[2015.10.26] Tom Hollingworth, for NARC Magazine.
With the Midnight Doctors, Phil Begg pulls together some of the regions most interesting musicians and holds a truly unique orchestra in orbit. The first album collates an eclectic mix of instrumental grooves, atmospheres and samples; a seemingly arbitrary collage but each piece lights another up perfectly.
With each member of the extensive MD family committed to other projects and schedules, the self-titled debut record (released through alt.vinyl,) has been the remaining evidence of their existence since the first launch. There have been no further concerts, but quietly, Begg, along with a slightly altered line-up of musicians, has written another collection, and to the joy of those who had enjoyed MD’s music on record, but had yet to enjoy it live (myself included) the news of their follow-up LP, Through A Screen and Into A Hole’s launch upstairs at The Cumberland Arms was a ticket to jump on.
Sitting behind small, round tables just in front of the raised stage, Joe Murray (Posset / also a contributor to MD’s debut LP) humbly welcomes everyone to the evening and opens with his support set, routed in manipulated tapes sounds. Using several player/recorder devices, Murray pulls squeals and partial sounds and sentences from a range of cassettes, keeping the texture eternal as he inspects new combinations. The room is transfixed on his playfulness and echo the taped applause finishing his set.
Cath & Phil Tyler follow with a typically gorgeous and melodic set of songs. A variant of Fair Mary Of Wallington, with Phil Tyler’s crisp finger-picking and Cath Tyler’s straight and unpretentious lyrical unveiling, cracked a few hearts in the room. To append their set, the duo stepped down in front of the stage to join members of their weekly Sacred Harp society. Cath Tyler suggested we consider the following tunebook songs less as a performance, and more as part of a gathering, of which we are included. The powerful dominant intervals in the harmonies held strongly whilst their choir engaged a range of different voices. This elevating surprise in the night took emotions to a place that could now only be set free by the crowning celebration.
And so seven of the Midnight Doctors took the stage. Begg was strapped with an electric guitar, ready by his harmonium, which shone in the light. The set started with a new song, opening quietly with the pensive notes of John Pope’s bass. Throughout the set, Sean Cotterill and Niles Krieger voiced the violins stage right, whilst Christian Alderson sternly worked up strong punctuation from his drum kit at the back. Completing the line-up, Emily King and Faye MacCalman paired Alto and Tenor saxophones stage left. Though the sound of each piece was necessarily different from the recorded versions, the band remained dedicated to demonstrating a breadth of expression the self-titled LP has been celebrated for: from subtle melodies treading cautiously like toes in water, to explosive ricocheting blow-outs where all members vibrated as violently as their instruments. Mixing a set with pieces from their latest and original album (along with a few extras,) Midnight Doctors relished in the enjoyment of playing their music, sharing their music and the evening. Each member’s physicality and facial expressions were constantly reacting with the sounds. Big smiles donned their faces as they moved dramatically from the moments of light jazz skipping to the intense moments of chaos in new track Chump Change. In the restrained building of drones in Mount Analogue, these musicians harvested completely different moods and shared them with equal import.
The End Of The World Carnival Waltz, full of its grand Eastern-European flavour, finished with a climatic energy which communicated the end of the night naturally without the need for explanation. Begg reached for the microphone to praise each band member, but it slipped on the stand in front of him and out of his attempted grasp. He gestured to each instrumentalist, and tried to offer thanks off-mic but his words were dissolved under an ecstatic, and seemingly endless, applause from the audience. This rapture signified how lucky everyone felt to be present and a part of an important moment of community. The music of the Midnight Doctors had brought everyone along together.