Live: David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble – 23rd Sept

Read our extended interview with the engaging David Thomas Broughton right here

If his music on record has the beauty, complexity and diversity of birdsong, then David Thomas Broughton’s live performances are the theatrical, chaotic and spontaneous reality of a predatory bird in pursuit of its prey, crossed with the bizarre but endearing courtship display of the male hummingbird. His spectators can observe his rituals and behaviours ceaselessly and can only expect to emerge in a confused state of awe.

This show is not him alone though; tonight Juice Vocal Ensemble join him on stage to showcase their recent collaborative Sliding the Same Way.

The first two songs of the set lead in relatively conventionally, or as much as you could anticipate from someone acclaimed for their unpredictable stage antics. ‘Woodwork’ naturally preludes ‘Yorkshire Fog'; both showcase Broughton’s rich, cooing vocals, but the latter of these songs is given the perfect setting by girls’ crystal a capella.

Soon enough, during the delicate harmonies of ‘Oh, Nurse of Mine’, Broughton turns to a small case brimming with all manner of equipment: a device that emits a monotonous tone akin to that of a heart monitor, another to both distort his voice and to emulate something between flatulence and a toy train, to name a few.

Unpleasant as these additions may sound if taken at surface level, they actually add depth to the performance, particularly for ‘Unshaven Boozer’. Juice Vocal Ensemble’s sound effects on record seem to parrot the subtle voices of the boozer’s drinks: the crack of a can opening, the whispering of a dying froth, the chug and glug of a bottle being emptied, but amongst the bleeping and indiscernible distortions of David’s equipment it could just as well be the mechanics of the industrial town of which the lyrics speak.

As he begins one of two songs in the set from his second album Outbreeding, the girls seem to take a backseat, but this is only meant to lull us into a false sense of security for this is the song to which Broughton refers the following day in a Facebook status, saying “I feel a little violated. But I gave them free reign. So I let myself in for it. Surprises all round!” ‘Nature’ is one of his more energetic songs, so while he is brought into a state of dishevelment, his unaffected stamina is shown to be thoroughly impressive. He performs with his usual intensity and modest plume, like that of a heron, as they unlace his shoes, unbutton his shirt, turn up his collar and swap his watch for one of their own.

Only when he has the appearance of a disorientated fledgling, do Juice turn on the audience, or rather, those of us wearing watches. No longer are we entitled to keep track of time, not only for our watches now embellish the arms of the band, but I think it fair to say we are all lost in delighted befuddlement.

For David Thomas Broughton, anything and everything is a prop, a means to add some everyday surrealism and to baffle audience and musicians alike. His success is most palpable when his simple “Cheers” swiftly plummets us into the realisation that the performance is over – a man humbly potters on the stage as his counterparts lie sprawled across the floor. They rise. No one knows what just happened but titters of joy are to be heard all around as we migrate away from the stage.

 

All photos by Sarah Dorman

The Red Detachment of Women review

In the build up to the Cultural Revolution, director Jin Xie’s The Red Detachment of Women made a huge impact on the public imagination – so much so, that it was adapted for the stage as one of the party’s eight models for revolutionary opera. Put together by Jiang Qing, the last wife of Mao Zedong, these eight works for stage were designed to inspire revolutionary consciousness and foster class solidarity, as was practically every other facet of popular entertainment. This was one of the PRC’s many tactics in its attempt to purge itself of all things counter-revolutionary, whether physical or psychological. So favourable was the resulting ballet, that it was performed for then president Richard Nixon during his visit in ‘72.

Thematically, one might assume this was an unsettling ordeal for him. Based on the true story of an armed, all-female company of the Red Army during the civil war, The Red Detachment tells the story of Qionghua, a slave of the wealthy landowner Nan Ba Tian. Early in the film she is liberated via covert means by Communist forces, themselves entrenched in the surrounding mountains. With only one road left open to her, she joins a newly formed, all-female division of soldiers, applies for party membership, and throws herself into the business of violent, armed struggle. The tyrant is overthrown, the village is freed, and all is well in the world – that is until Nan Ba Tian returns with a large KMT force, and the struggle (always the struggle) resumes.

The Red Detachment is a film depicting inter-dimensional conflict – two worlds struggling for possession of our space-time. Nan Ba Tian’s house for example is a fortress of misery and despair, where the sheer volume of possessions, the very palette of wealth and decadence, encroaches on every shot. The air hangs heavy with claustrophobic oppression. His water dungeons are full to capacity, and through them drift the tortured cries of villagers unable to pay the goddamn rent. Every move is measured – slaves and servants tread carefully, and only on command. Nobody speaks save those spoken to by their masters.

Later, the Communists liberate the same house. The curtains are thrown back. Light floods the now spacious halls, cleared of their bourgeoisie trinkets, and everywhere are villagers, soldiers, and party members, cheerfully chatting away and helping each other to understand their role in the revolution.

This is just one example of the blunt disparities on show. Others are even grander in scope. Nan Ba Tian visibly deteriorates over the course of the uprising, to such an extent that come the end, he’s little more than a pale husk, pleading for mercy. By contrast, it’s always sunny in the CPR. Amid unfettered, pastoral simplicity, Quionghua and the gang are the very picture of health, suffused with the seemingly limitless energy. They sing, they dance, they fall in love, and willingly endure all grief in the name of the collective.

It’s propaganda so blunt in its delivery it should come with a health warning – and it’s all the better for it. The Red Detachment is a joy to witness – an uncompromised vision of people’s desire to reconnect with their labour that resonates powerfully at a time when there may not be many jobs, but in the wake of cuts and more cuts, there’s a hell of a lot work to do.

The Red Detachment concludes Chapter’s Chinese season, and was an inspired choice on their part – a rare opportunity to experience what might have easily been dismissed as a tasteless, outdated relic from the traumatic experiments of the Cultural Revolution.

Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco Review

A play about the stories we tell ourselves

It’s been 13 years since Gary Owen’s breakthrough hit, Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco, premiered at Chapter Cardiff. It was met with high acclaim and launched Gary Owen on an award littered trajectory that would spawn such theatrical hits as The Shadow of a Boy and The Drowned World. Now picked up by Waking Exploits theatre company, Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco returns to Wales, where it all began.

From the offset, it’s clear that director Matt Ball has put his stamp on this with a minimalist stage design stripped of all unnecessary props. As the audience’s murmurs hush into silence, the stage lights turn on and three men stare out at us; Gary, Mathew and Russell. One after the other, each character recalls their story, rarely relying on anything other than their words to portray their circumstances. Without the influence of backdrops and full sets we are forced to see the world through the character’s eyes. When Gary marches towards us, screaming about karaoke, we have nothing else to look at- it’s just him and us- and that’s how it begins.

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Gary is a bully who brags about the violent deeds he enacts on other men. His victims are defined- in Gary’s terms- as weak, posh and four-eyed; everything he is not. When he refers to school his eyes glaze over with nostalgia for the good old days. Gary is the worst type of bully, he understands the psychology of dominance and he loves watching men squirm under his gaze of masculinity. But Gary’s story is a façade. His self-constructed world bursts at the seams with Gary’s real problems. He wants to be loved; a clichéd trope which could possibly have led the play into all-to familiar territory, but in the able performance of Jordan Bernade, it becomes an engaging feature, always present underneath his words but never explicitly stated. A chance encounter with the girl of his dreams thrusts Gary into a verbal frenzy as he wrestles with the vocabulary he has to hand to recollect the incident. Here we see deep universal feelings burst through in analogies of cold pints and fist fights. But Gary only lets his guard down for a few fleeting minutes. In a move that is perhaps slightly heavy handed, it is revealed that Gary has a fear of crying; a character defining flaw which is maybe too conveniently symbolic for an otherwise organic character.

From Gary we move onto Mathew; a soft-spoken man whose unnerving story is punctuated by karaoke(think‘Only God Forgives’ but with Frank Spencer instead of Ryan Gosling). For all his niceties Mathew is just as deluded as Gary. His sole purpose is to serve God and sing Karaoke. He is talentless and yet remains stunned by the fact he hasn’t yet “made it”.  Yet there is a deeper level of delusion operating in Mathew; his naïve outlook is stretched to its limit as he recalls his sinister story of dark deeds and confrontations. Visual cues spill out onto screens in the foreground (tellingly out of view of the character), adding a menacing shadow to Mathew’s sugar-coated words. These projected images, of mouthfuls of blood and milk spilling down chins, were there during Gary’s explosive outbursts. The same repressed emotion that defines Gary lies bubbling under Matthew.

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The final act is for Russell, a man stuck in a rut of a loveless relationship in a town that he despises. Beneath the banality of Russell’s life lies a secret that has come to define him; a dark secret that anchors him to his hometown. Sion Pritchard deserves a special mention for his performance as Russell. His character arc dramatically shifts from a relatable man who wants desperately to move out of the valleys, to something altogether unrecognizable. This transition is fairly rapid but Russell remains the most believable character out of the three. Again, recurring phrases and projections drill home the quite clear message, at this stage, that all three characters are fuelled by the same thing. The fact they are all male is no accident. Questions of masculinity plague all three characters. All three live in the same Welsh valleys town, a place stripped of its industry and influence over the world; what better place to ask questions of perceived male impotence.

Gary Owen’s script ties together the three stories with just the right amount of serendipity. Each story complements the other without it ever seeming contrived. There is perhaps an interesting social message to Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco. All three characters have been left on their own for too long and are in desperate need of help. Their delusions serve to blanket them from the harsh realities of the world. Whether they are outrunning commitment, love or a particular traumatic experience, it all ends the same. The worlds of Gary, Mathew and Russell are testament to the fact that while we inevitably make stories about ourselves, we ultimately have no say in what happens.

 

Images: Farrows Creative

 

In The Mood For Love review

I know almost nothing about Chinese history. This is an admission I’m willing to share as Marc did in his review for Song at Midnight. Then, this year the BFI launched an unprecedented Chinese film season; some titles in the programme have never before been screened in the UK.

There’s no better a title with which to take the plunge than Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, an atmospheric and seminal film with a seemingly slight plot, phantasmagorical beauty and a bunch of accolades (anointed most important Chinese film ever by Sight & Sound and nominated for the 2000 Palme d’Or).

Secretary Su Li-zhen rents a room in a Hong Kong apartment building on the same day as journalist Chow Mo-wan. Despite friendly neighbours and the bustling city-life below, they find themselves repeatedly alone, either in their respective rooms in the crowded tenement or walking to the local street noodle vendor. Both of their spouses consistently work overtime shifts and arouse suspicions surrounding fidelity. The cinematography is protracted and saturated, lingering over their loneliness. A title card at the beginning of the film reads, “It is a restless moment. Hong Kong 1962.” This restiveness is palpable throughout, sustained not only through dialogue but a rich cinematic lexicon.

The shots in which Su and Chow encounter one another are dramatically slowed down, as though the fleeting instant of the brushing of a shoulder could last an eternity. The pair eventually meets to work on a martial arts serial for a newspaper, developing a platonic relationship with a tightly orchestrated subtle and suffused desire. The social conduct of 1960s Hong Kong dictates that even their friendship must be kept a secret. Add the brooding lull of Nat King Cole to the stunning palette that Wong is well known for and you’ve got a flush of gorgeous emotion.

Wong once answered a poll by the Village Voice about his favourite film endings. Speaking of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclipse, he wrote “A sequence of empty shots at the end of the film revisits many of the locations seen earlier. Suddenly, one realises this film is not about Monica Vitti or Alain Delon, but about the place they live in.” This is true of In the Mood for Love, almost undoubtedly. Their secret kinship is very much informed by the breath-taking city below; the mise en scene flows with the changing setting, morphing from traditional flowery motifs to bold, modern patterns. As the two venture through alleyways, there’s an overwhelming and hanging aesthetic of film noir that embeds their unrequited desire, made all the more cruel and intangible by their ever absent partners. One can tell that Wong Kar-Wai thinks through the camera lens and the results are heartbreaking.

Chapter’s Electric Shadows season concludes on Tuesday 23rd September with The Red Detachment of Women.

An Interview with David Thomas Broughton

Ahead of his show at Clwb Ifor Bach on Sept 23rd and a forthcoming documentary about him, we chatted with the intensely talented David Thomas Broughton

With David Thomas Broughton, it was fascination-at-first-listen. The fluctuating, meandering spirals of Ever Rotating Sky caught me in a trance and it’s not completely implausible that I’ve been hypnotised into a state of awe ever since. It is often his spontaneity, his unconventional stage antics and the peculiar beauty of his music that catches the attention of his audiences though. Having not yet seen him live, I’m at a loss as to what to expect at Clwb Ifor Bach later this month, but I’ve heard tales of upturned chairs, a personal attack alarm making an unlikely debut in duet, and various fruit and vegetables incorporated into his performances. All to be ascertained from this is that the show will be a heady cocktail of the strange and spectacular. Prior to his upcoming show with Juice Vocal Ensemble in Cardiff, I ask him about the documentary currently in the works about him, music in South Korea, and the appeal of the Log Lady.

As part of the upcoming Documentary about you, the film makers asked you to prepare a set from scratch for End of the Road festival – leaving you alone with a variety of instruments in a room for 2 days. Were you content with the outcome and the audiences reaction?
It was an interesting thing to actually put a process in place. I’m usually resigned to the fact that stage fright, or whatever it is that happens to me, means any plans and ideas I build up prior to a show are lost as my mind goes blank. However, as much as I attempted to build ideas to form a set for the festival, things played out in the only way it seems they are able to. All plans and new song ideas that had developed during the previous weekend vanished as I stepped on stage. And despite being able to reel off some of the more memorable songs from my latest record, the show is always a process of recalling fragments of ideas and stumbling through assembling sounds from what I have provided myself on stage. As such, I can’t say anything about differing audience responses or whether I was content with it. A show is never something I am totally happy with because of the circumstances explained above.

How have you felt about the documentary so far? 
It is flattering and strange. I still find it funny how much of a response I have had to my music and performance. And I’m impressed by the director’s dedication. There had been an idea around for some time to document the perception of what I do, as it is often cause for some disagreement as to its worth as music or art, as to whether I am a fraud or not. I do something I enjoy, and have found a platform to sing, but also tackle any other idea of performance or expression I feel like trying or feel is in need of release. It is not something I like to analyse, and in this respect I’m not necessarily keen to hear what people have to say about it. But I know some people are keen to discuss it.

Has anything in the documentary interviews surprised you? Has it changed your perception of what people think of you or how you view your own music?
As I’m not really involved I don’t know what’s being said. Greg has not revealed anything to me as he’s keen on it being a surprise, should I watch the whole thing. I know that some people like what I do, or that’s what I hear, as the people who hate it probably don’t go up to people to lambast them to their faces. I know there’s dislike out there too though as people are looking for different things from a performer, I know this because there are things I like that others don’t and things I don’t like that others do.

Have you found your approach to spontaneity, particularly in performances, has changed (or do you expect it to change) in regards to your recent collaboration with Juice Vocal Ensemble?
There is definitely an added awareness of others and a need to give them space that sometimes reigns in my wandering. But I have been lucky to work with people who are happy to take on spontaneity and react to me doing exactly what I always do. To some extent it can provide me an added prompt or stimulus to take a show somewhere it wouldn’t normally have gone, other times I kind of forget other people are adding their textures. It’s a funny thing, but I often have no consciousness of what is actually happening. And it takes some time or people’s post-show analysis to bring to mind what actually occurred during the set.

For much of the record – sliding the same way – it’s a much more structured affair and actual parts have developed which we will be trying to stick to, especially on the short a capella tracks, but it adds a nice pull back to centre a set. Despite trying to fix some of these tracks down the juice girls have the great enthusiasm and ability to join me on wildly different journeys using the songs as a base… We’ll just see what happens.

You’ve said before that your stage antics arise from boredom and a desire to explore the space and possibilities of your performance. Do you find yourself wanting to push expectations more and more as you become increasingly accustomed to the stage?
I do want to keep trying new things for my own entertainment, but I do also see a need to rely on recurring themes. Out of a pragmatism, giving me some fallbacks, and out of a recognition that giving a little of what is expected is good for audiences. Familiarity is not a bad thing, as it taps into emotion through sparking realisation as memories or shared life experience. To place this alongside surprises and spontaneity involving the space reinforces a shared experience in that moment. My mood and physical state also affects things. Obviously I’ll be lazy when tired, or less inclined to be nice if I’m angry. But the most tense shows often expose the rawest emotion and inspire more debate or introspection.

Have you performed in South Korea at all? How do audiences there receive you?
There is a different approach in the main, starting with technical ability, which makes it feel more of a challenge. But yes, I’ve done a few shows, and with somewhat limited audience for the small underground or alternative scene I’ve managed to peek into so far I have had good reception. The only thing is not being able to express the Englishness of the show, so any humour is not recognised so easily. They sense a general emotion of melancholy and sadness in the songs and tone of music. Some appreciate the process I put on show. But Korean culture tends to mean that they can’t really be negative so they politely say it was good even if they didn’t think so.

Why does imagery of birds, insects and the like feature so heavily In artwork for your albums and merchandise?
It is what I am interested in, it’s what I respond to in the world. I draw what I like or what I’m surrounded by. My attention is drawn to these things. I like to draw and I like detail. It often distracts and annoys me to think I can make out detail in things I can often drift off trying to just observe the world around me. Maybe there is also a recognition of the organic and natural as related to the how I have made music without being conscious of pre-planned structure (although there is structure there).

I noticed way back on Facebook you said “I wish every episode of my life had a log lady introduction” – do you find yourself wanting to incorporate aspects of film, music, art into your life to expand your performance into the everyday?
There will remain a separation between my everyday life and my performance, but there is no doubt that everyday life is what inspires art, film, music in general. I am a fan of misdirection or misinterpretation, so the log lady’s cryptic take of future events are my kind of funny, perplexing and sometimes cerebral. But, no, bringing my performance into the everyday is not what I want. But bringing the everyday into performance is surely a widespread and welcome procedure?

Is there a new record in the works of your own music?
Sure, we’ve mastered a massive recording session I completed over a few years exchanging mixes and new parts over the internet between me in Korea and a producer in France. We had sessions players come and add parts and I managed to pull in favours for guest singers and players and spoken word, contributions by email from Scotland, Bristol, Texas, London or me going round with iPad to capture their part. It’s quite a lot of music so let’s see what we can get out in 2015.

 

All photos by Sarah Dorman

Song At Midnight

I know nothing about Chinese history. Well, not nothing actually, it’s just that nothing that I do know about it is connected to anything else I do know about it and all of the details are fuzzy. So, basically nothing.

One of the downsides of this is that I found it quite hard to place what was happening in Song at Midnight. That, coupled with not ever having seen or been told the story of The Phantom of the Opera on which the film is loosely based makes for some pretty difficult stuff when attempting to understand what is important and what is not.

Part of Chapter’s Electric Shadows, a season of film programmed by the British Film Institute (BFI), Song at Midnight represents the earliest of examples of Chinese cinema. More importantly though – especially given the topic of the film itself – Song at Midnight is also the first full-sound production of the the Phantom myth.

It is hard to comment on what is so obviously a classic for many reasons. But the use of cinematography in this production is really quite wonderful.

For example, the way that a camera pans across a body of water and then up to a path where people are walking is a technique that seems way out of its time. Additionally, the scenes where Song Danping escapes from a crowd who are chasing him with torches are sublime – multiple shots overlaid on each other to give the impression of a much larger crowd.

Although as I have already mentioned, I am no expert in adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s story, even I can tell that there are several special elements to Director Weibang Ma-Xu’s version.

First and foremost, Song Danping the man who sings a song every midnight to his love – who he appears to live across the street from – is a monster not because of a birth defect, but because he was attacked by the local don (who happens to think that Song Danping is not quite feudal son-in-law material) and his henchmen. After a nitric acid attack, Song is subject to facial melting. Of course, this has the effect of making us really sympathise with a man who’s actually super nice referring to lots of people in the subtitles (more on that later) as ‘pal’ or ‘perfect pal.’ This is different to other interpretations of the gothic story which pitch the Phantom as a man to be feared.

Secondly, there is a really political history happening throughout this film. As it turns out, Song has already spent a large amount of his life in tragedy. Having changed identity once because he was a revolutionary fighter, he hides for years so that no-one will try to execute him. Then he assumes the identity of Song Danping who has a wonderful voice. Even the opera in which Song appears in flashbacks is a political one entitled ‘BLOOD’ – which compares the hero to an early period Robespierre of the French Revolution.

While the film itself was a very entertaining and compelling account of what 1930s Chinese attitudes to women, art and politics were, the most entertaining thing about this version of the film was the translation of the Chinese. Or rather, not the translation, but the errors in translation which appear so frequently.

Of course, no one will blame a translator for losing some of the sense of the original when it is translated into English – a language so utterly far removed from Chinese – but there are many instances in this reel where hilarious mishaps have occurred. For example, during a very serious conversation between Song Danping and the modern day hero of the story Sun Xiaoou, Song reveals that during his last ten years of torment, he has spent time: “Changing BLOOD and writing new material” which somehow places him next to an indie kid with a garage band rather than the enigmatic Phantom.

But really, these errors only add to the charm and entertainment that watching a film set in a place and time that have no relation to my own life whatsoever brings.

Electric Shadows continues all month at Chapter.

Pyramid Scheme and the Cardiff literary scene

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Recently, the literary scene in Cardiff has undergone something of a renaissance.

Traditionally Cardiff is a boring place for writing: most of the names you could list under the title of young writing are well past the proper age bracket. Many of the institutions you would be forced to label as avant garde are strictly apres garde these days.

So it’s pretty refreshing to see that there’s new blossom on a rugged old tree.

Take for example, Parthian books who are proving to be a formidable talent finding force. With the appointment of Susie Wild as an editor at the firm a little while ago, the company seems to have found its feet again.

Most notably, the publication of Dan Tyte’s Half Plus Seven earlier this year and their encouraging level of support for new literary voices such as Richard Owain Roberts (a Plastik contributor) whose debut collection All The Places We Lived will be published by Parthian early next year.

Perhaps more exciting are the quality grassroots events that are happening in the city for the first time in years. Take as an example Pyramid Scheme which takes place at Kings Road Studios this week organised by Tyte and Roberts.

“We wanted to put together something that felt relevant and spoke to us as writers and citizens of Cardiff, but was outward looking too. Pyramid Scheme seems essential, a great product,” the pair said. “It’s a fresh take on the usual warm wine and stale conversation of most literary nights. The Kings Road Artist Studios will add an air of creativity a cut above the normal reading spaces of chain bookstores.”

Joined by a host of new authors and also some new writers, Pyramid Scheme will demonstrate that a page has truly been turned in Cardiff literary life.

Also reading:

  • Joao Morais

  • Guillaume Morissette (New Tab, Vehicule Press) live from Montreal, Quebec

  • with music by Summer Ghost

  • Pyramid Scheme, 19h August 28 2014, Kings Road Artist Studios, Pontcanna CF11 9DF