Songlines Encounters

Posted on June 14th, 2012 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Photos by Hayden Wheeler

Wednesday June 6

The UK premiere of Poland’s R.U.T.A. certainly lived up to expectations. Punk singer Guma was as loud and gobby as ever, but the Kings Place technical people did a great job on the sound so the subtleties of the weird instrumentation – archaic fiddles, saz, bass clarinet and percussion – came over much clearer than when I’d heard them in Poland. Nasta Niakrasava (pictured below), from Belarus, is a wonderful folk singer who brings warm, melodic vocals to the punkish frenzy. R.U.T.A. also brought Polish headbangers to Kings Place for the first time – some that I spoke to had come all the way from Bognor Regis! Hopefully this had led to R.U.T.A. getting other UK bookings this summer, but most satisfying was esteemed Songlines’ editor Jo Frost, who’d been sceptical about the band, admitting that she’d loved them. Don’t miss their session on Radio 3’s World on 3 at 23.00 on Fri June 22.


Thurs June 7

Tonight saw an accordion and tango link that worked in practise as well as theory. Finnish accordion and double-bass duo Lepistö & Lehti play superbly inventive music with gently humorous introductions. Their most spectacular song is ‘Raudanskelä’ (Blacksmith) in which Markku Lepistö evokes sparks with ferociously difficult accordion flourishes while Pekka Lehti strikes his bass with a stick (from an African mouth bow with natural rubber which gives it a great sound for hitting). Kosmos Trio (pictured below) were playing with Serbian accordionist Miloš Milivojević, who has a different and more robust style than Lepistö. Their lead fiddler, Harriet Mackenzie, is formidable referencing Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending as well as the popular Romanian encore tune ‘Ciocarlia’ (The Lark) in her virtuoso playing.  The Fugata Quintet were a fiery finish with Astor Piazzolla – his music is so dark and edgy, with all that violin scratching on the bridge, and yet so gorgeously lyrical. They seemed a little too buried in their scores compared to the visible musical interaction we’d had earlier in the evening.


Fri June 8

Two quartets tonight. Spiro brought a stylish start to the evening, although they seemed more gutsy in the more relaxed setting of Sam Lee’s Magpie’s Nest a couple of months back. But I love the unique invention in their music. I went to the Escher museum in the Hague recently and his graphic art with its repetitive images and optical illusions made me think of Spiro’s music. They were followed by Quebec’s Le Vent du Nord (pictured below) also giving their particular take on traditional sounds. Their music has an unstoppable forward propulsion, driven largely by Oliver Demers “on the fiddle and the feet.” How do you play the violin while simultaneously step-tapping? A magnificent show – and they feature in a World on 3 session this Friday June 15.  I only managed to catch the first part of the intriguing Sam Lee and Friend’s show. But Lee is a charismatic front man, telling good yarns about the songs he’s collected and arranged for a very diverse group of instruments – including Japanese koto, tabla and a tuned gamelan-like gas canister. We’ve got a feature on him next issue.


Sat June 9

Mr Lee featured again as vocalist with the Yiddish Twist Orchestra tonight, in a rather different persona – dapper and hip-swivelling – but a suitable foil to Ben Mandelson’s understated humour. The music is both Yiddish favourites (‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’, popularised by the Andrews sisters in the 1930s) and unknown numbers (sorry I didn’t know any), given a Calypso and Latin flavour. The irresistible urge to dance – led by our recent My World guest Roger Lloyd Pack – caused anxiety with the Kings Place front-of-house. It’s a real shame that they don’t want you dancing in the aisles. Sadly I was unable to catch Lauren Kinsella’s Thought-Fox with oud player Soufian Saihi, but talking to enthusiastic audience members afterwards it sounded like a great show with its Arab-Andalouz meets jazz ingredient. The Madagascar All Stars (pictured below) finished the evening with really glorious music, perfectly suited to the crystal- clear acoustics of the Kings Place concert hall.  The four musicians – Dama, Justin Vali, Marius Fenoamby and Erick Manana – sang unaccompanied at first and then laid into their guitars, percussion and gorgeous instruments like valiha and marovany. Dama was an accomplished MC, although French is his first second language! He’d flown in from Madagascar for two concerts in Southampton and London and then was off the next morning to perform with his other band, Mahaleo, in La Reunion. It was a great privilege having them. 

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