5×15: Jon Ronson, Viv Albertine, Sam Lee, Jocelyn Pook and Gruff Rhys // Review

gruff rhys

Wilton’s Music Hall // July 17th

There’s something pretty magical about Wilton’s Music Hall. Described as ‘the most important surviving early music hall to be seen anywhere… of outstanding architectural and archaeological significance’ by The Theatres Trust, this unique space in the East End of London has been everything from an ale house to a Methodist meeting space, a concert room to performance space. Earmarked for slum clearance post World War II, it was fortunately saved, although remained empty and fell derelict from 1956 onwards, suffering much structural damage and decay. Locals and notable figures including Sir John Betjeman, Peter Sellars and Spike Milligan saw its potential, resulting in Grade 2 listing in 1971. Now it is a thriving arts, music, theatre and performance venue, and thus fitting for the glorious 5×15.

5×15 is a series of events that do pretty much what they say on the tin. Five speakers, fifteen minutes each. The only rule is that of the time, and no scripts. How do you talk about the most inspiring, influential and exciting topic that there is in such a limited time frame? Whilst I’m sure that tonight’s speakers would never say that they ‘covered’ music, they certainly informed and entertained.

Jon Ronson’s CV reads like a list of ‘I wish I could be…’ – journalist, documentary filmmaker, radio presenter and nonfiction author. His books The Psychopath Test, Them: Adventures with Extremists, Lost at Sea and The Men Who Stare At Goats have all been international and New York Times bestsellers, with The Men Who Stare At Goats adapted into a film starring George Clooney too. His most recent book is FRANK: The True Story That Inspired The Movie, telling the story of his work with musician and comedian Frank Sidebottom. As keyboard player for the Frank Sidebottom band in the 1980s, he told plenty of humorous tales about the experience, with weight and meaning that also revealed the tender and somewhat tragic story of Chris Sieve, the man behind Frank.

Apparently this wasn’t the first time folk singer Sam Lee had performed at Wilton’s, having once graced its stage as a burlesque dancer, but he refused to reveal much more about the event other than that it happened. Instead, he spoke in the context of his much anticipated second album, and the taster 4-track EP, More For To Rise, which was developed from songs collected by Lee from diverse parts of the Gypsy and Traveller community. These songs are more than just entertainment, they are history and heritage, and testament to the prevailing power of music as a tool of communication.

Music does of course have an important place in all other creative pursuits, as Jocelyn Pook, award-winning composer who writes for stage, screen, opera house and concert hall, testified to. Best known for her score for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, her talk was a reminder as to how music infiltrates our lives and entertainment in all ways.

Viv Albertine has just released her autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. A book simultaneously demonstrating how normal her life was (these are the same interests of any teenage girl), and how fantastical – Sid Vicious, The Slits, and punk. Viv has been away for a while, but is now back making art and music, testimony to the long lasting and tenacious endurance of music. For her, the entry into music is intertwined with an awakening to feminism, and the realisation that girls could do anything their male counterparts could. Empowering, enlightening and entertaining, she spoke with warm and candour.

Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys arrived wearing a bearskin head dress, carrying flash cards. Ever the creative talent, merges art forms in his new film project American Interior. Retracing the adventure of his 18th Century relative, the explorer John Evans. In search of a lost tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans, John Evans left Wales for America in 1792 with only a $1.75 in his pocket, and Rhys told the compelling story (with puppets) not only of his journey and legacy, but that if the attempt to follow and relive the trip, from his first voyage to final resting place.

I’ve never left a 5×15 event being anything other than thoroughly impressed. With speakers of this calibre, in a venue this beautiful, on a topic so close to my heart, it was never going to be anything less than a triumph.

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For more information on 15×5 and to find out about their next event, head here.