Sunday, 8 June 2014

Jo Quail: the fire beneath the cauldron

Greetings. I enjoy writing this blog for all kinds of reasons: it gives me the opportunity to 'think out loud' about art and music that interests me; I can keep a record for posterity of performances, exhibitions and experiences that have thrilled and excited me. But the single most exhilarating thing is to spread the word about people, artists and musicians I love.

Regular visitors here (thank you, darlings, thank you) will almost certainly recall Jo Quail's name, and the enthusiasm and admiration I have for her music. For those unfamiliar, a quick summary. Jo writes contemporary classical/folk pieces of originality and depth, designed for her to perform on her electric cello and loop station. At the same time, she is a fearless and innovative player, able to merge sublime melodies with unstoppable rhythms, equally comfortable with complex harmonies and freeform improvisation. On stage, this all comes to life as, solo, she gives one virtuoso performance after another. Co-ordinating hands on bow and cello with feet dancing across the loop pedals, she builds herself up in layers - gathering in elements of folk and electronica - until she becomes a one-woman chamber orchestra.

June is a red letter month for Jo and her fans. The new album, 'Caldera', is out on the 30th, with a launch gig in London a couple of days beforehand. (The amazing cover, by the way, was photographed and designed by Karolina Urbaniak - here's her website.) So, if you're yet to hear Jo's music, now is a perfect time to make that discovery. The album has already had a couple of, well, 'singles' released into society. To start with, watch this:

(video directed by Richard Wakefield of FX Media)

'Adder Stone' contains so much of what really fires me up about Jo's music - the bookending sections powering along with the drive of any rock record, the overlapping tunes developing into longer lines and circling back towards the bassline, and the tense magnetism of the ambient passage in the middle. (Plus, isn't it just a joy to watch? The matching earthy tones of the armour-like dress, church interior and the shore ... where the cello is seen merging with the sand and rock. Great stuff.)

And a live version of the track 'Laurus' is available to download from the Chaos Theory website - a little way down the homepage. (Chaos Theory are a terrific bunch, putting on events showcasing all kinds of underground and alternative artists, so have a good look around the site while you're there.) Here is a brilliant live video of 'Laurus' - not the same performance as the download - where the director, Michael Fletcher (see more of his work here) has done a fantastic job of showing the sheer skill and speed of Jo's hands and feet as the track takes off. I hope this prompts you to download your own copy of the track, because it is particularly special - recorded in a church acoustic, the clarity is exceptional, and spine-tingling moments like the descending run of notes (2.22 in this video), are more spellbinding in their beauty than ever.

If you're in London on Saturday 28 June, try and come to the album launch concert at the Islington. It will be an extraordinary night - the record live in its entirety, in an intimate venue. There are a limited number of tickets available, in two 'levels' - with a copy of the album - signed! - included (here), or 'admission only' (here). And if you can't make the concert, follow this link to Jo's website, to find out more and pre-order a copy of the album.

If I had unlimited funds and resources, Jo is one of the select group of musicians whose work I would press into the hands of everyone I met. Her music is original, powerful, seductive, soulful and inspiring. Seemingly founded in something ancient and classical, there is mystery, mischief and modernity layered over the top, resulting in a beautiful strange brew. Take it in.


  1. There's something of a paradigm shift while listening to the majestic aural landscapes that Ms Quail creates (or at least the snapshots I've heard) - they're uplifting and dynamic, but at the same time deeply subdued and melancholic. One of the interesting musical dynamics is the blurring of the boundaries between contemporary and classical genres by artists as diverse as Groenland, Highasakite and Verdigrls. Jo Quail approaches this from the opposite direction quite exquisitely..

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Steve - if you explore Jo's music further (and I hope you will!), I will be really interested to hear your reaction to some of the more meditative tracks, which I think take the balance you're describing even further. And you've given me three new artists to check out, too - so thank you again!

  2. Thanks for the pointer. This sort of thing is right up my musical strasse. Ms. Quail has all the qualities musos and non musos can dig in equal proportions.