Last weekend was the annual Open House in London. Over 700 buildings and spaces were made available to the general public, with free access to some that are normally limited to their owners or occupants and guided tours by architects, historians, or people closely involved with the spaces. One such space I visited was the Hothouse in London Fields, Hackney. Hothouse will be highlighted in another post because it is its tenant and one of its products that feature today.
The Hothouse is home to Free Form, a non-for-profit organisation whose tagline is “making artwork for the environment”. Operating as a registered charity, Free Form provides services including the provision and commission of public art, regeneration projects, solutions for creating safer communities and public spaces, manufacture and use of recycled glass through its Green Bottle Unit, training and learning programmes, and workspace within Hothouse for artists and designers. One of such example of Free Form’s art in the public realm is a seating and performance space in Bishops Square, Spitalfields, E1 in East London. Bishops Square is Hammerson’s office building development on the site straddled on the west by the City and on the east by Spitalfields, East London. The forecourt in front of the office buildings is a leafy, open public right of way with raised green grassy patches, a rectangular pond-like water feature (complete with beautiful lilies and lily pads), reinforced glass floors revealing the archaeological history beneath the site, and sheltering the seating and performance space – a triangular sail-like pavilion. Two half circle benches for seating under the pavilion are illuminated by an inner and outer circle of 48 recycled glass inlaid roundels, which are lit by fibre optics and linked to a colour wheel. The lights change from blue to green, illuminating the space.
Yesterday, I witnessed something pretty special and unique taking place in this performance area. It was a fabulously sunny Sunday, probably one of the last sunny days of the English summer. Bishops Square, as well as Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, and the Truman Brewery, was filled with people. They were gathered around a band, as the musicians set-up and tuned their instruments. My boyfriend, Colm and I sat down to have a break from our market browsing, but leapt to our feet as the band opened with a rather sexy deep bassline. I stood on the stone kerb on which we had been sitting to get a better look. Five musicians were positioned under the pavilion – two drummers, an electric bassist, a double bassist, and a saxophonist.
I had not seen a band configuration like this before and they had my attention. They sounded great, interesting, sexy, and slick. We walked up closer and around the performance area looking for a banner, sign, CDs for sale, anything that would give a clue as to who this band was, but there was nothing. I posed the following question to Colm – “why is it that we are sure to be told the names, addresses, and birthdays of the crappest bands, yet there is nothing to tell us who this great band is?” His response was “because they don’t need to make money”. Not exactly right. Instead I found out that the true answer was that anyone who knew anything about the local jazz scene, knew who these guys were. I went up to a guy in a white T-shirt perched on one of the boxes behind the sound engineer and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, who are these guys?” I asked him. Over the loud and resonating bass and drums (double dose of each no less!) he told me that one of the drummers was from a band called Polar Bear, there were also members of Led Bib, and he told me the name of the saxophonist – Jan, but I couldn’t quite catch the surname. He informed me that the five musicians were improvising. At the end of the piece, the drummer (not the one from Polar Bear) got on his microphone and thanked everyone for listening. He introduced the band and mentioned that it was the first time they had played together as a unit. I certainly hoped it wouldn’t be the last time. Back at the flat, Colm looked up Polar Bear and found Seb Rochford’s name and image on the internet. I looked up Led Bib and found out it was led by its drummer, Mark Holub. With help from the wonder and power of the internet, I was led to Jan Kopinski’s myspace blog.
The quintet was comprised of drum and bass team from Polar Bear – Seb Rochford and Tom Herbert, the drummer and bassist from Led Bib – Mark Holub and Liran Donin, and Jan Kopinski on saxophone. Together, announced Jan’s blog, they were Mustard Pie. Both Polar Bear and Led Bib were Mercury Music Award nominees, in 2005 and 2009, respectively and deservedly so it would appear. I was fortunate enough to experience something very unique – it was creative, dynamic, and incredibly cohesive for five artists collaborating for the first time. The music and sounds, the interwoven chords, riffs, and musical patterns were talent and musicianship in its rawest form. I was in awe and I was inspired.
To say that it felt like a magical place to be is no exaggeration. It was a public space used to its greatest capacity. Art and music together in the public realm, for everyone and anyone to enjoy free of charge.