Colin Stetson, Gorilla, Manchester.
Part of Dark Matter, curated by Mary Anne Hobbs for Manchester International Festival.
Master of the sax. Venue new to me, in a City that isn’t.
I’m a regular listener of Mary Anne Hobbs’ breakfast show on 6 Music, which is where I first encountered Colin’s music. She played Spindrift, introducing it as one man on one instrument in one take I didn’t believe her at first. Something in this man’s extraordinary talent and mastery of his craft got inside my head. So when it was announced he would be playing a rare live show in the UK, at a festival curated by Mary Anne, well I had to get my hands on a ticket.
The more I read about Colin’s live performances, the more I listened to his album, the more I interacted with the other 6 Music fans on twitter, the more nervous/excited I became about this gig. It had such potential to be a special one and I was worried it would either be far too emotional an experience or that I’d feel cheated if it wasn’t!
Financial troubles were threatening at one point for me to have to pull out of going altogether, until a very kind group of friends and strangers intervened to crowd fund me some money. I am so grateful to them, because I had the best time. The best.
A group of regular Mary Anne listeners (#teamColin #Colincrew #6MusicFamily) had arranged to meet up in a very fancy looking bar, Refuge, near the venue. Scott clocked me as soon as I walked in, and we found Morvern, Tom, Matt, Kev and Mark lurking at the back 🙂 It was bloody lovely to meet folk I’ve shared my Saturday and Sunday mornings with, virtually, and be able to chat in person. Then Mary Anne herself arrived to say hello! I am very proud of myself for not fangirling too hard, and that I neither fell over nor headbutted the lamp (check out #farcicalaccidents on twitter to see why this was a feat for me). She was as gracious, lovely and frankly beautiful as you could wish for. We all got a hug and a thanks for coming as well as a group photo that will be treasured for a long time by us all. They say to not meet your heroes. You know what, when you pick your idols this well, I think you are safe to do so.
I headed off before the others to claim my traditional front row spot. At a shade over 5 foot if I don’t I spend the night looking at other people’s heads. That and not knowing the venue I needed to be there early to be able to check it out and feel safe. On that score, no worries, the staff in Gorilla were all bloody lovely. The little bar at the back, hidden behind a velvet curtain gave it a Twin Peaks kinda vibe that I liked very much. It’s not hugely dissimilar to The Exchange here in Bristol, a venue I love, so I felt at home and comfortable.
The rest of the crew did come to find me, so I got to share the gig with them and for that I am extremely thankful.
Mary Anne DJ’ing was the support and we all gave her a wave and a cheer when she span Mogwai. It’s a shame I won’t be able to get up to Glasgow to see them with some of the gang later in the year.
Then Colin. I know I get passionate, carried away and full of hyperbole over music at times, but you have to trust me that Colin Stetson is a unique and brilliant talent. He is an utter master of the saxophone, but to call him a saxophonist is to not do justice to his art. If I hadn’t seen with my own eyes, nor heard with my own ears, I’m not sure I would believe it to be possible for one man, with one instrument, to make those sounds. He is a genius. He is a unique and extraordinary talent.
He played us tracks from his newest album, All This I Do For Glory, which you have to buy, and new material. The new stuff was heavier, darker, I thought, absolutely all of it brilliant. It was an utter privilege to be stood so close, to see every straining sinew, every fleck of sweat and to revel in the mastery of this man’s craft. The physicality involved in his playing is astonishing. This is an artist leaving everything he has on that stage, almost endangering himself in his playing. I can’t claim to begin to understand how he does it, what the circular breathing technique is, or frankly how he doesn’t die of lack of oxygen, all I know is I was lucky to be there to marvel in it. To be able to see the power in his muscles, the flexing of muscle groups in his chest, arms and throat and the speed in which his hands moved was just a wonder to behold. One of the new tracks, The Love It Takes To Leave You, was so emotional I was in tears.
When he played the largest of his three saxes, the one that was virtually as big as me, the bass rumble hit me in the chest and almost knocked me off my feet. The sheer power of it was spectacular. Somehow he manages to play deep bass, drone, melody and sing through the instrument all at on once to create deeply emotional and unique sonic soundscapes that are simply incredible. I have never experienced anything like it. Clearly, neither had anyone else, the atmosphere in Gorilla was electric.
It was almost as if he was wrestling the sounds from the saxophone, and it is the closest I’ve seen to a musician running a marathon on stage. He was sweating profusely throughout and you could tell at the end he was done. He gave us his all.
Thank you Colin, for your extraordinary talent. Thank you Mary Anne for introducing me to Colin’s music and for bringing him to the festival. Thank you everyone who donated so that I could get there to experience it. Thank you to the 6 Music Family for sharing it with me and being part of a special night. Thank you Manchester for welcoming me so thoroughly.
Music brings people together, it unites, it heals. Gig 27 did that in spades for me. It was fitting that it was in Manchester, and 40 gigs wouldn’t have felt complete with a visit to this fine musical City.
Stay safe, our kid.
27 down. 13 to go.