Jennifer Barclay, author of Meeting Mr Kim, reviews Gong Myoung at the Chichester Festival Theatre, 12 October 2009
He enters the stage wearing an oversized orange hat and sunglasses, carrying a toolbox and a walking stick. From the toolbox he takes out a saw and a drill, saws off the end of the walking stick, drills holes in it, and hey presto, it’s a flute – which he plays beautifully. He invites a woman from the audience to dance, then puts a rose in the end of the flute before handing it to her.
Gong Myoung, Korea’s latest musical export, are four good-looking young guys in jeans, two with spiky hair, two with flicky fringes, all with great smiles and itchy fingers.
If you can bash it and make a noise, you can bet Gong Myoung will make it sing. They create mood and harmony hitting a stone block with hollow bamboo pipes, or playing an empty water cooler as a drum. They have the humour and high energy of Noridan, who also recycled unlikely objects to make a fabulous beat at the Dano Festival in Trafalgar Square last year. I’m hearing a South American dance beat as guitar meets maracas and pan pipes. Horns and a didgeridoo conjure wild horses. Then the tempo slows right down with guitar and flute.
These are highly skilled and versatile musicians. Anyone who’s seen Dulsori will remember the two-ended drum, and Gong Myoung show breathtaking timing, speed, passion, stamina and almost terrifying force when they play the seoljanggu, recreating the ebb and flow of a storm, their hands flying from one end of the drum to the other in a blur as they reach the climax.
But don’t worry if you don’t know a thing about Korean music, if you don’t know your jing from your janggu. In case you hadn’t gathered, Gong Myoung mix traditional music with innovative, contemporary sounds to create a style that’s highly entertaining. They encourage plenty of clapping along from the audience, and their love of music and sense of fun is totally infectious.
Koreans have been perfecting the art of non-verbal shows, such as Jump, which tour New York and London with no language difficulties. But a few words always help connection with the audience, and Gong Myoung stole our hearts with ‘Hello! Thank you! I love you!’ before giving an exhilarating encore. This tour of seven cities in southeast England was Gong Myoung’s first UK visit, thanks to Roots Around the World, but they already wowed audiences in Spain during Seville’s Womad festival last year, so let’s hope they’ll be back before long.