THE TOBACCO FACTORY, BRISTOL | FEBRUARY 3
Amidst the unrelenting churn of popular culture – hyper-speed career arcs, cruelly casual backlashes and affected nostalgic revivals – its easy to lose perspective. We look at photos of fresh-faced bands from the 60s and wonder how anyone could have considered them ‘edgy’. We chuckle at the po-faced meanderings of prog-rock from the 70s, safe in the knowledge that this was music from another era. But in fact, these are entirely modern phenomena: the history of recorded music is a tiny blip on our cultural history. For millennia, no-one committed any music to tape. Instead, we told stories, and sang songs. Spending an evening with storyteller Daniel Morden and the unassumingly evocative musicians who form the Devil’s Violin is a spellbinding reminder of just how powerful this ancient art form can be.
The Devil’s Violin project has been in operation for the best part of a decade, and their new show The Forbidden Door is their latest collection of tales from (mostly) the darkside. The show is ultra low-tech: a cellist, a guitarist and a violinist, with Morden narrating the stories. A heart-wrenching soundtrack ebbs and flows underneath Morden’s plaintive, hypnotic Welsh lilt, the stories themselves taking on the familiar themes of love, death, jealousy, flawed heroes and redemption.
The show derives its power from its simplicity, the audience coerced into silent reverie by the subtle confidence of the stories and the meandering melodies that underpin them. They conjure such vivid mental images that the characters are almost dancing before your eyes (Google Glass: watch and learn). The extra twist comes from the clever trick of weaving stories into the sub-plots of other stories, so that while each component of the show has a moral message, there is an overall theme too (in this case, the importance of ‘temptation’ for the narrative arc of any good story – the ‘Forbidden Door’ of the show’s title).
Despite being one of the most singularly captivating and compelling live acts you could ever wish to be trapped in a dark room with, they remain a strangely well-kept secret. But next time you’re craving something different from a musical experience, look up the Devil’s Violin – it sure beats a dullard stooped over a laptop or an earnest singer-songwriter. The gentle rhythms of the Forbidden Door’s stories are vivid and visceral: an historic art-form for the modern day.