Finding our bearings


I am very excited to be aboard the maiden voyage of the good ship, Berlin Compass. Over four evenings, Berlinators will be presented with a dazzling array of words, music, movement and imagery, as we set sail for each of the four points of the compass. My Headful of Bees colleague, Wasp Summer, and I will be taking you northward on Friday evening.

Important: the times given are not “Berlin time”; there’ll be no more boarding after we set sail at 20:45!


West, North, East, South: which directional points are yours?

Launch into an ongoing international exploration in music, word, laughter, performance, image and dance: four evenings of intuitive, fated and chosen bearings.

Hosted by singing poet Sandra Sarala (who’s taking on four different musical-poetic-performance personas across the series), and thematically curated around the cardinal points, each multi-disciplinary evening will formally commence with the communal breaking of a circular loaf of homemade bread, uniting all present. Every show has been designed to showcase individual performers, to offer complementary contrasts and interconnections, and will close with collaborative improvisation.

Choose your resonant points and bring your good self /selves along.

Thursday 24th WEST

‘West, Seeking Balance, and the Balancing East’

Wordy offerings from balancing story-telling time-traveller Skiz-um Hequ, and the poetic Eastern tongues of MC Jabber and Moon (Stephen Mooney), while Sandra Sarala explores the maze and dark mystery of Western life, alongside wildcard Wests, singer of sweetness Cera Impala, musician/video artist Peter Newman, and concert pianist Kim Hye Jin, taking us to her West with Rachmaninov.

Friday 25th NORTH

‘North and a Balancing South’

Touch your philosophy with spoken word from mr oCean and Anja Zeilinger, some storytelling and a touch of song from Kerri Mullen, music and candlelight from Wasp Summer, bridge Lieder and the avant-garde with Alexis Baker, and be danced towards love, joy and melancholy by (India-born) Southerner Manish Pathak. Sandra Sarala takes up alter-ego Loki as host.

Saturday 26th EAST

‘East with a Rogue West’

Well-considered words from several stalwarts of Berlin’s literati – spoken word mega-presence Gaby Bila-Gunter aka Lady Gaby, and poets Alistair Noon, and Frank Alkämper, the latter in confluence upon ‘Ausgerechnet Armenien’ (‘Ironically, Armenia) with musicians Michael Gross and Leonid Soybelman (rogue West in the East!). Sandra Sarala heads for the archaic folksong hills, someone lets Volcanick, the hairiest oriental belly-dancer in town, into the house, and special rules come into play this evening for special guest, intuitive singer AlinK.Sarit, bussing over from Poland… which may have a little something to do with film from Marta Jurkowska.

Sunday 27th SOUTH

‘South with a Deliberately Contrary North’

Verbal dexterity in the shining poetry-stories of Claudia Emmingham, dexterous lunacy from singer, songwriter and comedian David Cassel, and electro-art-pop duo Trike (Xania Keane and Stephen Paul Taylor), some measure of Northern contrariness from performance artist Daniela Gast, and a sprinkling on the ivories from composer and pianist Phil Cooksey, also in collaboration upon the southern seas with lyric poetry from Sandra Sarala.

Berlin COMPASS: Thursday 24 – Sunday 27 November, 2011, Club der polnischen Versager, Ackerstraße 168 (next to Schokoladen), 10115 Berlin, (U8 Rosenthaler Platz)

Doors open and music from 20:15, Doors close and bread-breaking 20:45

Entry: 8 €, and an extra special collection on Saturday night


If the list were a tower…


If Best Things Ever were bricks and I were building a tower from them, I would be wishing about now that I had made much much more substantial and deep foundations.  This weekend backed the truck up and just kept on unloading, and now the tower is listing dementedly*.  The Sofa Sessions, assembled and hosted by the wonder known as Ms. Sam Wareing, was a whole weekend of shiny.  Every performer delivered those moments that make you forget you have a physical form.  Those I’d heard before were at their best, and those newly discovered have me well aboard their respective trains.  The accoustics of the living room are great, and it’s such a beautiful experience to hear the music directly, with no mics or mixing desks in between; it also really shows off the quality of the performers.

Friday evening opened with Mesalina Trio, who were already great but seem able to keep taking it up another level.  When Christian and Sam came in for harmonies on “Nu” was my first evaporation for the night, and there were many to follow.  Their songs have been on high rotation in my head ever since (not at all unwelcome!), and their finishing up with Sam’s jubilant “Planet Sized” was like launching fireworks, and what better way to open the festivities?  The whole set was a joy, and a really polished performance from all.  Do keep a look-out for their gigs: a really rich mix of styles and songs that could be described as like an emotional roller-coaster, but enjoyable.

I’d not heard Lady Gaby‘s piece (from Overland – sorry, don’t know which issue) about a particular feisty Romanian clear spirit before, but I reckon it’s the best I’ve yet heard from her.  A great, flowing and at times amusing look into another society and a personal trans-global journey.

Simon Eugene‘s opening piece was another mr oCean evaporator.  Soulful finger-picked guitar and quite a unique vocal style – able to be at once both sweet and raw.  There were tender pieces and rockin’ pieces and a big stupid grin on my face throughout.  Looking forward to hearing more.

My set went over nicely.  As Grand Salvo pointed out today, one does feel quite exposed, standing so immediately before an audience, but the vibe was just so warm that it wasn’t at all intimidating.  This seems a good time/place to thank Becky at SAND for the editorial push to rewrite “To the Edge”, and also send my warmest thanks to Valerie for her speedy and splendid German grammar help with “ein Winter Aquarell”, and also to Pauline and Bettina for helping with the final polish thereof.  Both poems were very nicely received – the latter, even by people who were quite vocal in their distaste for long, cold, grey Winters.

Eric Eckhart delivered a perfectly executed guitar accompaniment on my poems, “The Happy Plant” and “Lines”, before assembling his band and filling the room with more musical goodness.  I realise that my review of his album is still waiting patiently to be written, but maybe I can give some impressions here.  The thing that I think best summed up his set was watching the faces in the audience: you could see how his music really gets through to people, connects with their own stories.  That’s probably what I love the most about Eric’s music – the way it conveys a sense of looking in on a pivotal scene in a tale.  I’m also enjoying that every time I hear him live, there’s something different in the arrangement/band.  It works beautifully all-accoustic, here as well as at the album launch, and Sam’s harmonies added some really nice shivers in my arms.  And the bass and cajón filled things out jolly nicely, too (esp. when I didn’t have my guitar tuned for the right song).


I’ve been seeing Kiki Brunner on a few gig listings of late, and was jolly pleased with what I heard from her at the 2nd Sofa Session.  Very tidy and bright bass and electric piano accompaniment and good, heartfelt pop.  Fun to watch, and I found “Untrennbar” especially groovable (you can get a taster of it on her MySpace).

In addition to the beautiful “ear-worms”, “Housewife Accomplice” (some of my favourite ever lyrics in that one) and “Planet-Sized” (bliss!), Wasp Summer evokes emotion by the barrel.  “I Hope You’ll Mend” – about fathers and daughters – breaks my heart gorgeously every time I hear it.  Her vocal range has had my jaw agape many a time.  And playing solo in a living room gives every song that extra sharp edge of honesty.  Watch out for her with Lena Tjader in the U-Bahn stations of Berlin, but do hope you have time (and, of course, monies) to spare should you happen upon them.

Wasp Summer

Bocage are a French duo, which for some reason made me expect electro, which they were not (although there are some cracking remixes on the double CD I picked up – “Bon Chemin & remixed”).  Again, a perfect set for the venue – fairly minimal instrumentation, beautifully put together.  The semi-accoustic guitar has a funky fatness to it, but is also capable of a spiffing marimba impression.  The melodies had the lilt and evening feel to them that I associate with and love about chanson.  And when they whipped out some unexpected harmonies, there went the top of my head again…


Christina Maria has a pretty black guitar with a feathered headstock (it also sounds nice) and a fantastically powerful voice that, every time I thought was pushing out the songs at its limit, took it up another level.  Very tidy pop songs, but the best for me were those moments when the guitar shifts from under the voice, which then leaps from it like a glider, and then the two come together again, flying.

I’m listening to Grand Salvo on MySpace as I write this, and can heartily endorse your doing the same.  Or if you’re in Melbourne, go see him perform!  And buy his records.  His music has an Iron and Wine vibe about it (I don’t think I’m just distorting my view on account of his beard) but a different tone and style.  The delightful common ground is in his story-evoking lyrics.  There’s something in his delivery, too – the lilt to his gentle voice and the mellowness of the classical guitar – that makes every song a scene that unfolds before you.  I saw lots of open spaces hosting intimate moments in his music today.

Daniel Hoth is a name I’ve seen in a lot of announcements for Berlin poetry events, but this was the first time I’d caught an earful of him, and I’m dead chuffed this finally happened.  Even with my quite rudimentary German, his poetry is richly visual as well as jammed with philosophy, wit and wonder.  He has a great command of rhythm, and it’s abundantly clear why he’s a slam champion.  If you’re German, I expect you’ll get even more out of his poems, but even if you didn’t understand a word, I reckon you’d still feel like you’d taken a pretty damn good ride.

Miranda Gjerstad is an amazing songwriter – the lyrical density of Augie March with the vocal gymnastics of Regina Spektor.  And when you add Lotta Fahlén and Jens Fløyd to the performance, you get harmonies and intertwining melodies and stories that turn your heart to fireworks (they both also happen to be splendid songwriters, too).  The arrangements are often spacious and minimal, but there is a richness to them that’s like looking really closely at a plant and noticing all its intricacies.  I would so love to gush a whole lot more about them, but I just don’t have the words.  You have to hear them.  Go and visit them on MySpace.  And if you’re in Berlin, listen to them live!  They were a perfect, perfectly blissful end to the festival of goodness that was The Sofa Sessions.

Finally, it would be remiss and entirely inadequate of me to neglect the visual arts.  Neil Leslie‘s slide-mounted collage miniatures gave me a wonderful sense of gadgetry and somehow implied a soundtrack, Christina Fischer‘s piece distinctly delivered an open space, seaside feel, Leena McCall‘s charcoal “Flesh” series have a dramatic B&W photo look to them, abstracted beautifully into almost sculpture by the composition, and Daniel Skornicka‘s sepia photos gave Berlin a dreamy sunset-drenched shine.

I must also add that the audiences were fantastic, too.  Really in to the performances and gave the room a great sense of community, which is a goodly whack of what the Moabiter Kulturtage were all about.  It’s a brilliant feeling to be reminded that there are a lot of jolly pleasant people about (in addition to a lot of jolly talented people).

* Thank-you very much, Mr Thompson.

So much more than just the next mr oCean gig