Monday, 24 February 2014

The Corridor - St George's University London

Tadhg Caffrey
Earlier this month I was invited along to St George's University London by Tadhg Caffrey who is the Public Engagement officer on the Tooting campus. Since becoming artist-in-residence on their Simulated Mental Health ward at Kingston I had not visited the Tooting site and imagined it would also yield its stories under a close inspection. Psychotherapist Harvey Wells told me that I should embed myself in the corridor that links the University with its neighbour St George's Hospital and just watch what unfolds.

Tadhg Caffrey is on a mission to engage the public and spread the word wider afield, his raison d'etre is not only to ensure the most appealing and creative side of SGUL's work is accessible to the wider public and specifically our local community but also to do it with a certain joie de vivre.

Waiting to be taken home
Next month he showcases his 'Spotlight on Science' public event on 26th March where Professor Sanjay Sharma and St George's researchers will be discussing sudden death in sport. Although this sounds an emotive subject it was the ideas and ambition that bubbled on Caffrey's back burner that piqued my interest. His idea for a Health Comic Convention is a crackerjack, based around the award winning artist Emily Hayworth Booth. I can see this being a fascinating way to help patients explore the narratives of being ill, in hospital or even as a visitor or carer.

Before I settled down to my sketching I explored the inner sanctum of the University and hospital. In the library the hide of Blossom the cow, draped seductively over a vaulting horse greeted me like an experiment in crossbreeding tannered species. Then down into the dungeon to sweep past the morgue and into the Museum of Pathology, where rows of glass containers trapped their brains, intestines and deformed livers in a wonderland of inspiration for any artist. I was in heaven.

Corridor Life

How I wish I could have sluiced down a tanker's worth of formaldehyde into the corridor that links St George's hospital and the university. It represents the perfect cross section of life in these two
establishments. At the corridor's furthest tip, deep in hospital territory the sun streams in through huge plate glass windows. Patients in wheelchairs sun themselves like lizards, capturing the rays as if they possessed life imbuing powers. A few mobile phone conversations ending in huffy silences and on more than one occasion I watched a telephone listener descend into an unscheduled siesta.
Everyone moved at different speeds along the corridor, a granny ambled in her purple velour tracksuit while a patients in blue robe, limped a little quicker, one arm dangling helplessly from under his hoody. Plenty of couples walked arm in arm, it was hard to tell who supported who, emotionally and physically. Two girls defied the hubbub, by using sign language to communicate in their own silent fishbowl world. There were regular visits to the ever cheerful receptionists who wielded their advice from deep within the belly of the corridor. After sitting next to them for 30 minutes you start to notice that their visitors either arrived undressing themselves or dripping long wet trails like slugs on Speed.

There were lulls of course before the lifts spewed out blue gowned troglodytes and I though in those
moments about how you could represent these narratives in one piece of artwork. I've already been working hard to do this since visiting the Simulated Mental Health ward in January, and new works are emerging on a weekly basis. We'll be presenting some of our recent creations at St George's University London on Wednesday 16th April at 6pm as part of the 'Art of Medicine' series of lectures and exhibitions. Please come and join us, it's open to all but you'll need to register before the 10th April. Details at

Its with great pleasure that I share the first short film to emerge from the residency, called 'Ping Pong Paranoia' (below). Harvey Wells and I recorded the 'patient's' monologues whilst on the Simulated Mental Health Ward and this has proved to be a springboard for creativity. The voice you hear is of  'Sandra' who is agitated and feels trapped in this ward environment. The excellent score is by Toy Rokit, who we will be collaborating with throughout the year.

Toy Rokit are
Bill Mudge - Keys/FX/Samples/Loops
Mark Rose - Bass/FX/Samples/Loops
Chris Nickolls - Drums/FX/Samples/Loops

At the event on the 16th April we will be screening 'Ping Pong Paranoia' and also our first film with poet Robin Vaughan-Williams.


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Chico Chica - Tomfoolery

Barbara Snow - Percussion, Flugelhorn and Vocals
Prepare yourselves because this is just an amuse bouche before the main course is served. I was attending the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea (09/02/2014) in my role as artist-in-residence for critic Mr Rainlore. Along with his able assistant Chetna Kapacee we were here to experience trio Chico Chica who I had previous sketched and written about in 2013. Mr Rainlore will be giving them a fleshier review than I at in due course, along with my colour sketches. For now be satisfied with a monochromatic pictorial representation but with the words in vivid hues to reflect Chico Chica's witty performance.

With a mixture of Mediterranean flavours provided for the ears, Chico Chica are appetisingly entertaining but it is Tom Hannah poetic brilliance that gets my cerebral juices flowing. This isn't a one man band by any stretch and the stage was illuminated by the sleek satin beauty of Barbara Snow, who immerged from the Palace Theatre's rich lighting as through a Claude Lelouch Vaseline smeared lens. Luckily I regained self-control as thoughts of petroleum jelly along with Snow's singing on 'C'est Ta Chanson' nearly brought an embarrassing end to my tenure with Mr Rainlore.

Hilary Cameron - Flute/Piano/Vocals
Hilary Cameron was the red haired sprite playing piano and flute in the centre of the trio. The clarity of her voice cleansed the Southend crowd during the second set, particularly on 'This Room'. Her calming presence was much needed due to the audience becoming overexcited by Tom Hannah's lyrical high jinx. During the interval I managed to chat to a few members of the 'back row' club. True to form it turned out they were from the Southend branch of the Hannah Clan, describing Tom as the black sheep of the family. A real badge of honour.

Tom Hannah
Tom Hannah got his dancing shoes on once again for the iconic 'A Scientific Fact' with a bit of robotic shuffling and then brought out his angry ant dance for 'Music is Overrated'. Hannah keeps the tongue in his cheek so firmly hidden you never know which side of the coin his lyrics will land. Tails for humour and Heads for the thought provoking poetry that is Hannah's metier. Although he isn't personally the 'Nice guy with an Edge' from his dating song, this sums up his persona perfectly.

Tom Hannah informs us in his introduction that Chico Chica are no chin stroking aficionados. If you believe therefore that there aren't deep pools within their repertoire then you would be wrong. The attention does wander when in repose during some musical interludes but not for long as Hannah's conceptual zeal thrusts deep into your mind just as your guard is lowered.


Friday, 14 February 2014

String Theory - Recording Partikel's 3rd Album

Duncan Eagles - Tenor Saxophone
Partikel are back and they are embarking upon a new venture. This is a third album with a difference for the London based trio who have made a name for themselves with their spikey brand of barebones Jazz. I was luckily enough to be invited to the Real World Studio near Bath to experience this latest incarnation. The step up for the Trio was the result of hard graft from tenacious frontman Duncan Eagles alongside the generous support of Arts Council Funding and their record label Whirlwind Recordings.

Shirley Smart -
Over the past 18 months Partikel have started to experiment with Strings. At first is was the Cello in private but soon they 'came out' with a very strong public performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer last June. Now it seems this addiction has taken over, not only a cello greeted me at the studio when I arrived on the 4th February 2014 but also a viola and 2 violins. The Jazz trio had fallen for the String Quartet and their lovechild was soon to be born.

Jose Tomaz Gomes
Real World is a much larger studio than the cosy Clown Pocket variety that Partikel are used to and they spread out accordingly. A massive horseshoe mixing desk occupies half of the Big Room, which is like a crepuscular cavern. Red light, square dots, blue, green and Venetian red dials, large whites with black rings, some jump left some right, 4 banks of zeros, 11 sets of ones, 2 twos, 6 threes and at the end of the desk another lonely zero. The engineer in control of this spaceship console is José Tomaz Gomes. A dark and gentle figure who will be our guide for the next two days.

Max Luthert - Bass
Max Luthert sets the early bass bounce on first tune 'Wray Common' with a triple trot and I feel the old pathos running through me, they are back! The meadow richness is not just present in the view from the studio window across Peter Gabriel's land but also in Eagles' tenor tone that opens up a musical panorama. These glimpses of gentle colour are truncated as we glimpse the saxophone's vistas from between rocks or gaptoothed  trees. This is followed by a gentle decent, past the warm bass undergrowth, as downy as Luthert's beard. There is the merest scent of a wild animal in these woods as the Quartet's strings run like veins across this landscape, with a dark taint they ooze a bone meal overflow. Duncan Eagles is freewheeling now as he rattles downhill and reaches the bottom with a final expulsion of breath.

Helen Sanders-Hewett
A big nod of the head sees the musicians tumble into 'Midnight Mass', Max Luthert desperately clings to the melody, his eyes as dark as chocolate minstrels and his left hand is like a claw. It is a cascading dancing tune with strokes of soporific beauty. Luthert is what we cling to, a grip on the bedstead before the last rattling call before the song ends. I hear the voice of Helen Sanders-Hewett (viola) through my headphones as she just says the word 'lush'.

Benet Mclean
The strings start to make their presence known, and amongst the quartet is a familiar face with an unfamiliar instrument in his hands. Benet Mclean is a polymath. We know Mclean as the dexterous piano player, composer and singer but it seems he is a violinist of some talent too. In fact over our dinner meal he tells me of his love of cricket and his prowess as a bowler/batsman for Middlesex youth sides. An all-rounder in every sense of the word he wasn't afraid to go it alone with a spirited solo on the next tune. This time I hear Shirley Smart's (Cello) voice in the post performance lull.
Left to right
Benet Mclean, Max Luthert, Duncan Eagles, Shirley Smart & Helen Sanders-Hewett

'One in Five' is the tune of the day so far. Benet Mclean was both imposing in my headphones and in reality, with his brooding intense demeanour you sometime you feel you are in the presence of an off duty Lenin. His solo was a tightrope walk, cutting and gritty while Duncan Eagles was flighty and fluid on Soprano saxophone. The tune starts with deep footsteps and then a fantastic twist like a child on a swing who has entwined the chain-linked ropes together in a centrifugal dare of vomit inducing proportions. The overall effect is one of a fable, a narrative where the musicians are characters in a adventure book, a world of building dams in streams and then knocking them down in the twilight before bedtime.

Richard Jones - Violin
I hear Mclean in upbeat mood, he shouts out "Lets go! give me the downbeat bro" as we wade into the next tune and the hours of twilight.  If you think you've heard 'The River' before you are not alone. It was one of the tracks on their debut album and here it was being given the full 'strings 'treatment'. It now has a full slide of green variegated shoots to accompany it and yet it still flows in those curled sweeps where the current takes you under the overhanging trees, through the deathly shadows and out the other side. With the accompanying strings there now exists a dragonfly that swoops above the water, alone at first but then joined by its own reflection. A parallel ballet with swoops and plummeting where the insect dances with its life. This is now a tussle between wind, water and Fate.

Dan Redding
Not everything was flowing smoothly it seems. I noticed Duncan Eagles shake his head in tiredness and frustration. In the early days of the collaboration between Partikel and their strings Eagles admits he was on a very steep learning curve. He has written all but one of the tunes on Partikel's three albums, but the addition of strings alongside saxophone, bass and drums was step into the unknown. Since then he has honed this skill and expectations have risen. As we entered the late hours it appeared that the results of the collaboration weren't reaching their intended pinnacle. He shook his head, looked at me and said "It's taking too long."

The arrival of the jazz filmmaker Dan Redding pepped up the troops and he regaled us all with anecdotes and witty quips before overdosing on red wine and eventually petering out.

Eric Ford - Drums
To wake oneself up you have to enter the lions den and I sketched Partikel's idiosyncratic drummer Eric Ford for the final recorded tune, 'Shimmer'. My attention was first taken by Max Luthert who danced a little jig throughout the recording, beating time from one foot to the other. He was a like a Eadweard Muybridge horse, with both feet in the air simultaneously but impossible to prove that fact unless you captured him photographically.

It was another impressive compositional performance from Duncan Eagles with Eric Ford providing the trotting and galloping rhythms. The sentiments 'Shimmer' evoked were far from the drizzling reality outside in the west country landscape. Here was a positivity, a modern anthem, a jazz folk equivalent to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I felt like taking Eric Ford out on a carousel of English Country dances along the Mendip Hills, arm in arm we would square dance until the sun came up. Luckily I though better of it, after all I was sharing a mezzanine floor with Ford tonight and I didn't want him to get the wrong idea.


I will be writing up Day 2 of the recording shortly....