Saturday, 9 February 2013

Yearning for Delirium - Joanna Strand


Joanna Strand

Before I started my journey into the realm of 'Delirium' I had to be prepared. Although I'd read Joanna Strand's manifesto for a future

including altered states and celebrated imperfections I knew not whether I would find a dystopia or utopia at the Pizza Express last Thursday (07/02/2013).
 
The previous days I had been sketching in a simulated mental health ward at Kingston University for a commission so I did (for once) feel qualified. The 'patients' I had worked with had been potentially violent, addicted, anxious and possessed minds searching for salvation. Understandably I found myself sitting in Pizza Express' tomblike catacomb in an agitated and exhausted state myself.
 
As I dropped into my seat and looked across the table at the stranger opposite, alarms bells sounded in my skull. Underlit by the venue's dramatic lighting he turned to me and said 'Jekyll or Hyde?'
John Gregson

The stranger took another swig of Peroni and I wondered whether this was his 'potion'. Within moments I was luckily put at my ease, this wasn't a challenge to my sanity but an introduction. The charming man opposite was none other than the guitarist John Gregson who had worked with Joanna on the hit musical, Jekyll and Hyde.
 
Before we could exchange our life stories the lights abruptly dimmed and we plunged into 'Delirium'.
 
Yazz Ahmed
Strand had promised a world of juxtapositions and the group of musicians before us didn't disappoint. She occupied the centre of the stage, fully at ease and with an open warm face. Her wide gestural arms enticed us into her embrace and although absolutely confident (at least on the outside) she still displayed a hint of fallibility.
 
Where Strand offered us openness, in contrast, Trumpeter Yazz Ahmed's magnet pull was through her crisp understated playing and the those thick lashes under a heavy fringe.
Ahmed epitomises Delirium's statement to represent the yearning, longing and craving represented in music and poetry. To quote it word for word, the audience found themselves 'Wishing for the unattainable'.
 
Romano Viazzano -
Accordion
To my right was Romano Viazzano, and his bright red jumper was the only colour in a understated 6 piece group. He is a hard man to describe, this night his smile spread slowly, like an assassins, but a few days earlier I'd sketched him in the National Theatre Foyer, where he performed in front of a crowd of families (including his own 5 children) and he displayed a joyful exuberance. Right now his head was bowed in concentration as he tackled Asaf Sirkis' tune 'Sailing'.
 
Asaf Sirkis - drums
Again as a juxtaposition sat Sirkis himself, head held high like a thoroughbred on the Epson Downs. Lets face it he is a drummer who would win the jazz equivalent of the Derby by 10 lengths.
I have worked briefly with Asaf on Alex Hutton's Legentis album and he is by no means a temperamental colt.
Once again he was outstanding, performing with grace and tenderness.
 
Nick Pini - Bass
 As we listened to 'Easy Living', the final tune of the first set, I frantically sketched Nick Pini on double bass. He is hard to capture on paper. He starts every tune with his copper hair neatly pinned behind his ears but eventually the music is too powerful and he reaches the final note in a state of wild dishevelment.
 
As I got to know John 'Mr Jekyll' Gregson in the interval I asked his professional opinion about the music,
"This is my first taste of Delirium, but what I'm struck by is the textures. The instruments provide us with layers and depth, they work together rather than take the spotlight in their own right."
John Bailey - Piano
 I'd sketched this same outfit (less Frank Walden) at The Forge in 2012 for Mr Rainlore's review, but I enjoyed the ambition and depth of these tunes more. This was a team working together intellectually as well as physically.
 
 Not every aspect was a success though and I believe Delirium were 'Striving for the Ideal' (to quote Joanna Strand again) and occasionally found themselves in a no-man's land where even a combination of talent and strong emotive intentions was not enough to influence the audience. The poetry was beautiful and well crafted but I couldn't transport myself to the tangible Natural world suggested by it while sitting comfortably in the warm, safe and privileged surroundings of the Pizza Express. I am full of admiration though that they aimed high and as a result we soared at a lofty altitude. Higher even than my previous experience whilst Fly(ing) Transatlantic with them.
 
Joanna Strand was at her most mesmerising whilst singing Poulenc and the sentiments she paints with her French palette transported me back to the small village of Cambieure, where I still have my studio and many friends. So many French words play with your mind using both sound and meaning, the Papi of all them all is 'oublie' for me. At once reminding me of those people I miss and those that I never want to be parted from.
 
Eventually I parted myself from Joanna Strand, Delrium and John Gregson but it will not be so easy to forget them.
 
AL.
 

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