Supernormal

Braziers Park, Ipsden

Supernormal is a mix of the avant guard and village fête. Braziers has a resident community and having cream tea at Braziers House is a ‘must do’ at Supernormal.

In taking a stance against the corporate festival world, the artist-curated event seeks out ‘the new, the challenging, the intriguing, and the strange’. This year there was a wide range of music on offer from Ghana’s King Ayisoba re-inventing his local tradition, experimental jazz and folk, to various forms of noise bands. But while the line-up included Radio Orchestra, a John Cage influenced piece for eight radios, and ouija board influenced sound art from Automatic Writing Circle, quite a number of acts turned out to be closer to the mainstream than expected.

Plague Dogs, for instance, were not an evil metal band but Lavinia Blackwell and Alex Neilson from cult alt-psysh folksters Trembling Bells singing Neilsen’s dark songs unaccompanied in a spellbinding a capella performance that would have fitted right in at some folk festivals.

Then, while noted American saxophanist and experimentalist Matana Roberts put on a challenging multi-media first show with loops, disturbing electronics, her own visuals, and beautiful singing in a sustained contemplation of the human condition and ageing, for her second show she played beautiful lyrical solo saxophone in the tradition of John Coltrane. Though probably he would not have asked the audience to hum the refrain for one of the numbers.

While Matana drew back from improv/ Evan Parker territory, the Colin Webster sax and Andrew Cheetham drums duo went right there in a sustained fiery half hour set remarkable for the duo’s exceptional synergy. Tyburnia, a grisly history of public executions with ballads from The Dead Rat Orchestra and visuals from James Holcombe was another remarkable performance, atmospheric and gripping.

On the lighter side, Saturday saw a delightful talk on the history of foghorns followed by The Garden, a hilarious piece that turned gardening advice into something disturbingly sinister thanks to Bruce McClure’s deep Scottish voice and immaculate timing and Wojtek Rusin’s clever electronics.

In the woods, on Saturday the glen resonated to the deep brass of Ore and on Sunday sang, crackled and vibrated to an improv trio ‘playing’ a radio and a strange circular electronic instrument with a bow, all very Supernormal.

All this and more happened away from the main stage of the acts glimpsed there, the gritty guitar and keyboard flourishes of Bristol’s Evil Usses on Saturday impressed as did the synth and songwriting skills of Mary Ocher on Sunday who, in a piece of classic Supernormal weirdness, bore an uncanny resemblance to Nana Mouskouri.

But it was the delights to be found on the outer fringes plus some wonderful Italian festival food, that made Supernormal 2017 a gem of a year.

5/5 COLIN MAY