Saturday, 6 October 2018

In the Forest with Kathryn Joseph

Kathryn Joseph - Kings Place 19th September 2018

There is something elemental about Kathryn Joseph. Of smouldering fires in the forest, of the breeze whispering in the leaves, of the dark peaty earth, the coiling knots of moss covered tree roots, the trickle of a brook, of large eyed nocturnal beasts, of bloody fairy tales full of love, wisdom and vengeance. The live performance, with the set crafted by Cryptic magnified this. A fractured mirrored landscape, spot lights and twisted organics, where the performer could be seen reflected in tiny details across the stage, it felt like neither night or day, but something in between, that special transient moment of sunrise or sunset captured in perpetuity. There was gravitas and theatre to her performance, occasionally pausing to stand, take a drink and gaze beyond, into the captivated faces below her. Her dress, specially designed by Marketa Kratochvilova for the tour added to the timeless fairy tale quality.

The album, From When I Wake the Want Is, which she played solo in its entirety, is an astonishing feat, a brilliant follow up to her first album, the award winning Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled. The stripped down piano, the dark bass synths soaring, the heartbeat like percussion. And her fragile yet powerful vocals, sometimes allowed to bleed into the earth, into the background of the brilliant production (by Marcus Mackay), they come and go. It’s like she is moving around the fairy tale world she’s created, and we catch and hear glimpses of her as we carefully venture into the forest she commands. It's immersive, a story. Like Acteon when he stumbles upon the bathing Diana, the goddess of the hunt, it felt we were almost intruding on something so beautiful. Unlike Diana, she wasn’t vengeful and didn’t turn the audience into stags for us to be later consumed by our own dogs! (What a way to go though!)

Lyrically the album is both heart-breaking and uplifting. It feels dipped in love, blood, hope and sadness. It moves me. It’s inspiring. I’m listening to it for my writing. Kathryn Joseph is a treasure and a wonderfully kind, funny and generous friend to her fans. Go see her. Buy her albums!

The way that your mouth covers my mouth
The way that you suck all the darkness out
The way that my mouth covers your mouth
The way that I swallow the darkness down”

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Otoboke Beaver, The Scala

The other night I went to watch the incendiary punk madness of Otoboke Beaver for the second time, the first time was at the legendary 100 Club last year, this time, at another iconic London venue, the Scala … and wow, what a show.

In a gig showcasing their record label’s (Damnably) wealth of talent, we saw three great bands. Leggy, a three piece from the states warmed things up with their fun garage rock, veering into dream pop and at times, towards a Joy Division industrial darkness.


Above: Leggy’s Véronique (all photos by the author)

Next up, the warm waves of Say Sue Me, Korea’s best kept secret. Their shoegazey surf pop was like being gunned down in a fuzzy hail of heart warming Brian Jonestown Massacre soft play bullets. (lots of adjectives there, sorry). Their Blondie cover of Dreaming was lush, a slowed down layered beautiful chunk of psychedelia. Their new album is out soon and I’m sure to buy it.


Sumi from Say Sue Me

Then the main event!

Kyoto’s Otoboke Beaver make their own musical rules.

Time signature changes, jagged riffs, screams and gargles with added theatre. Rage and fierce comedy in equal measure. They are brilliant. Yes, they’re punks, but there’s something unique about their sound which elevates them above their peers. The only album I can think of which sounds vaguely similar to their thunderous debut Okoshiyasu!!, is Daisy Chainsaw’s “Eleventeen”, which shares the principle of ripping up the rock rule book and then patching it back together with rainbows and amphetamines to create a Frankenstein’s monster of terrifying beauty.


You can tell the band enjoy playing, intense Pop on drums, a nugget of dynamite pummeling the kit. Hirochan on bass, unflappable, barefooted and serene, not a hair out of place, with chaos all around her. The kabuki like elegance of guitarist / main vocalist Accorinrin, sometimes gyrating in controlled bursts of rage, sometimes subtly face acting, her giant eyes fixing any mortal brave enough to meet her gaze and instantly turn them into ash (she describes herself with “I am cute violence” on her insta, which seems apt).


Hirochan and Accorinrin

Finally there’s the force of nature Yoyoyoshie on lead guitar. Like a flaming sprite, she can run small towns via the power generated through her shredding and energy on stage (and in audience, and fire surfing on top of the audience). She holds her guitar like a flame thrower and I can still hear her war cries of “WE ARE OTOBOKE BEAVAAAAAAAAAAA!” echoing in my mind 48 hours after the gig. I imagine she is always like that. A visit to the supermarket for instance, screaming out her shopping list contents as she ticks them off. “BROCOLLI! FABRIC CONDITIONER! CHEESE!” *checks to see if it’s mature cheddar*, pause, shouts “CHEESE!” again. *Screams and runs over other customers with her trolley whilst lolling her tongue out*


Yoyoyoshie about to breathe fire over the crowd

She is an amazingly versatile guitarist, and her teasing of the massive overly officious security guard was hilarious (they made up afterwards and had a photo together)

I think the future is bright for Otoboke Beaver, go see them, get incinerated by them, before they start playing stadiums!



When Yoshie and Hiro play fast enough they turn into laser beams.

All photos © Mel Melis

Friday, 30 March 2018

Charmed Lives in Greece at the British Museum

I visited the British Museum with my brother this week, taking the day off on my birthday. A combination of it being the beginning of the Easter school holidays and a rainy day driving tourists and locals alike to pursue indoor leisure activities meant the museum was heaving. The dank smell of wet clothes hung in the air, even in the bright, high ceilinged central space of the Great Court.

A little Oasis of calm however, and the reason for my visit, were the galleries dedicated to a touching friendship of three men which lasted decades. Charmed Lives in Greece centers on the artists Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas and John Craxton and the writer and adventurer Patrick Leigh-Fermor.

They were very different in many ways, but what they shared was a lust for life, for joy and for keeping an open mind, never ceasing to learn about the world and to learn from the people they came across, be they princes or peasants. There seemed to be no arrogance about them, and both Craxton and Leigh-Fermor added themselves to that long line of those peculiarly revered eccentric English people in Greece, going back to Byron, drawn by the classics but on arrival opening their eyes to so much more. They threw themselves wholeheartedly into the society, assimilating and ingratiating themselves with the locals, learning the language, the songs and customs and becoming universally loved in their adopted country of Greece.

As well as a narrative of their individual journeys in life, it captures their times together in various parts of Greece, be it Hydra, Kardamyli, Chania or Corfu.

This is achieved through paintings, illustrations, photographs, letters, books with hand written dedications and personal items, such as Leigh-Fermor’s typewriter and his photographer wife Joan’s camera whose work is also well represented in this exhibition.

Ghikas’ art looks to come from within, even when painting a landscape, there is something of the inner dream about it. It feels personal, and as this short film states, he was more of an introvert compared to his English friends.


(Ghika, Trees on Poros, 1950)

And although quite similar in terms of their use of geometric forms and nods to cubism, there is an exuberance in Craxton’s work, an energy, sometimes a sexual energy, celebrating the working people of Greece, be they shepherds straining to quell sinewy goats in the mountains, or doleful sailors enjoying a meal and a cigarette in a rowdy taverna. Young men. And cats. Lots of cats, a passion he shared with Joan Leigh-Fermor (Patrick was less enthusiastic about felines). My brother was convinced he’d seen Craxton’s work before, in his Greek school study book from when he was a child. It seemed very apt and also a little subversive that these snapshots of working class life were celebrated in an otherwise cheerless textbook. I hope this is true as it’s a wonderful anecdote that the most memorable aspect of learning Greek was Craxton’s evocative art! (Neither me or my siblings are particularly proficient at Greek, we get by…)


(John Craxton, Fish Market, Poros, 1952)

Finally there’s Patrick Leigh-Fermor, the rebellious, heroic charmer who captured a German General along with his Greek resistance friends in Crete in World War 2. I’ve read “A Time of Gifts”, the first of three volumes, charting his walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople aged 18 in the early 1930s. He’s a very engaging writer, very funny and you bound along with him on his journey. Craxton illustrated / designed the covers of all his books. It’s fascinating listening to Leigh-Fermor’s voice, speaking Greek, he speaks it like a local, with poetic narrative, not a bookish classicist, it made me smile.

It’s a wonderfully diverse, touching and balanced exhibition. And it’s free. At the British Museum until the 15th July.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Valentine's with Out Lines

Last night, Debbie and myself had the privilege of seeing Out Lines live. I’ve seen Kathryn Joseph and her musical partner Marcus Mackay twice before, when we’ve been lucky enough to have them visit London from what I imagine is their hand chiselled ice palace somewhere in the Highlands. Coincidentally, I’ve seen James Graham twice too, as front man of the Twilight Sad, when they supported Mogwai in Brixton and The Cure in Lisbon. The latter was in the biggest indoor venue I’ve ever seen, when my little niece Katerina dragged me and my colleague SJ through the crowd almost right to the front.

I much prefer smaller venues though, it’s more intimate, you can get a closer connection to the band, and they are both very expressive performers, with Kathryn’s little feral side glances while playing the harmonium or keyboard, and James’ forays away from the mike to flail and gesture and clench his fists, like a fire and brimstone clergyman behind his lectern, warning us that the end days are nigh. They would make a great fighting duo and I’m sure they could kick the shit out of me if they so chose.

If the two of them are the outward manifestation of the band’s intensity, then the beating heart is Marcus, serenely going about his business behind them, his drumming driving the warm blood through the body of the band and his soaring analogue synth playing giving an unsettling but beautiful backdrop to the magnificence of Kathryn and James up front.

All of this was enhanced by the venue, I’d never been to The Islington before and it’s great, from the staff, the bar, to the venue room adjoining it. The walls were draped in what looked like red velvet curtains, the spotlights were predominately red, it was like we were guests in a womb or a ribcage of something alive, washed with red light, listening to the beating heart of our host and its blood surging through the body of the beast.

The performance was beautiful, chilling, heart wrenching and most of all brilliant. Between songs, the bond between the band members was joyous and sometimes hilariously bawdy, the rapport between them was obvious and it was a pleasure to join them on Valentine’s night.

Out Lines were brought together to listen to and then tell the stories of people who don’t always have a voice, via a Glasgow based community art project Platform. And the album, Conflats is a magnificent tribute to those people, covering loss, abuse, sorrow but all with a layer of hope. Our Beloved Dead sends a shiver down you with the chilling “I’ll take you down with me” repeated chorus dipped in barely contained rage and melancholy. And their ABBA cover of lay All your love on me is given a dark, devastatingly sad new lease of life.

We didn’t get to say hi to Kathryn this time as we had to dash for our train, but I’m looking forward to hers and Marcus’s new album! Who knows, might catch a gig in Scotland too. And The Twilight Sad’s new album is out too. All in all a lovely date night on Valentine’s. Thank you!