Funds are a bit tight at the moment so I can’t afford to be buying tickets to gigs. This, however, was a free performance in a Church and I had nothing else to be doing of a Saturday lunchtime so I thought why not go. All I knew was “free concert” at the Lord Mayor’s Chapel. Not who was playing or what they were playing until I got in. The Lord Mayor’s Chapel is the usually closed church at the bottom of Park Street that I had never set foot in until today.
You go down a few steps into a narrow chapel, with a stunning high vaulted wooden ceiling. There are lovely stained glass panels and crests of many former Lord Mayor’s of Bristol who are, I presume, buried beneath. A rather lovely looking organ was just visible at the back, but I wasn’t to hear that played today. No, it was an a cappella choir, Amici, from Norfolk.
Somehow this was to be my first choral concert experience, which given how musical a City Bristol is and how many of my friends sing in choirs, quite a surprise. I love the power of the human voice when harnessed together, there is something very beautiful and moving about group singing.
There were quite a few of them crowded together in the pulpit and choir at the the front and all had beautiful voices. They sang a wide variety of music, drawing on a huge range of historical texts to do so, from medieval music to more modern day pop songs. I think I would have preferred them to stick to one era, rather than jumping about. This was a 50 minute introduction of all they could do, when I would have preferred to hear one style to be honest. All of them were good, but it was quite jarring to go from French traditional folk to jazz via Medieval church music with a bit of Victorian poetry thrown in!
As lovely as the harmonies were on Deep River and Ezekiel Saw The Wheel I find a white choir singing negro spirituals problematic. Especially given where they were being sung. An old church, in Bristol, who’s very people and institutions gained financially from breaking the backs of other humans via the slave trade. Bristol’s past and present are still tainted by slavery, I felt it was insensitive.
Sort of ditto their rendition of Lullaby of Birdland, written about Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and the jazz scene. “Jazz is black classical music” Nina Simone. Not white, middle age choirs from the Shires.
Towards the end they sang a version of Only You (yes the Yazoo song) which proves that a great song is a great song is a great song, whoever and wherever it is sung. The arrangement was quite nice and I left humming it.
Fundamentally my problem with Amici was that it was all very polite, very safe, very staid. Very English, uptight and repressed. Music, for me, is about emotion and release. It is about movement, it is about community and bringing people together. It is not polite and reserved. It is about celebration of the big emotions, love, laughter and loss.
The rest of the small audience seemed to enjoy it considerably more than I, although it is not being mean to say that I was the youngest person in there by a number of decades!
It was free, the singing was great, and getting to see the inside of a usually closed piece of Bristol’s heritage was worthwhile. Overall though, not really for me. I like riskier, more exciting music – even on a Saturday lunchtime.