Lisbee Stainton Band / Bird Radio, Studio Theatre, Courtyard Arts Centre, Hereford, 04/10/2012.
Friday, October 05, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Ian Mann enjoys impressive live performances from two artists with local connections.
Lisbee Stainton Band / Bird Radio, Studio Theatre, The Courtyard Arts Centre, Hereford, 04/10/2012.
Every now again it’s good to hear music that takes me out of my self imposed jazz bubble. This week circumstances have combined to find me checking out the music of four very different young songwriters, all of them rising stars with the potential to go on to bigger and better things. Tuesday found me at a music and poetry evening in neighbouring Worcestershire which featured, among others, the talents of Deborah Rose and Stephen Langstaff, an event which is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
On Thursday the venue was The Courtyard in Hereford for a concert featuring two artists with local connections, Lisbee Stainton who appeared here with a three piece band and the solo performer Mikey Kirkpatrick aka Bird Radio.
Mikey Kirkpatrick, 28, was born and raised in Hereford and used to busk on the city’s streets before moving to London and embarking on a distinctive solo musical career using the name Bird Radio. Inspired to take up the flute by the music of Jethro Tull and their leader Ian Anderson it’s probably fair to say that there’s nobody else quite like Bird Radio on the UK music scene. Kirkpatrick’s music is a kind of Gothic Folk that sees him generating layers of sound through the use of FX pedals and live looping techniques. The raw components are voice (sometimes used to generate percussive effects), flute and a battered (literally) old red suitcase which serves as a rudimentary percussion instrument as Kirkpatrick pummels the much abused container with a single stick and a bass drum pedal. From these unlikely components he generates a wall of sound which forms the backdrop for his grandiloquent vocalising, a mix of old testament preacher and Captain Beefheart. There’s a touch of Tom Waits and Nick Cave in there too but a British counterpart might be Andrew Plummer whose dark lyrics and stentorian vocals have graced the work of Fringe Magnetic, Bilbao Syndrome and his own World Sanguine Report.
There’s nothing safe, cosy or bucolic about Kirkpatrick’s updating of the folk tradition. He sings of wolves in the wood and the claustrophobic darkness of the ancient forests. “Bird Radio is future medieval, as if J G Ballard had written The Wicker Man” reads one quote on Kirkpatrick’s website and there’s certainly a dystopian feel about much of his output despite the folk sources, a kind of modern paganism if you will.
Tonight’s performance began with “The Orchard Man” with Kirkpatrick setting the scene with the overlapping timbres of his distinctive Native American drone flute, looping these then playing more orthodox flute over the top and finally adding his vocals to tell the sometimes disturbing tale of this ancient deity.
“Devil At The Door” added the percussive sounds of the packing case and increasingly stentorian vocals in a jolly little tale of demonic possession. “London The Forest” with its “remember the hills, remember the mountains” refrain evoked the time before the building of the city. Here Kirkpatrick’s eccentricity and theatricality reminded me of (Chris) Judge Smith, co-founder of Van Der Graaf Generator and inventor of his own brand of “English chanson”.
“Black Car” opened with Kirkpatrick clapping out a rhythm, subsequently looped and the sound of the flute distorted by the use of pedals so that it almost sounded like a guitar. The result was a kind of psychedelic, psychotic rock with folk overtones.
Kirkpatrick’s rendition of the nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin?” with its Tull style flute trills was enough to give children nightmares. Few people remember anything beyond the first two lines of the rhyme but the poem is full of the kind of dark, macabre, Gothic imagery that clearly holds an irresistible appeal to Kirkpatrick - shrouds, coffins, graves and tolling bells. Kirkpatrick later told me that the rhyme is though to be an allegory about the political fall of Robert Walpole (1676-1745), British prime minister between 1721 and 1742.
Fitzpatrick’s brief support slot ended with him inviting his father, Ian, out from the audience to provide acoustic guitar accompaniment on the appositely titled “It’s Time To Go”.
Kirkpatrick is an engaging and eccentric personality who surprised many of the audience members with the nature and intensity of his performance. For all this his music was well received and although he’s rather too individualistic and out on a limb to attract a mass audience he’s nevertheless the kind of artist that is likely to attract a cult following – rather like those of some of his influences in fact. His manipulation of sound by means of live looping is expertly done and he’s a skilled flautist and a powerful and affecting singer. All of tonight’s songs appear on a new five track EP “Live In Athens” and it is intended that he will record a full length album in 2013, fund raising for this project is still ongoing. The length of tonight’s support slot was just about right, the limitations of Kirkpatrick’s set up, inventive as it is, can begin to pall after a while and it would be easy to dismiss him as a novelty act. Nevertheless there’s real talent here, I’d like to see him fronting a band but suspect that economics are a limiting factor here, perhaps other musicians will be brought in to broaden the sound on the forthcoming album. Kirkpatrick supported Lisbee on her last visit to the Courtyard, tonight represented a successful return and I was pleased to discover the singular sound world of this local boy made good.
LISBEE STAINTON BAND
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Lisbee Stainton has graced these web pages before. I first discovered her music when she and Deborah Rose played support slots at the Judy Collins concert at Worcester Cathedral in October 2011. A review of that “evening of divine music” can be read elsewhere on this site.
I was subsequently invited to attend a gig on Lisbee’s “Living Room Tour”, a series of performances for invited guests which were held at the homes of members of Lisbee’s fanbase.
These were intimate affairs with the hat being passed round to cover the performer’s expenses, on the more far flung shows it was also stipulated that the host had to provide Lisbee’s accommodation. Although essentially paid rehearsals the “Living Room” tour proved to be great success and a good way of organically growing Lisbee’s fanbase. I attended a memorable “Living Room” gig on the patio of Roger Morgan’s residence near Ross On Wye, a delightful afternoon of music in a beautiful and intimate setting. You can read about that elsewhere on the Jazzmann too teamed with a look at Lisbee’s three albums to date “Firefly” (2007), “Girl On An Unmade Bed” (2010) and “Go” (2011). However the gig on that particular tour that attracted the most interest was the occasion when Lisbee played in the mess of a Royal Navy submarine stationed at Plymouth!
Now 24 Lisbee was born in the Home Counties and studied popular music and composition at Goldsmith’s College in London. However her parents Clive and Marion moved to Herefordshire in 2005 so it could be said that she has strong local connections. Her music has been championed by the local radio station BBC Hereford & Worcester and DJ Andrew Easton was on hand to introduce tonight’s concert. Besides her three albums Lisbee has also been building an impressive profile as an opening act for more established artists among them Joan Armatrading, Gretchen Peters and Seth Lakeman. She is also due to perform as a member of Lakeman’s band, singing and playing guitar and banjo, on his forthcoming UK tour. Lisbee has also appeared at major UK festivals such as The Big Session and has featured regularly on Radio 2, notably Bob Harris’ show. Her strong work ethic and the astute management of father Clive has seen her gradually increasing her profile and she is due to headline her first UK tour in 2013. If stardom comes knocking for Lisbee Stainton she will be ready.
Tonight’s event was different for me in the sense that this was the first time I’d seen Lisbee perform with a full band. Joining Lisbee on guitar and vocals were Charlie Wilkinson on guitars, backing vocals and electric bass and Andy Chapman at the drums. Wilkinson accompanied Lisbee at the Worcester Cathedral show but he seemed to be more integral here, his six string dovetailing neatly with Lisbee’s custom made eight string guitar and contributing some bright, pithy instrumental solos. Andy Chapman drums on Lisbee’s latest album “Go” and is a versatile musician who has played on jazz releases by the singer Zara McFarlane and the vocal group Sector 7. Here he played both a full drum kit and the smaller, pared down set up he uses when he and Lisbee play duo shows (as at the 2012 Big Session Festival).
Some of the ideas Lisbee has tried out on the Living Room Tour have found their way into her concert appearance. Chapman took to the stage first and began to softly tap out a rhythm on the drums. Enter Lisbee and Wilkinson playing hand held percussion instruments and dishing shakers, cowbells etc. out to the audience and inviting them to play along. With the two guitarists also using the bodies of their instruments as auxiliary percussion they subsequently burst into “Is Whispering” from the album “Girl On An Unmade Bed”. This was an invigorating start that immediately won over the audience and demonstrated Lisbee’s growing assurance as a live performer.
From the same album came the catchy “Just Like Me” and the autobiographical “Girl On An Unmade Bed”, written just before Lisbee left college and ventured out into the wider world.
With Chapman at the larger kit the trio tackled “Wrench” from the album “Go”, a song displaying greater urgency and with a title borrowed from the world of indie rock. From the same album the haunting “The Archives” was inspired by military historian Max Arthur’s “Forgotten Voices Of The Second World War”. During her college years Lisbee supported herself by acting as a London tour guide and developed an interest in the wartime history of the city, particularly the Blitz.
As previously mentioned Lisbee is keen on audience participation at her shows. The title track from “Go” found her dividing the audience up into three sections, the result an impressive collective rendition of the tune in three part harmony. This little crowd pleaser is another legacy of the soon to be legendary Living Room Tour.
“Red” is one of Lisbee’s earliest and most enduring songs, a one time single and packed full of gardening metaphors, an acknowledgement of her mother’s work as a horticulturalist. Written when Lisbee was sixteen Red represents an impressively mature piece of writing for one so young. “The Author” is more recent but represents one of her most mature relationship songs.
Wilkinson switched to electric bass for an impressive new and as yet unrecorded song “Fools Gold”. The engagingly wacky recent single “Sidekick” was also a new addition to the set-list with Wilkinson switching back to guitar.
For “Sleepwalker” Lisbee invited Kirkpatrick back to the stage to augment the trio on flute-he also appears on the recorded version from “Go”, playing in Lisbee’s words “like an angry pixie in a jar”, also an apt description of his earlier solo performance.
“Millions Of Flowers” with Wilkinson on bass and Chapman on hand drums revisited the horticultural metaphors while the new song “Word Games” was partly inspired by the Worcester Cathedral concert.
The trio wound things up with “We Don’t Believe In Monsters” with Lisbee temporarily switching to six string acoustic and “Never Quite An Angel” which offered another demonstration of Wilkinson’s guitar picking abilities.
Although the trio didn’t abandon the stage the quirky “Harriet” was effectively a first encore followed by the insistent “Find Me Here” which saw the twin guitars plus drummer Chapman really hitting a groove aided and abetted by the percussionists in the audience!
This was an impressive set from three highly talented young musicians. Lisbee is an excellent singer, an accomplished guitarist and a seriously talented songwriter with a strong eye for a melodic hook. She may be serious about her art but there’s nothing pretentious about her songs which offer a good blend of simplicity and sophistication. Her music strikes a good balance between the authenticity of folk and the immediacy of pop and a long term musical career beckons, possibly with large scale commercial success.
The only thing to spoil the evening was the attitude of the Courtyard staff and management. On arrival about a quarter of an hour before the show we ordered a round of drinks which offered little change from a tenner. As regular attenders of the venue’s folk club events we expected to take these into the show with us, albeit decanted into plastic glasses. Tonight, because the seating was arranged theatre style in rows of bleachers rather than cabaret style at tables our request to take our drinks into the venue was refused – this despite the “cabaret style” wording on the tickets. There was to be no budging the draconian (posh word for jobsworth) bar staff, stewards and floor managers. I necked my beer, but I would have preferred to have taken my time and savoured it – since when does encouraging people to drink alcohol as fast as possible constitute responsible stewarding? To be fair the staff did offer to look after our drinks until half time but by then they would have gone flat, our two drivers who had purchased fizzy soft drinks felt they had no alternative but to abandon them. Surely the bar staff, who had no qualms in taking our money, should have asked which event we were attending before serving us and pointed out that drinks were not allowed inside the hall. This counter-productive policy meant that we didn’t bother ordering another round during the interval as we would otherwise have done. I don’t like to criticise my local venue but this episode left a rather bitter taste in my mouth-and despite what I was drinking not in the right way. My wife has handed in a comments slip to the management, we await their reply with interest, and possibly some form of compensation for the money that was effectively wasted.
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