|Merton Arts Festivals 1994-96|
So it was that
on a hot August day in 1994 that we made our live debut under
the bandstand at Abbey Mills, Merton. Looking back on it all now
it seems a daringly ambitious performance involving electric and
acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, live sequenced music and
sound tapes alternately played at various times during the set
by just the two of us; as well as vocal duties to perform. In
addition we were flanked by three large television screens on
stands providing visual accompaniment to each song. It was a
real multimedia event - and our dream come true! We played six
songs that day, Creamwove, Peach Wheels, Magic Hour, Small Town
Village Idiots, Sunset Over London and Perfect Summer.
It had seemed
an age in getting to that moment. We had been involved in the
organisation of the 1994 Merton Arts Festival since its original
inception at the start of the year attending various Council
Arts Forum meetings and making up one quarter of a working party
responsible for the music that would be represented during a two
(or was it four?) week festival period.
The opening day
of the festival had been a triumph of sorts. The weather was
kind and everyone, performers and public alike, appeared to be
genuinely united in festival camaraderie. A general feel good
factor permeated the whole day with a troupe of French stilt
walkers leading a procession into the main town centre from
where a host of performers amateur and professional shared the
limelight for a day. Although the Merton Arts Festival had a
history predating 1994, should it ever become as renowned as,
say, the Notting Hill Carnival or dare I say it, the Edinburgh
festival in years to come, I really do believe that the
beginnings of its greatness could be traced back to this year.
Many people felt that new life had been breathed into a
previously elitist and somewhat cliquey event. It may be argued
that this new life pandered blatantly to popular mass culture
replacing and displacing the true artist struggling to express
him/herself beyond the confines of mass appeal but this is
another argument for another day.
As our allotted
slot drew closer, guitars were feverishly tuned and I went
scouting for a juggler to join us on stage in order to complete
the whole multimedia/ performance art concept. Needless to say
this turned out to be fruitless (someone who'd tentatively
agreed to do it earlier had now vanished off the face of the
earth). Instead we coerced our longstanding friend Putt to man
the sequencer and add to the overall visual effect. (In truth we
were perhaps trying to stave off the ever growing feeling that
we'd look alarmingly like a couple of lemons on our own up
there!). And then suddenly we were on and straight into our
first number, the largely instrumental Creamwove. The decision
to start with this was a purely tactical one - the psychology
being not to destroy all the myths at once. Although people may
see (or hear) that we couldn't play they wouldn't also be able
to judge our vocal ability (or lack of) simultaneously!
In truth the set went surprisingly well. Creamwove, drawing musically on the Cure at their most melancholy would have benefited from clouds of dry ice and stadium crowd noise but hey, you can't have everything! We'd both relaxed by the time we got into Peach wheels and I looked over at Sunil in a "Pet Shop Boys on surf boards" kind of way (see their live performance from 1991) just as we'd rehearsed. For Village Idiots I moved onto keyboards. I'd previously been a bit apprehensive about my vocal on this one - something about not being able to hide behind a guitar whilst singing as I was able to for the rest of the set!
There were a few blips such as
the drumtrack to Sunset over London starting up at a much slower
tempo than it should have done, however, Putt moved swiftly into
action and we were back on course before anyone had really
noticed. We closed with Perfect Summer, which, with its Great
Gatsby inspired lyrics about heat, (a book containing one of the
best descriptions ever of a hot summers day) and the fact that,
weatherwise, it had been one of the best days we'd had that
summer, seems to me now to have perfectly encapsulated the mood
of the moment. We retired triumphant and I went and bought a
copy of "The last summer" by Boris Pasternak from one
of the second hand bookstalls that populate the area, which
seemed like the most appropriate thing to do. We certainly got a
lot out of that performance. Whether those watching completely
shared our euphoria is another matter and ultimately something
for them to deal with. My only regret is that we failed to go
out for an after performance meal in a fancy restaurant a la Pet
We returned to
Abbey Mills the next day for our duet with Marie Malone. The
whole thing nearly didn't happen when, failing to get a
soundcheck, we contemplated pulling out! Luckily, in retrospect,
we didn't as the ensuing performance went down rather well. In
addition to a screening of our super-8 film Fickle we
performed two songs, the aforementioned "I don't know how
to love him" for which we had constructed an upbeat
electronic arrangement, intending to play the role of Pet Shop
Boys to Marie's Liza Minnelli, and "Age of Aquarius"
which was a lot more downbeat and ambient allowing Marie's
considerable vocal talents to take centre stage. We hired
tuxedos for the evening and Marie wore her "pink
dress" - we were determined to look good if nothing else! I
can honestly say that the performance was an enjoyable
experience, particularly "I don't know how to love
him" which left some audience members slightly puzzled as
to why we hadn't changed the gender! (But then, how could we?).
We declined the
offer of an encore accompanying Frampton and Weller in their cod
rock'n' roll run through complete with indoor pyrotechnics, a
decision which I can safely say I've not once since regretted.
As we packed all of our equipment away that night and the venue
once again took on its familiar appearance as an empty indoor
market awaiting the return of its stall holders, we vowed to be
back again the next year.
And we were.
Paul McCartney once said, when asked why he never attempted to
recreate past glories and relive his Beatle days, that you can't
reheat a souffle. Something that was exciting, fresh, popular,
successful and indeed magical the first time round very rarely
evokes the same emotions if recreated for a second time - in a
sense you can never go back. The 1995 Merton Arts Festival in
many ways took on the appearance of a reheated souffle. For a
start the weather was not so good. We were scheduled to play a
set similar to our bandstand performance the previous year, this
time on the opening day of the festival. We diligently rehearsed
five new songs, Slope, Cult Sculptor, Things we said today (an
uptempo cover of the Beatles classic), Time of your life and
Long for love. We were primed and ready to go.
The day got off
to an inauspicious start. After filming the opening procession
from various vantage points we ran on ahead to the Fair Green
where the main stage was still being erected. They were cutting
it fine - the procession was due to arrive in a matter of
minutes and the stage roof was at this point down at our ankles
- apparently equipment had turned up late - the organisers had
been there since 6am - it was now nearly noon. Thankfully the
stage roof was jacked up just as the procession turned the
corner and the Mayor was able to successfully declare the 1995
festival open for business. The first few acts came and went,
Taiko drummers, a fire eater and his accomplice, a conjuror who
doubled up as compere for the day.
As the afternoon wore on and it got ever nearer to our particular "show time" the weather began to deteriorate. It started with the wind which blew the aforementioned stage roof inside out before it collapsed completely. Makeshift stages were set up elsewhere on the green. However, shortly after Dale Miller and co had completed their flamenco dance routine on the cobblestones outside Mcdonalds, the heavens opened. Everyone took cover in the nearby pub.
Despite being initially disappointed that we wouldn't get the
chance to perform on the main stage (our "Wembley"
equivalent for the day), we had up until this point been
confident that we'd be able to cut loose with our obscure pop
texts in some shape or form somewhere on the green. It was now
concluded to be futile. It was perhaps at this point that we
first began to question the notion of performing live electronic
music with all the inherent baggage that comes with it. Marie
Malone pulled off a valiant performance in the rain aided by a
small toddler who ran up to her mid set. She picked up the child
and continued singing, which, for me became one of the most
endearing and memorable images of the festival that year.
and their entourage packed up and left. We mulled over our
non-performance during a "celebratory" Indian meal
that evening. We'd regretted not having gone out to celebrate
the previous year and now, having rectified that part of the
proceedings, we had nothing to celebrate one year on.
of our Satie film later that same festival continued with
the non-performance theme.
We'd written a
theme song for the 1995 festival that we'd literally taken
"on the road". Along with Frampton and Weller and
artists from the Wimbledon Kitchen Studios we'd gone round the
borough in a float the week before the festival proper in order
to "raise awareness" and publicise the forthcoming
For the 1996
festival, in addition to providing another film for local music
Charity (this time based on, and entitled, Stockhausen)
we also collaborated in a performance of the theme song on the
opening day of the festival. We had visions of a full orchestral
backing, however, in reality all we got was a ragbag of singers
and two violinists. The piece became almost two songs in one.
Our electronic arrangement kicked the whole thing off, stopping
midway through to allow the violinists to perform a curious
(some would say improvised) middle eight section, before the
electronics came crashing in again to finish off.
fine weather and the large crowd in attendance, it wasn't quite
how I'd imagined or how we'd planned it to be! Considering that
here was a supposedly experienced (albeit amateur) choral group,
they had absolutely no notion of how to work the mics. One guy
with a voice uncomfortably similar to mine was in danger of
swallowing his (I was secretly hoping he would) and it wouldn't
have mattered so much had his singing been in tune. Just for the
record, in case you were there - and you know what my voice
sounds like, I would like to point out that this was not me
That was our last Merton Arts Festival appearance for a while. We gave the whole thing a miss in 1997 but returned in 1998 to find ourselves co-hosting an event in Merton and Mylau (Germany) simultaneously! It was a multimedia affair called the Mylau Experience. Most significantly it marked the first occasion that Praveen & Russell took to the stage together. From this point on Project Adorno was re-born as a beat-poetry & cabaret act.
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