Ruby Read

. Writer . Poet .



Don’t Just Sit and Listen.

I had a phone conversation with my dad last Sunday, I was feeling very low, small and useless. Distressed by my lack of ability to change things and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of our shifting political landscape here in the UK. We spoke about music and how it made both of us feel, immersing ourselves in it as a distraction but also drawing on it as a source empowerment. His advice was to listen to my emotional response to music and immerse myself in it. Use it as a cushion against the decisions made by the political elite in this country, but also as a tool for expression.

We are almost constantly listening to music, it surrounds us, just take a minute can you hear any music right now? What is it? How does it make you feel?


Stop, listen, feel. 


It could become ubiquitous, but it hasn’t (well not all of it). We just need to be reminded of the deep emotional and physical reactions music can provoke. How it can be an uplifting or crushing force.

Myself I can find music incredibly freeing and distracting as I tend not to think too much (well too deeply) whilst listening. I like to be moved by music, whether emotionally or physically. What prompted our discussion was a gig at the Barbican, Martinho de Vila, and the proof that samba is good for the soul, well my soul at least.


“Do whatever you want, but move in your seat”


The Barbican could have been an ill fit for samba. Music that makes you want to move and groove. But it turned out to be incredibly liberating. It started slowly and tentatively, like good sex, with Martinho teasing the audience with naked vocals gradually building the texture as slowly ‘the kitchen’ joined him on stage. Rapidly my gentle swaying became more erratic and enthusiastic taking over my entire body in my seat. Restricted, seated, but dancing. As Martinho belted out the old favourites his audience became more enthusiastic, couples leaving their seats to dance together, others swinging their limbs wildly. We erupted out of our seats.

It was my first experience of Martinho’s music and honestly I don’t want to stop listening. I might have to have him as a constant soundtrack to stop myself slipping into deeper blue water than I already have over the state of Britain and the decision to leave the EU. Samba can save me! Samba can save us all.

I would place a hefty bet that I was one of a smattering of non-Portuguese speakers. So I was almost completely lost during the in-between song chatter, relying entirely on my Brazilian friend Carla. But my lacking language skills did not prove a barrier to enjoyment and understanding of Martinho’s music. Music is a language unto itself. Carla reminded me that we listen to music with our whole bodies, not just our ears.


Listen with your body, not just your ears.


Music taps into your emotional intelligence, through the intonation and tonal quality of vocals, the timbre of instruments or the underlying beat and even in its silences. At risk of sounding a little bonkers, in this way music is truly tactile.

At the end of the set Carla revealed she knew one of the producers of the gig and we could go back stage and meet Martinho and ‘the kitchen’, if I wanted to. Of course I did. This was a first for me at a venue like the Barbican, I had a little explore of the area, which seemed like it hadn’t really left the early noughties. Meeting Martinho was like meeting a family member, one that strikingly reminds you of a small, reliable, well-loved teddy that’s slowly loosing fluff around the edges with a raspy but soft voice.  And his daughter, the pianist, had the most fantastic raspberry-red tights on and the biggest smile I think I have ever seen. I felt welcomed even though I had no idea who anyone was, but I guess the free beers helped.

My one recommendation to you. If you are feeling a bit down in the mouth pop on some Martinho de Vila and you will be grooving and beaming in no time!


Website is a little dated but the music is brill! –

Check it out –

The Coach House Company – Fiddling at the Forge.

The musicians gradually join their instruments on stage. Marianne Schofield – double bass, Maya Amin-Smith – violin, mandolin and guitar, Colin Danskin – trumpet, Patrick Milne – guitar and Héloïse Werner – cello. Formed in 2010 whilst studying at university this young group are quickly making a name for themselves on the British folk scene.

A seventeenth century tune about trees, a metaphor for human life, fills the hall. The mother in the song sings of her son – “death put an end to his growing”. As well as playing three instruments – mandolin, guitar and violin –Maya sings in wavering alto and despite her apparent youth brings maturity to the lyrics. Though the trees will long outgrow us.

A collected song – The Maid of Culmore – sinks you slowly into the depths of the sea. Rising with the chorus of voices you find yourself gasping for air, emotionally manipulated by the music. The Maid of Whitby washes this low mood away. The tale of a father and daughter deftly tricking sailors out of their money lifts the spirit, with the trumpet adding a perfect cheeky edge.

Searching the Cecil Sharp House archives they have stumbled across two songs. Erin’s Lovely Home in the Clive Kerry Collection and Blackbird, a Romani folk song. Sam Lee recently released a version of blackbird on his second album but this is different, almost right down to the lyrics. The cello mimics the flight of the blackbird and with a humming and crawling base give the song a sinister edge.

The Coach House Company take you on a journey reminding you of your mortality but keeping your head above the water.

The Omnibus provided an intimate space for this gig, close quarters in comfy chairs, listening to jazz. The perfect Sunday evening. Close enough to see the musicians flirt and communicate with one another, the wear on the double bass and the chinks on the piano keys.
 Tom Green along with Scott Chapman – drums, Misha Mullov-Abbado – double bass and Sam James – piano, slide effortlessly into their set. There is no clear beginning or end to this music, it just flows. Closing my eyes I can see a skyline changing as the music moves, conjuring scenes from dawn through to dusk. The members of the quartet are all in the septet and their new album Skyline is top of the ‘new jazz’ pile for me.
Green’s beautiful compositions from his Septet’s new album Skyline, that have been refined to work with just four musicians, do not lose their artistry. This is music that you won’t get tired of listening to. You are always able to find new facets and quirks.
The audience at the Omnibus were lucky, such intimacy is seldom achievable elsewhere. I will certainly be returning.
Check out Tom Green and Skyline for yourself here.
And if you fancy some music at the Omnibus.

Space at the Woodburner.

A new venue for the increasingly popular Woodburner live music events. The black underground space creates a claustrophobic sensation a contrast to their summer gigs at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, with its open sky and those at Chats Palace with its parquet flooring. Still the Courtyard Theatre makes its unique stamp! on this Woodburner gig.

Entering this new space there is a sense of confusion, some sitting, some standing. Gwennie and the Old Accord began an initially uncomfortable set. The acoustics of the Courtyard Theatre resulted in even the most hushed of conversations becoming a mounting cacophony, voices amplified and carrying further. Layered on this hubbub was the incessant hushing and shushing of disgruntled listeners.

Gwennie and the Old Accord wrestled with the confusion and noise. Battling an almost unruly audience that gradually succumbed to their pounding rhythms and chilling harmonies. They call to ear Mumford & Sons and the Fleet Foxes, the most mainstream of folk, but by no means fall into this ‘mainstream’ caption. A percussion effects pedal manipulated by the multitasking guitarist generates a thirst for movement encouraging you to run and never look back. Alongside this straightforward percussion was the more abstract. A cheese grater, bubble wrap, and ‘traditional’ instruments all worked in playful ways. Adding an element of humour and amazement.

Lending a french feel to the music is the accordion. I am reminded me of Les Négresses Vertes, who I listened to obsessively throughout my adolescence. Gwennie and the Old Accord also feel like a familial unit, a particularly successful one on producing varied and dynamic music with a steady constant core.

Have a listen, you’ll find yourself smiling:

Gwennie and the Old Accord.

Mumford & Sons

Fleet Foxes

Les Négresses Vertes

Also check out more about the Woodburner here :

You never know you might just stumble across the best thing since sliced bread!

Process in Progress, PJ Harvey.

A snap shot of  music production, a short forty-five minutes of what can sometimes seem an endless process. This is an alien environment to most visitors, few of which will have first hand experience. The set up serves to make the audience comfortable in the familiar white cube.
“I want it to operate as if we were an exhibition in an art gallery”  PJH
Entering the white cube or installation space. PJ sits in a goldfish bowl filled with an array of musical instruments. Four other musicians are present along with two sound techs. Furtively I sneak glances at people either side of me hoping to take cues form them on how to engage with this ‘art installation’. Because that is what it is. It doesn’t feel like music. It is sound exploration.
Along the rear wall there are ‘art works’ or artefacts/objects framed and illuminated. Scrawlings on paper, dashed out at a feverish pace. Notes on notes. These pages add more to the sense of witnessing a moving painting and the creation of art.
I wonder if they are aware of our presence. Despite having been told that they can neither hear nor see us we continue to move around stealthily in what has become a hallowed space. Creation happens here. We move like silent, unseen and unheard ghosts. There is a sense of experimentation here that has been forced to take the shape of something more familiar so as not to alarm.
I feel connected to the earth and toil listening to the soundscape. There is a heavy tribal reference in the repetitive and circular sound being created by them. Deep and guttural. Using the most basic instrument, the voice, makes the music accessible, not needing to have specific musical training. I join in under my breath, so as not to be hushed by the silent mass around me. The rhythmic circulation is infectious.
PJ’s experiment serves to widen understanding of the collaborative nature of music production, groups of cogs whirring together in a machine, without the smallest, seemingly insignificant cog, it would be unsuccessful.
Art and music are inextricably linked in this “piece”. A very unique experience, if you had the chance I hope you took it.

By Lantern Light

Reminded of my mortality and unnerved, I shift awkwardly on the bench. Forced to think about things I would rather not. Painful and occasionally embarrassing flash backs flitter across my eyes with the candle light. Memories of things lost, not yet begun, of lives cut short. Heated panic rushes up my back, a multisensory response to the music of The Magic Lantern.

Warmed by lyrics that draw attention to core values; friendship, love, giving, family, and by light phrases on the guitar I become distracted from my now comfortable melancholic state. The venue, Tripspace in Hackney, is crowded, adding to the intimacy of the set as Jamie Doe effortlessly builds a merry rapport with his audience.

Becoming absorbed by the music I hardly notice the thundering of trains overhead and the incessant whir of the air conditioning units. These sounds along with the music lull me into a meditative state. In my almost overwhelmingly melancholic response, I feel the closeness of the space and the flickering lantern light. It amazes me how much Jamie can achieve with just a guitar and vocals.

Check out the lantern for yourself here:


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