The first half of 2015 has proved a fruitful season for new albums. There have been two that I’ve played and played and played. If forced to reduce my CD collection to a couple of dozen discs, both of these would be amongst those I’d retain – which is saying a great deal. This notable pair of albums includes Marching to Another Beat, the work of Tamara Schlesinger recording as MALKA.
My copy of the album arrived on March 27th, exactly two months before the launch party. Well, not exactly, because the album arrived in the morning and the launch was in the evening. During that two months and a little bit, I must have played it a very great number of times. Still the songs keep echoing through my head.
Although Tamara has previously released two albums under her own name (as well as the Six Day Riot albums in which she served as front woman), she regards this as her most solo project. And no wonder. All of the voices are hers (sometimes sounding like an entire choir), she plays all of the instruments and (not content with that) is responsible for the excellent artwork. I’m suitably awestruck.
The Bethnal Green alleyway face painting was a preliminary to the album launch party – an occasion for glow sticks, luminous body paint, and music that lifted me high above the mountains of mundane existence on spiralling thermals of bliss. And, on the matter of being lifted up, Tamara’s bird headed costume strikes me as particularly apt, as her voice can take on the purity of birdsong – especially, I think, in the song Let It Go.
For the benefit of those who have seen the video, I will mention that the album launch ambience put me in mind of the visuals for MALKA’s Into the Night. (For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the video: Whatever are you thinking? I urge you in the strongest terms to watch it before you slip into another night.)
The venue – the cellar beneath the Sebright arms – is an intimate one. After listening to the album for a teensie tad more than two months, the music seemed to me a very big deal. As far as I was concerned, it would have felt appropriate if the venue had been an arena patrolled by goons; Ms Schlesinger visible on giant screens or as a tiny pinpoint on a distant stage. As it was, the scale was human, and almost infinitely more enjoyable on that account. I’ve attended a couple of arena gigs, and am not sure that I would bother with another.
At the album launch, Tamara performed the whole of Marching to Another Beat. Superbly talented as she certainly is, even she could not possibly, playing live, reproduce the solo nature of the recording. She had the backing of a band, all of whom showed themselves to be accomplished musicians. Tamara’s band shared personnel with Seaker, who provided the support. Sometimes support bands, in my experience, can outstay their welcome. Seaker avoided doing so partly by performing only a short set, and – far better – by playing good music. I sincerely hope to see more of them, including – dare I hope? – an album.
It wasn’t too difficult to perceive signs, in her stage presentation and performance, of Tamara’s previous incarnations. She studied fashion design at St Martin’s College. (Fashion design – for the benefit of those who recall Pulp’s Common People – emphatically not sculpture.) There should have been no surprise in her inventive, striking and downright lovely costume. Her lively and graceful dance moves might have recalled a pre-St Martin’s era, when Tamara was a teenage gymnast. A successful one, too – she represented Scotland until a broken ankle at the age of seventeen obliged her to retire.
The songs were (and are) all excellent, and all were well performed at the Sebright Arms. Most of them are catchy and continue tumble through my head. Unlike some catchy music, on repeated listening the songs reveal hidden depths, satisfying me on multiple levels. I predict that, if the goddess spares me, I will continue to listen for many years to come.
A particularly gratifying moment came, for me at least, with the song Burn on the Fire for which Tamara encouraged the audience to join the chorus of Na, na, na, na… Everyone with even half a soul enjoys a sing-along. (Don’t they?) Up to that point, I’d been singing along quietly, as is my habit. At most gigs I attend, the people about me are doing much the same thing, but on this occasion they weren’t. Perhaps that was because, although I’d had the album for a few hours more than two months, it had not been officially released. It may be that a significant number of people were listening to the songs for the first time. If so, I hope that none of them found my faint singing distracting or otherwise distressing. During Burn on the Fire, the communal voice supplanted my quiet private ghost-like singing. I was uplifted by our common purpose – a moment to treasure.
In conclusion, I urge anyone who has not already done so to buy Marching to Another Beat. If you have the opportunity to go, attend one of MALKA’s live performances. I really don’t think that any reader is likely to regret either thing. My prediction is that the album and performance alike will fill you with joy, as they have done so well for me. This new album is unlike Tamara Schlesinger’s back catalogue in numerous ways. It is a departure: a marching to another beat, indeed. It is, I am convinced, her best work to date. If the reader wishes to explore her previous albums, I particularly recommend Procession which, while quite different from Marching to Another Beat, is in its own way a particularly lovely album.
Tamara, thank you for the music!
The photographs taken at the Seabright Arms are the work of Peter Kent, to whom my grateful acknowledgement.