Festival of Ideas – Peggy Seeger

I went to see Peggy Seeger live a couple of years ago in the Lantern at Colston Hall. I was amazed that night by her warmth, humour and vitality (she was 80) as well as her talent as a multi instrumentalist and singer. She sat in the audience, right in front of me, to hear the support act Sam Gleeves as a lover of music, and as she saw herself as no more important than any of us. She was sat next to Big Jeff and a more surreal image of musical legends together I have yet to see.

She sang songs about mothering, motherhood and the pain of losing her Mother young. She read a poem about her mother dying aged just 52, when she herself was only 18. It touched me. Whenever you find another member of the club who lost their Mum young you know you share an awful bond. I told her so afterwards and we shared a moment together, Peggy taking my hand in hers and offering words of comfort.

She told stories between songs and talked about writing her memoirs then, and I’ve been waiting to read them ever since.

A few months ago, checking the listings for the Festival of Ideas I saw Peggy’s name and excitedly bought myself a ticket, knowing this also meant that the book was finished and I would finally get the chance to read about her fascinating life.

Tonight she was on sparkling form. Witty, warm, giving, generous and brilliant. Reading extracts of the book to paint such vivid pictures of her life. She has clearly written the book in the way she writes her songs, narrative storytelling has been her life blood for 60 years after all. I asked and Peggy confirmed that she has recorded the audio version of it too, which I cannot wait to hear when it is released. Frequently I was on the verge of tears as she spoke so movingly about love, relationships, recording and preserving the stories of the 99%, how folk music is the baton passed between generations. At every point she checked in to make sure we all had the references (the only one universally known was Senator McCarthy), she was inclusive, given to wonderful flights of fancy and made me feel like I was in the presence of both greatness and of family.

Music is the thread that binds us, preserves us, holds us up and connects us to people we will never meet or know across time and space. Folk music is powerful stuff in the right hands. Hands like Peggy Seegers.

I don’t have the money right now to buy the book, and I would prefer the paperback and audio versions anyhow, but I did take the opportunity to talk to Peggy again. I reminded her of when we had previously met and of her words to me “I hope you find what you are looking for.” I told her I had, that I had found the courage to be myself and the courage to begin writing. She held my hand again and we shared another moment.

I would never have found the courage, or confidence, to begin a project like #40gigs or all it led to (including the regular discipline of writing) or discovered a deep, deep joy and love of folk music without that evening seeing Peggy Seeger sing in September 2016. Thank you Peggy, thank you Colston Hall for that original gig and thank you Festival of Ideas for bringing Peggy back to Bristol tonight. What a treat to hear her talk and sing!

I’ve checked the gig listings and Peggy is playing in Bath in November. Shall I see you there?

One week in May

The reason I started writing this blog was a way of documenting #40gigs and I’ve continued it as a music blog. Lately I’ve been feeling as if I want to write about other things that interest me; art, architecture, culture, working class life and politics, or anything else that takes my fancy. I’ll clearly continue with the gig reviews as well, but the adage of write what you know encompasses more than music.

Last week was a big week for me. I’ve written most of it in the 5 music blog entries that preceded this one, but somehow that didn’t feel enough.

In the space of 7 days I traveled to Birmingham, Reading, Bath and Oxford, had 3 job interviews, waved my baby off to school camp and left my job. I photographed Gaz Coombes twice, went to 2 other gigs, met my heroine Marian Keyes and attended a day festival in the sunshine. All while builders re-rendered my house (not the best timing but I’ve waited a long time for my landlord to do anything so I can hardly complain).

My son has never been apart from me or his Dad for longer than 1 night, and always calls when he is with the other parent. Lugging all his gear up the hill to school last Monday morning to say goodbye and not even be able to talk to him until Friday was difficult for us both. Made worse by having to leave him in the hall to dash off to an interview. It is fair to say he coped far better than I did! And my quiet word in the teachers ear about him possibly needing to call me worked as she let him use her mobile to call me before he went to bed that night, which is how I missed Gaz’s last song in Birmingham! At least I was at the back that night and could nip into the foyer of the venue to talk to him. The reassurance of hearing my voice, and me hearing his, was enough. He had a great time, scoring amazingly high in the shooting, taking part in nearly all the activities and even winning an award for being tidy (anyone who has witnessed my Lego strewn house will understand my astonishment at that). He has coped with SAT’s and camp so well, much better than I thought he would, and I am very proud of him for doing his best in all aspects. If he grows up a kind person I’ll be happy, I keep telling him the exam results don’t mean shit, that being a decent human being who tries their best is what is important, but that message is drowned out by the relentless pressure of the other kids, their parents and a school system dominated by results. Children are good at different things I tell him, so what if you can’t spell, neither could Eninstein! You are funny and caring, those things matter a whole heap more. I want to be proud of the person he is, not his academic or work achievements. I wish society shared those aims, and not just for our kids. Our worth as humans shouldn’t be in financial units or levels of productivity, but in how we treat each other. Warmth, kindness, compassion and understanding are better measures and they don’t exclude either.

When I’ve  meet people who’s art I admire, those are the qualities I look for. And the art is tarnished, for me, if they turn out to be an asshole! I guess I’m lucky, or I pick good people to admire, but it is rare that I run into a total tosser. Gaz Coombes, all his band and management have been lovely, allowing me, as a fan, access to them photographically. I  have always thought that the words “thank you” are a bit useless in that they don’t really capture gratitude properly. I am so grateful for the photo passes. I am largely self taught, have little experience or expertise and not a terrific amount of confidence in my abilities. Last week was the first time I’ve photographed a band in 8 months. Bristol was a nightmare, the lighting could not have been worse and I had to work hard to get any useable shots, but I managed it. Birmingham had been a treat of another order, having permission to shoot from the crowd and there being balconies and steps allowing me to do so. The results are ok. I did ok photos here Thank you Mick, Gaz, Piney et all for the opportunity. Let me know if you like them. Or if you don’t. We all need feedback on our creative endeavours.

Silly late nights and ridiculous travel on coaches is clearly good interview preparation as I was offered all 3 jobs I interviewed for. I’ve accepted one and so hopefully my financial picture will perk up soon. It is still a job I am massively over qualified for, but part time and flexible work (essential when you are a single parent and your child isn’t entirely ‘standard’) tend to be on the lower rungs. Without the help of state assistance in tax credits, DLA and housing benefit, we wouldn’t survive. I shouldn’t feel the need to justify that, nor explain, nor feel ashamed for being “on benefits” but the reality of our society is that I am and do. I wish I could earn enough on my own, but the reality is that I can’t. The reality of caring and working, when you aren’t always well yourself, is that you need help. Financial help from the state, emotional help from a counsellor and support groups, societal help in terms of understanding. None of us can survive alone, and some face greater challenges and barriers than others in accessing that help. Many of them hidden. We circle back to displaying kindness again don’t we?

That kindness is how I can afford to be at so many gigs. Again, I shouldn’t need to explain, but I feel I do. Most of the gigs I go to are not paid for by me. Tom paid for all the tickets last week, and the travel. Apart from the coach to and from Birmingham which was a promotional birthday gift from National Express (yes, really) as well as 80% of the food/other expenses. He does this out of kindness, because he loves me. Photo passes mean free gig entry so those were gifts of a kind from the band. The camera I was using had been saved up for over the space of 18 months. The laptop I edit and type on was a gift from my ex boyfriend about 4 years ago. I get given money and venue vouchers as birthday/christmas/Mother’s Day gifts so that is how I afford others. Occasionally a venue or artist or promoter sees how much this all means to be and offers me a guest list. Last year a chunk of #40gigs was paid for by total strangers via gofundme. Kindness again, always kindness. Without it I would not be able to pursue my passion for live music. And as regular readers will know live music is my everything.  I remain full of gratitude and thankfulness.

One day I may be in a position to repay, and if I am I will do so gladly. In the same way as I was ever to climb the financial ladder I would consider it a  privilege to be able to pay higher rate tax. I guess that is how you feel when you have been in receipt of help yourself, when you have benefitted from kindness you are more likely to spread more kindness. It makes you wonder how cold, hard and cruel the upbringings of the people who govern us must have been for them to be enacting such cold, hard and cruel policies on us all. How blinkered and small their worlds must have been and remain to have never seen nor understand kindness.

This week also saw an historical vote in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the 8th amendment and pave the way for legal abortion in the country. Reading the stories of all those traveling home to vote and then the result, by such a huge margin in almost every area and among all age groups (bar the over 65’s) moved me to tears repeatedly.  The pace of change in Ireland is astonishing. The Magdalene laundries and their ferocious legacy of abuse only fully closed a generation ago. The scandal of what was done by the Church to thousands of women only just beginning to be uncovered. The mass graves, the beatings, the forced removal of babies from mothers, the cruelty, all of it only just starting to be known about.

Divorce was still illegal in Ireland the first time I visited Dublin as a teenager and the thought that gay marriage would be legalised was laughable (sadly). Yet I have lived to see all of it. I’m not Irish and it has been an emotional journey to watch, so to begin to understand what this must mean to the women of Ireland, well it’s incredibly moving. It is also so hopeful, that in a time when both the UK and US seem hellbent on moving backwards to a mythical time of ‘control’, that our near neighbour has run towards a more accepting and liberal future is beautiful. I wish, especially in the light of Brexit, that my Irish ancestry was a little closer than Great Grandparents.

That I was to be seeing Marian Keyes and Louise O’Neill talk the day after the vote was the icing on the cake. Two brilliant Irish women, who had campaigned for repeal, talking about feminism, writing, make up, the responsibility of being a writer, Aldi ice cream and so much more, was an amazing way to spend a Saturday morning in Bath. We started with a spontaneous round of heartfelt applause for the repeal vote and it carried on being emotional from there on in. There was also a lot of laughter, warmth and kindness. I am not a huge reader of fiction, but Marian Keyes is an author I adore. She writes with such warmth, humour and love about all of life. Domestic abuse, addiction, death, mental illness, families (no-one writes family dynamics as well as she does), shoes, relationships, it is all there in her novels. I managed to read the Walsh family novels in the wrong order by mistake (I know, hilarious) reading Rachel’s Holiday last of all.

The day after my Mum’s funeral I was in a charity shop (something she and I used to love doing together) and I picked up Anybody Out There, a Marian Keyes Walsh family novel I hadn’t read. I thought, brilliant, this will be a good distraction and bought it. My Mum loved reading, so a book bought in a charity shop was a good connection back to her. I hadn’t banked on the subject of the book, which I shan’t spoil in case this moves you to seek it out, but it unlocked a wave of grief. Tears flooded out of me. The pages of my already quite battered copy were now covered in snot and sobs. I tweeted Marian to say I’d picked up the book not knowing what it was about and that it had this effect on me. She replied with a sweet and honest reply that she was sorry to hear about my Mum and that her book had moved me to much. It was unexpected to say the least, but indicative of the humanity and love Marian displays as a person and writer. So to her speak, in person, was such a thrill.

I apologised to Louise O’Neill afterwards for not knowing her work before today, she was as funny and engaging as Marian so I suspect her books are also ruddy brilliant. I almost ran out of the queue to get Marian to sign my ticket (I was too embarrassed to take my old and well worn copies of her books and until I start my new job can’t afford to buy her latest) as I was so nervous about meeting her. My heart was hammering. My mouth was dry. I almost couldn’t speak. Yet I did. I croaked some embarrassing words about how much I loved her books and how when she followed me on twitter I nearly died, to which she immediately asked my name and said “oh yes I know you!” and signed my ticket with 3 kisses. I nearly fainted. This meant more to me than meeting Nils Frahm or the time Guy Garvey hugged me!

You simply have to follow Marian on twitter, she is hilarious and regales stories of her nearest and dearest with such love and wit it is impossible not to feel that you know them. As someone without a family of their own any more, it makes me feel connected and part of something. That is is the beauty and joy of social media in the hands of those who use it for kind purposes (and I have to say those are usually women).

When I was a child I really loved Cynthia Voight’s novels, Tell Me If The Lovers Are Losers in particular and I wrote to her saying so. After many weeks (oh the days of international snail mail!) I received a reply saying thank you, but that a book needed a willing reader. It took me until last year to understand what she meant and to accept my part in the process. The best artists are ones who give, who share, who use their platform with kindness.

The last full week of May 2018 was a very busy one, I traveled many miles and had very little sleep. I met artists I admire and got to be creative around their work. My boy took a huge step towards his eventual independence. Writing helps me process, hence this long and rambling summation. Thank you for reading, whoever and wherever you are.

Common People Festival – Oxford

Sunday 27th May, 2018

To top off what had already been a very busy week, I was to spend today at Common People Festival in Oxford. Ride were the joint headliners, hence why Tom got us tickets. After Wednesday night’s warm up gig in Reading, I wasn’t expecting much. Which is probably the best way to go into an event like this.

The organising team deserve a lot of credit, the site was well laid out, there were plenty of facilities and the atmosphere was really friendly. My only piece of constructive criticism would be that all of the main acts were male. Please get some female acts next year!

I had fancied seeing the London African Gospel Choir performing Graceland but managed to get there too late. My bad. The first act I saw therefore were Maximo Park, who wouldn’t be at the top of my I want to see list but gave a good show. An engaging frontman, enough tunes you sort of knew and decent enough guitars made them a good choice for a late afternoon festival slot. I can see why they were booked and a lot of the crowd really liked them. It was easy to move up to the front after their set, so we did. It was a relief to be in the shade of the stage as the hot sun had been beating down on us all afternoon. Those threatened thunder storms had failed to materialise.

Next on were Sparks, who don’t half put on a good show. Their backing band, all young bucks in pink denim jackets, were very good, but the brothers stole the show. The energy and warmth they projected was met by an enthusiastic crowd. They may have been around forever (I googled how old they are and was astonished) but the desire to make people dance and smile has not diminished at all. I really enjoyed their set, and was glad to have been close to the front to have seen them up close.

The joint headliners, Ride, were due on next. The reason the Ride Uber’s had travelled from Philadelphia, the Scottish borders, Carolina via Bristol and round the corner (lucky Steve). This was a homecoming show from the local boys who used to dream about being in a band as schoolboys in the very park the festival was in. Which did infuse the set with an emotional tinge and meant they were met with a loyal and friendly response to almost every song.

The sound was so much better, I could actually hear Mark and Andy singing this time! Ride clearly suit this big stage, although I was really pleased to be up close on the barrier as despite the festival site being on a slope I wouldn’t have seen anything from further back. The highlights for me included their most recent songs, Pulsar and Catch You Dreaming, the latter of which is dreamy and trippy. I think it is impossible not to love Seagull, Loz’s drumming on it is spectacular. It was exhausting just watching how fast his arms were flying and the rhythm patterns are brilliant, matched by Steve on bass. I’d say he is the quiet man of the band, but the amps were turned up so high the bass was hitting me right in the chest. “Is it loud enough” joshed Andy at one point and both he and Mark were more loquacious than I’ve seen before, I guess playing a huge festival set like this in your home town must feel damn good. I was bothered by some burly men towards the end (I’m kidding, it was the Ride Uber’s) and it was so good to share the music with them. Ride may not be my band, but I completely understand the level of passion and committment the Uber guys feel for Ride’s music.

Music at it’s best is a communal experience, festivals at their best foster this and in securing Ride for this, Common People did a great job.  In short this was so much better than Wednesday night’s warm up gig.

Ezra Furman – Colston Hall, Bristol

Thursday 24th May, 2018

When the tickets for this gig were booked a gazillion years ago I was pretty excited about it. Then all the other gigs got booked around it and it became the fourth gig on the bounce for this packed week. I was pretty shattered going in and made the pragmatic decision to sit in the stalls, rather than risk achy limbs and feet standing yet another night on the trot.

The crowd were much more diverse, the age range bigger, the haircuts wilder (I didn’t at all feel out of place as a woman with short hair) and the atmosphere pretty electric. This was to be my last gig at Colston Hall before it closes for the refit. I’m not at all sure what I will do with myself without regular visits to the main hall and the Lantern. They have become my second home. I know the music trust will continue to put on gigs in other venues and I also know the refurb is much needed and will be worth all the money and time, but I was still slightly sad tonight.

Du Blonde were the support and I’m sorry we came in a little way through their set and missed a chunk of it as they sounded great. They were fun and engaging and a good warm up for Ezra.

The rest of the band came on, dressed entirely in white like lovely angels and Ezra made a dramatic entrance almost like a ballerina. He in no way hides his light under a bushel and that is why we love him. He is a brave, confrontational and brilliant artist who wears his heart firmly on his sleeve. The audio visuals and theatrical performance made it almost feel like a live film soundtrack. His music has a very visual, evocative feeling. I only knew a few of his songs before going into this gig, but the long set list tonight showed off his creativity and flair for a witty lyric. I Lost My Innocence and one I thought was called Cookies & Cigarettes (it isn’t!) were utter standouts. Unashamed and honest songs about gay sex and love sung by a man in a dress and make up. This is genuine outsider music and I loved it. Ezra paced the stage, gathering himself at the back at times, finding the feelings to allow him to channel whatever character he was playing in each song. Or simply to find a way of dealing with all the emotions, I’m not sure which. Perhaps a mixture of both. There was an Iggy Pop kinda vibe, not just for the sexuality and gender blending, but the punk spirit and vocal style too.

The band were inventive and exciting to watch themselves. The bass player turned his instrument sideways and plucked at it like a double bass, then he used a bow. There were keyboards, a saxophone and some percussion too. Talented bunch they were.

Ezra saved the most known of his songs for the end and the place erupted during Love You So Band and Suck The Blood From My Wound. If I had been less tired and on my feet near the front I’m sure I would have done the same. They are great, great tunes. And this was a great gig. To be able to reach my tired brain near the back it had to be.

If there was a thread connecting the gigs this week it was what it means to be a man in 2018. Gaz Coombes offers up interesting interpretations of traditional male orientated rock with incredible female vocal harmonies on, sings about his own issues with panic attacks and asks questions about modern manhood. Ride, well they seem happy and content with where they are, but their music seems to be able to unlock emotions and act as a release. Ezra says men can wear dresses and lipstick and fuck other men and still be men. I’m considerably happier with the first and last of those. Patriarchy harms us all; men suffer when they are taught not to display emotions that aren’t anger and women are directly harmed by the violence that results.

 

Ride – Sub89, Reading

Wednesday 23rd May, 2018

I had already been to 2 gigs and had 2 job interviews this week and it was only Wednesday. The day I left my current employment. How to celebrate? With a trip to Reading to see Ride play a festival warm up gig of course. I would have preferred to have been in London to see Gaz Coombes again, but Tom loves Ride and I love Tom.

We met up with some of his Ride buddies in the pub and it is probably best that Brian’s pink hair dye story stays there! Suffice to say they were a nice bunch of guys who nerded out over vinyl and between them had seen Ride a scary amount of times.

The venue was very odd, clearly more used as a nightclub and for tribute bands or naff pop reunions. We were issued with a permanent marker cross on the hand and a stamp both of which proved very hard to remove. The floor was sticky. Really sticky. The low barrier was useful for leaning on though and the atmosphere was ok. I guess I’ve been in worse places.

There was no support, this was simply a warm up for Ride before heading to a couple of festivals. One of which, Common People, I shall be at on Sunday. I have to confess that since seeing Ride last November with Tom I haven’t really listened to their stuff so most of the songs remained mysteries to me! I recognised some of the tracks from the previous gig, including Pulsar which is probably my favourite of theirs. The sound mix was again difficult. I know this is shoegazer music and the vocals are supposed to be mumbly but I do want to be able to hear the singer sing and speak. Mark’s vocal mix was again so low as to make him unintelligible, which isn’t the case for Andy who I could understand so I’ve no idea what was going on with that. It was pretty easy to see and hear Loz’s great drumming as he was up on a raised plinth at the back and was spotlit to deservedly show him off. On bass, Steve, was also actually lit (quite unusual for a bassist, if anyone is to hide in a band it is usually them) and provided solid support.

I really enjoyed seeing Tom and Brian cutting loose on the front row. There was embarrassing dancing and everything. I fully understand that level of passion, commitment and love of music. This just wasn’t the right band for me to be lost in.

I enjoyed this gig, I just didn’t love it. Gigs are about so much more than the music, they are about what you bring in with you and I was already very tired and overwhelmed from it being such a big week.

There seems to be something about Ride’s music that allows a certain kind of man to connect to his feelings and express them. That is what music is about, after all, and I of all people know how important that can be. This just wasn’t for me. It’s still good music, produced by talented people who want to connect with their audience. And they do. I’m just not one of their number. Apolgies to Tom and the Ride Ubers but it would be dull if we all liked all the same things! I’m going back to my eostetic music on the fringes.

 

 

 

 

Gaz Coombes – Trinity Centre, Bristol

Tuesday 22nd May, 2018

Night 2 of the Gaz adventure, this time in my home City and the gig I had planned to be at all along.

I’d had 4 hours sleep before catching the coach back from Birmingham, put in my penultimate shift at work before this gig and frankly my feet hurt and all I really wanted was a nap!

Trinity is a great venue, one I’d not been to since BBC6 Music Festival back in Feb 2016 and that had been such a special weekend that this venue holds a place in my heart. I had another photo pass, such a treat to have another chance to take pictures from the pit.

Piney Gir provided excellent support again, but Bristol’s audience were more attentive and receptive. Almost universally Bristol crowds give good atmosphere. The lovely acoustics of a former church help, as did seeing Dave who I met at the Gaz instore again. Instead of watching from the side of the stage tonight I got to be a fan in the front row and watch the rest of Piney’s set from there. Garo gave it good guitar and Piney’s vocals sounded great. She has a lovely voice and happy, sunshiny vibes to her music that I like a lot.

I got myself into the pretty tiny photo pit nice and early before Gaz came on. I was the only photographer there, which is just as well given how small the space was! The lighting was awful, such a challenge, low, dark, swirling, not focussed on the singer and in such a small space impossible to get the requisite distance required. Somehow I have managed to grab half a dozen ok shots but boy it was hard work.

I wormed my way back through the crowd to find Tom and be in the front row and simply be a fan for the rest of the set. Boy am I glad I was. This was a much better gig than the night before, some tweaking to the set list provided better song flow and the atmosphere was so much better. I was able to let myself marvel and admire and get lost in the music. The backing vocals again enhancing every song they were part of and the whole band looked to be enjoying themselves.

Towards the end of the set Gaz threw in Slow Motion Life and that was it, I was fully engaged and from there to the end this was a superb gig. It has that incredible swirling build that I love, winding and winding towards its conclusion and they all really let rip with it. As they then did for 20/20, Detroit and The English Ruse. It was fucking ace. The best I’ve seen Gaz play to date. A brilliant, brilliant gig. Sometimes all you need is a boy with a guitar and a piano with his band playing loud rock n roll to make you happy.

Monday I had been a photographer, tonight I got to be fan. Both wonderful experiences. My only regret is in not having been able to get to more shows on this tour! Gaz, expect to find me in the front row again as soon as I am able. Thank you again.

 

 

 

Gaz Coombes – O2 Institute, Birmingham

Monday 21st May, 2018

It was a fairly last minute decision to go to this gig, made possible by a confluence of factors. It was a touch reckless and exciting but for music I love, and the opportunity to photograph Gaz, I was willing to have a Monday night adventure.

Britain’s 2nd City has some fine musical heritage and venues but I’ve only been to a few gigs here in my life. The O2 chain venues I’ve been at have varied, from the rather nice in Manchester, to the “I’ll never go there again” in Bristol so I had little idea what to expect.

It had been a fairly big day, full of nerves. Dropping the boy off to go to school camp was huge as he has only been apart from me or his Dad for 1 night before now. My baby going away from home for 4 nights. Then a job interview. Then work (never not stressful). Then a coach journey (traffic?!) and to top if off my first opportunity to photograph to Gaz Coombes.  I’m always nervous about photographing a gig, this was my first with new camera, first since last October and first in the venue and of the artist. Fortunately everything preceding the gig had gone as well as could be hoped and I had 2 hours of listening to music on the coach to calm me.

I was in early enough to scope the venue out and find vantage points from which to see the gig after my 2 songs of photographs had been taken in the pit. Thankfully a couple of balconies and stairs would be enough to ensure I didn’t spend the majority of the gig watching the back of other people’s heads.

This was to be the third time I’d seen Gaz Coombes live this year, after Tom introduced me to his music earlier this year. Why I hadn’t come across his music beforehand I’m not sure. He ticks all my boxes, supremely talented singer/songwriter who can play almost any instrument, varied and interesting output, intelligent songwriting about personal and political issues and a jolly nice chap to boot.

Support came from Piney Gir, gorgeous harmonies and rather nice guitar. A more polite support act I don’t think you will find and some of the audience met Piney with the same level of respect. I shot the first couple of songs of Piney’s set to help get used to the lighting and the venue and then watched the rest from of her set from the side. It was an ace vantage point and I liked what I heard. Puppy Love and the track after that were my favourites.

Then Gaz. Camera primed I swallowed the nerves & dived in. After not very long the memory card filled up and I had to dive off to retrieve another (thank you very much to the helpful road crew for his torch assistance) and then the camera had a flipout and it took what felt like ages to sort. My heart was racing and panic was starting to set in. I only had 2 songs dammit! My nerves were such I’ve no idea what those opening songs were.

The atmosphere was good, but not great. I know it was a Monday night, Birmingham, but you could have been more up for it is all I’m saying.

After those first couple of songs in the pit I gathered myself up and made my way towards the back where the stairs and balcony were to be able to enjoy the rest of the gig. And enjoy it I did. The sound was pretty good up there and I had a decent view. Gaz and his band are lovely to watch as well as hear, he was much more confident on stage tonight than the first time I had seen him. He played a decent chunk of the new album, Worlds Strongest Man, which made me happy as I like it very much indeed. The emotions evident as he sang them, this album clearly means a lot, and taking it on the road to share, more so.

The band were all brilliant. I couldn’t single a man or woman out, although I do have a soft spot for bass players as you know and Gaz has written some bloody amazing bass lines. And the harmonies offered by Emma, Amy and Piney as backing support adds so much that it would be churlish not to mention them.

I missed the final track as my boy called me from camp because he missed me and needed to hear my voice. I was thankful for being at the back so that I could nip out the foyer to talk to him. Talk about torn emotions, maternal love and musical love competing for attention!

The encore songs were my highlight, Wounded Egos one of my fav tracks on the new album and Vanishing Point (a song about panic attacks) seemed apt for how parts of my day had gone. I had also found a spot to watch, near the front of the venue, up some stairs where I was close and had space to cut loose a little. I also snuck in some great shots from there, fabulous.

The absolute joy of photographing a band you love is how close you get to be in the pit, nothing between you and the band at all. Being able to be creative around the music and feel a part of it in a visceral and physical way is such a privilege. The downside is that I don’t get to be a fan and get lost in the music as I am watching the lighting and stagecraft to be able to capture the right moment. It is harder than you may think, and with the advent of camera phones people seem to underestimate the skill required to be a photographer.

A huge thank you to Gaz and his management for allowing this fan to get her photography geek on.

Ex Eye – Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Sunday 13th May, 2018

I’ve been a fan of Colin Stetson since I first heard MaryAnne Hobbs play Spindrift on her Recommends show on BBC6 Music. When I saw him play live last year (gig 27 of #40gigs) I was captivated by his unique talent. Ex Eye are his band. I was excited when this gig was announced as part of the Sounds & Visions festival. Very excited indeed.

I’ve never been to the Milton Court Concert Hall before, I didn’t even know it existed. It is very plush.

I saw Adam, who I had met at Kamasi Washington earlier in the month, were greeted by Pete from Twitter and saw Mary Anne and John Hobbs. It felt a bit like a musical reunion. Then, and what are the chance of this, in the next seat to mine, was Scott, one of the original #colincrew from last years gig in Manchester! Serendipity. Between us we had travelled from Bristol (via South Carolina in Tom’s case), Manchester, Sutton Coldfield and Stockport to be at this gig which sort of says everything.

Max Richter came on to introduce session 5, and given that this was his festival, I’m not sure why that was a surprise, but it was. Our first act was Caterina Barbieri playing an electronic set comprised of wires, buttons and sometimes quite assaulting sounds. It was different and difficult whilst also being interesting. It wasn’t entirely to my taste, and whilst being stylistically quite different to Ex Eye, was still in keeping with the experimental nature of the festival. Whereas the previous nights programme hadn’t held together, this did.

I had forgotten my gig ear plugs again (after Mogwai you would think I would have learnt) and I was a touch worried as Ex Eye are a loud and heavy band. After the first track  I’m sure that the whole audience were blown slightly backwards with the power and force of the band. Ex Eye are Colin on sax, Toby Summerfield on guitar, Greg Fox on drums and Shahzad Ismaily on synths. I’ll wax lyrical about how brilliant Colin is in a bit, but the rest of the band deserve some attention first. Those drums! Sheer, reckless, driving force, wall of sound, rock n roll on steroids drums that pinned you to the back of your seat. The guitar, gold and sparkly, looking too small in the hands of a big man, played so fast you thought his fingers might melt, distorted and LOUD. The synths, balanced on his lap looking deceptively delicate but that made amazing and powerful sounds that melded into everything else, held the whole thing together and presented it in the most inventive fashion possible. Just those 3 would have been an assaulting experience. Add Colin on the big bass saxophone (the one as big as me) with his circular breathing technique and you have one of the loudest and heaviest gigs I’ve ever experienced. Wow. There was absolutely no danger of not being able to stay awake through this!

There were moments when Colin and Toby were playing together like a pair of dueling stags, or heavyweight boxers, dancing around each other, coaxing and teasing the noises from their respective beasts in a musical fight. By the end they were the punch drunk boxers, or exhausted stags who could barely stand. They gave us their all, that’s for damn sure. I think Toby was playing the guitar with his teeth at the end, and Colin was purple and I was quite worried he might burst a blood vessel or faint. This is not music for the faint of heart. There is a wildness in it, a  spirit running and escaping into the wilderness. The rumble that emanates from the bass sax hits you in all sorts of places. It is visceral and wild and I loved it.

Colin is a total master of his instrument, you feel as if he isn’t entirely complete without a saxophone. He is his craft and his craft is him. The practice, patience and fitness it must take to be able to play like this. He is unique, brilliant and fabulous. Every time I thought, no, he can’t keep going on and on like this, he must stop soon, he just kept going. And going. And going. The stamina, physicality and creativity it takes to produce such sounds. Wow. Just wow. And to have found 3 collaborators who are also brilliant at what they do, so as to take it all to another level. Well, I’m almost speechless.

Music has a power to take you out of yourself, into other worlds and emotions and connect you to yourself and others. Occasionally you are lucky enough to see a pioneer as brilliant as Colin Stetson. I have now been lucky enough to see him solo and with his band, both experiences I shall treasure.

If you get the chance to see Ex Eye or Colin Stetson play, anywhere, anytime, just take it.

Ex Eye turned everything up to 11. And a half.

Max Richter – The Barbican, London

Saturday 12th May, 2018

To give this its full title, Sounds & Visions Session 4. The BBC Symphony Orchestra: Ives, Berio, Richter, Colin Curry Group: Reich. Which is a full mouthful and as the reason I was there was to see Max Richter I’ve shortened it.

He is one of my favourite modern composers and this concert was only a couple of days after my birthday, in the City of my birth and Tom was going to be here, so I had no reason not to buy a ticket.

Before we went to the concert we visited the very lovely and talented John Hobbs, to see his studio and paintings. It is such a treat to see where an artist works and talk to them about their life and inspirations. Thank you John. If you like contemporary art, why not have a look at his website here.

The last time I went to the Barbican was for my graduation ceremony, almost 18 years ago. Then I nearly fell of the stage with excitement (or because I was wearing very high shoes). I have never been to a concert there. It has been a place of cinema and art for me before, but never music. It is a concrete bunker of a place, dark and cave like, with awful acoustics in the public spaces and a terrible restaurant if you are coeliac (Benugo who have the concessions at a lot of London’s art galleries are awful). However, I do have very fond memories of Indiana Jones marathons (all 3 films in 1 day) and some brilliant photography and modern art exhibitions. It is also home to the LSO so the concert hall sound must be good. This was also a gig, in part, to celebrate my birthday and I was born to and of East London stock, so to be in my Manor seemed fitting.

The start time had been moved back by half an hour to accommodate Max Richter’s ambitious programme for this evening’s concert. He was joint curator of the Sounds & Visions festival that took place over the weekend. This was session 4 of that Festival and he was to be playing his own works with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This is the bit I was excited about.

The running time ended up being in excess of 4 hours and that was at least 1 too many for me! I wish the programme had been shorter and I think the rest of the audience did too. There were a lot of very tired people in that hall.

I enjoyed the opening piece, Steve Reich’s Tehillim played by the Colin Currie Group with Synergy Vocals. I know of Reich’s work due to Charles Hazelwood’s excellent series about minimalism on BBC4. The vocals, sung in Yiddish, with the sparse percussion and lush strings made for a moving piece about the nature of faith.

I have to apologise to the musicians who performed the next, short piece as I have forgotten it completely. I don’t think it is their fault, it was just lost in such a long evening.

After a short interval, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Roomful of Teeth unleashed music at us. I can’t describe it any other way. It was noise. A lot of disjointed and inaccessible noise with very strange vocals that I didn’t enjoy. I like experimental music, I like being challenged, I enjoy being exposed to things new and unexpected. I can almost always find something positive to say. Not for this.  The polite applause tells me and the conversations I had and overheard show me that I wasn’t alone in finding it difficult to know what to say about this piece of music. Ives The Unanswered Question and Berio’s Sinfonia if you want to hear them for yourself. It was the sort of music that, without training in classical music, or an ear for the very avant guard, you may not even like, let alone appreciate.  I think it was a mistake to include it in the programme at all.

Why I feel quite so strongly about this is that meant I was going in to the final piece bemused and tired, not how I wanted to feel at all. We were to be treated to Max Richter’s Three Worlds. Written as a ballet score in response to 3 Virginia Wolf works, it is beguiling and beautiful. I wish I had seen it as a ballet. I am sure, then, I would have been extremely moved by the power of the music and of hearing Wolf’s own voice describing Mrs Dalloway, as well as the reading of her suicide note. But I was far too tired. The auditorium was far too hot. It became difficult to keep my eyes open. It is such a shame because the middle of the worlds, the one based on Orlando, was other wordly and beautiful. There was some amazing solo cello and violin going on, balanced with understated use of brass and piano. It could have been so much more.

I had high hopes for this concert. I really love Max Richter’s work, he is clearly a very talented musician and composer. The movements I have heard of Three Worlds are so beautiful they take your breath away. Live I was expecting to be swept away with emotions. When that didn’t happen I felt let down, as if I had missed something extraordinary. Perhaps it was me, perhaps the rest of the audience loved it.

I have such an intense relationship with music, am so invested, so emotionally bound by the expereience, that when they don’t go how I want or expect, I feel a deep sense of loss.  I wish this had been a different experience.

 

Paraorchestra – Bristol Old Vic

Friday 11th May, 2018

The Nature Of Why as part of Mayfest.

I’d seen the Paraorchestra deconstructed only a few weeks ago, with my son and had loved them. When I saw this performance announced I jumped at the chance to get tickets. My birthday treat. An orchestra, dancers, at the Old Vic Theatre, performing a piece scored by Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, to celebrate the great scientist Richard Feynman. It had all the elements of something I would love. Tom gallantly agreed to come with me, even though this was well outside of his comfort zone.

Oh my goodness. I’m not sure how I explore and explain in words what this was. I shall try, but how I wish I could simply put you inside my skin and heart and brain and give you the extraordinary gift of the way I feel music.

The first surprise was that we weren’t just in the Old Vic, we were on its stage. How brilliant is that? We were encouraged to move about among the performers and not to stay still throughout the piece. The violins and cellos were at the front with Charles Hazelwood, the conductor, and the rest of the orchestra and the dancers were with us on the stage floor. Singers, guitar, hand held harp, clarinet and dancers weaved in and out of the audience. We were part of the performance. We weren’t there simply to politely nod and applaud, we were every bit as important to the show as each musician and dancer. Music exploded from everywhere, musicians all around you that you could or could not see depending on where you were, as well as speakers discretely placed so that you were completely and totally immersed in the music. A glockenspiel was spun around and around right in front of me, when it stopped the percussionist lifted into the air like the most beautiful arabesque ballerina you’ve ever seen, and she carried on playing. It was stunning and simply breathtaking.

Singers were inches from you, double bass’ were danced with whilst being played, tuba’s were driven among you whilst being blown, the harpist weaved in and out of us whilst playing. All while incredible choreogphy had dancers stretching, reaching, weaving and expoloring the beauty of human movement. It was brilliant.Wonderful. Mind blowing. At one point I stood in front of Charles as he conducted the most beautiful violins. Tears fell from my eyes at the sheer beauty of what I was hearing.

It was very emotional and involving and although parts were quite dark, it was also touching, moving and joyous. To have been close enough to the performers to have smelt their perfume, to see the hairs on their arms stand on end with the emotions of what they were playing, was an incredible privilege.

The dancers created a human pyramid, encircling a member of the audience to do so, we couldn’t have been more included. It was magnificent. Towards the end one of the dancers took my hand and drew me into the performance, circling me round the movements of herself and the other dancers. I was part of the performance, I was part of the art, I was part of it all and I felt as if emotions would simply burst out of me. It was joy. Such joy. And I have now danced on stage at the Old Vic! What a birthday celebration that was. I could not stop smiling.

That the piece ended with us in the middle of the stage, dancing with and among the paraorchestra could not have been more perfect. It was the most immersive, inclusive and enveloping musical experience I have ever had. Moments keep coming back to me, and I cannot wipe the grin from my face. It was extraordinarily beautiful and incredibly moving.

Thank you everyone involved with this extraordiary performance and please keep stretching the boundaries of what an orchestra can be and do. I cannot wait to see, hear and feel more. Music is lifeforce. It is everything.