Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The art of eccentricity

Jude Cowan at the 12-Bar Club; photo by Val PhoenixAs I write this, I am listening to Jude Cowan's CD, Doodlebug Alley, handed to me by the artist as I left last night's 12-Bar Club gig, part of the London Fringe. It was an enjoyable evening, full of poets and musicians and plenty of amusing audience-performer interaction (some unwanted).

In all the years I have lived in London, I've never actually set foot in the club, and I was fascinated to see a forge dated 1635 form part of the back wall of the main stage. The sound engineer informed me it was used to make horseshoes. I am impressed to think it must have survived the Great Fire. But, I digress...

Cowan performed in the front room, a quirky, pigtailed figure adopting a knock-kneed stance usually seen by rockabilly guitarists, but here matched with a concert ukulele, face scrunched up, the better to add a melodramatic visual element to her idiosyncratic songs. I would have termed her style "English eccentric", had I not been warned via a pre-gig comment by fellow performer Helen McCookerybook, that they are neither English nor singer-songwriters. So, perhaps "British eccentric" is more accurate. Cowan's is quite a melodramatic style, full of dramatic pauses, knowing intonations and clever wordplay. "The Lure of Paris" made repeated mention of a "boring banker" in such a barbed way as to suggest it was cockney rhyming slang. Another number very amusingly riffed on "red Berlin" and the narrator's various romantic escapades.

Helen McCookerybook at the 12-Bar Club; photo by Val PhoenixLater, Helen McCookerybook took to the main stage for her soundcheck and was immediately engaged by a grizzled eccentric-in-residence who questioned her as to whether they had met before. Barefoot, she then carried on a running dialogue with the folk in the balcony, flashing a steely smile to go with her deceptively gentle tunes. Speak softly and carry a big Gretsch, I think. I recognised a few songs, as she was my first live performing guest on Odd Girl Out, but this was the first time I saw her play electric guitar. Seeking the sympathy vote for her sore thumb, she showed off her jazz chords, and played a brisk, engaging set, selected from the luggage tag she had tied to her guitar neck. She was very proud of this innovation and predicted it will sweep the folkerati circuit.

Among the audience was Cowan's and McCookerybook's colleague Kath Tait, the third member of their tongue-in-cheek group the Desperado Housewives ("on the run from husbands and housework"). Their next themed gig, on the subject of cowboys, is on 9 September at the Montague Arms in New Cross.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sound in Vision

Still from War With Love by Val PhoenixI just found out my film War With Love is screening next Saturday as part of the Sound in Vision Festival at the Clapham Picturehouse in South London.

Although it's been online, it's only the second screening of
War With Love, my lo-fi-black-and-white-super-imposed-melancholic epic, shot in wintry Berlin.

As I quite like mixing visuals with music, it's a pleasure to be part of this bill. There doesn't seem to be a line-up online yet, but I have received details.

Sound in Vision Festival, 28 August:

2pm – The Henry Brothers

3pm – Short Films – The Best from Local Film makers

4pm – Marta Fontanals-Simmons

4.30pm – Short Films – The Best from Local Film makers

5pm – Benjamin Folk Thomas & Jack Day - Country Folk Duo

6pm – Short Films – The Best from Local Film makers

7pm – Amaziah

8pm – The Stepsons

There is no admission fee, but, as it's a benefit for PLAN International, donations are welcome.

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Odd Girl Out Radio blog

I had been posting playlists for Odd Girl Out on MySpace, but I now have a dedicated site for my radio show, Odd Girl Out Radio.

The new site will feature playlists from the show, as well as other features, which will be introduced over time. I shall also be moving a few of my Blogroll sites over there. Keep checking back!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tonight at Old Police Station: Yuck house

Tonight is a benefit for Optical and pH7 radio stations at the Old Police Station in New Cross, London.

It features performances in the garden, live bands in the interview room and will be streamed live on the two stations. An exhibition, Yuck house, will be on in the cells. The bar opens at 5pm. £5 donation entry.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells live at Rough Trade East; photo by Val PhoenixRough Trade East, London
10 August

At last, a foray out of my contemplative, tree-hugging reverie and back into gigland! Well, an in-store at Rough Trade's hipster eastie offspring in Brick Lane. I used to live in this 'hood earlier in the century, just as it was becoming achingly trendified. I still enjoy the odd visit, mostly to pick up bagels, but also to wander the cobblestones and gaze in the windows of shops that probably wouldn't allow me to darken their doors.

But, this jaunt was prompted by the appearance of Brooklyn noise-beats duo Sleigh Bells, whom I have played a little bit on my show. I have yet to hear the debut album, Treats, which prompted this visit to ye olde record store. And, given that much of their recorded work is highly produced, I wondered how it would translate live. As indeed, perhaps did they, because before the show, I bumped into vocalist Alexis Krauss wandering the aisles of the shop and she commented approvingly that the sound was much better than she expected. Off-stage she and bandmate Derek Miller were the model of polite, well-mannered young people (said to be in short supply nowadays)--both of them shook hands with me and Krauss offered a 120-watt smile, to boot.

Onstage they turned into raging rock beasts, with Krauss the epitome of RAWK frontwoman, complemented by Miller's choppy guitar playing. But, RAWK in a very, very good way--high energy, loud enough for ear plugs and with charisma to burn. She has the full range of poses and dance moves, as well. The only drawback was the limited "liveness" of the show, as all of the music, save Miller's guitar, came from a laptop. And when he left the stage for two or three songs, Krauss was effectively performing karaoke. But.... it's hard in the digital age to truly be live and it was a very enjoyable 35 minutes.

Afterward, the two glowing performers wandered the shop, wondering what the heck was going on, until they were ushered behind the counter to sign merchandise. Not having a copy of the record, I made my way out, back into the rain of a grey, rainswept London, bagel in hand.
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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Walking is good for you...

Lea River; photo by Val PhoenixSpent a good three hours walking from Tottenham Hale to Lea Bridge Road along the Lea (or Lee) River, with a brief detour to Springfield Park for a cuppa (but the care was not yet open), back to the river, through marshes, past posing heron, following the trail of assorted geese and discarded footballs (an England one was going in circles, much like the team) and then had a cursory picnic at the standing stones of the Middlesex Filter Beds. Felt marvellously invigorated. Then slept for three hours. Now off to find something cultural to see, as this is an arts blog.

Early Riser

Up ridiculously today, owing to insomnia. Pottering about at 03:12, I took a peek toward the north, in hopes of spotting Aurora Borealis, visible because of solar storms. No such luck. Would have been a marvellous birthday present.

That's twice I have missed out. I actually visited Reykjavik a few years ago mainly to see the Northern Lights but fell foul of overcast conditions. This morning in London the stars were twinkling, the rain had moved off, but... no lights, except for human-made ones. Ah, well. Since I'm up, may as well start the day.
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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Making Berry

Freshly picked blackberries; photo by Val PhoenixI tried to think of a more clever pun for the title, honestly I did. Anyway, just back from a glorious hour in the forest picking blackberries. Surprisingly, it's still early in the season and most are not yet ripe. The gnats were out in force, thanks to yesterday's rain. Nevertheless, I persevered and returned with two yoghurt pots' full--that's 2 kg. More than enough for a week's worth of smoothies and a decent crumble. Unless I put one pot in the freezer for the winter.

It's only recently, rather late in life, that I have discovered the joy of berrying in the summer, having moved to a flat near a forest some four years ago. With nothing else to do in the area, I took to wandering the forest, glorying in nature and discovering that some of those things growing were actually edible! Imagine. At the time, I could jump up of a morning and, still in my pyjamas, dash out for a quick forage to get enough berries for a smoothie. A reminder that city life isn't all technology and hustle bustle. Lovely.

Now, living a bit farther away, it's more of an effort, but I do try to get out there once a week, sometimes combined with some softball or a kickabout. Today, though, it was all about the berries. Previous trips have involved quite a bit of bloodshed, as those thorns are hazardous, but today the toll was merely a few scratches. Now I just have to sort the b____rs.