Sunday, June 07, 2015

Andy Diagram at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Stoke Newington is one of the most difficult places in the Universe to get to- unless you live there, of course. But that's why it has managed to reserve it's sense of being an enclave of leftiness, quirkiness, and 'we invented the coffee house several centuries ago'-ness. I have been to the literary festival before and I know how special it is. Too late, today, I'm looking at the programme. Tasting fonts-typography and food- now that would have been right up my street! There's so much going on, and I'm too late because it takes a million years to get there from here. But I'm glad I didn't miss yesterday, for sure.
I walked up from Dalston. There, just ahead of me, was student Anthony (not his real name) crossing the road rapidly as he spotted my approach. He hadn't handed in his work, you see; it reminded me of my kids putting their hands over their eyes to hide from me.
Don't worry, Anthony, I didn't see you.
Up Stoke Newington High Street, nothing is what it seems, in that very urban London way.
Shops multitask: a jewellers doubles as a travel agents, for instance. What looked like a huge and beautiful tiled mosque from a distance turned out to be a Turkish restaurant, and a bit further down the road, sandwiched in between chicken shops, an African Church unassumingly occupied a shop.
Firstly, I went for coffee and cake at the top of Church Street. I think Banksy may have popped to the lavvy in this particular caff but it could have been a copycat graffiti (see what I did just there?). Ahem. Then I headed down to the tent in the grounds of the William Patten School.
A breeze had blown up from nowhere, enough to blow a 7" single clean off the turntable in rather a spectacular fashion. You wouldn't get that with an mp3, would you? Small dramas like that make life worth living, and indeed I think I found a spiritual home in Stoke Newington yesterday afternoon; it was packed with people who were refusing to grow old and boring, instead sporting sculpted beards that made lumbersexuals look as conservative as bankers, or sporting their same-sex elderly and nattily-dressed partners on their arms, and generally comporting themselves as free spirits and unfettered human beings.
This leads me to Andy Diagram's half hour set of psychedelic trumpet playing. His trumpet is made of red plastic, although he has a metal mouthpiece which is probably a favourite friend. According to Richard Boon, these plastic brass instruments (plastic sections instead of brass sections? possibly...) were actually invented in Hackney.
Andy's partner Karina (who played sax in the Mike Flowers Orchestra) told me that the first plastic instrument was actually a trombone. I was fascinated; I can't even play my metal one!
Mental note to find a trumpet teacher patient enough to teach a General from another genre.
Played through a Digitech Whammy and controlled via an iPhone attached to the front of the trumpet, the sound travelled through genres, continents and instruments, looping and evolving: I heard the Mad Professor segue into bagpipes; moods of New York underpasses packed with traffic turned into percussive freight trains, before a didgeridoo emerged from the ground and swopped places with a grunting tuba with Fred Wesley playing over the top. It was foot-tapping stuff: here came a 1980s Crusaders-style bass line with a soprano sax sound weaving Turkishly over the top, here came an electric fuzz guitar with the rhythm chopping the sound up into funky chicken nuggets.
The sound engineer, who was sporting a fine blue felt ladies hat, literally sat with his mouth open, enthralled.
I scribbled notes as I listened. Here came 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the future to the past imagined future; the BPMs slithered about and Delia Darbyshire shivered in her grave. Ian Carr bumped into Byron Lee's Allstars and Herb Alpert flew about on the breeze that teased our hair.
In the end, I stopped writing and just enjoyed it all. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Fifty years ago we might have been watching the Salvation Army with their metal cornets, a three-pronged music-holder clipped at the noise-end, holding fluttering sheet music inscribed with hymn tunes that were held down with static dots. Here and now, music was set free and played through a plastic trumpet with an iPhone that shifted shapes and blended the sound with the wind.
Blimey- how things have changed!

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