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Martin Green's Flit

Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
Saturday 29 October 2016

Tonight, the stage area at the Howard Assembly Room was transformed into what at first looked like the interior of Gollum's cave; two large circular zoetropes hanging from the walls, whilst a third was already in situ, centre stage, all ready to dazzle a curious audience. Familiar instruments mingled with unfamiliar home-made contraptions; a crude cabinet with shelves made up of basic handsaws, a Heath Robinson hand-built harp/zither with an undetermined number of strings, a wooden box with a dial and steering wheel affixed - which Becky Unthank assured me afterwards triggered an assortment of sampled sounds - a variety of electronic boxes and pedals with wires feeding one another, a cluster of angle-poised mic stands like robotic arms and the list goes on. Martin Green's mad professor of sound reputation certainly went before him tonight, already having instigated widespread curiosity as a result of Flit's glowing reports in the press, which created a tangible feeling of anticipation as people took their seats at the popular Leeds venue.

Of course, most of the audience were only too aware of each of the singers and musicians through their work with their respective mother ship bands; Martin Green from the experimental folk trio LAU, who was very much at the helm of tonight's performance, credited as both composer and director. Becky Unthank from the equally adventurous and award-winning folk quintet The Unthanks, Adam Holmes known for his work with Scots band RURA as well as being a successful solo artist, Adrian Utley of Portishead fame, who has been invaluable to this and other Martin Green projects and finally Mogwai's bassist Dominic Aitchison, each collectively contributing their own particular strengths to the project. 

The multi-media production was highly engaging from the start, not just in the musical arrangements and the songwriting contributions of such noted writers as Karine Polwart, Anaïs Mitchell, Aidan Moffat and Sandy Wright, but also in the breathtaking animations of Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson (whiterobot), who provided the highly imaginative visuals, which reflected the essence of the themes explored in the music. Even before the musicians walked on stage, each uniformly attired in dystopian brown workmanlike costume, all of which was echoed in the surrounding scenery and smocks worn by the busy stagehands, there was a brooding sense of despair as Becky's dad George Unthank provided the first sampled voice of the production.

If the powerful message of movement wasn't immediately apparent in the songs' lyrics or in the textural patterns of the musical arrangements, then things would certainly become clearer in the spoken passages, both recorded samples and in Green's engaging narrative, which at no point came across as preachy, despite it's sermon-like delivery. When describing notions of his own sense of place, he almost apologised to those in the audience who might be brooding over paying so much "to wade through my identity crisis." 

The most inspired result of putting together this project, was the teaming up of Becky Unthank and Adam Holmes, whose unique and highly individual voices move the piece along. Search the annals of recorded history and you won't find a voice quite like this particular Unthank sibling. The same could almost be said of Holmes, whose voice is becoming more and more familiar across the UK.

If Flit had been around in the early Seventies it would almost certainly have been considered for the Harvest or Charisma record label's package tour. Classic Prog Rock elements interweave post-modernist electronica, where Utley's guitar occasionally references David Gilmour, whilst Aitchison might recall Mike Oldfield's seminal work, intentionally or otherwise. At one point the roof almost lifts with the sheer tension of sustained noise, immediately followed by an a cappella Becky Unthank, who is treated to absolute silence throughout. Martin Green's own set piece comes a little later when he addresses the audience with such anger as to leave the audience wondering, is he just acting angry or is he really, really fucking angry?

Flit runs for around ninety minutes, in which themes of movement, migration, sense of place and sense of home are explored with a real sense of wonder and imagination. The only real challenge Flit proposes to the audience is where and when they should applaud. Best save it until the very end, then do it long and loud and stand up while you do. That's how I did it at any rate. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky

See Northern Sky's album review here: