Oxbow Orchestra tour diary – part 1

20.10.12 – Saturday – Supersonic Festival

I’m the first to arrive at South Birmingham College for rehearsal. The Land Rover is full of effects pedals and general electronic gubbins not usually associated with tuba players. And my tuba, naturally.

(That may seem to be stating the obvious, but I did once set off for a brass band concert without it.)

The security guard is unexpectedly helpful, and when he realises that the combination of Land Rover and roof rack is far too tall for the college’s underground car park he volunteers to open up the side gates so that I can park in a kind of courtyard area at the side of the building. What a gent.

I bring my stuff in and loiter for a while, finding coffee and doing a few technical exercises as warm-ups. Sam is next to arrive, followed by Lorna who is our “artist liaison” person. For someone who was up until silly o’clock the previous evening she is effusive beyond belief. I went to bed early and am by far the groggier.

When Oxbow’s Niko Wenner it turns out that the impression he gives when communicating by email is completely accurate – he’s a true gent: quietly spoken, and an obviously passionate musician. We rehearse a few tunes with Niko and Philippe, our second guitarist for these concerts. They’ve been given Blackstar amps for the day, and their guitars chime with lovely valve tone. Our tubas reverberate nicely, the sound bouncing off the high ceiling.

The rest of the musicians arrive gradually – first more brass players, then the strings. By the time we’ve all worked together through the numerous and often thorny time changes in a couple of songs it already feels like we’re already a band. The vibe of the whole enterprise is wonderful, and when Eugene starts to add vocals it’s clear just how special these performances are going to be.

Oxbow Orchestra rehearsal

From left to right, Kasia, Eugene, Niko, Philippe, David, Alexa and Alexis

The first artist I want to see is Dylan Carlson; his new DRCarlsonAlbion project is a strange beast, with his laptop providing beats and spoken word for the first two pieces, after which he’s joined by a singer and percussionist. Highlights are a solo improvisation on “The Faerie Round”, which is an Elizabethan lute piece, and the group’s version of “Reynardine”. There’s lots of potential in this, and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. I catch up with him after the set and give him a CD copy of our album – he’s the first to receive one – and a spanking new ORE t-shirt, which I promised him ages ago.

I then wander over, at Sam’s suggestion, to see the Corsano/Flower Duo. They’re obviously great musicians but I’m not in the right frame of mind for what they’re doing and retreat to the Old Library for Jarboe, whose dark cabaret-style performance is mesmerising. What a voice. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never heard her before, but as is so often the way with Supersonic, I’m only too glad to have been introduced to someone whose work I want to investigate further.

After a bit of Bohren and Der Club of Gore, it’s time for Merzbow with Oxbow. After a lengthy intro with live drums, Eugene stalks on stage, moving slowly and deliberately towards the mic stand. I’ve never seen Merzbow live before, and I’m struck by how peaceful the whole thing is, despite the enormous volume. I find myself slipping into an almost meditative state, with my eyes closed. I open them and look round. There are a lot of people doing the same thing; someone down the front, though, is dad-dancing and waving his arms around, despite the fact that there is no discernible pulse to the music.

Eugene departs, Niko arrives and wrestles an entirely suitable squall from his Les Paul to complement Merzbow’s noise-storm. Just as suddenly as it began, it ends. I’m converted.

I want to see Zeni Geva but it’s going on 10:20 and I’ve had a chest infection for the last couple of weeks. Anticipating several days of sleep deprivation, I amble off into the night to pilot the Land Rover home and get some sleep.

Go to part two

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