The Bubbly Blue and Green Festival Visit the Arctic Circle Photos: Hannah Morgan. Visit her Flickr
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King’s Place is, quite simply, stunning. It’s brand-spanking-new, ultra-modern, sleek and shiny and everything you’d expect from a purpose-built concert venue in central London. It should be straight out of the South Bank, and it’s amazing that a building like this is so close to King’s Cross. What really made me happy was the way they’d totally embraced the concept behind the Bubbly Blue and Green Festival: there was sound art in the foyer, blue and green lighting, jellyfish on the ceiling, Eskimos fishing with bananas over the balcony, and 'make-your-own origami fish' sessions between acts. It really lent a sense of occasion to the event. Paper Cinema were up first on Saturday. I didn’t entirely know what to expect but was thinking along the lines of shadow-puppetry – something more advanced than a barking dog or a swan, but that sort of thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In one corner of the stage was the puppetry set-up; a video camera pointed at a black backdrop, in front of which the manipulators moved intricately drawn characters and backgrounds, layering them up against each other to create detailed scenes. The skill with which this was done was outstanding, with the marionettes being moved closer and further away from the camera depending on where the focus was needed. In the other corner of the stage was a viola player-cum-guitarist-cum-percussion player, who choreographed the soundtrack to the performances.
Paper Cinema put on two shows – the first, in keeping with the theme, was a shanty about how Victorian sailors would spend their wages and featured much wine, women and song. The second was a work entirely created by them which didn’t have a set story so much – they preferred people to take their own interpretations away with them – but dealt with themes of love, loss and fear. Both were spectacular. Hildur Gudnadottir has a fantastic electro-acoustic cello that I was coveting before she even played a note. She also had a range of pedals (I spotted at least delay and loop, and possibly a harmoniser/octaviser) and a laptop, all of which were seamlessly integrated into her music. She has a wonderful tone, which was shown off beautifully by the long sustained notes which are characteristic of her pieces. The loop pedal and the laptop came into their own around about the 3rd song, where she looped a rhythm she played at the start of the piece, gradually building it up until it sounded as though she had a whole string section. Every now and then the backing would drop down, allowing her to capture the room with her solo sound.
Hildur is a very skilled cellist, and plays not stridently, but with quiet confidence. There is nothing flashy, but she is technically brilliant all the same; to maintain that tone, especially at a high register, and convey so much emotion; the set was incredibly moving. Her final piece culminated with a spectacular finale, with her playing tremelo in perfect timing with the backing from the laptop. The only shame was that she wasn't better attended. Iarla O'Lionaird sung in Irish and had a guy playing a Steinway. My heart was his from the first note. The first piece he sand was a funeral dirge from Cork, and unfortunately the set didn't get much happier. I say unfortunately because although he was very talented and sung from his heart, it was all a bit too sad for me. He was also joined on stage by a saxophonist, who used his saxophone to mimic the sound of the ocean by blowing through it without pitching notes - an unusual technique, but it produced a very evocative sound. Iarla engaged well with the crowd, apologising for Ireland winning the rugby. He seemed like a nice guy, it was just a shame his set was so gloomy in tone.
The London Snorkelling Team were a whole heap of fun; there’s no other real way to describe them. They introduced their set as a live radio broadcast from an imaginary town on a remote island, and proceeded to warn depressives to ‘take a double dose’ of whatever medication they may be on, and urged others in the audience to keep a wary eye out for any adverse reactions. Their set included magic tricks, a time machine and a semi-successful attempt to contact the dead. Musically, they play what they describe as “sci-fi cartoon jazz music”, and I would be hard pressed to come up with a better definition. Their band has a wide range of instruments and musicians, including an overhead projector manned by two members who move cartoon transparencies around the screen, creating a perfect accompaniment to the music. I would be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable way to spend an evening. The Wilkommen Orchestra were a collaboration of four different bands, and as such had a huge number on stage. They played soft, folky music that reminded me slightly of some of the more laid back Decemberist songs, although without so much of a hook. They didn't have a huge amount of passion on stage, which could have been caused by the sheer number of them, but was probably more likely due to them being from different bands and playing each other's music, rather than working to create something together. They're the sort of band whose CD I would happily put on in the background at home, but as live acts go, they were a little lacklustre.
As evenings go, this was incredibly varied and pretty spectacular. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on both King's Place and the Arctic Circle in the future. Plus I got to keep an origami fish. Win.