Nils Frahm – Colston Hall, Bristol

Sunday 25th February

Nils Frahm is yet another artist I discovered thanks to Mary Anne Hobbs’ Recommends Show on 6 Music (Wednesdays midnight for an hour, or iplayer radio). He’s a genius, pure and simple. Pairing electronic wizardry with piano to make the most beautiful and sublime music that makes you glad to be alive. This gig was announced last summer and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. There was a lot of anticipation and expectation with this one. I knew it had potential to be among the most emotional and moving of all the gigs I would see this year.

With no support act and a packed hall I was nervous with excitement. Would Nils be as good as everyone said he would? Would I need the extra tissues I packed, just in case? Yes and yes. He surprised me, he delighted me, he moved me and he astounded me. In 2 hours he played some of the most wonderful music I’ve ever heard. He had an array of keyboards, pianos, gizmos, gadgets, sound boards and buttons. There was even what looked like an antique apothecary cabinet (perhaps he collects sounds in there) with draws and all sorts of things that an instrument nerd would get very excited about I expect. Whatever he touched, gorgeous sounds came out. I hadn’t expected it to be so dancey, at times I wanted to be raving in a German warehouse as if it was 1989, or for Nils to be so charming and funny. He looked like he was wrestling the machines, beating the noises out of them until he had his creation, in the ilk of a mad scientist. The passion and energy he bought to the stage was extraordinary. Being close enough to see his face, the effort, the concentration, the emotion (his eyes closed when he played piano) was thrilling. The quieter, more reflective, piano heavy songs had tears running and rolling down my cheeks. The sheer beauty of his music. I closed my eyes and felt peace and calm wash over me, lifting me higher and higher with the melody as my cloud.

The way he layers sounds over each other, on top, sliding to the sides, in and out of the tune is just magical. Building, ebbing, edging to the peak before falling and climbing again. Time and space disappeared, we were transported. The encore was stunning, he “bashed the shit out of the Steinway” with toilet brushes and his hands, before playing a duet with himself with one hand on the piano, the other on a keyboard. It was breathtaking. I’m not usually one for standing ovations, but I couldn’t have stopped myself from getting to my feet if I had tried. It was a spontaneous response to the amazing and brilliant music. I felt transformed.

On the way out I realised Nils was signing albums, an opportunity too good to miss. Now in my possession are a signed copy of All Melody and signed gig ticket. Items to be treasured. Along with the memory of Nils holding my hands in his. Those talented and amazing hands, that play piano better than anyone I’ve ever heard, that create the most incredible sounds. The memory of that moment, shared between artist and fan. Thank you Nils.

I have seen Nils Frahm live and I don’t think my life will ever be the same again. I feel about this gig the way I did after seeing El Greco’s paintings for the first time. Perspectives have shifted, the world isn’t the same again after you experience that kind of artist ecstasy.

 

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Matthew Bourne – Victoria Rooms, Bristol

Friday 23rd February

The University of Bristol Music Department host free lunchtime concerts on Fridays. Who knew? Not me until this week, when Mathew Bourne posted that he was to be a last minute fill in for the one happening on Friday. He was stepping in for an ill Keith Tippett, to whom I wish a speedy and full recovery.

The Victoria Rooms are beautiful, a strange hybrid of over the top Victorian architecture (it is very grand, UoB is posh) and institutional fading (if you’ve ever worked in the public sector you’ll know what I mean). I just sneaked in before Matt started to play and had to run off at the end to get back to work, but the interior of the hall is large. A lone Steinway (baby grand I think) sat at the front of the big stage and the surprisingly comfortable seats were pleasingly filled with a mixture of folk like me on their lunch breaks, students and retired people.

I’ve seen Matthew play once before, at the wonderful Daylight Music at Union Chapel in London. Perhaps I’m only ever destined to hear him at lunchtimes! That was an improvised duet with organ, whereas this was solo piano. And it was glorious. Matt is an inventive and versatile player, some pieces were quiet and considered, waiting for each notes reverberations to end before playing the next note, others were loud and violent in approach. He puts his hands inside the belly of the beast to pluck, strike and drum, making wonderful percussive sounds and rich, deep bass tones. Then he sits back down at the piano, shoeless, and works the keys and peddles like a man possessed. Or deeply in love. Or reflecting. Often times all 3 at once. He is brilliant and if you ever get the chance to hear him play you should absolutely take it.

I’ve had a shitty week, work has been full on, taking the time for this felt almost naughty (even though I’d gone in early and stayed late), many of the pieces Matthew played reflected what was going on in my head. That’s the wonderful power of music, its ability to reflect emotional states and help make sense of a jumbled mind. When he played infinitude and then Isotach I was welling up and my mind was calmed.

Piano’s are amazing instruments, about the only one you go to hear played alone, and in the hands of someone gifted with this kind of talent they are magnificent.

Before I embarked on 40 gigs I would never have found my way to loving music like this and my life would have been the poorer for it.

India Electric Co – The Rondo Theater, Bath

Friday 16th February.

I discovered India Electric Co as part of 40 gigs, I saw them last June in a folk club and immediately loved them. This was their first headline tour and they bought Jack Cookson along as support. This was the first time I’ve been to Bath for a gig, which seems ridiculous as its only 13 miles away from Bristol on an excellent train line. The Rondo theater is more known for plays and comedy it seems, and if I was a Bath resident I’m sure I would venture there again as it was a lovely space. The staff were friendly and welcoming and joined the audience for the gig, Seb did a great job on the sound too.

This was the third time I’d seen Jack Cookson, he does a cracking job as a support act. He has a natural and easy charm. He is crowdfunding his latest project, give him some money if you can. We cannot allow music to become the preserve of those with wealth, we have to support artists by buying gig tickets and CD’s/records. Jack is a really talented singer songwriter, help him to keep making a living doing what he loves. I’m not usually a fan of the harmonica, but Jack is good enough to make me listen to him play them and he can really play. I think I liked his final song the most, it was certainly the most heartfelt and that I like.

India Electric Co made their entrance through the crowd, playing acoustic, like proper folk troubadours. They then played a brilliant set, songs from the most recent EP’s as well as earlier albums. For all the self-deprecating chat and polite Englishness, they are very, very good. Joe can play so many instruments it’s almost dizzying. It shouldn’t be allowed that one person can be so good on the keys, guitar, violin, accordion and also be so nice. You get the feeling you could give him almost anything to play and he’d make lovely noises come out of it. This paired with Cole’s emotionally charged vocals and you have wonderful music. Please don’t ever stop playing  Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, you do it so well, better than the Boss does himself. Lyrically the inspiration comes from poetry and ancient folk songs, but the delivery is modern and with real heart. No matter how much modesty and piss ripping Cole may come out with, watching him feel the song as he sings them is powerful. Parachutes again found me with moist eyes. It’s the standout track of theirs, the one I’ve played over and over since last June. It was delivered last night with real passion and meaning. It was fabulous to hear Joe playing keys on it this time. Tingley I was.

One of the things I have come to really love about folk music is its sense of history, that India Electric Co can take tunes from 350 years ago and pair them with poetry of the same time and turn it into something modern. That music somehow manages to connect us, literally, with the past. Not just with each other in the present moment that we are hearing it, but with generations of others who have played and sung these same songs. I find that very moving.

They finished, as they had begun, among us in the audience. This is music made by people who want to share. My kind of music, and my kind of musicians. The kind I bake chocolate cherry cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing for. They ate two each, so I think they liked them.

Last time I saw India Electric Co I had no idea what to expect and had a lovely surprise. Last night I was, I’ll admit, slightly nervous, that I would have to politely pretend I’d enjoyed it, that was far from the case. Although I’d hate for you to tell them that, if Joe or Cole or Jack ask they were alright but nothing special ok? 😉

Gigs are about so much more than the sounds made on stage, they are about the mood and atmosphere of the place, the people you are with, the performers on stage and how all those things intersect. They are about us, as an audience, being receptive, going in with open ears and open hearts. If 40 gigs taught me anything it was to be unafraid of being open. Performers get up on stage because they want you to listen, I write this blog because I want you to read my words. We want to connect. Our world and our politics seem hell bent on the opposite, so let’s draw together. Go out whenever you can and see a band live. Go without preconceptions, don’t get drunk and chat, just listen. With openness and love. See where it takes you. It has taken me to the most magical places. Odd little theaters in Bath among them.

 

Willy Mason – The Cube, Bristol

Saturday 10th February.

I discovered Willy Mason at Glastonbury 2005, when he headlined the John Peel tent on the final night. He was the best act I saw that weekend and I’ve been a fan ever since.

When this intimate tour was announced, with pre-sale to the mailing list,  it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. I’ve only been to The Cube once before, for a really moving and odd art installation comedy thing and then the space felt small and claustrophobic. I’ve been hesitant about going back, despite my neighbour, who volunteers there, urging me to do so. It’s also not in the best part of town to be be on your own, late at night. But for Willy I was prepared to venture in. I’m glad I did.

Yes, The Cube is odd. You go down into it, then back up once inside and it can feel quite bunker like, but I timed my arrival better and so wasn’t trapped inside the bar or on the stairs waiting to get into the theatre. The performance space itself is lovely, all wooden walls and tiered velvet seats so that the view is brilliant from everywhere.

Support was from Nina Violet, who is also in Willy’s band. She has a beautiful voice with amazing range and control. I would have bought her CD at the end of the gig, but she was sold out, which gives you an idea of how much the rest of the audience loved her too.

She came back out, with the other 2 band members, a bass player come trumpeter (how brilliant a combo is that?) and clarinet/saxophonist player Emma (who can fix her instrument with a rizla, a handy skill) and Willy himself. My initial response was blimey he has aged (well I hasten to add) then I caught myself thinking, of course he has, its been about 9 years since you last saw him. He was a boy then, with a man’s voice, an old head on young shoulders. I guess he always will be, to an extent,  with the world weary warmth he carries in his songs.

That glorious voice, deep, rich, full of humanity and love, singing about the world as seen by a sensitive and deep thinker. Willy isn’t the most prolific producer, or tourer, but you get quality over quantity with him. He is worth seeking out. Those of us who know his music really love him, his following is loyal. Everyone in there knew all the old songs and some had travelled a fair way to be there. Almost everyone was on time and respectful throughout, no talking and barely anyone taking photographs. If you know and love Willy’s music, well, you take it seriously it seems. Which isn’t to say the mood was somber, far from it, it was like a lovely cardigan, gentle and warming. Willy is charming and charismatic in an understated way, endearing and sweet. He’s an amazing songwriter and singer and plays a pretty mean blues country guitar. He played for over 90 minutes and the encore became almost as long as the main set, I think he played 6 extra songs before leaving the stage. We had to help him with the words a few times, there were songs added that weren’t on the setlist and he clearly was enjoying himself up there. Given that he has already played a matinée show that afternoon, that commitment and the quality of his voice, was outstanding. This is a man who relishes playing for an appreciative audience (hence the tiny venue) and shares his soul through his music.

Oxygen will remain his signature song (“now have I forgotten anything else” he joshed) and with just him on guitar leading us along it was glorious. He was a very young man when he wrote it, but it is one of those songs that become more powerful with age. Restless Fugitive was another standout track, So Long and a rousing version of Where The Humans Eat in the encore (not on the set list and introduced to the band as “well this will be interesting” so perhaps not even rehearsed!) but pretty much every song was superb.

I hope it isn’t another 9 years before I get to see Willy Mason perform live. He is a special talent.

Mogwai – Colston Hall, Bristol

Saturday 3rd February.

I came to Mogwai late, only last year, thanks to  Mary Anne Hobbs (yes, her again) and have been in love with them ever since I first heard Coolverine. This was a gig I’d been looking forward to for months, and both Tom and Claire had independently bought me a ticket for it, that’s how much those close to me knew I wanted to go!

Due to the ongoing nerve pain/damage in my arm and shoulder I knew that getting down the front wasn’t going to be an option, so we plumped for second row seats instead. I could just about see above the crowd when standing, or perched half seated on my upturned seat. Being all in a row also allowed me, Tom, Claire, Jacqui and Monty to share in the gig together, which was pretty special all of its own.

There was excellent support from Out Lines, another Glasgow collective, who do a nice line in beautiful melancholia. I’m not at all sure what the squeeze box/sideways accordion is actually called, but the drone sounds emanating from it were great. I would recommend listening to them and seeing them live if you can.

Mogwai. Oh, what can I say? From the opening notes to the very end I was enraptured. This was a visceral, enveloping gig that shook me in just about every way. It was so loud! The loudest gig I’ve ever been to. The bass didn’t just rumble, it shook and thundered through you like nothing I’ve experienced before. Claire and I both kept shouting yes as it got more intense, “its making the underwing of my bra vibrate” she declared!

The lighting and sound designers of this show deserve such credit, they threw everything they could at us and made it such an overwhelming and incredible experience. It was an assault on all your senses at once, physically and emotionally. I was moved over and over. There was such joy in the intensity of the sound, such visceral thrill in the sheer power of the volume. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried at least twice, just with the overwhelming nature of it all. It was superb. I’ve no idea what tracks they played, just that they all sounded amazing. The standout came 2 tracks before the encore, that started out quieter and then built and built and built until it kicked so fucking hard that it made me jump. It was awesome.Brilliant. Magnificent. I loved every single second of this gig.

Quite simply it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

 

Daylight Music – Union Chapel, London

Saturday February 3rd. Tiny Leaves and Bennett Wilson Poole.

We were in London anyway and had open return train tickets so I suggested to Tom that we headed to Union Chapel to catch the Daylight Music gig. For one reason and another we ended up being a bit late and missing the first act and came in towards the end of Tiny Leaves. Which is such a shame, because what I heard of them I liked very much indeed. Listening to them now I am even more gutted that we missed most of them. Gorgeous sounds, all instrumental and lush.

The final act were Bennett Wilson Poole playing a mixture of acoustic and 12 string Rickenbacker with vocals. As enthusiastic and full of harmony as they were, they weren’t for me. It was too blokey and slightly in crowd for me.

Union Chapel was every bit as beautiful and beguiling as the first time I visited in November and I will definitely pay Daylight Music another visit when I can. What a magnificent idea, great music in relaxed surroundings, with tea and cake, for the price of a donation! If you are in or around London of a Saturday lunchtime during their season, go. Whoever is playing, the experience is worthwhile, I promise.

Nadine Shah – The Roundhouse, London

Friday 2nd February.

I have been suffering with a trapped nerve/impingement in my neck, causing pain and numbness through my right shoulder, arm and fingers for a few weeks. I was a little bit nervous of making the trip up to London for this gig. All those extra people jostling about and the bumpiness of the train!  The gig tickets, the hotel and the train tickets were all pre booked and paid for so there was no real choice but to go and hope for the best.

Despite having lived in London for the majority of my life I had never been to the Roundhouse before. Nadine Shah is an artist Tom and I both really like, so when he offered to get us tickets I could hardly say no. She has one of those unique and memorable voices, it would have been churlish to not hear her live.

We were late and missed the support act, which is a shame as the guy sat next to us described them as “jazz. weird jazz” which sounds like the sort of thing I would have really liked!

Tom had somehow managed to book us front row seats, so we had a superb view of the stage. I must find out more about the Roundhouse’s history, and go there again. The staff, including security (which was quite full on) were friendly (in London!) and the space itself was smashing. It was quite theatrical feeling, black drapes and in the round, with full tiered seating. You could be sat anywhere and have a great view I’d have thought.

Nadine opened with 3 songs from her latest album, Holiday Destination and her voice is even more powerful live. Backed by a group of excellent musicians, the sound was superb. The passion in her performance so evident and the emotion was written all over her face. She is a proper performer, giving her all whilst retaining total control of both her voice and the stage. This was a masterclass in politically powerful pop. There really isn’t enough of that about anymore and the reminders to continue to care in the face of a hostile world coming from the stage were heartfelt. As Nadine acknowledged, she was  performing in an echo chamber, but the call to amplify the voices of love against those of hate is always needed.

The final song, Mother Fighter, an impassioned and brilliant song, which was delivered with commitment and real soul, was the standout song of the night for me. I was reminded of a conversation I’d been having with my 11 year old son about Trump and the politics of hate, that the only way we win is with love. Is to shine light into the darkness and keep it shining, however bleak things seem.

Nadine Shah is an artist full of humanity and warmth, her talent and music one of those lights. Keep it shining.

 

 

40 gigs – the future

A year ago today I went to the first gig of my 40th year celebrations. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I had no idea where any of this would lead.

The band were C Duncan, I’d never heard of them, but my friends had and they took me as birthday gift. I loved the band. I wound up seeing them support Elbow at gig 6 and asking Chris if I could have a photo pass on their May tour. He readily agreed and I spent the night of  my birthday at another C Duncan gig, taking pictures! That was just one highlight in an amazing year of highlights.

Yesterday Lauren Laverne played a C Duncan track as part of my memory tape as she interviewed me on BBC6 Music about this whole experience. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted that a year ago. Nor had the confidence to write in, to speak live on radio, or to share this story with so many.

Then I was lacking confidence and was coming to terms with losing my Mum and having 2 major surgeries and surviving sepsis in a short space of time. Now I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I have met some wonderful people, been shown incredible kindness and feel more comfortable in my own skin. Losing a parent, especially your Mother, young, is hard. It will remain so. I will never stop loving or missing her. Being open and honest about that grief has helped me, and in turn helped others too. We aren’t alone, even when we think we are.

Major surgery once is scary, twice in 8 months, when complications from the 1st one left you battling sepsis, pretty terrifying. I survived. Many don’t. Without the work of Sepsis UK, the medics at the hospital thinking sepsis and taking swift action, I wouldn’t be here now. I remain deeply grateful to the NHS staff who saved my life.

That gratitude is extended to everyone who made 40 gigs possible. Every friend, colleague and stranger who bought me a gig ticket, donated or guest listed me. Collectively you made my dreams come true, my heart soar, and gave my life renewed energy and purpose. Dozens of you. Thank you so, so much. To all the bands and artists, your creativity, your dedication, your ability to connect though music, has been my inspiration. I met many of the artists and most of them loved this idea and were really happy to be part of it. To those of you who took the time to listen to me, sign tickets and in some cases give me a hug (I’m looking at you,  Guy Garvey) your humanity and warmth made this.

On the 1st February 2017 I went to a gig on a boat (Thekla, I love you) to see a band I didn’t know. I had planned to see 39 other gigs before the 31st January 2018. By the end of 2017 I had been to 51 gigs, travelled to 8 Cities, visited 30 different venues (mostly independents), cemented friendships, made new ones and fallen in love.

Today marks the start of a new gig year. I am seeing Nadine Shah at the Roundhouse in London tomorrow, Mogwai in Bristol on Saturday. February will also bring gigs from Willy Mason, India Electric Co and Nils Frahm. March sees me travel to Birmingham and Manchester to see Elbow with John Grant twice, Solomon Grey, venture to the Bristol Jazz Festival to see Arun Ghosh, Evelyn Glennie, Ghostpoet and Lee Konitz as well as a classical concert at the beautiful St George’s Hall. April is more classical music, Public Service Broadcasting and Joan as Policewoman. I’ll be celebrating my birthday in May with Max Richter and Ex Eye and a few weeks later there is Ezra Furman. So I am not stopping.

Music, live music, is everything.