Coming all the way from Australia to the Cowley Road, these guys brightened the dark black backroom of the “Bully” with a healthy dose of sunshine from the Outback last night, all in aid of the glorious Barracks Lane Community Garden.
The Formidable Vegetable Sound System is not just a band; it is a whole philosophy. Its raison d’etre is the promotion of permaculture: a holistic philosophy bringing together ideas about how – as many traditional cultures have known for centuries – we can live a good and sustainable life by following ethical practices in producing and sharing our food, and also in ideas of fairness in our community, for the wider good. These are values it shares with the Barracks Lane Community Gardens, whose trustees, volunteers, friends and users were out in force last night, raring to enjoy this celebration, so the atmosphere there was more like a party than a concert.
Formidable Vegetable Sound System was established by dapper, charismatic ukulele-player and singer Charlie Mgee after he started studying permaculture in 2011. His songs are written in musical styles ranging from ‘energy-descent electroswing’ and ‘climate-change dubstep’ to ‘peak-oil polka’ and ‘post-apocalypso’. What they all have in common is rhythm, humour, wit and verve, which kept feet tapping, hands clapping and half the audience up on their feet dancing tirelessly all night, swept up by the energy of the music.
Before we even got to hear the main act as a group, we were entertained by the band’s other two members, Kylie Morrigan, benign and beaming over her violin, and the irrepressible Mal Webb, who had the audience alternately gasping with admiration at the things he could do with his beatboxing and his loop-box, giggling at his physical antics and groaning at his endless fount of ingenious puns. I will never forget his inimitable side-to-side yodelling or be able to look at a map of Africa without seeing his profile. We enjoyed songs on every topic under the sun (including which way you hang your toilet roll), with musical accompaniment by instruments as diverse as long green “slide trumpet” and Zimbabwean mbira.
This was one of the most stimulating forms of “edutainment” I have come across. These three performers transformed the room – like a garden in spring, it was suddenly bursting with colour and life. Formidable Vegetable Sound System are currently seeking crowdfunding for their new project, to make a pilot for Australian TV, to introduce kids to their ethical values early in life. Online donors are rewarded with amazing-value downloads of their songs/albums – if you’d like to contribute (and benefit) you have just four days to do so at: http://formidablevegetable.com.au/ where you can also find out more about them and forthcoming tour dates.
If you haven’t already visited the Barracks Lane Community Garden, you have been missing a treat. It is a beautiful, harmonious place where you can work (as a volunteer), rest or play. It is intended for the whole local community (not just residents of Barracks Lane!). There is something for everyone there; sandpit for toddlers, quiet corners for reading in, sociable places to meet interesting people, events and activities, from children’s arts and crafts to storytelling workshops and bread baking sessions. Hopefully, after last night, it will soon also boast a new pizza oven! To find out more, visit http://www.barrackslanegarden.org.uk/