Olafur Arnalds – The Forum, Bath

Thursday 27th September, 2018

I can’t even remember how long ago I booked these tickets, I just know it was AGES and that I’ve been looking forward to this gig for a long time. It was also an opportunity to take my 2 gig buddies to a gig together, Janine and Tom have been my most frequent gig companions but they hadn’t met until tonight.

I’ve never been to the Forum before and all 3 of us went “wow” as we walked in. Beautiful art deco architecture and interior with painted emblems and chandeliers. It was certainly a pretty venue. I’m guessing a former cinema, lovely big space full of faded glamour.

There was to be no support, just Olafur playing for 90 minutes. Much like a classical concert, which this was of sorts. Modern classical always seems like an oxymoron, but it is probably the only way to describe the kind of music Olafur Arnalds composes. He calls them songs, rather than pieces, and there are electronic elements, but essentially this is classical music with piano, strings and percussion.

I have been listening to Olafur’s latest album a lot while I work and have fallen in love with its calm, quiet reflectiveness. I was slightly worried that wouldn’t translate into a large concert venue, but it did. The lighting was fabulous and helped with the overall mood and tone a great deal. Shafts of light illuminating the violin and cello players to perfection. It was ethereal and ghostly, matching the mournful and sorrowful music. Later the lighting was reminiscent of trees, or poles of bamboo, working with the natural beauty of the music.

Brot and re:member, both from the new album, sounded amazing. Both light yet heavy. Filled with an aching and a longing. I may have had moist eyes. Soaring upwards, the notes reaching higher, like birds taking flight on the wing, wrestling with strong winds before finding solace in landing points unknown at journeys outset.

The musicians sharing the stage with him were all fabulous, violin, viola, cello and drums. Their playing understated and haunting. When Olafur played his “piano machine” the timbre and tone was luscious, there is something in those that resonates in the most beautiful way. I have no understanding of the electronic gadgetry involved or what the cellist and violinist were plugged into via their chairs, nor how the recording and looping worked, I just know I liked the sounds I was hearing from the stage. That time seemed to float for a while, bend into a new shape and change consciousness.

I find it staggering that Olafur was a punk before turning to composition. We have his Grandma to thank, and the final song he played was written in her honour. As the echos of the violins faded away, growing ever more quiet, slipping away into the darkness, you couldn’t help but feel the love they shared being poured into every note. Olafur seemed genuinely humbled by the response to his music and thankful that we as an audience were there on the journey with him. It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours on a Thursday evening.

Sam Carter – The Folk House, Bristol

Sunday 23rd September, 2018

I’ve gone on about how much I love the Folk House loads of times before, but I will reiterate that any gig venue that sells tea, cake, is warm, welcoming and has crystal clear sound is a winner in my book. Tonight I got to share it with Tom for the first time who enjoyed the local beers as well as an Anzac biscuit.

Folk as a genre is one I’ve come to love for many of the reasons I love the Folk House. The people are warm and welcoming, there is usually tea and cake involved somewhere, and it is an inclusive music. All you need to play is a decent voice and a cheap acoustic guitar. There are many, many great women in folk. There is almost always a sing a long, where you are expected, nay encouraged to join in. Even if, like me, you cannot sing.

My flirtation with folk began with False Lights, of whom Sam Carter is a founding member. BBC 6 Music, via the Mark Radcliffe folk show recording at the 6 Music Festival in Bristol was were it started. The germ of the seed that became 40 gigs was formed there too, but that’s another tale. One that did lead me to seeing and loving False Lights last year as part of 40 gigs. They were one of the undoubted highlights of the whole thing. Jim and Sam are both solo artists, as well as being in the band, and I’ve wanted to see them both on their own but the timing has never fallen right. It did tonight and so I grabbed the chance to see Sam on his own.

Susie Dobson provided excellent support with her ukulele and lovely voice. She was backed by Ant on guitar just to fill out the sound a little, which worked perfectly. Standout song was one inspired by commuter love tales, telling the story of red dungarees girl and the boy in the scarf. I need to know what happens next, Susie, so can you write a sequel? Please.

Sam made a cracking start with 2 new songs, both of which were brilliant. Brexit, cast as an adrift ship with its flag flying, but for what? was a clever political statement. It also showed off what Sam is so good at (other than being an astonishing guitarist), using the tradition and historical narrative of folk to tell modern stories. Only someone who knows, loves and understands their genre so well can do that. Folk music has always been full of darkness, hangings, murders, betrayals, so Dark Days (another of Sam’s own songs) fitted perfectly. There is political anger and impotence in some of the songs, Grenfell, Brexit, the Tories, all got airings. As did love songs for friends weddings, sleep, loving, longing and break ups. All of life in other words. In a dozen or so songs. In In Waves, the song inspired by a scientific book about sleep, Sam showed off that virtuoso guitar playing. It was beautiful, the wave patterns he was playing mirroring the lyrics and theme.

From The South Bank to Soho made me well up. Some songs hit closer to home than you want them to. We Never Made It To The Lakes may be “the most middle class break up song of all time” (until someone writes one about quinoa) but the tenderness and love behind the sadness were very sweet. Missing not what you had, but what you could have had, it’s a particular kind of pain.

Sam is a brilliant guitar player and a great songwriter. Buy his albums, and False Lights ones. Go see him play live if you can.

 

 

Bill Ryder-Jones – Chapel Arts, Bath

Wednesday 20th September, 2018

A rainy Wednesday night, wind blowing a hoolie. I was not in the mood to go out, let alone as far as Bath, but  Bill Ryder Jones was tempting me out into the night.

I’ve only been to Bath for a gig once before, and never at Chapel Arts. What a smashing venue! Centrally located, great acoustics, lovely open main space, great lighting, I would very happily travel to see bands here again in the future.

Support was from Our Girl, who I had seen supporting Marika Hackman last year. Then they were a perfect fit then and they were again tonight. I Really Like It was the best track (or at least the only one I can remember the name of!) and their debut album is out, it’s worth picking up.

I last saw Bill as part of Richard Hawley’s 3 Ring Circus in Sheffield a couple of years ago and have wanted to see him again ever since. That was a pretty special night and one where Bill had to follow Richard Hawley and John Grant, which is no mean feat. That he managed it with aplomb (and a jelly snake) is why I was at this gig. There is always nervousness to going back, to seeing someone again, especially for me when they were an unknown quantity the first time. Would they be as good?

Bill was better than good and I hadn’t misremembered anything. The charisma, self-deprecating humour, beautiful voice and fragility were all there. He opened with some new songs, from an album that’s not yet out, and they were almost my favourites. Any man who can extrapolate an entire song of their own from There Are Worse Things I Could Do from Grease has got to be alright hasn’t he? Now obviously Grease 2 has the better songs (yes I’m in the 2 camp, Bill) but seeing as he picked the best one from Grease, I’ll let him off. Time Will Be The Only Saviour was quite emotional, so Bill telling us to”get your feelings ready” as he began Sea Birds was unnecessary. Mine had already started to be peeled from me with the previous track.

This gig was a 3 act play. The opening section was all new material, played with a full band, followed by Bill acoustic and alone, then more well-known songs back with the full band. A little bit of everything, showing off all his talents. I’m really not sure which Bill I preferred you know, so I’m glad I got all the versions. With the band he could open up his guitar full throttle and that’s joyous. I may say I’m over boys with guitars, but you know what, I’m just over mediocre boys with guitars. When you are as good as Bill Ryder-Jones I shall continue to pay attention. On his own he could show off his voice, singing songs of loss, love and fragile emotions. Sometimes he does both and that is almost too much. He joked about being nervous, trying not to have a nervous breakdown on stage, but you can feel how much of his heart and soul he puts into his music. It’s almost a touch too much, too intimate at times, being so close to someone you don’t know opening themselves up to pain like that. I wanted to give him a cuddle! Perhaps I should have after the gig.

This was the gig I needed right now, one where it was safe to let some emotions out. I left this gig a little lighter. Music as safety valve is an under rated thing. Cheers Bill for helping calm life down for a couple of hours.

Dylan LeBlanc – The Exchange, Bristol

Wednesday 12th September, 2018

The Exchange is a cracking little venue at the end of Old Market Street and if you’ve not been, pay them a visit. They have a cafe, a record shop and do punk rock aerobics and yoga as well as gigs. They are also independent, Bristol is very lucky to have a fair few independent venues, but that’s not always the case across the country and as anyone who has been to an 02 knows, chain venues can suck the life out of a place. Save The Exchange is a campaign to do what it says on the tin. You can become an investor and help secure The Exchange’s future. They want to become Bristol’s first community owned venue. If you can buy in, do. If you can’t, spread the word. All music fans should support grass roots venues like this.

Speil out the way I’ll talk about the music.

The opening act were Mike Crawford and the Various Sorrows. They played to a small crowd, maybe 20 of us and I was acutely aware of being about the only one there who didn’t know Mike personally! I guess this wouldn’t have been a problem, other than that I didn’t like the band. The music was generic blues rock, delivered with macho swagger, and I am not the target market for that. I’ve had enough of boys playing guitars. They could play and Mike’s no spring chicken, so he knows how to present a performance. I do try to be positive in my writing and I know that the bands and artists are all putting themselves on the line to play. I also can’t lie though. This was not music that did anything for me.

Ordinarily I’d leave it at that and move on, but increasingly I am getting angry at how much of the live music circuit is dominated by white men. I try to see as many female artists as I can and I go to a lot of gigs, but there is no way I could hit a 50/50 gender ratio. Even a 70/30 split would be hard. Now that isn’t Mike Crawford and his band’s fault directly, but they are an example of how a perfectly average band of blokes get a booking. I bet a group of equally talented women would not be given such an opportunity.

Which made seeing Nicole Atkins bound on to the stage as the 2nd act all the more pleasing. She was backed by The Pollies who I liked the look of only because they included a cellist among their number and I do love a bit of strings. Nicole was brilliant. The highlight of the whole night as it turns out and the best thing on the stage by miles. She has on her a cracking set of pipes and uses them to sing blues/country nice and loud. I would be very happy to see her perform again, and have her album Goodnight Rhonda Lee downloaded.

Dylan LeBlanc was all floppy blonde hair, awww shucks me persona and guitar playing a bit like Jeff Beck. The Pollies, well instead of complimenting each other in playing, as they had done for Nicole, they all just blended together into a cacophony. That plus Dylan’s vocal being too quiet (not a mic issue as I could hear him talking fine) and I was not enjoying myself. I was tired and even contemplated going home before the end! I tried moving spots in the venue to help with the noise balance, to no avail. As the sound for both previous acts had been fine I can only conclude it was not the venues issue, but the bands. It was too much for me.

You can’t like everything and my tastes have become a lot less mainstream since I started going to so many gigs so perhaps this was just one not for me. The Exchange is still a vital venue and Nicole Atkins was worth discovering.

 

Jacob & Drinkwater – the Folk House, Bristol

Sunday 9th September, 2018

I first saw this excellent duo last year as part of 40 gigs and have been waiting for the opportunity to see them again since. That night I didn’t know their music and was knocked sideways by strongly I felt afterwards. I remember walking home in the rain feeling an emptiness inside that had been named and bought out by their music.

I’ll admit to being slightly nervous about seeing them again tonight, would they be as good? Every gig is a unique experience and a confluence of so many factors. It is an interplay between audience and artist and that varies depending on the room. Perhaps Gruff Rhys was on to something with his group dynamic theory stuff after all!

I haven’t been back for a second go at music I discovered last year many times, as most of the experiences were too special to replicate. But. I love the Folk House and I love Jacob and Drinkwater’s music so I was prepared to take the risk tonight.

Bristol Folk House is a brilliant venue. Odd, in a good way, with the best selection of non alcoholic and caffeine free drinks a woman could ask for, gluten free cakes and a homely feel. Go. Pop in to the cafe, take a course, or see a gig there.

Saskia Griffiths-Moore was our support. Clear and bright of voice with songs that tell stories, you like folk, you will like her. I preferred the new song, debuted for us, and the final track where she let her voice go a little more. She did have a slight cough and my ears are still ringing from last night’s very loud brass gig so it is hard to judge fully, but I liked what I heard.

Jacob & Drinkwater played for almost 90 minutes but it felt like 5, the time melted away with their heartfelt songs. The sardonic wit was also in evidence. These are men, writing and singing songs about troubling emotions, they have to lighten the tension of that somehow. For themselves and us.

Jacob (confusingly that’s his surname) takes lead vocals and guitar, Drinkwater (not a command) double bass and harmonies. Two men, two instruments and their voices. The way they use that simple sounding premise to explore dark, disturbing, buried emotions is brilliant. Devil, the song I thought sounded a bit like Jagger last time, is all brooding and swirling with almost flamenco guitar. Real Love, Polyphonic Life and the closer Your Sweet Smiling Face had my eyes moistening. One line in the last song was a real sucker punch to the guts. I’ve walked along similar paths. I recognised too much. Jacob’s voice is one of those that, in that brilliant, indescribable way, just get me. There is longing, loneliness and pain in these songs. They connected and hit me hard in the same places they did last time.

They did an amazing cover of Bird on a Wire, totally acoustically among the audience. There were also new songs for a forthcoming album (please support the crowdfunder for it). One even darker, exploring themes of war and loss, the other slightly less severe but still more political.

You like heartfelt and beautifully delivered songs? So do I. That is why I love Jacob and Drinkwater.

 

Youngblood Brass Band – Thekla, Bristol

Saturday 8th September, 2018

2017’s target may have been 40, but I actually went to 51 gigs. The number I reached tonight. Gig going has become so habit forming and habitual that I felt quite lost through the summer.

Who wouldn’t want to see hip hop brass on a boat? I’d been looking forward to this gig for ages and was expecting it to be lively and loud with plenty of dancing. Spoiler: it was.

Thekla is so Bristol. Quirky, full of dead ends, you can’t quite get what you want (please can you start selling something non alcoholic at the bar that doesn’t contain caffeine?), awkward to get to, drives you nuts but you still love it. As they often have club nights after gigs they are early to start and finish, quite good for us oldies.

Support was from local band Imperial Leisure, who play at the Exchange later in the year, so catch them if you can. They were bouncy and fun and did a great job of warming up the crowd. So much so that one of Youngblood came out front to dance with us and another picked up his trombone and joined in. Ska in style I guess, funky bass and brass over guitar, keys and drums with dual vocals/rap they were an excellent choice of opener.

I got chatting with the couple next to me, who turn out to be the worlds biggest Turin Breaks fans, like attracts like I guess! Passionate music fans tend to find each other. They had seen Youngblood before and assured me I was in for a treat. They were not wrong. Before the first track had even finished I knew I was on to a winner with this random gig pick.

11 musicians were crammed onto Thekla’s stage. 3 drummers, 3 trombonists, 2 trumpeters, a euphonium player and a couple of sax’s adds up to a whole lot of brass. A wall of brass, joyous and celebratory, hit me and I loved it. They were awesome. They played from their back catalogue, which stretches back 20 years (gulp) and covers. Until you have heard Don’t Speak covered by brass you haven’t lived I tell you. That was all kinds of amazing. As was Umbrella (yep the Rhianna song) which had me dancing up a storm. You may well recognise Brooklyn if you hear it as just about every brass band in the wold has played it, but it is a Youngblood original. And I loved it.

The drummers anchored the brass into all sorts of brilliant rhythm patterns, holding ground and allowing the brass players at the front to show off and shine. Which they all did. Blimey. Those boys can half play. I did not know that a euphonium could be a funky instrument until tonight. Nor that it could play hip hop jazz.

There was a track towards the end that had a merengue or cuban rhythm to it that made my feet do something I couldn’t control. I felt as if I was 18 again, being taught to dance  salsa to Brazilian jazz in my kitchen by a sexy boy (oh those were the days). Or that I was wearing a pink and yellow feathered headdress dancing the samba on Strictly (look, a girl can dream). I shall ache all over tomorrow from all the dancing, but it was actually impossible to keep still. There is no way on earth you could see Youngblood Brass live and not move your body. None. Go see them live and take your dancing shoes. I implore you. Your life will be enriched for doing so.

It was joyous and fun, so much fun. I could not stop smiling. I’m still smiling now. I have seen hip hop brass on a boat and it was every bit as brilliant as you could wish.

Sacconi Quartet & Jon Boden – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 7th September, 2018

The 50th gig of the year. Yeah, I know. It’s all getting a bit out of hand now.

I was attracted to this concert when flicking through the St George’s brochure. The write up screamed “Emma, you will like this” so I got myself a ticket.

St George’s has always been a brilliant venue, smashing acoustics and always welcoming. It was until recently a bit cramped in the bar and public circulation areas. No more! They have unveiled a beautiful new extension where there is more space to circulate, enjoy a drink and no longer do we have to climb those steep and winding stairs to get into the hall. It is full of light and height and is a brilliant addition.

I’ve become a bit of a fan of string quartets and of minimal composers this year, so to have the marriage of Sacconi Quartet and Steve Reich was a bit of a treat. This was my third Reich concert this year. Given that I only know who is he thanks to Charles Hazelwood’s documentary on BBC4 about minimalism I think this is quite an achievement. It also shows how far my musical journey has come, that I am now very much attracted to the outer edges of any musical style.

Different Trains is a multi layered piece, the live quartet play over/around a recorded one along with tape loops of various voices. They contrast the train journeys Reich took as a child between New York and LA and the trains other Jewish children were forced onto in Eastern Europe. A 3 part piece, before, during and after the War, it is a moving and compelling composition. The violins and cello are the perfect, mournful instruments to reveal the panic and despair of the war years, whilst also providing some quiet resolution afterwards. In technique this is not dissimilar to what Public Service Broadcasting do, multi layering of music and voice archives to talk about history.

The second piece of the evening was the Brodsky Quartet and Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters “not a song cycle in the traditional sense” an album and live work they made based on the letters written to Juliet Capulet that a Veronese academic had been secretly replying to for years. At times sorrowful, mourning and lamenting, these are songs that defy classification. They are neither pop songs, nor classical music, nor folk songs, although the draw from the histories of all three.

The concept was fascinating and the I wish I had known the songs better before I went in as it took a fair few before it knitted together for me. When it did though, it was wonderful. The biting wit of lyrics like “I call you a swine, that is an insult to the pig” and “thank you for the flowers, I burnt them in the fire” delivered with real heart by Jon Boden was wonderful. I would very happily see this performed again.

Rembrandt Britain’s Discovery of the Master -National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh

Sunday 26th August, 2018

Have Art Pass will travel! Having managed to nab an Art Pass on a special offer I thought it best to make use of it whilst we were in Edinburgh and as Rembrandt is rightly known as one of the great master painters so it seemed churlish not to take the opportunity to see this show while in Edinburgh.

About half the exhibition is Rembrandt’s own works and the rest are in his style, inspired by, or show the connections between him and Britain. I’ll be honest, all I was really interested in was the stuff by the man himself and I wasn’t disappointed.

There are a pair of portraits (comissions) of a British Pastor and his wife that are spectatular and make you wish he had done more like them. The prints and drawings, often overlooked, are gorgeous. I once spent a glorious couple of hours in the British Museam Prints and Drawings room looking at some of them up close. To hold Rembrandt sketches and etching in my hands, with no glass, no filter, nothing other than the museam provided gloves between me and them. Thrilling. Electric and I get a tingle every time I think about it. The Study Room is publicly accessible (you have to apply and days of access are restricted) but if you are a fan of art take the opportunity. I remember them asking “what do you want to see?” and I timidly enquired if they had any Da Vinci “yes of course” and there I was holding actual Da Vinci sketches. I could barely breathe with the excitement of it all.

I’ve digressed, I was talking about Rembrandt. A man who painted women with love. With care. With respect. As they were, fleshy and flawed, but still beautiful. I have always loved the painting of his lovers for those reasons. They aren’t the lavicius paintings of a man in lust, the women aren’t objects, they are real people he loved. He could represent people in paint better than almost anyone else and that is why his art has remained so loved.

An Old Woman reading is so much beter in the flesh than it looks on a computer screen, where it looks dark and dull. In life the colours sing out of the blackness and the detailing is superb. It was one of the paintings I spent time with, moving up close, then further back, to drink in as much of it as I could. There is a dignity in Rembrandt’s portratiture, a human quality, tenderness and care. Also playful hunour. The best of us, in other words. For me, he captured what it is to be human.

There are, of course, self portraits. The selfie is not new! One in paticular caught my eye as I wandered round the rest of the room. Someone else was admiring it, I’ll come back to you Papa Rembrandt I said, let me look at the rest first. When I did approach I almost felt him speak to me, ah there you are!, with a slight scold for ignoring him, but also a smile that I had kept my word. I have a relationship with art similar to that I do with music. They both tap into my emotional and intellectual worlds at the same time and the sensations can be overwhelming. With love, admiration, shock, disgust, horror, laughter and a slew of other emotions. I feel a connection. With great portrature I feel a sense of seeing the other person and of them seeing me, that we are connected in ways that make no logical sense. Only with sculpture and paint can we reveal our true selves.

I grew up a working class kid on a concrete housing estate in London. My Dad was a milkman and my Mum a housewife. I’m not of the establishment, the elite, or educated in art, but I know when art makes me feel. I know art is not only for everyone, but that it is vital. It is the lifeblood of humanity, we are the only species who make art. We aren’t the only ones with communication systems or who can use tools, or who live in complcated societal structures, but we are the only ones who create art. It is that vitality, humanity and connectivity that I feel every time I am among great art. It is good for the soul.

 

Cirque Beserk! – Lennox Theatre, Edinburgh Conference Centre

Sunday 26th August, 2018

I had already been to music in a Pianodrome, a late night show musing on group theory with music and a comedy magic show so all I had left on my Fringe Festival card was circus. Tangles had this marked as a must see and as neither she nor Tom had seen a circus for many years. I’m spoiled living in Bristol, where there is a circus school and therefore opportunities to see circus on a regular basis (having a kid also helps!)

Cirque Beserk is circus designed for theatre, they’ve had a very successful West End run in London. It showed. The music, lighting and staging were all very ‘showbiz’ and slightly too loud and dramatic for me. When you have human beings being that flexible, bendy and amazing I’m not sure you really need to add overly loud, thundering backing music. Let the performers speak for themselves! The acrobatics were amazing, jumping over fire, ribbon work hanging by the neck and pyramids that went up and up and up. The knife throwing was predictable (man throws knives at woman) and slightly off, at least 2 knives failed to land, and I didn’t find the clowns very funny. The physical comedy was drowned by the sound and I think the theatre set up didn’t help. The motorbike cage of death, however, was dramatic and jaw dropping. Not one, not 2, not even 3, no they put 4 motorbikes in there. Then they turned the lights off.  That bit was thrilling and exhilarating, as circus should be.

In the 250th anniversary year of circus I am glad I got to expereince a live cirucs performance. Long live the Circus.