❉ Classical meets hip-hop as Anne Stephenson adds another string to her bow, writes We Are Cult’s Ange Chan.
Some of you may know violinist extraordinaire Anne Stephenson as one half of Marc and the Mambas’ collaborators The Venomettes alongside Gini Ball from back in the 1980s or for her work over the subsequent decades with such notable acts as Bryan Ferry and The Communards.
Anne has just released new single Nocturne, a beautiful combination of classical meets hip hop, mixed by hip hop/trap artist Triple A, aka Anne’s son Alex Stephenson.
The classical element of the track is Chopin’s Nocturne in C#m. The track came about when Alex visited his Mum in France when she was practicing the Chopin piece on piano. Alex started beatboxing along and they were both astonished to find that the juxtaposition between old and new really worked. The track was developed with Alex putting a basic beat together and Anne practising along to that beat.
Anne takes up the story by adding, “We only had one day of Alex’s holiday in France left to record it onto his laptop, and in rather dire conditions. The soundpost on my good violin collapsed suddenly just before recording as I was putting new strings on. I had to use a spare student violin that I had in the attic! It was a nightmare to play on, I was gutted but had no choice if we wanted to make the demo before he went back to London. The only place where it was quiet enough to record was down in my damp basement. We made a makeshift sound booth with a huge fridge cardboard box, and draped sheets and towels over it. Alex only had one mike with him, and I hardly had enough room to draw the bow across the strings as I was squashed up in the box!”
Alex left the next day with the demo recorded and the plan was to work on his beats around the melody. They planned to meet up later on in Alex’s London studio when Anne’s good violin was repaired, to record the track again in more professional conditions.
Around the time, Anne packed up the house in France and moved to Martinique taking up a post offered to her by the French Civil Aviation, teaching Air Traffic Controllers Aviation English (another string to her bow, you might say!)
As soon as she arrived in Martinique the COVID virus pandemic spread around the world and she found herself in an empty company house, in solitary confinement, with only her violin, a mattress on the floor, and cockroaches for company. All planes were cancelled in and out of the island and then to add insult to injury, the water was cut off for six weeks due to the mains all cracking open. However, Anne was very grateful that in the face of such adversity, the phone network remained intact which meant she could keep in touch with Alex.
They realised there was no imminent hope of re-recording Nocturne, so Alex set about with sound engineers aiming to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with the original rough demo recording. They sent the audio files backwards and forwards between England and Martinique until they were finally both happy with the end result and released the track online with American-based distributor CDBaby on 30 September 2021.
For the cover art, the original artwork was drawn by artist Peter Parkinson, and the overall sleeve design and composition was created by Ace Dezign aka James Chan, who – full disclosure! – happens to be my son. James worked closely with Anne to ensure that her exacting vision for the cover art was just as she imagined it. It seems the whole project is a celebration of creative mothers and sons. What could be a nicer collaboration?
Two years on and Anne still hasn’t seen Alex, or her other son, Big Brother series 7 winner Pete Bennett. They have however used Messenger to maximum effect! Alex is due to release another track he was working on in the lockdown called Troll featuring Bizarre from D12, Eminem’s former outfit. He is also working with a London-based Rap collective called I.C.E. His new album is coming out in October 2021.
Anne is currently working on a solo album of songs with her sound engineer husband Dave Ahern, who worked at London’s Jazz café for seven years. She is also in touch with Gini Ball from the Venomettes, working on arrangements for a new project which I personally am very excited about. Gini and Anne’s percussive beats were what made Marc and the Mambas very special for me, as a fan, and so I’m particularly looking forward to hearing more about that project. Watch this space!
❉ ‘Nocturne’ by Anne Stephenson and Triple A was released on 30 September 2021 and is available to download or stream via Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, Deezer. Click this link to get the music!.
❉ Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. A prominent contributor to Me and the Starman (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and lifelong lover of music, Ange is also We Are Cult’s Social Media Administrator.