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Pianos, performance and Peter Gabriel: an interview with Will Lawton


Playing Arlington Arts Centre on Thursday 11th February, Will Lawton is a pianist and songwriter of outstanding quality. We chat to him about family legacy, bizarre instruments and his one man quest for the perfect sound.

1) I’ll admit, I had to google “hang” when you first mentioned it as one of your key  instruments. It’s a rare concept, a “rare” instrument. [The hang was produced by a company in Switzerland who were only producing around 80 a year, you had to write directly to them to explain why you wanted to buy one. They are no longer in production] What drew you to it, and how would you describe the sound?

The look of the instrument first drew me to it.  I saw one hanging on a friend’s wall in his house.  I didn’t get the chance to play it but was so intrigued that I ordered one before playing it.  I knew it was both melodic and percussive and played by fingers and hands so my piano skills would hopefully be transferable.  It had a very mystical feel about it.

The sound is vaguely similar to that of a Caribbean Steelpan perhaps mixed with an Indian Tabla.  I play the central bass note in a sort of African Djembe style.  It is a very unique sound.  The tuning is roughly in Dm but not in perfect pitch and there are a couple of notes in it that you wouldn’t usually associate with a Dm scale.

2) In a beautifully written recent blog post, you credit your Grandmother, Mary Louise, with the beginning of the musical legacy in your family. What effect did she have personally on your musical journey, and how do you think she felt about your work?

The most significant thing she (and her husband) did was to buy a new, upright piano in the 1950s and then encourage my father to learn how to play the piano.  She used to get him to play the new songs from America, published in ‘The News Of The World’ on a Sunday so that family and friends could sing along to them.  As a result, my father learnt how to play the piano using his ears and by chords rather than from scored music.  This talent was passed to me during my early years.

My grandmother used to sing a lot to the classic, wonderful tunes from the wartime era.  They are very simple songs, with simple messages and lovely chord progressions – something I try to bring into my own compositions with varying degrees of success.

She was always very supportive of my music work.  She didn’t question it, just accepted that that is what I did – like she did with my father too.  She understood the power and importance of music.


A “no frills” tribute Will recorded for his Grandmother when she passed away recently. 

3) What would you say have been the highlights of your career so far?

I love playing real pianos.  So performing on a real grand piano in a venue with good acoustics is my perfect gig.  I opened the show for my friends ‘Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin’ a couple of months ago at The Chapel Arts Centre in Bath playing a beautiful grand piano.  That was a real treat and it was an honour to open their first gig touring a new album – they are two musicians that I really admire.

My recording highlight must be recording an album in Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World Studio’ in Box, Wiltshire.  My band, ‘The Home Fires’ secured funding for the album through an online crowd funding campaign which in itself was a huge achievement.  The reward of then spending a week at Real World was pretty special.  We recorded an album that I am very proud of and I felt very privileged to be given the opportunity to record in such a magical environment with such a professional sound engineer as Patrick Phillips.

4) You bring your own upright piano to gigs – what do you feel this adds to the performance?

Ha!!  I DID bring my own upright piano to gigs for a number of years.  Unfortunately I recently cracked the sound board on the back of my upright gigging piano.  I think I dragged it through one too many fields and up one too many sets of steps.  Pianos are not really designed to be treated as roughly as I treated that poor thing so alas I now tour with an electric stage piano when the venue does not have the real instrument in-house.

When you sit at a real piano, you are totally engulfed by the sound.  The piano vibrates as the hammers hit the strings and it makes the wooden casing sing.  This is a lovely space to be.  When I sing, my voice locks into these vibrations and I give a more natural and enhanced performance.  When I play an electric piano, the monitor mix is often several meters from me and is often quite trebly which feels less natural to play and sing along with.  However, I just have to accept that many venues do not have real pianos these days and if I only play real pianos then I limit my opportunities of performing live.

5) Is there anyone you’d really love to collaborate with?

I have been blessed to play with some amazing musicians, almost all have been pretty unknown and undiscovered as there are many seriously talented musicians around that don’t really venture in the limelight.  I have always enjoyed collaborating with Bethany Porter (Cello) and would like to work again with Phillip Henry (Slide Guitar).

In terms of someone new, and well known, I would love to work with someone who can add beats, drum and bass to my music – such as LTJ Bukem or Nitin Sawhney.  This is a direction that I am yet to properly experiment with taking my music in.

You can book tickets to see Will Lawton on Thurs 11th February, 8pm by clicking here. Or you can call the box office on 01635 244 246 between 10am-4.30pm Monday-Friday.

 

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What’s on OCTOBER

Krapp's Last Tape PEO image
Krapp’s Last Tape

Theateregoers this month is for you: Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (Thurs 1 Sept) as performed by Tom Owen (Last Of The Summer Wine) tells the tale of Krapp, an irascible chap who spends each of his birthdays recording a tape to himself. Join him as on his 69th he listens back on the follies of his prideful youth. As can be expected from Beckett, a witty and thoughtful tale. Our other one man show has less to say on the pitfalls of aging and is much more riotous in its humour – Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories (Thurs 22 Oct) will be arriving at Arlington with bags of ghouls, gremlins and growls for a halloween dreadtacular.

Fans of the folk will do well to check out up-and-comers The Rails (Fri 2 Oct). Giving off the vibe of a London pub in summertime (this does seem to be where the majority of their videos are filmed) the duo have been signed to the same label (it’s Pink) that gave us records from Nick Cave, John Martyn and Fairport Convention. At the less rocky end of the spectrum are The Shee (Fri 16 Oct), a sextet of folk aficionados featuring harp, fiddle, mandolin accordion and flute for a gaelic & bluegrass fusion. Mixing even more genres together is the Urban Folk Quartet (Fri 30 Oct). Back on the Arlington stage their influences are too numerous to list, but you’ll find it hard to miss the distinct middle eastern and afrobeat vibes. Put all this in context with Simpson & Flemons (Thurs 8 Oct) as they take you on a journey through England & America’s shared folk traditions. Comprised of English guitarist, songwriter and multi-award holder Martin Simpson, and American guitar, banjo (and bones!) player Dom Flemons, of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, present the unsanitised bigger picture.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Moving away (sort of) from the folk we’ve got International Guitar Night (Thurs 15 Oct) bringing together luminaries from across the globe to play solos, duets and quartets. Like the A-Team of the guitar scene, the night will feature Brian Gore, Mike Dawes, Lulo Reinhardt and Andre Krengel. Another guitar star Mark Nevin (Sat 24 Oct), of Fairground Attraction, will be performing his beautiful collection of narrative driven songs towards the end of the month, and Joanne Shaw Taylor (Fri 23 Oct) is a firecracker of a blues guitarist that we’re thrilled to finally have with us.

Double headliners The Christians & Roachford (Sun 4 Oct) are already a very popular choice too, for good reason. The infectious melodies and warm harmonies feed on accusations, protest and despair and strike a deep chord to listeners. Joined by long-time friend Andrew Roachford best known for hits “Cuddly Toy” and “Family Man”, Roachford has something of a maverick take on the singer-songwriter genre.

Tom Robinson (Weds 28 Oct) is back in the studio after 20 years since 2-4-6-8 Motorway and Glad To Be Gay. Inspired by the acts he’s encountered whilst presenting for BBC 6 Music and BBC Introducing, Tom’s new album features full band and all of his raw spirit. Finding innovative ways to collaborate between disable and non-disabled artists, Stopgap Dance (Mon 12 Oct) company also make their debut at Arlington Arts with their show Artificial Things. Slowly suffocating in each other’s company, a group of individuals seek escape in a bash of riotous rock-n-roll.

Stopgap Dance
Stopgap Dance

To find out more or book online click here. Or call 01635 244 246 between 10-4.30pm Monday-Friday.

Krapp’s Last Tape – Thurs 1 October 8pm, £12 (Concession £10, School Groups £8)
The Rails – Fri 2 October 8pm, £12
The Christians + Roachford – Sun 4 October 7.30pm, £27.50
Simpson & Flemons – Thurs 8 October 8pm, £16
Stopgap: Artificial Things – Mon 12 October 8pm, £14 (Concession £12, School Groups £8)
International Guitar Night – Thurs 15 October 8pm, £15 
The Shee – Fri 16 October 8pm, £14
Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories –  Thurs 22 Oct 8pm, £11
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Fri 23 Oct 8pm, £20
Mark Nevin – Sat 24 Oct 8pm, £13
Tom Robinson Band – Weds 28 Oct 8pm, £20
Urban Folk Quartet – Fri 30 Oct 8pm, £12

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Interview with The Rails

Kami Thompson & James Walbourne took some time out to answer some questions about their experiences as BBC Folk Award Horizon Award winning band – The Rails. They’ll be playing Arlington Arts Centre on Friday 2nd October 2015.

“Fair Warning” combines the traditional and contemporary, do you have a vision of how folk might continue to develop?

Folk is developing all the time. It’s in everything from Grime to top 40. It’s all just telling a story. In terms of ‘traditional folk’, i’m not sure. A lot of it is extremely twee these days and not to our tastes. You still have the Eliza Carthy’s of this world pushing the envelope though.

Island’s Pink Label handled arguably some of the most formative folk acts of the 60’s and 70’s (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Martyn). Do you feel any particular pressures or expectations as the first artists on this newly resurrected label?

No. It’s just a label.

You both seem to have been exceptionally musical from a young age, did either of you ever consider, however fleetingly, a career outside of music?

James – Never.

Kami – I consider my options daily.

Do you feel the comparisons drawn between The Rails and Kami’s parents are accurate, or inevitable?

We set out wanting to make a classic sounding folk rock record so it was inevitable, really. It’s as much a pop record as it is a folk record – much like Kami’s parents, I think.

What about your family James – are there many creative types to be found there?

My dad was a major influence. He doesn’t play a musical instrument but took me to see everyone from Frank Sinatra to Stevie Ray Vaughan  when I was a kid. I attended more gigs than days at school. My brother is also a great all rounder and has played with me for many years.

Speaking of family, your support act is Zak Hobbs – Kami’s nephew- could you tell us a

Zak Hobbs
Zak Hobbs

little bit about his style?

Sort of barber shop Raga…..no not really. He’s a great guitar player – definitely one to watch. He’s sort of in the mould of Bert Jansch and the 60’s guys. You saw him here first!

Thankyou, Kami + James!

Tickets to see The Rails are £12 and can be brought via the Box Office on 01635 244 246, or by clicking here.

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A harrowing night out…

Most shows aren’t sold on the basis of being “harrowing” but Badac Theatre Company  are unlikely to let a little thing like unsettling their audience get in the way of a quality production. They have an aim, and that aim is to explore not just what human rights abuses are, but what they mean to the individual.

The show Badac are bringing to Arlington on Thursday 24th September is The Flood. Presenting the tale of a love affair between a WW1 soldier and nurse, all things vicious, visceral and banal are brought to life through an assault on the senses in the style of Antonin Artaud.

artaudEmerging from the surrealist movement of the 1930s Artaud included sound, light and smell not just as add-ons to his scripts but as a constant and often overwhelming integral part.  Artaud’s written theories were not always easy to translate to performance, which is largely why his fascinating school of thought has not been explored as much as it should have been in the years since his death. With over a decade of experience under their belts, Badac stage his concept with beautiful simplicity; the countless soldiers injured on the frontline are rendered by bloody pieces of not-so-fresh meat which are (literally) hurled into the fray, machine gun fire is replicated by an incessantly chopping knife and so on.

Once you have an understanding of their approach (which they term “theatre of cruelty”) what is  gained from performances like these? Surreal – yes, intense- sure, but also enlightening and, many find, a way of unburdening the subconscious. The intention is not to be sadistic or gratuitous, but to stimulate honest reactions from the audience.  This is not a frivolous evening out to the theatre, we’re happy to make that clear. You won’t come away with a fleeting joie de vivre – but bewilderment and adrenaline are a heady cocktail.

Please note: As this is a site specific piece in Arlington Manor Cellar, the performance will only be accessible via a flight of stairs. Arlington Manor Cellar can become quite damp, so we would recommend dressing with this in mind.

Tickets can be booked here or via 01635 244 246 between 10am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

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What’s On SEPTEMBER

Kicking off the season with a couple of great genre twisters on the music side of things, and theatre to make the soul shudder.

SALLY BARKER is the voice from the Voice. The one that brought Sir Tom Jones to tears. Back in 2014 Sally came a sensational second place in the BBC’s televised competition. After such a successful run, it might come as a surprise to find out that Sally turned down a record deal with Universal – but as an avid & award-winning songwriter Sally was never going to be happy tied to only producing covers. That said, her set at Arlington will feature favourites from the show such as Olly Murs’s “Dear Darlin’” as well as her own folk-blues-rock originals. Friday 18th September 8pm, tickets are £15.

BENDRIX is Benji Kirkpatrick and his folk instrumental covers of Jimi Hendrix’s work. You’ll know Benji best from folk supergroup Bellowhead, and he’s long been sneaking Hendrix songs into his solo sets. He’s now received Arts Council funding to develop this Hendrix project, in which he strips back the psychedelia of the age to reveal the raw greatness of the songs underneath. Played on a whole range of string instruments including bouzouki, banjo and mandolin this will also include Benji’s own originals. Wednesday 23rd September 8pm, tickets are £12.

Badac Theatre take over Arlington Manor cellar with THE FLOOD. This site-specific piece set in WW1 follows the intensely building relationship between a frontline soldier and a nurse, highlighting through correspondence and snatched private moments the brutality of their existence, the banality of war and the immediacy of death. Badac take an approach
they term “Theatre of Violence”, in which they aim to make their work an extreme experience for both the audience and actors. Thursday 24th September 6pm & 8pm, tickets are £12 (Concessions £10). Please note this performance is only accessible via a flight of stairs.

Chris White plays some of the most famous saxophone solos from his time with Dire Straits and recounts stories from his life as a musician with artists such as Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Robbie Williams, Ray Charles and of course, Dire Straits, which included performing at the legendary Live Aid and Mandela concerts. A master of rock’n’roll, blues and pop. Saturday 6th September 8pm, tickets are £14.50

Tickets for all of these shows can be purchased here or over the phone on 01635 244 246. General opening hours are 10am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, or later on performance days.

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45th Anniversary of Hendrix’s Death Honoured by Strings Legend

2015 marks the 45th anniversary of the death of the late, great Jimi Hendrix. Widely regarded as one of the most influential guitarists of the century and often cited as the “Voice of a Generation”, he started playing an actual guitar bought for him by his father for $5 at 15 years old, graduating from years of dreaming on the family broom. After a stint in the army (cut short when Jimi was injured during a parachute jump) he committed to the electric guitar full time. What must’ve seemed like bad luck for Jimi, was world changing for the music industry. Within months of scoring his first manager, Jimi had 3 UK Top Ten hits under his belt and was well on his way to becoming one of the most legendary musicians of, well, ever.

After just four years as a global super star, Jimi Hendrix died of asphyxiation caused by an overdose of sleeping pills in September of 1970. Forty-five years later and tributes to the electric guitar legend come in all shapes and forms – from a sea of Hendrix masks at the Isle of Wight festival, to a poignant retelling of his work from folk aficionado Benji Kirkpatrick.

Sara Lincoln Photography
Sara Lincoln Photography

Benji (of folk supergroups Bellowhead and Faustus) is a long term fan of Hendrix, his music leading Benji to the electric guitar which really solidified his passion for playing. Odd then, perhaps, that Benji leaves the instrument behind in his interpretation of the hits of Hendrix. Hendrix’s performances were well known for fusing feedback, fuzz and distortion – something you won’t find in Benji’s angle as he sticks to acoustic bouzouki, banjo and mandolin. It’s not a case of “Benji knows better”, this stripping down is done to reveal the genius of the songs beneath. Despite (or because of?) not being able to read or write music Hendrix was a fantastically intricate songwriter, and Bendrix is all about showcasing this.

You can catch the show at Arlington Arts on Wednesday 23rd September at 8pm. Tickets are £12 and can be purchased here, or via the box office on 01635 244 246 between 10-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. All profits go to Mary Hare School for the Deaf.

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Open Studios 2015: On Forward

As part of Open Studios 2015 we’re delighted to announce On Forward: a vibrant exhibition featuring new pieces from artists based within West Berkshire, who are relatively early in their careers. Striking out with passion, experimentation and youthful vigour – Open Studios provides these young artists, who may have no studio space of their own, with the opportunity to share their work.

The exhibition is free and runs from Tuesday 5th May – Saturday 27th June.
Monday-Friday 10am-4.20pm. For weekend opening times call 01635 244 246.

The Artists

Jimmy Black

Jimmy’s On Forward collection is a series of dynamically coloured portraits of women. Whether they are dancing, relaxing or posing – each possesses an undeniable intimacy.

Jethro German

Jethro German’s work takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including televised sport, film tropes and news stories. In isolating particular aspects of these forms, German seeks to deconstruct and parody the framework by which we consume and process information, exposing the absurdities that pervade popular culture and the mass media.

Jennifer Holmes
After pursuing studies in graphic design, photography, interior design and illustration, Jennifer draws her inspiration from personal experiences. Her work explores and expresses her emotions in an abstract way – showing what comes from life’s experiences through suggestive symbols. Jennifer works as a a Graphic Designer full time.

Hester Kessling
Hester Kessling approaches her work meticulously, making use of homemade compasses and drawing devices to produce images of great detail.  Hester replicates this approach even in her more thought provoking images, contrasting the examination of the interior psyche against the simplicity of overlying bold lines.

Mirren Kessling

printformance

Sister of Hester Kessling, Mirren Kessling is an artist who is currently studying at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford. Her work is focused on printmaking, performance and the documentation of these two mediums as interconnected acts. Printing for Mirren has become not only an extension of her drawing but also a medium for documenting traces and marks left behind by the artists body, but also the act of printing as a performance worthy of documentation in film or photography.

Douglas Roberts

douglasdrawing
Doug Roberts is an artist primarily working to produce drawn and painted responses to nature and the built environment, currently living and working in Newbury, Berkshire. He has spent the last eight years working and studying in Brighton and Hove and has drawn inspiration mainly from the urban environment there. He graduated with a BA in Fine Art Painting from Northbrook College Sussex in 2008 and has since exhibited in the Nelson Gallery in central Brighton and the Candid Arts Gallery in Islington.

Francesca Roberts
Not the sister of Douglas, Francesca’s oil-on-paper work explores landscapes/seascapes and emotion. To over simplify – Francesca translates emotions into landscapes that are at once alien, and all too familiar.

Mary Hare Students
A selection of Mary Hare A Level students share their A Level projects.

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Political Comedy – A Brief Recent History

With the election looming and political comedy duo Jonny & The Baptists (book here) due in just a few weeks (Thurs 23rd April) we take a look back at politicians and humour over the last few years. From mishaps to musical numbers.
Fair warning: things are about to get cringey.

The Professionals

  • Jonny & The Baptists come to Arlington Arts on 23rd April. The boys are probably best known for their incredibly cheeky “Stop UKIP!” tour, which led to attempts at restraining orders and many an angry email from Farage and the gang. Choosing to be amused rather than deterred, they took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm and now they’re back on a 30 date tour – just in time for the election.
    Don’t forget to vote, don’t forget to book.EXPLICIT Book Here
  •  Cassetteboy is a youtuber best known for his cleverly edited autotuned videos of various politicians and TV personalities. Here’s his take on the run up to the election:

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  • Back in 2012 Nick Clegg got one of his PAs to set up a camera and attempted to apologise for his U-turn on Student Tuition Fees. We’re sure he had his reasons, but they’ve been buried underneath the popularity of The Poke’s hilarious autotuned version. I’m Sorry is now at well over 2 million views, and Clegg humbly consented to its release on iTunes – provided all the profits go to the Children’s Hospital Charity.

  • The Thick of It is a much quoted BBC satire of modern British government. Is it true to life, who knows? But the world of Number 10 is depicted as a bubble of backstabbing, cracking nicknames and sarcasm. We tried to find a clip without swearing but that’s, well, impossible. So here’s a fully explicit Malcolm Tucker experience.

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The Amateurs

  •  Whilst it can often seem that British politics just goes round in circles, there are many things our lauded representatives simply don’t see coming. Take David Cameron’s admittedly witty response to the question “What’s your favourite joke?”  “Nick Clegg”. This was, of course, back when the coalition was a mere twinkle in the Liberal Democrats’ eye. Watch below as Dave is confronted about the quip….in front of Nick.

  • The London Olympics were a busy time for Boris Johnson, the next clip was particularly popular amongst Britons and tourists alike – though perhaps not for the reason Boris was hoping. 

  • We all know that politicians are expected to follow a hardy party line, comedian Dave Gorman put together this clip demonstrating the power of the spin doctor.