The venue tonight is a relatively new community run, arts council funded venue and rehearsal space that doesn’t just point the way to the future of Birkenhead, but also the rest of the country. It has been set up to provide a space for local artists to thrive, and for touring bands to play, and it has been set up with a lot of thought, providing a well laid out area with a proper stage, and craft ales on tap. You can even help yourself to free water from a barrel. One hears so much at the moment about local grass roots venues having to close down so it’s nice to have some good news for a change.
Modern Nature aren’t your balls out, get your rocks off pub band. Their music is subtle and fragile. It ebbs and flows, and the audience were attentive to wherever the flow took us. They are a 4-piece led by the unassuming tall and thin presence of Jack Cooper, stooped over his Epiphone 335 guitar, picking out clear valve notes, slowly altering the direction of the songs, intoning and coaxing with his voice images of the movement of the natural world, from a starling murmuration to the fleeting lives of the island’s inhabitants.
The band, made up of Jack on guitar and vocals, Jim Wallis on drums and occasional keyboard, Jeff Tobias on saxophone, and the very wonderful Samuel Hollis on double bass, present a jazz-tinged performance, heavy on improvisation and feeding off one another to give natural dynamics to the ebb and flow of each song, which almost gave the impression of being a whole, possibly because they were drawing heavily on the latest album Island Of Noise.
The musicianship was a fabulous mixture of organic feel and technical know-how. The saxophone playing was exceptional, especially surprising for me as I’m not a big fan of the instrument especially when combined with jazz, but at times it sounded like John Cale’s viola playing in the Velvet Underground, and, despite blasting out a plethora of notes, it never once sounded like self-indulgent wibbling and was never out of place. I was so impressed by the brilliant Samuel Hollis, who seemed to become one with his instrument and really shaped the songs, pushing, bending and moulding the course of the song into areas of wonder and excitement, reminding me of the streams of consciousness wanderings of Astral Weeks, or the tenacious brilliance of Danny Thompson.
One can’t help but draw parallels with the playing on albums such as Astral Weeks, or Nick Drake’s Bryter Later album, or even the later works of Talk Talk, where songs are stretched to breaking point like too little butter on too much toast, allowing us to glimpse the fragile canvas underneath, and marvel at the way it just manages to keep afloat. It’s like watching a seed hatch, and witnessing the beauty of creation as it grows and unfurls and briefly stretches towards the sun before curling and receding back to earth.
Find out more on Modern Nature’s official website
Review by Andrew Wood
Photography by Ali Blair