Nancy Elizabeth by Abigail Daker.
I made a decision to attend Kept Impulses at the Barbican at the last minute only because I wanted to support Fran – erstwhile violinist in my ceilidh band Green Kite Midnight – backing the extremely talented 12 string guitarist James Blackshaw, who we covered here last year. But I knew we were in for a treat as soon as I spotted Nancy Elizabeth in the line up for this collaborative show, directed by David Coulter.
Nancy Elizabeth featured in issue 09 of Amelia’s Magazine and she also made a tune to go on the accompanying usb, but I met her long before that at the Thermal Festival in 2007. Feel free to read all about my exploits at this boutique festival oop north, curated by Sam Genders, formerly of Tuung and my report of Nancy’s gig at 93 Feet East that same year. I am happy to report that her down to earth manner and strong Mancunian accent remain absolutely intact, despite her now rarefied setting.
James Blackshaw and Nancy Elizabeth play together.
She glided across the stage in a flouncy tiered frock. “You stood on ma lead!” she remonstrated James, as he took centre stage between Nancy and the German avante guard pianist Hauschka, “I thought I’d better wear the poshest dress I own since I’m in the poshest concert hall. I was a bit freaked out about playing here; I think we all feel the same.” Apparently they’d been up rehearsing for 3 days. No pressure then.
The first part of the performance was devoted to rearranged collaborative versions of original compositions, with the backing musicians swirling in and out of focus behind the thin gauze curtain according to the lighting effects and their importance. These included the harpist Julia Thornton stage left, and Thomas Bloch on a glass harmonica and cristal baschet on the far side, so I was unable to see what fun he was up to.
Nancy’s voice, without wanting to sound like a huge perv, wavers between the sweetest maple syrup and heaviest treacle. She is at ease with the piano, guitar, harp, or… plastic chair. “I asked them to find me one I could hit and I swear they spent an hour looking for the right one. I wasn’t expecting it to be this manky though.” Her sparse compositions worked well swollen with extra instruments.
Nancy Elizabeth by Abigail Daker.
I’ve been to see Fran play with James Blackshaw before so I know that he is brilliant at complex cyclical picking that builds up into a glorious wall of sound, beloved of guitar aficionados aplenty. The real revelation of the evening was Hauschka, who I have not heard of before. His speciality is what’s known as ‘prepared piano’ whereby he drops bits of junk into the innards of the instrument to create interesting noise effects. Sounds diabolical, makes amazing noises. Picking each bit of debris out one by one, he then dumped a bag of ping pong balls inside so that they could bounce up and down with the music.
In my eagerness to catch Hauschka in action for this illustration by Abigail Daker, I received a severe remonstration from one of the stewards. Worth it though, don’t you agree?
After the break Nancy reappeared in a change of outfit, this time a striped gold and black number with a wide angular bottom, “I thought I’d have a costume change to show James up. I did offer him the dress first though.” Each of the musicians had a chance to showcase their solo work in the second half, complete with a much enlarged backing orchestra, including Fran, her little white stockings aglow in the centre of the stage. The finale was a joint composition created a few weeks ago and given the name 1000 Angels thanks to the appearance of huge numbers of Hells Angels near their Hackney recording studio. “I don’t know where it was,” said Nancy, “somewhere down south.” Only a true Northerner would say that. It’s east love, east.
Abigail Daker, barbican, David Coulter, Green Kite Midnight, Harp, Hauschka, Hells Angels, james blackshaw, Julia Thornton, Kept Impulses, nancy elizabeth, piano, Sam Genders, Thermal Festival, Thomas Bloch, tuung
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