Flit: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Four years after his project of traditional ‘ghost songs’ with Opera North, ‘Crows Bones’, Martin Green returns to the Howard Assembly Rooms.

Created over two years by Martin Green (Lau) in collaboration with Adrian Utley (Portishead), Becky Unthank (The Unthanks), Adam Holmes and Dominic Aitchison (Mogwai). Flit is part gig, part performance piece. It tells tales of migration, using a mixture of songs, recordings of real life interviews and moving paper animations.

The stage is set,with vast paper mountains rising behind a cluster of strange wooden contraptions, the performers all dressed in brown so they almost melt into the background. Suddenly we are plunged into darkness and the gruff voice Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap) narrates ‘The Suitcase’ over the heavy throb and click of machines. Haunting voices of Adam and Becky intertwine as the noise swells louder and paper birds flutter across the cardboard sky.

Animation plays a key role in this performance and creators Whiterabbit manage to make the faces of paper characters convey emotions and look strangely real. The story featuring a young girl finding a paper mouse in her memory box is worthy of a film in it’s own right. Blurring the lines between human and animal, wooden zoetropes (early motion pictures) transform from a man into a bird on an endless spinning loop. ‘Wrackline’, with lyrics by Karine Polwart has the circular feel of a folk song, with twisted David Lynchian effects that give it a sinister edge.

Alongside the sonic power house of Dominic Aitchison and his towering bass riffs are layered the aggressive industrial synthesisers of Adrian Utley. Mixed in with hand-made creations, including a bookshelf of strung up saws and an instrument made from cutlery, Flit is at once beautiful and disorientating. Becky Unthank’s solo, unaccompanied performance of a traditional folk song brings things into focus.

Martin Green describes how his conversations with his 88 year old Grandmother, who fled Austria on the kinder-transport during WWII, led him to want to collect more stories of peoples ideas of home. People from across the Scotland, Europe and Africa are mixed in with recordings of her voice. Comparing his own families story to Europe’s current stance on immigration, Martin’s emotions spill over as he screams over a raging soundtrack; “My Grandmother told me there’s no point getting angry. But I am fucking angry!” Distorted synths surge around him, a storm builds in the background and a paper lighthouse shudders on a cliff top, as if the elements have combined to share his fury.

Washing away the tension ‘Roll Away’ with solo vocal by Adam Holmes is wonderfully simple. His soaring voice picks it’s way out through the darkness,echoing similarities to early Bon Iver. It makes the tears prick in our eyes. Bringing the evening to a powerful close, Aidan Moffat’s poem ‘The Living Wind’ starts with the line, ‘They fled in fear when we flew into town. Millions strong, we blocked out their Sun’. Its careful mix of tension and sadness builds as a flurry of paper birds fill the sky, blurring the plight of animals and humans once more.

Flit takes the audience on an emotional journey through the universal struggle to make a place to call home. This show aims to start a discussion about migration and maybe change a few perceptions on the way.

(All images copyright Opera North)