We are approaching the halfway point of the Meltdown Festival and yesterday the budding music journalists were rewarded with the opportunity to watch the live broadcast of Lauren Laverne’s radio show. Standing on the same balcony that hosted the after-show parties and surrounded by PRs, researchers and fact-checkers, we observed a cappella singer Petra Haden (who wowed the crowds with versions of The Who songs last night), house musician Matthew Herbert who is performing on the 23 August, and of course the curator of the festival, David Byrne. Whilst the temporary set looked similar to the BBC newsroom seen on TV, behind the scenes was a different story. Around a dozen people were working as the broadcast took place, searching on their laptops, managing the sound and occasionally getting up to press a handwritten note into the host’s hands. Over the sound of the traffic and horns of the river boats, we could overhear Lauren helping Petra to relax and the guests taking off their headphones for a chat whenever the music was playing.
Lauren Laverne interviewing David Byrne on BBC Radio 6 Music
Another highlight of the day was Eliza McCarthy, an up-and-coming young pianist, who performed a free gig in the ballroom. She is a trained classical pianist who moved to the UK from Philadelphia aged 12 to attend the Menuhin School. Her set included pieces composed by Mica Levi, who she has been working with for the past year, and John Luther Adams, both of whom were in the audience watching her perform. She admitted that this was the first time she had met John Luther Adams, despite being an avid fan. If that wasn’t enough pressure, she is also a big fan of David Byrne, describing his music as the ‘soundtrack of my life’. She got involved in Meltdown ‘fairly unromantically’, due to an email which cited Mica Levi and John Luther Adams as two of David Byrne’s favourite composers. She jumped at the chance, emailing back asking if she too could perform at Meltdown.
Playing piano started on a whim when her mother asked her if she wanted to have lessons. ‘It sort of snowballed when I started doing competitions’. This snowball effect brought her to England to study at the specialist music school (and later Guildhall School of Music and Drama). Her music taste developed at the Menuhin School because, as a boarder, she was subjected to a lot of different styles of music – everything from Marilyn Manson to Bach. She even went through a goth/grunge phase, but due to the lack of pianos in the scene she continued with classical music. Her advice to budding young musicians is to
Remember that the music comes first
When younger she contemplated careers such as acting and dancing (a dream crushed due to her being told ‘my feet were too flat’). A natural performer from a young age, this is reflected by her energetic and unique performances. But she admits that it can all get a bit intense. ‘Sometimes I do fancy maybe having a farm somewhere, in the middle of nowhere’, she says, explaining how she likes to feel connected with nature. ‘But it only lasts a few minutes, then I remember I’ll get bored’. She does have other ways of relaxing though: in September she will begin teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at Guildhall to help the performers cope with the stress. With her parents being Zen Buddhists and spending summers as a child at Zen Camp, Eliza explained how she’d ‘always been a meditator’. She turned to mindfulness as it ‘stems from all of the Buddhist practices in a secular way’. When asked if other artists should try it, she looks slightly surprised before adding ‘everyone should. It’s just a way of being aware’.
Well, for her at least the mindfulness seems to be working: she played her hour-long set with energy and passion and her audience was completely transfixed.
Last Night’s Review: Benjamin Clementine
By Max Caffyn-Parsons
Benjamin Clementine is a London-born singer-songwriter and pianist who was discovered busking in Paris. He is influenced by classical music and poetry but he fuses this with contemporary styles of music, including chamber pop and folk.
Last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Clementine brought his compelling, introspective storytelling and gorgeous aesthetics to the stage in an intimate performance. The show opened with the venue going dark and a spotlight being cast upon the stage, making only the piano and microphone visible. Clementine then entered, barefoot and dressed in a trench coat. He opened with ‘Edmonton’, and his powerful vocals and sublime piano playing immaculately set the tone of the performance from the outset and immersed the audience in his poetic, melancholy stories.
After each song the stage would fade to black and some seconds later the spotlight would make Clementine reappear, which was very fitting for the personal and sombre themes that he explores in his songs. At times smoke would form dramatic shadows upon him, making the performance even more evocative.
Clementine embodied all of the emotions that he conveyed to the audience. He is the master of dynamics and has a large vocal range – subdued during the quiet and touching parts of his songs, he delivered louder, more passionate vocals during a lively outro. Much of the performance consisted only of Clementine and a piano, but his astonishing vocal and pianistic talents kept the audience amazed and delighted.
A drummer came on after three songs to accompany Clementine for some of the tracks. He too was a great performer and his hypnotic rhythms complemented the interesting melodies. The drummer had a solo, too, which was a nice way to vary the set towards the end of the show.
Clementine channelled the potent emotions of his songs impeccably throughout the show. Integrating multiple styles of music and encompassing his influences, he succeeded in captivating the audience from start to finish with his truly entertaining showmanship.