O’Hooley and Tidow, Ash Dickinson, The Motel Life and Me

The Greatness of Small’ : My Gig Filled Weekend.

This Monday morning my head is a confusion of stories after a weekend of great small gigs filled with stories- stories of amorous microwaves, heroic dance teachers, dolphins and death dreams. I’m going to review them in a jumbled up way around that theme ‘The Greatness of Small’, which comes from the ‘The Pixie’ by O’Hooley and Tidow:

…more of O’Hooley and Tidow in a bit.

The first gig was my own. I did a little show on my own at The Ostrich in Robertsbridge. I performed my story ‘Dolphins Keep Me Safe in Dreams’ with my  lo tech magic lantern style projections on a white blanket on the wall.

sample 3

I did it in a room with  mermaid carvings on the mantlepiece, ships in bottles, candles, lanterns, and the floor covered in blankets and cushions. I punctuated the story with songs and got everyone doing some drawing.  It felt good doing my thing in this environment. it was so cosily curtained in we could have been below deck sailing half way across the Atlantic.

This is  a bit of my soundtrack music to the story, recorded on a pump organ I found on the Isle of Wight, among other musical bits and bobs:

I went to an exhibition at Towner in Eastbourne on Sunday about the history of photography, they had a real magic lantern and it was nice to see that my projections are really like a magic lantern show.

Later that evening Ash Dickinson performed in the same place as part of Meet of The Tongue. It was exhilerating, hilarious, properly strange and inspiring. The idea of an impossible love between a metal fork and a microwave can be touching , as can a poem about a fridge spelling out its own love with magnetic messages:

His hand gestures were mesmerising,  bringing a fabulous visual element to the show. The Greatness of Small: all you need are voice and hands to create an immersive show ( talent and hard work pretty essential too).

Ash’s show was mixed up with Meet Of The Tongue regulars coming up and doing their thing. MOTT is one of those places where unpolished diamonds are welcome and I loved hearing a long recount of a bizarre, intense death dream from regular Tony. My performance of ‘One more Xmas’ by O’Hooley and Tidow just before the end was about as unpolished as it gets.

Ash had a poem that had a bit that went  roughly like this:

“Radiohead. More than a band.

Nirvana. More Than a Band.

Coldplay. Just a Band.”

O’Hooley and Tidow are more than a band.  Their songs overflow out of their edges and the ideas haunt the memory. They’ve written about social justice (lots), adoption, loneliness, old age, our connection with animals, domestic abuse, family (lots), the real ale revolution, day trips to Blackpool, gossip, falling in love- the things that matter. A friend said ‘I like them…but they’re a bit too real’. They are unapologetically ‘real’ and often very serious- proper ambitious writing that reaches out all over the place. The music is ‘finely crafted’ with bells on. I imagine them sitting for hours in fine northern libraries researching and writing and  re writing obsessively. This makes them sound a bit dry and academic but they never are: the emotions soar and there’s lots of humour.

I’m not going to go on too much about their writing because I’ve done it so much before, but there were two songs I hadn’t heard live  previously that I have to mention. ‘Calling Me’  is about terrible loneliness but creates a still, subtle sense of change in the air. It sounds like the day the air slightly changes and you know autumn’s on its way. It was sandwiched between two other emotional epics- ‘Two Mothers’ and ‘ The last Polar Bear’. That last song is a very good place to start if you don’t know them:

‘The Pixie’ is their beautiful  new song about an unsung hero from World War One- a true story of a tiny morris dance teacher who transformed the lives of injured soldiers. ‘The Greatness of Small’.  As my wife Rachel said afterwards, that’s the sort of thing we need to hear songs about, not ‘Da Bass’.

They encored with ‘One More Xmas’, sung for the second time in East Sussex this weekend. Sung properly this time with heartbreaking melancholy  piano bits and one of those vocal sections that make it hard to believe there’s just two voices. Immersive, soaring, heartbreaking, resonant. Suggestions for new adjectives greatly appreciated.

We really need a O’Hooley and Tidow live album. The arrangements on CD bring delicate strings, accordian and all sorts of delights but I’d really like to be able to go back to the spontaneous piano diversions and vocal peaks you get live.

So…my last ‘sort of gig’ was to see ‘The Motel Life’ at The Electric Palace. A story that avoided all idiotic Tarantinoish cliches about down trodden men to tell a tender story of brotherly love in a hostile world. The story of a bruised and battered man looking after his even more bruised and battered brother. The Greatness of Small: what could be greater than how that man looked after his brother while dealing with his own nightmare?

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