27 October, Spiegeltent, HBAF18 By Michael Hawksworth
There’s a heartfelt welcome for Margot Pierard and Kurt Yates, luminaries of the local music scene, and familiar with most of the audience for their indispensable work in other more generously-staffed Bay-based musical projects, from perennial favourites Tropical Downbeat orchestra to Fane Flaws’ No Engine. Margot Pierard, as self-effacingly as she greets her fans, is blessed with a vocal ability whose confidence exists in marked contrast to the tongue-tied woman who admits “I’m pretty uncomfortable talking, but I’ll do my best.” One hand awkwardly in her pocket her rich soulful voice sets sail with ease and grace over the restless, faceting body of Kurt’s jazz guitar accompaniment.
Both these musicians have a touch of the virtuosic about them. You wonder how it’s possible to write on paper stuff this convoluted. Nothing’s on the one, so to speak. The beat, the pulse, is largely a vacant core around which the chords and phrases slide in syncopations and off-beats. If the songs have repeating structures, you don’t remember them that way. They seem more like organic improvisations. I imagine these songs began as meandering jams that slowly cohered around a core of habit in the practising. I think. Maybe I’m wrong. I know jack about jazz.
Margot, seemingly more from a sense of obligation to her audience than any real need, attempts to explain what the songs are about. Of course when you do that, it sounds like a statement, unambiguous, succinct. But when the song begins, you know that actually it’s more like a fugitive thought, just another momentary certainty in that ever-changing stream of consciousness. Many of the songs ride a similar dramatic arc – the tentative, melancholy first address of the subject, guitar supporting voice with reassuring rhythm; a gradual build, and then, suddenly an impassioned climax of why or yes or yes, this or listen, Margot’s voice abandoning restraint and Kurt’s guitar abandoning Margot in choppy swells of almost-distorted expressionist playing. It’s as if Kurt is the iron in her soul, manifesting the jagged metallic emotions that she can’t quite give voice to.
It’s undoubtedly effective, and it expresses the raw emotion of the often highly personal lyrics. Listening to these torch songs under the Spiegeltent’s aqueous light-projections underline how the open, loose structures, the fluid intermingling of jazz, soul and folk inflections, and the lyrical preoccupation with water and nature imagery combined to create a meditative continuum. I re-imagine the 90-minute gig as a continuous unbroken improvisation. I’m partial to long-form and ambient music and I’m quite happy when structures break down and it all goes off piste. It could work…
I realise there’s an implicit criticism in this though: Would I have imagined this if the individual songs had more distinct identities, more graspable formal characteristics? The songs of Canopy, for the most part, still feel like works in progress, emotions in the rough, that could handle yet more editing and differentiation, or perhaps adaptation to the expanded sonic palette of a band.