40:11

Jesca Hoop. The Exchange, Bristol.

An artist only recently on my radar. Smashing little venue I’d been to for the first time 2 weeks earlier.

All I knew about Jesca Hoop was that she had been an in session guest on 6 Music and that plenty of fellow 6 listeners on twitter rated her. Although I’d not heard the session, the recommendation from the station and fellow fans was enough to prompt me to buy the ticket. The Exchange is a fab venue on Old Market Street, small, dark, sticky of floor& hot (until they remember to turn the air con on) and really friendly.

I wasn’t at all in the mood for a gig tonight. Especially going to one on my own. I felt sad, a touch maudlin even. But 40 gigs don’t attend themselves & the money had been gifted so I made myself go.

I was way too early & had an uncomfortable 50 minutes hanging about but at least it was with a crowd more mature in years than last time I’d been to the Exchange. And I was clearly not the only one on my own either.

The support act, Chloe Foy was very good, softly spoken and of lovely voice she was given plenty of support and encouragement by the crowd. Bristol crowds are good like that.

The picture I’d formed in my head was that Jesca was young, new & would be playing acoustic and solo. It was a very pleasant surprise to be proved wrong on all counts. A band of 3 musicians came out first and then Jesca. Barefoot, wearing a magnificent creation (it had pockets, was quite possibly quilted chaps and a crop top with sleeves you could hide a small child inside) & beguilingly quiet. I had deliberately not listened to her music, as I love the surprise of discovering something new and unexpected. Which this gig most certainly was. Every time I though I  had a handle on what would happen next, I didn’t. And it was wonderful. Just wonderful. Mostly there was no bass guitar so there was more snare and bass drum and some really creative, inventive drumming and two complimentary yet different lead guitar parts going on. For one song the band sat down, had a beer and Jesca played and sang alone. One song had no drums, but the drummer played the bass instead. One was about not putting out, another about the stars. It was glorious and I couldn’t help but be swept into it and felt my body moving in ways the creaky old joints just don’t do often enough anymore. We had a faux encore, with rehearsal, and a final song that was perfection. I am more than happy to belong to you, now, Jesca. This was a gig that lifted and lightened me.

Sometimes the right music just finds you. Tonight it did.

11 down. 29 to go.

40:10

Welsh National Opera, La Boheme. Bristol Hippodrome.

Renowned opera company, something Italian, an old and steep theatre. I’ve debated with myself over whether I could count opera as a gig or not, and popular opinion (aka a totally unscientific poll on twitter) concluded that I could. It’s live music and singing. That counts.

Ages ago I mentioned that I’d never been to an opera but had always quite fancied it to my boyfriend, who booked us tickets to see La Boheme as it was one of the operas he’d never seen and the WNO were performing it at the Hippodrome somewhere approaching my 40th. We both sort of forgot about it for a while and have subsequently gone our separate ways. However, as we remain friends, and I have 40 gigs to get through, we agreed to go anyhow.

The seats were up in the sky and I always forget how vertigo inducing and precarious the upper circle feels. Although from the front row the view was pretty good. The orchestra was so large they had taken out the front rows of the stalls to accommodate them, so from a purely musical perspective I knew this would be good. The staging was superb, the lighting and angles employed drew you in perfectly. And the cast were all excellent.

I did struggle at first to get to grips with watching the action, trying to figure out what was going on and trying to understand Italian as well as read the handy English subtitles displayed above the stage all at once. For most of the first act I wasn’t really sure what was going on. Most of it seemed unashamedly romantic (if a little creepy) but I’m really not going to ask what the monkey clown/transvestite prostitutes were all about as I’m not sure that knowing would actually make much difference! I enjoyed the chaos created when different characters sang at the same time and could sense an element of humour as well as tragedy underpinning the whole thing.

By the second half I was more in the swing of taking in all the clues at once to put together a picture of doomed romance (if you don’t know the story it’s not really spoiling it to say there is death. It’s opera). Essentially its a bit like watching Shakespeare, you won’t get every word but you’ll get enough to understand the story and I’m sure the more opera I see/hear, the more it will make sense.

I will happily go to more opera on the strength of this as I enjoyed the experience very much. Live orchestral music with operatic voices is pretty spine tingling stuff. Tears may have been shed, although how much of that was the circumstances of watching it and how much was the music I cannot say.

10 down. 30 to go.

40:9

Daniel Lanois. The Lantern, Colston Hall.

THE master producer & soundscape engineer. 300 capacity venue inside Colston Hall.

I’ll confess I didn’t read the blurb properly so I knew it was Dan Lanois, producer extraordinaire, but I hadn’t realised it was him solo playing his most recent concept album. I love the Lantern, I’ve gone on about it already but it really is a lovely addition to the Hall, providing a space that is both intimate (maximum capacity less than 300) and yet spacious (the ceiling is about a mile high).

I was still excited; I’d seen him play the Wrecking Ball album with Emmylou Harris in the main hall a few years ago, where he had also provided the support. And as the producer of some of the greatest albums of all time, he certainly understands sound so I knew whatever he did it would be woth hearing.

I went with my friend Janine, who had taken me to Evelyn Glennie, we have agreed to go to a gig with some singing next time :). There were 2 support acts, both of whom played their guitars with violin bows and were wearing black and lit so badly it was as if we were in a power cut. In terms of setting the tone for what was to come, they did well, but I was somewhat perplexed if I’m honest.  I’ll let Janine sum it up “I preferred the first one, I could see him for a start!”

Main event. Mr Lanois. Who showed us very quickly and very clearly that we were in the hands of a master. He opened with a lap steel guitar piece. Played on what he later explained was his first instrument, the original one he began playing aged 9. It’s one of my favourite instruments, he played it in ways I’ve never heard before. It was strange, disconcerting, beautiful and jarring all at once. The physicality involved in stretching, bending and blending the strings was quite something to watch.

Then he moved over to. To. To. Well I don’t know what it was. Some sort of console/platform/space pod. It produced sounds that made me think we were all in rocketship about to be taken up into the skies. Which we kind of were. It was a rave/dance/dub reggae/trance/rock/art installation/happening kind of event. I can’t really describe it. It just was. And it was amazing. At times it felt like appropriate behaviour would have been to munch a handful of E’s and rave as if it were the second summer of love. At other points, chin stroking art critics in the Tate Modern would have felt at home. It was experimental. It was creative. It was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or will see. It was painting with sounds and visuals to create musical art.

He is a unique talent, who produces art music that’s accessible whilst remaining strange. I wasn’t capable of writing about it last night, I needed time to process what I had witnessed, I still need time to process it. It’s certainly the strangest gig I’ve ever been to. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 40 gigs is in part a voyage of discovery and Daniel Lanois in his space console sound cage certainly took me on one last night.

9 down. 31 to go.

40:8

Bristol Concert Orchestra. St George’s Hall, Bristol

Explains itself, venue I’ve already waxed lyrically about in 40:4.

Prompted by a tweet from the venue saying tickets were still available for this tonight, I decided to just go. £8 for the back stalls, but as the sound in St George’s is so wonderful it makes no difference where you sit. And back stalls is still only row 3, overlooking the stage. I’ve rarely been to a classical concert, maybe 3 or 4 in my life. Growing up a working class kid on a council estate didn’t lend itself to a background love of classical music. So this was to be a little journey of discovery, which is part of the point of this whole thing.

The gorgeous sound quality in St George’s really lends itself to an orchestra, you can make out the individual instruments in the blend. The opening pair of Debussy pieces were rather lovely, the first more genteel, easing us into the concert and setting the scene for the rest of the evening. Then some orchestra shifting and somehow a pair of pianos made their way into the middle; we were to be treated to Mozart’s concerto for two pianos. I love an old joanna, and I love me a bit of strings on a record (ahem Elbow, Starsailor) so this was perfect for me. As was the fun Stefan and You-Chiung were clearly having duelling on the next piece where all 4 hands were on one piano keyboard.

One of the lovely things about St George’s is that they are family friendly and happy for children to come along and there was a gorgeous little girl, all of 3 or 4 I’d have thought mock conducting and twirling around in the stalls opposite. To see her unabashed joy and participation was wonderful.

The Dvorak symphony (number 8 for those who know) was unashamedly romantic and sentimental. It was too much and although beautiful, not for me. But, they had saved the best for last with Marquez’s Danzon No 2. I loved this. The percussion alone, hinting at South American rhythms, the frenetic strings (the violinists were going like the clappers) and the wind section backing it all up in a frenzy of excitement. My feet were tapping and plenty of others in the audience were too. It was life affirming stuff, playful and full of joy.

This was my 2nd trip to St George’s on this adventure, and I hope it won’t be the last. I have always felt welcomed there, even when I have no idea about the music I am hearing!

8 down, 32 to go.

40:7

Indigo Husk/The Pale White/High Tyde. The Exchange, Bristol

3 bands I’ve never heard of in a venue I’ve never been to.

I was offered a photo pass, the venue is walkable from home and part of this idea is to try new things so along I went. When the bouncer asked me for ID on the way in I had to laugh, so did he when he saw my age. Once inside the venue (which is also a coffee bar – very Bristol) and saw how young the rest of the crowd were I understood; average age couldn’t have been above 20.

Indigo Husk were first on and either they were amazing, or the crowd were really up for it, or both as there was a fabulous energy in the room. This bypassed me, but then I’m more used to seated gigs or gentle music these days. My moshing days are long gone. Also, I was too busy struggling to get a shot as the lighting wasn’t kind and without a pit to separate me I was knee deep in the crowd.

The Pale White were the closest to my musical taste of the 3 bands and although the crowd got ever livelier, I’d found refuge in a church pew bench at the side.

High Tyde were clearly the reason most of the crowd were there as the room filled very quickly and the moshing was impossible to escape. I’d tried to stay in the front row to photograph but had no chance! Their lighting was also unkind and I was feeling not quite right so I just retreated. Which is a shame as what I heard I liked. And it was fabulous to see the energy and life in the faces of the youngsters there. Such vibrancy.

I was glad to have been there, and it was a joy to be photographing again, but it showed me that my mosh pit days are well and truly in the past (Skunk Anansie/Garbage were my time for that!).

Me not feeling right turned into a migraine that I’ve spent most of today sleeping off, which has heavily influenced my ability to review. Once I’ve recovered enough to process the photos I’ll add a link here.

7 down. 33 to go.

 

40:6

Elbow. Plymouth Pavillions.

A band I have loved for years, whose music means so much. A venue I’ve never heard of.

Having no annual leave left, nor money for hotel I had to travel 3 hours by coach after a full days work to get there. I love Elbow so much and this was to be my first time seeing them live so I was nervous with excitement. Please, please be brilliant I was thinking.

I managed to get myself pretty close to the front and as I entered the cavernous hall I was already beaming just at being there. The venue is, well, weird. An ice rink come swimming pool come music venue. Made of concrete. With a tiny front door I had to walk round the building twice to find. Huge space, strange shape, but I was to be in the same room as Elbow so all of that didn’t really matter.

The support was from the excellent C Duncan, who I saw in a much smaller venue headlining recently (was gig 1 of this adventure – 40:1). I had fallen in love with their gorgeous harmonies there and was pleased to be seeing them again. They did a great support job, and as most of the crowd had arrived early they were given plenty of support in return.

Then Elbow. Oh me . Oh my. They opened with Gentle Storm, which is among my favourites on the new album, such beautiful sentiment. But that’s Elbow. You either utterly love them for their ferocious romanticism (nicked that from the Guardian) or you aren’t my friend. I was lost in the music from the get go and dancing, moving, swaying and silent singing from this first song.

I am nursing a sore heart, so Mirrorball had me in rivers of tears.  One day I want to be loved like that. One day I want to love like that. The tears didn’t really stop from here until One Day Like This, the guitar part in Little Fictions set me off all over again and New York Morning was almost too much. It was such an emotional night. I’ve not  felt a gig like that for a long time. The powerful emotional connection between us and the band was so strong. Guy weaves his magic, the power of that gorgeous honeyed voice, like a golden thread, stitching all of us together, supported and enhanced by the incredible musicians behind him. I laughed as well as cried, smiled, felt wrapped in a blanket of beautiful, comforting music. I was in a place of safety and love. I want to live in an Elbow gig. Music is my home.

One Day Like This, a song given to us all, with love, as a gift from the band. They will probably never be able to not play this song, and whatever it may have meant to the band, its ours now. Like a parent to a child, passing unconditional love. I was uplifted and carried on the joy of strangers. It was glorious.

I didn’t want it to end, but as it had to I am glad the final song was Grounds For Divorce, always leave ’em smiling and wanting more. And they did.

As I find crowds quite difficult to deal with (and I had more than 2 hours before my Megabus home) I waited for the room to clear and took moments to breathe in the experience. I had failed to secure a set list until I saw the sound crew. Thank you lovely crew for doing your best in a big, big space. The lighting was spot on too, there were some wonderful shadows cast against the big concrete walls. Thank you also for my set list so that I can remember and relive the most magnificent gig I’ve experienced in years.

With time to waste I hung about on the off chance the boys would come out. If nothing else, it was brightly lit and there would be other people there to keep me safe I thought. I got chatting with the small band of others who were waiting, all lovely folk. We shared stories, hugs and instagram details. I may see some of them again on this 40 gigs adventure. This is what music does; brings people together.

Mark and Guy came out and so I have not only a signed set list and ticket but had the opportunity to say thank you to them for all the wonderful music. Thank you again. For it all, for the music, for the gig, for being such gentlemen and allowing me to clumsily express what your music means. For the hug, Guy, it will be treasured.

My soul is healed, consoled and my life made richer with meaning because of Elbow’s music.Presuming Ed will always, always make me cry: life is indeed the orginal miracle.

6 down. 34 to go.

 

 

40:5

Ninebarrow. Saltcellar Folk Club

A folk duo playing my local folk club, in the basement of a church I walk past every day dropping my son to school.

I’m still new to folk, Mark Radcliffe’s folk show live recording at the 6 Music Festival last year converted me.  I’ve seen, and loved, Peggy Seeger and Sam Lee since, but this was to be my first foray into a folk club. Its’ 10 minute walk from home and only a fiver so despite nursing my heart I decided to take the chance and go.

The venue is lovely, and the club very welcoming to a newbie on their own and it was packed. There were so many floor acts they were limited to one song each, which showcased a depth and breadth of local talent. The styles varied from reels to americana, traditional songs to own compositions and although not all of them were to my taste it was a more interesting way to start the evening than I’m used to.

After the interval for tea and cake (I could get into folk clubs big time on this point alone) Ninebarrow took to the floor. As much as being only 5 foot 1 makes it a challenge to see an artist, being on the same level as them playing allows for a level connection. Eye contact is established and there is an immediate sense of intimacy. The harmonies. Rrrrrr. Lovely, lovely, harmonies. Jon and Jay can clearly both sing, but when the voices blend, something really magical happens. Ethereal noises come out of them.

They sang both original compositions and traditional songs, with instrumentation or unaccompanied. All of it was mesmerizing. Weaving stories with their voices, layering emotion with the instruments, drawing the audience in and making them really listen. The beautiful thing was the participation (not from me, my voice would ruin anything) and therefore the collective warmth.If that makes is sound gentle, it was, despite some of the songs being quite dark. Murder, hanging, betrayal were all there, as well as birds, landscapes and fairies.

If only I’d known folk could be like this.

5 down. 35 to go.