BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Reviewfor-the-full-flickr-of-pics-click-here-sfwfollow-birmingham-review-on-300x26facebook-f-square-rounded-with-colour-5cm-hightwitter-t-square-rounded-with-colour-5cm-highinstagram-logo-webcolours-rgb



Words by Ed King / Pics by Michelle Martin

I am unfashionably late. It’s a Friday, at the sharp end of January, and Emulsion has brought its fifth annual showcase to mac in Birmingham. It’s also five minutes to six and I’ve missed the first event – a curiously nondescript ‘panel discussion’.BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

But with White Rabbit enthusiasm I am throwing myself down (what’s left and what’s explained of) this half day programme – chocked to the Conservatoire gills with both ‘Pop Ups’ and staged performances.

Even as I arrive I hear music, eventually finding it nestled in the alcove between the Arena Bar and mac’s downstairs gallery; a small man plucks a double bass, accompanied by a tall blonde operatic singer. Unamplified and confident. We are immediately surrounded by music. Plus I warm to anything that makes me feel like I’m in a David Lynch film.

The Hans Koller Quartet is playing in… two and half minutes, oh my ears and whiskers, and I make my way into an emptier mac Theatre than I’d have hoped. (I’ve promoted events since I was seventeen and I know the difficulties in dragging out a Birmingham audience. But with Emulsion’s strong tie to Birmingham Conservatoire I would have expected a few more scholarly bums on seats.)

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham ReviewJoe Wright sits at the front right of a busy yet empty stage, in front of an infantry of mic and music sheet stands. Wright is alone and playing his sax across his lap, distorted though a maze of wires and speakers I don’t fully understand. Again it’s a brave exploration – a creative use of a player’s well known instrument, with Wright firmly engrossed in teasing out the sounds and masked melodies through a variety of techniques and intrusions. But beyond that I’m a little lost. As are both the children to my left and the older man I talk to in the Arena Bar afterwards.

A simple introduction to Wright’s performance (which would continue before the second show) might have helped ‘different audiences’ find this ‘exciting not daunting.’ And I don’t buy the premise that it’s weak to say I don’t understand, or that as the audience are mostly from Birmingham Conservatoire why should the organisers try to engage with anyone else – as someone suggested. The emperor is just a rich fool with his knob out and I’m too old for bullies, no matter how they throw their punches.

(I would later catch up with Joe Wright; a kindly human who would elaborate on his aim to “not just play the instrument, but to be part of something it plays through me”. He was clear and effusive. I am paraphrasing and a sucker for context. I think I see a way out of this…)BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Eventually Fiona Talkington and Trish Clowes take to the stage, giving thanks to Joe Wright, the audience and a litany of funders/partners that have helped Emulsion become a reality. Boxes get ticked as if there was an election brewing.

Set up by Trish Clowes back in 2012, and now run along with Tom Harrison, Emulsion has to date generated several new commissions and held annual showcase events each year since inception. It’s a formidable vehicle, championing the diversity and power of contemporary classical and jazz composers and musicians; a cross section of genres Birmingham is blessed with. Plus this year’s event, Emulsion V, is being broadcast across BBC 3’s Late Junction, Hear & Now and Jazz Now programmes – hence Fiona Talkington. This is a significant score, in media terms, and generates an almost garrulous excitement about where this event could go next. But in a word, kudos.

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham ReviewTrish Clowes introduces the Hans Koller Quartet, with John O’Gallagher taking both the literal and figurative centre stage. Percy Pursglove picks up his first instrument of the day, a double bass, as Jeff Williams slides in behind his drum kit – shoulders, wrists and brushes at the ready. The eponymous band leader sits behind a beautiful Bösendorfer concert grand piano, as I try to think of a Thomas Crown caper that could get the beast into my living room. I’m also a sucker for ivory.

Playing “three arrangements by John” then three pieces from the quartet itself, the alto saxophonist takes an almost immediate lead – ushered along with firm bass, brushed percussion and soft keys. A moderate piano walks us out of the first movement, as the sax take our other hand and pulls us excitedly into the second. The ensemble reaches a crescendo then steps back as Williams sends soft rolls falling like rain on sloping glass, whilst Hans and his hot footed spiders dance forward to take us into the third movement.

The Quartet originals follow a similar play, with the baton being passed between Koller and O’Gallagher, as Pursglove and Williams keep it moving like a John Travolta strut or a James Bond tuxedo. It’s all excellent, but I could watch the double bass and drums for the rest of the day; as the third and final piece steps up the pace we get a Williams solo that makes me want to laugh with pleasure.BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Back into the bar, as an absurdly long and well mannered queue discuss the events of the day. So far. It’s a short turnaround until the next performance – a showcase of Trish Clowes’ new album, My Iris, by the event organiser herself. More Birmingham Conservatoire students are playing, both in the Arena Bar and the aforementioned alcove, but little is done to send us their way. It feels a touch awkward and ancillary, with most polite chatter finding somewhere out of earshot to stand.

The bell rings. Round Two. Trish Clowes, on saxophone, is joined by Chris Montague on guitar, Ross Stanley on piano/Hammond organ and James Maddren on drums. The stage is set for the Birmingham showcase of My Iris, which the ensemble has been touring since its launch at Pizza Express on Dean Street earlier in the month. Ah, Dean Street… with all your parallel and perpendicular wonders. Moseley doesn’t stand a chance.

Opening with ‘One Hour’, a salute to the “extra dreaming time” you get when the clocks go back, an ambient cloud breaks with Clowes’ (I think…) soprano sax, before a guitar fueled jazz rhythm makes it across stage to the frenetic fingers at the Bösendorfer. Immediate and engaging. Next up is ‘Blue Calm’, which opens with a playful sax and brushed percussion, before dropping back into a small ivory dream and, finally, a clearer sax led state of mind.

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review‘I Can’t Find My Other Brush’ opens with a punchy staccato, whilst ‘In Between the Moss & Ivy’ follows with a stripped back, softer pace, before squeezing out a cadenza from the soprano sax, a guitar led lullaby, then giving away completely to the concert piano. All eyes, on stage and off, turn to Ross Stanley. The set pretty much mirrors the My Iris track list, with only ‘A Cat Called Behemoth’ getting nudged – allowing the remaining two album tracks to be played later by the Emulsion Sinfonietta.

By the close of the set I am in creative awe. It’s simply that good. Trish Clowes is ambitious, composed, multi-talented and magnanimous – with her fourth album being showcased in front of me. An eclectic with unflinching vision; in both her music and her patter, Clowes is arguably the embodiment of the principles Emulsion was formed to uphold. Which, in less purple prose, is probably why she set it up.

More coffee, a thick chocolate slab, and even a beer – for (by my watch) it was a respectable time to start drinking at the end of the first performance. The Arena Bar and mac foyer is a bustle of enthusiasm, with music again being played at one end or another. I don’t know who’s on or where, but I’m irritated at myself for not spending more time in front of the Birmingham Conservatoire students who have been providing the ‘Pop-Ups’. Peter Bell has been walking around with the threat of performance in his eyes and he’s always worth checking out.BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Back in for the last hurrah, as the Emulsion Sinfonietta cradles the front of the stage in a proud semi circle. The army advances. Roll Call: Trish Clowes (saxophones), Chris Montague (guitar), Ross Stanley (piano/Hammond organ), Calum Gorlay (bass), Rachel Lander (cello), James Maddren (drums), Percy Pursglove (trumpet), Hans Koller (euphonium), Anna Olsson (violin), Melinda Maxwell (oboe/cor anglais), Max Wellford (clarinets).

The Sinfonietta is the ‘happy byproduct of several Emulsion festivals’ and includes ‘a colouful line up’ of previous performers, collaborators or peers. Tonight they are performing a selection of pieces from guest composers, including Iain Ballamy, Hans Koller, Percy Pursglove, Anna Olsson, Bobbie Gardner, Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian and Joe Cutler – opening with ‘Beamish’, where Chris Montague’s relentless guitar underpins a beautiful cello lead from Rachel Lander.

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham ReviewNext is an original composition from violinist, Anna Olsson – a recent Birmingham Conservatoire graduate and cake maker. Even amidst my fervent note taking I miss the title of this piece, but its small frenetic pockets, blanketed by a lullaby of stings and keys, is one of the most beautiful moments of the evening. I am not classically trained. I am not a musician. I was brought into this world by Erik Satie, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. But I have a head and a heart, alongside a deep rooted love for the right combination of ivory and bow. And I simply stopped writing.

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian presents ‘Muted Lines’ next, a new commission from the London Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence. Exploring the themes of migration and forced exile, a topic with absurd pertinence, the piece was also constructed to help Trish Clowes progress her vocals – as she sings, at one point a capella, during the performance. ‘Muted Lines’ is well comprised, restrained, yet unabashed and melodic; even to a lay person you can feel confidence of the composition, caressed by saxophone and cradled by percussion.

Bobbie Gardner, another Conservatoire post graduate, has her work performed next – delivered in partnerships of staccato and dissonance, like half an orchestra falling down a spiral staircase. Before Joe Cutler presents his award BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Reviewwinning composition – ‘Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder’. Percy Pursglove’s despondently titled ‘He Whose Dreams Will Never Unfold’ sets up the final triptych, followed by Han Koller’s ‘Happy Mountain’ and a piece from Iain Ballamy.

Emulsion V ends as it was presented, without fanfare or fuss and quickly to the bar. It has been an exceptional evening, with challenges and comfort zones thrown around a programme of rich talent and diversity. Trish Clowes’ original endeavour – namely a cross genre celebration and a place to nurture new work – was alive and well on stage tonight, flying past so simply that Derren Brown may have been working the lights. Five hours has seldom seemed so short.

My one gripe is that not more people were there to see it. Birmingham has a lustrous bed of talent, with home spun composers working to evolve an exciting musical landscape, and showcases need to be seen. Emulsion isn’t the only one, there are other events – independently organised or institute affiliated. But us, the audience, the ticket buying public, it takes all of us to make this wheel turn fully.

Oh, and all that stuff about introducing Joe Wright…. Left alone to fend for his creative honour with nothing but feedback and blank faces. Poor bastard. Still, he seemed happy enough. And I guess heated discussions have to start somewhere.

For more on Emulsion Festival, visit


For more from Trish Clowes, visit

For more from Tom Harrison, visit

For more from mac, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit





BPREVIEW: Emulsion Festival V @ mac 27.01.17

BPREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17




Words by Ed King / Pic by Dannie Price

On Friday 27th January, Emulsion Festival comes to Birmingham – hosting its fifth event at mac, taking over the art centre’s Theatre and various public spaces.Birmingham Preview

Events start at 4:30pm with a free to attend panel discussion in mac’s Arena Bar. Emulsion Festival V will further present a series of live music and ensemble shows, some free and some ticketed, with the last performance from the Emulsion Sinfonietta held in the mac Theatre between 9-10pm.

A full festival pass will cost £15 (with concessions available) and can be bought via the mac booking office. For direct venue information and online ticket sales, click here.

Representing more than just an annual event, Emulsion was formed by saxophonist, Trish Clowes, back in 2012. A place to celebrate musicians from both the contemporary Jazz and contemporary Classical genres, this new creative nest aimed to nurture ideas, support projects, explore platforms for performance and bring ‘together different audiences’ to ‘challenge one’s expectations’ and show them first hand ‘how exploring and listening to new music is exciting not daunting.’

Holding its first ‘mini festival’ in May 2012, at London’s listening Vortex Jazz Club, Emulsion I premiered four new compositions from Iain Ballamy (The Man Who Knew Just Enough), Luke Styles (Chasing the Nose), Rory Simmons (Charcoal Fingers and Rusty Tongues) and founder, Trish Clowes (A moment).

BPREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17In the subsequent years Emulsion would evolve into wider showcases, workshops and even a four day residency at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2015. New commissions have also been ‘central to Emulsion projects’, with the organisation seeing a series of new compositions become a reality across its five year tenure. For a wider list on new commissions from Emulsion, click here.

Now in 2017, Emulsion hosts its first festival event in Birmingham – bringing a day long showcase to mac, with free pop up performances from Birmingham Conservatoire students alongside ticketed events from some of today’s well respected musicians and composers.

Recipient of the 2016 BASCA British Composer Award for Contemporary Jazz Composition, Joe Cutler, will be showcasing his winning composition – Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder. Whilst two nominees for the 2017 Arts Foundation Award for Jazz Composition appear heavily on the bill, Percy Pursglove and Chris Montague, as well as new work from renowned UK composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian – the inaugural composer-in-residence for the National Trust/London Symphony Orchestra’s Khadambi’s House initiative.

There will be further new work premiered from two celebrated Birmingham Conservatoire graduates, Anna Maria Olsson and Bobbie Gardener – both performed with the Emulsion Sinfonietta. Emulsion founder, Trish Clowes, will also be performing the Birmingham debut of her new album, My Iris, as part of the event.

Emulsion Festival V will be hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter Fiona Talkington, to be nationally broadcast on the station’s Hear & Now and Jazz Now programmes.

Emulsion Sinonietta – extracts

Emulsion Festival V comes to mac on Friday 27th January – running from 4:30 to 10pm. For direct event info and online tickets sales, click here.

For more on Emulsion Festival, visit www.emulsionmusic.orgmac-birmingham


For more from Trish Clowes, visit

For more from Tom Harrison, visit

For more from mac, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit


BPREVIEW: Behind the Curtain Film Festival @ various 18-27.11.16

Behind the Curtain Film Festival @ various 18-27.11.16

Words by Ed King

On Friday 18th November, the Behind the Curtain Film Festival opens at Centrala Café & Gallery in Minerva Works.

Running for ten days at venues across the city, this is the 3rd installment of the annual event – celebrating and showcasing ‘the spirit of the best of Eastern European cinema and culture through Film, Music, Discussions and Workshops.’birm_prev-logo-main-lr

Presenting ‘17 full-length and short films from 12 countries, like Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia’, alongside a series of supporting events, the Behind the Curtain Film Festival is organised by the Polish Expats Association (PEA).

With a strong undercurrent of art, music, food and drink, Behind the Curtain presents more than just a straight film festival – wrapping itself in a kaleidoscope of cultures from Central and Eastern Europe. You’ve seen the film, now try the pastry. Sounds good to us.

Times and admission prices to each aspect of the 10 day programme will vary, but we couldn’t find anything that broke the £10 barrier (even with free cake). Below are a handful of potential highlights from this year’s Behind the Curtain, but for the full festival programme – including times, locations and prices for each screening or event, click here.


Behind the Curtain Film Festival - launch invitationBehind the Curtain Launch @ Centrala 18.11.16

Loads going on. Centrala has an intimate feel to it at the best of times, but my spidey sense tell me the launch of Behind the Curtain will be a cultural love-in of the most endearing order.  With the aforementioned free cake… thank you The Polish Bakery.

Plus the evening is full of music from Birmingham Conservatoire, including the ‘young open minded  undergraduate’ violin quartet Cracovia, the Ajde Trio playing Balkan and Klezmer folk, as well as accordionist, vocalist and composer, Pawel Zaba, singing a selection of Polish songs. There’s also a special presentation of Earth Is Flat – ‘a visual and musical experiment that mixes trippy melodies, broken beats and deep bass wrapped up in never ending ideas.’

Tasters of the festival’s wider film programme will be screened, alongside a special tribute to Polish film and theatre director, Andrzej Wajda – the Academy and Palme d’Or recognised film maker behind internationally revered titles including Kanal (1956), The Promised Land (1975), Mon of Marble (1977), Man of Iron (1981), and Katyń (2007).

Running from 7pm to 11pm on Friday 18th November, entry to the Behind the Curtain Film Festival launch event is free. For direct info click here.


United Sates of Love / Zjednoczone Stany Miłości @ mac 25.11.16

Set in the middle of Poland’s transition from the People’s to the Third Republic, amidst the ‘breaking’ of the Eastern Bloc, United Sates of Love / Zjednoczone Stany Miłości tells the story of four women as they battle with their frustrations, obsessions and individual interpretations of intimacy and love.

Dark, off beat and visceral, United Sates of Love / Zjednoczone Stany Miłości was selected for the Golden Bear Award for Best Film at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival. Although losing out to Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea, Tomasz Wasilewski’s third feature film did take the Silver Bear Award for Best Script back from Berlin – receiving international acclaim for the young Polish film maker on his way home.

Screening at mac at 8pm on Friday 25th November, United Sates of Love / Zjednoczone Stany Miłości is rated certificate 15. For direct info and online ticket sales, click here.


Son of Saul @ mac 27.11.16

A directorial debut, Son of Saul is the story of one man’s determination/obsession to bury the body of a young Jewish boy in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Saul Ausländer, played by Géza Röhrig, is a Hungarian Jew and member of the Sonderkommando work force at Aushwitz – one of the teams of prisoners forced to clear away the bodies, and valuables, from the gas chambers. Exploring morality, camaraderie, family, fear, hope, and the absurd battle for survival amidst the horrors of Hitler’s Final Solution, Son of Saul is a brutal look at the nightmare reality that destroyed countless of lives in Poland and beyond.

The first feature length film from Hungarian director László Nemes, who is currently working on his follow up (working tile Sunset) – Son of Saul won the Grand Prix, FIPRESCI Competition Award and François Chalais Prize at Cannes 2015. Son of Saul was further awarded the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film (2015), Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film (2015) and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (2016). Kind of a ‘must see’, even if it hurts to watch.

Screening at mac on Sunday 27th November, Son of Saul is rated certificate 15. For direct info and online ticket sales, click here.


On Friday 18th November, the Behind the Curtain Film Festival opens at Centrala Café & Gallery in Minerva Works – with a programme of film, music, discussions and workshops being held in venues across the city until Sunday 27th November. For direct programme info and online ticket sales, click here.


For more on Behind the Curtain Film Festival, visit

For more from Centrala, visit

For more from the Polish Expats Association/Barka, visit