Saturday, April 22, 2006

Beck's Performance

I'm sitting with Bedwyr Williams, Ryan Gander and others at a table in the ICA bar, watching as Jo Robertson of Blood 'n' Feathers prepares to perform some songs. Preparation involves a lot of her saying 'I can't hear the guitar, can we turn it up? I can't hear it, is it in tune? Is it? I can't hear it'. It's about 3 in the afternoon and I've already finished a green bottle and am thinking, this could be a long, lost afternoon if I don't slow down...
We are here for Beck's performance day. A series of pieces from four of the artists in the shortlist. And first up is Blood 'n' Feathers. Jo is joined at points throughout her set by Celia Hempton on guitar and Lucy Stein on notebook (seriously), but it is clearly Jo's show: slightly chaotic, agreeably shambolic and seductively laid back. Jo has a nice voice: breathy, reedy and folksy. Previously she tells me she prefers singing in the early morning when people are at the end of the party, chilling out and coming down. So, given that it's a warm afternoon in the brightly lit ICA bar, I think she does a wonderful job. She sings passionately and honestly and even manages to kick over a bottle of beer, so I guess she fulfills her duties.
A short interval - and more green bottles - and it's the turn of Bedwyr, striding up to the tiny stage (will he fit, we wonder?) in full Bard costume: long robe, enormous white beard, flowing grey wig, carrying an old busted harp. 'I can't rhyme, but I'll just tell you some stuff, some things', he booms. Bedwyr makes like a stand up comic without the punchlines, which, despite what that sounds like, is very funny indeed. A series of unrelated vignettes and stories culled from his life and starkly presented with the slightest of comic touches and flourishes. Between each piece he bends down, breathing heavily and looking closely at the side of his harp. He has a list attached to it, words which act as little mnemonics for the next piece he is going to say. Later he tells me that he was so hot in the costume and nervous that sometimes his vision went double and he couldn't read anything he had written down. Hence, some of the very occasional long pauses between pieces. But, no matter, it's a good piece and hilarious. Short clip here.
A while later and I'm in the upper gallery for Sue Tompkins. Man, this was very weird. I'd read about her performances before, but nothing can quite prepare you for what it is actually like seeing one of these. She's standing in the corner of the gallery, with microphone, a folder of paper opened and propped on a stool in front of her. And she's bouncing and jigging away like she's listening to an ipod. Bouncing and hopping about and reading small snippets of text from the pages in the folder and speaking and singing them, and repeating and changing them in this little sing-song voice, like she's doing it for her own amusement, whiling away time in her bedroom. Except she's not in her bedroom. She's in the upper gallery of the ICA and she's looking round at all of us while she's grooving around and every now and then giving the biggest, goofiest, happiest, look-at-me-can-you-believe-this-I-am-so-happy smile that you would forgive her anything. It's the sort of smile you think should only be shared with people she loves. It is captivating. It's something else. The piece goes on longer than I really feel it ought, but, hey, who cares. We've seen something quite extraordinary and special and odd here. Check out a clip here.
On the way back down to the bar I stop off at a table that Flavia Muller Medeiros has been at since 2pm in the afternoon, intervieweing and talking to people. I sit down, have some chat, then listen to 'Ohio' by Neil Young on some headphones. There's a conversation which maybe we could have after this but I'm not really getting it. Some of Flavia's works have really hit the spot for me in the past. This doesn't, but I remain a big fan.
I crack a last beer. It's certainly has been a long afternoon, but not a bit of it was lost...


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