Last weekend I was at The Barbican Centre in London to see English Journey: Re-Imagined. An ‘ensemble’ performance with Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore.
I’d previously seen Sinclair give a talk about his book and film ‘London Orbital’ at the Occulture Festival in London in 2009, he spoke directly with plain eloquence and humour, without notes, on an unadorned stage, for a full twenty minutes. I’d also seen Alan Moore perform ‘Snakes and Ladders’ at the Ananke Conference at Conway Hall in 1999, where he sat entrancing in a circle of candlelight conjuring lunar fire-eaters and snake-writhing tarot figures from the depths of the gloomy stage. I couldn’t imagine two more divergent styles of performance, with such different themes and obsessions. They even look like polar-opposites: Sinclair neat and sensible,Moore a crazed Lucifer-snogging long-hair. I was excited and intrigued to see how they would fit together, and how they would interact with each other and with the words, music and visuals of their collaborators – Shirley Collins (folk-singer), Tom Pickard (poet), Graham Dolphin (visuals), Susan Stenger, F.M. Enheit (music and visuals), Simon Fisher-Turner, Andy May and Steve Tyler (musicians).
My initial reaction was articulated thus:
“This was a wonderful experience. An enveloping swathe of mutli-media meme-mapping. Psychogeography at its philosophical/political/magical/sensate best. The territory is both strange and familiar, like the performers, their subject is John Clare, lost poet, madman, moving from Essex to Fen to Northampton to insanity, and back again. Burning straw bear and dancing Witchmen silently clog-clatter in a rhythmic mist of folk-old movies and manipulated slides. Percussion verges on possession, where crashing breaker-waves and rolling thunder beat the boundary, here the marginal is liminal. And all the while a voice is still talking, calling out, evoking and manifesting words.
And that was only the first Act.
Overall, this performance was psychically invigorating.”
The second Act was concerned not with Suffolk (part of my East Anglian homeland), but with distant Newcastle and brought out the striking poetry of Tom Pickard, delivered in a style that was both breathless and controlled, hurtling wild and deliberate. The third Act concerned London, like an audio-visually guided-pathworking we were grounded and brought back to our starting place, back to reality, back to London.
I was struck by the cohesion of Sinclair and Moore’s literary styles, how they wove around each other as if of one voice. I don’t mean content, Sinclair is more overtly political and down-to-earth. Nor their delivery, Moore is an effortless psycho-pomp, nor in their pacing, the rhythms of the audio-visual accompaniment seemed to be the driving force behind the cadence of both authors words. It was in a shared literary-style that Sinclair and Moore most reflected and complemented each other, both are consummate masters of poetic phrase and wordplay whether describing untreated industrial waste or eighteenth century insanity. What brings these two very different authors into stunning harmony is their interest in marginality, their shared sense of time/place shifts and echoes, their literary prowess and the ‘ensemble’ process through which the pieces were devised. The musicians, film-makers, poets and authors worked collectively towards a group performance, the concept of rehearsal as process. I have a great respect for this Brecht-inspired working system and English Journey: Re-Imagined is a wonderful/awe-inspiring expression, a pinnacle of the form.
Bella Basura 2011