Hannah Peel – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Saturday April 14th, 2018

As soon as this gig was announced I wanted to go. Drawback being I was signed up to volunteer, all day, at the Coeliac food fayre in Bristol. I thought I wouldn’e be able to go. But it played on my mind that I was unlikely to get another opportunity to see Hannah play Mary Casio again, especially with Tubular Brass. Two weeks ago I was in London, meeting a friend for coffee and I found myself standing at the South Bank Centre box office purchasing 2 tickets. I knew, just knew in my bones, that this was too special a gig to miss. I withdrew from my commitment to the food fayre (I’d planned to stand down from the committee next month anyway) and booked me and Tom some coach tickets. I’m not sure which of us was most surprised or excited.

I wound up still helping at the food fayre for an hour and had a frantic bus run back to drop off my goodies to the fridge before high tailing it back to get the coach. We made it to London with time to spare, so we took in a stroll along the South Bank and wandered through the new foyer with its very cute installation about the Festival of Britain.

Then there was confusion about where the Queen Elizabeth Hall was and how to find our seats once we were inside. Given that the venues have just been refurbished I was really disappointed in how poor the signage was, how few female toilets there were and crucially how indifferent the staff were to receiving feedback. They could, and should, have done better. Good, clear signage is a must in every public space. The band on in the foyer were also far too loud, the tables were blocking people flow, creating bottlenecking as you came in, all of which led me to walking in feeling quite anxious.

We were seated 2 rows from the back, high up and far removed from where I usually feel comfortable at a gig. This was more gutting in that the venue had released last minute seats only yesterday much lower down (about 3 rows worth). Who knows why. My impressions of the South Bank Centre are not high, that’s all I can say.

Oh and the woman sat in front of me was wearing incredibly strong and not particularly pleasant perfume. I was not at all in the right frame of mind to enjoy myself. I felt panicked and tense. If I hadn’t have been trapped in the middle of a row, high up in the dark, I may well have walked out.

Why put myself through that, you may well be asking yourself. Hannah Peel is the answer. If you don’t know the background to the Mary Casio album, please find an interview with Hannah and listen. From the moment I first heard Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula and Hannah talk about the meaning of the music on Mary Ann Hobbs’ breakfast show on BBC6 Music I knew there was no going back, that I would fall in love with this record and find deep resonating meaning within it.

The way Hannah marries electronic and brass, creating stunning soundscape vistas, that lift you and take you spectacular places, is sublime. The journey of Mary Casio is moving, powerful stuff. Live it is that to the power of infinity. I was in tears. Floods of them. Proper heaving sobs, with snot dribbling into my mouth crying. Music unlocks emotions, bubbling them up to the surface, however much we restrain them. Music lights up all areas of the brain at once, it is unique in this. It reaches us in ways and at times nothing else can. It touches our soul.

Hannah, Mr Peel, I am so sorry that you and your family have known and continue to know the pain of losing someone you love to Alzheimer’s. It is a cruel and slow grief, you mourn while the person still breathes. Yesterday my Mum would have been 70. She died of Alzheimers at just 66. That will never seem fair, nor just, nor uncruel. Being able to take flight on the spaceship with Mary, leaving Earth and journeying among the stars, to beautiful nebula and galaxies far away, does ease that pain. How could such a journey not? It is hours later now, and I am fighting tears as I type this. Music makes me very emotional, I cry at lots of gigs, but I have never had such a strong reaction to music as I did today. I was unable to speak. I couldn’t feel my body, it had floated off into space I think. I was utterly transported and transformed. It wasn’t just the hairs on the back of my neck that stood up, it was every hair across my whole body. A couple of times when the brass kicked in I was completely flooded with emotions. The beautiful, melancholic quality of brass is used to full effect so brilliantly by Hannah and in Tubular Brass she has collaborators who are master players.

After an interval (which I really needed to compose myself) Tubular Brass played their interpretation of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. It was brilliant stuff. So different emotionally, brass is considerably more versatile than I thought! It was a masterful reworking of an already masterful album. If you are able to hear it live, do.

The finale was a gorgeous version of Bowie’s Life On Mars, with Hannah on vocals and music box. It was a gentle way to bring us back down to Earth, and a fitting way to end the concert.

Afterwards we met and talked with Hannah and her lovely Dad (it was very touching to see them together). I think I may have overwhelmed Hannah with my emotions. What I didn’t have the power to say then was this; thank you for articulating musically, and with such warmth and humanity, so may of the emotions I have experienced. I wish you didn’t understand why your music made me feel the way it did, I wish I didn’t either. But because we both share that pain, and you have found the most beautiful and creative way to express it, we are all healed. Thank you for Mary Casio. It has meant so much, so very much. Hearing it played live was a cathartic experience. I shall carry it with  me for a long, long time.

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