Discussing ‘All The Right Notes’- A New Festival Splicing Music & Theatre

Art & Culture

All The Right Notes is a fortnight long festival exploring the space where live music and theatre meet. Held in the Camden People's Theatre (CPT), the season combines theatre producers who's work is infused with music with musicians re-calibrating their work for the CPT's intimate stage. There are numerous highlights – and a couple immedietely sprang out at us; first a talk from long time friend of Ransom Note -and legendary grumpy bollocks- Andy 'World Unknown' Blake where he kicks off by trying to to dig into just what it is that makes a good party (he's put on enough of em) then heads out into what makes a good universe, second, an unprecedented performance from OG grime don Flowdan, where Flowdan will be performing his works 'unplugged' – that is stripped of music, allowing his murderous lyricism and booming delivery space to shine as never before.  

The musical side of the festival has been curated by journalist and all round head Joe Muggs, so we thought we'd get him in conversation about just what All the Right Notes was up to. Conversation being conversation, we managed to veer off onto tangents about receiving hatemail from Will Young fans, why grime artists have stopped dressing up as super heroes and the evil of Florence Welch. Should you want a slightly more pinpoint accurate summation of what's going on throughout the event, there's a full set of listings over on the CPT website right here – https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/wp_theatre_season/all-the-right-notes/ – it looks amazing and runs from November 15th to December 3rd – get involved…  

So first off, explain All the Right Notes? What do you expect to get from teaming music with theatre? whatd does that even mean?

Well, I'm glad you didn't use the words "musical theatre", because I don't think we're going to have much in the way of showtunes in this season, heh. In fact, it can mean a lot of things. All theatre is sonic, if you think about it… ok, with the possible exception of mime… and most performance incorporates some elements of music and sound design, so this is just picking out the best of things that emphasise those elements. Plus there's a smattering of stuff that is about musical culture and subculture in its subject matter. The CPT is a great, vibey little space that really encourages experimentation – it's a tiny venue, with the theatre itself essentially a black box that is a great blank canvas for the imagination. But as they were programming this stuff, they realised that their circle of contacts is very much in the theatre and spoken word worlds, so they called me up and asked if I could bring some programming in from the other side of the fence: essentially people from the music world who in some sense can bring something theatrical, literary and/or artistic to proceedings along with their music. I'm kind of evading your question here a little bit because there's a month's worth of shows here, often two a night, and each one defines what "teaming music with theatre" means in a different way. What we're hoping is that people might see one thing that they know or understand and be drawn in to dip into a few things throughout the season and experience things they wouldn't otherwise imagine checking out, whether that means a theatre-lover ending up getting a schooling in the art of grime, or a World Unknown raver coming to see Andy Blake speaking getting drawn into watching some avant garde poetry.

Hahaha I was just thinking how evasive you were being and you got their before me. Fair dos – so seeing as there's so much going on, (and taking the fact that you'e excited about all of it as a given) – what's on the bill that you think is going to throw up the most interesting work?

Well, obviously I've got to mention all the nights I've programmed! I'm especially made up that Flowdan agreed to do the "unplugged" set, because he's got one of the best voices not just in grime but in any genre of music, and obviously huge stage presence, so the idea of having just him, a mic and a spotlight, up close and personal in this dark space, is insanely exciting. He'll also be doing a bit of Q&A at the start, then rounding it off with with his DJ joining in, so you'll get some heavy tracks too. The audience with Andy Blake will be pretty special I reckon: he's bringing in incense, ambient sound and lighting to maximise the "finding yourself chatting to a very strange person in a chillout room at 4am" aspect of it. He'll be in conversation with me and Ben Bashford who's now a tech guru and a bit of a futurologist but used to release way out-there D&B on labels like Reinforced. The Memory Band are guaranteed good value – Stephen Cracknell does this amazing folk culture and music research then combines the results with these gorgeous Eno kind of textures and melodies… "post-folk" a friend of mine called it. And Ayesha Orazbayeva and Tim Etchells will just be crackers, a full two hours violin-and-abstract-poetry jam – I love their stuff and have played it heavily on my Love Drain mixes on NTS.  Of the other stuff on the programme, well how can you not be intrigued by "Antosh Wocjik attempts to build a ‘voice-percussion gun’ to destroy inherited Alzheimer’s"? I'm definitely going to be checking out the work-in-progress comedy musical by Boogaloo Stu, as I fondly remember going dancing at his ridiculously ribald Dynamite Boogaloo club nights in Brighton many years ago. Anyone who's ever been raving NEEDS to hear 'Yes My Selector' by Ross Sutherland, which made me cry laughing with rueful recognition the first time I heard it. And god knows what the closing night piece 'The Rave Space' is going to be like, but as far as I can see, it promises to have theatre taking place in the middle of a dancefloor. 

I find the Flowdan performance fascinating – that grime could have gone all the way through to becoming an 'unplugged format' – is there a track of his that you think is particularly suited to the format? 

Oh yes, easy: Groundhog Day off his new album. It's a mini gangster movie in song form, complete with psychological narrative arc and a bit of spiritual warfare thrown in for good measure. The wordplay on it is nuts. I mean, it's possibly not fair to think of this as "grime unplugged", after all Flowdan's always been able to step outside the confines of grime very easily, right? It was very specifically his way with characters, narrative, vocal control, tonality restraint etc etc that suggested this idea – it's all about his unique style rather than being "a grime thing".

Personally, I've always enjoyed the theatrical nature of grime – it's something I think is a little missing in the new wave of slightly earnest MCs – like, good as he is, I can't imagine AJ Tracey dressing up in a purple costume and calling himself 'Murkleman'… Do you think there's anywhere in music right now where that theatricallity of performance is on display? The last new band I can think of that nailed it were Fat White Family, and I get the feeling they're imploding…

Ha funny, I was just last week playing that Statik album with the cartoon illustration of all the grime MCs on the front and pining for the days of the Murkleman…. But US rap and hip hop have still got a tonne of that out-there performance. As it becomes more and more normal for a generation of black American artists to bring in all kinds of influences outside the approved 'urban' list, we get more and more glorious performance: Young Thug, Lil B, Gucci Mane, the Odd Future axis, there's this great sense of every moment as living theatre for a lot of these acts. I can't even tell if what Kanye gets up to is performance art or what, I sort of hope it is, but it's definitely theatrical! Have you ever heard Petite Meller? She's this proper artpop weirdo from France, who has incredible costumes and videos and just happens to make dynamite rave-pop too. Definitely theatrical. And on the experimental fringes there's plenty – the NON lot (Chino Amobi, Nkisi, Angel Ho and co) spring to mind. Of course they'll say it's not performance at all, to them it's ritual and politics, but the totality of their art, sound, costume and rhetoric add up to something pretty special. 

All valid but none of it in the UK! – has Blighty disappeared into a Brexitland dead end of blokes demanding tune id's whilst insisting they only listen to 'proper' dance music? I wonder whether Andy Blake will have something to say about this…

Well we do have Gaika! I really wanted to get him to do something for this season in fact, and we almost got it together but couldn't make the dates work. And you can't deny that PC Music are theatrical, even if the jury's still out on whether they'll progress beyond a couple of repeated in-jokes into something with lasting appeal. I always hoped that Bat For Lashes and Marina & The Diamonds would become huge pop stars and start making huge budget loopy art projects, but then Florence and the bloody Machine came along and stole all their thunder with her horrible nonsense. Obviously Róisín Murphy is still flying her freak flag high, and now directing all her own videos to boot. But yeah these are exceptions aren't they? Did Bowie and Prince die for nothing? Where are all the weirdos with glitter in their soul and a dozen alter-egos fighting to get out? 

I think Theresa May is planning on deporting them if they so much as slip on the lycra…. With Fabric closed, and major clubs threatened all round, do you think initiatives like this festival are the way to support the music scene – essentially returning to small scale grassroots events? I'm tempted to think small is beautiful as a rule, but the money is often, of neccessity, crap – in the 80s the dole was fairly available to enable artists to live off this kind of little event, although that seems less of an option in our sanction heavy times…

In some senses I hope so. Just on a selfish note, I tend to like little parties, strange happenings, basement jams more than big choreographed events. It's where my roots are – one of the reasons I jumped at this, is that it took me back to the cabaret shows I used to put on in a room above a pub in Brighton, with weirdos, comedians, hip hop MCs etc all shoved on stage in front of the house band under UV lights… lots of the people involved went on to big things – Jamie Lidell was the singer for the band, Squarepusher played a couple of times etc – but there's something glorious about that moment of getting talented people together on a shoestring in a feverish (i.e. off its head) atmosphere and seeing what happens. I don't miss having to lug 1210s and boxes of costumes across town because nobody drove and we couldn't afford to take cabs, but still, there was 100% a creative buzz that you don't get in the same ways with glossy spaces and buckets of Arts Council money.  There are plenty of illegal or semi-legal venues appearing and disappearing constantly round where I live in southeast London now – I love the idea that someone might start doing performance art events in them for shits and giggles.

All that said, we should never stop fighting for the venues, the infrastructure and the chances to do things on a bigger scale. Just last night I saw Björk with a 30 piece string section at the Albert Hall – none more theatrical, and a really mind-blowing show, not the sort of thing you can knock together with a couple of mates and a laptop.

Ok, finally, bests and worsts – what's the best performance you've seen combining the theatrical with music? And on the flip side, have you ever seen anything truly pony – like, Legs Akimbo level? 

Well one leaps out as being completely beyond good and evil: some time ago I ended up being support DJ for a show by a French guy called Costes, which turned out to be some absolutely mindwarped gnostic odyssey involving all sorts of onstage combat to a soundtrack of Digital Hardcore style noise and culminating with two guys "sword-fighting" using, respectively, a swastika and a cross attached to buttplugs up their bums. Foolishly I told him I'd enjoyed it, so he then sent me some VHS tapes of his other work over from Paris, all labelled "I ❤ SNUFF". Quite glad customs never opened that package. 

But the best music/theatre crossover? Well I've always been a not-so-secret Gong lover, and seeing Daevid Allen with Gongmaison was a pretty good narrative journey through all sorts of foolishness. And the audio-visual show by Wolfgang Voigt in his GAS guise was one of the most transporting things I've ever seen, does that count? Oh I guess these are terribly predictable, but there's a reason that 'Sign O the Times' and 'Stop Making Sense' are still held up as the greatest concert movies of all time. See those on a big screen if you ever need your sense of possibility renewed. The worst? Well I remember an unbelievable show by Will Young, which had all these awful little theatrical turns between songs: I always thought he was an OK pop star with a nice voice but this was really horrible. Ended up having a hate mail campaign organised against me after I published a bad review of it. Don't get on the wrong side of Will Young fans, I'm warning you…

All The Right Notes runs from Nov 15th – December 3rd – more info on the Camden People's Theatre website

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