Friday, 18 April 2014

Brassed Off - Paul Allen and John McArdle on the Miners Strike

When Paul Allen's stage version of Brassed Off appeared in 1998, two years after Mark Herman's film about a small Yorkshire community's efforts to win a brass band competition was first released, the Miners Strike that formed the story's backdrop was still a fresh wound on Britain's landscape. Thirty years after a civil war which became a defining moment of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's calculated assault on trade unions, the play's current revival for a tour which arrives in Edinburgh next week is an all too fitting reminder of one of the late twentieth century's most inglorious eras.

The fact that Brassed Off makes its point about how an entire community can be decimated by enforced pit closures through both a romantic comedy and the unifying power of music is testament to the play's staying power. Yorkshire-born Allen, whose work in popular theatre has seen him forge close links with Alan Ayckbourn and the Scarborough-based Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, welcomes a second life for his play.

“You've now got a generation of both performers and audiences who have never seen a pit-head,” Allen says of some of the thinking behind a tour co-produced by the Touring Consortium, York Theatre Royal and Bolton Octagon. “I was walking along a beach in Wales with a friend, and they picked up a piece of coal, which is such a rare thing to see now, but which used to be something that was essential to our lives.

“If you go to Grimethorpe, which is where the film was made, all you see are roundabouts named after the pits that were closed down. Everything has been bulldozed flat, so there's no real evidence of the mines. Yet both the mines and the strike are such an important part of our history, so it's good to keep them alive somehow, and to keep the anger about what happened alive as well.”

In the film, the role of Danny, the band leader whose closing speech in the film is a damning indictment of the government forces behind the pit closures (and which was later sampled on Chumbawamba's 1997 hit single, Tubthumping), was played by the late Pete Postlethwaite. For this new production, the baton is picked up by John McArdle. As a fan of the film,which also starred Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald, he too recognises its populist power.

“Sue Johnston was in it,” McArdle says of his former fellow Brookside star, with whom he toured in Jim Cartwright's play, Two. “She played one of the wives, and I loved Pete Postlethwaite's performance, but playing it myself is like playing any of the great parts, in that you have to try and forget all the great actors who've done it, and bring something of yourself to it.

“With Danny, though, there's only so many ways you can do it, because he's a very driven character. All he wants is to get his band to the Royal Albert hall, but he knows he's dying, and he knows his community is being ripped apart, and that politicises him, whereas in the past he's been apolitical.”

McArdle's own politicisation came during his first exposure to theatre during his early twenties while training to be a plasterer in Northampton, where “I helped build Milton Keynes,” he jokes.

“7:84 brought a play to the college called The Fish in the Sea,” McArdle says of an early play by the late John McGrath, which was first seen in 1972 at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, the grassroots venue where Postlethwaite cut his early acting teeth, “and I also saw a company called Belt and Braces, so I was exposed to agit-prop theatre from very early on. Where agit-prop hit you over the head with its politics, something like Brassed Off takes a much subtler approach with it. Brassed Off tells the story of a family, and it's entertainment for the masses, but it becomes political, and, rather than preach to the converted, it gets its message across to people who might not normally be interested.”

When Brassed Off was first performed in Sheffield, where the first four performers featured a poignant appearance by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, it broke box office records, and quickly transferred to the National Theatre. Since then, and to Allen's astonishment, the play has become something of a staple for amateur dramatics groups.

“This has often been in places that have barely heard of Arthur Scargill and Maggie Thatcher,” says a still bewildered Allen.

“The last time Allen visited Grimethorpe, as well as roundabouts, he noticed that a memorial to miners who had been killed down the pit had been erected near to the war memorial that had long been in place.

“There were a lot more names on the miners memorial than there were on the war memorial,” he says. “There's an anger and a rage in places like Grimethorpe that exists to this day about what was done to them. To have whole communities destroyed like that was absolutely gob-smacking.

“Thirty years on, I think back to 1975, which was thirty years after the Second World War, when war films were still very popular, although in terms of them being made they dropped off shortly after. What happened after the strike, was that, while agit-prop plays were being made at the time, there was a silence. Since then, partly down to writers like Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot, which also came out of the strike, and partly down to a system whereby cabinet papers are released under the thirty year rule, so we can see exactly how determined Thatcher's government was to break the unions, that silence has been broken.

“There is a long history that's come out of the Miner's Strike, and some of that history is awful. In parts of Wales where the mines shut, there are now two generations who'll never work again, and nobody is helping these people. Whether things like that causes the plays I don't know, but it somehow seeps into the collective consciousness, and it's our job as writers to articulate that.”
Brassed Off, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, April 29-May 3



Mining For Gold – The Miners Strike on stage and screen

The Strike – In 1988, alternative comedy troupe The Comic Strip made their most famous film as part of Channel Four's The Comic Strip Presents... series. The film focused on a former miner and would-be screenwriter, whose personal account of the strike is picked up by Hollywood producers, who proceed to cast Al Pacino, played by Peter Richardson, as miners leader Arthur Scargill and Meryl Steep, as played by Jennifer Saunders, as his wife in a big budget action movie. This telling satire on how history can be warped on film also starred Robbie Coltrane and Alexei Sayle, and won numerous awards.

Billy Elliot – Like Brassed Off, the Lee Hall-scripted film about an eleven year old boy who wants to become a ballet dancer was set against a backdrop of the Miners Strike in Tyneside, with several scenes filmed at the Ellington and Lynemouth collieries in Northumberland. Released in 2000, Hall's tale of the transcending power of art made a star of Jamie Bell, and has gone on to become a hit stage musical.
 
The Battle of Orgreave – In 2001, artist Jeremy Deller staged a re-enactment of one of the Miners Strike's defining moments, when running battles in June 1984 between Yorkshire police and striking miners looked like civil war. Deller gathered together more than 1000 volunteers for the public event, which utilised historical re-enactment societies as well as former miners and policeman in a spectacle that was captured by film-maker Mike Figgis.
 
The Herald, April 18th 2014

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

It may be a tad early in the year for Shakespeare's sunniest rom-com to come blinking into the light, but that hasn't stopped the all-male Propeller company from hitting the road with the frothiest of double bills, with Ed Hall's productions of the Dream and The Comedy of Errors playing the King's on alternate nights. Neither does it stop the array of long-john clad fairies, who drape themselves about a netting-lined stage before a stripey-tighted Robin Goodfellow, as Puck is credited here, bursts out of a box feet first as if from an upside-down toybox come to life.

As the cast of fourteen flit between the play's three worlds, what follows resembles a 1980s alternative comedy troupe doing an elaborately choreographed role-play. At first, Joseph Chance's Robin seems to call the shots, click-clacking chaos into the four young lovers all-night exploits with a wooden rattle. Soon it's Darrell Brockis' Oberon who's casting a spell, in a Dream which requires little of the usual doubling up of parts.

The Mechanicals are a Dad's Army am-dram group, whose cross-gender casting of Flute as doomed lover Thisbe is a knowing wink to Propeller's own men-only aesthetic. Alasdair Craig's gangling Flute goes from stupid boy to Barbie doll as Thisbe, eventually throwing an almighty strop at Bottom's Pyramus with a Dr Who scarf that becomes a deadly weapon. Accompanied only by a bell, a xylophone and some solitary harmonica drawls, this a knockabout Dream that prompts several ovations for its comic set-pieces, even as it revels in its own magic before the spell is ended and Puck must climb back into his box once more.
 
The Herald, April 18th 2014
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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Cars and Boys

Dundee Rep
Three stars

Life in a hospital ward can play tricks on you. Especially when you've had a stroke like ageing matriarch Catherine, the tough cookie at the heart of Stuart Paterson's new play, directed by Philip Howard in a temporary studio space that seats the audience on the theatre's main stage either side of the action. Used to calling the shots running her own haulage firm, Catherine is now in a bed-ridden haze of medicated confusion, in which a steady stream of old loves seep from her dream-state with lifelike clarity even as she can barely recall her grandson's name. Doctors and nurses treat her with a professional briskness as her husband Duncan and daughter Margaret attempt to salvage a few precious moments.

At the centre of this life in decline is a towering performance from Ann Louise Ross, who invests Catherine with a hard-headed steeliness that slips at crucial moments to reveal an emotional vulnerability, before she pulls herself together to deal with some everyday family strife. Only Catherine's commentary on contemporary political ills feel shoe-horned in.

With the white lines of Lisa Sangster's set suggesting a life that has roared by without pausing to see the view, Howard's production captures a tone that is both impressionistic and defiant in Paterson's writing. This is heightened even more by Greg Sinclair's live cello score. This fully comes into its own when at one point a slow and steady stream of people played by a community cast pass by bearing gifts. This suggests a funeral procession as much as visiting hour in an elegiac tapestry of a live lived to the max.
 
The Herald, April 17th 2014

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Forbidden Experiment - Enormous Yes

In 1493, a youthful King James 1V of Scotland embarked on a curious experiment, in which he decamped two infant children to Inchkeith Island on the Firth of Forth in the care of a mute woman. The point of the exercise for the curious monarch was to determine how the children might learn language while isolated from the rest of the world, and if, in its pure state, their utterances were in fact the language of the gods.

Fast forward five hundred years or so, and a couple of artists equally as curious as King James pick up on what remains a bizarre incident. Things become even stranger when the artists look into what happened when British troops were stationed on Inchkeith during the Second World War. A Freedom of Information request lodged with the Ministry of Defence about their own interests in language deprivation casts up some apparently startling material, which the pair determine to make public.

The result of all this is The Forbidden Experiment, the latest dramatic inquiry by performers and theatre-makers Rob Jones and Michael John O'Neill. Collectively known as Enormous Yes, Jones and O'Neill are the latest recipients of The Arches Platform 18 award, which enables and supports the production of The Forbidden Experiment as part of the centre's Behaviour festival before transferring it to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. With reference to feral children, make-believe army regiments, code-breaking and such technical linguistic terms as idioglosia and cryptophasia, the pseudo lecture structure of The Forbidden Experiment is part detective story and part historical excavation, with what sounds like some decidedly sinister discoveries.

“Inchkeith has always been strategically important,” according to O'Neill. “It was used as a place of quarantine for syphilitics and plague victims, then in the Second World War there was a fictional regiment called the British Fourth Army that was as a distraction to make the Nazis think they were going to invade Norway.”

As full of incident and colour as such findings are, they have long been in the public domain, and exactly what new ground O'Neill and Jones' FOI is breaking remains to be seen. For now, “There are elements of it I don't want to go into too much detail about,” is all O'Neill will say. “Most of it was epically boring, with stacks of stuff about shift rotations and things like that. There's stuff there as well about language research and code-breaking, and putting research into practise that has elements of a very sinister mystery.”

Jones and O'Neill formed Enormous Yes while students at Glasgow University, and, inspired by innovative American company, The T.E.A.M. (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment), elected to make what they describe as 'theatre to make wrong what once seemed right'.

“Our process has been one of going through an extensive research period,” O'Neill says, “then developing things through improvisation before I go off and write a script.”

This approach has seen Enormous Yes look at libertarian cults, both in the interactive faux seminar of #neednothing, which appeared at the Arches in 2012, and in its sequel of sorts, #sleeptightbobbycairns, which formed part of the Tron Theatre's Mayfesto season.

These were followed by Bonny Boys Are Few, a quasi auto-biographical look at the relationship between sons, fathers and surrogate fathers, which was seen both at the Arches and at the Roundhouse in London in 2013.

What unites these shows is a willingness to fuse fact, fiction and historical mythology in a playful mix of forms that never loses sight of its own artifice as the lines between what is true and what is not become blurred.

“We like to chuck fictional and real things together and see what emerges,” O'Neill explains. “I don't see us in any way as making documentaries about our researches, but are interpreting it in other ways that we hope encourages people to question narratives. On one level, Bonny Boys Are Few was autobiography, but we pulled it apart with this mix of Irish mythology and real events. We see these bits of history and myth that we've found as being ample for being pulled apart in different ways, so well as having these elements of my own life, the Spanish Armada's in there as well.”

The immediate future for Enormous Yes sees them take a reworked version of Bonny Boys Are Few to the Brighton Fringe Festival this coming May. Beyond this, O'Neill, a graduate of both the National Theatre of Scotland's Auteurs scheme and the Traverse 50 new writing initiative, expresses a desire to write something “a bit less mad, something more tightly genre-based.”

In the meantime, four people will appear in The Forbidden Experiment, including dancer and choreographer Zosia Jo, while Jones and O'Neill will play versions of themselves.

“There's lots of collapsing of history in the show,” O'Neill says, “and mine and Rob's journey to getting the FOI becomes integral to things. Characters are paired off through history, and the one thing they all have in common is that they've all lost something and are trying to get it back.

Given the nature of The Forbidden Experiment, one can imagine some concerned overtures from the MOD might have been forthcoming. As it turns out, a surprising radio silence has been the order of the day.

“I've not got any sense that they care,” O'Neill says of the MOD. “If it looked like the play was doing anything that they didn't like then they might, but I suspect they have a lot of bigger scandals to deal with than an investigation into one that happened in the 1940s.”

The Forbidden Experiment, The Arches, Glasgow, April 22-25; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, May 1-3



Inchkeith – A Wondrous Place

Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth, and which is part of Fife, has had a colourful history, which is known to date back to the twelfth century, when people had to cross the river by boat.

In the fourteenth century, Inchkeith was repeatedly attacked by English raiders during the Scottish wars of independence.

In 1493, King James 1V directed that a mute woman and two infants be transported to the island in order to discover which language the infants would grow up to speak isolated from the rest of the world.

In 1497, Inchkeith used as an isolated refuge for victims of the 'grandcore' or syphilis.

In 1589, Inchkeith was used to quarantine the passengers of a plague ridden ship. More plague sufferers came here from the mainland in 1609, while n 1799, Russian sailors who had died of an infectious disease were buried here.

In 1547, the earl of Somerset garrisoned Inchkeith, and built a fort on the site of the present day lighthouse. The garrison was later ejected from the island by a combined Franco-Scottish force.

In the eighteenth century, a now uninhabited Inchkeith was visited by James Boswell and Samuel Johnson.

In 1803, construction began on the Inchkeith Lighthouse, which became operational the following year.

In 1878, construction began on three forts on Inchkeith, and in 1899, a foghorn was installed.

In 1915 during the First World War, HMS Britannia ran aground at Inchkeith.

In 1944, Operatioin Fortitude North was an elaborate plan used to deceive the German army into thinking that the British army was about to invade Norway, with a fictional regiment decamped to Inchkeith.

Following the Second World War, Inchkeith was worked as farmland, and in 1986, the Northern Lighhouse Board sold the island to millionaire philanthropist Sir Tom Farmer.
 
The Herald, April 15th 2014

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Monday, 14 April 2014

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's the voice of God you hear first in Vanishing Point's exquisitely realised impressionistic evocation of the life and times of the poet and song-writer whose influence on popular culture over the last half century is only now being fully recognised. It's a jolly voice compared to the deadpan melancholy of Ivor Cutler's own, but this unseen presence points up Cutler's own uneasy relationship with religious beliefs of all persuasions, even as this co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland is as much a spiritual meditation as any liturgy.

Using a framing device of an actual meeting between actor Sandy Grierson, who plays Cutler, with Cutler's partner Phyllis King below the Kentish Town flat where Cutler once lived, the first half is a celestial radio play that shows how a dreamy boy from Ibrox went from life as a pilot and a teacher to an underground cult figure and star of TV and radio. These scenes give us a glimpse of what shaped Cutler's mind even as they explore how such a remarkable life can be translated into the play we're watching. The second half shifts in tone to something more elegiac as it focuses on Cutler and King's love story, and a personal and artistic bond that proved indestructible even as Cutler slid gently into old age.

Accompanying all this in Matthew Lenton's beautifully nuanced production of a text knitted together by Grierson is a barn-stormingly good five-piece band led by composer James Fortune. Their rollicking new arrangements of Cutler's songs reinvent them as a colourful riot of Klezmer, Calypso and Indian Ragas to shed vivid life on Cutler's unique form of Zen absurdist music hall.

Elicia Daly makes a poignant Phyllis, while guitarist Ed Gaughan provides an array of comic voices that include Ned Sherrin and Paul McCartney. It is Grierson's remarkably observed study of Cutler, however, that carries the show as he charmingly and movingly captures his subject's sense of wonder even at his frailest in this most tender and loving of homages to a true genius.

The Herald, April 14th 2014

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Vanishing Point - The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

The squall of feedback that pierces across the auditorium of Eden Court Theatre 
in Inverness may only last a few seconds, but, it’s enough to cause a brief 
commotion among anyone in the room. The cast and band are in the thick of 
rehearsals for The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, Vanishing Point theatre 
company’s impressionistic music homage to the Glasgow-born poet, singer and 
stalwart of the late John Peel’s radio programme, which - quite literally - 
speaks volumes.

Cutler was, after all, a member of the Noise Abatement Society, and claimed to 
loathe amplified music in all forms. The feedback is a consequence of a 
late-running sound-check caused by a piano’s exterior splintering in a way that 
rendered it unusable. A replacement piano found at short notice, a piano tuner 
was also required to before work could proceed.

The band is led my musical director James Fortune, and includes 
multi-instrumentalist and recipient of a Herald Little Devil award Nick Pynn. 
Pynn, who has worked with comedians Stewart Lee and Boothby Graffoe, won the 
award with his partner, Kate Daisy Grant, after the pair got married on their 
only day off from their Edinburgh Festival Fringe show. With keyboardist and 
vocalist Jo Apps, guitarist Ed Gaughan and percussionist Magnus Mehta also on 
board, Fortune has pulled together a dynamic and eclectic ensemble.

For me,” says Fortune, “the challenges are to investigate the songs enough so 
you can rework them, but still keep their original spirit intact. A lot of Ivor 
Cutler’s songs sound like they could have been sung by Paul Robeson. There’s 
cowboy music in there, and there’s something Jewish there as well.”

As well as the piano, the stage is awash with other musical instruments, with a 
couple of old-fashioned armchairs nestled in front of the piano in a way that 
suggests the Scotch sitting room immortalised in Cutler’s brutally absurd 
stories. Elicia Daly, who plays a version of Cutler’s partner, Phyllis King, 
sits obliviously knitting on one of the chairs, leaning up against the piano are 
a series of oversize reproductions of the sleeves for each of Cutler’s albums.
At the front of the stage, set apart from everything else, sits a harmonium. In 
it’s isolated state, this wooden monster of an instrument looks like a miniature 
altar. The fact that the harmonium once belonged to Ivor Cutler himself makes 
the presence of the man interviewers were instructed must be called Mr Cutler 
even more tangible.

The instrument was re-discovered by musician and Celtic Connections director 
Donald Shaw. It had lain in storage for years after Cutler had apparently 
abandoned it following a show in Glasgow, where he was overheard in the wings 
giving the instrument a stiff talking to. Shaw bought it, and has now lent it to 
Vanishing Point. While this anecdote in itself could form the basis of a Cutler 
tribute, it’s a long way from how Lenton originally envisaged the show.

It’s a biography, a celebration and a gig,” he says of how it’s turned out. 
What we didn’t want was just have someone imitating Ivor Cutler and what he 
did. You can get the real thing on YouTube, so there’s no point on that. We 
wanted to do something that told a story, but which said something about Ivor 
Cutler’s life.

I’ve always said it’s an anti Mamma Mia. When you look at Mamma Mia, it’s the 
work of ABBA structured together, but ABBA don’t play a part in that musical, so 
anyone could have written those songs. That was my first idea with this, to make 
it something completely separate from Ivor Cutler’s life, but the more work we 
did on it, the more we found that you can’t separate Cutler’s work from his 
life.”

Rather than make a Vanishing Point approximation of a jukebox musical, Lenton, 
along with Fortune and actor and company associate Sandy Grierson, have done 
something more akin to the rock and roll biographical shows Elvis and Buddy. 
This has been done using a mountain of research material pulled together by 
Grierson, and enabled with the help of Cutler’s son and King, who have allowed 
Vanishing Point unlimited access to their archives. Despite such exhaustive 
researches, Lenton isn’t aiming to creative something rarefied.

It’s got to be a story that people who don’t know anything about Ivor Cutler 
can come along,” he maintains, “as well as one that aficionados can enjoy. On 
one level it’s quite a simple story, although it’s never a naturalistic 
portrayal of Ivor Cutler. It’s a biography told through his songs, and it’s a 
celebration, but it’s not just fragments. There’s an aesthetic to Cutler, and 
there’s something really Russian in his radio plays, and that’s the essence we 
want to capture.”

With the piano tuned, the band warm up as Grierson walks the stage with a giant 
cut-out of a vivid green sea creature. Costume designer Jessica Brettle comes in 
carrying two tweedy tartan caps that wouldn’t look out of place on a 
well-dressed Womble. They are, of course, dead ringers for Cutler’s own 
head-wear, and Grierson dutifully tries them on for size.

The band run through a version of Cutler’s late song, A Bubble Or Two, which, by 
way of an alternating male/female vocal and a twanging guitar, becomes 
transformed into the sort of galloping wild west melodrama on which Lee 
Hazlewood might have duetted with Nancy Sinatra. 

It’s louder than Cutler’s original, but there’s a reinvigorated joy there that 
even a member of the Noise Abatement Society might tap a toe to.

I think he’d be alright with that,” says Fortune, “but you have to be careful 
to get the balance right.”

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, April 9-20, then 
tours.
www.citz.co.uk
www.vanishing-point.org

The Herald, April 8th 2014

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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Chris Corsano - Edinburgh Man

Time was that if you lived in Edinburgh it felt like you could see drummer Chris Corsano play live pretty much any night of the week. During his time living in the capital in the mid to late noughties, the New England-sired drummer whose collaborators range from former Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore to free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker was a ubiquitous figure here.

Having hooked up with the city's fecund Noise scene, shows ranged from teaming up with assorted affiliates of the Giant Tank disorganisation, to duos with pedal steel vixen Heather Leigh Murray or bass player Massimo Pupillo of Italian power trio, Zu, to taking part in Arika's Resonant Spaces project. All this while touring the world with Bjork, whose Volta album Corsano appeared on.

One particularly busy couple of weeks in 2007 saw Corsano play Edinburgh with female Noise duo Hockyfrilla, another Edinburgh date in a duo with former Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista vocalist Carla Bozulich, supporting Faust at the Bongo Club with the Vibracathedral Orchestra's Mick Flower prior to a solo show at Optimo in Glasgow, and somehow managing to squeeze in a recording with Bjork for Jools Holland's Later programme broadcast the same weekend.

Seven years on, Corsano returns to Edinburgh with Flower this weekend for the duo's only Scottish date as part of a ten-date UK tour sandwiched inbetween a slew of European shows with the likes of Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and Indian-trained Finnish musician, Antti Solvi.

This current burst of activity follows some rare time out for Corsano, who, when not on tour, now lives quietly in upstate New York, “half-way between New York and Canada. I'd just had a hectic winter, and wanted to spend some time at home. I never really play in the town I live in. I don't know why, but Edinburgh was different.”

Sunday night's return will also continue a collaboration that began almost a decade ago when Corsano was living in Newcastle.

“Mick and I had played on the same bill,” Corsano recalls. “He was playing with the Vibracathedral Orchestra and I was playing with Paul Flaherty, and Mick asked me if I wanted to come over to Leeds.”

The result has been a long-term artistic marriage of Corsano's busy use of the drum kit alongside Flower's drone-based extrapolations from an electric shruti box and Japanese banjo.

“I like playing with Mick,” says Corsano, “because I like listening to him. I'm a fan. We go off and do our different things, but then when we get back together it's still really exciting. It it wasn't working I guess we wouldn't have pursued it as much as we have, and things do change. I can be playing with Mick, and then think, 'Oh, I haven't heard that before'.The synergies have always been in that state, which is one of pushing and pushing.

“There's a certain kind of comfort there as well, because if the acoustic of a room is difficult, or if a crowd is hard to please, you know that because you've worked together so much that there's something to fall back on. But you always want to keep trying things out, and want to keep it exciting and alive. It's the same with any relationship, personal or otherwise.”

Corsano's point about how much he enjoys listening to Flower is telling about Corsano's own approach. His playing is so sensitive to whoever else he's on stage with that, rather than dominate as a lesser drummer might with an over-riding clatter, Corsano's opens out a sea of space for others to fill, even as he pulses things along.

“I think we've practised once, maybe twice,” says Corsano of his and Flower's approach. “Everything else has been playing shows or recording. As what we do is improvised, you try to catch whatever's going on in the room and how the audience are. The key thing is to support the other person, and when you hear something that might be useful, you pick it up, so you're always trying to get better.”

The duo set-up is something that seems to suit Corsano. As well as his alliance with Flower, Corsano has long-standing partnerships with veteran saxophonists Paul Flaherty and Joe McPhee.

“The duo setting can be so much fun,” according to Corsano. “You learn so much about that one person you're playing with. A person like Joe McPhee, for instance, he subverts the idea of music in terms of what do I do to respond to what he does, which surprises the hell out of me still. But I don't think Joe would call himself a jazz player. There are some really angry things in what he does, but it can be really haunting as well.”

More recent collaborations include an ongoing partnership with artist and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Graf under the name Soliton, as well as with Rasmussen.

“That's a new duo,” Corsano says of the latter, “and it still feels really fresh. It's great you can still jump into something new and build from that. I didn't know Mette from before, but now I'm the older one finally. I'm not the young drummer anymore.”

One partnership that is unlikely to be rekindled is with Bjork. While Corsano enjoyed the experience, playing stadiums ans the main stages of festivals was “a different reality to what I was used to. You're playing all these major stages around the world, and then you wake up and think, 'Did that just happen?' I don't know if I'd do anything like that again, to be honest. There was never enough time to get the sound right at these places, and you'd be all over the place, drumming, and trying not to get lost. In a way it's kind of validated my position playing small, underground places.
It was some carry-on, but I guess I'm out of that one now.”

While Corsano appears on a multitude of recordings, both solo and with numerous collaborators, including five releases in 2013 alone, given his tireless range of activity, gaps remain in his back-catalogue.

“A lot of stuff does get lost,” he says, “but it's refreshing when someone steps up and wants to release something I've done, but even then things slip through the cracks.”

However many Cdrs and short-run releases Corsano and associates might put out, experiencing him play live is something that can never be fully captured on record. This is something Corsano more than anyone seems to recognise.

“I'm kind of a creature where a live setting is where I feel most at home,” he says. “That ephemeralness seems central to the improvisatory aspects of playing live, and I kind of live for that. I always end up doing different things with different people, and I'm always trying to surround myself with people better than me. So far, I think I'm doing pretty well.”

Braw Gigs present the Flower-Corsano Duo with Ashley Paul and Acrid Lactations, Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, April 13th.

The List, April 2014

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