Tea + a Chat with Balladeste

Preetha Narayanan, one half of the duo Balladeste, chats to us about anagrams, collaboration and the creative process, and points us in the direction of three great artists in her circle. Balladeste play Tea + a Gig on Tuesday 4th April.

Tell us about yourselves

We are a string duo, Tara Franks on cello and Preetha Narayanan on violin, exploring the versatility and sound potential of just two string instruments as a band.

Where does the name Balladeste come from?

It's actually a funny story and inside joke. A signature treat of mine is that I often bring to rehearsals are called "date balls" and so a friend of the duo proposed Balladeste as an anagram of that! But i like to imagine that there are other threads of meaning in it, like "ballad" or bailar in Spanish to dance:-) 

Balladeste consists of two of the three members of Quest Ensemble. How different is the creative process between a duo and a trio? 

The dynamic of creating changes drastically with different numbers of people, so with just two, it is sometimes easier to manage similarities and differences in taste. In our case, we are both stringed instruments so that also affects the types of ideas and sounds we may create and how certain elements of an idea are familiar to the other. 

The trio adds another challenge and excitement though with the piano and the addition of a strong compositional skill set from a third member.  

You have collaborated quite a bit with visual artists and dancers including Lucy Steggals,  Somang Lee, and Ruth Pethybridge. What is the extra dimension that these collaborations bring to an audience? 

Although an audience member can watch us interact on stage and witness the physicality we have with our instruments, the medium of music is still abstract and aural. So it's always exciting to explore how the music can be married to a different art form that conjures up a different sense and at times could be more tangible.

Your debut EP comes out later this year. What can you tell us about it?

Our writing together began with an explorative, joyous motivation so the music reflects this beginning search for a duo identity. The EP is a celebration of our mutual resonance and we hope it will bring the same joy to the listener and introduce them to an innovative sound. 

How did you come to know about SoundsCreative Projects? (we think we might know the answer to this one….)

Lucky that Tara has introduced … me to her creative baby, SoundsCreative, and brought much meaning to our practices through it.   

At SCP we believe in connections. Can you connect us to 3 great artists we should know about?

We are lucky to be surrounded by friends who are inspiring artists and musicians. 

Priya Sundram (www.priyasundram.com), London-based illustrator has established a company called Studio Carrom with http://www.studiocarrom.com/ Bangalore based artist Nia Thandapani. I love their work!

Jasdeep Singh Degun (https://www.jasdeepsinghdegun.com/) an up and coming sitarist/composer that Tara and I recently worked with. Look forward to seeing where he takes his future composition as he explores the spaces between Western and Indian Classical music.

Jose Agudo. (www.joseagudo.co.uk) choreographer and dancer who is about to premiere his new dance company and project in May! His energy is contagious.




Tea + a Chat with Pat Dam Smyth

Pat Dam Smyth, who plays Tea + a Gig on Tuesday 7th March, chats to us about being holed up in the studio with a broken heel,  the reverb in The Old Church and what an accolade from the BBC means. Book in advance here to see the Pat bring songs from his forthcoming record (due late 2017) to the daytime audience in the beautiful surroundings of London’s only remaining Elizabethan church.

Pat Dam Smyth

Tell us about yourself

Irish and Greek. 

What can we expect from your new album?  

The new album is the first collaborationwith drummer/producer Chris McComish.. We met in Stoke Newington, London 4 years ago. We were playing nomadically for a long time and then decided to record an album . We funded it by a pledge campaign which gave us a lot more options on how and where to record. The songs were written after I broke my heel and we could not play live. I sat in the practice room for a month with my foot up and we just played new songs. They are all born from this time. The album has a whole narrative running through it. Based on things that happened to me growing up near a rural town in Northern Ireland and discovering Punk Rock for the first time. Its not a rose tinted album though. I tried to be true the stories that happened. Writing with Chris who is also from Northern Ireland was great as we could bounce experiences off each other. Trying to come to terms with how humans can have a great times and experiences even when the social backdrop is so very grim.  How we adapt.  

Congratulations on acoustic song Running being recently featured as Across the Line’s Track for the Day on BBC – how important are accolades like that for musicians?

Always high standards with the BBC so it means a great deal. Always love going to the BBC to play sessions, has such good gear and they always have a real piano. so yes it means a lot, its a recognition and another push to keep going. 

You left Belfast in the late 90s and have travelled lots, living and working in places including LA, Liverpool, London, but you’re very much associated with the Northern Irish music scene – what is special about the scene, and how has it changed in recent years?

Northern Ireland music scene like the country is pretty unrecognisable from when I first left in 1999.. They were dark days and the scene really suffered from that. A lot of bands did not come to play NI so it was very isolated. The music was either heavy metal or singer songwriter stuff. The left field did not really exist or had no form of exposure - it was an era of suppression. Now we have a younger generation that have been born after the Troubles- they’re outlook seems so much more positive and you can hear that the music is liberated. Check out Jealous of the Birds - beautiful bold and colourful,  a sign that things have changed.  

 I returned there in 2010 to record the first album “the Great Divide”. It changed my life. Rediscovering home is an adventure in itself. 

You’re often compared to some pretty heavyweight artists – Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, John Grant. Is that an honour or a burden? 

Well its very nice to be compared with these artists, but I don’t really tend to think about it too much. You have to be ‘you’. I have a tendency to stop listening to all music when writing or recording.. I don’t do it intentionally - just my brain trying to dig a little deeper without anything influencing me too much. 

How did you come to know about SoundsCreative Projects? 

All through the great work of Tara- . We did a full band headline show at the old churcha couple of years back which she helped put together… such an amazing venue , actually finished writing a song in there the night before the show-  hard to find reverb like that. Tara asked me to play and I said of course. 

What do you think of the Tea + a Gig concept?

Looks brilliant and am really looking forward to it.  Im gonna have to be good though as babies are a lot more honest critics than adults. 

At SCP we believe in connections. Can you connect us to 3 great artists we should know about?

Yes 3 great artists right now are Bill Callahan, Timber Timbre , Aldous Harding

Tea + a Chat with Moira Smiley

Moira Smiley chats to us about underground former water reservoirs, the virtuosity of the voice and tips us off about three must-listen artists ahead of her Tea + a Gig show coming up at The Old Church this Tuesday 7th February. Book in advance here to see the vocal shapeshifter perform in London’s only remaining Elizabethan church.

Tell us about yourself

I’m a singer and composer, nomad, lover of surprise and adventure - in life and music.

You studied Early Music Vocal Performance – what drew you to early and traditional music?

I grew up on a small Vermont farm in the northeastern U.S. (near Canada & Boston), and there were lots of people playing and singing folk music.  I also went to conservatory for piano performance, and there, at conservatory, fell in love with the sense of discovery and invention in the study and performance of early music.  I also love that so much of the vocal music makes the voice feel very instrument-like.

Is there a difference between using your voice as an instrument and as a singer in the more popular sense using words and stories?

Hmmm…great question!  I see the music that uses the voice ‘instrumentally’ as embracing the physicality, the range of timbres, the virtuosity of the voice rather than focusing JUST on that voice’s ability to convey text and float on top of an instrumental texture.

Your recordings and musical interests are are very global. How do you find your next musical obsession? Do you travel a lot?

The next projects come from a combo of meeting people that compel me, and following musical paths that challenge me and make me feel at home/useful as an artist. 

You’re playing with us solo, and you also play frequently with your vocal group VOCO. How different are the experiences?

I get to be more spontaneous and wild when performing solo, so that dynamic fills the space that more harmony and instrumentation does when I’m with VOCO.

We imagine the acoustics of a church will be a good match with your sound and look forward to hearing you sing. What’s the strangest place you have ever performed?

There’ve been many strange and wonderful venues!  A completely underground former water reservoir in Berlin made of brick. That was the dampest one - with the longest (16 seconds?) echo.

How did you come to know about SoundsCreative Projects?

I met Tara Franks by recording Hildegard with her sister Clemmie years ago!

What do you think of the Tea + a Gig concept?

I think it’s a beautiful idea - and brave, and experimental!  Brava!

At SCP we believe in connections. Can you connect us to 3 great artists we should know about?

Sam Amidon, Vivien Ellis, The Greeners!

Tea + a Gig: Winter warmers and spring surprises

Tea + a Gig, the daytime gig series for parents with babies in tow, returns to The Old Church N16, for an eclectic winter / spring season, featuring an Irish troubadour, a vocal shape-shifter from LA and a surprise guest (TBA).

Dates for your diary this season are Tuesdays 7th February, 7th March and 4th April.

The season kicks off with Moira Smiley, the vocal shape-shifter and musical polyglot from L.A. performing a solo gig of early traditional music. Moira is a singer / composer who creates and performs new work for voices. Her voice – and composing – are heard on feature films, BBC & PBS television programs, NPR, and on more than 60 albums. 

From closer to home, Northern Ireland’s Pat Dam Smyth joins us in March, ahead of the launch of his new album. With his debut album 'The Great Divide' receiving critical acclaim from The Independent, Q Magazine and BBC 6 Music to name but a few, his music falls somewhere between John Grant, Leonard Cohen, Father John Misty and Nick Cave.

And keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of a third exciting artist to grace the Tea + a Gig stage in April.

As ever – Tea + a Gig are proper gigs for music lovers, which just happen to appeal to tots too. Plenty of buggy parking, and a jig-around area for toddlers. 


SoundsCreative Projects Co-Conspirator

SoundsCreative Ensemble: Who, what and why?

The connections made in SoundsCreative Ensemble are social, they’re musical, but also, they’re about the young people connecting in a new way to their own instrument
— Tara Franks

With half term again around the corner, and our Neighbourhood Project SoundsCreative Ensemble returning to Arts and Media School Islington, we share this film made by the wonderful Magali Charrier. The film shows the SoundsCreative Ensemble process, how each workshop begins and grows, the types of social, musical and individual connections that are made, and what happens when you bring together musicians that are not from the same world.

In the film young musicians explain why they enjoy SoundsCreative Ensemble so much, what makes it different from other groups and orchestras they have played with.

We also meet some of the Connected Artists that co-lead the workshops, including Fernando Machado from Brazilian inspired ensemble Lambrego, who explains that the freedom of the SoundsCreative Ensemble approach means ‘“[the young musicians] are not trying to play the right note at the right time, there’s this other approach that gives you more intimacy with your instrument.”

Calling all young musicians, aged 8 -14! Half term is coming. If you’re still looking for things to do and would like to travel the creative journey of SoundsCreative Ensemble, come along.

This term the workshop will be led by Filipe Sousa, creative workshop leader and member of the Quest Ensemble. Filipe will be working alongside cellist and composer Tara Franks, founder and creative director of SoundsCreative Projects, and Palestinian oud virtuoso Saied Silbak.

For more information and to book in advance visit our What’s On page here.

SoundsCreative Projects Co-Conspirator