“So, What’s It About?”

Somebody posted on Facebook the other day “What’s ‘Think of a Song’ about?”. Which is a very good question…

 

Like many pieces of experimental art, the interpretation will lie largely with the audience. Which is – to a large extent – the point. However, there are some themes that run through the piece. If you don’t want to know in advance, then please look away now. Otherwise, read on.

The show asks how can we break away from our day-to-day routines and certainties. How do we  allow ourselves to move beyond our own and others’ preconceptions of who we are and where our limits lie? What does it feel like to put ourselves willfully into a position of discomfort and embrace present uncertainties?

Through these explorations, is it possible to transcend our  instinct for self-preservation and expand our creative potential? And by so-doing, can we allow magic into our world?

And what’s that Kingfisher got to do with anything?…

 

… Come along and you’ll find out.

Book Tickets

Tel: 01225 463362
Email: boxoffice@bathfestivals.org.uk

Well That Was Weird…

Monday was the first performance of ‘Think of a Song’. No, don’t worry, you’ve not missed anything – this was the non-public part of the performance. If you haven’t fully grasped the concept of this show, let me explain…

All in the Mind

But first, I want to share my experiences from Monday’s show. This was performed in its entirety, with no breaks or edits. The space was empty, save the film crew, audio technician and myself. What was disconcerting was the sensation that, having thought the introductions (the part that will be heard on 31st May) in my mind, I than had the strange sensation of not knowing whether or not I was actually singing out loud .

It was clear that I was playing the guitar but I very nearly forgot to externalise the vocal more than once, as I had become accustomed to the voice inside my head. This was an interesting and disconcerting part of the experiment and, I have to admit, adversely affected my performance. It should not have been a surprise, since I always think of my shows as being a dialogue with the audience. Yet I came away with the distinct feeling of having in some way let myself down.

Experi-Mental

As an exploration of the role of the audience within a performance, this has – then – already yielded some significant results. All the more fascinating to see how it goes ‘on the night’. That is, the ‘second night’. Let me explain:

On May 31st, I will be performing the introductions to my songs in front of a live audience, who will then join me in thinking the songs as I play them through – silently – in my mind. Yesterday, I performed those same songs, in the same space, out loud and thought through the intros. This was all captured live on camera and digital audio. Footage from both performances will be edited together following the live show on May 31st and audience members will receive a CD of the songs they have just thought. Clear? Thought not!

Please don’t forget to book your tickets while they are still available. These can be ordered from Bath Festivals Box office on 01225 463362 or online here .

 

 

Am I Having a Meltdown?

‘Meltdown’, London 2011

“What on earth is that all about? ” is a question often asked in response to challenging works of contemporary art. When an artist dares to confound prevailing forms and trends, it appears  this can be quite an affront to the sensibilities of ‘the consumer’. Fortunately, however, there are plenty of artists out there who are not driven by the relentless drive for consumption.

Dancing at Bath Festival

One of these is Rosemary Lee. I had the good fortune to meet Rosemary about this time last year When I take part in one of her dance performances. “Hold on…” you say; “dance?!”. Well yes, but not perhaps as you know it. The piece was entitled ‘Meltdown’ and it took place, coupled with ‘Rise Up’, during last year’s Bath Festival (the big, grown-up ‘main festival’ ) in Victoria Park and The Circus.

The two choreographies were reworked for the  festival by Rosemary and her directors (Henrietta Hale for Meltdown), having originally been premiered in London in 2011. Local people were invited to participate. There was no requirement for experience in dance but an interest in movement and a degree of physical fitness were desirable. Originally, I was to be striking a bell for the performance but, having expressed an interest and there being a shortage of male dancers, was asked to step in at relatively short notice.

Powerful, Moving & Compelling

The piece itself comprises a group of men who appear within a designated space (in our case, surrounding  a tree in Victoria Park), then – on the signal of a chiming bell – reach to the heavens. They then ‘melt’ imperceptibly down to the ground over a period of 12 minutes, each passing minute marked by a further bell chime. All end up on the ground in a variety of positions, completely submitting to gravity, before slowly standing and leaving the space.

This may not sound terribly interesting but I can tell you it had several onlookers in tears. There is something about stillness, vulnerability and physical discomfort that is both compelling and deeply moving. Although the precise movement was not proscribed, the method behind it, as well is its positioning and coordination, was very carefully drilled and meticulously rehearsed. The resultant ever-shifting tableau of contorting bodies, with only ambient sound and the haunting bell as accompaniment was immensely powerful.

Breaking Free

I feel there are some very strong parallels between Meltdown and Think of a Song. Not least of which was that Meltdown jolted me out of my safe, accustomed role as a performer. It is easy to conform not only to one’s own expectations but also those of people who associate you with particular practices. So it is important to remain open to new challenges, even – and particularly – those that may be frightening or uncomfortable.

So now I’m breaking free from my own self-imposed constraints. It is entirely possible that I am indeed having a meltdown. But I think it is rather the case that this is  a progression and a letting go. I sincerely hope you will join me in this moment of discovery. Think of a Song is as much about  audience as  performer, so without you it would be meaningless. One could then rightly ask “what on earth was that all about?”

Lights, Cameras… Action

Preparations for the ground-breaking premier of ‘Think of a Song’ are well under way. A major element of the project is the filming, which is being handled by Martin Tomkins. Martin has already created stunning images for the show (as seen on this web site) and specializes in music videos, working with some great breakthrough acts, such as Port Erin and Rivers of England.

‘Aren’t you in Rivers of England?’ I hear you ask. Well yes, I am. And that’s how I became aware of Martin’s work. His video for the band’s recent single ‘In The Barley’ is a thing of sublime beauty: using hundreds of still photographs to create a moving sequence. And not just any old shots: each is perfectly framed and employs natural ambient lighting to amazing emotional effect.

Take a look for yourself :

Click here to watch ‘In The Barley’ at Martin Tomkins’ web site

So what’s that got to do with this show? Quite a lot as it happens. A key element will be capturing the two performances – yes two. In case you missed it in the blurb, the show comprises two performances: one with and one without audience. The first will take place in advance of the public show on May 31st, in the empty space, before it is set up for the Fringe. This will be filmed and recorded, the audio then presented to audience members after the live show on a complementary CD.

The film will capture and blend the two parts. In the first , I will be thinking the intros and singing the songs out loud in the empty space. In the second, I will be speaking the intros, then thinking the songs ‘out loud’ in front of an audience (including you, hopefully…). As well as providing a document of this unique event, the filming will serve to underline the role of audience as participants. In essence, you are the show.

I’m really excited to be working with Martin on this and know he will do a great job. Please note that in booking your ticket, you agree to be filmed and have your image used within the resulting footage, which may then be posted online and broadcast through various channels and events.

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Thanks for being a part of my show.

 

Why The Long Intros?

A variety of things are responsible for ‘Think of a Song’ coming into being. One is the fact that a number of people have commented on my lengthy song introductions at acoustic gigs. I have even been asked if I have a recording of these.

The reason for taking so much time explaining the stories behind the songs is that the lyrics are important to me and I want audiences to understand the context and nuance that informs them. A couple of artists initially led me to trying this out, after I saw how effective it was for them. Here’s the story of how I came to meet one of them.

Folk Roots

Back in the late 1990s, I had the honour and fortune to be working with some very accomplished folk musicians: Henry Seers, Jenny Crook and Dominic Harrison. As is the tradition within the folk scene, they went out as ‘Crook, Seers & Harrison’ (yes, genius). Their music was characterised by tightly arranged tune sets, woven around contemporary folk songs.

When I saw them perform, it was obvious to me that Dom’s driving Bluegrass-inspired rhythms could do with a little back-up and I suggested we tried adding drums to the mix. After one quick rehearsal, I joined them for an appearance at Gloucester Docks festival, followed the same day – and without warning – by a wedding. And within weeks, we were in the studio to record our first – and sadly only – album, ‘Uncorked’ (take a guess…).

Shetland Calling

It was also clear that we could not possibly become ‘Crooks, Seers, Harrison & Madigan’, unless we were planning to open an estate agency. So my serendipitously Celtic surname ‘Madigan’ was adopted as the band’s moniker. Under that name, we achieved some success in a relatively short time. And a highlight of this was an appearance at Shetland Folk Festival.

The festival takes place in May, just as the locals are emerging from a long, hard, gloomy winter. To say that they are up for a party would be a gross understatement. Each day comprised transport from the festival club in Lerwick to one of the many venues dotted about the islands, at which there would be a program of around 3 hours of music. After this, the artists would all return to the club, where ‘sessions’ (essentially folk-based jamming) would ensue until closing time at 4 am. Then somebody would say ‘OK – back to mine’ and the party would continue until some point well after dawn.

Francis Black

On the second evening, Madigan were scheduled to close the show, after Francis Black. Now, at that point, I had no idea who she was. So Francis and I had a very pleasant chat during the soundcheck, whilst my band mates worked themselves into a nervous frenzy.  The reason for their trepidation was that they were more than  aware of Ms Black’s reputation (she was at that time one of Ireland’s biggest exports) and somewhat intimidated at the prospect of performing after her.

With good reason. Francis had the audience eating out of her hand before she had even sung a note. She did this by telling tales of her upbringing in Ireland (with her equally talented siblings). She told of hardship, love, adversity and triumph. And all of this dressed to the nines; oozing charm and confidence.

A Touch of the Old Blarney

Now, I am not so well endowed in those last two departments but – perhaps because of my own (if somewhat distant) Irish roots – can talk for England. And, for whatever reason, people seem to like the chat. It serves both to calm me and to let the audience into my world. The specifics of my lyrics can then make sense to an unfamiliar crowd and they can relate them to their own experiences.

The logical step to removing the songs altogether was not such a big one. Although, of course, there is more to it than that…

Book your tickets of ‘Think of a Song’

 

An Opening Act to Die For

Paul Bradley is a rightstrung lefthanded guitarist, bandleader, composer, triple-octave singer, improviser, sessioneer, collaborator and multi-instrumental livelooper-cum-raconteur.

I’m so excited to have Paul Bradley confirmed as the opening act for this, the premier performance of ‘Think of a Song’ at Bath Fringe Festival on 31st May.

Paul and I originally met onstage in a backstage bar at Glastonbury Festival in 2014, when we had both been invited to play with Chris Powell’s awesome improv/funk collective ‘World Government’.

That, in turn, had come about for me after a chance encounter with Chris backstage at The Bandstand, run by Bath Fringe impresario Steve Henwood.  So there seems to be a pleasing symmetry to having Paul open for me at the Fringe. Moreover, Paul’s unique, innovative and powerfully idiosyncratic performance style will suit this event perfectly.

It is impossible to overstate Paul’s talent and originality. Please do check out his YouTube clips and Soundcloud – but be assured that nothing compares to witnessing him live and unshackled.

“Undiscovered genius” Jazzwise

“Consistently captivating” Guardian

“Wonderful” Independent on Sunday

“One of the most truly original composers and performers in the country” Venue (Bristol)

Book Your Tickets Here

Taking Shape

What started as a crazy idea that refused to go away is now developing into a reality. The venue is booked; the film-maker has been hired; promotional photos taken and – best of all – a top-draw opening act has been secured.

Location, Location, Location

Finding the right venue for this show was key to its taking place. Having performed at the Old Theatre Royal before, I was aware of its imposing space and historical sense of grandeur. But only when I went back there to take a look with ‘Think of a Song’ in mind, did I sense the unique atmosphere, realising immediately that this is the natural home for the show.