Thursday, 10 September 2009

these feathered breaths

Alela Diane & Tom Menig, The Junction, 9th September 2009

Rarely have I come out of a concert feeling so wholesome, yet light. These were songs of flight, and seasons, and things passed between the generations. Both Laura Gibson (who was supporting, and who I loved) and Alela Diane (magical) have beautiful voices and poetry in their souls.

'If I could stretch my ears into a procession and circle round your wisdom like a song', sang Laura Gibson in Funeral Song.

'The flat lands stretch inside your mouth, and when you laugh all the star-thistles tumble out', sang Alela Diane in Dry Grass and Shadows.

Between her songs, Alela Diane talked about baking cookies, the importance of a tin mug for drinking tea during her gigs (the china ones get broken, she found a tin one for £1.75 in the Cambridge Army Surplus store), and how her father always has good advice for dealing with the musical equipment. Laura Gibson told of a recent gig in a prison, where she had unusual responses to the age-old stage questions, 'how are you doing tonight?', and 'do we have time for one more?'!

I love the way this music felt handcrafted, because of the way it drew you in to the little details of texture, voice, timing, and harmony. The sounds felt fashioned and hewn like intricate carvings: at once right there in the performance (I think of Laura's slight vibrato, the way it varied slightly, or Alela Diane toying with volume as she sang the upward interval of 'mama' in Oh! My Mama), but also passed down through generations of singing and memories and melodies.

There was something especially poignant about Alela Diane singing the traditional folk song, 'Bowling Green', which her parents used to sing to her as a child (a quick glance through cyberspace suggests she added in some of her own lyrics to the traditional song). And Laura Gibson's set ended with the song Glory:

'I remember my mother's hands, laced in prayer, frail as birds.
Faith she carried like a terrible, terrible ache. I have never seen such glory since. [...]
I remember my sister's belly, white and swollen, carefully swaying.
Eyes were glowing from carrying such grace. I have never seen such glory since.'

All the singing about mothers and daughters and family ties and transmission got me thinking about my own hopes for a little one to come into my belly and my life. (C.f. my very first post on this blog).

Laura Gibson

Laura Gibson

Alela Diane

Alela Diane

Tom Menig, Alela's Pa

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