So…for the first time (for me) up to Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual hub of English Folk Music, on a Monday night to hear music of a different kind, A Winged Victory for the Sullen. The home of folk music is a strange and wonderful place, part arts centre feel, real ale bar, tea room, recital place, evening classes in folk dancing. Black and white photos of Ewan MacColl and the like…and a wonderful main room graced at one side by a fantastic mural.
Great choice for A Winged Victory on reflection – an album made in an analogue fashion through ancient desks with real reverb in big rooms…The collaboration between pianist/composer Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie from Stars of the Lid who met whilst working with the beautiful lost lamented Sparklehorse. Last year they released their self-titled album which, it's fair to say, doesn't naturally and immediately appear to lend itself to live performance. Mis-described in the Guardian Guide at the weekend as miserable music, this uplifting collection of electrical drones and piano and strings is genuinely uncategorisable. Some people can't cope with that. So, because it's slow it gets mis-described (again) as Ambient! Eno himself has said he often goes looking through the Ambient section in stores just to see what's there and it isn't usually anything of the kind. It's closer I guess to Jonsi and Alex's Happiness or Johanson's scores mixed with the back catalogues of pianist/composer Dustin and guitar drone specialist Adam (whose co-founder of Stars of the Lid Brian McBride also continues to make great music).
But it's also none of those things. It is its own original scope and feel, so…best to leave the categories behind and just listen.
Tonight, joined on stage by a string trio, O'Halloran and Wiltzie perform glorious versions of the tracks on Winged Victory. The long penultimate, soaring Symphony Pathetique works best with a huge crescendo of electronics and strings and something that looks like a guitar being played but makes unearthly, beautiful sounds under the control of A.Wiltzie. All the players seemed lost in the music but were also human and smiley – nothing solemn about this occasion (giving further evidence against the Guide's accusation of misery). I'll have to leave trying to pigeonhole it; we all will! If you sometimes like music which doesn't contain words or all the usual movement, which is mostly still but still changing and which just has the effect of giving you a healthy pause from the river of demand flowing your way then this is for you. Find them on tour and/or get hold of their lovely album. It will stay with you. Official site.
And from Studio Brussels – a glimpse of how they play and how they sound…