our history

Folk singer Rhiannon Giddens brings together musical traditions from her mixed race heritage in the southern States of the USA (her parents married only 3 years after the unconstitutional ban was overturned), along with Gaelic and wider sources. She is a phenomenal and versatile performer with ballet and opera composing credits to her name and recently appointed the artistic director of the Silk Road ensemble founded by cellist Yo Yo Ma. She is also a music historian. She traces the history of the banjo from its African roots through the travelling bands of enslaved then indentured musicians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the appropriation of this genre into black-face minstrelsy continuing well into the twentieth century, and the general abandonment of this tainted culture by its originating people such that the banjo associates today with white folk music.

The preface to David Olosuga’s book Black and British describes how Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell fantasised a history in which empire is excised, returning to an imagined time of Britons untainted by rule, misdeed and othered people. This is indeed the history served up by our schools. However,  we cannot understand ourselves without history, and there is no history save that it contains Black and colonial history, out and inward migration, the rich mix of cultures and ideas that shapes our everyday heritage. Stripped down history to pretend a white narrative is thin gruel indeed.

On Sunday I chanced upon a live concert by Rhiannon Giddens and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, from her home in Ireland, relayed from Santa Barbara.  These are the sketches I did live and playing back the show. You can see I was really challenged trying to capture the shape of her face and features while singing, and I put the gallery of attempts below as a record.  By contrast Turrisi was quite easy to capture but he sat still and faced away from the camera looking at Giddens. In the sketch above, she is playing the viola and her face is full of shifting expressions as she looks back at him.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Red Black 3: music

 

 

My guitar teacher is a sucker for Brazilian rhythms, though her interests span the globe.  I am currently working on both the melody and accompaniment to a pair of Brazilian songs “Minha Jangada” and “Praia do Janga” running back to back with change of key between.  The first of these is on this wonderfully pixellated monochrome video, which feels like a possible source for further artwork.  Previously, I was learning two Klezmer pieces written by Josi Hartmann in commemoration of the Holocaust, one of which is here.  My taking up guitar later in life led my wife to do what she had dreamed of from a child and learn to play the flute.

Zen Brush 2 app, iphone 7, fingers.

blind sketches

I went to Abbey Road Resurfaced, a recreation of the Beatles iconic album live with Jack Goodall [Paul], Rob Peters [John], Emma Reading [George] and Jack Smith [Ringo].   It was brilliant and enjoyable gig.  It deserves to be promoted more widely and to larger audiences – the front man and organiser is Rob Peters (robpeters05@gmail.com).

Emma is my lovely guitar teacher who has taught me from scratch from my being unable to read music or keep a beat.  She was playing guitar and electric sitar.

These sketches were done in a pocket book in the dark at arms length and with Emma hidden behind a pillar.  I could not capture the elegance of her left wrist and hand as she played.

Sax

Birmingham Jazz put on live gigs Friday nights.  Here are Greg Abate– Sax; Elliott Sansom– Piano; Ben Muirhead– Bass and (not shown because I was sitting behind a pillar) Nathan England-Jones– Drums.

The sketches are done small in a pocket book, soft pencil on rough paper, some of them inked over at the time or a day or so later.

I only started drawing in the final few tracks, letting the music guide the pencil.  What i wish I had captured is the way the pianist and bassist grinned at each other at the feats they were performing.

This was athletic music, rhythmic, dexterous, controlled, coordinated and, above all, fast jamming.  Abate has clearly been around, but these other guys, the Elliott Samson Trio, are young, barely out of college.

Bearman does Bowie

This is another Saturday view of St Paul’s church in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.  The tools here are brushpens delivering waterproof ink, a limited selection of watercolour pencils and a waterbrush. The exercise is to draw sparingly but build texture with pen marks.

The night before we had gone to a Birmingham Jazz gig in the 1000 Trades pub in the Jewellery Quarter.  The singer was Fini Bearman, supported by amazing jazz pianist Tom Cawley and bassist Calum Gourley and the songs were lyrical, syncopated versions of Bowie classics.

I was moved to draw, but also to stop to just watch and listen.

Here are the few sketches I did that evening.

Found songs

There is an desperate archive of diverse Jewish folk songs, originating across Hitler’s Europe and hidden in Kiev through Stalin’s rule. Here is immediacy, witness, satire and heartbreak. In trenches, soldiers lampoon their oppressors (I learn from the New Yorker article that nearly half a million Jews in the Red Army battled the Nazis, a third of whom died).

   

I had started this drawing already, riffing on the idea of a stringed instrument, using Zen Brush on the iPad.  I added in layers in another programme, Procreate, and by now I was listening to the voice and violin, dances and laments, on the album Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II.

The hand started as the guitarist’s grip but might be seen differently as the fanatic’s grasp.

Post Modern Jukebox

I came across Post Modern Jukebox for their great cover of George Michael’s Careless Whisper (at the time, I was practicing that melody myself, badly, on guitar).  They are a rotating musical collective playing current songs with a 1930s jazz twist, brainchild of New York jazz pianist Scott Bradlee.  My daughter and I got into watching their prolific output on YouTube.  Try  Haley Reinhart singing Radiohead’s Creep or again singing All about the Bass with a three other vocalists.

They are still on a UK tour.  We saw them in snowbound Birmingham on 2nd March.  For me the star was diminutive, understated clarinettist and saxophonist Chloe Feoranzo.   I did not get the names of the guys – the bassist, the trombonist and the tap dancer.  The other singer shown below is Dani Armstrong (the linked video is not official – the best I could find is shot from the audience in another performance).  The unnamed pianist in this performance was not Scott Bradlee (a real franchise this operation!).  Ahead of Dani’s Chandelier, he slowly captured the audience’s attention by building a series of cadenzas, subtly shifting the key with each iteration.  Not pictured here is Emma Hatton, English singer who took on Haley Reinhart’s numbers on this tour.

 

These were drawn afterwards from memory and poor quality shots taken on my phone from far away.

As I say, PMJ is not a band but an ever-changing collective.  I would like it if they gave more credit to the singers and musicians they recruit as they roll through each country on tour.  They deserved the plaudits and I have had to scour the net and twitter to identify those I could.

#PMJtour #PMJofficial

 

Hope’s Starlings – Murmurations

This painting of starlings has been used as the cover art for the indie/folk album Murmurations. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA I created random effects with paint drying slowly under cellophane then worked back into this with deeper tones. murmuration 1 I had several attempts at depicting this idea.  In the version above, the blocks of swaying rushes were formed by tensing the cellophane vertically in the lower section and the murmuration shapes came from pulling the upper part horizontally. I used wax resist on the murmuration to create granularity from beading of subsequent layers of drying paint. This painting is used on the inside cover of the album. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA In these first attempts, I had tried to paint in each bird individually, though this loses the sense of coordination of the flock.  Details from the painting below front the album insert and intersperse the lyrics. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA I have played Hope’s Starlings to and from work these last few days since singer songwriter Kate Sutherland sent me the albums.  This is an all female group, mostly singing unaccompanied or with gentle drum rhythm.  The sense of the album is of an ageless female spirituality rooted in the natural world.  It dragged out of my memory a similar use of pared down lyrics and minimal accompaniment to reach towards spiritual expression, albeit in a more overtly religious setting.

Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 32 in C minor II: Arietta

Ballad of Mae in Soho 2

I drew this one evening using the music to drive the strokes of charcoal.  I wet it and scraped back to the white highlights with a fragment of lava.  While cropping the photo, I noticed the invert function that reversed black and white.  The original is below.

Ballad of Mae in Soho 1

Last week, I watched a stunning performance of the ballet “Bye” danced by Sylvie Guillem, set to this piece and choreographed by Mats Ek.

However, the image I have drawn owes more to a set of line drawings by the late painter Barbara Tate and to archival photographs of 1940s Soho.  In her early 20s, Tate found employment as a maid, keeping house for a prolific and dramatic sex worker.

 

 

Appartement I: closed door

Time is marked by alternating notes and pacing limbs.  Before the shut door, the woman plucks the courage to knock.

l'appartement

A single chord and a sudden dip in posture mark this moment : a pause, an acknowledgment that with the knock, action has been taken, consequences will follow.

l'appartement (2)

These pencil and charcoal studies are derived from this clip from the Mats Ek ballet with the haunting strings of Fläskkvartetten (Innocent from Pärlor Från Svin).