I am off to Dorset at last!
After my break,things are going to get very, very busy indeed!
In the meantime, go and have a look at the events I will be appearing at on the Arcane Publishing's events page HERE!
But before I leave, I will go to one last gig for this month of February:
There will be a blog on here at some point, but not before the end of the month!
Last Saturday, we made our way to St John on Bethnal Green, a grade 1 listed building designed by Sir John Soane.
Strongly rooted in a London whose rich past is being bulldozed out of existence by the powers that be, this one sturdy construction has withstood the passing of time, a fire in 1870 and The Blitz.
Today, it remains at the heart of community life and it is still a working church but has also become a dynamic centre for the arts.
Chris Gollons's striking Stations of the Cross, commissioned by the church in 2000 and exhibited around the church - reminds me of early 20th century art inspired by the horrific visions of WW1. I find Stations I, II, IV and VIII particularly interesting: their nightmarish, grimacing and grotesquely disfigured characters reflect the horrors of the human condition.
This was a very special event for cellist Jo Quail.
After having attended the thrilling launch of her new album Caldera back in June (find my report HERE), I just couldn't miss Jo's next show and her most ambitious to date: Nocturnes.
As writer Adrian Ainsworth - who incidentally has written the sleeve notes for the Caldera album - states:
In some of the interviews in the run-up to this special concert, Jo Quail talks about her time away from the cello - itself a kind of darkness, I imagine, given her extraordinary relationship with the instrument now - and how she found her way back. This makes the programming of 'Nocturnes' even more interesting, as the evening builds up into a musical autobiography: starting with arrangements of pieces that shaped her listening and playing, moving to tracks from her two solo albums, before arriving at a majestic new work, a glimpse of who knows how many future possibilities.
Also in those interviews, Jo speaks out about the sometimes crippling self-doubt that has plagued her.
My greatest challenge has been myself. I’ve had to do quite a bit of work to overcome my own imposed limitations, to shed myself of the feeling that I’m somehow ‘not good enough’ or without some kind of special power that other widely known soloists seem to embody with ease.
I’ve only recently acknowledged the fact that I am fiercely ambitious and really quite driven in my work, and that’s been a big eye opener for me.
Needless to say, absolutely no trace of this lack of self-confidence was on display at St John: Jo was smiling; she was focused, fired up and looked at ease surrounded by her fellow musicians.
But how well I recognised the feelings described in the two quotes above! As someone who has always wanted to be a fiction writer, it is only in the past few years that I have found the courage, the time, the energy and, most importantly, the self-belief to actually become an author.
To be a real artist, you have to allow yourself to be one. No one else can.
I recommend you read Jo's interviews (links at the bottom of the page) as they give a fascinating insight into her creative process and inspiration.
I am personally as interested in the mechanisms of making art - the inspiration behind it, the way ideas are developed and put together, the ins and outs of the act of creation - as I am in the end result.
For someone like me who is not a musician and struggles to understand how people like Jo compose and make music, it is very useful to see the veil lifted on the mystery from time to time.
Or should I just accept it as simple magic?
What was obvious on Saturday was that a lot of work had gone into Nocturnes.
The evening was Jo's baby but to help her bring her vision into the “physical world”, she was surrounded by musicians, singers, promoters (Chaos Theory), sound engineers as well as a poet and a conductor.
To have an idea of what the evening sounded like, let me send you to Adrian Ainsworth's superb report of the evening (read it HERE).
I don't think anyone could have written a better article about Nocturnes, and I won't even start to attempt it here.
But who knew that Nine Inch Nails' The Great Below (from one of my favourite albums ever, "The Fragile" - a very important album for me for various reasons) would sound so good covered by a cello quartet? It gave me goose bumps and made my heart beat faster.
Another highlight for me was the epic South West Night: Autorotation's Robyn Sellman provided otherworldly improvised vocals; Daniel Merrill's haunting violin unsettled; and conductor Jos Pijnappel conducted the audience's waves of "shhhhhhhhhhh" sounds added to conjure up the sound of the Australian bush. You're in luck , there is a video of it!
Jo's own compositions are simply stunning, gorgeous pieces of work; they are shape-shifting and take on new nuances each time they are played depending on the venue and the guests invited to join her. These tracks are "alive" and evolve in front of our very eyes (and ears) with each performance.
In Jo's work, beauty is often stalked by darkness; dreams are never very far away from nightmares, and the spiritual is rarely disconnected from the earthy (and earthly) power of nature.
I think these (apparently) unnatural pairings were somewhat at home inside St John.
This Path With Grace, Jo's epic, breathtaking brand new composition was also premiered at St John. It is an ambitious, expansive work of mind-boggling ambition.
You can listen to (and download) the track HERE.
Nocturnes was very special for Jo as well as for the audience and I feel really privileged to have been among those who witnessed the blossoming of a truly remarkable musical talent who doesn't let genres and categorisation stunt her growth and ambition.
I will leave the last word to Adrian Ainsworth, writing about Nocturnes on his BLOG:
'Nocturnes' may be a concert full of dreams (and I use the present tense in the wish there'll be some kind of repeat or sequel). But as well as night thoughts and half-memories, dreams can also mean hopes and ambitions for the future. To me, the evening was just as much about this latter kind. I felt a line of accomplishment had been vaulted with ease, and that these ambitions were becoming realities; it's not really a question of what Jo might do next. It's more: what couldn't she do?
My third novel will be set in West Dorset and I am looking for a small place in the Bridport/Abbotsbury area to research and work on the first draft. I am an independent author/editor/publisher and unfortunately, my budget is very modest. I would require somewhere very quiet with internet access if possible! House-sitting and winter let are options I am ready to consider. This would be for the period between October/November 2015 to February 2016.
More info about the novel HERE.
Someone somewhere has decided that London should turn into a sleek and gleaming fish tank full of shiny, perfectly groomed empty-eyed creatures, and they are doing their utmost to turn their nightmarish dream into reality. Whole neighbourhoods are vanishing (Soho, Denmark Street...); Alternative music venues and art galleries accessible to artists who do not wear the "approved" badge are disappearing at an increasing pace, and rents are increasing week after week...
And incredibly, some people are still trying to hang on and offer a different reality to the one imposed on us all. Opening a new "alternative" cultural space in which artists, musicians and writers can showcase their work is brave, and it is exactly what new venue /i'klectik/ is doing.
So we get out of Westminster Tube station; we are immediately confronted with "tourist" London: the Houses of Parliament and herds of bored and badly dressed European teenagers.
On Westminster Bridge, we have to try and avoid bumping into the dopey tourists taking selfies - I've always been intrigued by the fact that people are always more interested in themselves than the place they have paid hundreds of pounds to visit.
Past Westminster Bridge though, the tourists have all gone and we are on our own. Barely five minutes' walk and we find ourselves at Old Paradise Yard, another world completely! First a school for the children of the traders on Lower Marsh, it was then turned into a Buddhist centre. Now it has become a creative hub.
Inside, the space is painted white and has a high ceiling. It's at the same time spacious and intimate; most importantly, it's unpretentious.
There are comfy sofas and low tables and a lot of hanging space for artworks. And there's tea and coffee - absolutely my kind of place!
Tonight's event, mysteriously titled "Can You See Your Shadow?" is a relaxed and non-showy affair put together by events organiser Oil54 and the band Autorotation.
I know we are in for a treat: indeed, we spend the evening in the company of four very different acts who all have strong experimental and independent streaks.
The projector is secured (?), we're all ready to start!
Jo Quail has featured in several of my blogs already, and tonight her set is stripped down to the minimum; hers is a very short but (as always) intense set played not on her electric starfish cello but on her trusted "traditional" instrument named Ferdinand. Jo will play her own special show this Saturday 7th February in St John on Bethnal Green and I very much look forward to it.
Next are our hosts Autorotation: founding members Robyn Sellman and Igor Olejar are joined by Aurora Lee. Their set is a heady mix of dreamy, ethereal voices (think Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins), live instruments (dulcimer, percussions, guitar) and ambient electronic sounds and beats digitally put together. We are also treated to colourful psychedelic projections which definitively add to the experience! There are a lot of influences there in their music, which makes it all the more interesting.
Madam, like Jo, are doing an acoustic set tonight (they usually are a six-piece band). It's just charismatic frontwoman and songwriter Sukie Smith and singer/cello player Sarah Gill. Tonight the songs have a folk undertone - although with the full band, they seem to veer more towards jazz/blues territory. I loved their "song about ghosts" which revealed a harsher, more disturbing side...
From the very first song, Raf and O got me hooked. This is beautiful yet unsettling stuff - admittedly my favourite thing in music; it mixes Raf's unusual acoustic guitar to the sounds emitted by O's very own portable music lab which provides percussion, beats, gurgles, scratches and other various noises. The singer's demeanour is also interesting: petite and fragile in appearance as she clutches her red guitar, her steely stare and very slight twitches inspire respect and make her a compelling and disquieting performer.
Raf and O's songs seem to stand on the undefined border between dreams and nightmares, as if on the steps of a majestic but crumbling haunted mansion echoing with the ghosts of the past and the future; Raf's voice whispers, flies up and croons but carries an edge in its discreet tremolos. It is the voice of someone willing themselves to stay calm but who knows the crisis is coming.
Industrial, trip-hop, free jazz, electronic, folk (the names Queen Adreena, Bjork, Elysian Fields and Portishead have all crossed my mind as I listened to the albums) ...
There is no category for Raf and O apart from their very own - and of course, it's better that way. I really look forward to seeing them live again.
Gorgeous music perfect for inspiring my writing.
What a fantastic evening that was... Again, please!
PS: Arcane Publishing had both my novels on the merch table, a treat to be among all those super-talented people!
Here it is! The cover artwork for my third novel, The Right Place!
I am so very pleased with it... It looks exactly as I imagined it would look!
It was done by Sam Cannon, who is based in Dorset and knows the landscape intimately. This work features St Catherine's chapel in Abbotsbury which has a star role in the story.
This is the wraparound cover, and of course I will post a new mock-up of the cover when designer Matt ArtPix has spent a bit of time on it!
If you read this blog regularly, you will know by now that I have fallen in love with Dorset, and more precisely, West Dorset (just have a look at THOSE PHOTOS and you will understand...)
Last Sunday, we set off for West Dorset on a last minute flash visit to our favourite county; it was a business trip of sorts. We went to visit a venue down in West Bay... We hope to reveal more about this in a few weeks if it all works out...
It was a really positive trip for us: we chatted to quite a few people who live and work in Bridport. And yes, we are thinking about making this lovely, dynamic town our base in the future. It will be hard work and a very slow process, but we will get there in the end. At the moment, it is really nice to be able to explore and discover the area and get a feel for it. And the feel at the moment is very, very good.
I have posted before about the Arts and Vintage Quarter based within the St Michael's Estate in the heart of the town and the redevelopment threat it is under (see my blog HERE). I can reveal that I am now a proud shareholder in Enterprise St Michael's, a fantastic local initiative which aims at buying the land and turning it into a business, arts and heritage hub. It would be the perfect place for us to develop our design and publishing ventures as well as the small indie bookshop/literature and music hub I have in mind...
I have re-posted below the film "Made in Bridport" which I blogged about last September. It explains what the St Michael's Estate is all about and what their vision is... certainly not the planned housing development!
Matt ArtPix has already found his favourite bakery: Leakers!
On our list of things to do was the Theatre of the Soul exhibition at the Bridport Arts Centre.
It was "An exhibition celebrating Imaginary, Visionary and Surrealist Art" which featuring 11 West Country-based artists.
It was a truly lovely exhibition full of fantastical landscapes and scenes inhabited by a range of characters: dreamy-eyed maidens, darkly twisted creatures, grinning fairies, two-headed beasts...
The artists were inspired by ancient times, legends, superstitions, myths, religious imagery, wild natural landscapes, tales of mystery and curious deeds.
I don't really like to have to pick favourites as I genuinely liked everything and thought the works by all the artists worked really well together... But I could say that I was intrigued by the small scale paintings by David Marl - the religious symbolism mostly escaped me, but I loved the colours and the composition of the scenes - I could read a narrative in each small frame. These are real little gems.
We were very impressed with Katarina Rose's work (she has also worked over twenty years as a sculptor under the name Lisa Lindqvist). As stallholders regularly attending vintage and antiques events, we had truly never thought about using vintage/antique items (boxes, suitcases, clocks, jewellery, even stuffed small animals!) the way this artist does. We adored her "The Last Ballet" - a whole ballet stage set in a vintage suitcase, complete with stage lights!. This artist creates her own self-contained colourful, busy, rich, often (darkly) humorous worlds and it's rather thrilling! Have a look at the video below...
Another favourite of mine is the complete opposite of Katarina Rose's work: the stark, minimalist, nightmarish work by Cornish artist Kate Walters. The images are full of shadows and twisted limbs - creatures half-human and half-animal inhabit dark forests, caves and wombs; we witness extraordinary metamorphosis and symbiosis of inscrutable characters. The artist's creations are beautiful and graceful, at the same time transparent and saturated with an ink that sometimes looks as if she had shed the blood of her extraordinary creations. Really intriguing.
Imagine the tales these images tell!
I have always loved pottery and ceramics, and was immediately drawn to Amanda Popham's expressive and individual characters. I love the textures and the colours of her work. Inspired by church carvings, medieval bestiaries and illuminated manuscripts, she explores an imaginary world where "anything can happen and things are not always as they seem and there is nothing new under the sun."
As I say, I won't detail everyone's work in this blog, but I liked everything. Every artist had their own distinctive style.
Do go to the exhibition if you are in the area (it is free and runs until 28th February !)
The other artists featured are below (I have linked their websites if I have managed to find them):
Of course, we couldn't go to West Dorset without paying a visit to St Catherine's chapel, one of the stars of my third novel, The Right Place.
Imagine my shock when I finally got to the top of Chapel Hill! One of the windows of the chapel had fallen to the ground...
What an awful sight! I do hope this will get repaired quickly... The poor resident doves must find their abode a tad draughty these days...
I hope to be able to give you a few more details about our plans in Dorset soon... Watch this space!
I think therefore I write.
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