David Cross, Starless Starlight album launch - The Bedford
26th May 2015 (with Jim Knipe)
I was one of a fairly intimate audience for the launch gig of the David Cross and Robert Fripp CD Starless Starlight in May 2015 where Cross was joined onstage by Tony Lowe on guitar, Yumi Hara on keyboard and vocals, and saxophonist/flautist/whistles player David Jackson. The venue was the rather impressive Globe Theatre, a two storey circular lounge and event space with an internal balcony in the Bedford Hotel, Balham (designed for Watney Combe Reid & Co Ltd by their in-house architect A W Blomfield, and grade II listed in August 2015.)
The story of Starless Starlight dates back to 2006 when Robert Fripp performed two improvisations based on a short, memorable melody from the King Crimson song Starless in St. Louis which were recorded and dubbed Starlight I and Starlight II. The premise of the album, and the gig, was Cross performing a series of improvisations over the top of Fripp’s wistful guitar, incorporating the Starless motif, sometimes in inverted form, with additional keyboards provided by Tony Lowe.
Cross (with his white 5-string electric violin) and his accomplices David Jackson (saxophones, flute and whistles), Tony Lowe (guitar) and Yumi Hara (keyboards and vocals) played much of the Starless Starlight album. It wasn't your normal gig because they had a PowerPoint presentation detailing the genesis of the event; they performed a recital of part of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood and on its 50th anniversary, David Jackson introduced the Stan Tracey tune Starless and Bible Black from the seminal album Under Milk Wood.
There was plenty of improvisation on violin and horns and Jackson even used the saxophone keys as percussion; the album track Starless Starlight Loops was reinvented for the occasion as Bedford Loops. I thought that Tony Lowe’s guitar was a little hesitant at first but he grew into the performance adding subtle tonal shades. Yumi Hara was instructed by Cross to look out for some sudden endings to songs and she might have been caught out on one occasion but she also inflicted the same fate on the rest of the ensemble. Her keyboards were spot on but her voice is an acquired taste as she sang the two Crimson numbers, Exiles and The Night Watch.
Cross did most of the communication with the audience, at one stage announcing the wrong song before correcting himself, though when the band were called back for an encore Jackson told a tale of Robert Fripp performing sessions for Van der Graaf Generator, the essence being if you wanted to record Fripp, you had to be quick. This story fitted the rather intimate nature of the gig, it was like a conversation with friends; the crowd may have been small but the atmosphere was relaxed and the music was really good. An unusual but immensely enjoyable gig.