Gig Review: Moulettes & The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Truth be told, it was the Moulettes that piqued my interest in this gig, at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham last night. We saw them supporting the Levellers a month or two ago and couldn’t help but be impressed by their infectious variety of modern folk/indie/pop music.

Last night’s show got off to a slightly irksome start after being quite heavily delayed, but despite the not-particularly jam-packed state of the Rescue Rooms the Moulettes did a great job of winning over a restless crowd that clearly didn’t quite know what to expect when cello, double bass and autoharp made an appearance on stage. The second track of an all too short half hour set, the gloriously haunting blend of voices that is ‘Songbird’, made the non-initiated sit up and take notice of the sheer talent on stage, and by the time violinist Georgina Leach and cellist Hannah Miller launched into a thumpingly spirited rendition of strings-only tune ‘Assault’ the crowd was nicely warmed up and appropriately appreciative.

A storming performance of macabre tale, ‘Bloodshed in the Woodshed’, was followed by the wonderfully varied ‘Requiem’ to draw a fabulously exuberant set to a regrettably early but triumphant close.

The enthusiasm of all the Moulettes for what they do is palpable – it’s clear for every moment they’re on stage that every one of them loves what they do (Bassoon and autoharp guru Ruth Skipper in particular flashes out a ridiculously engaging smile from time to time). But don’t let the ‘folky’ part of the musical description fool you into thinking that their stock in trade are quaint and simple ditties – the tracks are a complex blend of instruments, lyrics, voices and tempos. More than once, I saw folk at the front of the crowd clapping in time only for the tune to suddenly wrongfoot them by whirling and dancing off in a different direction and speed. The whole sense is one of fun – for both band and audience, if you keep an open ear and flow along with the music.

As with any skilled musicians, the Moulettes really come alive on stage, when the sheer power of their stunning voices and command over their instruments really shines – but if ‘complex, fun, slightly macabre at times, folky/indieish/generally a bit quirky’ sounds like it’s up your musical alley and current single, Uca’s Dance, embedded in this post appeals, I strongly recommend checking out their two albums, Moulettes and The Bear’s Revenge (yes, they’re on iTunes as well).

As for Arthur Brown, well, to be perfectly honest, neither me nor my partner knew quite what to expect beyond a certain idiosyncracy and most likely a rendition of the inevitable ‘Fire’.

Turns out, he can’t half belt out a tune! Gliding onstage in a long velvet cape (which turned out to be covering at least 3 outfit changes – he must have been sweltering for the first few tracks!) and sporting a mask, with his band similarly be-masked, we kind of knew we were in for something a bit quirky. And the 70 year old from Whitby proved he knew a thing or two about showmanship.

Not entirely surprisingly, the set was a fair bit psychedelic in places, but the musical and vocal range on show was as winning as the charismatic and decidedly spry Mr Brown himself – none of the weakness in his voice that affects the Maccas of this world as they age! His introduction to Fire was suitably wry and self-deprecating – he must’ve been singing it on an alarmingly regular basis for decades – but he and the band delivered a stormer as the inevitable climax to the gig. It’s a crazy world indeed, but a pretty remarkable one at that – and since I was one of the ‘I know ‘Fire’ but not sure what else he’s done’ crowd that was only really there for the Moulettes I was completely won over by the tall one in facepaint.

The god of hellfire himself:

Art Exhibition: Kafou at Nottingham Contemporary

On Friday, I spent a fascinating couple of hours checking out the latest exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary – Kafou. Out of all of the exhibitions I’ve seen there since this fantastic and much-to-be-recommended space opened I reckon this one was the most up my alley.

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Kafou is a celebration of Haitian art, in which themes of Voodoo rituals and the Haitian revolution recur as frequently as the gloriously vibrant colours that make the word ‘celebration’ seem more appropriate than it often is when used in the context of art exhibitions 😉 There’s some dark stuff there, none of the artists featured are likely to delight fans of the literal and the photographic, and despite the best efforts of the exhibition notes I’m sure I didn’t get all of the symbolism (though a surprising amount of it will seem oddly familiar for those of you who have read Pratchett’s Witches Abroad!), but as a fan of colour and symbolism I found it largely both beautiful and fascinating. It’s not just painting, though that forms the bulk of the exhibit – there are also some gloriously rough-at-the-edges sculptures, some stunning and vast beadwork scenes for the textiles fans, and a few original, suspiciously torn and stained, ritual cloths.

One thing that utterly charmed me was the few parents and grandparents that I saw taking quite young children round (I’m guessing they didn’t dwell on the one or two rather surreal depictions of devil-related nightmares!) and really encouraging a completely natural appreciation of the work. I love art (though I can’t for the life of me draw or paint – that seems to be a ‘one per generation’ thing in my family, and my sister nabbed it!), but like literature it does tend to suffer a bit from people wanting to over-analyse and over-dissect. It pays, I think, to consider themes and symbols and metaphor, but I can’t help feeling that the people who focus on a particular brushstroke (or sentence, if we’re talking literature) to the Nth degree are in danger of losing the impact of the whole while they peer at the detail trying to figure out the artist’s putative intentions – because so much of any artistic expression is in what feels right.

That’s not to say that elements of the whole aren’t placed very deliberately – of course they are, and of course you work a certain way to create a certain feel – but if you tried to design by checklist and focused on Your Big Intent (instead of on the actual process of creation) for every word or brushstroke instead of following your instincts to some extent I think you’d soon cripple yourself with analysis and risk ending up with something rather clinical. Perfecting the way your message is conveyed is what sketches and first drafts are for, after all 😉

So, you can see why there’s something rather magical to me about children simply being encouraged to put into words what’s made them light up or step back to take in a picture properly. It’s tapping into their instinctive appreciation, getting them to put into words what a painting has made them feel, what’s caught their eye. What The Artist Intended can come later, after the connection with the work has already been made.

I’m not saying that analysis is bad – far from it! Having an idea what the artist was working towards or focusing on while working helps to inform your appreciation of the work, cultural context helps decode things you otherwise may have missed, and semiotics is a fascinating study in itself and a rich seam to mine when studying any piece of art or literature.  But these things aren’t to be used to carefully take apart a creation and view it piece-by-piece – I much prefer to think of them as aiming to augment my understanding of a work as a whole. They create the nod of recognition, the smile at an in-joke that personalises the piece a little more for you. The close-up study helps – but you do need to remember to read to the end and consider your impression of the novel as a whole, or to take a few steps back and view the painting from a distance.

I guess you could say the same of a lot of elements of life.