Last Christmas, my then-boyfriend and I went for a wander around Kew Gardens. Somehow, after a day of looking at plants in the rain, we stumbled into their festive light display thing. It was mostly big lit up plastic flowers and lanterns dangling from branches, but near the start there was an installation of singing trees and it was magical. It was a bunch of big, evergreen trees, each with a coil of light around, and each with its own distinct voice emanating from it contributing to a wider piece of music, so walking between the trees was like walking through a beautiful choral corridor. You can watch a video here.
I’m aware it looks a bit naff – right – but at the time it was like a religious experience. I was holding my boyfriend’s hand, still a bit high on Christmas, and then totally high on the power of these strange, alien choral voices bursting through the night and just washing over us. We talked about it a lot, sang the little song to one another for a while afterwards, and it was like a reinforcement of our own happiness.
Recently, we broke up. In the aftermath of it, while there are still forlorn text messages back and forthing, I saw Verity Standen’s Mmm Hmmm. Like the singing trees, it is powerful, and the strength of voice somehow makes it feel like a similarly sacred experience. While the singing trees were a surprise in their beauty, Mmm Hmmm is surprising in its strength, as words about everyday life swell into melodies that raise you to emotional highs. As the three women slap rhythms on their bodies and belt out acapella, it feels tribal, like a ritual or the dance at the start of a rugby game. I wanted to be initiated. This is a group where your voice finds support from others, and where it is ok to eat a few biscuits or buy the big bag of chocolate buttons or sweat.
There are a few bits about love and about loveliness, but these are not the bits that stuck with me. I’m still struck by these three female voices, chanting the word ‘sorry’ as I have so often chanted it in the last few weeks, and singing me into saying it’s OK. This is women with power, and Mmm Hmmm offered me a bit of power, welcoming me into their tribe, flaws and all. I can be beautiful, too, and I can belt out and I can sweat and I can do it all with perfectly bouncy hair and I can have power, and that’s what I needed to be told right now.
Shoreditch Town Hall
A quick plug: I’m going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, to do some writing for this blog with @NICritics. They’re currently fundraising, so the accommodation can be a bit cheap, allowing independent critics to afford to go. It would be so lovely if you could donate. The Fringe is a big financial risk for companies, so I’m planning to pay for all tickets. The cheaper my accommodation is, the more money I can put back into the pockets of performers. See the IndieGoGo page here.