ZOE KEATING LIVE AT THE VORTEX JAZZ, HACKNEY.
SUPPORT: RUBY COLLEY
INFLUENCES, COMPARISONS: You might like them if you like the styles and layered harmony effects of Ludovico Einaudi, Imogen Heap, Ed Sheeran, Jamie Woon, Alexandre Desplat, Vivaldi, Howard Shore.
Mentioning that I was heading to East London for a gig pretty much equated to telling most people that I was planning on getting mugged and stabbed “for funsies” and when I arrived on the litter-strewn road to the London Vortex Jazz Club, I wasn’t put at ease by the “NO URINATING” sign that greeted me. Surely this couldn’t be a place that welcomed a world of classical music? It was one of those rare occasions, however, in which the world proves to be so much kinder than one would assume, coming from the snobbish suburbs, where I was (un)fortunate enough to have been raised. The Vortex proved to be nothing short of glorious. Tucked away behind a front of tired-looking shops and local takeaways, I was greeted to the sounds of warming laughter. People played ping pong in the street and someone was experimenting with blues chords on a weather-beaten piano. Kind to strangers, the locals put me at ease as I waited for the doors to open. The venue was small, cramped almost, housing a window-box-style bar tucked at the back and a stage fit for a soloist under a spotlight. We were seated around mini candle-lit tables and in this snug, homely environment, a world of dreams was born.
Out of a web spun from violin strings and loop pedals, local talent Ruby Colley took to the stage and created a multi-layered tapestry of sound. Filmic and entrancing, her music was met with a purity of silence as each audience member’s attention remained riveted. Since her last album ‘Murmurations’ was released in 2009 (Ruby Colley records), Colley has been working on a second project that she hopes to release in the coming months and it’s something I would encourage you to follow closely. From the taster she gave us of what is to come, I have no doubt that it will be even better than her last.
Keating’s entrance provoked an even greater reaction. Greatly missed by her fan base in the UK after four years without their beloved cellist, the applause clapped out the candlelight and made the tables shudder. All of this with good reason. The deep resonance of the cello, intensified as it was looped through a computer, wasn’t just something I heard. I felt it pull on my heart strings. Dumb-struck and eyes heavy with the weight of a thousand dreams and secrets, Zoe’s music provided an emotional release that I had no idea I needed and the feeling that something was missing began to make itself known when she put down her bow for the final time. Both of her self-released albums: ‘Once cello x 16 natoma’ (2005) and ‘Into the Trees’ (2010) are intoxicatingly brilliant. Looking around, I was relieved to find that others had tears rolling down their cheeks. In the precious hour that she had taken to the stage, it was as though we had all been tucked away inside our own heads, hibernating from the crowd to be alone with the music.
Awakening now to the chink of glasses at the bar and the slowly-restored chatter, there was an unspoken acknowledgement between each audience member that we had experienced something miraculous on that late June evening. Emotionally exhausted, I puzzled my way home, wrapped in the layers of stories Colley and Keating had shared with us. I cannot wait to see them again. I shall also be sure to return to the Vortex for future music events. Intimate without being intimidating, it is a place which encourages art and a friendly community and, really, isn’t that what it should be about?
For more information on the artists and the venue and to sample some of the music I heard, please check out the following links:
Eleri Straker is not your average woman. From her bright pink Doc Marten boots, to the proudly displayed World of Warcraft bumper sticker on her car, she’s the sort of person that people might approach tentatively on first glance. “Different” is the adjective many attach to her by default. And such a descriptor is entirely accurate for the best possible reasons.
Mrs Straker was my English teacher, who I was blessed to have for three of my secondary school years. She was a woman who taught the flat printed words of Shakespeare and the Brontës to come alive with colour and exuberance, bringing context and meaning to the most mundane of poems by relating it to an episode of Doctor Who or something one of the Simpsons would say. Students who once snored through classes held by more rigid professors, now sparked debates and delighted in the hours spent under her care, because somehow, literature suddenly seemed to matter. True teaching, great teaching, comes from those who, like Eleri, understand that a textbook approach produces only lacklustre for the world of art, a world which was created for anything but indifference.
Having been a bookworm pretty much since my exit from the womb, I cannot express my disappointment in literacy teachers who believe that the only way forward is in colour-coded mark schemes and learning quotes from the set text, jumping through the hoops of exam boards simply to make the grade. The mediocre English teacher can dictate that ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a classic. Great is the teacher who proves this title a worthy one to the next generation, or, indeed, challenges the rigid definitions into which such works have been forced. The answers that got us top grades weren’t necessarily the ones that were printed in ‘York Notes’. Mrs Straker did not teach us to neatly jump through hoops like Crufts puppies on parade. In my eyes, at least, if you’re a student of Eleri’s your role becomes that of a phoenix, rising out of the ashes of the expected and soaring for a higher recognition than that of the ‘tick in the box’. Your place is to challenge the forefathers that created AQA answer sheets, to give something more, to understand that a text is not limited to itself but is part of greater spectrum of endless words from innumerable sources, and to add your own voice to the rabble because it counts.
Retiring now, on the cusp of her sixtieth birthday, I cannot help but despair for the children who will go through their secondary school careers without her, left in the dull robotic hands of a “by the book” English department. Generous in imparting her knowledge, and the meaning of kindness in character, she was a gift to the world of learning and a friend to all of her students, encouraging us to grow into people we were proud of, to gain some semblance of who we were through the texts she shared with us. Employing logical command in order to teach a subject which demands an open mind is a sure path to failing one’s students. This is something that Eleri knew only too well. I’m not calling her an anarchist because she did follow the system, but she paved her own path, and went beyond the basic goals and destinations of many others who profess themselves to be teachers. She understood that teaching is not just about learning facts. It should also question them in an attempt to understand them beyond their surface statements and it’s certainly about more than just passing exams; teaching is a work of heart.
Eleri Straker was officially my teacher for only three years of my academic life, but she continues to inspire me and her words have as much weight now, in the empty, largely self-taught hours of my university career as they did then. Indeed, they may in fact carry even more meaning and importance. Born into the standards of Asian culture whose career paths veer towards business, accountancy, medicine and the law, I felt very much that I was a fish out of water by pursuing my studies in English, but I have no regrets. Now that I, in turn, am considering a pathway in teaching, I can only hope to be half the woman Eleri is, and to revitalize literature in order to bring life to a dingy classroom’s four walls.
Bon voyage, Miss. May the many years ahead bring you every joy. Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you and I promise I’ll do everything I can to make you proud.