Circulus @ Borderline
At Shakespeare’s Globe, they always perform in period costume, and have a band of strolling players playing music evocative of the era as you assemble in your seats or shuffle into the Courtyard. This is ‘re-enactment’, with the expressed intention to present the culture of an age in as close to the original manner as is possible without forcing the assembled punterage out of their jeans and pac-a-macs and into doublets, trunk hose and cannions.
With Circulus, you are never quite sure what they are aiming for. For a start they’ve employed morris dancers ‘The Belles of London City’ to add their handkerchief-wielding, bells-on-toes frolicking at regular intervals during their set. Some members of the band are decked out in slightly too-tight renaissance shirts, green tights that act as a relief map of the knees and groin; or in conical hats and tunics.
Group leader Michael Tyack has stated that he “pretty much” models his look on Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy between 1419 and 1467. Others in the band, however, adopt slightly more modern, but aesthetically aligned, dress.
The awkward banter between the three vocalists betrays another slight mis-match, with Tyack’s hippie-ish wittering about spaceships and, err, flu-jabs, jarring with Holly Jane-Shears cheeky bluntness (“I’ve been for a wee…nothing else” are her opening remarks after arriving late on stage) and Antony Elvin’s fruity wit. “Think we’ve said the wrong thing again” says Shears to Elvin guiltily behind Tyack’s back on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, one cannot help but be amused by their time-filling antics, when strings break and an effects-pedal succumbs to the insidiousness of a spilt lager.
In terms of instrumentation, there are citterns, crumhorns, lutes and shawms, yet electric guitars and modern drum sets also feature. Furthermore, the words ‘progressive’ and ‘psychedelic’ are often bandied around to describe their sound. This is largely fair with regards each term, but theirs is a relatively understated take on both. Nowhere near freak-out squalling nor melodically overblown, Circulus are an entertaining folk spectacle that marries the early-music sense of harmony with an occasional gentle waft of dusty Woodstock rock.
Their final number features the phrase “within you is the sun” repeated as lifestyle mantra which, in a way, places them as an Anglo-Saxon Polyphonic Spree given to music hall tongue-poking silliness and historically mish-mashed minstrelling.
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