Poems follow me around. My first composition was a piano-and-voice arrangement of ‘The Weary Blues’ by Langston Hughes; I played it once in a little bar and Michael Horovitz, a British poet who knew Hughes and who happened to be there, made my day by telling me, ‘Langston would have loved that.’ More recently, as well as nine songs based on poems by Elizabeth Bishop (see Mechanical Moon), I have written pieces for my a cappella group Pindrop including two re-imagined folk tunes, ‘The Parting Glass’ (Irish/Scottish) and ‘Kokiriko’ (Japanese – see video below). In keeping with my interest in translation, in 2012 I ‘translated’ the Bauhaus manifesto into a graphic score which then became the musical accompaniment to a short performance by storyteller Laura Sampson and puppeteer Faith Brandon.
As well as Mechanical Moon, I am a member of several other groups based in London:
Pindrop is an a cappella (unaccompanied voices) group who experiment with the boundaries of vocal music. We have performed at places like the Barbican, Kings Place and London’s 606 Jazz Club. The five members are: Liz Swain, Ruth Routledge, Erica Jarnes, James Cleeve and Sam Coates.
‘Fun, brave, talented – what more could you wish for in a vocal ensemble?’ Mary King
The King/Cave Project brings together ancient and modern approaches to spiritual music. Founded by Ewan King and James Cave, we are an eclectic collective of musicians whose brand of ‘church music’ encompasses everything from plainchant to bluegrass to electronic beats. We’ve performed at festivals and venues across the UK. Highlights include Greenbelt Festival, Union Chapel and St Paul’s Cathedral.
‘Musicians who are seeking to reboot church music. Stunning.’ Church Times
Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir brings barrel-loads of gospel JOY to newcomers both inside and outside church. We have performed at the Jazz Cafe, Leicester Square Theatre, Hyde Park and on BBC Radio and Premier Radio, among others.
‘I have nothing but superlatives to say about this choir.’ Eska Mtungwazi
I also sing with an extremely diverse Japanese min’yo group based at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; we bring our village folk approach to big cultural extravaganzas such as HyperJapan. I dabble in shape-note singing, which is seeing a major revival in London. I also volunteer with a choir for people who have experience of homelessness called The Choir With No Name. Our Christmas gig at London’s Union Chapel sells out faster and faster each year – a testament to the power of singing to make you feel good!
My first love is performing live, but I have also lent my voice to several recordings including:
- a lovely whispery tune called ‘Walk Upright’ by Daryl Waller (from his forthcoming album The Baby Blues)
- ‘Listen to Me’ and ‘I Am Your Servant’ by UK gospel artist Edwin Fawcett
- a wild, despair-soaked album by William Kherbek’s on-off project The Civilian Casualties
I have spent quite a lot of summers at Port Eliot Festival, where I have had the privilege of interviewing interesting people like Sarah Winman (When God Was a Rabbit) and William Sieghart (founder of the Forward Prize for poetry) on stage. I have also read aloud there for Simon Garfield (Just My Type, To the Letter etc), and performed in two tiny plays by Craig Taylor. Other random performances over the years include the world premiere(!) at Ealing Festival of Helen Szirtes’s musical arrangement of ‘Nightsong’ by her father, the wonderful poet George Szirtes, and a dramatic reading of David Henningham’s ‘An Unknown Soldier’. Poems follow me around…