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FringeReview UK 2018

James Osler and the Pillow Band

James Osler and the Pillow Band

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St Nicholas Brighton, Dyke Road


Low Down

Richard Jones – Violin, Jules Arthur Viola, Rachel Grimes-Cello, George Berrills – Double Bass, James Osler – Guitar / Composer play seven compositions by Osler himself.


You mightn’t have heard of James Osler and the Pillow Band because it’s their first gig, but judging by their performances certainly not the last.


Think instrumental Pentangle crossed with the American-based Kronos Quartet, with a fleck of Barry Guy and his double-bass-led strings. Osler’s the guitarist with a string quartet, except it’s violin, viola cello and double bass instead of that second violin.

The line-up’s:

Richard Jones – Violin,

Jules Arthur Viola,
Rachel Grimes-Cello ,
George Berrills – Double Bass,
James Osler – Guitar / Composer


So no vocals. Osler’s an eclectic world-music style composer but his original compositions whilst they reference folk and other world music styles aren’t arrangments or any kind of version. It’s important because Osler’s an original, happy to seek inspiration from the late 1960s early crossover, the explosion of world music from the nineties onwards, and he softer side of contemporary music unafraid to essay crunchy enharmonics and ghost effects.


‘All Too Human’ referencing Neitzsche leads in a strong pulse and the three-figure descending ascending chords that become a recognizable Osler feature. The playing of all the string players thrums a backwash against the propeller of Osler’s guitar: it’s bewitching and magically resonant in the St Nicholas space.


Those harmonics rasp tellingly in ‘Like Glass’ up next, and glassy harmonics with ponticello playing (bow near the bridge) is both evocative and exact. Here it’s the violin and viola used tellingly.


‘Sleep Well’ widens the musical spextrum whilst softening it too, the descending and ascending chords hush, the rain-like pater grows just audibly and dies again. That’s woken gently by ‘Grimaldi’s Closet’ a more energetically raised piece calling on a just-out-of-reach Mediterranean palate with th thrub of cello and double bass.


‘The Ghost’ is a trademark piece already on the group’s website and purchasable. This employs the extraordinary enharmonic intro and dissonances you’d expect out of the superior European vampire or haunted movie. Violin, viola, and the lower strings again work in a spectral just out of sight experience. It warms in its central section then fades to glassiness again at its close.


‘Valse’ sounds like early Shostakovich, a really catchy tune led from the guitar even more than most are. It’s a great piece to lead into the very different South Africa-inflected ‘Happy Song’ full of recognizably southern African cross-rhythms and buoyant vocality, though there’s no voices here. The closest you’ll get to there is perhaps again the Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa.


This is completely assured, first-class crossover music-making which deserves to be known far outside that ambit. Anyone who cares for music that stretches you to delight. Their website Pillow Band should give you more than a taster, and there’s many interviews of James Osler over the past year to choose from.