Caught by the River

Woodnotes: Laura Cannell's monthly journal on music, wild animals and other adventures.

Laura Cannell | 21st July 2017

Yesterday while returning from borrowing my sister’s printing press I saw a Red Kite circling over a field of freshly baled hay. My brain jumped to September, as that’s when the fields outside my childhood house would be threshed, so strange that the site of bales can play tricks on the brain and allow time travel. The Kite was majestic and oblivious, with all the space in the world and a defiance of gravity.

On Summer Solstice I performed a duo with Charles Hayward on the shore of the Thames – Newcastle Draw Dock, E14 3BW – as part of the Goldsmiths event Longplayer Day, a special walking performance of the Thames inspired by and related to Jem Finers Longplayer‘s 1000-year-long piece of music. A crowd appeared just as we had set up on the edge of the land. We played the space, using the concrete barriers and hard edges to reflect the sound. Charles began to play when a military chopper appeared overhead, his drums mimicking the exact propulsion, pitch and rhythm and opening out into the space. It was in the moment. I can’t remember what we did. I can half remember walking away from each other, through the audience, into the audience. Forgetting the stage, allowing the music to happen out of site. I brought the music further onto land, Charles began singing louder and louder across the Thames, we faced in opposite directions with the audience inbetween. It seemed like Charles had seen someone he knew on the other side: he channelled centuries of people calling across the Thames. It was moving.

We returned to our improvised stage area, an intense eye contact between performers. It was a connection and a moment. A beginning bursting with possibilities of sound, rich with ideas for our future work together. We are both excited to have shared it with the audience, the buildings and the great waterway and living Thames.

Back in the South Norfolk countryside my sister and mum are transforming the family antique shop and gardens into a scultpture trail. A life-size Rhinoceros by the artist Rachael Long has been craned over a tudor wall into the garden. The sculpture is welded from farm machinery, and is the first of 40 sculptures to arrive for a month-long outdoor exhibition. You never know what you will find when you go home.

The hottest day of the year was spent on the train across country to Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival. It felt like arriving at a European Festival. Happy people gathered in courtyards and venues, catching up with friends, musicians and people shaking hands over future releases and collaborations. I loved the audience. My nerves are different now – I can’t wait to get on stage, to be inspired by the room, by the faces and lives in front of me. It’s a happy place to be.

These are the best moments, the best days. It takes the day after, and if I’m really lucky, another day, before my brain starts back onto thinking about the next performance, and how I can get my fingers to make smaller more co-ordinated movements. I need to work that out before challenging myself to work out the constant puzzle of music, money, life, practice, projects.

I planned a local concert. I was feeling frustrated for various reasons and needed to seize control. A piece from my second solo album is called ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’, named after Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh, at the estuary from Southwold harbour. It towers over the marshes, its clear windows bringing in grey and white light from the mottled clouded sky. Sometimes I want things to be as simple as possible, to know that I can make things happen. I booked the church, and decided to be completely minimal. No lighting, no bar, no PA. Only the instruments, space and a sense of sharing the moment. I wanted people to come, but I didn’t want to feel any pressure about getting an audience – it is, after all, in a rural place – and I didn’t want to spend my time explaining my music, doing the sales pitch. I made a poster, sent some press releases, tweeted…and then just looked forward to enjoying the space, with an audience as an added bonus to a magical experience.

But the people did come, and I could share the intimacy of every note with them. The day had heated up the church, and it made my violin strings indecisive. As the space controlled my instruments, it was a gentle battle. I had plans and the atmosphere had plans, but we came to an agreement and as a bonus I found a note which resonated the entire building, so I explored that note and it flew around in our ears.

We left the door open. A cat appeared, walked the entire inside perimeter of the church, and gave affection to anyone who showed a sign of interest. I am glad I played in the Cathedral of the Marshes: it was a special moment, a special space. I can see why Benjamin Britten liked performing there. It might become an annual performance for me and hopefully the cat will be there to welcome and see off the guests.


Laura Cannell on Caught by the River / on Twitter