i can’t let the week come to an end without making some comment about a concert i attended last Wednesday in Birmingham. Hosted by the church of St Martin’s in the Bullring—finally getting itself really sorted as a top-notch concert venue (my ensemble Interrobang performed there back in May)—it was the second in a short series of gigs given by the remarkable group The Irrepressibles, whose debut release Mirror Mirror has been jangling around in the 5:4 jukebox for most of this year.
The prospect of support acts always sets me on edge; many’s the time my eager anticipation for a concert has been dissipated by a support act unworthy of or unsuited to the occasion. Not so in the case of Thomas Truax, one of outsider music’s more ingenious and genuinely entertaining figures, every bit as irrepressible as the headline act. He brought a cluster of his trademark handmades, including ‘Mother Teresa’ (replete with “removable limbs”), the off-kilter rhythmic patter of which lends Truax’s songs a wonderfully unbalanced quality, and perhaps his most famous accoutrement, the ‘Hornicator’, a cross between a brass instrument and a gramophone horn, which Truax sang through and percussively struck with gusto. i’ll admit a hair’s breadth of uncertainty as he began his set; in lesser hands, it could so easily have been embarrasingly poor, but Thomas Truax brings an outstanding level of invention to his surreal material. Watching him perform, one can glimpse through the superficial frivolity both an intense seriousness and a heartfelt passion for what he’s doing; it was a brilliant performance, leaving one keen to hear more (i came away with a handful of CDs; hopefully there’ll be time to explore some of them on here in due course).
The brace of support acts was completed with singer Jo Hamilton, who made a far weaker impression. She didn’t even announce who she was, and as her set unfolded, it became symbolic of a distinct lack of communication exhibited in her performance. Her songs were mostly on acoustic guitar, with a couple of forays onto Omer Yosha’s airpiano (about which more here). Hamilton’s control of her voice is unquestionably superb, but that really is as far as praise can go on this occasion; the brief moments of electronica from the airpiano were by far the most interesting, but entirely lacking in confidence (allowances must be made; Hamilton declared it was early days for her on the instrument); she was on surest ground in the acoustic songs, yet sadly they were all achingly dull.
From the moment The Irrepressibles—all 10 of them—made their way on stage, adorned in the most sumptuous outfits, the atmosphere became electrified. Front man Jamie McDermott stayed coy for the first few numbers, lurking at the back, surrounded by mirrors, illuminated by large, bald light bulbs. Eventually, he made his way to the front, whereupon the ensemble really came alive, each song amplified, so to speak, by the individual physical movements and gestures of each player. Theirs is a highly stylised kind of movement, steeped in contemporary dance and steered by and around the hectic contributions from each player. and that is what was most apparent: aside from the costumes and the movements and the stage sets, The Irrepressibles are no mere band, but a first-rate musical ensemble. Indeed, far from simply reproducing verbatim the songs from Mirror Mirror, they were given a distinct, at times highly electronic context, demonstrating just how versatile the group really is. This was perhaps best demonstrated at the start of their generous encore, which began with a fabulous, dense texture made of solitary notes thrown out by each player seemingly at random; these were caught up and electronically glitched, resulting in an exciting, dizzying web of sounds coming from all directions. Throughout, McDermott cuts a fittingly quixotic figure, one who keeps his own movements to an impressive minimum, his small, graceful hand-gestures becoming both the cue and trigger for flamboyance on all sides, akin to a circus ringmaster. His delicious countertenor voice—far weightier than Antony Hegarty, to whom he has been too simplistically and too often compared (McDermott is much better)—sits atop the group’s neo-burlesque-baroque-tronica perfectly.
i was genuinely surprised more people weren’t present at Wednesday’s concert; it was a dazzling, intimate encounter with one the UK’s most exciting new acts, a group worthy of much, much wider appreciation.