Guests of the Month May 2012: Ben Nicholls and Andy Mellon
Ben Nicholls and Andy Mellon have been musicians in residence at London Zoo for several months. Together with Booker prize winning author DBC Pierre, they are creating a new work of music which will be unveiled this summer. They have chosen to focus on the Axolotl, an endangered mexican amphibian.
We caught up with them to find out what they’re up to and what they’re listening to.
On the London Zoo Residency
BN It’s a very interesting project to be working on, bringing together musicians, a writer and a zoo. I think it’s forced us all to re-look at the way we collaborate as artists and incorporate ideas into our work. As a musician, there are not many opportunities to work with animals! Although animals have often been the inspiration of musical works.
AM I’m really excited to be able to collaborate with Ben Nicholls and DBC Pierre on this new work. The London Zoo residency has afforded us the opportunity to really explore the relationships between the keepers and their animals and to get some real insights into the plights and needs of many of the creatures.
Why choose to focus on the Axolotl?
BN The axolotl is a very strange animal. I first remember them from science labs when I was at school, hovering around in the corner of fishtanks. I never really gave them a second thought at the time, but the more you learn about them, the more intriguing they become. They are permanent adolescents as they never reach their adult state, significant perhaps for musicians and a writer! In the wild they only exist in a few lakes around Mexico City, these evolutionarily bizarre creatures watching the world changing around them, whilst they try to get on with life. I’ve always been interested in the music and photography of Mexico, so it’s great to be working with some residents of the area.
AM The axolotl is an incredible creature. I am particularly taken with its ability to re-grow its limbs when injured. Also, the axolotl’s face seems so full of character, which makes it easy to relate to it and personify, making the creation this new work a far more personal journey.
How do you feel about the upcoming Natural History Museum performance?
BN It’s the perfect venue to be performing the piece in. Ever since I was a small child and went there for the first time, it’s held this feeling of awe. It’s never really gone away. I think that can only add to the performance from the players and audiences view point, particularly with the nature of the piece. The Darwin Centre Atrium is just an incredible space as well.
AM The Natural History Museum is such an amazing space to be able to perform in. It is not only an incredibly iconic building but this is the first time a musical performance has taken place in the Darwin Centre Atrium which is a huge honour.
We asked Andy what’s been on his playlist recently –
I came across his music at the Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre recently. His Sarod playing is so masterful and compelling and his recent performance in the Purcell Room was utterly spellbinding.
The fusion-styled covers from this Swedish trio put a huge smile on my face. They play with great virtuosity but also good humour!
An ensemble made up of some of London’s finest Brass players. Their new record “Under the Spell of Spain” has some amazing playing on and some cracking arrangements
Gameshow Outpatient aka Matt Rogers
I’ve known about Matt’s music for a few years and recently went to a production of “The Trial of Dennis the Menace” that he had written the score for. It was great fun and re-introduced me to his quirky genius!
And on Ben’s playlist –
I saw him at a gig in Oxford, great guitar playing, singing and songs. Total noir! A massive halo of reverb and trem from one man. His recent album ‘The Wayfarer’ is brilliant as well.
Ben Hillier was producing the last Dennis Hopper Choppers album and he was working on and album with Nadine at the same time. I got roped in to play on some tracks. Her voice is incredible with these minimally shifting, sonic soundscapes behind it. I think she has an album coming out soon.
I was playing at the Fairbridge Folk festival in Australia recently and ran into Canadian Leonard. He lent me a banjo and I checked out what he was doing. Truly great clawhammer playing. I think he’s been in the UK recently with The Cecil Sharp Project.
Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman
I’ve know these two for a while and they’ve just finished a new album, having been off the scene for a while. Definitely one to look out for later in the year.