John Moreland – St George’s, Bristol

Sunday 5th August, 2018

The last gig of the River Town festival, Bristol’s celebration of Americana music held annually by Colston Hall. Ticket purchased on the strength of the write up in the St George’s programme, which promised eloquence and emotional rawness.

St George’s has proved to be an excellent alternative venue for the River Town gigs I’ve seen, the acoustics are brilliant and the style of music just seems to fit the environment somehow.

Support came from John Calvin Abney, who very patently waited onstage for the venue lights to come down. He has a natural charm and likeability, can play a mean blues country guitar and has the sort of voice that demands your attention. He was superb. One of the best support acts I’ve seen in fact.

I went to buy his CD in the interval and it had already sold out, that and the rapturous applause from the rest of the crowd told me I wasn’t alone in liking him.

Turns out John Calvin Abney plays with John Moreland which could well get very confusing I’d imagine. John and John came out to a very warm welcome (although I could have done without the blokes behind me talking, or the drunk bloke who kept shouting out who was sat nearby – keep it to yourselves next time please boys).

The promised brilliant lyrics were there, as was the raw emotion. Lost love, regrets, searching for meaning, hope and home in turbulent times, all there. Sung with the sort of gravel and grit that can only come from lived experience. From the soul. From deep within. The places we usually keep hidden and don’t reveal. There is an honesty to this music, the sort that makes you feel that JM couldn’t not make music if he tried. It’s just in his blood, his heart and his soul and he spills them all out on stage for us.

I was (and am) very tired and hot (will this interminable summer ever end?) going into this gig and I said to myself “he’d better be worth it.” Well he was. Both John’s were.

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Jonathan Bree – Rough Trade, Bristol

Thursday 2nd August, 2018

August is a very quiet month for gigs, trawling through listings to find something to go to I found this gig. I was both intrigued and scared by the prospect of Jonathan Bree but my nerves were reassured as soon as I found out Jeff was going. It is always a good gig when he is there. If nothing else, I can relax and be more myself, knowing there is someone else there who will let themselves go and enjoy the music to its fullest. The reassurance of knowing you won’t be alone at the front giving it some always helps.

Rough Trade’s live room isn’t exactly huge. I’ve only been in it once before, for Gaz Coombes’ album launch (which feels like it was ages ago but was only a few months back). The stage is small and low and there weren’t more than 100 people there tonight.

Support was from local band Poisonous Birds who were loud, interesting and hip. I liked the song they introduced as “this one is a rock song” and one that I think is called Little Puzzle. The rock one was exactly that, dirty great drums and wailing guitar. Some of the other tracks jarred, aspects of the music were quite experimental and I wish they’d let things flow a bit more, for when they did, they were good. Overall worth checking out though.

Jonathan Bree, along with a bassist, drummer and 2 dancers climbed gingerly onto the stage. They had to, they were all wearing white, full face, lycra masks and wigs. Costumed as if it were 1913, the dancers in white knickerbockers and bonnets, and the band in a pallet of grey high waisted and high necked garb. Even the microphones had a retro feel (it is possible they were made of wood). I wasn’t sure it was sci-fi or costume party. Definite Doctor Who villain vibes. My immediate thoughts were “I hope they can breathe, don’t fall off the stage, can keep that white outfit clean” followed by “I’ve not taken anywhere near enough drugs in my life for this to make sense.”  I was worried, if I’ I’m honest.

There was no talking, only singing. It was more performance art than a gig. It was creepy yet alluring. Not being able to see the faces forced you into listening more intently and interpreting the movements as a way to anchor yourself in the songs. The songs were very good indeed. For all the show, it was Jonathan’s deep voice and inventive music that kept me entertained. Drum work that was understated and changed rhythm patterns, held up by sparse yet perfectly placed bass and electronics with occasional choir like backing vocals and strings (ably demonstrated by the dancers using lacrosse rackets). It held exactly the right tension between commercial pop and creative electroncia. Sort of like a more poppy, synthy Nick Cave. With interpretive dance. In masks.

Once I stopped worrying about if they could breathe and them falling over I relaxed and got into it. I was moving and dancing, getting carried off on a strange cloud of music. Yes it was weird. Yes it was creative. Yes it was theatrical. But I liked it an awful lot. The masks were odd. They are supposed to be. They jar. That along with the lack of talking made it hard to feel warm towards the band, but it also focussed you in on the sounds. Sometimes we reveal the deepest and most truthful things from behind masks.

Jonathan Bree is a creative and talented musician, clearly. Why he isn’t more widely known I do not know. He was every bit as good as most of the output on BBC6 Music (better in fact). I would be very happy to see him again. With or without the masks. It was one of the strangest concepts for a gig I’ve come across and if the music hadn’t have been so damn fine it wouldn’t have worked. It did, though, and I’ve stretched the outer limits of my sonic comfort zone a little more.

 

 

Emily Barker, Holly Macve & Jade Bird – St George’s Hall, Bristol

Sunday 22nd July, 2018

Another gig in the River Town series. An all female line up. A blend of country, blues and folk. In the beautiful St George’s. Of course I was going to this gig.

Jade Bird was first up and as she came on wearing a bright red boilersuit, which she admitted was probably a mistake in this heat. Before she had even played a note she’d won most of us over with her charm and humour. A youngster who “likes country and blues music” who has a voice that can gently move you or holler like a good ‘un, well she is alright by me. There are a few of her tracks on Spotify, I recommend checking them out. The country influence is there in the storytelling songs, the cheating and the dastardly men. The blues is there in the delivery. Something American, Furious and a new track 17 were highlights. The final track, What Am I Here For? wouldn’t be out-of-place on First Aid Kits latest I thought. If you are a fan of their modern country pop indie then I think you would like Jade Bird. She is funny,engaging and has a staggering voice for someone at the start of their career.

I have always been honest in this blog. I try to be constructive and positive but it would be impossible for anyone (even me) to like everyone they saw play live. I didn’t enjoy Holly Macve’s set. There was polite applause from me and the rest of the audience, but that was all. I found her songs to be very samey (which, if you do it well enough is grand), all blending into each other with no differential between them. There was little to no attempt to engage with the audience (perhaps Holly is very shy?) and I found her voice  did nothing for me. Given that the write up for this gig pegged her as having “devastating emotional delivery” and that she has had airplay from Jo Whiley and 700,000 streams of a track on Spotify, perhaps it was just me. Or she had an off night.

The mood had been up and then down again so Emily Barker had a bit of a job to do to lift it back up. My initial impression was good, especially as she has Lukas Drinkwater playing with her. What a lovely surprise to see him again. He also plays in duo Jacob & Drinkwater who I loved last year and am seeing again in September.

Emily is one of those genre crossing, therefore defying, musicians that I love. There was a wide variation in the tracks she played, from gospel to blues to folk to country to soul. All there and all brilliant. Sister Goodbye, written in tribute to Sister Rosetta Sharp (who if you don’t know, look up immediately) was mournful and sorrowful, More was groovy soul, No 5 Hurricane romantic & forlorn, Over My Shoulder and Dear River full of longing and sadness, Sunrise hip and groovy. All sung with a voice sharp, clear and beautiful. Get yourself copies of her albums. See her play live.

I went into this gig not knowing any of the three artists and walked out wanting to hear more of two of them. That’s not at all bad for £16 is it now?

 

The Barr Brothers – Thekla, Bristol

Thursday 17th July, 2018

A random ticket buy. July/August are slim pickings for gigs so you take what you can get in terms of bands in these months. This gig fitted in terms of date and price and I’ve a pretty good track record of random gigs – my instinct is good so I thought I’d take a chance on The Barr Brothers. This was part of River Town, a festival of Americana music, and as I love a bit of country I figured I’d probably be on safe territory with this gig.

Due to Colston Hall’s refurb (hurry, I miss you) this gig, which would probably have been in the Lantern (I really miss you) was hosted by Thekla instead. A gig venue on a boat, what’s not to love about that? I’ve had some cracking gigs onboard the good ship so I boarded with reasonable hopes of enjoying tonight.

I am glad I got there nice and early as the support band came on at 7.30pm to a very small crowd (I think 13 at the start!). Mt Joy they were called, a debut album of the same name was released earlier this year and it worth getting hold of. I liked them. A lot. By about the 3rd track I was thinking that I’d had my money’s worth out of this gig already. A young American 5 piece, they played a sort of mixture of late 70’s soft rock (not usually a genre I like) with country and soul. They turned their track Julia into a cover of Aint No Sunshine and did it justice. Astrovan was probably my favourite track.

The road crew bought out a lap steel guitar (oh yes, hello there, we are in for a good time), double bass (ditto), trombone and trumpet players appeared (now this is getting interesting), some sort of voice box/mic (hmmmm), a huge array of guitars and effects (what am I about to hear?) and then the band.

Oh wow. The best drummer. A solid bass. The brass. THE LAP STEEL GUITAR. The lead singer who could make sounds come out his guitar as if it were singing or howling. He made noises I did not know you could make, in ways that were as silly and creative as I’ve seen (piece of sting anyone?).

The lap steel is one of my favourite instruments and one that isn’t played live as often as it should be. To be inches away from it, its gorgeous noises hitting my ears, was such a treat. It just does something to me. Add it to the glorious mix of all the other very talented men on the stage and you had a heady brew. Blues, rock, country all thrown in together and stirred until music came out that moved my mind and my body. I couldn’t help it, the rhythm got me. Right at the start of this gig I gave myself permission to just move. I stand out like a sore thumb anyhow, short blonde hair, big glasses, green dress., no point attempting to blend in. Just let your inner weirdo out I thought to myself. Be free, enjoy the music and what it does to you.

Imagine mixing Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Abbey Road era Beatles, Dr Hook, Muddy Waters, BB King add a touch of Springsteen, Talking Heads and They Might Be Giants and you might get a flavour of how I felt listening to The Barr Brothers tonight. Man they can play. There was a guitar/double bass face off that was like a howling wolf and sounds emanating from a beaten up acoustic guitar that shouldn’t have been possible. And the drummer. Everything from gentle brush strokes on cymbals (frigging huge ones at that), bells enhancing the brass, to Animal from the Muppets rock n roll and everything in-between. This drummer didn’t just keep the time, he added flavours and colours to the music to take it all to another level. The brass was understated and superb (it was the first time they’ve had them on the road with them) and any bass player who can easily alternate between electric and double bass knows what they are doing. Despite having a set list I can’t really tell you which ones I liked because I loved them all.

Towards the end of the set a different mic stand, covered in lightbulbs, was bought into the middle and we were treated to a couple of stripped back numbers with beautiful harmony singing. It was unexpected, quirky and lovely.

As they’d overrun somewhere earlier on (having too much rocking out I suspect) the encore song was cut, so we had a sort of strange ending but nonetheless this was a gig I absolutely loved.

Sometimes when I leave a gig I want to savour it, trying to hang on to every delicious morsel. Sometimes I want to rush home to get these words typed so I can share how fantastic it was. Tonight was both. Random ticket purchasing strikes gold again. I shall almost certainly regret the dancing tomorrow, my feet and back are already aching and my ears are ringing like crazy, but for a few hours tonight I got to be young, free and soaring again. We all need to feel vital and alive, music, live music, done like this, makes me feel all of those things.

Handel, Hendrix & Kahlo with a side of football

 

Saturday 7th July, 2018

Tom was off with the Ubers to see Ride at Hyde Park so I had a Saturday in London to myself. Bliss.

Having nabbed myself a National Art Pass on a special offer recently (£10 for a 3 month membership) I had built a wish list of the places I wanted to use it. I decided to start with the Handel and Hendrix museum, which is just round the corner from Bond Street. A couple of centuries and a wall kept the men apart in life, but they are now both commemorated in this fine double museum. I started with Handel,  he was first after all. I had no idea he had lived, and indeed died in London until today. With the Hanoverian Kings, it of course made sense for a successful German to come to London at that time. He wrote most of his music here too, and standing in the room he composed in was pretty thrilling. They had some beautiful vintage instruments on display, which is how I discovered how the harpsichord works and that it is more like a guitar (plectrums!) than a piano. There was a small opera recital in the house on the day I visited and so I was accompanied by the gorgeous sounds of baroque opera as I walked round.There is a replica of his bed, the one in which died, in the room in which he drew his final breath. A rather fabulous marble bust of him looks over the room. Having recently discovered a love of Baroque music I really enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of Handel.

A narrow staircase takes you into what would have been Hendrix’s flat next door. The original staircase he would have used is still visible and even though I couldn’t walk on it, I did have the feeling of walking in Jimi’s footsteps. They use the small space well to tell you about Jimi’s sadly short life, with his jacket (he was tall and broad, I didn’t realise that), record collection, effects peddles and replica guitar. For one glorious moment I was stood between the two museums with the sound of a Handel opera in one ear and Purple Haze in the other. As a blend it was fabulous. As was the reconstruction of Hendrix’s bedroom. Many photographs and interviews took place in the room, and the Trust had help from Kathy Etchinham (who was Jimi’s girlfriend) they have managed a very authentic recapturing. My initial reaction was “wow” the colours and fabrics strike you as pretty psychedelic even now. The bed is low, the ashtrays are full and the detail is superb. The mirror is original and you are invited to look at your reflection in the same way he would have done. That’s quite charged.

As a child whose parents smoked B&H, stubbing them out in sea shell ashtrays, I can say I felt transported right back. It is a perfect little time capsule of 1968. The ha’penny taped to the arm of the record deck. The fan knitted teddy bear Jimi kept for years. The beautiful Victorian shall hung above the bed. It all came together to give a real feel for what it would have been like to visit there at the time. While the colour and fabric were pretty shocking, it was also wonderfully domestic and ordinary. You could see Jimi and Kathy sitting in the low bed, drinking tea, having a fag and watching TV, just like any other young couple. Some places give off a special aura or glow and just make you feel things.

What was the spare room (where among others, George Harrison spent the night on the sofa) next door, showcased Jimi’s record collection and guitar. I gazed out of the window, thinking about how many of the great, good and notorious would have looked at the same view.

I took another, slow look round both places, I almost didn’t want to leave. I picked up a memento, a red guitar necklace and headed out into the sweltering heat.

My next stop was to be the allergy and free from food fayre at Olympia. As a coeliac the chance to sample gluten free foods and pick up some supplies is always welcome, and the ticket was free and more crucially, they were showing the England game on a big screen. Gluten free chilli in my belly, christmas pudding and cookies in my bag, I made my way into the side hall where the football was on. It was quite surreal on a bright sunny day to be in a darkened room. Victorian grandeur mingling with modern technology (wi-fi projector and laptop, huge screen).

The crowd was great, really mixed, lots of other women, kids of all ages, people of all colours and faiths surrounded me. Even some brave Swede’s who were sat behind me. We shook hands before kick off, it felt like the sporting thing to do. And what Gareth Southgate would have wanted. The elderly Chinese woman sat next to me (with her Anglo Indian husband) was as excited as me, despite telling me “I don’t usually watch the football, but this team and this World Cup!” When the first goal went in, the place erupted. I’ve never really watched football like this, en mass, and I loved it. It was tense, with none of daring to dream that we could win, but we did. England’s men would be in their first World Cup semi final in forever. It was such a feeling of relief and joy. Enormous credit to the young team and the set up around them, they have restored many of our faith in the men’s game.

What to do with myself next?! Other than eat more gluten free things of course. I felt I’d earned the brownie with the stress of the game.

I had a ticket for the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A, but that wasn’t until 8.15pm so I thought I’d head over to Trafalgar Square to see the Millicent Fawcett statue. Last time I tried to get there 10,000 anti Brexit marchers had gotten in my way! This time I had to contend with the ends of Pride and a lot of happy, glittery people instead 🙂 I arranged to meet up with Mark off twitter, who was quite merry from watching the game in a pub, and we had a good natter in the sunshine next to the statue. I asked him to take a picture of me with it, got into Rosie The Riveter pose and only later realised he hadn’t got the statue in the shot! Too many beers I suspect. I’ll have to go back another time. I liked the statue very much, Gillian Wearing is a great artist and she has done a bang up job. The texture in the cloth, the band of photos of other suffrage campaigners in the plinth, the hands – fabulous, strong and striking. Courage calls to courage everywhere held directly opposite the Palace of Westminster. Yes, sisters, yes.

I bade farewell to Mark and headed over to the V&A. This has always been one of my favourite London museums, it is vast, eclectic and interesting. To access the exhibition at this late time, when the rest of the place is closed, involves the staff security hut and corridor. It felt a but like sneaking in, which sort of added to the thrill of the whole event.

I have always loved Frida Kahlo’s art. It speaks to me. Directly. Like an electric charge to the heart. Something in her work has always touched me, moved me, made me feel things very deeply. The first time I saw her work I knew very little about her life. I didn’t need to to have that direct connection, her art cuts into the very soul of me. Then I did learn about her life. And oh boy did that connection make sense. Another woman who had known deep, shaming, female pain, deep, deep into her bones. No wonder I felt so strongly as a reaction to her work. I understood her, she understood me. She explained and depicted the strength, courage and downright determination needed just to make it through the day. She did it with beauty, with such love and tenderness, that I find it impossible not to stare at her paintings for interminably long periods of time.

There was a major exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s art in London in 2005, at a time when I was ill, wracked in pain and not working. I went and still occasionally look through the gallery catalogue. Then I did not have my son, and did not think I ever would. So the paintings depicting Frida’s infertility and loss affected me profoundly. I spent so long in the exhibition, looking and looking, moving in and out of the paintings eyelines, that security had to ask me to leave as they were closing. At 10pm.

A great deal of Frida’s art is in private hands, or held in collections in Mexico (quite rightly) or the US, so when one gets the opportunity to see it closer to home, one takes it. This current exhibition at the V&A is of her whole life, including clothing, personal effects, photographs of Frida as well as her art. It is the first time much of this has been seen outside of Mexico, where it was fairly recently rediscovered. Her husband had her rooms sealed after her death and everything lay there undisturbed for decades. It is now in the public domain.

Once you are in the room containing Frida’s personal things, her shoes, plaster casts, medicine bottles, lipstick, nail polishes and so on, things get emotional. At least they did for me. Her little feet, they were so tiny. Just like mine. The shoes, specially shaped and stacked on account of her childhood polio, yet so very beautiful, the red velvet continuing to shine. If they had not been behind glass I may not have been to stop myself from stroking the fabric. They were ostentatious, embroidered and embellished. I want a pair. Next to them, the false leg, worn later in life, after an amputation. What could have been ghoulish or macabre seemed somehow triumphant. Frida hid her legs beneath the long skirts all her life, hiding those pretty shoes as a personal reminder to herself of her femininity. Now they are out for all of us to admire.

The plaster casts and spinal braces felt initially too intrusive, too personal, too open and raw in their pain to be shared. Spinal pain, nerve pain and spinal surgery are fuckers. It is no wonder Frida had so many prescription medicines and was dependent on painkillers. That she was able to create so much amazing, incredible art from her bed simply elevates her talent to another level. As someone who has known chronic and intractable pain I could only weep for the torment Frida endured and want to stroke her face and hold her body in recognition. Kindred spirits and souls can be found across time, space, continents, even death, in art.

The cosmetics were a joyous release, bright, bold lips and nails such a part of Frida’s look. That defiance again. That fight. That fire. My gosh she was an incredible woman.

In the final room, Frida’s clothes. Beautiful, bright, Mexican clothes. They were partly practical, the skirts hid her legs, the tops easy to put on and off over casts and braces, yet Frida took those factors (which could be seen as limiting) and made them spectacular, full of colour and pride in her Mexican heritage. Her jewelery was incredible, some made from Aztec stones thousands of years old. There was a necklace, silver, made up of tiny arms and legs all marching and waving, a wonderful slice of humour. In this room also a number of her paintings. Two of which I could take my eyes off. Both self portraits, one with monkeys, one almost a funeral cortege. I spent a long time in this room. Watching others look or pass by, standing close, moving further away, bobbing left and right, drinking in each painting slowly over and over.

Eye contact is a hard thing for me (I’ve learnt to look at noses, the space between eyes, eyebrows, lips so that you think I’m looking at you but I’m not) it is so intense it can actually hurt. When I do make that connection with someone (that I love and trust, generally) it is very intense and powerful. So for me to stand for minutes at a time, looking directly into Frida’s painted eyes, is revealing, tense, intense, emotional and overwhelming. Yet I am unable to look away. Something draws me closer, holds me. I find Frida Kahlo’s art spellbinding. It sends shivers down my spine and goosebumps up my arms. I feel such a deep sense of connection and belonging with her art. After some time with these works I went back to the start of the exhibition and began all over again. I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t leave. I wanted, no needed, more time with Frida. I found myself staring at the shoes again. Looking at the medicine bottles, working out which ones I had used myself. Everything was so beautifully curated and displayed that they were almost works of art themselves. I started to wonder if she were alive now, whether Frida would be doing this herself. Modern art, telling her life in another artistic way. I concluded that she may well, her art was always about revealing herself.

I returned to self portrait with monkeys and self portrait 1948 and wept in front of them both. The latter, displayed as it was at the end of the exhibition, next to the costume that was worn in it, with the face ruff/veil all round, like a crown of flowers on a death mask, made me cry for the tragically young age at which Frida died. 47. Only 6 years older than I am now. How that was a blessed relief, in a way, from a physical body wracked with pain, to a spiritual body that she very much believed in. I did not feel this was the end I wanted, nor that my relationship with Frida’s art deserved. I am still very much alive, hopefully with more than 6 years left. I wanted to leave with a sense of life, of joy, not mourning. Self portrait with monkeys 1943 would be my last and lasting image I decided. I took some final, long, lingering looks at the strength and audacity displayed in that face, closed my eyes and found the exit.

On my way out I realised why Frida Kahlo’s art has such a profound and lasting impact on me. She wanted to be seen. A disabled woman of colour. She wanted to be seen. Society and culture hide and render invisible women, people of colour and disabled people. Frida Kahlo was all 3. She wanted to be seen. She wanted to roar and rage her way out of the pain and the way others chose to not see her. She wanted to give them no choice but to look at her and hear her voice. And how she did. I hear her, I see her and in her I see parts of myself reflected, I see and feel understanding, acceptance and love. That is redemptive. And rare. And beautiful. It is powerful and heady stuff. When I look at Frida Kahlo’s paintings I see her. And she sees me. I see myself echoed in the paint, I see aspects of my life mattering, I see representations of female pain, anguish, fear and anger. I understand myself more. I feel. I feel so strongly and so powerfully that I am renewed.

I hope one day to be able to stand in situ with her work again, there really is no substitute for the real thing. As much as the exhibition catalogues and prints try to capture, there is no replication of the way it feels to stand and marvel at a painting or sculpture. Art is about explaining and exploring the human condition, it shows us who we are and what we can be. It transcends time and space, we can share in the emotions of artists dead for centuries, or ones who live round the corner. We can connect deeply to each other and ourselves in art.

Frida Kahlo’s art has always spoken to me. It continues to do so.

 

 

 

 

BBC Symphony Orchestra – Maida Vale, London

Friday 6th July, 2018

This will be the longest gap between attending the concert and writing it up since I started this blog. Partly because I don’t have a small, light, laptop for travel, and partly because life has gotten in the way. Parenthood, work and the England football team have all prevented me putting words down. And now I realise that I’ve lost the programme for the event. I’ll be working on memory here; this may not be a classic entry!

The BBC give away free tickets to all sorts of things, comedy shows, discussion/panel shows, gigs and classical concerts. All you have to do is apply and keep your fingers crossed. I’ve never been lucky in securing Strictly tickets, but I have occasionally seen some BBC Radio 4 recordings in Bristol (Cerys Matthews In Our Time and Front Row). I applied for tickets to this when I realised that Tom and I would be in London for the weekend and that it was at Maida Vale. The iconic recording studio that the BBC are planning to leave very soon. I thought I had better take the chance to visit while I could, having never been there before. Besides when else do you get to hear the BBC Symphony Orchestra in all its glory, being recorded for BBC Radio 3, for free?

It had already been one heck of a musical day, starting with my final stint as the 5 before 6 DJ on Chris Hawkins early show on BBC 6Music (you send in 5 songs to be played at 5 to 6 in the morning). We visited Abbey Road and I posed on the crossing with 800 other tourists in homage to the Beatles. Then we popped in to see James Maynell at Soho Radio (he usually broadcasts on a Friday 2-4, have a listen) and I ended up live on air chatting to Alan McGee (as you do!) about Screamadelica. It was about as far from my ordinary Friday as it could get.

Having been lucky in the ticket draw we rocked up to Maida Vale nice and early and were grateful to be queuing in the shade. The relentless heat we have had of late made London (and the tube in particular) very sticky indeed. Once allowed in it felt fantastical and anti climatic all at once. I may well have been walking where the Beatles, Sir George Martin and Cilla had, but it was still a working BBC building with all its health & safety notices and business as usual air. We were in Studio 1, a vast hall with peach and cream walls and some baffling curtains covering nothing and doors that seemed to lead nowhere high up on the walls. It felt time capsule like, original features were abound giving it an air of faded, tired glamour. My initial reaction was “well I can see why they want to close down and move from here, its old, a pain in the arse to get to, how on earth you’d park large trucks outside I do not know and frankly I feel like I’m in a school gym circa 1954.”

The enormous orchestra trundled in (there seemed to be so many of them and yet they didn’t fill the space, it just seemed to go on forever) and our BBC Radio 3 host (whose name I’ve forgotten, but who’s voice I recognised from my occasional listening to the station) welcomed us in and we did some practice applause.

The wonderful thing about attending recordings for radio is that they introduce everything fully and so you have a bit more chance of understanding things you aren’t familiar with. Such as classical French composers. They opened with Berlioz’s overture to ‘Le carnaval romain’ which was pretty stirring stuff. Romantic and swirling, building climatically to an enormous crescendo it certainly kept us all awake!

After a short interval we came back to Liszt’s symphonic poem, apparently the worlds first, and there was a chat with the conductor afterwards (without the programme I’ve no idea of his name) about how French cello compositions have their own sound and how the use of piano to compose on isn’t the done thing in France, as it is in Germany etc. The composer “must think in his head” the sound he wants to convey. I’ve genuinely no idea what difference this makes, I’m no expert on any kind of classical music at all, but it was interesting to hear about from someone who did. This was a calmer piece, gentler and more ‘traditional’ romance.

The final piece was from Dutilleux, Timbres, espace, mouvement, which was inspired by the Van Gogh painting Starry Night.  I had Don McLean’s Vincent running through my head which made for an interesting mash up I can tell you! The motifs representing the stars (harp, wind) run through the piece, almost competing with the cellos of the earth to see who can shine brightest and feel more authentic. Ultimately it is both, creating a beautiful dance of natural wonder.

I may have started as a doubter, but as soon as the sounds of the orchestra hit my ears, I knew what every musician who has ever played at Maida Vale meant when they say the place is special. There is a warmth and depth to the sound, something very rich and wonderful that would be lost if the BBC were to move. I can still see the practical reasons they may want to leave, but my heart is now sold on them staying. I am very glad I had the opportunity to hear music played there, it is a venue off the bucket list that’s for sure.

It had been a magical, musical adventure of a day.

 

 

The Genius of J.S Bach: Figo Baroque Ensemble & James Gough – Clifton Cathederal, Bristol

Thursday 28th June, 2018

Another Clifton International Festival of Music event, this time of a composer and a style I was slightly more familiar with, in a venue I wasn’t. I’ve admired the brave, modernist architecture of Clifton Cathedral from the outside before, but have never been in. That was almost reason alone for purchasing the ticket. That and it being a Baroque Ensemble, a style I have come to like recently. That and leaving present gift vouchers burning a hole in my pocket.

Walking into the Cathederal was fairly awe inspiring, natural light flooding in to the open and welcoming space, highlighting the repeated hexagonal and triangular patterns and making the concrete almost shine. The smooth, coolness of the material, with the makers lines evident, was soothing and calming. It was a relaxing way to start a concert.

Although I know a little bit of Bach and I’ve heard some other Baroque trios and quartets before I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, so it was a relief to have an introduction where the musicians and host admitted they didn’t really understand some of the terminology either. It was also lovely to have the musicians on our level, not raised up on a stage, but with us, almost among us. It felt intimate, even on this grand scale.

We started with Jacob Garside on solo cello. Oh. I liked. The melancholic, low bass sounds were a surprise. Perhaps I’ve just not heard enough cello up close in magnificent surroundings (the acoustics *kisses fingers*) or perhaps this is a fine example of both composer and player. Then Jacob was joined by Sergio and Simone and the trio talked us through how they not only play baroque style music, but that they play it on baroque style instruments. Strings made from sheep’s intestines and bows that curve the other way. Sergio played a continuo, of which I’d never heard before, but looked amazing. Together they took us through Violin Sonata in G major (if you know what any of this means, they played in baroque tones with different tuning than modern players would use). All I know is that my ears and my heart liked what they heard. It was moving and graceful and was over far too quickly.

During the interval I had a brief look round the Cathederal. What a space. I could have begun to be a believer, save for the pro life propaganda (leaflets proclaiming “safe spaces” outside abortion clinics were a bad thing). All the openness and light and being together in God’s love falls somewhat by the wayside when women are treated as objects of men’s control. All women should have the right to make choices about their bodies, that’s being pro life. I retook my seat feeling slightly off kilter as result.

The second half began with Simone playing solo violin, Sonata in A minor. Oh. If I had liked the cello. Well. This was something on another plain. It was delicate. There was a sweetness and a softness to the sound, the tones were simply beautiful. Simone was using his whole body to play, at times on tiptoes, giving us his all. I was moved. I may have cried. It was wonderful.

Our final piece was to be on the organ. James Gough performing Passacaglia in C minor. The organ, like the building is modern, the music is not. It is a beast. James worked his way round every knob and switch he could I think. It struck me that these are just the medieval equivalent of an effects pedal for a modern electric guitar. Bach to the White Stripes. I wasn’t expecting that as a connection this evening! What can I say about this piece of music? It was thrilling. Thrilling. I had goosebumps on goosebumps and it sent shivers through me. Every time I thought it couldn’t get any more tense, the spring was wound even tighter until the music exploded. I was left breathless. It was a stunning end to a brilliant concert, that left me left hungry for more baroque and more Bach.

You know how sometimes music leaves you almost punch drunk? This was one of those. I sort of floated/staggered out not knowing where I was.

The Genius of J.S Bach, I should coco.

 

Lennox Berkeley:Music for the Piano – St Paul’s Church, Bristol

Sunday 24th June, 2018

There were so many unknowns for me going into this; I’d never heard of the Clifton International Festival of Music, nor been to the venue, didn’t have a clue about the composer or pianist. I booked the ticket anyway because I like discovering new things. It was less than a tenner and I had some gift vouchers waiting to be used so I thought why not?

St Paul’s Church is beautiful, late 19C I would guess from the Art Nouveau style altar art, mosaics and stained glass. It felt welcoming and as I was early I thought I may as well sit at the front. Not that it was a big church, or full. It was a fairly small crowd and I felt out of place in the sense that all the chatter was sounding very knowledgeable about classical music. As I’ve said before, that has not been my world. Neither at home or school. Since I started #40gigs last year I’ve been to more classical concerts than you can shake a stick at, and I’ve developed something of a liking for baroque chamber music. However, I still have no idea what I’m listening to most of the time, the etiquette of when to clap (and most importantly when not to), the terminology or even the names of the composers, or instruments. Like hip hop, I lack the language and terminology to describe what I am hearing. The programme notes for tonight’s concert mention tonality a lot. I do not know what this means. Ditto what a mazurka is.

I know from my love of art that knowledge isn’t always essential, but it can enhance. You can know what you like by ear or eye, yes, but to engage the head as well you do need some framework of understanding. As I lack that I can only ever go by my emotional reaction to the music. Which as we all know from previous entries can be quite strong at times! It wasn’t this evening, which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, or that it was safe, just that it didn’t reach into my heart and gut and move them.

Douglas Stevens is clearly very passionate about Lennox Berkeley’s music. He has written a PhD thesis about it for a start, and recorded the entirety of his works (some of which have not been recorded before) and was prepared, despite being shy and nervous, to play this recital for us this evening. His love of the music did come through, especially towards the end when he was more animated in his playing style.

It certainly wasn’t gentle, wafty, background classical as there were shifts and jumps that were amusing. It wasn’t dramatic or emotional either though. So I’m left feeling a bit bemused if I’m honest. It was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday evening and I do feel quite relaxed. Nothing more though. Not stirred, not inspired, not astonished. I guess I am so spoiled, musically, in being those things more regularly, that a perfectly pleasant evenings entertainment leaves me feeling cheated!

I am still glad I went, things have to be tried to know if they suit, and learning what does and doesn’t is an ongoing process. I’ll keep trying new things and experiences.

 

Daylight Music – Union Chapel, London

Saturday 23rd June, 2018

I love Daylight Music. It’s such a brilliant idea, live music in an iconic venue, pay what you can afford, CAKE and tea. What is not to love about this? Whenever I have a free Saturday and can get a cheap coach ticket (today cost me £12 return) I pop in to Daylight Music. They run most Saturday lunchtimes, with a break in the summer, and you always get 3 main acts plus someone playing live to fill in the gaps. The suggested donation is £5 and there is always someone worth listening to on the bill. Why not go? Only one more week left this season, but they are back in the Autumn. I hope to see you there at some point.

I had planned this trip up a while ago, not knowing (or caring to be honest) who was on the bill. Through Lauren Laverne’s excellent show on BBC6 Music (and if you aren’t listening to that, then you should be) I had made contact with Ian. He had tweeted in looking for someone to go to a gig with, I said anytime he was in Bristol or I was in London I’d gladly go with him, but also encouraging him to go alone. I go to gigs on my own all the time, better to see and hear great music alone than to miss out. Through the power of music, the radio and twitter we made a loose plan to meet at Daylight Music.

Come the actual day and I’ve forgotten Ian’s twitter name (please don’t take offense, I forget my own!) and having been on social media holiday for a few days I figured he wouldn’t show up. I was early and sat in the small park outside enjoying the sun. When I got into Union Chapel, which really is as beautiful as everyone says it is, I decided to go upstairs. I’ve never done that before and I was interested to explore and see what the sound was like up there. Well, the view was spectacular and the sound pretty top notch.

The first act was Malin Anderson, who has just put out her debut album, Follow. Buy it. She has a beautiful voice, plays lovely gentle guitar and has the confident stage presence of a much more seasoned performer. As Ian said “she has the full package.” Why she is more known is a mystery to me. She was worth showing up for alone.

I had instragmmed a photo of my view, which I’m glad I did because Ian was there and came to find me! He insisted on buying me a slice of gluten free beetroot red velvet cake (how was I to resist that?) and I moved back downstairs to be with him and his friend Magda for the rest of the gig. The cake was pretty good. Ian assured me the other 3 types of cake he had already eaten were also very good. Yes, he had 4 slices of cake. This is why Daylight Music is so brilliant, it is really relaxed and chilled and there is cake. Seated gigs at sensible times with cake. Why aren’t they all like this? 🙂

Our next act was Alisha Sufit who sang, what she accurately described as “traditional folk songs that I wrote last year.” I liked her, her voice was clear and high and rang out across the pews. My favourite was one she wrote in response to a too polite piece on Women’s Hour about internet trolls. It was angry and very funny. Playful, vicious lyrics sung in a lilting harmony and an upbeat melody, it was shocking and hilarious. I’d quite like a gif of it to send to mansplainers, trolls and abusers.

I must mention Hannah who was the inbetween act today. Daylight Music always have eclectic ‘filler’ acts (I’ve seen a toy piano for starters) but Hannah was brilliant. I’m not sure the 1877 organ has ever been used to play Sweet Child O Mine before, nor the Emmerdale theme tune, nor Bon Jovi. All of which were as bonkers and fantastic as they sound. There was something apt about hearing Livin’ On a Prayer played on a church organ. I don’t know why it worked, it just did.

Our last act was to be San Soucis Experience. This was a stripped down version of the band, lead singer on guitar, bass and 3 backing singers. Oh boy was it good. Shimmering, summery, feel good music with amazing bass and a lead vocal that was both jazz and soul all at once. It was like a secret spice blend, all the ingredients just mix together to make something special. They’ve released an EP recently and I’d recommend getting it. An album will follow I hope.

Huge thanks to Ben and the team of volunteers who put on Daylight Music, it must be a total labour of love, but you do a great job. I appreciated it being another all female line up too, thank you for championing female musicians and others on the margins of the industry.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you are in the vicinity of London on a Saturday lunchtime when Daylight Music is on, go. This was my fourth visit and I’ve found music to fall in love with each time. I even made some new friends this time!

 

Sensory Symphony – Colston Hall, Bristol

Sunday 10th June, 2018

Less a gig, more an event. A chance to say farewell for the time being to Colston Hall. Although we do not know what it will be named when it comes back, of course. Today was the last day, the last chance, to see the hall before the 2 year project to transform it begins.  I was emotional going in. Colston Hall, in particular The Lantern have been such an integral part of my life over the past 18 months. I honestly do not know what I will do without regular trips there. Like many Bristolians, and after almost a decade here I hope I am allowed to call myself that, have many wonderful memories of Colston Hall.

I have only every known it with the shiny new extension, opened not that long after I moved here. It made the space open, welcoming and full of light. I think the first gig I saw was The Manic Street Preachers, who are always worth seeing live. They told stories about escaping out of windows and sneaking on to trains to get to gigs at Colston Hall as teenagers!

The first time I went to The Lantern (which remains one of my favourite venues in Bristol for somehow managing to combine intimacy and spaciousness) was to see Saul Williams. Or Peggy Seeger. I can’t remember which came first, but they demonstrate the range and diversity of acts you can see  at Colston Hall. Many of #40gigs took place in The Lantern. Wonderful gigs. Memorable gigs. I have cried, I have danced, I have shared and I have been alone. Always I have enjoyed myself. The plans for the Lantern are ambitious, bold and beautiful. Windows will be reopened, seats installed and capacity increased. The designs look incredible. I can’t wait!

The plans for the main hall also include increasing capacity and building new balconies, which are needed as the acoustics suffer in the current design. It will be glossy and modern and reflect Bristol’s place as a cultural leader for music.

I was nervous about today’s event, an audio visual, immersive experience. Would it be overwhelming? We all know what an emotional creature I am with music. We were ushered in and onto the stage. Now there is a treat right there! To know my feet have trodden Colston Hall’s boards. Standing on the stage gave a real flavour of what it would have been like to be a performer here, a new perspective for me as a fan. I looked out at the hall in front of me and remembered some of the amazing gigs I have seen here. Michael Kiwanuka on his 30th birthday, Nils Frahm (be still my heart), Mogwai giving it everything plus the kitchen sink, Penguin Cafe bringing so much joy and love,  The Bootleg Beatles and the singalong Hey Jude making me smile, Ezra Furman showing the world how to be unafraid & unashamed, 6 Music Festival which was one of the greatest weekends of my life and the first time I saw John Grant who was simply incredible. All on this stage, the one I was now stood on. I was already emotional and we hadn’t even begun!

We were treated to a whistle-stop, greatest hits tour of Colston Hall’s recent history. The great, the good, the infamous, the influential, anyone of musical consequence has played Colston Hall it would seem. The audio visuals were spectacular, I got goose bumps and shivers and wanted to dance all over the stage. They did a great job, it can’t have been an easy brief. Sensibly they went chronologically, although we did seem to skip the last couple of decades as we got tribute to the ‘Bristol sound’ of trip hop in the early 90’s then steamed ahead to the end. Did nothing of note happen in the late 90’s or all of the 00’s I wonder?! Icons of British music history flashed before us, The Beatles, The Stones, Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Led Zep, Hendrix, all have played Colston Hall. All were included today. If these walls could talk! Well they sang today, with glorious memories of the Hall’s past. It was a fitting way to bow out. I lingered on the stage as long as I dared, not wanting to leave. It isn’t goodbye, it’s a partial farewell. For a much-needed refurbishment and makeover. I know when it comes back it will have been worth the wait, and we will all make memories afresh among the Hall’s walls.

It was difficult to leave. Colston Hall and The Lantern were such a part of #40 gigs that it isn’t hyperbole to say this place helped to change my life.

Good luck to the transformation team, you have a big job ahead of you. One I know Bristol deserves and will respect. Once you are back, in 2020, I’ll be there on opening night, ready to embrace the new with as much passion and vigour with which I have the old.