Monday, 17 October 2011

15th October 2011: Burning Shed 10th Anniversary Concert - The Assembly, Leamington Spa

This blog first appeared on the forum of one of my favourite bands, Tinyfish. I'm sorry if you have already read it there - I promise I won't make you read it again. Although it is pretty good, and certainly bears re-reading, much like 'Bravo Two Zero' by Andy McNab, which actually improves with every read.

The occasion - a 10th Anniversary Concert for online record label and music mail-order company Burning Shed.

On Friday night, Karin and I headed up to Leamington Spa to see one of the most eclectic evenings of music ever assembled outside the heats of the Eurovision song contest.

Skillfully avoiding carnage on the M25 thanks to iPhone TomTom, we arrive in time to go and meet our friends Jacqui and Bob (of the most excellent Dead Nobodies podcast) at the, um, pub whose name I forget, where the Progeny 3 fringe festival was held last year. The fishfinger sandwiches look good but there's no time for any of that - a quick Crabbies Ginger Beer and then it's off to the venue.

I don't know how many of you have been to the Assembly in Leamington but it's a lovely, lovely venue. Grand in the extreme, or so it appears. Actually, the lights never come on properly the entire time we're in there, so thinking about it now I strongly suspect it's actually crumbling and in need of restoration, but at the time I'm fooled anyway.

The normally standing venue is set out with rows of seats, rather like a school assembly (oh, I see what they did there!), and we make our way to the 4th row or so and take our seats in anticipation of the musical delights to come.

First up: 

"The Resonance Association perform to images by Carl Glover"

We're sitting patiently in our seats waiting for the fun to start and listening to what some nameless person describes as "Whale music", when we suddenly realise that it's coming from behind us and The Resonance Association are actually performing in the bar upstairs.

Now, I don't know what you think of when you hear the phrase "perform to images", but I'd imagined some kind of giant projections of shifting images, with the band performing in front of them. What it actually seems to mean is that the band are literally performing *at* some framed photos set out on stands at the front of the room, as if the pictures were some kind of royal court demanding to be entertained. Since we've left it far too late anyway, the bar is rammed and it's impossible to get in, which is a shame, since I'd enjoyed their brand of post-rock loops and drones at a previous gig and was ready to give them another chance. Instead, we give up fairly quickly and head back downstairs to await the first act to perform for an audience of people rather than inanimate objects.

After a quick intro from the Burning Shed guys, the first act takes to the main stage and it's "Giancarlo Erra plays Memories Of Machines." Memories of Machines is normally Giancarlo plus Tim Bowness from no-man, but tonight he performs to keyboard parts on tape whilst singing and playing guitar. It's a nice opening, Giancarlo's voice and playing are gentle and soothing to listen to, and he plays 3 very mellow, dreamlike and quite melancholy songs. Not sure he could have pulled off a full set with this setup but it's a nice start to the evening.

Despite enjoying it, I can't help but smile and secretly agree with Bob's description of the set ("Like watching teardrops of rain trickle down the window on a wet and miserable day") . Is that necessarily a negative thing?

Next up is Sax, Flute, Clarinet and ukelele legend Theo Travis*. The man is a woodwind genius who has played with Fripp, Gong, Sylvian and Richard Sinclair, and I've personally enjoyed his work on various Steven Wilson projects and with The Tangent too so I'm looking forward to this. Unfortunately, and it makes me feel like a philistine to say so, I just cannot get into his set at all. At best I find it tedious and at worst actively annoying. Imagine, if you will, Matt Stevens and his loop pedal. Now imagine that Matt didn't play any chords at all but just built up his music using single sustained guitar notes. Now imagine that he didn't even use this to build up interesting melodies, but rather developed minimalist soundscapes, almost like aural paintings. Rather like some of Robert Fripp's soundscape work.

I'm very sorry to Theo if he ever reads this because I'm a huge fan of his playing, but this just isn't for me - but much of the rest of the crowd seems to lap it up so I know I'm just missing something. In fact, Karin, upon reading this, tells me that I most definitely was missing something, and that it was awesome. So that's me told.

Anyway, next up are Bruce and Jon from The Pineapple Thief. "At last, a real song!", says Bob. They play a short set of songs from various albums in an acoustic guitar / electric upright bass duet, and it's good fun, although Bruce's Thom Yorke-esque vocals are an acquired taste, and the songs where the performance relies on them the most ("Debt to You" especially) are less enjoyable for me. Still, they get a rapturous response and calls for an encore, which sadly doesn't seem to be on the agenda.

And then, at last, the main event (as much as a 45-minute set can be considered a main event!). No-man are a revelation live - on the albums I've heard, they seem very subdued and I'd wondered how this would translate to a concert setting. I needn't have worried, the band have the audience mesmerised from the first song, Tim Bowness's breathy vocals being surprisingly powerful in a concert setting and managing to cut through the sometimes angry music being played by the band. It's also a new experience to watch Steven Wilson being relegated to "Guitar #2" and just standing there quietly playing away on stage for the whole set. Even the rare (but excellent) guitar solos are played by lead guitar player Michael Bearpark, with the majority of soloing being left to superb violinist Steve Bingham who adds a very different dimension to this most unique of rock bands.

They play tracks from across their career, including some never played live before and even one from 1987 which has never been released. (Names escape me, I'm sorry.) And all too quickly, our 45 minutes is up, except that they're allowed an encore which they use to staggering effect to play the best (and most rocking) song of the set so far. Halfway through the song, Tim Bowness hangs up his microphone and jumps down off the front of the stage, walking back down the aisle and down to the rear of the hall where he disappears completely, leaving the band to complete the closing instrumental portion of the song to rapturous applause.

So, it's all over by 10.15. I wander over to see which CDs I can purchase at the Merch stand but I don't have any cash on me. If only there were somewhere I could buy these things online when I get home, I wonder out loud to nobody in particular. Bob, Jacqui and I retreat to the bar for chatter whilst Karin catches up with some old friends, and we watch with quiet amusement as people start to arrive for 'Cortina Night - Playing the best 60s, 70s and 80s music'. Gradually the general mood shifts from "haha, look at those young, trendy people arriving for their disco" to "what are these fat nerdy old men doing here?", as the prog contingent disappear off into the night and the stragglers are eventually ushered out so as not to lower the tone.

I catch one last glimpse of the Merch Desk as I'm on my way out - it appears that several young ladies in short skirts are surprisingly interested to learn about no-man and Memories of Machines... but no, the "Merch Desk" is actually a repurposed cloakroom, I suddenly realise.

So it's definitely time to get out of here, but I'm not quite ready to drive back to London just yet so dinner is proposed.


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