Kings Cross hasn’t quite shaken off its seedy air entirely but Kings Place on York Way is a good example of just how much times have changed. Certainly different to 14/15 years ago when I did a nights work as a cross between security guard and Satellite truck technician. That evening outside an Antipodean pick up joint, not unlike the Walkabout but without its air of sophistication was beyond grim. LiveTV! were broadcasting a dating show from within the sawdust floored cesspit, while I did my best to fend off aggressively beered up rugby types. The trip to the nightbus was obstacle course of discarded needles and the unwanted attention of drug ravaged prostitutes.

In 2010 the scene is slightly different, Kings Place, the first new public concert hall in London for 25 years has swapped the syringes for studious sophistication. The Guardian newspaper appropriately shares the building.
No chance then of the usual shoe sticking to floor gig experience for this the fourth night of Arctic Circles Bubbly Blue & Green festival. Gliding down the escalator to the subterranean concert halls the events theme of  ‘water music’, shipwrecks, rivers, waves and lighthouses is quickly apparent. Cutout fishes dangle above, watery textures project up onto the ceiling and two people dressed as Eskimo’s dangle sweets on the end of fishing rods to tempt the punters below. The Sone Institute play live watery soundscapes as we relax on comfy chairs, cup of tea tea in hand.  People are making origami creatures on a table nearby and the fishing couple above have cleverly attached a cam to the end of their rod, throwing a shimmery image of those below onto one wall. I’m starting to feel a little drowsy or at least more so than crowding round the bar deciding whether to have warm Carling, Carling or Carling.

Click here for a free 13 track compilation of artists who performed at the festival
Hamilton Yarns – “Search for the underwater town” (MP3)

It would be wonderfully dramatic to say the evenings performance is a once in a lifetime, one-off, never to be repeated experience, but strictly speaking its a two-off, (probably) never to be repeated which is special enough for me. Brighton based Willkommen records are cut from a similar cloth to Fifes celebrated Fence Collective, consisting of numerous bands, many with members in common who alongside their own LP’s seem to have the habit of interpreting each others work. The Willkommen Orchestra is made up of 20 musicians from four groups, The Miserable Rich, Shoreline, Sons of Noel & Adrian and The Climbers interpreting the songs of those groups en masse.
With a couple of dozen musicians on stage you’d be forgiven for expecting a battle of ego’s but the only evidence of such is a inadvertent slip of the tongue from The Miserable Rich’s lead singer James Malplaquet. Joking about the seething mass of ego’s present he introduced the section of Miserable Rich songs by saying “the next part of the evening features the music of MY group…” before swiftly correcting himself to a more “collective” description.

In truth the lack of arrogance seems at odds with the talent present, the 5 main vocalists take turns to spotlight their fabulously distinctive voices before shuffling off to shake a tambourine, provide backing vocals or guitar. The evening is a debut for The Climbers, the newest addition to the labels roster, although as is the Willkommen way they contain members of Sons Of Noel & Adrian, The Leisure Society and Miserable Rich. Tim West may be a low key front man but he’s assembled a cast of dozens to swell the anticipation for the May release of their 5 years in the making LP.

I’d been surprisingly underwhelmed by The Leisure Society supporting Alela Diane last year so it was a pleasure to hear Nick Hemming put his banjo aside for a moment and step up to the mic. Of the two tracks performed “In a Circle” (youtube) (if thats whats its called) was especially good.

The Climbers – Myspace / Facebook
The Climbers / Willkommen Orchestra – “In a Circle” (Qik Video)
The Climbers / Willkommen Orchestra – “Anything” (Qik Video)
The Climbers – “Uncommon” (MP3)

We unfortunatly missed Shoreline due to the ramshackle nature of Kings Place with the only open bar a floor up without a PA system to tell you the next performance is underway.

Shoreline – “Shipwrecked” (MP3)

I last saw The Miserable Rich completely accidently playing by the riverside under a Texan bridge as dusk fell and bats filled the sky, but this was the first time I’d heard their eagerly awaited new material. On the evidence of the four songs played the new songs are not as instant, less dark, but in the gorgeous at least “Oliver” may hold the promise of equalling one of the unsung albums of the last few years. James Malplaquet has an affecting voice at the best of times but when slowly intoning each word of “The… feast… of … Oliver” with the pin drop beautiful accompaniment of the choir its enough to make a grown man weep.

The sound produced by all present, brass, woodwind, string, piano, choir is at times overwhelming. Scanning the stage your eyes and ears pick out individual elements within the collective whole, whether that’s the ever present bearded Will Calderbank dashing between Cello and grand piano or the accordion player. The layers build and build into a glorious swell of sound but its the quieter moments that send tingles down the spine. The sweet voices of the choir softly sending out the lyrics with minimal accompaniment.

The Miserable Rich – Facebook / Twitter
Listen: The Miserbale Rich – Knife Throwers Hand” (MP3)
Watch: The Miserable Rich / Willkommen Orchestra – “Unknown” (Youtube)

My knowledge of The Sons of Noel and Adrian’s music was limited to their scene stealing covers of fellow Willkommen artists, but here they stole the show with their own material.  Jacob Richardson’s (above left) voice is no where near as gravelly as Joe Cocker, but its the closest comparison I have to get across the mixture of roughness and soul he brings to bare. That alone would be perfect enough but in the sweet angelic lilt of Catherine Cardin he has the perfect foil. A bit of googling after the gig reveals what I should have guessed, she’s got a solo project linked in to Willkommen, Redwood Red.
The evening ended all too soon with “Damian” bringing every musician and instrument on stage to play in a joyous wall of sound. The audience left Kings Place torn between preserving the privilege of hearing a rare never to be repeated performance, and the knowledge that it would be a criminal not to capture something this beautiful for posterity.

Sons of Noel & Adrian – Facebook
The Miserable Rich – “Boat Song (Sons of Noel & Adrian mix)” (MP3)


Willkommen Collective – Facebook

Buy: Willkommen Records shop

Look: Just For A Short While’s superb flickr set of photo’s from the evening
Fionchadd has over 200 pictures in her Flickr set

The Line Of Best Fit has a review and some fabulous pics


Download two excellent Willkommen compilations packed with covers and oneoffs – Willkommen Collective Vol 1 / Willkommen Christmas 2008
Laish Quartet – “In The Morning” (MP3)
Laish Quartet – “The Sleeper” (MP3)
The Leisure Society – “Pancake Day” (MP3)

The Leisure Society – Lovely fan made video

The London Snorkeling Team

The London Snorkeling Team create cocktail, crime, space music they imagine happened sometime in the 1950s at a party for experimental scientists with an obsession for cartoons. It sounds a bit like the theme music from Inspector Gadget as played by a cocktail band.

The Line Of Best Fit were less than impressed describing them as  “little more than a surrealist experiment in bad jazz, am-dram and overhead-projector storytelling, one has every right to feel blighted.

The London Snorkeling Team – “Samuel Langoustine” (MP3)
Myspace / Buy beautifully packaged Audio Recording and map


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