In the closing hours of the festival The Chordwainers assembled on stage, under the canopy of JAF’s vibrant heart, The Junc Room. Every time I have seen these wonderful players I can’t help but feel as though these are privileged individuals, the chosen ones. Naturally curious of not only performance but also audience, I scanned the room. Over there, some heads nodding; a bit closer, the index finger of one half of a conversation subconsciously drawing the air as he points and explains to his partner, while a cluster of friends shuffle for a spare plastic seat in the D around the stage.
To the best of my observation, there are three things commanding attention here. Firstly, the musicians, secondly the magnificent leather instruments, and thirdly the unique and delightfully surreal music produced. I say surreal, because to me, there is a familiarity to the sound but something is decidedly different. These instruments of course are the exquisite sculptural leather creations by the late great Garry Greenwood. Formed from imagination, passion, and masterful artistry The Chordwainers wield Greenwood’s creations that would not be out of place leaning up against the wall of a muso’s home in Hobbiton. Simply said, they are gorgeous.
When thinking about how I could possibly describe the sound in words, as if on cue, a friend nearby leaned in and informed me that the instruments themselves were limited in their range and that the quartet up on stage had to learn how to play them; not how to play, rather how to play them. Immediate thoughts swirled around my mind and scored with what I felt (not necessarily correct) were medieval tunes. At some point these leather travellers arrived, naked and alien, entrusted to the hands and mouths of Karlin Love, Dan Callahan, Andrew Sulzberger and Lila Meleisea and a relationship was forged, a kind of ordained arrangement from when Greenwood first pounded leather against riverstone. I have no doubt The Chordwainers feel connected to their instruments. They must. I suspect a lot of musicians do, but there is a legacy here that is continued, perhaps entrusted to the Chordwainers, as keepers of sculpture and sound in the memory of a creative visionary.