‘So that’s what Kevin’s been up to’ I thought as Brigitte Beraha reached for a megaphone and began declaiming an authoritarian sounding announcement, competing with a menacingly assertive rocky groove from the rhythm section, that was being surfed by Figes’ alto sax.
With live performances beginning to appear in the gaps of the loosening lockdown, St. George’s in Bristol have kicked off a low key series of gigs, some in their garden space, and the intriguingly named ‘Apollo Sessions’ in the cafe bar. I’d been lured out of my lair by the prospect of an outing for the new Figes project with an intriguing line-up: long time collaborator Jim Blomfield on keys, the peer-less vocals of Brigitte Beraha, Mark Whitlam on drums and Ashley-John Long on bass. Figes himself was wielding various saxes, flutes and his own gravelly vocal tones on occasion.
The stentorian announcements from Beraha came at the end of what sounded like a suite more than a single piece of music, which was announced as More Equal Than Others. Nothing had sounded quite like one might have expected. Vocals and flute started as whispering, rustles and muttering, melodic lines moved in surprising intervals conjuring tone poems as much as tunes. When Blomfield’s keyboards entered it was with a sound like chiming gongs, and Long was playing electric bass rather than his customary upright, assaying sinuous lines shadowing sax and voice, or suddenly locking with the drums for a bulging riff straight out of the prog rock canon.
Kevin’s Pig Records Label has been a vehicle for releasing recordings documenting his various projects for the best part of a decade now, and no two sound quite like each other. Wallpaper Music is slated for release in December and will signal a new departure. The pieces have an elaborate architecture and whilst many of the elements were similar in nature to the first piece in this gig, they were juxtaposed and made to create very different moods and atmospheres. Dance Macabre started with another spiky lilting line which was interrupted by clatter and pandemonium punctuated by one those heavy, rocky riffs. A response to a line from a Shelley poem ‘Half sunk the shattered visage lay’ (was it a setting?) had flurries of spiralling arppeggios swirling around the angular lines sung by Beraha. Game of Chance sounding like a spacious free improvisation with a beautifully judged arc, was in fact dictated by randomly generated instructions about what instrument, how and when to play, given to each band member just for that performance. This was often challenging music, but such was the quality of the band, it looked and felt natural. Beraha seemed to pluck perfectly spotted lines out of thin air that darted in the most unexpected directions. Whitlam and Long turned on sixpence, switching from doom-laden riffs, to abstract textures, to little bursts of lyricism.
There’s an exciting enquiring energy to this new music from the pen of Kevin Figes, and the band he’s assembled to play it, invest it with vital, inventive life. A big cheer to St George’s for the early opportunity to see it live, and a fervent wish that there’ll be plenty of other chances to see and here it, maybe even a launch tour!