Saturday, 27 August 2022


Rooftop, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea
Sat 15th Aug

I confess that the notion of a summer rooftop gig at the De La Warr is what first took my fancy. So, while I had of course checked out Irish folk singer John Francis Flynn on-line before clicking ‘Buy’, I had a less-than-full idea of how he’d be live.

Despite there being no house lights to dim, there was no audience announcement or any other sign the show had started. Instead he eased leisurely into his first number. So small were the beginnings I don’t think many were aware he’s started for some while. Now Flynn looks remarkably like a ’Lord of The Rings’ character. In particular, the one who looks like a warrior prince and, in the second hour of the third film, turns out to be a warrior prince. But rather than some full-throated roar, he sings in an understated, intonatory, gentle-giant fashion, barely moving.

And most of the set, rather than attention-grabbing, was longish numbers which spun a slow magic on you. He plays acoustic guitar, alternating with tin whistle. (Or, as he proudly pointed out, two tin whistles taped together. I expect they call that the Jimmy page tin whistle in the trade.) And was joined by a clarinetist and a droney/ambient keyboardist who doubled on drums. A Dublin base usually means traditional Irish instruments which no English tongue can possibly pronounce. Not here.

The instruments were, at points, looped and treated. But never in an ostentatious, show-off fashion. Had you asked any of the songs whether they were modernised or traditional, I think they’d have shrugged the question off without interest and just carried on. Which always seems the best way.

Then, when you started to think he might have overplayed the slow and mesmeric card, they shifted into a full-voltage rocked-up version of ’My Son Tim’, complete with whoops if not full-throated roars. The clarinetist even swapped to electric guitar, without any shouts of Judas.

My one complaint would be that the drums at times felt mixed too loud, as if they were what we’d come to hear. When they first broke in, I almost jumped!

Support act Iona Zajac had a richly evocative voice, fairly built for folk singing. But her songs only at times lived up to that voice. The best number was a traditional, saved for the finale, where she was accompanied by droney squeeze-box.

Having attended because of the open-air setting, it was something for those surroundings to melt away and be replaced by the world of the songs. There’s the sense with folk music that it’s all still steeped into things, and if we find a way to tune out the workaday world we’ll start to hear it again. I am probably getting carried away now, so had better stop.

A different version of ’My Son Tim’. They got a violin, but we had a rooftop…

Then from one outdoor gig…

Stanmer Organics, Falmer, Sussex
Sat 20th Aug

“Set in the verdant sprawling plots of Stanmer Organics”, it says here, “Sound Plotting will be a day of site specific sound art, interactive installations, deep listening, sound walks, improvised music and pop-up performances.” It’s by Lost Property, the collective who previously took over a Napoleonic fort in Newhaven to stage similar shenanigans.

The idea, they confess, first struck them during lockdown when outdoor settings were literally the only show in town. But it’s a good one, which has you running about like a white rabbit, amid a host of other rabbits, dipping your expectant head down a whole bunch of holes. Pretty soon you become almost accustomed to the sight of laptops perched on tree trunks, or speakers hanging from branches. And if not every rabbit hole took you to a Wonderland, then these things are always more than the sum of their parts. Wandering, exploring, is a large part of the fun.

Venturing to see Gagarin in what the programme called ‘the willow dome’ I discovered it to be a dome of willows, which you entered like a teepee. As they swayed in the breeze they created a dappled light show on the ground, nature’s instillation piece. I often contend that ambient electronics work best when you’re not sure whether they’re sourced from natural sounds or not, it seems to create a sweet spot. And the set worked better for me the nearer it got to that sweet spot.

Paul Khimasia Morgan’s set was similarly slow-moving and ambient, but (from what I saw) more based around picking up tones from contact mikes. It’s music which always seems to slightly elude you. The more you try to focus on it, the more it drifts away just past your reach, as if floating on the summer breeze. Which of course only makes it more involving to listen to. (Older readers may remember Morgan put on the Aural Detritus concert series.)

In the midst of all this knob-twiddling and miking-up of things, Jo Burke stood up and sang some a cappella folk songs. And, for that matter, sang them well. Somehow she combined the best elements of professionalism with amateurism, the sense that this stuff is our common property. Much of being a good folk singer may be holding the notes just long enough, so you get the choral-like semi-drone effect without it feeling affected. While at the same time you could feel the old songs doesn’t require reinvention or rejuvenation, that people are simply still singing them, the way they always have.

Baby Hair have a name that sounds like a folk remedy and offered, according to the programme, “minimalist trance pop and ritualistic performance”. They reminded me of the old Marc Bolan adage about pop songs being like spells, as they recited words, struck triangles and blew haunted recorders, until you didn’t know whether to find it charmingly enthralling or sinisterly enchanting. Lyrics were reduced to a few babble phrases, repeated until they became mantras. It took us all somewhere, even if I couldn’t really tell you where.

However, while it’s clearly part of their mission that things have to go on too long, past the three-minute pop-song limit like exceeding the stated dose, they still went on a touch too long. Always leave ‘em wanting more!

So, where will Lost Property be found next? Inexpertly taken photos by me, including the culminating procession by Thee Bald Knobblers.

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