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Live Music Review: Group Listening at Metronome

27 March 19 words: Mike Kane
photos: Mike Kane

Group Listening, the collaborative name of Stephen Black (aka Sweet Baboo) and experimental musician Paul Jones, have produced an album of ambient classics, reworked and reinterpreted for clarinet and piano. They stopped off at Metronome on their latest tour to give this Notts crowd quite a treat…

Opening the evening is Holly Redford Jones, a midlands local hailing from Chesterfield. The singer-songwriter takes to the stage with Call Me When You Wake Up, a song about getting to grips with time zones in a transatlantic relationship. Jazzy guitar chords bounce along underneath Holly’s equally jazzy vocal delivery, making for a charming and effortlessly cool performance. There’s a daydream quality to many of the artist’s songs, with wistful lyrics often centred around being someplace else, whether literally on Bonjour Madame, where she imagines a more Parisian lifestyle for herself, or metaphorically, as Big Blue Sky gently pushes the listener to looking at life a little more optimistically. In any case, it’s a fitting opening for a night of ambient music – a genre well known for its ability to transport the listener to far-off places.

After a short interval, Group Listening take to the stage, beginning their set with Snow Canon. Paul Jones provides a piano loop for Stephen Black’s clarinet to glide over, and it’s a wonderful sound, instantly putting a smile on my face. Mixed in with the clarinet and piano are other subtle textures and layers, with both performers operating tape machines and various other bits of gear to manipulate generated sounds on the fly. Black has an assortment of effects pedals at his disposal, allowing the clarinet to be modulated and morphed into something different entirely. I haven’t heard anything quite like it, and I’m hooked (read: processed clarinet is my new favourite thing).

Wenn der südwind weht is next up. A cover of a track by German composer Hans-Joachim Roedelius, it’s another great example of just how well modular synthesisers can be replicated by piano and clarinet. This piece has more of a mechanical pulse to it, and shows off Metronome’s excellent sound equipment and acoustics. Everything is crystal clear. If you listen carefully enough, you can hear the clicking of the clarinet and piano keys, the switching on and off of the stompboxes; every detail, every nuance. Nothing is too loud, yet somehow every corner of the space is filled with sound - accompanied by an assortment of archival imagery, projected onto a screen at the back of the stage.

It’s too easy to talk about how immersive ambient music is, but experiencing Group Listening live is an immersive experience. Darker, heavier tones are explored in The Dog, whilst Brian Eno cover Julie With takes things in a stranger direction. From time to time, Black and Jones bring the audience back into the room with a dose of dry humour whilst introducing themselves and their songs. It’s deadpan, self-deprecating and very funny. Whilst the music is practically otherworldly, the performers themselves couldn’t be any more down to earth, which is a great thing.

Jay is my favourite track of the evening. Taken from Disasterpeace’s soundtrack to It Follows, this track is sparse – almost delicate – but heavy with emotion, and breathtakingly beautiful. Overall, I’m only disappointed that the gig is done so quickly.

Group Listening played Metronome on Friday 22 March

Metronome website

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