Daylight Music Piano Day Celebrations – Union Chapel, London

Saturday 31st March, 2018

This was my third trip to Daylight Music, and I certainly hope it is not my last. Union Chapel is simply stunning, beautiful with amazing acoustics and being there over lunchtime makes it a very relaxing place to be. We may have started in rain, but by the end the sun made an appearance and made the place shine. It was lovely.

Piano Day was on Thursday, but was celebrated today by some brilliant and varied musicians showing off their skills.

First up was Eliza McCarthy with a series of pieces that were delicate and yet not at all gentle. One of which was written for her and was receiving only its second performance, so we were a very lucky audience hearing it so fresh. It involved both hands inching slowly up the notes until it reached its ending. It may have been played gently, but the overall effect of the music was not. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.

Next we had the curator of today’s event, Xenia Pestova, playing a trio of pieces on the theme of ghosts. They certainly had an eerie quality, and ethereal presence and the middle piece composed by an enchanting Irish composer (sorry I didn’t catch his name) was startling and strange whilst also maintaining a beguiling beauty.

Between acts we were treated to some improvised toy piano with iphone accompaniment (I think!) which was bonkers but brilliant.

Sarah Nicolls was the last act and she was inventive and interesting to listen to. Usually she plays an inside out piano of her own invention, so that the insides, the guts of the piano are on display. Today we had to make do with her reaching in and hammering, plucking, strumming and whatever the heck else she did, to make amazing noises come out of the piano. These were pieces specially written for us, this was the live debut of new work (available on BandCamp) and I was intrigued enough to buy the download. Especially as it was hidden inside an actual piano key. I chose E, for Emma, and have bought it home to do what with I’m not sure, but it will stand as a wonderful memory of a gig that was strange, yet beautiful.

If you are anywhere near London on a Saturday afternoon when Daylight Music is in season I urge you to go. It is put on with real love to showcase a wide range of music in a stunning and relaxed setting. It’s a family friendly place and you can buy tea and cake for heavens sake. You don’t even have to pay to get in! Although making a donation will help them to keep the thing running, and a fiver really isn’t a lot to contribute towards seeing 3 acts is it?

If I can say that it is worth 5 hours of coach travel in a day to be there, which it has been both times I’ve made the trip just for Daylight Music, then you know it is a special place. It helps, of course, that its mere minutes walk from Beyond Bread, aka coeliac heaven.

I was in  need of something calming and reinvigorating, today gave that to me.

Leafcutter John – Colston Hall presents at the Exchange

Friday 30th March, 2018

40 gigs changed me, it changed what I thought music could be and do. It took me to the outer fringes, the obscure places where art meets music, where musicians create and play. So when I saw this gig in the listings I thought, ah go on, let’s try something really left field.

Sometimes Colston Hall goes on tour, putting artists on under their banner but in different venues. We will have to get used to this when they close in June for the 2 year refit. Apparently some punters (and Leafcutter John himself) had gone to Colston Hall by mistake! I hadn’t and so was there nice and early for the support acts. I love the Exchange, its quirky and a brilliant addition to Bristol’s live music scene.

The first act, The Twelve Hour Foundation, came on to an audience of just 4, but by the end of the set numbers had swelled to about 25. Bank holiday public transport (always a joy in Bristol) plus rain had probably kept people away. Which is a shame, because their short set was very good. Tape loops, electronic samples and keyboards (I think) played by a duo who wouldn’t have looked out of place at my son’s school gates. TV theme tunes, cartoon music and 70’s boy bands melded together to make an interesting set of sounds. The tracks had odd titles, like Macaroni Cheese which made me smile. They were a good choice of support and I liked them.

The tone changed dramatically when Sugai Ken, the next artist, came on. He cut the lights, making it almost pitch black inside the venue and a pounding bass started to thud, almost like a heartbeat as if heard from within the womb. It shook the floor. Then strange gongs from all around and what felt like a post apocalyptic dystopia rumbled on. It could have been frightening, but weirdly I found comfort in the noise. It was loud, he played with where the sounds came from, and cut to near silence at times, making you hyper aware of the sound of your own breathing and movements (my hips are pretty clicky). My body felt very heavy and dragged towards the ground, as if my feet were leaden. Some sort of dream/nightmare state was going on sonically with sirens or screams giving way to rivers and birdsong. I closed my eyes and went with it, imagining I was in an art gallery rather than a gig venue. It was definitely different. The small audience were left silently stumbling around in the dark when it was over.

Our headliner, Leafcutter John, was a different kind of different. He came on, not even needing the microphone to talk to all of us, said hello, and showed us how he planned to make music. It was a square wooden panel with light sensors in, attached to a laptop. Yes, really. And he played it with a series of bicycle lamps and torches. Yes, really. And it was so much fun! The weirdest and most unusual of instruments I’ve ever seen played, but I couldn’t help but smile at the creativity and playfulness of it. He even let us have a go, using our mobile phone torches. One of the bike lamps only cost a pound, he proudly declared. It had a laser and flashing sequences that made for really interesting beats. The close control he needs to play is brilliant to watch, and the creativity of using the lights in different combinations and patterns was just joyous. These are electronic, trancy, beats, being produced by light. I loved it. I wish I’d been able to have a chat with him afterwards, but buses running once an hour put pay to that as I had to run off to catch the one due in 5 minutes. I hope John plays Bristol again soon and that I can see him again. This sort of eccentric, strange and inventive playing is right up my alley.

40 gigs changed me. It made me hear music in a different way. It made me want to go and see a man make music from a piece of MDF and bike lights. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Florilegium – St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 21st March

I purchased this ticket as part of Bristol Culture Flash Sale a while back. Twice a year a number of Bristol’s cultural flagships take part in a 24 hour flash sale, with tickets discounted by 20%. It made this ticket just £11.25 which is roughly the equivalent of a cinema ticket or a couple of rounds in the pub. Therefore a safe bet for an evening of entertainment, not too much of a risk on something you aren’t sure about. It makes culture more accessible for those, like me, who don’t earn that much. For those of us who didn’t go to fancy schools or red brick Universities and for whom baroque chamber music is not something we are au fait with.

It is entirely fair to say that without the flash sale I wouldn’t have been sat in the gallery of St George’s this evening. It is also fair to say that my knowledge of baroque is entirely derived from watching BBC4 documentaries about the history of music. My experience of live classical music is pretty limited.

St George’s has the best acoustics in the City. Former churches tend to, but there is something very warm and welcoming about St George’s (other than the cramped crypt entrance) that makes it a pleasure to visit.

I had no real idea what to expect from this concert. I think there was a harpsichord (consults programme, yes it was, pats self on back) and an organ, double bass, violin and cello. These were accompanied by either a flute of human voice, depending on the piece. Florilegium played pieces by Vivaldi and Pergolesi, only one of whom I’ve ever hear of before! I only recognised one piece, the last one before the interval, which I instantly knew I knew from hearing on TV and radio (I do occasionally listen to Radio 3). Otherwise this was all brand new to me. Some of it I liked, some of it felt too nice, too safe, a bit too contained for my tastes. There were perfect spring like strings, befitting the Spring Equinox, and some darker toned moments. I guess, without the knowledge and understanding what you are hearing, it was just a little difficult to follow. Not speaking Italian didn’t help!

There were huge positives though, to know I was hearing music that was over 250 years old, and that it has been played throughout that time, moves me. Its something I love about folk music too, that you can draw a sonic line from hundreds of years ago to now, knowing that generations have heard and enjoyed exactly the same sounds. There is always something magic about the resonance of live strings too, the warmth and tone is not replicable in headphones or speakers. I could also trace the origin of most of the modern music I love back through this music. Piano, guitar and bass replacing the organ, cello and double bass, still with human voice as the emotional driver. Placing music in its historical context and being able to understand its very deep roots is a thing to revel in.

I took a chance on something very different with this, and although the experiment didn’t entirely succeed, I am glad I tried. I will be visiting St George’s again, I will go to hear more live classical music, I may even try more baroque ensembles. Hearing talented musicians play is never a bad thing to do, supporting live music in all its forms, keeping our culture alive is vital.

Lee Konitz – Bristol jazz festival, The Lantern

Sunday 18th March

The third gig of the day, my fifth overall this weekend. I joke sometimes about setting up a camp bed in a cupboard of Colston Hall as I am there so often. Well, today, I really may as well have moved in as all 3 gigs were in the same venue, my beloved Lantern.

I bought this ticket months ago, decision partly motivated by Lee’s advancing years. You take chances to see the old guard while you can.

Lee Konitz is 90. 90. And still playing gigs. Well. He was charming, warm and funny, if a little forgetful. He can still play. His sax oozed with cool, honey like sounds dripping out into my ears. It may be somewhat less improvised than in his heyday and the band may be helping hold him up more than they would have before, but it added a poignancy and gentleness that was very touching. In my limited experience of seeing jazz quartets, they have been livelier and more aggressive in the way instruments duel and compete for attention. This quartet felt more like a team, all working together to tell stories in melody. To make music together and to ensure Lee still shone. That lent a very lovely vibe to the evening and made it very easy to connect to the music. I closed my eyes and drifted into colours and shapes (purple, blue and oatmeal strands of sting in waving and  never ending loops if you are interested). It was late night, cool, jazz for hip cats. This was the most mixed age crowd I’d seen all weekend, there were proper youngsters in front of me, real old folks, as well as middle aged bods like me. I’ve got it, it felt like the band were a family, respecting Grandpa/Uncle Lee and protecting his legacy. Perhaps that is why I felt so comforted by it.

It was a wonderful way to end my first jazz festival, with warmth and affection. A huge well done to the organisers, volunteers and staff who put Bristol jazz festival together. I’ll be back next year for more.

 

Pee Wee Ellis – Bristol jazz festival, The Lantern

Sunday 18th March

My second gig of the day, my fourth of the jazz festival. I only decided to add this to my weekend plans a few days ago. I’d gone back and forth about getting a ticket and then just thought, well why not, its not like I’m doing anything else early Sunday evening.

It proved to be the right decision. Pee Wee Ellis reminded me of how I got into jazz in the first place, how that first jazz gig (also in the Lantern) had made me feel. Happy, energetic and playful with sounds. This was funky jazz and blues with a dash of soul thrown in for good measure. The 90 minute set flew past and despite the cold (seriously Colston Hall sort that out. Please) the music was warm. The drummer, Julie Saury, was superb as was pianist Jason Rebello. They were ably aided by Alec Dankworth on double bass and of course Pee Wee on sax. I’m not being unkind in saying that, at 76, his best  days are behind him, but he can still play a mean tune. I was smiling most of the way through and my foot was tapping. This was more straightforward and traditional jazz and as part of my learning and introduction to the genre a pretty fine way of genning up on some of its history.

He invited a talented young sax player up to join him, right at the end of the set. A former pupil, who had outgrown him he said. I have forgotten the lad’s name (I’m sorry, its been a long day) but he was very good indeed. It added another layer of depth to the sound and was a nice touch, the old master, handing the baton to the young pretender.

It was good to have a reminder of how vibrant and joyous jazz can be.

Snowpoet – Bristol jazz festival, the Lantern

Sunday 18th March

Another random gig pick from the jazz festival program. In for a penny and all that. I knew this would be a weekend I would be without either of my boys and I’ve got a genre to explore!

Given the bands name it seems somewhat ironic that, despite it being mid March I had to trek through snow to get to the venue today. Fortunately buses were running, seemingly more reliable today than usual, so getting in wasn’t as bad as I had worried it would be.

Back in my favourite venue, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad gig in the Lantern you know. Front row spot secured and despite the cold (please fix that during the refurb) the atmosphere was great. Whoever scheduled Snowpoet for the lunchtime slot on Sunday deserves a pat on the back, because it was perfect. Gentle harmonious and lovely music is exactly what you want on a Sunday afternoon.

“Please welcome Snowpoet to the stage” and they kept coming out, one by one, like a comedy troupe,6 in total, which is a bit of a squeeze on the Lantern’s stage. When the bass/guitar player went round to play piano for a bit (he also sings, it’s not fair how wildly talented some people are is it?!) he was shoulder to shoulder with the keyboard player and I was a bit worried one of them would elbow the other, they were that close! The saxophonist also played bass and the keys/programming dude also played piano. It was a little bit swap shop at times as they moved around to take up different instruments.

Glorious, smoky vocals pitched just perfectly to sit above the shimmering music and we were off on a lush set lasting nearly 90 minutes. Gentle and beautiful, this is the kind of jazz you don’t need a degree in music to understand and I liked it. It wasn’t an instant hit, more of a soft growing and developing admiration. I can see myself listening to the album and it growing on me like a gentle garden blooming into life. Soft, brush work drums, sparingly used bass, shimmery lead guitar, gently piano and keyboard all melting together with vocals that weren’t just about words, made for a lovely combination.

I will happily listen to Snowpoet some more and in time I hope to see them again, there was an awful lot to admire on that stage today.

 

 

 

Trio HLK with Evelyn Glennie – Bristol jazz festival, Colston Hall

Saturday 17th March

I saw Evelyn Glennie as part of 40 gigs and marvelled in her brilliance. So when I saw she was playing as part of the jazz festival I jumped at the chance to see her again. I knew this would be very different, playing with a trio, rather than on her own material, but you have to be open to new things and challenging expectations. I wasn’t prepared for quite how challenged those boundaries would be, however!

There was a piano, drums, an 8 string electric guitar plus percussion. Sounds promising, right?

It was jazz jazz. The sort of impenetrable rhythm’s that could put people off the genre. No standard timings of anything accessible for the average punter, like me. If you know your jazz, Trio HLK will be for you. I’m a newbie to the genre and need something I recognise and feel comfortable with. This wasn’t it.

Evelyn Glennie is a master percussionist and seeing her play, and tying something different, was worthwhile. It just wasn’t fully a success. I feel kinda sad about it, the trio of musicians who make up HLK came across as lovely guys and are clearly talented at what they do. It just didn’t do anything emotionally for me, and I need to feel the connection.

I guess you can’t win them all.

Arun Ghosh – Bristol Jazz Festival, The Lantern

 

One of the legacies 40 gigs has left me with is a burgeoning love of jazz. Yes, that surprised me too. When I saw the programme for the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival a few months back I was excited. A whole 4 days of jazz in all its glories. I knew there would be gems to be found. I was gifted some Colston Hall vouchers for Christmas and this seemed the perfect way to spend them. I plumped for Arun Ghosh as my entry gig to the festival based partly on price and partly on the blurb, anyone claiming to blend jazz, hip hop, Indian classical, rock, pop and avant-garde music sounded worth checking out.

I wasn’t disappointed. At all. I never knew jazz could sound like this. I never knew clarinets could sound like this. So sexy, so groovy, so soulful, so moving and so versatile. The warmth and love that created this music was evident in every note. When tracks range in influence from Snakebite to Hindu Gods, via the English countryside, love, loss and laughter, you know you are on a journey through the emotional landscape of what it means to be a British outsider in the 21st Century.

Arun and his very talented band played tracks from his new album, “but where are you really from?” (buy it, it is really good). I’d pick a favourite track, but they were all brilliant and ranged in style so much that picking one track wouldn’t do justice to the album or Arun’s talent. Made In England was introduced as a tribute to Parv Bancil, playwright, and its title says it all. Imagine if Bhangra met the Arctic Monkeys and got drunk with the Specials and this might well be the result. It was all the elements of great music blended and fused together in an intoxicating blend. It reminded me of that wonderful time, pre-Brexit, when multicultural Britain was something we celebrated and cherished. Many of us still do I know, but it feels like we need music like this more than ever now. To break down preconceptions and barriers and to Smash Through The Gates of Thought to seal Arun’s own title. Pastoral Sympathy was gorgeous, celebrating the English countryside with shimmering and shining clarinet that was reminiscent of bird song. It gave me the feeling of being sat on a train, staring out of the window, watching England’s green and pleasant land whiz past your eyes. In that hazy, half aware state you get only on trains. Almost hypnotic. It were lush. Punjabi Girl was joyous, so full of energy and love, impossible not to smile at and if I’d been standing there would have been dancing as well. Arun plunged us from that into Love&Laugh&Love&Cry which was such an emotional shift in tone, all life’s possibilities and joys one moment, open and hopeful, into darkness and mourning with a few notes. Love still, but for what has gone, not what is yet to come.

One of this things I adored about 40 gigs were the surprises, the gigs that seemingly came out of nowhere and just made you go “wow, what was that?” that introduced new shapes, colours and textures to my musical lexicon. Arun Ghosh did that tonight. An inventive and playful musician full of heart and humour. If this is jazz, you can count me right in.

 

 

 

 

Solomon Grey – The Lantern, Bristol

Wednesday 7th March

During #40gigs I bought a lot of random tickets and it led me to wonderful places. My instincts have been good and the quality of the acts who play the Lantern is usually high (Peggy Seeger, Saul Williams, Manu Delago et al) so taking a chance on Solomon Grey was simply an extension of that adventurous spirit and dedication to music.

Between the ticket purchase and the show Joe had written an incredibly moving article for the Guardian about losing his Mum. The way he had responded to me and others in such a warm and human way on Twitter made me want to like his music.

Support came from a young Australian composer, Anatoli, who Big Geoff assured me was very good. This was only his second show outside Oz and a few technical hitches and accidental dropping of a trumpet aside he was very good. A classically trained musician (he played the flute and the trumpet as well as keys and programming), who turned to electronic sounds to express the emotions and landscapes he saw and felt every day. He has been working with Olafur Arnolds, which sort of speaks for itself.

Solomon Grey had been sitting very patiently onstage for the interval to finish, and looked like a couple of lost geography teachers! They started to play lovely electronic and orchestral sounds. Then Joe opened his voice and started to sing. I was not expecting the beguiling and beautiful sounds that sprang forth. So much higher in register than you would expect, and so versatile too. Wow.

The music was moving, emotional, full of sadness and loss. It really resonated. There were tracks he admitted “this one is hard” and despite the obvious emotion in his face, the voice did not waver. There was so much warmth and humanity in both the music and the performance I wanted to jump onto the stage and hug him and Tom.

It is a risk buying a ticket for a gig where you don’t know the artist, but so far my gut has led me to the discovery of some wonderful music. Solomon Grey can be added to that list.

Their new album is called Human Music which sums them up perfectly. Sometimes the best things are discovered by chance, when you are least expecting it the most wonderful things can happen.

Elbow – Manchester Arena

Sunday 4th March

This was a much easier journey, the  rail line between Birmingham and Manchester was running just fine. There was even time for a glorious Bundobust lunch and a nap at the Easy Hotel before getting ready for Elbow night two.

Having missed a fair chunk of John Grant’s set and been stuck at the back the night before I wanted to make sure we were at Manchester Arena in plenty of time. Which we were. Despite the small hiccup of my handbag being declared a rucksack and having to decant all my stuff into a plastic bag while Tom gamely took offending bag back to the hotel (he’s totally a keeper), I was there early enough to get to the front row. The arena is huge. And a bit scary. You go inside, then through a narrow concrete corridor and down a huge set of steps before you get to the arena floor. Being on my own was challenging, but folk came to the rescue “it’s alright, we’re Northern, we’re friendly and we’ll look after you.” Thank you kind strangers in the queue who helped me keep it together. Also thank you Sharon and Caroline who continued this once I’d reached the front and was waiting for Tom to return. I was in the front row! I was going to see Elbow again! I was going to see all of John Grant’s set!

He, it goes without saying, was warm and witty and wonderful. A glorious bear of a man, with a huge heart and dry sense of humour. His lyrics are playful, hilarious and heartbreaking. I already adored him. He and his band were brilliant, and they were given a very warm welcome by the huge crowd. As he admitted himself, probably the biggest he’d ever played to. The last time I’d seen him play was in a former church that’s now a drama studio that held 300 people. Manchester Arena holds 21,000. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure and Pale Green Ghosts were possibly the best tracks, but he could sing just about anything and make it glorious. The richness of his voice and the inventiveness of his music, well they just do things to me and I love him for it.

Elbow came on like sporting heroes on an open top bus parade, full of swagger and homecoming joy. I guess Manchester gigs are always a bit like that for them, and at least 500 of the crowd must have been their friends and families! Guy acknowledged his family, making sister Gina take a bow for giving him lyrics to Mirrorball. The pride they must all have felt in watching our kid done good must have been immense. If the night before had been warmth, based on surprise that the gig had gone ahead and that there was an audience, then tonight was warmth based on home town glow.

They played roughly the same set, which bothers me not a jot, with a back catalogue as good as theirs I’m happy to hear the same songs twice on consecutive nights. It did mean I was more emotionally prepared for Lunette into Tower Crane Driver, which became more poignant with the explanation as to why it had been written. Puncture Repair became even more healing with recognition of former drummer Richard Jupp’s place in the band’s history. It also became funny, as Guy threatened to tickle keyboard player Craig’s back as he played. Being close enough to actually see the interplay between them, the affection and good natured piss taking between musical brothers was lovely.

Being at the front allowed for a small portion of the intimacy to be restored, but it did mean I wasn’t as free to move so I am really glad I got to experience both versions of an Elbow gig over this weekend.

They added Station Approach to the encore, I suppose there was no way not to have included it. A song about homecoming and that sense of belonging I’ll never know again. John came back for Kindling and the truly adorable affection shared between him and Guy was evident. Bear hugs and manly cheek kissing were very much in evidence. One Day Like This was even more joyous with the sheer size of the crowd, impossible not to  smile and feel uplifted, carried on a cloud of shared musical experience.

Manchester you bloody magnificent City, your people continue to welcome and celebrate life with heart and humour. Elbow couldn’t really be from anywhere else and for what may prove to be the last time I’ll see them live “who knows when we see each other again” it was fitting and beautiful.