Live Music + Gig Reviews

Unclassified Live: This Is The Kit @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

1 May 2024

BBC Radio 3’s Unclassified show comes to London’s Southbank Centre as This Is The Kit, Modern Nature and Moor Mother collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra

Kate Stables of This Is The Kit (Photo: Cedric Oberlin)

Kate Stables of This Is The Kit (Photo: Cedric Oberlin)

BBC Radio 3 might be primarily associated with classical music but it has a long history of airing innovative, high quality, late night programmes that extend well beyond their perceived classical remit. Unclassified is one such programme and, alongside Night Tracks and Late Junction, offers a thoughtfully curated selection of sounds that transcend genres and styles (“music that won’t stay in its box” was another tag used ahead of tonight’s show). Their annual live event saw three artists from across the musical spectrum brought together to play with the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor Robert Ames at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, with presenter Elizabeth Alker on hand to introduce each act and add context.

First up was Moor Mother (American experimental producer/poet/activist Camae Ayewa) who has built up a reputation as an uncompromising creative force over recent years. Her hard-hitting, politicised music draws from improv, jazz and hip hop to striking effect and on paper she felt like a bit of a wild card for tonight’s event. Her recently released ninth studio album The Great Bailout specifically addresses the ugly history of British colonialism. The album features certain instruments found within the orchestra but tonight the orchestra is understandably a much more focal, orthodox presence. The performance opens with some orchestral scene setting but moments of dissonance and darkness soon creep in as they play Guilty, with Ayewa being joined on stage on vocals by Elaine Mitchener. Together they powerfully rail against the injustices and discrimination of Britain’s imperial past.

The dynamic shifts somewhat for the next section, a performance of Triptych for Orchestra by Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper. Last year’s No Fixed Point In Space album saw a further refinement in their sound towards a more gentle, slow moving and impressionistic form of guitar music, influenced by the likes of late period Talk Talk, Can, modern classical and the sounds of nature so hearing that frontman Cooper had composed a piece for orchestra after being inspired by Morton Feldman made sense.

The piece might have drawn from a different sonic palette but shared certain aspects with the music of his band – a series of sonic portraits that are rich in detail and reward close listening. The piece seems to unfurl in slow motion, all understated accumulation with the occasional percussive ripples adding to its mirage like quality. Once finished, Cooper emerges from the audience to take the plaudits.

This Is The Kit are the final act to perform, tonight downsized to a trio, with Kate Stables on vocals and banjo/guitar, Rozi Plain on bass and Jamie Whitby-Coles on drums (guitarist Neil Smith is given the evening off, Stables commenting how his guitar parts have largely been replaced by the orchestra tonight). They take the opportunity to delve deeper into their back catalogue, beginning with Easy On The Thieves from 2017’s Moonshine Freeze album. It’s a good example of the subtly idiosyncratic, organic modern folk songs that Stables has become synonymous with in recent years and tonight is buoyed by the orchestral backing. Later they revisit 2020’s Off Off On for Keep Going, which is permeated by a real lushness. Last year’s excellent Careful Of Your Keepers album meanwhile is represented by Take You To Sleep and This Is When The Sky Gets Big. The former benefits from the orchestral uplift, while the latter sees sympathetic additions that further enhances the colour of the original.

Previous Unclassified Live events have featured performances from the likes of Plaid, Cate Le Bon, Daniel Avery, Aïsha Devi and Hinako Omori, and tonight’s selection of artists delivered another impressive chapter, confirming its strengths as a driving force for promoting new music.

Highlights from this show will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 12 May at 23:30 and will be available later on BBC Sounds.

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More on This Is The Kit
Unclassified Live: This Is The Kit @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
This Is The Kit @ Barbican, London
This Is The Kit – Off Off On
This Music Made Me: This Is The Kit
This Is The Kit – Moonshine Freeze