DIAMANDA GALAS @ QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL, LONDON
April 3 2008
It’s a motley crew sipping Pinot Noir from plastic in the foyer of
Queen Elizabeth Hall, and small wonder: from what little I’ve heard
about (and by) tonight’s performer, she’s likely to be filed under
‘niche’, if indeed she’s likely to be filed, which I doubt.
Personally, I’ve never dared slot ‘Defixiones: Will and Testament’
in between Free’s ‘Fire and Water’ and the eponymous debut album
The idea of Shirley singing "I’m only happy when it rains" on one side
and Paul singing "Alright now" on the other, while betwixt Diamanda
wails and screams in languages I don’t know about the Armenian genocide
does not sit well with me.
Tonight’s performance isn’t about genocide though, or about AIDS,
(another of Diamanda’s favourite topics), it’s about (as unlikely as
it may seem) love.
Ms. Galas’ latest collection, ‘Guilty, Guilty, Guilty’, is billed as
"a program of tragic and homicidal love songs and death songs", but
I haven’t heard it yet, so am earnestly hoping for a cover of Bobby
Goldsborough’s ‘Honey’. She specialises in covers, although ‘cover’
doesn’t really do her justice. Perhaps ‘deconstruction’ or simply
‘destruction’ would be closer to the truth? (And we’re not talking
Emma Bunton’s ‘Downtown’ here.)
Diamanda emerges from a successfully foreboding cloud of solid carbon
dioxide looking like she means business. If you can imagine Cruella
de Vil as painted by Hieronymus Bosch in his little-known monochrome
period, you’re close. She seats herself gracefully at the lone piano
on the large, empty stage, (careful not to sit on her hair), draws
back her long black, black sleeves revealing slender white, white
fingers, and without so much as a "Hello London!" begins tentatively
exploring the length of the keyboard, feeling it, playing with it,
and then attacking it quite savagely.
She got very angry once when a journalist said she didn’t improvise
live. Now I’m no piano expert, but frankly I’d be pretty bloody
surprised if the death jazz, doom blues, creepingly monstrous, and
occasionally dainty technique we witness is anything but archaic
deities being channelled.
And her voice? Well, suffice to say I suggested to staff on my way
out that they might want to consider fitting the seats with belts,
and the audience with crash helmets. Not to say it’s not a thing of
beauty – it is – but Diamanda’s voice is like a natural disaster of
supernatural proportions. Insure your ears against acts of God. You
have been warned.
When ‘Gloomy Sunday’ was played in Hungary in the early 20th century
it apparently encouraged a spate of deaths, so much so that it became
known as ‘The Hungarian Suicide Song’. The desperate lyrics coupled
with the already crippling Curse of Turan were too much for the
miserable Magyars, and they topped themselves by the dozen.
Had they heard Diamanda’s rendering, perhaps it’d have done the
job for them. When Diamanda sings she is not a lone forsaken lover,
she is all forsaken love.
She sings in numerous languages too. French, being the only other one
I vaguely understood, and that was quite a pleasant song: I may even
have tapped my foot.
The rapturous applause that greets the end of each song is especially
fervent after one unrecognisable number. The chap next to me leaps up
and shouts "Σ’αγα&am p;#960;ώ!" so I assume it was
(or he is) Greek.
Anyway, smashing stuff.