REVIEW: Vault Festival London 2015 Song Noir Pumajaw VAULT Fest Tickets Week 1 / Jan 28 – Feb 1 / 9.40pm / CRESCENT
It’s not often an image makes me want to see a show but the flyer for Pumajaw’s, from Pinkie Maclure and John Wills, hugely popular show Song Noir, gave me that feeling. Even after the delay the moment the audience took their seats the magic that Maclure and Wills had been weaving become fully apparent transported us into another place. Song Noir is an undefinable maze that brings together the type of passion and love for music that is at times lost in modern performance. Maclure stands to the right of the huge screen with the demour of a 50s chanteuse. A voice so full of experience and life that every note hits your ears with a gentle whisper courting you to go along with her. In between each song Maclure swaggers back to the side of the screen with a single spotlight illuminating her as Wills continues to play. The effect that is created is maximised by Wills video with Maclure’s narration. The duo work in such harmony together one is almost hypnotised and the audience become drawn closer and closer to them offering you a taste of this dark new experience. Maclure is in control, never giving the audience too much, and allowing you the closeness to her performance that she has mastered. They don’t apologise at all for their style, its avant-garde and it is steeped richness is steeped in the type of music tradition, knowledge and life experience that few performers can master today. They’re able to place their delicate takes on classic songs from Misty, Not For Me and Bang Bang with a remarkable dose of authenticity. But also placing their original compositions in between their set - Swings and Bin of Memory - gives Song Noir a further depth that one might have thought impossible. The highlight of the show was Sycamore Trees from Twin Peaks. Stripped down to the bareness of vocals and electric guitar Wills and Maclure created a dance that was as painfully beautiful as it was powerfully effective. At times throughout the song Maclure gazed into the audience with true emotion and holding your gaze. I was struck by the similarity of Maclure’s singing with the renowned artist Diamanda Galas. Both have this rare inability to not be honest when they perform, they give a genuine part of themselves that is unmistakable which in turn allows the audience to fully appreciate, and connect, to what they’re doing. Pumajaw have mastered a show that gives one hope. There is an ache in what they have created that makes this unification of music, song, and stunning visuals into one of the most unique and rounded experiences one could expect to see. ★★★★
It should be a speakeasy with small round tables and lowballs of stiff drinks on the rocks – but it ain’t. It’s an old lecture hall, downstairs, practically subterranean and it’s dark as you lean forward on the wooden desk that has seen many elbows before yours. You lean in to watch her, face spotlit in profile as she rests her cheek against the black wall. You’re transfixed by her as she moves forward and the light comes with her and she sings. It’s Misty, that old Errol Garner tune and she sings it beautifully and already in those first few minutes you think that if she came to you with a gun and a plea for help you wouldn’t be able to refuse. Because she sings with such dangerous, velvety, seductive power and her low notes give Shirley Bassey a run for her money. More than that, her mesmerising eyes seem always to be searching for something, for hidden meaning she can’t find. But you can see it, can’t you? The multimedia projected behind her has all the images of dark dreams, secrets, abandoned places.
It’s a different way to experience music.
You barely notice him because he bleeds into the shadows. His music – live guitar and recorded sections he mixes live – is precise and evocative. You fleetingly think you want him to be in a suit and hat, not a t-shirt and trainers, but there are so many other things here for your eyes to feast on and you are soon taken away again, following images into other places, following the voice of the chanteuse. Her name is Pinkie Maclure and his is John Wills. Together they are Pumajaw and in 14 years they have recorded 7 albums. They know what they’re doing and you better believe they do it well. They offer up to you a score of dark, atmospheric original songs with some classics, backed by visuals that are as crisp as a fresh bank note and as sharp as a diamond ring (only one multimedia clip is less than magical - a backdrop of red curtain and digital cigarette smoke with disco lights that fade in).
This is more than just music, you think to yourself as you step out into the still night air and turn the collar of your trench coat up against the cold, noticing it’s finally stopped raining. It’s a different way to experience music. Something that takes you on a journey into dark places, something you can’t quite leave behind as you walk the cobbled streets with the soundtrack still there in your weary head. You feel like you’ve been let into a dangerous world and maybe you can’t escape it now… maybe it will lure you back.