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Saturday#4 – Nord Rute

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This is the first part of the Valkeapää Narratives and it is probably best if I just quote from the press release:

Nord Rute is a surround sound narrative by Ross Adams inspired by the Sámi artist Nils Aslak Valkeapää’s poem ‘No:272’. The poem is about a reindeer herd on the move. Nord Rute travels into the underworld of the indigenous Sámi people of northern Norway and their age old spring migration 450Km across the arctic tundra with thousands of reindeer. Field recording artist Adams travelled with a Siida – collective of Sámi herders – and sonically documented it using location surround sound recording techniques.

It took place in the Chainhouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, an outpost of civilisation in the wasteland of East India Dock. I happen to know it pretty well since my wife used to work there, you may know it as the original Container City or home of the Longplayer. Anyway, when we arrived the floor of the Chainhouse was covered with straw and liberally strewn with reindeer pelts. We made ourselves comfortable. Cosy in our nest of blankets with mulled wine in hand it was then a bit of a surprise to be confronted by Eardrum as the support. It wasn’t that they were bad – I rather enjoyed them, despite being strongly adverse to the trumpet – but their percussion-heavy mix of jazz and afro beat was a bit incongruous. However, soon I was lying on my back, transported to Norway by the recordings of Adams, the voice of Persen and the beats of Plaid. All gigs should be experienced like this.

Written by Martin

28 February 2010 at 13:31

Saturday#3 – Bellowhead

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Although not really Bellowhead at all.

When I bought tickets for The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner I wasn’t paying any attention. I knew it was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and I knew it was a production for kids but that was it. In fact, I thought it was a piece of physical theatre until several weeks later when my wife pointed out that no, British folk flag-fliers Bellowhead were responsible and I had completely got the wrong end of the stick. As it turned out, we both had.

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner was actually directed by Jude Kelly, boss of the Southbank Centre, from an idea by Shân Maclennan and Keith Shadwick. Kelly has then co-opted her resident artists – Bellowhead and Lemn Sissay – into what is essentially a half-arsed school production, presumably solely on the grounds that they were under contract and she wants to squeeze as much out of them as possible. So right at the back of the stage are the eleven members of Bellowhead, in front of them half a dozen Pulse students and the rest of the space is taken up by scores of kids from local primary schools (guaranteeing a sell out crowd). The lights dim. There is an expectant hush. Then, spotlit in the darkness, Jan Blake begins an interminable Ladybird version of ‘The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’. It goes on and on and on. After twenty minutes of this piss poor mauling of the poem – which contains the phrase “catapulted as if from a catapult” – half the audience of children and adults are bored out of their skulls and the other half are asleep.

But finally it is over; the Ancient Mariner (Sissay) takes the stage and the production itself can begin. Now, I’m not an actor or a spoken word artist but it seems to me that if I was going to stand up on stage and read a poem, I might familiarise myself with it beforehand. But what do I know. Sissay reads it in a ridiculous, barely intelligible “ancient” quaver which is bad enough but worse he has no idea where the emphasis in any of the sentences go. To add to this, he manages to get lost, despite constantly referring to the text which is on a stand in front of him. From time to time, the kids would stand and provide a chorus but these moments were all too rare and by the time the mariner had shot the albatross they were completely disengaged, playing with their socks and hair and waiting for it to finish. This meant that the stage was dominated by a tide of blankness.

The only quality of any type was provided by Bellowhead’s live score but even that was constrained by the horrible format. Once it was finally over and the kids had taken their bow, they were finally allowed to actually sing and it obliterated everything in the tedious, static production which had preceded this single moment. Afterwards, battered by the wind on Waterloo Bridge, I discovered my wife hated it even more than me and where I had thought the backing projection merely inoffensively bland, she was enraged by how generic, non-specific and misplaced the images were, particularly since there was nothing worth looking at on the stage. It could have replaced Blake’s awful preamble with a visual guide to the poem, which would have rendered Coleridge’s language less obscure to a young, modern audience; instead it was wallpaper. Horrendously ill-conceived all round.

Written by Martin

28 February 2010 at 12:22

Posted in music, poetry

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Certain Weather

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Poet in the City is an exciting and innovative venture philanthropy charity committed to attracting new audiences to poetry, making new connections for poetry, and raising money to support poetry education, in particular the placing of poets in schools.

BLDGBLOG alerts me to the fact that, in partnership with Poet in the City, Lloyds have commissioned new poetry by Patience Agbabi, John Burnside and Matthew Hollis on the subject of climate change. It was Burnside’s name that caught my eye, I am a great admirer of his prose but I’ve never actually read his poetry. Here is an excerpt from ‘The Afterlife Of Animals’:

and, far in the life to come,
through quicklime, or ice,

we’ll either forget,
or remember without knowing why,

the songs of all the birds that ever
nested in these walls: the shifting

dialects of mistle-thrush and wren,
the sparrows in the hedge, the herring gulls,

and out along the fence, the bright ascent
of skylarks, faded now

to static, in a tuft
of scalded grass

It is apparently National Poetry Month in America at the moment so maybe I will take this as an opportunity to read a bit more. Although I frequently say this with very little outcome.

Written by Martin

3 April 2009 at 13:11