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Moulettes & 9Bach (Double Header) - Cadogan Hall, London (08/12/17)

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The grand Cadogan Hall a stone's throw from London's Sloane Square played host to two of the UK's most original and innovative bands. This wondrous double header was magic in the making. 

AYANNA WITTER-JOHNSON

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To open the evening there was a mini set from MOBO nominated Ayanna-Witter Johnson. She came to stage rocking a 'Grace Jones' vibe, all dressed in black. I really enjoyed her collection of orchestral RnB, Soul, Jamaican folk, redefined pop and cello looped songs, all with a classical twist. Graduating with a first from both Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music, Ayanna was a participant in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme and become an Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre. She was a featured artist with Courtney Pine’s Afropeans: Jazz Warriors and became the only non-American to win Amateur Night Live at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NYC.

9BACH

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After a short break the dynamic and exciting Welsh band 9Bach took to the stage. They deservedly won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for best album for their excellent collection of Welsh language songs called 'Tincian' in 2015. I have been a big fan of their music since then. 

9Bach was originally formed by Lisa-Jen and Martin Hoyland in 2005. The name is a play on numbers and words. Lisa comments: '9 is as in Nain, (pronounced nine), which means grandmother in the North of Wales, Bach means little and is also a term of endearment in Welsh. In one language 9 is something so mundane as a number, but in Welsh Nain is a cozy, family orientated lovely thing: your grandmother is a person we can relate to and visualise.'

The set opened with the beautiful and almost hypnotic 'Llyn Du' (Black Lake) the opening track from their latest album 'Anian'. It was inspired by a painting Iwan Bala that incorporates words from 'Un Nos Ola Leuad' (One Moonlit Night) by Caradog Prichard. It's a song sung by the Queen of the Black Lake, the Queen of Snowdonia. She has a manic mind, racing, forever waiting for the beautiful one. She's trapped, eternally pregnant, enslaved and left there as her thighs embrace the whirling mist and breasts caress the clouds. 

A song sung from the perspective of a poacher is the central theme of 'Yr Olaf'. It's inspired by the picture of 'Sudan', the world's last male white Rhino. How does it feel to kill the last of something? What kind of person are you and what are you made of? Why are we so obsessed with destroying everything that is beautiful in this world? 

'Anian' is the title track from their latest album. It's a Welsh word which carries the idea of 'nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. What you are made of, your soul and bones and how you connect with other people. Wonderful three part harmonies, distorted electric guitar and funky backing.

'Babi'r Eirlys' (Snowdrop Baby) is based on a book by Jerry Hunter called Gwreiddyn Chwerw (Bitter Root). A woman in the late 1890's give birth at home in the middle of the night in extreme weather. The wind is howling and crashing. It is a difficult labour that panics the father. He comes racing up and down the stairs, banging his feet in anger and frustration. The only comfort the women has is the sweet smell of the snowdrops in a cup that is by her bed. The lady finally gives birth to a boy, but all is not well and the baby is small, sickly and disabled. It is instant love from the mother and pure hatred by the father. He insists she put the baby under the bed to die by the morning. He has no wish to bring this strange looking baby into their lives and wishes him dead. She is weak, confused and scared. She complies. In her exhaustion and pain, she kisses him and cries, then bends over in agony and places him under the bed. But by the morning in her sleep, she has subconsciously picked up the baby and placed him on her breast. In the morning the mother and baby wake up together and they are both heathly.  The mother sings this song to her grown up son who is a beautiful and talented man. It is a truthful ode to her boy, explaining what happen that night. 

Next was the wonder 'Pebyll' with its dark themes and  is a ruin in Llanddewi, Brefi. The song was written after discovering this derelict but beautiful building on a walk. It is a fantasy song about who may have lived there. A young girl with her grandmother (Nain). The child sleeps it her grandmothers arms, the fire turnings to ashes by the morning, where the fieldfare, thrush and sparrow feed on the nearby threshold, the snowdrops push themselves through the black soil to make Nain happy

The dark and moody 'lwybrau' (Pathways) is taken from a poem called Llwybrau Unig by William Griffiths, Hen Brac. This poor man has no soulmates. He is struggling with life. He is walking paths and feels nothing, things have changed and too many friends have been lost. The person walks and visits the gravestones of loved ones and wishes he was buried deep like them, This world is no longer theirs and the person feels comfort by nothing but 'angau' (death) and wishes not to be a burden to anyone. This person is very lonely although the world is full of people. The mood is created with distorted electric guitar providing the dark mid-range and harp melody highlighting the top notes. 

Plentyn (Child) tells the story of the stolen aboriginal children of Australia which happened up into the late 70's. The Film 'The Rabit Proof Fence' is based on the events. A child is snatched from her mother's breast by fierce men laughing. They hold her skinny arms too tight and throw her in a car, her black eyes and cheeks pressed against the glass. Screaming for her mother. Her mother is kicked and thrown to the ground and covered in red dust, hollering and screaming for her child. The mother sings 'to please remember me when she is grown up', knowing she will never see her child again. She misses her daughters 'just woken up face' and the smile she first gave in the morning. It is an imaginary story about an Aboriginal child based on real shocking events. It is a story song originally written in Australia accented with its powerful 'Hey-I-I-A' chants.

Described as a hate song to a local farmer, 'Llwynog' (Fox) references Gyrn Wigau which is a summit amongst the Carneddau. The fox stands still at the foot of this mountain hiding behind the rushes. He's escaped the shot of the gun and is much faster than the farmer's dog. The carcass of the lamb stains the stream red whilst the fox returns in triumph and head towards the Carneddau, back to his home in the earth. This is a victory song to the fox, with its pulsating baseline and underlying drum rhythms.

The haunting 'Cyfaddefa' (An Admission) explores the themes of the old Greek Rembetika songs, the underground songs that arose from the hash dens, prisons and brothels. The protagonist is imprisoned and is pleading for help before realizing bitterly, as everyone ignores her, that we are all guilty. We ignore all the bad stuff that's happening. It had a real Middle Eastern flavour with its hammered ducimer and block accents. I loved the songs build to it's explosive finish.  

'Wedi Torri' (It's Broken) is a song about seeing someone you love in a bad state. In this song the loved one is a broken man. It's the panic that sets in when you see this in someone, that haunted look on their face, the empty eyes and hiding from everyone. Jen sings about the guilt, the self-blame, the dry mouth and sending you off to somewhere dark, so you end up with two broken people.

MOULETTES

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The final part of the show belonged to the Moulettes, an exciting and innovative group of four multi-instrumentalists, Hannah Miller on 5 string cello, vocals, synths, and autoharp, Raevennan Husbandes on electric guitar and vocals, Ollie Austin on drums, guitar, synth and vocals, and Jim Mortimore on bass, double bass, moog and vocals. Their sound is quite unique, blending elements of progressive and heavy rock with neo-classicism, perfect harmony vocals and with super fingered guitar work mixed against bombastic drums, bass, and cello that adds a musical depth to the sound.

This was one of the last dates on their 'Preternatural’ album tour. A name comes from Latin and carries the idea of ‘beyond nature (and beyond fate)’. “Suspended between the mundane and the miraculousin a domain of wonder & marvel. Strange specimens evoke questions about the natural order... they provoke the spirit of investigation. Phenomena that fall “between the known and the unknowable"

Very few bands have the creative range and work ethic of Moulettes, skillfully blending their mix of acoustic and electric instruments. Lead singer and songwriter Hannah Miller creates an otherworldly framework in which fantastical characters move between the realms of nature, magic and science and out of that Preternatural was born, an eclectic 11-track opus for the Natural World and the strange and beautiful creatures in it. December 2017 marsk the concluding chapter of Moulettes’ two-year Preternatural tour, and the last chance to see the astounding live show that has taken the band across Europe from Poland to Malta and across Canada from Nova Scotia to Victoria Island.

The Moulettes positively exploded into the stage with their opening number the rich, clever and expansive 'Under Water Painter', taken from their latest album. It came complete with it's very catchy siren like 'Wa-Oh's'. It's themed on the strange creatures who live way down in the dark and depths of the ocean. It reminded me of almost a electro-prog version of BBC series Blue Planet 2. Next up was the very clever and descriptive 'Coral' with it's 'we are a force of nature........we can not control.....can control' refrain. The very important coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine species. The song dealt with the themes of symbiosis & diversity, hypocrisy and responsibility vs short-term thinking.

Next was a song based on the subject of mind control and propaganda, a very apt topic for today's world, 'Parasite' with it's very haunting cello lines had and an almost Middle Eastern feel. Hannah's lead vocals adding a further Kate Bush like layer. It is a very 'other worldly' song, which which would sit very happily on a dystopian 'Bladerunner' soundtrack. The lovely and clever Pufferfish Love followed with it's rich instrumental layers and Rae taking lead vocals. Deep cello bass lines underpin the central melody and I also really liked the interesting percussion. One of my favourite Moulette songs is their gorgeous 'Songbird', with it's rich three part harmonies. The song is about making decision and following your muse and it is taken from their 2012 album 'The Bear's Revenge'. I loved the stunning cello solo from Hannah.

The soaring 'Medusa' is another trademark 'other worldly' and richly layered track, discussing immortality and rapture. The very catchy phrase 'As far as the eye can see' winds its way throughout the song. The underlying incantations creating a spiritual quality. The keyboard and cello led 'Right of Passage' explores being born curious and the value of education by nature. 

Next was the powerful big, bad, bold and theatrical 'Behemooth', named after one of the huge ancient creatures of the past. It's the massive opening track to the new album. A modern prog-rock classic!

Exploring the idea of being being two worlds in a 'dreamscape' is the premise of 'Hidden World'. If you have seen the film 'Inception', then you have very good feel for this song. I really enjoyed Rae operatic style fill. "There’s a hidden world beneath your feet, In the hairline cracks of the gold mine. Three and a half hours down below the crust. Patterns realign.........Open the door to the last unexplored supernatural kingdom far from the sun. So far from what we imagine. All the impossible things we have done. A strange phenomenon" 

One of the highlight of the Moulettes 2014 album 'Constellations' was the very powerful 'Lady Vengeance', so I was very happy to see it included in the set. The original has great and memorable bassoon bass lines (see below).

The excellent set ended with the explosive and gypsy jazz flavoured 'Requiem' from their 2010 album 'Moulettes', sequeing unexpected into a classic cover of Led Zepplin's 'Kashmir'. Some super electric guitar licks from Rae on this one.

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