Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Bloody Valentine... Review: Black Carrot/Nigel Parkin at the Tin Angel, Coventry, Saturday 14th February, 2009...

















Rose from my sick bed to go to Coventry – I've missed the Carrot a couple of times recently so thought I should make the effort... The evening started with our usual attempt at getting lost but we managed to find Taylor John's in the end thanks to Murray's electronic homing devices! Walked in paid money and were given a ticket for a glass of wine each – which should have alerted me... Murray suddenly twigged and said: 'We're in the wrong place!' (It turned out that we had wandered into a Valentine's Day Singles event – mucho hilarity). The gig was at the sister joint of Taylor J – the Tin Angel. Luckily the door guy was in a good mood and refunded the money. A brisk route march through a frosty night to the correct venue...

Black Carrot
. I confess my allegiance to their cause. But have never seen them with storyteller Nigel Parkin live before ( I reviewed two of the cds he has made with them here...). As the main feature of the Tin Angel Valentine's Day celebration, I wondered how this would work in front of a lively crowd in a fairly cramped venue. Answer: very well... Parkin has a distinctive yet flexible voice that gets inside the material he uses – grand guignol splatters and vamps on Edgar Allan Poe, Kafka and horror films supported by free improvised music. Tonight he offers: a revisionary reading of Dracula, two bites, first and second half (ho ho)...




















But first up – a young busker, whose name I didn't catch, unfortunately. He played accordion and sang in a raw rasp, songs of the streets and beyond, starting with a version of 'London Calling' which was conceptually brilliant. The occasional east european overtones were interesting as well and reminded me of the Roma buskers I saw in London last year – this is going to be a big influence on music here. Plus a nuance or two of chanson/mainland europe's song traditions which broadened his performance further. To me – this is folk music now. Maybe I was sympathetic as an ex-street musician... but I loved this guy, a great opener who went down a storm. Raw, fiery and amusing... The Tin Angel is situated on a corner in downtown old Coventry with two windows that let you observe the streets outside in their gaudy Saturday night finery. That proximity made me fancifully ponder – this guy could have walked straight in off those streets from a pitch to the 'official' space he played in tonight, giving him that extra edge of reality. Yesterday before I wrote this I was cruising the Mudcat site trying to check something and ended up in mounting hilarious fascination at the conversations between some of the guardians of 'folk music' – inaccurate rubbish mostly by ageing tin-eared mediocrities. Not worth even posting a link... the contrast between the doormen to one manifestation of a dying/dead tradition and a sharp intelligent representative of a contemporary one struck me mightily. Hey nonny, dude...
















Black Carrot: for tonight, a three piece, Oliver Betts, Stewart Brackley and Tom Betts providing a subtle wrap for the storytelling of Nigel Parkin. They freely improvise around his narrative lead, bass recorder/keyboard, electric bass and drums in minimal mode. They can blast it out with the best when the occasion demands but emphasize their flexibility here, having worked out how to get a good balance with the voice over their past collaborations, using subtle splashes of colour to accent the movements of the unfolding stories. Two mighty riffs on 'Dracula' from two different character viewpoints that were witty, darkly amusing and also thought provoking without mentally beating you up – a splendidly warped journey into the blood and sexual obsessions of control and subordination, a gloss on Stoker's text that repositions it, turns it at different angles. And fiendishly clever. There is a sharp literary intelligence on display here – as in their other collaborations that spin from Poe to Kafka to now Stoker, an interesting trajectory. Kafka might seem the odd man out – being more obviously 'High Modern.' Yet: these collaborations work so well because their materials are deeply embedded in the wider culture – and the horror/grotesque of much of Kafka - and his feel for the twentieth century zeigeist - dovetails with the weirdness of Poe and this repositioning of Stoker – 'Dracula' is a somewhat rambling book but is a better novel, perhaps, than the guardians of the canon gave it credit for. All this works (apart from the obvious musical skills) because of Parkin's voice: middle class, yes, but avoiding that intrinsic English plumminess/old school actorrr dear heart schtick or the linguistic plague strains of Mockney or Estuary that pass among so many for the demotic. This is intelligent musical theatre... Another counterpoint to this gig was some listening I did over the days before it – random tunings into BBC Radio Four, a channel I never bother with as a rule. Ghastly unfunny and clumsy sitcoms, arrogant newsreaders, voices that struck me as grating – patronising and insecure at the same time. University students who never grew up... Lowbrow stuff by and large... Maybe I missed something... Like all good actors, Parkin avoids this bullshit by the double trick of appearing to be 'himself' and also letting the voices of his characters come through him 'naturally.' I highlight the suspect word deliberately. Much skill and artifice involved and all the more effective for being concealed. To do this in a packed space like the Tin Angel on a Saturday night – and succeed – is perhaps the ultimate test. Of course the choice of source material helps – yes, there are people chattering, laughing and getting pissed, but the overall conception succeeds because people KNOW the background story. “'Dracula,' isn't it...” The Count seems to have escaped from the novel into the wider culture many years ago – via the movies in the main, but also in theatrical adaptions. Almost expected him to be lurking somewhere close... You can dip in and out of the performance without having to follow the contours of the story religiously and still experience the overall power and skill on display. Because there is a loose narrative thread but it is made up from a series of powerful images that the music helps to lift into the room to be easily snatched. In microcosm, this follows the structure of the novel – epistolary, the story told from different viewpoints – in an organic move. Done with style and a great sense of fun – for Valentine's Eve, dark tales of blood and desire... and flies – ah, the flies, Renfield...






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