Archives for the month of: May, 2012

I can understand why some people walk out: they probably came for the Manga element in the performance of War Sum Up, at the Dome: ‘a multimedia manga opera on the nature of war, ghosts and superheroes’. But here are no big-eyed girlchildren with fox ears or spikyhaired boys with swords; there’s not much action at all. In fact, no action. Just ten figures in strange padded costumes, almost motionless behind layers of gauze. The action all takes place projected onto them: drawn images of eyes, hands, explosions, flowers, mouths. Which is where the manga comes in.

In front of the black grid a woman in a yellow twin-set plays a music-box, then sings the story, in Japanese; but she, like the other singers, is from the Latvian Radio choir. Created by Hotel Pro Forma, the Danish performance company; the libretto is based on texts from Noh theatre. The music is by the British band, The Irrepressibles. There are three stories – of The Soldier, The Warrior, and The Spy. But the sur-titles don’t help much. In the end, it’s about war being terrible for everyone.

But the visual and aural impact is astonishing. Phrases are repeated over and over, Glass-like, and initially you wish that it would speed up. Then you let go and bathe in the glory of the music and just let it be slow. Muti-layered images of brilliant colour explode over the singers as their voices soar thrillingly. Narrative? well… actually, it doesn’t matter too much. The Spy eventually transforms into a manga fantasy heroine, Super-Woman: tall and dominating in her wide shoulders, goggles and high-soled boots, she stalks the stage, a staff over her shoulder, a triangle moving. Gorgeous. War is hell though.

Simon says ‘Breathe in for 5, breathe out for 5’. I do what Simon says. Really nervous: very dodgy stomach. The thing about being a non-reading guitarist (the dots I can’t join up) is that I have to remember – how many verses/choruses? is the form under solos ABA or AB? or do we just go around the 1-6-2-5 progression, and how many times? etc, instead of reading the arrangement from the score, like the horn section (13 of them) do, from left to right. If I or the other rhythm players get it wrong, we could be on collision course. The awful responsibility.

It gets better every year, though. This time it’s really tight and punchy, and though a smaller audience (Chelsea v Bayern Munich: there is no life-form visible on Brighton’s streets), there’s a great atmosphere, and DJ Amma’s got them in the mood with her classic ska selection. Concorde2 has a big high stage that’s become crowded with 19 of us. At and over my feet there’s a tangle of cables, a music stand with my crude charts, spare guitar – yes, I break strings – monitor, and two guitar amplifiers pointing directly  at me.

Once you’re on stage, and playing, the nerves are gone, and the trick is to get the right balance between concentration, performance, attention and sheer pleasurable excitement. I lurch between these – mostly veering towards the latter. Our guest singer, Matty Eeles, steps up and delivers a passionate, belting Diamonds Are Forever over the big horn arrangement, and then we rip into the James Bond Theme at a fast skank.

At 10pm (we’re the early shift) we’re finishing with our big brassy Walk Don’t Run, and the Concorde man in the battered cowboy hat at the back is making evil throat-cutting gestures, and when we finish, the crowd roar and immediately start chanting for more. I look round: the throat-cutting has become more of a sawing-head-off motion, though the crowd can’t see. They just want more…

Just off Pusher Street, at a table outside the whole food café, the plump girl is looking lost, as her cool slim friend is talking speedily, spliff in hand. I can remember that feeling, stoned in the open air in the afternoon. I could walk over to one of the hash-shops and buy a perfectly-rolled joint, but it’s been a long long while, and I can’t find any inclination. It makes me feel sad just to watch…

And, sadly, this is the received story about Christiania: you can sell, buy and consume marijuana here – not legally, but without being arrested. (I’m guilty of promoting this image, too: look how I started this piece). Christiania was (is) a brave experiment in alternative living. It’s a 32-year experiment, a ‘self governmental green Freetown’, in the former military barracks and parade ground in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn district. It covers 85 acres and has almost a thousand inhabitants. And a million visitors a year.

Since local people knocked down the fence in 1969 to get access to the abandoned space, people have made their homes here, planted gardens and playgrounds, governed themselves, represented themselves on the City Council, and fought off many attacks, often brutal, by the police and government. In 1972 they came to an agreement with the Ministry of Defence to use the area, and it was recognised politically as a ‘social experiment’.

There are trees and benches carved out of logs, meeting places, cafés selling doner kebabs, burgers, organic food, good espresso; the Christiania shop selling certificates of shares in the place, as well as T-shirts, hoodies etc. In the information hall, there’s a notice of Christiania’s Common Law: No weapons, no cars, no hard drugs, no violence, no bikers’ colours, no bulletproof clothing…

Residents on cycles with big boxes on the front weave in and out of the tourists, going about their lives; it must be like being a living exhibit. At our table are four older tourists (all right – my age) wearing expensive outdoor clothes caps and shades, and looking around them. Just like me.

‘But the dream of a life lived in freedom and the idea of a city ruled by its inhabitants continues.’

Over lunch of schnaps, herring, paté and beer, Karen tells Gill about her childhood. Gill’s, that is. Karen was the au pair for her family 50 years ago, and has many stories to tell about Life with the Lipsons, most of them new to Gill. Karen met Peter, her husband, in London then. He was a Danish cabinet-maker working over here, and they’ve been together ever since. Guests at their home near Faaborg, south-west Fyn, we are treated handsomely, shown the countryside and town, and plied with exquisite food and drink. And Gill’s early life.

After cabinet-making, Peter became a designer and architect, and inventor. In his studio and workshop he shows us some of his ideas and products: a hair-treatment hood (hundreds of them, boxed and ready to go); a vacuum-pillow for radiology treatment; a wood-and-magnet, er, thing, that rolls around inside cows’ stomachs and collects all the bits of metal that they swallow with their grass; a simple sprung clip that stops your walking stick from sliding over onto the floor; a calf-feeding tube, a cat-pill-squirter, a pig-inseminator….

But his invention that even I (no great animal-lover) know already – though, sorry, it still makes me laugh – is the lampshade pet-collar, that stops animals from licking biting chewing fiddling with their dressings. Cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies the world over wear them (not fish or snakes though. But I like the idea of, say, a rhinoceros wearing one). Without a hang-dog face looking piteously out, I take this design seriously…

In Copenhagen I’m in the Design Centre, in the exhibition Hello Materials. There’s an alternative plastic made from fish-scales, artificial bone-growth material, floor-coverings made from recycled trainers, paint that lights up on your skin, soft stuff that goes hard on impact… exciting, cutting-edge, sustainable materials from the world’s scientists, inventors and designers.