Amadou & Mariam with the Blind Boys of Alabama – The Forum, Bath

16th March, 2022

Bath Forum is doing a pretty bang up job of standing in for Bristol Beacon during its ongoing development works, this was another of their shows put on at the Forum.

Both sets of these artists are ones you don’t skip on the chance to see live, so to have them together on the same bill was pretty special. None of them are getting any younger either, so I took the opportunity while it was there.

Have to give the staff at the Forum a big shout out, as well as the Beacon crew who were working. When I felt uncomfortable in the crowd they helped me move to an area where there were unsold seats so I could have a bit more space. It was a little gesture which made a big difference.

It was fantastic to feel the warmth and love in the room for the Blind Boys and Amadou & Mariam as they came out and to see so many people up and dancing in the aisles too. It made me smile under my mask and wish I had the health to join them. Little rays of Alabaman and African sunshine shone into the Forum that night. I had a really good time.

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Paraorchestra – Bristol Beacon Foyer, Bristol

26th February, 2022

I’ve seen the The Anatomy of the Orchestra before, it was in fact my son’s first every experience of live music. Deconstructing the orchestra across all four levels of the Beacon’s large foyer and encouraging the audience to move; to duck, bob and weave their way between the musicians, is such a genius and yet simple idea. I set of with trepidation to this, reassured by knowing I could move away from people if I felt uncomfortable and because I just love everything about the Paraorchestra.

I stayed for two of the three performances, got into trouble for walking on a balcony I shouldn’t and got partially lost in the music. It is a special way to experience classical music; to be able to walk between the players and hear differing combinations of sound as you travel. Do you stay close to the trumpets or a violin, oboe or clarinet? Such choice! There were moments when I did get lost in sound and had the feelings of overwhelm that I love. There were also moments when I felt uncomfortable as people got too close. I am very glad that I went though. Anywhere, any time, playing anything, Paraorchestra are worth showing up for.

These performances were recorded for Sky Arts, so please do watch it when its on. I was asked to record an interview for the programme, but as I wouldn’t take my mask off indoors and they wouldn’t film me outside, it didn’t happen. I chatted to some of the musicians instead and they were all lovely. I had forgotten how much I love that bit, being able to share the passion and joy music brings with the people who make it. Please never stop bringing innovative music to my ears, Paraorchestra.

Douglas Dare – Bristol Beacon Foyer, Bristol

25th February, 2022

I’d seen Douglas Dare on a line up with Anna Calvi as part of Manchester International Festival a few years back and noted him as one to follow. That night he was magnificent, dramatic and full of flare. It was enough to tempt me into the Foyer of Bristol Beacon as part of finding my gigging feet again.

Still nervy of being among crowds, I sat right at the back, as far away from everyone as a I could be. I could go on at length about how venues should choose to make mask wearing a mandatory condition of entry but it’s just shouting into the void at this point. I don’t feel safe among people is the long and short of it.

I couldn’t relax into this gig, let go and enjoy myself. Douglas is engaging, witty and plays great songs, but they didn’t connect with me in the way they had before. The world has changed. I’ve changed. Learning how to navigate the new waters will take time.

Transatlantic Session – The Forum, Bath

12th February, 2022

My first gig of 2022. In a still raging pandemic. Bath Forum has an air conditioning system with Covid killing agents in, which made it feel a safer venue to visit than others. I chose an end of back row seat, wore an FFP2 mask and hoped for the best.

This was a Bristol Beacon presents show and the idea intrigued me. Putting together the best folk, country and roots musicians from the USA, Ireland and the UK, of differing ages and styles to see what magic happens is a great idea.

Of all the talented musicians onstage that night Leyla McCalla who stood out for me and was the one I would like to see live again. Everyone else did a good job, but something wasn’t ‘clicking’ for me. I had a nice time, but live music usually means a lot more to me than nice. I don’t know if it was my anxiety or the music, but it wasn’t a vintage gig I’ll remember forever.

Paraorchestra – Bath Abbey, Bath

8th December, 2021

Sorrowful Songs. Played by an inclusive orchestra in a cathedral while Luke Jerram’s Moon watched over us, what was not to love?

Paraorchestra fill my heart with joy for simply being. Even with mournful music and an audience who didn’t quite understand that they weren’t supposed to stay still.

It was haunting and emotional. I did duck and weave my way into different parts of the huge Cathederal space, finding myself sat on the floor towards the end, sobbing my heart out.

I will go anywhere to hear the Paraorchestra play anything. They stole, moved in and occupy a part of my musical heart. I hope to never be without them.

Starsailor – Tramshed, Cardiff & Marble Factory, Bristol

2nd December & 5th December

Well I’ve certainly broken my own record for the longest time taken to write about a gig, four months is quite a while.

I lost such a big part of myself in the pandemic; putting myself back in the emotional spaces music and writing about it fill has been hard. As has typing with a loss of fine motor skills. I was at both these gigs with camera in hand, because, well, its me. I was allowed to stand at the side of the stage with the crew in Cardiff and on the balcony in Bristol and be away from the crowds to feel a little safer. Being up on the balcony in Bristol was awesome. There was no-one there but me; I could be part of something and yet also separate from it too and it was perfect. I danced and took photos like no-one was watching, because they weren’t. I had freedom. It was glorious. I have missed these boys and their music so very much. They are part of my soul now. Some music just belongs to you, you know.

I’d been allowed into sound check in Bristol. I’d been allowed to photograph the sound check in Bristol. I’d been allowed on stage to photograph the sound check in Bristol. My little fan heart.

These two nights, these two gigs meant a lot to me. Starsailor’s music means more to be than words can ever express, they have been the soundtrack to everything I’ve experienced for 20 years. Love Is always Here when I’m with their music.

Public Service Broadcasting – O2, Bristol

Tuesday 26th October, 2021

The story of how this one came to be is better heard than read. It involves a birthday card, a tea towel and a drumskin. It’s full of generosity and kindness.

My son’s 15th birthday will be one we will remember, together, for a very long time. It was special in ways I cannot turn into words. On the day you rendered my loquacious teenager speechless, and since, his Mum, wordless. Music transcends it all. It transcends everything.

Thank you Public Service Broadcasting. J you know how much it meant to me and my boy. When this pandemic is over I owe you, the rest of PSB and Giles, enormous Mum hugs. And cakes. Always cakes. Until then, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sebastian Plano – Beacon Foyer, Bristol

Monday 11th October, 2021

It would have to be someone very special to tempt me out on a night when my boy is with me, I’ve never left him home alone and gone out for an evening before. He is nearly 15 but it has been just the two of us for 12 of those years and we are both, well, not quite like other people, so we are closer than most mothers and teenage sons. Close enough for him to understand what music means to me and that sometimes Mum’s need to escape a little bit. He encouraged me to go and not just so he could eat cereal and biscuits whilst playing online games with his mates, because he does that when I’m there.

I am still nervous about going out when people don’t wear masks and social distancing has gone out of the window. But I know the Beacon and its staff, I knew they would keep air flow moving and that they would help me if I began to panic. I also knew the foyer wasn’t likely to be busy, a Monday night, for a bit of a niche act, so I would be able to distance myself from others easily. That was true, I found a spot at the end of a row, with no one next to me or in directly in front, but still with a cracking view of the stage, near gig goer extroadinaire and friend, Jeff. Seeing a friendly face and being able to talk with someone who just gets it made all the difference. We all need to feel we belong and Jeff and I both belong in and with live music.

The last time I saw Sebastian Plano play here was a transcendental experience, at the end of which I could only stammer “I have no words” to Sebastian and he replied, hugging me, “that is why we have music.” It was one of those special moments between two people who understand each others language – music. He could read my response without words. His music had transported me and taken me not only out of myself, but out of reality itself for an hour. That is something magical and special and I wish all the world could feel it like I can. That is how special an artist has to be for me to leave my son home alone.

Support was from Tom Adams, who has a fine voice on him and a guitar style that reminded me of 80’s Lanois and Jeff of Jeff Buckley. Reaching falsetto notes with gentle, meloncholic songs and a slowcial media approach he is an artist worth keeping an ear out for.

Sebastian. Oh. He is all the brilliant words you can think of and then some. Innovative, exciting, creative, charismatic, charming and talented. A cellist who stands to play. Who has effects, keys, electronics on his cello. Who sings through the strings. Who dances with his instrument and makes it look like he is bonded to it. You know those musicians who just feel like they belong in total harmony with what they play, that they were born together and should never be parted? He’s one of them. Sensuous, gentle but also startling sounds appear from bow, fingers, effects, loops and man, all in harmony. Together transporting us all away from reality and into other realms. He wrote his latest album, Save Me Not, in lockdown as a way to explain/escape into and away from worlds. His music exists in the space between. In the liminal limits of time, space and imagination. In the realm of the divine. In the spaces I exist. It is beauty made sound. It is extraordinary and very powerful.

The sound and lighting crew were on super form, white stars shone across the stage, shafts of light swam through Sebastian’s hair and everything sounded exactly as it should. It helped me become completely lost in the music, swimming in the air, gasping with joy and wonder at all the beauty I could see, hear and feel. When you can close your eyes and see music dancing in shapes and colours it is the most beautiful thing in the world. Sebastian’s music takes me there. Live it is so much more powerful, the resonance of strings sets my synapses on fire like almost nothing else. I would describe it as a trance, but it is so much more powerful than that, it’s like being taken into space, seeing the entire cosmos in one go. It is having your soul soar so far up and away that you can see all the beauty and possibility and hope there is in the universe. Is is very, very powerful. Heady, intoxicating, incredible.

It took me some time to come back down to earth at the end, I sat speechless, wiping away tears for a few minutes. I’m glad I waited because I got to see and hug Sebastian again (physical contact with adults is rare in my world) and tell him that I think he is the Willy Wonka of cello playing. He is. I’ve never before or since seen or hear a cello played the way he does. And I cannot be alone in wanting to be that cello.

Last time hadn’t been a fluke or a one off, Sebastian Plano live really is special. On record he’s pretty good too, so stream, listen and buy his music. Next time he tours the UK you’ll find me wherever he plays, he is one I will never miss because the way his music makes me feel is too special. Thank you Sebastian for coming back to Bristol and for your music. While it exists I have a home.

John Grant – The New Theatre, Cardiff

Tuesday 5th October, 2021

It was never my intention to take so long to write this, this is the third time I’ve sat down to find words to describe just how brilliant and special it was to see John Grant again. The problem with feeling things as deeply as I do is that transitioning back to reality after you’ve been soaring among the stars is quite difficult. The juxtaposition too great. After all. what goes up must inevitably come down. I was too emotionally exhausted from this gig to have written about it quickly.

John was magnificent. He is magnificent. Something in him, in the atmosphere, in the crowd, connected in a way it hadn’t in Bath. And I was there, part of it, up close and personal through my zoom lens, to witness and partake. I was given pretty much free reign of the theatre and allowed to photograph as I wanted. If Bath had been a dream come true then I’m not sure how to describe being given the freedom to photograph from where I wanted and basically for as long as I wanted as long as I didn’t get in the way. Heaven I suppose.

I started at the front and side of the stalls, as close as I could be without getting on the stage itself. Christ alive, what a privileged place to be. To see John’s smile, which is genuinely one so filled with warmth it may as well be a lamp, through the camera lens was just all the things. I moved around a little and decided that rather than sitting in my guest stalls seat I would spend most of the gig esconsed in one of the boxes. Cheeky I know, but it tucked me out of the way and allowed me the freedom to enjoy watching one of the best live acts I’ve seen at his full power. John Grant live is John Grant on record squared, multiplied by 50 and added to 3000. He may still get tangled in wires and claim he’s learnt no stage craft, but to watch him work a crowd is just magical. The playfulness, the dancing, the cheekiness, the emotion, the generosity, it’s all there with John and that’s why I love him. No-one else can make me laugh and cry and dance in the space of one song like he can. He’s just a magnificent bastard and I love the bones of him.

Highlights? Can I possibly pick every song and the whole night? Marz was lit so beautifully that despite wanting to leave the camera in its case and just be a fan, I couldn’t resist picking it up and taking some shots. Queen of Denmark, where again I couldn’t help myself from taking more slightly illicit photos, as John worked the stage and the crowd like a total pro and where he and the crowd gleefully exchanged lines. The beautifully dedicated TC & Honeybear in the encore. GMF which will forever and a day make me chuckle, the wit and humour in John’s songs is lyrical perfection. Glacier, I have no new words to describe how powerful Glacier is. Pale Green Ghosts, which manages to be heavy and joyful at the same time, with drum loops, synths and strings building a creepy atmosphere that makes every fibre of my body want to dance. Mike and Julie, haunting and beautiful. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, bleak but weirdly uplifting. Boy From Michigan for one line alone. Every other song he played. Just all of it. If I could bottle a gig to keep forever, I would keep every second of this one. It was one of those very special gigs where the feelings were so strong that they burned images, like photographic negatives, into my consciousness. If I close my eyes I can see, feel and hear them all again.

I GOT TO PHOTOGRAPH JOHN GRANT and watch the gig from a private box in a theatre where I got to FEEL ALL THE THINGS. It was a special night, an incredible experience and I am very lucky to have experienced it. I remain humble and grateful to John’s team for allowing me the opportunity to be there. I don’t take nights like this for granted, I never did and I never will. They are precious and powerful and I can’t thank you enough, John. Thank you.