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The Life of P

Tag: bitter ruin

Joining the Dots

The House of Burlesque are back at the London Wonderground on the Southbank this summer with fantastic new show. Last year I caught the very last show of their run so it was too late to offer you a recommendation. This time, I am pleased to say you have no fewer than four dates left from which to choose. If you don’t see them, that’s on you. Whilst the Spiegeltent is undoubtedly less intimate a venue than many of London’s cabaret spots, it is a stunning environment to showcase the performers, with the space alone allowing the circus acts in particular to shine. Lauren and I both came away impressed.

Sxip ShireyHanging out after the show I bumped into Sxip Shirey who is here as the composer for Limbo, the Wonderground’s headline circus show, which has been receiving great reviews. I have not seen Sxip since he toured with Brian Viglione and Elyas Khan as Gentlemen & Assassins a little over two years ago. As we chatted over a couple of drinks, I was reminded of just how great that Icelandic volcanic ash cloud in 2010 really was. Of course it massively disrupted everyone’s travel plans at the time and left people stranded in all sorts of places but, if not for that volcano which actually prevented me from seeing Sxip for the first time, we would not be sharing these drinks together.

In 2010, Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley had a two-person show as Evelyn Evelyn, which was hosted by Sxip. Amanda was already in Europe but the ash cloud unexpectedly prevented  the other two from flying, so the gig morphed into a solo show supported by a flurry of bands that Amanda had met who were having similar difficulties as a result of the transport nightmare. Melissa Auf der Maur captured it succinctly, “A volcano and Twitter brought me to you. Do you realise how beautiful that is?” Well sure, but it turned out I would never get to see Evelyn Evelyn.

Sxip ShireyOne of the other support acts that night was a duo called Bitter Ruin. You have seen me rave about (and photograph) Georgia and Ben repeatedly, of course, but my sister and I stumbled upon them entirely by accident at this show. We followed them closely whenever they played in London, which is how we discovered that one night in the March of 2011 they were supporting the newly formed Gentlemen & Assassins. We attended this magical, intimate first gig together for Sxip, Brian and Elyas full of raw energy and a unique spirit as these three musicians crafted something that kept them all centre-stage without any of them slipping into a supporting role. To illustrate this post I have dug up some never-before-seen photos from that gig.

And so, sipping a drink in the Wonderground last night, I instantly recognised a distinctive wild tangle of hair and headed over to greet Sxip. We drank and chatted into the early hours, railing against the shift from state to corporate control, and the socially dangerous results of cutting arts funding (“You fund the arts to stop people being assholes,” says Sxip, “otherwise that’s what happens.”). None of which would have happened without a belligerent volcano that brought European air traffic to a standstill several years ago.

Sxip ShireyThere’s probably some platitude here about “recognising hidden blessings”. But really my point is that sometimes you can only tell just how well something worked out when you look back later and join the dots. People will tell you always to look to the future or to live only in the present. They are wrong. Look back, join the dots, reclaim those moments that seemed awful, now that you know where they were taking you. The past is, of course, the key to understanding who you are now: it may be as simple as plotting the course that led to you having a drink with someone, but it expands to why you are surrounded by the people you are, how your friendship group is constructed through gains and losses, and you just might find something more fundamental that defines you. But I’m not sharing that…

Musically Connected

Stepping OutAbout a month ago I joked that musically, if nothing else, this year works. I realised in a recent conversation that because, entirely by coincidence, a bunch of friends and acquaintances are all releasing new albums this year, I probably sound far better connected than I actually am. I fully expect the number to drop to zero next year. But for now, I have three album releases to bring to your attention.

I have mentioned jazz singer/pianist Anthony Strong here before, though arguably not as often as I ought. Recently signed to French label Naive records, his new album Stepping Out is fantastic. Quite aside from the fact we have known each other since primary school, the album’s quality has now been independently verified after the reception it received at Keggfest. Meanwhile Lauren and I can both attest that the launch party at the Hippodrome casino was a roaring success, requiring some remedying the following day!

Georgia Train of Bitter RuinWhilst they have continued to play regular live shows, honing their sound and exploring new ways to increase their exposure, it has been several years since Bitter Ruin released a full-length album. Now Georgia and Ben have turned to Kickstarter to fund their new album after some calculations revealed it would be cheaper to build their own studio than to pay for the studio time they need. Having put up the first £10,000, they needed another £20,000 from Kickstarter. They need not have been apprehensive given the overwhelming support they received, with the entire sum being pledged within 12 hours. They have ten days left to go, and further funds will help with session musicians and the like, as well as securing you some cool merch. Give it a look, if only for the brilliant animated video that charts the pair’s history condensed to a couple of minutes. Personally, I am rather excited to see the end results of the full canvas paintings Georgia has been working on for one of the higher reward tiers.

Jaz Delorean of Tankus the HengeFinally, although I have seen Jaz Delorean play solo sets on  regular basis, I had neglected to see his band Tankus the Henge, despite the fact I am hardly in a position to fault their nocturnal habits (routinely going on-stage around midnight). The release of their debut album seemed like an ideal opportunity to rectify this oversight, with a brilliant launch show at The Lexington. About as difficult to categorise as Bitter Ruin, Jaz describes his gravelly vocals as “like a younger Tom Waits” which is “crossed with Madness” once you add the full band. With smoke billowing out of an upright piano adorned with piping and dials as their fans cavort in steampunk attire, their live shows are certainly quite a sight. You can catch them all round the UK this summer.

Couple these three with finally seeing Sigur Rós in February and Voltaire in May, and you can see why I am suitably content to rely on music to see me through the year, if nothing else will. Any other recommendations are welcome as always.

Trust Is (Not) For Fools

I’ve mentioned Bitter Ruin here several times: they’re an unsigned Brighton duo whom I’ve shot many times in the past. Their theatrical stage performance blends acoustic guitar with startling vocals and dark lyrics that are often structured as duel-like arguments. Most agree their best song to date is Trust, for which they finally released a great music video a few months ago.

Now these talented upstarts have decided they want to chart. Reaching the UK Top 40 is actually an alarmingly achievable goal, but the industry makes it considerably more difficult if you don’t have a big label promoting you. So the band are relying on word of mouth and social networking, aiming to prove these tools are sufficient for independent music to gain commercial success. The deal is simple: buy Trust this week and, if you feel like it, tell other people about it too. For 79p you’ll be helping to get some fantastic independent music into the UK charts, which I’d love to see, as well as supporting two incredibly friendly, talented individuals.

I also want to highlight a couple of trailers:

Premium Rush, about a bike messenger being pursued across the city by a dirty cop, wouldn’t normally pique my interest except that Joseph Gordon Levitt has had an incredible eye for good scripts. It’s not that I don’t like films about cyclists, it’s just that several years dodging blissfully unaware Cambridge cyclists tends to breed a healthy distaste for that species.

The Raid, set in the Jakarta slums, is the ideal adrenaline-fuelled action movie trailer that just doesn’t let up. I don’t watch a lot of pure action films these days, but this is the sort of trailer that makes me take notice.

Bitter Ruin: Costume Change

GeorgiaFor those who don’t really care about the words that follow, here’s a gallery of photos from two Bitter Ruin gigs.

My overtly eclectic taste in music means that, while I certainly like some artists more than others, I have never been fanatical enough about a single band to become one of those dedicated few that follows the entire European leg of a tour, a permanent front-row presence that the band starts to recognise. While I wouldn’t trade the spread of music for a narrower focus, I always felt like I was missing out on some part of the fan experience. So it took me slightly by surprise when, during another band’s set at Bitter Ruin‘s Underworld gig, Georgia spotted me in the crowd and waved. Having accidentally discovered the band together, Romina and I now meet up every time the band play in London as a kind of sibling bonding ritual. Enough, certainly, that the band know whom we are and will even have the odd drink.

BenUnusually this meant seeing them play twice this month, both times in Camden: once at the Underworld at once at Proud. Seeing them twice is hardly a chore, but the second show was made more unique as the band were debuting both a new music video and new stage costumes, replacing the ones which had been their signature look for the past two years. Discussing the unveiling of the latter with Ben at the earlier Underworld gig, he seemed slightly confused by my apprehension, but given the theatrical nature of Bitter Ruin’s live performance, their fans have become so comfortably familiar with their stage appearance that any change was as unnerving as it was exciting. Naturally we need not have worried, their updated appearance creating a similar vibe with a more mature sensibility. I suspect Georgia was relieved to lose the heavy (if incredibly evocative) eye make-up, with the strange result that she looks younger while dressed older. The choice of song for the new video, the softer A Brand New Me, surprised many but looks as gorgeous as expected (if filthier), directed again by Mark Withers who also helmed the excellent Beware video. Meanwhile the band continue to take to the stage with increasing ease, Ben quipping, “When we say, ‘Any requests?’, what we mean is, ‘Can you guess what song we’re going to play next?'”

Weird Life Goals

On 30th March 2005, at a Nine Inch Nails gig at the London Astoria, I stumbled upon a small theatrical two-piece band from the US called The Dresden Dolls as they broke into the UK music scene. While their short support set blew me away at the time (and arguably outperformed the headline act) I probably didn’t realise the lasting impact they would have. Sadly I never had another opportunity to see them live before they split up.

One half of the Dolls is Amanda Palmer, who is regularly mentioned here as she routinely tours the UK. And so, a few years after I first saw them, I was able to have her sign my Dresden Dolls album. Drummer Brian Viglione, on the other hand, remained in the States and never graced our shores with his presence. It seemed increasingly unlikely I would ever get the album fully signed but it sat there, an unfinished work in progress, and it gradually evolved into a Weird Life Goal eventually to complete it.

Years passed. Amanda continued to visit the UK. Brian did not. At a concert disrupted by the volcanic ashcloud, another small theatrical two-piece called Bitter Ruin stepped in to support Amanda, and my sister and I became instant fans. Earlier this year Bitter Ruin announced a March gig at the Underworld with the newly formed Gentlemen & Assassins, fused from several bands. Their drummer: Mr Brian Viglione.

Even as I dropped the half-signed album into my camera bag, I didn’t really think it would happen. And frankly seeing Brian drum was enough. His skill is in making precision seem effortless; instead the energy (and there’s a lot) all goes into infusing his performance and sound with character.

But after the gig he emerged — those who have met him will know he is the nicest guy, incredibly grounded — and was happy to sign everything from legs to ukuleles to, well, my album. If you want to know what a Weird Life Goal looks like, here it is. We chatted briefly, I mentioned seeing the Dolls play live with NIN (“At the Astoria?” he asked incredulously, “Wow.”) and it dawned on me just how long this moment had been in coming. The signed album was insignificant, but the breadth of time and experiences it represented were not. I grinned the whole journey home.

So I guess the point of this is post is not to give up on those Weird Life Goals, however unlikely or unnecessary they seem. What they represent is something else entirely, and from the other side they will always make you smile.

Apologies for the inexplicably low-quality thumbnail images in this post.

Just One Evelyn

A volcano and Twitter brought me to you. Do you realise how beautiful that is?

-Melissa Auf der Maur

Evelyn Evelyn on Thursday night at KOKO may be have been the best ever gig that wasn’t. The quirky music of Evelyn Evelyn is performed by the fictional titular conjoined twins (or a musical and artistic collaboration between Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley, depending on your level of suspension of disbelief). Unfortunately one of the Evelyns (Jason Webley) couldn’t make it because she (he) was stuck in the US due to the volcanic ash cloud disruption. The result was a mess. And excellent.

I have previously described Amanda Palmer gigs as being “Amanda and friends” or, in this case, Amanda and whoever she dragged through the ash cloud. Luckily for us this included the sublime Bitter Ruin. A small band from Brighton, this twosome features the incredible voice of Georgia Train, by turns equally powerful and delicate, coupled with the Spanish twang of Ben Richards’ guitar. Be sure to listen to Trust and Soldier (and if you only click one link, make it that one). I find myself already eagerly anticipating the May release of their full album. Also supporting were the disarmingly enthusiastic Robots in Disguise (who may actually be robots in disguise) and the assured Melissa Auf der Maur (who may grow on me).

In a creative solution to the missing Evelyn, the gig was punctuated by a scripted fake webcast with Jason on plane to the UK, projected on a giant screen at the back of the stage, through which he could chat to Amanda and play a couple of songs with her. To explain the extent of the range of music experience that evening I could mention the country song about Icelandic volcanic ash clouds, but it really requires just three words: ukulele Radiohead cover.

Amanda seemed to flag a little (likely through exhaustion) by the end, but returned for a superb second encore with an energetic Girl Anachronism followed by a sort of Sex Pistols karaoke, with the lyrics to Anarchy in the UK projected as the crowd sang along, the front row (and Neil Gaiman) danced up on stage and Amanda Palmer crowd surfed. A fantastic closing given that it was conceived that very day when Amanda and Neil sat in a café as Malcolm McLaren’s funeral procession passed. Touring issues be damned, (record label) freedom clearly suits her well.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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