Review: Kent Impulses Tour

JENNA CORDEROY: ‘You should think yourself lucky if you catch them touring around the country: they are simply pure magic.’

All Tomorrow's Party Feet of Courage Hauscka James Blackshaw Nancy Elizabeth She and Him The Junction

May 12th, 8.00 at The Junction. £12.

With the famous piano player Hauschka, alongside singer-songwriter Nancy Elizabeth and 12-string guitarist James Blackshaw, I knew I was not going to be disappointed.  An intimate gig, but informal, with the musicians telling charming anecdotes as they tuned their instruments, the trio experimented, improvised and collaborated the night away.  It was, of course, as every jam session goes, unpolished, unrehearsed and unstructured; yet it was fresh and modern, and certainly not pretentious.  

The performance was opened by Nancy; her ghostly voice floated over Hauschka’s distorted piano sounds and James’s gentle strumming.  Next was a beautiful duet with Nancy on the prepared piano, whilst Hauschka, like an eccentric clockmaker, added shards of metal (and even at one point, a ping pong ball) to the piano strings, creating mystery and depth.  

The music was a delightful fusion of classical and modernism, with a comprehensive range of world music from Celtic sounds, to European folk and also subtle Eastern and South American influences.  Chilled one minute, moody the next as seen in ‘Snape’ (which was named after the village in Suffolk where they came up with the piece), there was even a song which was influenced by the trio finding themselves accidentally at the funeral of the Hell’s Angels leader in Hackney.  ‘Stained Glass Windows’ was, for me, the best piece, which allowed James to show off his amazing guitar skills, with Nancy’s angelic voice and Hauschka’s constant experimentations guiding the direction of the music.    

It was a joy to watch as Hauschka, who is often described as the modern Erik Satie, and held in high esteem amongst his contemporaries such as Yann Tiersen, experimented with his piano, discarding the random items attached to the piano strings until he found the right texture.  I liked how the trio helped each other to create great music; there was one lovely moment when James was improvising and Nancy began to hum.  There was a side glance from James, Nancy stopped, they waited, James nodded and they both smiled, and she came out with a better, more varied melody.  They are extremely talented musicians, but modest, each nodding appreciatively as the other introduced a new element to the improvised instrumentals.    

The only criticism I could make is that I would have liked James to have had more solo guitar pieces, but I suppose I can always catch him at this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival, appearing besides The xx and She & Him.  And another criticism should be made of the audience.  A couple of members seemed to have left their etiquette at the doors and thought it was fine to start opening cans of coke and rattling ice cubes in glasses during the instrumentals which needed absolute silence for the musicians to concentrate.  I sound as if I should be sixty plus.      

A short encore satisfied my need to hear them collaborate again, and the set was ended on ‘Feet of Courage’, with Nancy singing, whilst keeping the beat by stomping on the floor, banging a stick against her chair, and shaking a percussion instrument: and I thought it was hard to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time.  

You should think yourself lucky if you catch them touring around the country: they are simply pure magic.