Preview: Plague Songs, Barbican, London

Boils, locusts and other lyrical treats
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The Independent Culture

How did a bunch of the world's leading artists find the inspiration to perform their own Plague Songs – a contemporary retelling of the Plagues of Egypt in the Old Testament?

Rufus Wainwright sings his slow, moving country ballad "Death of the Firstborn", Imogen Heap performs her electronic-style "Locusts", and Kenny Anderson of King Creosote performs his folk song "Frogs" in a live concert at the Barbican, part of which was built on a plague pit.

They are among 10 artists from the Plague Songs CD, for which Brian Eno, Scott Walker, The Tiger Lillies and others wrote songs inspired by the Old Testament plagues. In 2006, the theme was revisited by Penny Woolcock in her film Exodus, with plague songs sung by local musicians in live events in Margate.

Other performers in this concert include new artists such as the British vocalist June Tabor, with an a cappella version of Laurie Anderson's "Death of Livestock". Other artists, such as The Handsome Family, have been commissioned to write new songs. The British experimental vocalist Phil Minton, with the Sense of Sound Choir, and the American singer-songwriters Sandy Dillon and Daniel Knox, will also take part.

"The Old Testament is a rich mine of material because it is dramatic, dark and horrible," says the concert's director, David Coulter. "People respond to it."

Former Pogues member Coulter, who was a musical supervisor for Damon Albarn's opera Monkey as well as for Tom Waits's play Black Rider, has put together a stellar house band for the concert. "It's a dream team, which includes Waits's former horn man Ralph Carney and his drummer Michael Blair, Roxy Music's guitarist Leo Abrahams, Thomas Bloch on glass harmonica and keyboardist Roger Eno, Brian's brother, who is also writing a new song," Coulter says. "When I was asked to put a band together, I contacted all my favourite musicians. The fact they have all agreed to take part has exceeded my wildest dreams."

28 October (0845 120 7550; www.barbican.org.uk)

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