Beardyman – One Album Per Hour (The Dream Team Sessions) [Live Review – The Jazz Cafe, Camden, 21/4/2015]
UPDATE: TMMP has been reborn! This video has the full story:
Beneath iconic billboards broadcasting HD consumerism, Piccadilly Circus’s resident beatboxers are going through the motions.
While undoubtedly deserving of respect from anyone whose beatboxing repertoire is limited to repeating the phrase ‘boots, cats, boots, cats,’ until the throat goes dry, these acts consist of little you won’t see in London’s other busker-friendly areas. Impressive imitations of drum machines, trumpets, and bass synths are presented for the benefit of passing tourists, with a few fragmented covers thrown in for good measure. A few people throw change into a conveniently-placed hat, rewarding skills honed with style rather than substance in mind.
A handful of Tube stops away, DJ Russ Ryan is warming up a Jazz Cafe crowd packed like sardines in anticipation of an infinitely more advanced performance. Slinky dub grooves get earlycomers dancing in social clusters, periodically glancing stageward as the venue’s techs make last-minute adjustments to the strange-looking contraption set up alongside a pair of long-standing jazz staples. From left to right, the drum kit. The keyboard. The Beardytron 5000.
Debates about the appeal of solo beatboxing versus its technologically augmented evolution spark off here and there. Comparisons are made to the contrast between acoustic jazz and electric fusion. Tradition versus progress. The birth of the cool versus brews brewed by bitches referred to as such by Miles Davis – the jazz legend also known for using “bad,” “terrible,” and “motherfucker” as compliments.
Cheers erupt as Beardyman appears on the balcony, heading stageward with his own band of virtuosos. How Miles Davis might have labelled this group is best left to the imagination, bearing in mind it comprises drummer Andy Gangadeen, keyboardist Arthur Lea, cellist Rob Lewis, rappers Dizraeli and LeeN, and beatboxing double bassist Bellatrix in addition to the man with his name on the tickets. This group’s mission is simple: Improvise an hour of music based on song names pulled from a bucket filled by thirsty and imaginative patrons at the bar.
The goal is simple, but equally challenging. The level of focussed attention required to create a whole album in a single hour manifests in each performer’s facial expression. Each set of features is set in a tense rictus of concentration, occasionally punctuated by relieved grins and indicators of approval for another’s contribution. Eyes stare. Jaws clench. Neck veins pop out, as if in the middle of a weight training session.
After a short a cappella warmup, the full band get stuck into song one, The Song Factory, where lyrics dismissing manufactured pop acts fit snugly over a foundation like clay syrup. Justin Bieber gets dissed and people love it, and all feels right with the world. Nipple Cripple takes in torture and child Nazis and Concrete Vibes addresses the coldness of city life. Each song comes together with near-telepathic ease.
Tangents are taken in response to events that would easily derail the majority of the planet’s musicians, and the result is an absolutely uncategorisable new musical style, somewhere between jazz, hip-hop, and freaky electronica. Although each performer has an unmistakeable identity all their own, each piece of this constantly mutating puzzle blends perfectly into the whole. Bellatrix and Rob Lewis deliver basement-dwelling grooves and melodic embellishments; Arthur Lea dispenses solid accompaniments and delicate sprinkles of notes; Andy Gangadeen holds things down with authoritative drumming; Beardyman contributes everything imaginable at one point or another; and Dizraeli and LeeN stand up front, eyeballing punters and connecting with flawless flows of lyrical language.
This set is unfathomably immense from note one, but LeeN hits on a level-up moment with Titles Don’t Come For Free, turning four words into a relentless Westminster-accented showstopper. Beardyman declares music officially over; LeeN has won. Only the deaf could disagree.
Beyond this point, nobody holds back. Program Your Robot Loving slams hard with sexy grooves; Make Something Free gets spontaneously political; Bye Bye Butterfly sees Beardyman rapping as Stewie from Family Guy; and Downtrodden Twentysomethings sees LeeN and Dizraeli become motivational speakers, deriding couch potatoes, Call of Duty, and those too lazy to go to live shows.
The next song comes out of nowhere. An untitled piece from LeeN about his father (who passed away the week before this show), this is rap at its most real – and most unimaginably gutting when it’s up close and personal in such an intimate venue. Dizraeli gets involved, throwing out supportive lines in LeeN’s direction. “Emotionally intense” does not even begin to cover it. Fuck, man.
Gabba Gabba Gabba Tetris Gabba comes next. No gabba though, at Beardyman’s insistence. Eight-bit melodies and Game Boy-advocating lyrics fly by, and then it’s time to drop back into darkness as Dizraeli sets up a duet with Rob Lewis. For Old Before My Time, Dizraeli rhymes with heart-imploding sincerity about Abigail – the sister he never knew, who passed away only two days old, four years before Dizraeli was born. The kind of thoughts most would struggle to address in one-on-one therapy are torn from the world of neural firings and language into Jazz Cafe air and the assembled array of ears. Brutal.
Beyond this point lies the home stretch. The Things We Do To Ourselves explores more difficult themes; an extended drum’n’bass-flavoured instrumental jam offers a chance for those who came to dance to get into it; and some cockney calypso brings the as-yet-untitled album to a fun and bouncy end. Beardyman’s dream team say their goodbyes and leave the stage.
The Jazz Cafe crowd, however, are not done. Chanted appeals for one more song persist until Beardyman’s band return. The bucket is ransacked for appropriate finishers, unsuitable candidates cast aside until this newly birthed album’s bonus track is entitled Purple Lady. Dizraeli takes the lead, generating a hell of a hook (complete with infinite potential for hilarious audience interaction) off the top of his head and leading everybody to the true end of an epic and utterly mind-boggling experience.
When this album drops, be sure to check it out. Marvel at the musical mastery needed to create it, and revel in the fact that it’s as mad as the woman I saw gazing lovingly at a tub of prunes on the Tube home. Experience the light, the darkness, and the surrealism of it all – and until that opportunity arrives, take the time to explore the sites linked below and see for yourself just why Beardyman picked the musicians he did for his latest journey into the unknown.
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