Current 93

‘under Soft Black Stars’
St. Olave’s Church, London (UK) / 6 april 2002
+ Antony and the Johnson, Backworld & Sorrow

If I made an imaginary list of favourite bands that I wanted to see live, then Current 93 would be in the top ranks. Last year I could not go to their London concerts, and the occasion before that was cancelled because David Tibet had sudden health problems. But now was the time to make up for it. Luckily I was in time to get tickets through World Serpent for the ‘Under Soft Black Stars’ event, because there were only two concerts with 100 tickets each. On the menu were Current 93, Backworld and Antony. It was not allowed to make photos at the concert, so therefore a textual report?

Early Friday morning our plane left for London Stansted. The concert would be the following evening, so that left us time enough to stroll through the city. It was lovely weather, so we mainly stayed outside. The only cultural event that we tried to visit was sold out: the exposition of Mario Testino in the National Portrait Gallery. It’s always a pleasure, though crowded, to browse through the outdoor markets of Portobello Road and Camden. Of course some record shops had to be visited: Rough Trade, Sister Ray, Resurrection Records, Music Exchange (great chain of secondhand shops) and various other shops in Soho and Portobello Road.

Finally the time arrived to head for the concert. The concert location was a little old church in London, near Tower Bridge. We arrived a bit early, we eavesdropped for a while at a church door to hear the bands practice. Then we moved on to get a drink, but all pubs in the neighbourhood were closed! We were just in time to find a place to get coffee, and then returned to the medieval St. Olave’s Church, were Current 93 and friends played for two nights in a row. I only visited the second evening, on Saturday. Later I read comments from other visitors that Saturday was the best night, on Friday the musicians seemed to be too overwhelmed by the atmosphere.

It would become a remarkable evening. With only 100 visitors and guests the small church was full and cosy. There was a small stand where cd’s and shirts from Antony could be bought, as well as the latest limited 2cd set from Current 93 with Nurse With Wound. The audience seemed to be dominated by ‘middle-aged’ men. Well, that’s not completely true, the average age was brought down by the various small children and babies that were present, who were sometimes crying in perfect rhythm with the music. Among the visitors were also many musicians. Tony Wakeford and his wife, Karl Blake, the German group Pilori, Chris and Cosey and probably a whole bunch more.

There was instrumental music playing in the background, I assume of the aforementioned new C93/NWW album. To my surprise the reverend of the church did an introduction. He said something like: ‘Some of you are in this church now for the second day in a row, so you may start to feel more at home. I work now for eleven years in this church, and I’m still feeling more familiar every day’. Then he told us a little about Saint Olave, the patron of the church. To conclude he read a pastoral diary fragment. which suited the atmopshere of some C93 lyrics. I was wondering if the reverend had studied the lyrics of Backworld and Current 93 with all their religious imagery, and what he would think of it.

Then it was time for the first act of the evening: Antony and the Johnson. Yes there was only one Johnson there, Maxim Moston on violin. Antony played the piano, sometimes excusing himself when making a mistake, because he normally does not sit behind the piano on stage. Antony was looking rather ‘normal’, he was dressed in a suit. I didn’t know his oeuvre too well, but I recognized ‘I fell in love with a dead boy’ and ‘Soft Black Stars’. Unfortunately no ‘Cripple and the Starfish’, but you can’t have it all. It was a nice set, with Antony being talkative between songs at times.

Backworld consisted only of Joseph Budenholzer for this occasion. During a few songs he was assisted by Robert Lee (Sorrow) on violin. But even with acoustic guitar and voice alone Joseph could fessel me. He mainly played songs from the last Backworld album, “Of Silver Sleep”, with a melancholic and intimate atmosphere. He announced one new song to appear on the forthcoming Backworld album. Both this song and another one that I hadn’t heard before sounded very good, so that promises good things for the new album?

When Backworld had finished it was time for David Tibet to enter the stage. From the first notes he sounded very confident. He was only accompanied by Maja Elliot on the piano. Together they performed almost the complete Soft Black Stars album. Already the second song was ‘A gothic lovesong’, great to hear that live. On stage the songs seemed to gain in impact and depth. David’s voice was very powerful and clear, you could understand every syllable. There were a few emotional moments. At one time David showed some tears and then turned around for a while?

After a short break the concert was continued, Current was now reinforced by Michael Cashmore on guitar and Julie Wood on violin. They now did some older classics, like ‘In the heart of the wood’, ‘All the world makes great blood and ‘The Inmost light’. An absolute highlight was an emotive Sleep has its house, which David dedicated to his father, he almost shouted the lyrics to this song, which is rather tranquil on record.

Then David introduced a guest, ‘who is always late’ ? and indeed, it took some time before Rose McDowall (Sorrow) was ready to play. All by herself she did a handful of songs. I did not have the feeling that she was in great shape though. But is was nice to hear ‘Since Yesterday’ (her old Strawberry Switchblade hit) and the Velvet Underground cover ‘Sunday Morning’. It was not clear for me though why she played one song two times, perhaps she had not noticed it?

But it was not over yet. Antony came back on stage again, to sing a song written by David Tibet and Michael Cashmore. To make the party complete Joseph Budenholzer then joined Current 93 to play along with the last song ‘Mary waits in silence’, a worthy finale? After the last notes had sounded, everyone seemed to be so impressed that it took some time before people started to leave the church. But then there was no other option but to leave the House of God and to head for the Underground?

The next day we explored the area of Greenwich (another new interesting part of London that I didn’t know yet), before we began our journey home, full of happy memories? Some people stayed till Monday, the opening day of an exhibition of artwork by Steven Stapleton and David Tibet at the Horse Hospital gallery in London. I read it was a nice happening: “We had a fabulous time meeting so many old friends and new ones too”, according to the Durtro website.