Introducing the Ravens (sometimes our less polite male colleagues predictably call us “The Shavens”. They have zero imagination.)
1. We’re called Raven for no special reason except that we HAD to come up with a name on a deadline. We could have debated it ad infinitum, but Time Out needed our biog to promote our first gig. (It was a short biog.) I was processing parking permits when Natalie rang me (illegally. I was not authorised to take personal calls) and said, “you know, I don’t hate Raven. Shall we go with that?” and it stuck. Kirsty likes it because it suggests we are four big ugly birds, which she finds amusing. We should have predicted the whole “shaven” thing. We were naive.
2. We arrange all our own music. This is a bit musician-y, but how we work is this: we hear a tune. It could be classical, it could be heavy metal. One of us listens to it four thousand times and writes out a version that could work for the quartet. This is time consuming and difficult and sometimes we play the arrangement and it sounds like bollocks, so we spend months changing it until we like it, or we throw it out. Our biggest arguments are about arrangements. The best thing about it is we have total creative control, we can write to each other’s strengths. (Kirsty plays insane electric guitar solos. Steph plays big romantic tunes. Natalie usually plays the opening verse of a rock tune as she delivers it with, for want of a better phrase, balls) When we’ve got a version we all like, we memorise it and perform it.
3. We’re not an electric string quartet. We are often compared to our friends, Escala, who are a really successful electric string group. We are very friendly, Steph in Raven lives with Vicks in Escala, we have stood in for one another in an emergency. Musically though, our absence of male genitalia and the fact that our instruments have strings on them are our only similarities. Escala play electric string instruments, choreograph their songs and play with backing tracks. We do none of the above. We are way too malcoordinated to dance, I can barely stamp in time.
4. We mainly perform Rock music. We started off doing popular classical tunes, because we were touring with classical crossover acts and they went down well with the crossover crowds. Then someone told us we looked like a rock band. We arranged some rock tunes, and we have been playing them ever since.
5. The story of how we came together is boring, we wish we’d met as strippers at Spearmint Rhino, or we were actually quadruplets seperated at birth, but alas, the truth is fairly mundane. Kirsty met Natalie on a session who wanted to form a quartet. Natalie had met Steph on a session and thought she’d be good in a group. Natalie then said to Kirsty “do you know a cellist?” Kirsty knew loads of cellists, but luckily for me, I was her favourite. We met in pizza express on Dean Street, we shared an Etna (which to be honest, did not agree with my fragile constitution). We had our first gig a few months later.
As you will no doubt be hearing lots about them over the next while, I thought it only polite to introduce the members of Raven individually.
So there’s me, you know a bit about me already. Then there’s Kirsty Andrew (born Mangan. When she got married she considered being Kirsty Mangan-Andrew, but worried about the inevitable Manganangananganadrew, so she goes by both names.)
5 Facts about Kirsty Mangan (Violin)
1. Kirsty’s one of my oldest friends. We met on the school bus in Stockport aged 11. She had a boy haircut and she seemed aloof, so naturally I thought she was too cool for school. A while later I learned her aloofness was shyness and she got that haircut because she wanted to look like Danni Minogue in Home and Away. We have been friends ever since.
2. Kirsty has a 6 pack and arms like Madonna, which is hugely irritating to the rest of us as she hasn’t worked out since she was about 15, and eats like a horse.
3. Kirsty is hugely responsible for me no longer being as mental as I once was. When I got really bad aged 22, she rang my parents and told them what was going on, which was the start of me getting better. I did not thank her for this at the time.
4. Kirsty can do a mean Katherine Jenkins impression. It has made me heave laughing in the past.
5. Kirsty can sing freakishly, scarily high. We think she may be part mouse.
5 Things about Stephanie Benedetti (violin)
1. Steph has an occasionally unintelligible accent, as she is half Scottish and half Italian. We spent the first year of Raven taking the piss out of her. Now we only take the piss out of her when she says things like “prayer” or “stair”. When Steph says these words they contain about 8 syllables.
2. Steph loves animals. If we happen upon a cat in the street on the way to a gig, we’re finished. It’s touch and go whether or not we’ll find the said cat in her handbag later on.
3. Steph can fix anything. If your microwave’s on the fritz…she’s your woman. Her name has been “Steph’ll fix it” for years; honestly, phones, bikes, cars, errant microphones….She surprises herself with her capabilities a lot of the time.
4. Steph is an incredible illustrator. We had no idea about this until a few months ago, when she casually wopped out some flawless drawings. When we gaped, open mouthed, she just went “oh those. Yeah, I did them this afternoon, Loose Women was on.”
5. Steph suffers the weirdest physical ailments you have EVER heard of. “Do you ever get a really hot earlobe?” “My face feels really spongy today…” and “I’ve got fairy liquid mouth” are all sentences Steph has uttered more than once.
5 facts about Natalie Holt (viola)
1. Natalie is what you’d call a genuinely creative person, who is full of ideas. About 1 in 4 of these ideas are brilliant, the other 3 are a bit mental, by her own admission. For example, she is notorious for cooking with 47 greatly contrasting ingredients. The result is often disgusting. But one of her good ideas was to form Raven, so we mus n’t grumble.
2. Natalie gets her words mixed up, constantly. If she’s announcing what we’re about to play in a sold out London Palladium, so much the better. She’s been heckled in the past.
NATS: We’re delighted to be here on the South coast!
GRUMPY HECKLER: East Coast.
NATS: Really?? [awkward pause] well [squeakily] We like all the coasts!
cue: audience titters.
Luckily Natalie is charming so we haven’t been pilloried.
3. Natalie has a hugely thick head of hair. It’s like a beautiful lions mane, but if left unchecked, it can grow to quite a size. Sometimes she can cut big chunks out of it and we don’t notice. It takes about a week to dry.
4. Natalie is a film and TV composer when she’s not in Raven. She writes cues for big TV shows and films and stings for adverts and she studied at National Film and Television School for bigwigs. She worked on the recent Great Expectations series for the BBC. She is very clever.
5. Natalie can eat her own weight in seafood, which has got us into trouble a couple of times, as she hasn’t got the strongest stomach. She even eats everyone else’s disgarded crunchy prawn fins when she’s on a Sushi binge. It can get quite ugly.
Raven is like any other string quartet…or so we’ve heard. We piss each other off, we row, we’ve had screaming tantrums. Being in a quartet is notoriously difficult, and we are friends with many other string quartets who say the same thing. Some of them claim not to row, but we’ve heard them talk to each other and it sounds like they’re competing in the passive aggressive olympics. The Indian author, Vikram Seth wrote a book called An Equal Music, which featured a hugely dysfunctional string quartet, which to many chamber musicians seemed an apt description. Jeffrey Tate, an English conductor said “The most perfect expression of human behavior is a string quartet”, which admittedly could mean the musical genre, or the group itself. Certainly, we have seen the best and worst sides of one another over the years. As a quartet we’ve lived through a lot, both individually and as a group. We’ve had big ups and downs, lots of work, no work, long tours, cancelled tours, standing ovations, horrible rejections… When Raven work goes quiet, we get on with other things, as we all freelance individually, but we prefer being together. We know each other’s little habits, likes and dislikes, allergies, fears etc etc, which is a comfort. Onstage, when we’re scared, covered in make up and playing a long set from memory (to a non musician that sounds like no big deal, but chamber musicians pretty much always play from music. We have a lot of notes to remember in each performance. One of us is bound to forget something), we have conversations with each other with our facial expressions and our body language that get us through each gig, particularly the big ones. Below is me and Kirsty smiling our way through someone’s mistake, clearly it was a funny one. It may have been one of ours….I can’t remember.
We have to look out for each other on stage - it’s a scary business we’re in. Occasionally things go wrong for one of us for a second, the rest of us have to step into the breach while that person gets their shit together. It’s proper teamwork, which is sometimes really hard, but I wouldn’t be without it.
I have done things as a musician that I would never have thought possible when I was a student or in my sabbatical, because of Raven’s unique way of working. I’ve learnt to arrange, to memorise things quickly (ish), to try and control my raging adrenaline, to talk to big audiences, to listen differently, to not freak out on aeroplanes and apply smoky eyeshadow, all because I’m in Raven.