Supersonic Kids Gig – Festival Special – Shovel Dance Collective – Anna Palmer – Symphony Hall Birmingham – 2nd September 2023
‘Created by the UK’s premiere experimental music festival, Supersonic Kids Gigs are designed for families as a way of introducing children to experimental music – BIG sounds for little people!’ This time it’s a Festival special, which means that I’m driving to and from Birmingham at least twice today.. Shovel Dance Collective are ‘a group of nine musicians brought together by a communal passion for the folk music of the British Isles, Ireland and beyond.’ and the event is compered by the irrepressible Anna Palmer, billed as ‘everyone’s favourite alt-rocker and pyschy-storyteller’ I’m here with two kids today, and a grown up, read what we thought below.
My daughter and Granddaughter are in the back of the car having a discussion about Harry Potter, my friend is in the front of the car and we are talking absolute drivel about everything and anything. We had to drive on account of the train strike. We get to the room as they let everyone in and sit as Anna walks around saying hello to everyone. It is the most relaxed and welcoming atmosphere at a gig you will ever see. Kids are escaping from their parents, toddlers wobbling around and others sitting and waiting quietly.
My daughter knows what happens by now, we’ve not missed any since before lockdown but this is the first time for my Granddaughter who is older than her and curious about what’s going to happen.
Anna, resplendent in slashes of colour across her outfit, starts proceedings with the Experimental Disco Party and then laughs at the parents’ faces as they freeze into the silliest expressions that they can make. She then gets the children and parents to be animals, they have to stay still until the bear goes past and then become bears, then Ravens, then warthogs, Anna engages the children totally, she’s intuitive as to which children are joining in and others that are more comfortable sitting and watching and they all get her attention. She creates a world for them to explore and immerses herself into it completely. It is wonderful to watch, they really do adore her.
The whole dancefloor is now full of children and parents dancing as their favourite animal to jazz, it’s wonderful. Anna now asks if we have heard of a mosh pit? Sniggering and mentioning health and safety nightmare. She instructs everyone to make a circle and then when the music starts to run into the middle and go bonkers… making particular care to mention not headbutting anyone. The resulting melee is brilliantly chaotic.
Once everyone has caught their breath and calmed down Anna introduces the band, telling the children to do what’s comfortable, sit and watch, dance, just express yourselves.
The Shovel Dance Collective are seven people and they sing a song from Ghana acapella, there are loads of instruments but the start is just their voices which is too much for my daughter, too intense I think so she moves to the seats at the back, that’s the thing with the kids gigs, kids can move away and then come forward again, there’s no pressure to do anything, just to experience the music.
They introduce themselves and tell the audience that folk music is nursery rhymes for adults, then sing a song about a herring and get the kids to shout out body parts along with the song. The instruments are then introduced, a water euphonium which they put bubbles in that the poor guy has to wipe away and blow off every time he plays, a drum, harp, banjo and a preacher’s organ that is around eighty years old. Finally he shows us his guitar which he describes as boring. They play all together now and my daughter slowly gets into the sound, a trombone plays softly as Anna encourages people to move around to the music.
The next couple of songs come from Newcastle and Portsmouth, having just spent nearly a week in Newcastle it resonated with us, drums and guitar played alongside echoes of the past, it’s upbeat with a high vocal as the trombone joins in the sound is rounder and soothing, the Portsmouth song has a rougher vocal and echoes the sea, almost a shanty.
Anna comes on again and the Experimental Disco Party goes into the Little Beat, which, when she drops it, is chased around by children. She stops, looks up and says, with a grin, ‘Has anyone heard of kazoos?’ laughs and then ‘It’s another level of hell..’
The pot of kazoos is distributed with the least amount of chaos available and eventually when the kids have all settled and instructions on when and how hard to blow have been instructed, the song is a sea song and the kazoos make the up and down sound of the waves, its waltzlike and has humour and warmth. Then the kazoos start and it’s utter chaos. Anna calms the children down and gets them to wait with kazoos poised. The next piece of music uses the kazoos as a bug orchestra and the kids go up to the microphone so their bugs can be heard, the organ is playing and the chap sings an Ivor Cutler song.
Anna then tells everyone they can have twenty seconds of blowing kazoos as hard as you want then you have to give them back to your adult.. Belatedly asking if the children can keep the kazoos.. The resulting noise, joined in with by all the instruments, rivals an Ornette Coleman free jazz record and if anyone recorded it could easily get a record deal.
Anna sings a calming down song, the children are still, she has them in the palm of her hand. Honestly, they hang on her every word.
Shovel Dance Collective play along with Anna, who plays another Ivor Cutler song and changes the words from Women of the world take over to Children of the world take over.. Then realises that the next line says that the world will end and pops in a ‘not literally’ the song is a gentle, shiny delicate spun bit of cobweb and is beautifully delivered.
The children are calm and relaxed and as the music gets lower, the gig finishes.
An excellent kids gig and an introduction to small people of the wealth of music out there, the children know it’s for them and love it. My daughter always asks who’s playing and then adds ‘And Anna?’ because as long as Anna is there, the children know that it is their space, their time and adults are only there because they let them come.
Anna Palmer’s brilliant Supersonic Kids album is on Bandcamp.
All words by Adrian Bloxham.