Ikon has done it again, and it’s so true, why can’t art and music be combined? They are both creative outlets. This time, the seasonal change is supported by the Autumn Almanac festival, the antithesis to April’s Rites of Spring, which exhaled new life and freshness, even if it did mark the end of Ikon Eastside, R.I.P.
Whereas the Autumn Almanac, breathes a different vibe of transitions, replicating the fallen multi-coloured leaves with rustic campfire sounds and visions. But this particular event basked in another form, as each artist had previously performed on a Slow Boat around Birmingham’s canals in September, which had been hosted by the Ikon Youth Programme.
The sets flourish in inspiration from those slow boat journeys, brought to life with footage and sounds from the canal experiences.
The floating visuals of water and canal sides really enhanced the whole event, as senses literally drifted along to the relaxing sways.
The first act were El Heath, a three piece consisting of two acoustic guitars and an accordion. They were the perfect start to a perfect line-up, instantly making the audience forget about New Street’s stressful Saturday hub bub by taking listeners into a reclusive old-world of romanticism. Their atmospheric and organic warmth took you into a fire light daydream, experiencing a countryside of Birmingham that most people never knew existed. Something that is clear just past the Symphony Hall, but is never really portrayed as an iconic image of England’s second city, much to my dismay, because it exceeds beauty.
El Heath’s accordion expands and contracts, mimicking Birmingham’s Venice in glory, replicating a de-stress tactic of a week’s full of heavy work, as the slowly drawn instrument acted as an intoxicating breathing exercise. The trend continued with the use of a Brian Eno-inspired soothing minimal synth, which swept into the background, adding a further depth to their natural vibes.
Next came Tom Peel, who’s acoustic set began with a Willy Mason-esque vocal reflection, but soon entered a world of complete lunacy. His attire matched similarly to Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, crossed with Shooting Stars’s Angelos Epithemiou, while his actions exceeded their quirkiness combined.
With the use of an ancient cassette deck strapped to his front, Tom basked in insanity, as he played backwards German and obscure, out of tuned beats, which subsequently resulted in an array of peculiar dances. This was, of course, after he fixed the tape deck, which became unplannedly tangled. But Tom’s madness was nowhere near over yet, as he invited a member of the audience on stage, playing with embarrassment and humour like a cat and mouse.
This time, strapped with a camera to his front, the eccentric experimentalist filmed himself and showed the audience on an old television, attempting to encourage his volunteer to speak while Tom himself shouts “who’s your favourite band?”. God knows what Tom’s experience on the Slow boat was like!
Laying the lunacy to rest, Poppy Tibbetts brings back a more reflective essence to Ikon, with her meaningful acoustic set, expressing everyday life with a personal touch.
“It’s nice to be in Birmingham, but all my songs are about hating Birmingham” she explains ironically.
Poppy’s sweet vocals give an extra layer of relevance to her expressive performance, demanding the audience to delve into her real life articulation, and understand exactly how she sees the world.
Final act Boat to Row fittingly ended the night with their traditional folk music. A four piece collective of banjo, violin, keyboards and acoustic guitar, the rustic adventurers blew an Autumn breeze with their range of vocals. As each member sang a different tone, sending bonfire glimmers into the eyes of beholders.
After performing at Moseley Folk Festival in September, Boat to Row are perfectionists at summing up the seasonal change and a clear choice for the Autumn Almanac.
“It’s really nice to be part of the Ikon Slow Boat Project”, says lead singer and banjo player Michael King.
And the audience were glad they were involved, as they perpetuated the canal experience as though the echoing Ikon had actually been transformed into a boat.
Words: Ross Cotton
Image: Boat To Row. Ikon Slow Boat Session, September 2011. Courtesy of Ikon Gallery