Tuesday 4 March 2014

Gabriella Swallow - Urban Family Picnic

Gabriella Swallow
We gathered at The Forge (12/02/2014) in Camden to join the party, to feel included in Gabriella Swallow's extended family tree and listen to a rich variety of musical collaborations. Firstly the name of the concert tonight, Gabriella Swallow's Urban Family was deceiving, this was not a mixture of rappers entwined by cultured harmonies, nor a group of feral foxed musicians who had honed their skills in the backrooms of pubs or played for door money in pool halls. This was the cream of the crop, top drawer performers brought together by Swallow herself. They came into her embrace through a desire to collaborate at the highest level and because friendships blossom in Swallow's company.

Clive Bell -  shakuhachi
Gabriella Swallow was the near constant throughout the two set night on cello. Her trademark Struwwelpeter hair was surprising indigo rather than the flame colour I had sketched before. The Forge was packed out, not a seat free and I perched to the side, frantically scribbling away. I did not sketch everyone, such was the revolving door nature of the evening.

John Garcia Rueda
It was an unusual experience playing the voyeur at this concert, with the obvious chemistry bubbling away on stage and the cohesive bonhomie it was impossible not to become a little envious. It was like watching one of those dynamic groups of young people who have thrown out their tartan blanket on Hampstead Heath for a picnic. Alive and joyful they lark about, they are bright and talented, drawn together by the knowledge that things just happen when they are in each other's company. If this concert was 20 years earlier it would have been directed by Kenneth Branagh with a small change to the title, swapping 'Peter's Friends' for Gabriella's.

Jeremy Silver - Piano
The gig opened with Clive Bell on Shakuhachi, while John Garcia Rueba gave us an energising tiple with his 12 string guitar and not forgetting Swallow (cello). A brave opening that didn't awaken the senses with a crash but piqued our curiosity and set the tone for the unexpected. There was a beauty, an emptiness, an unease from Clive Bell, a whispering wind that stretched the boundaries, making us forget that we were squashed deep in the heart of Camden rather than the expansive steppes suggested by the music.

Genevieve Wilkins
The next performer is a popular entry in my sketchpad, her charismatic beauty never fails to excite my pen but it was Sally Silver's husband Jeremy that filled an A5 page. Too short a performance as always, Madame Silver was engaging and emotive. Her expression of word and demeanour is a performance in its itself, as she gathered her hands under her chin, it was as though she was squeezing imaginary lemons into a glass perched just above her bosom.

Guy Johnston - Cello
To stretch the unexpected theme of the night even further we were treated to Andrew Ford's "Composition in blue, grey and pink" by percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. Playing on her knees as though in prayer, she was mostly shielded from our gaze by a curtain of blond hair. 5 cymbals in total rested on the floor, 2 large silver and 3 bronze dinner plates resting on a swathe of foam mattress moguls.

Lucy Schaufer
Hindemith's "Duet for 2 Cellos" was a hit with the crowd, Guy Johnston pedalling tandem with Gabriella Swallow, which was then topped off by an elevating tango. This was followed by the vocal performance of the night. Mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer sang  first "Errol Flynn" and then "Make me a kite" both from her recent album Carpentersville. So full of pathos and tenderness. It was a powerful bookend to the first set.

Elizabeth Cooney - Violin
The second set was a more raucous affair with a galloping effervescent pace and any number of beautiful people to train my artistic eye upon. You will have to forgive me if I have not dutifully mentioned or sketched all.

Elizabeth Ball - violin
Three duelling violinists immediately grabbed the attention. The statuesque Elizabeth Ball although relegated to the wings was piercing with her clarity and presence, while Una Palliser swayed that willowy dexterity of hers so much we felt the lash of her whip deep within the audience. Alongside Elizabeth Cooney they followed Piazolla with Bartok's "Romanian Folk Dances".

Martynas Levickis - Accordion
With his fop of sandy hair and boyish grin Martynas Levickis proved an instant hit too. Accordion players are always a welcome relief for an artist, for the instrument is a ball and chain to keep the performer relatively stationary for sketching purposes. This was not the case for Levickis' trouser slapping Lady Gaga rendition, it seemed the spirit of the unconventional pop chameleon had possessed our Lithuanian with bawdy talent. He vibrated with orgasmic pleasure as the tune hits its peak and line after line missed its mark on my sketchpad paper.

Seth Parker-Woods
Although I did catch a quick scribble of Seth Parker Woods I couldn't capture Leslie Boulin-Raulet (violin), Helena Smart, Polly Wiltshire or Zoe Martlew (Cello).

Graeme Flowers - Trumpet
Jazz was a breath of fresh air for this correspondent, with familiar faces and a powerful chest filled loudness that counteracted the previous 30 minutes of entwining strings. Graeme Flowers headed a quartet of Gareth Huw Davies (bass), James Pearson (piano) and Pedro Segundo (drums). It was a cheeky and enjoyable "Nostalgia in Times Square", Pedro Segundo's was memorable throughout proceedings, notably when the slapping of his tambourine felt like I'd wandered into a spankathon of excitable proportions.

Ian Shaw
The concert came to a close with the voices of Annabel Williams and Ian Shaw. The latter was virtually incommunicado in flat peaked cap and 'barrow boy' blue jacket. Between Shaw and Swallow it was a spirited finale with flowing peaks and a strong interaction that epitomised the collaborative ethos of the whole night.

Despite it being a fictitious vision I still imagine that I will encounter Gabriella Swallow and her urban family in one of London's grassy parks this summer, where I will set up my easel and rattle of an Alex Katz pastiche to capture their natural trendy cohesion. Perhaps I might be invited to share a gin and tonic while I let their laughter wash over me.


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