I’ve always considered percussionists – the ones who are as at home with tuned or rhythm instruments – as the epitome of cool. The hipper cousin to the comparatively staid pianist. Percussionists can conjure up all manner of wizardry, bedazzle you with their technique. There’s more on display too – we can see the mechanics of sound project in a way that is hidden on the piano. Percussionists are cool. That’s all there is to say.
Joby Burgess consistently makes full use of this perception I articulate. At Peckham CLF a few years back and at Two Moors Festival last year, he surrounds himself with a great many contraptions, some recognisable others not, to create sound worlds that raise or lower the heart rate. In live performance he combines this with a low-key schoolboy charm that makes the sounds he creates all the more incredible. It’s a technique that hooks you in.
Percussionists Songbook carries across this instinct for entertainment into a commercially minded playlist of good vibe tracks that reward curiosity with aural treats. The sleeve notes draw on Joby’s love of pop. The genre is evident in some of the tracks – Yazz Ahmed’s Throw Your Pumpkin is good example, so too Gabriel Prokofiev’s Dr Calvin Remembered. Take Me Home uses echoes of an 80s pop melody, to build an uplifting mid-tempo anthem begging for a montage, jangly bells spilling over the edges.
Joby Burgess achieves something very special in A Percussionists Songbook, combining 20th century musical ideas, each unmistakably of their time, into a composite sound that sounds fresh. And like all well produced albums it’s one you’ll want to listen to from beginning to end.
Prominent exterior signage would help at Peckham’s CLF. The former cricket bat factory has such a range of office, event and creative spaces that go under the banner of the Bussey that an ill-thought out stride through the wrong entrance could result in disappointment.
After visits there to see Opera Story’s production of Dani Howard’s Robin Hood, and one or two other events I always assume the main spaces are accessed via the side entrance. But there is a door at the front – leading up two flights of stone stairs to an white washed adorned with bulky post-war speakers hinting at its industrial past. That’s the key space for me. I probably just need to make a mental note.
This detail is worth stating again (not least because my archive of blog posts is currently unavailable due to a malware attack). CLF’s interior sets the tone, long before a note has been played. And if you’ve had a fraught day full of busy-ness that tone is distinctively one of escapism. A life never lived because you never dared, now possible because it’s open, uncluttered, unfussy and welcoming.
Percussionist Joby Burgess has a similar air. Cool, passionate, proud and excited. He retains the cool-kid-who-plays-the-drums-from school vibe, at the same time as speaking with knowledge, experience and love about every composer’s work he brings to life
Wizard-like creations of live sequences permeated this intimate gig showing Burgess as nimble, light-footed, and assertive, marshalling multiple forces to construct imaginative worlds impossible to ignore. Becca Dale’s work written for Burgess – fun, atmospheric, playful and sweet – did much to set the tone. Spirit and verve gently squeezed out from each tantalising melodic cell. Gabriel Prokofiev’s Fanta Bottle riff was riveting storytelling reminiscent of any GCSE music students composition class, Burgess delivering deft theatre and effortless self-deprecation.
Composer, producer and curator Alex Groves Curved Form was scored largely for tam tams – provided a more reflective piece of storytelling. Not so much chilling as gratifyingly dark. An ambient creation that satisfied my NLP weaknesses, healing the flesh-wounds of the day that had gone before it.
Feldman’s King of Denmark – a whispered response to Stockhausen – continued the compelling listening experience but in comparative terms the material felt more a passive aggressive response to Stockhausen’s creative madness. In that way I’m not sure it worked quite so well in the running order – the other works shone brighter. Max de Wardener’s Winterreise infused exploration pushed us the edges of comfortable listening with anguished fragments of barely recognisable material and very loud drums. Some in the audience stuck their fingers in their ears.
Linda Buckley’s brilliant Discordia for sonic harp complete with rosin-coated gloves made for a mesmerising conclusion. This 2018 Barbican commission deserves more outings in evocative spaces after a recording has been released for streaming and download. An ambient-lover’s must-listen.
Alex Groves continues to show his creative and producer mettle with SOLO which combined with his gentle affability must surely project him and his work higher and higher. So too I hope for CLF Art Cafe which has over the past two years developed into a must-be-booked-at South London venue.