For those looking for a taste of outsider art the unthemed festival VAULT is a standout in the London musical calendar. From January 28th to March 8th expect everything from subversive stand-up comedy, leftfield musical acts from around the world and, in one case a roadkill taxidermy cabaret show.
It is here we find Scottish duo Pumajaw preparing to unveil their song-cycle, the deliciously dark Song Noir, to a London audience for the first time. This collection of Noir classics, including tracks from Twin Peaks, Play Misty For Me and Night Of The Hunter, have been reimagined by Pumajaw, incorporating experimental sound design and engrossing visuals.
Vocalist Pinkie Maclure has been kind enough to catch up with TLE just hours before taking to the stage on the first night of their 5-day stint at the Vaults. We chat inspiring movies, their triumph at Edinburgh Fringe and the Song Noir experience.
TLE: It’s opening night! How are Pumajaw preparing for the show?
Pinkie: Well as usual John is fiddling about with little bits and bobs with the films and visuals which seems to be a never-ending process. But I’m just chilling out. We’ve set up the projectors and screens, all the lighting is sorted out.
TLE: And how is the venue?
Pinkie: The Vaults are a great venue for this type of performance. It’s amazing actually, there’re a number of venues inside the Vaults and I actually like our one the best. It’s a big railway arch with some lovely old-style velvet cinema seating. It’s very atmospheric.
TLE: What can your audience expect from the song-cycle production for these VAULT shows?
Pinkie: Song Noir is a multimedia performance. We have films produced to accompany the music which form an integral part. Initially we thought it would be nice to do something with a vague film noir feel , perhaps cover some famous songs. Then I asked John (Wills, the instrumental second half of the duo) if he would be interested in making some films for the project and it snowballed from there and turned into a more conceptual art piece. It’s lovely because now I really feel that I’m in this interlinked world of sound and film.
TLE: It sounds like you’re working to create your own dark vibe around these established songs?
Pinkie: A lot of the performance is influenced by film. The song-cycle is mostly made up of tracks from our favourite film noir movies with a number of originals in there too, so we try to allude to the ideas and style of these films. It’s far more holistic than simply covering these songs; it’s more like stepping into a different world.
TLE: A meeting of styles between Pumajaw and your film noir inspirations?
Pinkie: Yes, that’s right. And we have a few tracks like the Peter Gunn theme for example, this 60’s crime series which was probably more famous for its theme music than for the actual series I think, which is great fun. I discovered that Henry Mancini had actually written original lyrics for Sarah Vaughan and it’s a great vocal so we’ve brought that back.
TLE: I’ve been giving Song Noir a spin over the last few days. There are some real standout moments. Do you have any favourites to perform?
Pinkie: Sycamore Trees was a song that myself and John originally recorded a long long time ago. When we were considering the project we kept thinking about the favourite things we’d done and harking back to the first album we did together which had that track on it. So we re-recorded it for Song Noir and have started to play it live, which we’ve never done before, and I love performing it. It’s incredibly intense.
TLE: What films would you recommend watching to a newcomer to film noir?
Pinkie: A Touch Of Evil is an amazing film. It’s a shame there weren’t any songs in that that we could use for Song Noir. Night Of The Hunter is a must watch too. It was the only film Robert Aldritch ever directed. He gave up after that because it got such a slating! But it’s an utter classic. A very scary but very beautiful film; a true story about a serial killer who pretends to be a preacher. I won’t spoil the whole plot here but it’s dark, very beautiful psychedelic noir. It’s got that real seductive quality. Then finally there’s Kiss Me Deadly which is completely different. It’s more sci-fi noir. Lots of themes of obsession and alienation.
TLE: Excellent, and you’ve been able to capture the eerie beauty of noir in your music.
Pinkie: Well we realised that we were already there anyway and that we were being influenced by those kinds of films. It’s interesting, noir is more of a style that a genre, you can’t quite define exactly what it is. There’s a lot of debate! There’s elements of danger and social alienation, madness. There are recurring themes.
TLE: What made you want to tackle a project like Song Noir?
Pinkie: To be honest we were just a bit bored stuck on this conservative indie circuit. We were feeling artistically frustrated and we needed to think of something different to do. We live in Scotland so we thought we should try doing something at the Edinburgh Festival. You don’t usually get regular gigs there so we thought we would try and do something with another dimension to it. And that’s how Song Noir came about. It’s exciting, a new way of performing music for us.
TLE: I’ve been reading some very flattering reviews about your performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. How did those shows go?
Pinkie: It was absolutely brilliant. We did it first in 2013 just as a gig with film elements but when we returned in 2014 we’d refined it and taken the idea further. It was a whole new experience. It was nice to have an audience who were completely focused and entranced on what we were doing. When you come from the indie rock circuit you get used to people being chatty or texting. But to find a context where people want to sit down and listen 100% is really fantastic, really intense. That kind of audience wants to be immersed and taken to another place.
TLE: The track ‘Tallulah’ from your album Demonmeowmeow received the remix treatment with great results. Are there any plans to remix a track from Song Noir?
Pinkie: It’s not something we’ve thought about yet. We’ve had a couple of really good remixes in the past but in general we’d only go for it if the remix could at the very least match the original arrangement and bring something new.
TLE: Last one and then I must leave you to get ready for the show. Once this 5-show run is finished what is next for Pumajaw?
Pinkie: Well we’re off to play more shows in Germany and Scotland at other festivals. The performance tends to evolve as we go so we will see what comes up. Tonight for example we’ll be throwing in Chet Baker’s ‘Angel Eyes just because it’s a great track and we don’t like to stick too rigidly to our set. Then once those shows are done we shall see!
And with that Pumajaw are off to prepare for the evening’s performance. The duo will be playing the Vaults from 28th January – 1st February. If you hurry you can still treat yourself to their brand of smoky noir darkness and intriguing audio-visuals. Pick up a ticket for Song Noir here.