Warren Ellis

warrenWarren Ellis is, for me, simply one of the finest musicians around.  It’s easy to talk about the finest, the best, the most anything without really discussing what that means, as often it’s about personal taste and subjective response more than anything – and I freely admit that this has to be the case here too, on one level.  I love his music, I love how he plays and how he writes music, and the persona that comes through his performances, and so I think he’s one of the finest…and subjective response is always a factor in even the most serious attempt to be objectively analytical about any kind of art.  Art, I think, defies objective analysis – that’s intrinsic to what it is.  I say that as an art historian, someone who has been trained and has tried to train others to analyse beyond a subjective response.

But sometimes a work of art, or a body of work, comes along that shows just how futile academic analysis is, how futile perhaps any analysis is, even the late night debates and arguments with friends over a few bottles of wine where we try to make sense of why we love certain things and why our taste is better than anyone else’s, including (or especially) the people we’re debating with.

It happened to me when I was doing my PhD in art history, on German limewood sculpture from around 1500.  Part of what I was looking at in my research was its neglect within art history, and even the fact that no one wrote anything about it at the time it was produced.  I eventually wrote a 75,000 word dissertation on this that the examiners seemed to like, but really I had realised that the power of this body of art – the thing that had subconsciously attracted me to it in the first place – was that it was meant to be looked at, to be meditated on, to be experienced (I’ll write all about that some other time, perhaps!), not to be written about or reduced to verbal analysis. It’s not a great thing to discover part way through a major academic research project, but I still found plenty to say.

The same is true, I think, of Warren Ellis’s music, especially his work with Dirty Three, but also very much with his film scores and even his work with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

Dirty Three, though, perhaps convey most clearly what I’m trying to say.  You put on one of their records and from the opening notes you are simply engaged in the music and then quickly absorbed by it and into it and it creates feelings, thoughts, images, experiences that you can’t put into words – and don’t want to, because music is music not words.  They call their music songs, which I love, even though they don’t have words – because they nevertheless convey stories and human experience even without lyrics.  Warren often introduces them as being about something, part of his banter and interaction with both the music and his audience, but whatever they are ‘about’, the beauty of great art is that you simultaneously respect the intentions of the artist and find your own meaning in what they have created.

Warren Ellis is a multi-instrumentalist – has even created his own instrument, the tenor guitar – but it is his violin-playing for which he is best known and which for me takes his genius to its highest peaks.  He and the violin become one spiritual entity, his entire body creates the music that we hear from the instrument, and watching him play is as absorbing as listening.  Anyone who has seen him live knows how dynamic his performance is – with the Bad Seeds he would often crouch down when he wasn’t playing then literally leap into action when he was, but sometimes playing quietly, intently, often with his back to the audience.  He sometimes plays the violin like a guitar, pizzicato, the bow stuck down the back of his shirt.  With Dirty Three he hollers as the music takes hold, uses the space around him to express physically and viscerally the way the music seems to possess him.  I love the NPR Tiny Desk concert (see below) where in such a tiny space he still manages to kick out as he plays – while Mick Turner on guitar never flinches, no matter how close Warren’s shoe appears to threaten.

I love Nick Cave’s songs and his voice; I love it when he plays the piano; and sometimes I’ll be listening to a song, and I’ll be thinking that surely nothing could be more beautiful than what I’m listening to.  And then Warren’s violin comes in, and my heart finally breaks, and I realise that it could be even more beautiful, and now it is.

What am I saying?  Nothing at all really, because you have to listen to the music and watch Warren play to begin to understand what I’m on about.  But there is a reason for trying to tell you why I think he is so great.  A few weeks ago he agreed to be the Patron of the Tree House Bookshop – I wrote a nervous message, thinking I had nothing to lose, and was thrilled to the core when he said yes.

It’s not just the excitement of having a musical hero as our Patron.  It’s that he is the kind of musician that he is, which was the reason for asking him in the first place.  It’s that kind of engagement with art that is at the core of what I’m trying to convey through the bookshop – the intrinsic importance of the arts to being human, the passion that Warren exudes in performance and in conversation (you can find various interviews on YouTube), the lack of pretension in what he does and how he does it, the admiration for huge talent, and the sheer beauty of what he produces, all convey so well the sense I have that literature and the arts are fundamental to being human, to a rich, healthy society, to the way in which human beings connect with each other.nick and warren2

He also comes across as a great bloke – warm, funny, articulate, unpretentious, intelligent, full of life.  He also has one of the great beards in rock – what more could we want.

So to have Warren as our Patron is a magical, exciting, happy thing, and I am grateful that he agreed so willingly.  The bookshop now feels connected to the wider world of artistic endeavour and the power and sheer enjoyment of art that we’ve been trying to create on a parochial level.  This post is really just to introduce you to our lovely Patron!

I have interspersed this with a few clips of Warren playing, in case you haven’t listened to him before – do listen, they are all just beautiful – and I end with a lovely little interview with him and Nick (who have always been the household gods of the Tree House) – they are like a married couple, sitting there, but Nick’s short homage to Warren and the Dirty Three, that he had not heard anything like their music and that it was life-changing, is something I fully share.  Dirty Three are playing in Edinburgh in July – I can’t go, sadly, as it’s a standing-only concert and my stupid arthritic knees prevent me from standing for more than a few minutes – but if there are tickets left, you should go.  I’ll put on my CD of Ocean Songs and will be there in spirit.

**I have no photo credit for the wonderful thumbnail image at the start of this blog post, I stole it from the internet – if anyone knows who took it, please let me know!

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Cancel your plans for Friday evening! You have a date with a Strange Face…

What are you doing this Friday?  You are coming to the Tree House to listen to a truly fabulous illustrated talk about Nick Drake, of course!  Why would you want to do anything else?

Warwickshire has nurtured three of England’s greatest writers in different centuries – Shakespeare, George Eliot and Nick Drake (for me, the greatest British singer-songwriter of all).  Before I opened the Tree House, when I was thinking of what to call our bookshop/community hub, I really wanted the name to be related to a Nick Drake song.  I thought of Five Leaves, Pink Moon, Northern Sky, Fruit Tree, River Man…none of them seemed right, even though I knew it would be so cool to have a Nick Drake-related bookshop name.  In the end I moved away from that idea and chose the Tree House for a number of reasons, but I still regret not naming it for him in some way.

I love Nick Drake’s music – those exquisite songs and equally exquisite voice.  He died before I even knew he existed, but he is in my top three popular musicians and I consider his record Five Leaves Left to be one of the all-time greatest records.  So I was intrigued last year to see on Twitter some references to the Strange Face Project – about one man’s adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording – and started following the Twitter account.   The project is about the finding of a tape with an unreleased Nick Drake song on it and the adventures relate to what the finder did with this.

The man leading these adventures is the very lovely Michael Burdett, London-based musician and composer, and one day he phoned me to say he had seen my interest and wondered about coming to give his talk at the bookshop.  He then turned up one day and we had an excellent chat, arranged a date, and he left – leaving some wonderful photographs behind.  We used the one of Billy Bragg listening to the recording as our window display for quite a while.

Strange Face

Michael came and gave his talk just over a year ago, and it was fabulous.  It’s hard to convey quite why it’s so fabulous, especially without giving too much away, but ultimately it’s a story about the power of a piece of music – the impact it has on individuals and the way it connects people.  The illustrated show was informative, funny, fascinating and very moving – the material is great, but Michael’s delivery is also fantastic.  He is warm, funny, engaging, generous and passionate.

He went on to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it (unsurprisingly) won the award for Best Free Show.

He has also become a friend of the Tree House.  He lives in London, but from time to time has appeared in the shop doorway bearing cake and good cheer.  When we reopened I knew I wanted him to come back and give the talk again, and am thrilled that he agreed to do so, and he wants it to be a means of supporting the Tree House.  He has revised and expanded the show, which he is taking to Edinburgh again this year, along with other festivals over the summer.

But he is coming here first!  This Friday, 19 June, 8pm.  You’d be crazy to miss it.

Tickets are £5, in advance or on the door, and included is a £2 voucher to spend in the shop.  We would love a really good audience for this – it deserves to have the bookshop packed to the rafters.  Please come, please bring your friends, please spread the word if you can’t come (or even if you can).  You don’t have to be a Nick Drake fan to enjoy this event, though if you are it will make it all the more brilliant an evening.  If you have friends who don’t know Nick’s music, bring them along – perfect opportunity to introduce them.

There are only 40 tickets available, so contact us if you want to reserve some.  More details in the poster below.

Whatever you do and whyever you do it, just come along – it will be a truly lovely evening at a bargain price (you can give more if you want to!), and you will be supporting the bookshop as well as having the best time.  What more could you ask for on a Friday evening?

Strange Face at Treehouse 2 new postcode

Events at the Tree House

I have been neglecting this site!  I have been busy, still loads to do at the bookshop and new donations of books coming in all the time.

But we have arranged a few musical treats over the next few weeks.

Friday 8 May, 7.30pm: Romany Pie.  Kenilworth’s own folk group, always very entertaining, they came to the old Tree House and we are delighted that they want to come back and play at the new one.  Free entry – bring a bottle if you like (£1 corkage).  Doors at 7.30pm, music at 8ish.

Saturday 16 May, 7.30pm: Tree House Sessions.  The return of our popular open mic sessions (without a mic!).  Unplugged acoustic music and poetry, always a wonderful range of performances and a great atmosphere.  £2 for everyone, performers and audience, redeemable as a voucher to spend in the bookshop.  If you would like to perform, please email treehousesessions@treehousebookshop.co.uk

Sunday 17 May, 3pm: Andrew Sharpe and Amy Kakoura.  Andrew (piano) and Amy (vocals) came to the old Tree House too, with a taste of their musical Songs from a Ledge, and are returning for a short afternoon visit ahead of a performance at Warwick Arts Centre, Under the Radar, on 7 June – we are thrilled to have them.  Andrew is keyboard player with Steamchicken, the nationally renowned folk/jazz group, with whom Amy also sometimes sings – she has a fabulous voice, and this is an afternoon not to be missed.  Just a shortish set, about an hour, free entry.

Friday 5 June, 7.30pm: Lucy Anne Sale – details tbc.

More being planned – hope to see you at something soon!

Taking it to the next level

Radio Warwickshire presenter Tamsin Rosewell sharing a cup of tea and a chat on the Tree House sofa with the lovely Lucy Ward.
Radio Warwickshire presenter Tamsin Rosewell sharing a cup of tea and a chat on the Tree House sofa with the lovely Lucy Ward.

We’ve had an amazing few days at the Tree House.  I wanted to keep our first anniversary celebrations low key, for various reasons, but it was lovely to mark the occasion, and we had an excellent tea party in the afternoon with all sorts of people dropping in, most notably our incredible team of volunteers, who brought cake, ice cream and lots of good cheer.  They even put the hoover round and put wheels on our new trolley while they were here.

Tom the Philosopher (a wizard when it comes to sorting, pricing and shelving books) reckons that now we are a year old, we need to go to the next level.  That could mean all sorts of things, but what it means mostly to me is live music.  That’s the area where I need to do a lot of work – bringing in musicians, creating a better ambience, organising things more efficiently, marketing events better.

One of the really lovely things that happened this weekend was that Radio Warwickshire folk presenter Tamsin Rosewell recorded a couple of interviews for her radio show (which is back in the autumn) at the bookshop – one with Lucy Ward, fresh from her performance at Warwick Folk Festival, one with Stevie Jones, so look out for those!  Her producer Tim, who manages bands and is generally a music industry wiz, said that the acoustic in the shop is just brilliant.  No wonder our Big Comfy Sessions have sounded so good (well, I imagine the awesomeness of the performers had something to do with that, but you know what I mean!).  So we are going to build on that.

We walk a tightrope financially, which holds me back a bit when I’m thinking about who I could get to perform here.  But this whole venture has been about taking one risk after another, and so I ought to feel ready to take a risk on this, in order to get the Tree House more established as a small, intimate music venue.  We have seating for around 30, can get 50 in if some don’t mind standing, perching, sitting on the floor or stairs.  Acoustic music has worked really well, we’ve had some truly wonderful gigs here, and some of the performers have said how much they’ve enjoyed playing here.  Amplification is not really needed, though I appreciate some groups use microphones to get the right balance – we don’t have equipment, but most seem happy to bring their own.  In due course, we can of course get what’s needed – with advice from those in the know!

So if you are a musician – acoustic, folk, jazz, classical – who fancies a small venue with an appreciative audience, do get in touch – 01926 856843 or victoria@treehousebookshop.co.uk, I’d love to hear from you.  Our general policy is to pay 75% of the takings to performers, but I’m happy to discuss any terms you might have.

We have re-established the film club; started informal socials on a Friday night (weekly, unless some other event is happening); we are launching a monthly Sunday Salon on Sunday 3 August in the afternoon for literary discussion; a new monthly book group on Monday 18 August in the evening; a new mindfulness course will start in September on Tuesday evenings; our Nifty Needles needlecraft social group on Wednesday evenings is growing and is great fun.  These are all wonderful, and I hope to increase attendance particularly at the films and socials – but live music is such a very special thing, and I do hope that by the time we are celebrating our second anniversary next year, we will indeed have taken the Tree House to the next level, creatively and financially.