals were given an airing – “When the Machines Rock” followed by “I Nearly Married a Human”, showed again how 36 year old pieces of music could be as relevant today as when they were first released. I experienced the former during Numan’s soundcheck (I was attending the concert as the photographer for I Speak Machine – I did say I had a certain bias with them!!!) and it sounded terrific then, but now seeing and hearing it in context of the broader show, it shone with it’s pop-like backing, cheeky little synthesizer lead and Gary playing elements on his Virus synthesizer. “I Nearly Married a Human” is another album favourite and guess what? Yeah, another highlight. This, for me, is a deeply emotional piece of music with it’s sparse drums and cold desolate synthesizers – this live version was very moving and the performance pitch was on the mark as a smiling Gary and his wife Gemma (who was sat next to me), exchanged little messages and looks  – throughout this track, I was mesmerised and the cameras had a little bit of a break.

garynuman211015-29Pure dystopian heaven happened next as the strains of something familiar filled the O2 Forum, and the lighting suggested something was afoot. It was a most splendid tension because the sounds metamorphosed into “Down In the Park”. Again the place erupted and all were carried along on the powerful, earth-shaking hookline. The subject of “rape machines”, a place to eat called “Zom Zom’s”, playing “kill-by-numbers” and chanting “death death death” until the sun cries morning, all became so much more real with the dominating presence of this darker Numan, moving under a wondrously splintered sky of nihilistic LED lighting, his steely vocals embodying the very essence of a Philip K. Dick/William Gibson cross-fusion tale of all the future’s we might (and some would say, should) fear and the powerful shapes of the backing band creating a kind of post-apocalyptic gathering, all watched by the image of Numan, taken during the “Replicas” era from on high at the rear of the stage. Another highlight (like you hadn’t guessed).

All too soon “Down In the Park” was done, a weird transmutated sense of satisfaction prevailing. But no, it didn’t stop there because another B-side was thrown out to us to feed on and it was just great – “Do You Need the Service?”. I was pleasantly surprised, and utterly delighted, at the way in which this song translated to the live scenario, and what an inspired choice to follow what had gone before. From my highly enviable viewpoint, it was clear this was (yet) another crowd pleaser. But the next highlight was a mere few minutes away, and it was the song where it all began for the greater majority of us that were there this night.

garynuman211015-25The roof basically went into orbit as soon as it was quite clear that the iconic “Are Friends Electric?” was about to kick in. I recently read elsewhere on the Louder Than War website that this song could have become something of a millstone around Numan’s neck, but he that had been clever in not allowing “Are Friends Electric?” to define him – I couldn’t agree more. I have seen Numan twice in the last three years, and for many years followed his live side via video, DVD, YouTube etc. and each time you can hear the way in which he has crafted it’s evolution to fit whatever point he has been in his career. As a track, it is required listening as much as it being required playing by Numan and I think, to many, “Are Friends Electric?” is as important to a Numan gig as the national anthem is to an international sports event, it’s that iconic. Tonight, it was magnificent with Numan’s energetic performance seemingly unending, the arms out-stretched one minute then his entire body pretty much wrapped around the microphone stand in the next. This song is personal to many people, and tonight, Numan made it personal to him as he spoke the words “you see, THIS means everything to me” to his adoring audience, with genuine intent and sentiment, and from where I was, I could clearly see the emotions in his face. An electronica anthem if there ever was one.

And that was it for the “Replicas” album part of the evening, I was staggered at how well the songs translated to not just the live scenario, but also to Numan’s darkened and heavier styling. What now? Where can we go from here? I was about to find out as we went into what can only be described as a greatest hits assimilated with a trip down memory lane.

garynuman211015-19“I Die: You Die” from the “Telekon” era took the evening in a new direction, the new arrangements once again favouring the more guitar-based elements of the original track. Another one of my favourite Numan tracks, this kicked off the next part of the concert perfectly, Numan still commanding the centre stage, washed in red light for the verses before shards of piercing white pin spot lights scan the auditorium during the frantic chorus. Fabulous. Another highlight.

No rest or respite, because it’s straight into “Films” from “The Pleasure Principle” album, green and white lights flooding the stage and an under-lit Numan looking dark and menacing whilst singing and then a pouting, head-banging silhouette during the intrumental parts – again this was another song that held neither favour or dislike for me on the original album, but it’s inclusion and power on this night has since caused me to re-visit it. Green turned to red, with the criss-crossed red “Telekon” bars blazing at the back of the stage, for “This Wreckage”, which was the only single from the “Telekon” album; another extremely powerful, near-anthemic rendition and both Numan’s voice and energy showing no sign of abating. I’m almost at the point of using the word “epic” here. But this was a mere warm-up for what came next – “Cars”. Along with “Are Friends Electric?”, this is the Gary Numan that EVERYONE knows, and as with “AFE”, Mr. N has crafted this song to suit his style and to fit the times. The original was very pop, purely synthesizer driven and very much of its time. This new hybrid was the same song, but my, how it has evolved into another electronica anthem, Numan taking to his keyboard towards the end of the song, it was pounding and raw, augmented by bright colourful lighting and a crowd with arms raised in a kind of salute to the song and the man. Simply put, it was- and here, I will now use that word – epic. A very definite highlight.

garynuman211015-38The opening notes of the next song continued the audiences roars at the end of “Cars”. Pumping, insistent, demanding and sharp – it could only be “Metal” from “The Pleasure Principle”. Numan’s performance level matched the persistent rhythm as he travelled the stage between verses, stopping to occasionally head-bang, his blackened hair flying like a fibre optic lamp in a hurricane. Another very powerful performance that led into another favourite of mine, “We Are Glass”. And WOW!!! Another song that has benefitted from Numan’s latest styling, I was taken back to 1980 when as a 15 year old I was blown away by this track, and have loved it ever since. But this was sooo much better!!! I got lost in this and on a couple of videos I have viewed on YouTube of the night, I can see myself, arms raised singing along – yeah I forgot I was there to take pics again – oops!!! And yeah again, another highlight.

The band left the stage, but it was clear Gary Numan hadn’t done with us yet. Nope.garynuman211015-31They returned, Numan strapped on the Gibson and they launched into “Are You Real?” from Numan’s debut album “Tubeway Army”. This was from a time when Gary Numan’s music was more guitar driven and this played very well tonight. His voice was right on the mark, the band were tight and this was probably the only song that was not really any different from the original recording, and hey, that really made no difference at all as it fitted the set and the night perfectly. The song crashed to an end and one of the few moments of Numan speaking followed as he took up an acoustic guitar. Yes, I said acoustic guitar. “You know I’m not a fan of retro”, he said, “but I fucking love this” much to the delight of the audience who then launched into chanting “Numan, Numan, Numan” with GN posing with arms aloft, quite obviously loving and feeding off of the love bombarding garynuman211015-12him. He walked back to the microphone and said “I’m supposed to be an electric legend right? Listen to this shit” before performing a truly brilliant version of “Jo the Waiter” from the “Tubeway Army” album. Again, this is another song that I have loved for many years and to hear it being performed tonight, as the closing track to what had been the most fantastic evening of Numan music I have experienced, basically brought a lump to my throat. Everything about this last song was, for me, perfect and I have to say, with some surprise when considering the simply awesome stuff that had gone before, that this for me as THE highlight. The crowd loved it and very loudly  showed their approval long after its deliberately abrupt ending.

Gary Numan has often stated his discomfort with the in-vogue retro thing that seems be the flavour of the moment, as well as his insistence that he will never do the “Rewind” concerts. I have to say that I’m totally with him. He has newer and far more interesting material to offer, and I personally don’t always want to hear the same songs re-hashed and churned out like a stuck record player, simply because I’m not a person who is sadly stricken with a terminal case of “stuck in the past”, demanding that he only play the “old stuff cos that’s wot the fanz want”. Any artist needs to be able to present material that excites them, the new things they have created that they want to share with the world and expand their repertoire beyond songs that are 35 plus years old. And I salute him for taking this stance, because I’m really not that sure “Rewind” truly presents those artists who take part in their best light, I feel that their individual creative sparks are dampened and the magic of the songs are lost. However, that said, I think the approach Gary Numan has taken with the “Classic Albums” concerts is the right way forward, in pretty much the same way as Ultravox did between 2009 and 2013. The way in which Numan has re-visited these old songs, because that’s exactly what they are, has re-energised them to a whole new level through careful re-working and set-listing. So, he’s done the retro thing, now the fans need to get off their high-horses and properly embrace his newer stuff, as well as giving him the breathing room he needs to continue creating new and more exciting material. For that, I cannot wait.

garynuman211015-3But back to tonight. This was a Numan concert like I have never seen, full of power, energy, nostalgia and reciprocated love between fans and artist. It was VERY evident throughout the gig that Numan was enjoying this night as much as the fans. Gone was the awkward, self-conscious android of too many years ago, and what we had here was a seasoned, confident and relaxed performer who put on an awesome show and enjoyed every last minute of it. Every box was ticked, from the quality of the backing band’s musicianship, the creative and awe-inspiring lighting, the crisp sound to the performance standards of a man that has known nothing but adversity from a blinkered music press that sadly seems to have had it’s taste purely in it’s mouth for the last 40 years. The energy of this 57 year old man was staggering – I’m 7 years his junior and I couldn’t have maintained 10 minutes of what he was doing, let alone closing in on 2 hours!!! His highly distinctive and immediately recognisable, almost metallic voice remained constant and strong throughout – he’s not the best singer, but that doesn’t matter one bit because the greatest singers don’t always have the most perfect voices. His delivery styles ranged from pathos to roaring, from dystopian to positively icy – but you could never doubt for a moment that you were listening to Gary Numan. As a whole, the evening was one of the best for music I’ve enjoyed this year, and the greater majority of those that I have seen have all been fantastic. The choice of I Speak Machine as support was inspired, Tara’s angle on the electronica thing was, for me, the perfect entrée to Numan’s main course – how I would have loved to have seen TB perform with Numan during the show. I’d really like to see that one day. And the dessert for me was meeting Gary after the concert.

I run the risk of sounding like a stuck record, or even a grumpy old man, but yet again, here is an artist to whom newer, younger acts need desperately to look at and to learn from in terms of style, presentation and performance, because Gary Numan has all three of those in bucket loads.

A great artist.

A great show.

A truly memorable experience.garynuman211015-9Links:
Gary Numan
I Speak Machine
Tara Busch
O2 Forum Kentish Town

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Gary Numan – COMING SOON
I Speak Machine

Thank you to:
Tara Busch, Maf Lewis and Gary Numan for letting me be a part of a great evening of music.

“The Observatory” by The Voice Project, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 8th May 2015

vpobs8515-3Line-up:
The Astronomy Choir Conducted by Sian Croose

Soloists:
Sianed Jones (soprano)
Sharon Durant (soprano alto)
Sian Croose (alto)
Greg Tassel (tenor)
Jonathan Baker (bass)

Instrumentalists:
BJ Cole (pedal steel guitar)
Joby Burgess (percussion)
Lewis Edney (trombone)
Stephen Saunders (trombone)
Adrian Lever (keyboards)

Music composed by:
Jonathan Baker
Orlando Gough
Karen Wimhurst

Venue:
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
University of East Anglia
Norwich
NR4 7TJ

Every once in a while, you come across a performance that simply leaves you completely spellbound, lost for words and wanting more. That was how the performance of “The Observatory” by Norwich-based open-access choir, The Voice Project, at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts as part of the annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival left me feeling. But before I heap every positive noun, verb and adjective I can find upon this truly excellent evening of contemporary modern music, a little bit of background about the project, it’s founders and what exactly it does.

As stated above, The Voice Project is an open-access choral project which offers members a chance to explore the many ways in which to creatively use the voice. It was conceived and brought into being back in 2008 by Sian Croose and Jonathan Baker. Since that time, The Voice Project has brought together literally hundreds of singers, publicly performing amazing new vocal works alongside workshops that aim to create, increase and build upon vocal confidence through the exploration of a whole range of uplifting and inspiring choral/vocal music.

Sian Croose has run choirs  and vocal groups for 25 years, singing on her own and with a cast of thousand as well as creating music projects in the  UK, Ireland and France and being a co-founder of The Voice Project.

Jon Baker is a founder member of alt-rock group, The Neutrinos, as well as being a singer, teacher and composer who has written extensively for TV, radio and theatre. He is also a co-founder of The Voice Project.

The Voice Project is enjoying something of a fast-developing and well-earned reputation for creating beautiful contemporary choral works that are designed to be performed in familiar places that they hope will (and I actually believe, do) inspire their audiences and performers (yes both) to walk through and see these places from a different perspective. As you might imagine, “The Observatory” has a space theme and it was felt that the open spaces, lighting conditions and modernist architectural lines of The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts would be the perfect place to give the performance form and inspiration.

So, to the concept of “The Observatory”. According to The Voice Project, it explores humanity’s relationship with space and the gradual attempts to understand and explore it, using the mediums of  poetry, science and music. Aspects such as weightlessness, distance, the unknown, infinity and astronomical geometry all act as parts of the puzzle to bring together this inspired and completely original work.

The three composers (Jonathan Baker, Orlando Gough and Karen Wimhurst) set texts from such sources as the metaphysics of George Herbert and the unbroadcast bulletins about Apollo 11, to name but a few, to a series of musical passages especially written for 150 plus choreographed voices and an ensemble of instruments including a full percussion set and pedal steel guitar.

The actual performance.

I can easily sum the whole thing up before I start. What I witnessed, nay, experienced, on this night was the glorious meeting of Star Trek with the love child of Ligeti and the Radiophonic Workshop. And yes, it was THAT good. Something I will no doubt say again during the course of this unashamed love-fest for The Voice Project.

vpobs8515-2As my partner was one of the 150-plus Astronomy Choir, I found myself as a member of the audience, supporting her by way of a change, instead of my usual place at the front, in the photo pit and/or lurking around the sides for the duration of the performance. And for this unique presentation, such a thing as “being at the front” was somewhat irrelevant because this was something of a promenade performance. I’ll explain. The audience gathered at a small shed-like construct some 100 metres away from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA), and dead on the dot of 9.00 p.m., a voice boomed out welcoming us to the evening and to follow the ushers to the various parts of the performance. We were then guided around seven separate areas of the SCVA whereupon we were able to enjoy that which The Voice Project had to offer. It’s a really cool and very immersive way of doing things, keeping the audience engaged and instilling that sense of “what next?” A major plus point in the originality stakes. So, we were led to one of the walkways that criss-cross the University of East Anglia’s brutalist structures, at the far edge of the SCVA, and we walked the twilight path towards the site of the first piece to be performed (called “As Dark As Light”), the choir were lined up alongside the outside of the SCVA, all holding small blue lights, which I took to be stars. When we reached the walkway, we could see the silhouettes of other choir members along the said walkway above us – standing like silent sentinels in the half-light. And then a light came up as the singing began and the performance took off.

vpobs8515-5

We moved to the rear of the SVCA where we found another smaller choir, soloists and a chromatic percussionist (mainly vibraphone) ready waiting for us, blue lights scattered across the  grass and members of the company dotted about, standing statue-still and holding blue lights. It was a fantastic effect. They performed “Donne the Spaceman”, beautifully contemporary and blending so many influences from the kitsch TV soundtracks of the 1960’s and 1970’s (for me it was the original “Star Trek” and “Planet of the Apes”) to the curious musique concrete oft heard in the science programs of the era.

vpobs8515-7From here we were led into the ultra-modernist surroundings of the SCVA itself, the exhibits covered in white cloth and the wonderfully ethereal tones of the pedal steel guitar, played with perfect beauty and restraint by BJ Cole, as we took our places ready for the next part of the performance. As I looked around, I could see already waiting for us, across a high-up walkway, down a spiral staircase (where I spotted my good lady in a white lab coat) and forming a kind of a semi-circle around us audience types, what I thought was the full Astronomy Choir, all of whom were stood statue-silent. But no, as the next part of the performance started, a distant choir down the far end of the SVCA started to sing, before they all began the utterly beautiful “The Lakes of the Moon, leading into gloriously contemporary spoken word/choral piece “The Unknown Knowns”, then the amazing “Orbit” before the final piece for this section, “We Are Listening”. These four pieces ranged from beautiful to surreal, from contemporary to experimental, from tonal to dissonant. How could this possibly be topped? I was about to find out.

As the last bars of “We Are Listening” were performed, we were ushered to the next performance area via a series of exhibits that are a part of the SCVA’s current display. What was completely surreal, freaky and totally brilliant was that individual members of the choir were stood at an exhibit each, staring at it whilst whispering unintelligibly. Inspired!!! I loved that effect and couldn’t hide an appreciative grin – this was proper performance art.

vpobs8515-1Through now into the middle section of the SCVA. Instrumentalists and soloists at the front (can’t really comment on that bit as I couldn’t see a thing, but no matter), and the choirs appearing on two balconies that flanked either side of this section. The next part was for me, the high-light of the evening. This was where I found my personal definition of sublime, a suite of music so incredibly intense and rich in form and texture that passing out may have been the only other option. Dramatic percussion, avant-garde brass, inspirational readings and then the Ligeti inspired section. If I never see another concert or arts performance again, I will always have that Ligeti section. György Ligeti was a Hungarian composer of contemporary classical music, described as one of the most important avant-garde composers of the mid-late 20th century, and seen as one of the most innovative and influential progressive figures of his time. Most  people will probably recognise his work from the Stanley Kubrik film adaptation of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which includes excerpts from four of his pieces, these being “Atmosphères” (the StarGate sequence with portions heard in the Overture and Intermission), “Lux Aeterna” (the moon-bus scene en route to the TMA-1 monolith), “Requiem” (the “Kyriewas used when the monolith appears), and an electronically altered version of “Aventures” (in the cryptic final scenes). Looking at the title of the piece, “The Great Darkness”, I could see exactly what Orlando Gough, the composer of this section of “The Observatory”, was trying to achieve. I hope he was pleased with it because he achieved it. Drama gave way to the most thrillingly sublime micropolyphonic choral music I have ever heard.  A crescendoing cluster of human voices morphing and evolving over a what I really wanted to be an eternity, such was it’s power, presence and intensity, which took me the edge of a great unknown, a truly dark place that ebbed and flowed fear, wonder and yearning. Powerful stuff and worthy of a larger audience. Even the lack of visual stimulus at this point (lighting was, at best, minimal, however I understand this was down to no fault of the organisers, but a result of a number of venue-related issues, the old health and safety chestnut no doubt) could not detract in anyway from the enormity of the delicate wall of sound that surrounded us. My smile grew exponentially.

vpobs8515-6From here we were moved to the opposite end of the SCVA to where we came in. Awaiting us were the choirs, who had silently moved away during the last part of the Ligeti bit to take their places on the balcony and in front of the massive windows, the instrumentalists and the soloists. This penultimate piece was called “A Report” and gave the audience a wonderful blend of sounds from the near operatic tones of the soloists, to the intricate and highly skilled percussionist. Once again, they pulled back the volume and pace, leaving only the soloists singing as the choirs (armed with their blue starlights) moved out of the SCVA, with the audience in tow, for the final and beautiful ending, out on the lawns, and under the stars (something of a special nod to the weather for performing so brilliantly on this evening), lit by three large flaming candles and performing the most lovely reprise of “The Lakes of the Moon” before the singing stopped, the choirs with their little blue starlights, turned away from us and it was done.

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I don’t have enough words to commend this performance. I wanted to spend £20 on another ticket for the following evening, but they were sold out (I’m not above a bit of blagging my way in either – I’ll get back to you on that one!!!). All I can say is, if you see that The Voice Project are going to be performing, don’t waste any time thinking about it, don’t umm and ahh, don’t hesitate, delay or procrastinate. Just get a ticket and go.

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LInks:
THE VOICE PROJECT
SAINSBURY CENTRE FOR VISUAL ARTS
NORFOLK AND NORWICH FESTIVAL

Performance Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
The Voice Project – “The Observatory”

Nils Frahm, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 26th October 2014

Line-up:
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Nils Frahm (piano, synthesizers, electronics)

Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

Now, this gig was something of a really cool departure from the previously experienced performances as Nils Frahms’ music is of an instrumental nature, combining classical and electronic music. He is noted for his unorthodox use of piano, because he mixes grand piano and upright piano with a Roland Juno 60 synthesizer, a Rhodes electric piano, a drum machine and Moog Taurus bass pedals, and he doesn’t use any kind of loop or pre-recorded playback.

I am very familiar with and quite partial to Nils’ work, so was delighted to have the opportunity to catch one of his live performances, of which I had read much about, at what has become my second home, Epic Studios in Norwich.

nilsfrahmepic2610140003acopyrightTo give a little background, Nils Frahm is a 32 year old German musician, composer and producer, presently based in Berlin. And take it from me, he is annoyingly talented, as he ably demonstrated during this concert. He has a very relaxing, self-effacing demeanour, quietly spoken and of gentle but funny humour, also demonstrated during this concert. Alongside his solo work, he has also collaborated with performers such as Anne Müller, Ólafur Arnalds and F.S. Blumm.

So to the performance. There was no support act, no great fanfare prior to his entrance onto the gear-laden stage. Nils walks onto the stage dressed in striped t-shirt, rolled up jeans and trainers. You kind of get the notion that this wasn’t going to be your usual concert/recital. He picks up a mic and introduces himself and his gear (some of which apparently is almost “kaput”), then proceeds to start the evening with a piece called “Says”, possibly the most spell-binding music I’ve ever heard performed live, a weird fusion of electronics with electric piano and a gentle arpeggiated synth texture. You almost want to think that the music is too quiet, and I was very conscious of using my camera lest I break the spell that Frahm had quickly and masterfully cast. But it isn’t too quiet, it’s just right and any louder would not have been right. The repetitive arpeggiations of the Juno 6 synthesizer are quite hypnotic and Nils’ simple Rhodes melodies add to this seductive atmosphere. A gentle crescendo builds, Nils’ subtle abuses of the tape-based echo unit create a near dissonant far-away place, but nothing takes over or dominates before it all starts falling back into nothing. Nils Frahm has got us right where he wants us.

nilsfrahmepic2610140007acopyrightFrom here on, we are exposed to his more techno side (amazing), we get a piece that was written after he had fallen out of bed and broken a finger, so went onto write a piece of music for nine fingers (amazing), and we even get a piece called “For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More” whereupon Nils starts to bash, brush and scrape the insides of the grand piano with a pair of toilet brushes (amazing – starting to really dislike him now). Virtuoso piano pieces follow dreamy, ambient, chillout, beat-driven pieces follow piano textured, near tone poems. The broad range of moods and styles creates a truly morphic performance, each piece easily blending into the next, segued with Nils’ brief but quirky narratives. The music goes from dark to euphoric, from thoughtful to demanding, from vague and almost atonal to grand and melodic. As a musician, I feel music as much as I hear it, and on several occasions throughout the performance I found myself riding crests of immense waves, then moved to the point of tears, such was the emotive scale, scope  and beauty of what I was listening to and experiencing. For a part of the concert, I stood with one of the owners of the venue, and she was as drawn in  and mesmerised as the rest of us.

nilsfrahmepic2610140008acopyrightAnd what of presentation and performance? Well, one man with a couple of pianos and several bits of gear can’t be that interesting. Ordinarily, that would be true, but again, Nils Frahm knows how to create the scene, paint the picture and visualise the music, and he does this like he does with most other things I have seen on this night, subtly, delicately and skilfully. A few white floods, occasionally dipped to conjure up the ambience of warmth, lighting that was as sparse as the music, yet equal in it’s beauty. Often swathed in nothing more than dry ice and white light, Nils Frahm played as a neo-classical virtuoso, his concentration completely unbreakable as he breathed each and every moment of this performance, and an intensity that you feel could snap at any given moment. This concert wasn’t just music, it was performance art and the rapturous applause that exploded at the end was a testament to this young man’s uncompromising talent.

Whatever way I put it, whatever way I express it, the basic premise will always come back to the fact that, quite simply, Nils Frahm is a must-see.

Links:
NILS FRAHM

EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Nils Frahm

Chase & Status, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 10th October 2014

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Chase & Status:
Saul Milton
Will Kennard (in name only)
MC Rage

Dimension (support)

Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

Okay, I’m going to be up front from the beginning here – I found it really difficult to write this piece because, essentially, I’m not really sure I saw a performance of any kind that I could adequately respond to, and I have genuinely struggled to be as positive as I have in my views. I was told by several people “in the know” that these guys were the “ones to see” and that “they filled stadiums”. And you know, whilst drum ‘n’ bass isn’t my thing, I was actually quite looking forward to this, such was the promise of what I had been told.

casepic1010140003acopyrightAll I saw on this night were two very mediocre DJ sets.

Dimension was the first on and basically, all he did was just stand there playing a load of “tunes” and every now and again, he actually raised his arm in salute. Without wishing to be unkind or rude, I can honestly say that I have seen far more animated and entertaining wedding DJ’s. Ultimately, that was it and all that I can really say is that it was dull, lacklustre and boring.

Anyway, keep an open mind I thought, the main act will obviously show why the tickets were the price they were and why Chase and Status enjoy the success they do.

Oh dear.

casepic1010140015acopyrightI sat through the most cumbersome and monotonous conveyor belt of played-out, done-to-death beats ever, with some bloke (I had to assume he was the much revered MC Rage, these guys were obviously way too cool to make introductions of any kind) prancing around the stage shouting “Chase and fucking Status” every five minutes, in between him also shouting “wicked” (very 90’s) or shouting “Make some noise!” (which thankfully, the attendant crowd did). And, it would seem that Norwich was deserving of only one half of the act, that being Saul Milton (Chase), who was nothing more than a slightly more animated version of the “warm-up” DJ. I don’t know what happened to the other one, I don’t know if he was even there or not as nothing was said. And I’m not really sure what kind of message that gave out to people who had paid good money (£23) for their ticket. When one considers the performances that were witnessed the night before (Public Service Broadcasting, Radiophonic Workshop and Ulrich Schnauss), I can’t help but feel a whole lot of “let down, disappointed and unimpressed”. That said, I want to highlight the real star performers tonight – Epic Studios and their security personnel. They all did an excellent job of organising the crowd, maintaining a great atmosphere and providing an excellent venue, so I think it’s important that they and their security should be praised for ensuring both people’s safety and enjoyment throughout the evening.

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Okay enough already, let’s finish things and sum this one up: no performance, poor presentation and zero style.

The capacity crowd loved it.

I did not.

Links:
CHASE AND STATUS

DIMENSION
EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Chase and Status

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