Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dead Rat Orchestra v Brighton and Hove Albion

I don't get out much, of an evening. And this week I had two choices. On Monday night Colchester United v Brighton and Hove Albion at the Cuckoo Farm Community Stadium, and on Tuesday Dead Rat Orchestra, Eric Chenaux, Reverend Simpkins and Dim Goddess performing music at St Peter's Church on North Hill.

So what to do? The football costs about £17 to sit in a a freezing windy stand, and watch professional footballers earning £1000+/week, charging around for 90 minutes and hoofing the ball up in the air. I've been to hundreds of matches, and studies I've made at the University of Life show that 19% of games are excellent or good, 43% are average, and 38% are poor or appalling. I have no connection with Colchester United, except that I've supported them for 44 years.

The music tickets were £5, for a pew in a freezing cold church, for four acts, giving two and a half hours entertainment. I knew little about the artists, but it sounded interesting. My live music experiences are that 35% are excellent or good, 47% are average and 17% are poor to appalling. I have a slight connection in that I had met one of the Dead Rat Orchestra nearly four years ago at an ante-natal class, and his wife is a facebook pal who writes funny stuff about family life, takes great pictures, and is always friendly to me when our paths cross.

I plumped for the live music. The football turned out to be 0-0, and from what I've read Colchester were lucky to get nil. Less than 4,000 turned out on a cold night, even though the U's are fourth in the league.

So how was my evening? All the clues suggested a concert of "interesting" music, and I feared some cacophony of random noise, especially from DRO. First up was Dim Goddess, pictured above, a woman accompanied by harp. Now I can only take so much harp, but I was enchanted by her playing and singing - a wonderful set. It was so cold she had to stop on occasions to rub her hands and restore feeling, before resuming playing. The church was heated, in the sense that horizontal pipes ran along the aisle, giving heat only to passing mice, with no warmth reaching our willing musicians. She finished with her interpretation of W B Yeats' poem, The Stolen Child, which she dedicated to Alexander McQueen. I knew this piece as my least favourite track on one of absolute favourite albums, The Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues. She stripped out the fiddle-dee-dee Irishness and delivered an earthy elemental interpretation. Marvellous.

Next up was Reverend Simpkins, playing the mighty church organ from the loft. He started with some Bach, which I adored, and this led into his interpretation of the Velvet Underground's Jesus, a simple and very powerful song I know well. Running through some originals which I enjoyed, he then played the Beach Boys' God Only Knows, my absolute favourite BB track. Using the colour of the church organ, and a fair stab with his single voice, at the harmonies of the BB's composition, it was so uplifting. By this time I was wondering if the whole evening was tailored to my personal musical taste. More originals, including a song about Helena of Colchester. Hurrah for celebrating our town in song - you don't have to sing about Wichita or San Francisco for romance.

Eric Chenaux was on next, shuffling up to the front, wearing a flat cap, scarf and overcoat, looking slightly like Bill Bryson. He immediately went into a very fast bit of jazz-style acoustic guitar, and I feared a set of Derek Bailey-type improvisations. But I think he literally was warming-up, and Eric soon settled down into a series of melodic songs, using folk, jazz and blues styles. With some beautiful pauses, unaccompanied singing and very creative instrumental breaks, I was absolutely spellbound by Eric's music's content and performance. Despite the cold I was enchanted by the tales he was telling, his beautiful soft voice and delivery.

Last of all came the Dead Rat Orchestra, a three-piece using classical musical instruments, found objects, electronics and an array of percussion. Two very bearded guys, heaps of kit and a beardless one on amplified violin. Having listened for decades to Edgar Varese, Captain Beefheart, Can, Sigur Ros, The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, Faust and Charles Ives, I was quite prepared for any noise they wanted to throw at me. The DRO's sonic journeys were easy enough for my ears, with some wonderful lyrical violin, at times almost English pastoral in style. The pieces included some slow paced vocal sounds building up layers, and some fascinating sounds of metal pieces falling on the church's stone floor. The audience was enraptured by the exploration of noise, music and silences from the Dead Rat Orchestra.

An excellent evening's entertainment, the art keeping me warm in the freezing building. The audience hugely appreciated the show, the only shame being the low attendance. With around fifty in the crowd it doesn't take Stephen Hawking to work out that these talented musical people were earning something rather less than the footballers that were paid to kick the ball up in the air, on a pitch three miles north of the church. I guess the musicians are the same as the footballers; they love their game. I hope the musicians at least get some satisaction that they had a very appreciative audience; more than can be said of the football crowd, from what I've read.


  1. Ah, Swifty,

    Lovely post.

    Don't know any of these artists but still feel I was there. Another similarity is I do like a wee bit Frank Zappa too. Not the biggest fan perhaps but I do like returning to 'Joe's Garage' now and then. I also like Steve Vai who played in Zappa's band. [and I like Joe Satriani]

    Clearly it was a good choice on the night.


  2. Al, you have probably already gathered I'm a big Zappa fan. But my pal who moved to Stonehaven (that I'm hiking with in May) is a FZ fanatic. Steve Vai is certainly an amazing technician, and seems a lovely guy too!

  3. Thanks for the review, Swifty! You might be interested to know that I once elicited an angry letter from the chairman of examiners at Oxford University when I submitted a thesis on Zappa's LP Absolutely Free for my finals...

  4. Hello, Nathan tipped me off about your post. Nicely done :)

    If you'd like to see my somewhat more weird and less witty post about the same night, you can find it here-
    Lots of thanks xx



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