The inspiration for Flit – a highly inventive, inspired animation and music live show – came from when Martin Green was recording his 88-year old grandmother reminiscing about her life. Picking up on her stories about fleeing Austria in the 1930s – his family were Jewish refugees in that country – Green, accordionist, electronic experimentalist and one third of the folk trio Lau and a man who is no stranger to the word innovation, began to develop his concept of migration.
As the tales of the displacement of various people from all around the world began to emerge – from the Shetland Islands to southwest Asia – so too did Green’s vision gather momentum. He harnessed the many and varied musical talents of several individuals, including the songwriters Anaïs Mitchell, Karine Polwart, Aidan Moffat of the highly influential Scots indie rock band Arab Strap and Sandy Wright who then translated these very human stories into song lyrics.
Martin Green also recruited fellow musicians Becky Unthank (from the celebrated Northumbrian folk band The Unthanks) and the young singer-songwriter and rising Portobello star Adam Holmes on vocals, plus Mogwai’s Dominic Aitchison on bass guitar and the Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley. All four collaborated with Green on the album Flit (released earlier this month) and appear together on the Howard Assembly Room stage tonight.
Yet this musical aspect only tells you part of the Flit story. With a view to recreating these recordings in a live performance environment, and having been attracted to them by what he describes as their “humanity and DIY gorgeousness”, Martin Green approached the Bafta-winning animators Whiterobot. This creative partnership of Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson then devised what is a quite staggering set design out of brown packaging paper. Their source material – presented here in a huge backdrop that resembles a mountain range, against which a series of animated birds and creatures (often transmuting into one another) are projected – symbolises transience and an all-enveloping sense of movement.
The end result – an immeasurably fluid feast for the eyes and ears – is astonishing. For over an hour the audience are immersed in a figurative sea of human expression. As the stories of identity, belonging, genetic connections and enforced evacuations unravel before us, we are transported into some faraway mythical lands. Yet for all of their visual obscurity, these places to where we travel all become uncomfortably familiar. The plight of very one of those vulnerable young refugees in Calais who are fleeing their own personal horrors – to cite but one modern example – must surely be in many people’s minds tonight.
These disturbing images are lent an even greater weight by the immense sound that accompanies them. Green’s score is a great amalgam of folk and electronic music over which Unthank and Holmes’ contrasting voices beautifully dovetail. Much of Flit’s nascent sound had been developed in Adrian Utley’s studio in Bristol and the influence of the Portishead guitarist can be heard in some of the darker, more dense fabric of several of these songs. There are also numerous touches of Green’s imaginative, experimental virtuosity as he alternates between his accordion, expressive narrative links and a musical contraption that resembles a harp, as well as the sight of Adam Holmes playing what would appear to be a bookshelf with lots of saws on it.
Yet for all of these many moments of individual brilliance, Flit’s undeniable success lies in its firm collaborative grasp. It is a most thoughtful, compassionate and poignant work of collective art that is built upon the firm principle of partnership and a shared belief in the strength of the human spirit to survive against all odds.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE