Kraftwerk Re:Work – The Marble Factory, Bristol

Friday 23rd November, 2018

An orchestra reinterpreting Kratwerk in a nightclub. Who wouldn’t want to go and see that?! I first saw the Paraorchestra earlier this year, entirely deconstructed and then again on the Old Vic stage, where I danced with them, so I knew this would be a special prospect of a gig. Anything they do is. They stretch the boundaries of what an orchestra can be and do and I love them for it.

The Marble Factory is next door to Motion and I have never been to either, my raving days, if I had any, are long gone. I used to walk past the venue dropping my boy off to school but I’ve never been inside. Other than being freezing cold I liked it. Full of character and space. They were also very accommodating and allowed me a seat, as I’ve been really unwell of late. So much so that I have had to cancel going to 4 gigs before tonight. There was, however, no way I was going to miss this.

We started with what conductor Charles Hazelwood called an ear sorbet. A trio of 20th Century compositions. Starting with Schnittke’s Not A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was all dreamy violin and flute, echoing and circling to Mozart. The music and the venue seemingly not in step with each other! Then the tape composition of Artikulation by Ligetir which was, well, it was odd. Then the enchanting and rather lovely Un Sourire by Messiaen. There was some lovely cello work in that, that I adored.

Charles is an enthusiast, passionate about music, words tumble out of him in a joyous wave. Hearing him talk about music is a joy, hearing him conduct even more so.

What do you get when you cross an orchestra with a synth ensemble and a full band that you have attached close microphones to? Well you have created your very own, entirely unique human orchestral synthesiser. The brilliance of this idea, that you can amplify, distort, squish, bend and meld the orchestra and band sounds live, is breathtaking. This is exactly what Charlotte Harding and Lloyd Coleman have done with this brilliant reworking of Kraftwerk. It’s not a copy, or even an homage, it stands on its own as a piece of orchestral work inspired by and as an accompaniment to the original.

A symphony in 5 parts I suppose is it what was. Each building on the last. Like strata of rock layed down each section perfectly crafted on its own, but layering up and up and up until we reached the peak. The foundation levels were gentler, slower, then the rhythms started to build and grow. The middle piece of the 3 was heartbreakingingly beautiful and made me cry. Again with the cellos! There was a flute somewhere that was groovy, an instrument called a Headspace, where breath became note and sonic landscapes were created in ways you did not know they could. It built and it built and it got funky. Chair dancing may have been going on. Now the venue and the music fitted together, the orchestra was playing rave and it was superb. By the final piece it was getting dizzying the heights they were climbing, onwards we soared, upwards, hurtling along the TransEurope expressway faster and faster. I was off, eyes closed, mesmerised by the music and floating somewhere in deep space. Tears fell, music is beauty, is truth, is life.

Paraorchestra redefine what orchestral music is and can be and they are extraordinary. Simply extraordinary. Whatever the play and however they play it, they make incredible music that challenges your ears and your heart. They encapsulate everything I love about music. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, for making music that is open, full of love and accessible in every way.

Grief

Thursday 22nd November, 2018

My Mum died in January 2015. She was 66. I don’t know what her death certificate says but she died of Alzheimer’s. The Mum I knew and loved died some time before her body did. That’s the cruelty of dementia, it is a protracted grief, you watch the person you love disappear slowly over time and you have to mourn them while they are still alive. I thought I had dealt with that grief, that I had somehow managed to absorb it and move on. It stays with you, of course, but becomes part of your life, like wallpaper or background noise and you stop noticing it so much.

The past couple of months have been really hard and I have missed her more than ever. My baby, and I was her baby, has started Secondary school. I took the traditional first day picture in front of the wardrobe and I had no-one to send it to. More than anything I wanted to send it to my Mum and say look, he’s all grown up and handsome and have her share in the sense of pride I felt.

I’ve been unwell the past couple of weeks. That’s tough as a single parent. When you have no Mum to call on, for practical or emotional support it’s even harder. I was a sickly child and Mum provided comfort, fed me Heinz chicken or tomato soup (the only time we got brands was when ill) and tucked me up under blankets. Now I have to do all that myself and I don’t even get to hear her voice telling me it will all me alright.

I took a trip to Brighton not long ago and had a little stroll on the beach. I looked down to find pebbles for her, she collected stones. but could find none quirky enough to meet her standards. In that moment I missed her more than I ever have.

I have no contact with my older brothers, they didn’t even come to Mum’s funeral. I have little in common with my Dad. He lives in a rural village where time seems to have stood still and I live at the heart of a cosmopolitan City. I feel there is no-one to talk to about Mum. No-one to tell stories, laugh at familial jokes, remember her with.

The last time I was at Dad’s house was the day after Mum’s funeral. I don’t drive so getting to him is nigh on impossible. Even if I did, that place was never my home. They moved there many years after I had grow up and flown to a life of my own. I know no-one there and have no connection to the place.

There are no old friends from my childhood who remember my Mum either. I have no sense of connection or roots to my past. There is no grounding, no anchor and no guiding light. It is a very lonely place to be.

The irony of all this is that my Mum lost her Mum at an even younger age, she was newlywed and a new Mum when her Mum died. So she would have completely understood the pain of losing your Mum when you need her the most. She rarely talked about her Mum and for a variety of reasons we didn’t see much of her two sisters. I know she had an unhappy childhood, her Dad gambled and drank, there was violence and that he upped and left when Mum was about 12. It was 30 years before she saw him again. She shut down, staying quiet and compliant.

I’ve been carrying this fresh wave of grief for a while and this morning it has crashed over. I’ve been upgrading my photo editing software and in the process lots of old photos popped up of Mum. I couldn’t look more like her if I tried. I hated it when I was young, we all do, but now it is a very particular pain. Looking in the mirror to see not yourself but your dead Mum’s face staring back at you. Christ on a bike that hurts. The same thick, unruly hair that every hairdresser tells you is the densest they’ve seen “it’s not that it’s thick, or that there is a lot of it, it’s both!” The same strange change of colour, not grey or white or silver but an odd blonde, with flashes of pure copper hidden underneath. The same tired looking blue eyes peeping out from large glasses to accommodate the varifocals. The same blank expression as you can’t work out what your face is supposed to be saying so you let it rest into nothing. The same mannerisms, movements and posture. Those cursed calves. The same height and shoe size. I was made in her image. That would be beautiful if she was still here, that we could go out scouring charity shops together (we would often share or swap coats and jackets) and have everyone know this was a mother and daughter. But no, we were robbed of that. Now I have to look like her with no-one but me to notice. I am the age now I remember her being clearly, and as I age I shall be doing so as her, but without her. I know what I will look like at 50, at 60 even, but beyond that, that will be when I finally get to look like myself I guess. I’ll have no guide beyond 66.

My boy’s first Secondary school photo came back the other day and he looks so like me and my Mum in it. I cry, not for myself, but for him. He will never know her. Or how much she would have loved him. Did love him. She would have doted on him and spoilt him rotten. They would have laughed together, of that I am sure. He enjoys charity shop shopping with me and I can imagine the 3 of us heading out together to do that, with Dad grumpy that his grandson would prefer that to watching football with him! That her love of animals is alive in him, that they would have gone off walking the dogs together. So many images that cannot become real memories.

I miss her more now. I need her now more than I have ever done. She was stolen from me and I will never get her back. I hear her voice in my head saying “life isn’t fair, Em” but I am still angry and raw that I had to lose her.

Grief is mercurial and tricksy and a right bloody bastard. That is pretty much all I have learned in the nearly four years I have been mourning my Mum. I also know that it is a pain shared by so many and that we don’t talk about grief. Writing helps me process and it helps me keep her alive in my memory. I guess this blog post is for me, but it is also for all those who mourn. However long it takes, and whoever it is that you grieve. We need to talk about them and the pain of loss more.

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 15th November, 2018

I’ve been unwell and have barely left the house, other than to buy food but I wasn’t going to let a nasty virus stop me from attending this gig. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I had spotted it in the St George’s programme and couldn’t resist. Two maestro players of instruments you don’t see often, playing together. Yes this is a must attend. Then I heard Guy Garvey play one of Catrin and Seckou’s tracks on his Finest Hour show on BBC6 Music and thought, I’ve made the right choice, they sound amazing.

Come the night and I dragged myself up Park Street and the steps into St George’s to be greeted by a packed bar. A sell out gig, excellent. Once I’d slowly made it to my seat upstairs (I’m properly ill) all I was thinking was please be worth all this effort!

There was a support act, or a first act, who introduced the musicians playing with her, but not herself. So if someone can enlighten me as to her name so I can look up her music I’d be grateful as I really liked her. A  folk quartet of viola, fiddle, banjo, percussion and guitar with beautiful harmonies. Entirely the sort of music I love.

From my 2nd row perch I couldn’t see Catrin at all, but I could hear her beautiful harp in all it’s glory and I could see Seckou with the kora, which is an astonishing instrument. I’ve waited my whole life to hear a kora played live and now I’ve seen it twice thanks to St George’s as this was where I saw Sona Jobarth earlier in the year. It produces the most amazing and varied sounds, soft, loud, rhythmic and beautiful. It partners perfectly with the harp and to hear them combined was joy.

The opening track is a love letter to the Osprey. It’s migratory patterns following the journeys Catrin and Seckou have made to make music together, one Welsh, one Senegalese. If after four centuries the Osprey can make that journey again, we can perhaps hope for healing and reconciliation of human wounds too. Maybe we too can soar just like Clarach.

Anyone willing to reinterpret Bach on these instruments had better be brave, bold and know how to play. Catrin and Seckou do. I have never heard the Goldberg variations played quite like this before! It was magical. The weaving together of Baisso and western classical traditions was brilliantly and seamlessly done. Making the musical point that we have more that binds us than divides. Politics made flesh in musical notes and it was truly wonderful. 1677 even more so. Bluesy and dark, uncovering the difficult truths of our shared history.

Humans will always make music, even when they have nothing else. African slaves took song and music with them, those traditions carried down into blues, soul and gospel. R&B carried back, via Mersey Beat became modern guitar pop. Pretty much all modern Western music has its roots in West Africa. One day I would like to visit Sengal to pay debt to that. Those are other words, but music is what binds us to each other, it bears witness and it tells stories. It crosses continents and time, like Doctor Who, to reflect at us our shared pain and joy. On this day, of all days, as the UK stares at the self inflicted wound of Brexit, it felt like we needed a reminder of how healing music can be.

There were such beautiful and moving sounds coming from the stage that I couldn’t help but well up a few times. Emotions, even good ones, can become overwhelming and need release. There was such warmth and joy in this music, like being given a really good hug. You can tell when musicians play together a lot, when there is mutual respect and admiration, its evident in the sound. Catrin and Seckou have that in spades. Both wonderful musicians in their own right, there is some sort of special magic when they play together.  I hope their musical collaborations continue for many years and that I get to hear them play live again one day.

I am listening to Soar, the current album, as I write and it is every bit as beautiful as you could hope for. Get yourself a copy.

I wasn’t at all well and shouldn’t have gone to this gig but I am so glad I did.

 

 

 

Jane Weaver – Trinity Centre, Bristol

Wednesday 7th November, 2018

I’d seen Jane Weaver provide excellent support to Public Service Broadcasting earlier in the year and promised myself that if she played in Bristol I would go, so I did.

I missed the support act entirely, by being at Bill Ryder Jones’ instore gig instead, but I was there in time to get a decent seat before Jane came on.

Having seen Jane with a full band before, having just her and a bank of keyboards didn’t seem enough. There was also a guitar and a record deck up there on stage as well as laptops and the projector. I liked the visuals and they did add an extra layer, patterns, shapes and natural themes swirled. Soft and bold colour pallettes mixed with gentle focus to add to the dreamy feel. Yet somehow I felt a lack of emotional connection or sense of wholeness to this gig.

The difference between music heard live and recorded is enormous for me. I’m sure there are scientific theories you can dig out to do with the resonance of sound waves and the like, but it is a very different experience to hear a violin played live in front of you than to hear it recorded. There were points when Jane was singing when I wasn’t entirely sure she was doing so live!  Ditto the electronics. About the only thing I felt sure was live was the acoustic guitar. Perhaps this is fault of Jane’s vocal being too perfect, whatever it was, it sounded too put together and crafted. The realness of live music is in the rawness. It is in being able to see and hear the performer breath, pause, speak and be slightly different to the recorded version. It isn’t in the polished perfectionism Jane gave us at this gig. There was also no airing for Architect, which I found to be surprising given that it is her best known song.

I wonder if Jane Weaver is shy, as she barely spoke between songs and seemed to prefer hiding in the dark behind the bank of electronics.  I would never have the courage to be a performer and it takes some bravery and guts to be up there in the first place so I am hardly one to judge. Jane has a fabulous voice, as sharp and as clear as a nightingale. She can also clearly write a great synth pop tune.

Overall, despite enjoying this gig, it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for. I didn’t feel swept away in the music as I had done when I saw her before. I was hoping to be taken on a sonic journey where I felt I’d escaped reality for a beautiful, dreamy world of synths. What I had was a pleasant evening. I’m sorry Jane.

 

 

Bill Ryder Jones – Rough Trade, Bristol

Wednesday 7th November, 2018

I saw Bill in Bath not long ago, on a tour that was booked before his new album, Yawn, was released. This was an in store gig at Rough Trade to promote its release and as I love Bill’s music, wanted to get my hands on the album anyway and think Rough Trade’s set up is pretty ace, I figured why not. Handily the bus I would need to get to Trinity for the other gig of the evening went from a bus stop directly outside the shop and the timings were kind, so after initially thinking I wouldn’t be able to pull off 2 gigs in a night, it became possible.

Rough Trade opened in Bristol not long ago, but has quickly become an essential part of the music scene here. A live room at the back of a shop doesn’t sound enormously promising, but these Rough Trader’s know what they are doing and have built a good space.

I was nervous about being in my traditional spot at the front because Bill’s music is so intimate, almost painfully so at times, that I was worried about being quite so close to him. The stage is low and small, so you feel much closer to the artist than in most gig venues. Would being inches away, being able to make eye contact, be too much emotional for me? I did contemplate being at the back, but at less than 5 foot 1 with a stage that low, even in a small room, I couldn’t be sure I would see anything. Besides, I need to be able to divorce myself as much as I can from the knowledge other people are there sometimes. If not, I feed off their feelings too much, or become so socially awkward I can’t let go and enjoy the music.

So there I was, at Bill’s feet so to speak. He even asked me for the time at one point! With Bill you get the mix of self-deprecating humour and warmth with the heartfelt and beautifully sad music. He played a selection of tracks from Yawn, which I’d heard for the first time at the gig in Bath.  John and Time Will Be The Only Saviour both moistened my eyes, and I found myself biting my lip to prevent too many tears from flowing. It would have been embarrassing to have Bill look at me with mascara running down me face.

When I saw him in Bath I’d wanted to give him a hug and hadn’t had the courage to do so. So at the end of this set I told him that and asked if he wanted a cuddle. When artists create in and of their own pain, to share with others it often has a special beauty. I have always been deeply touched by the courage it takes to do that.

Bill is a heart on sleeve artist, who can play a mean guitar with a gorgeous voice that melts my heart. That he’s also damn funny, charismatic and cheeky are bonuses. He’s playing in Bristol again next Spring (lucky us) but it is a weekend I have my boy so I’m not sure I will be able to go. Do me a favour and get yourself a ticket to go on my behalf, you’ll have a great time.

 

Sheffield

Roughly 2 years ago I went to Sheffield for the first time and fell head over heels in love with the place. I was briefly back there last year as 40 gigs drew to a close, but had no real time to explore. I was determined to experience a little more of this slice of Yorkshire heaven. It still wasn’t enough and I must go back again. I wrote about that first visit here

I dragged Tom on a whistle-stop tour of my favourite bits of Sheffield and enthused with passion about how much I loved the place. The significance of the Crucible Theatre as the home of Snooker was lost in translation, but it still sent a shiver through me.

On my first visit I had climbed up to Park Hill and had been able to wander reasonably freely among its decaying structure. I cursed not having my camera with me and was only able to photograph it on my phone, which you can see here . I promised I would return one day. And I keep promises. So after leaving Tom in a pub I raced across the train and tram tracks to once again climb the steep hill and take in the view from the top. When I got there a different beast awaited. No longer could I access the site of Park Hill, it was all fenced and locked away by the developers. I cried frustrated tears, as I had my camera with me, ready to document the place for myself before it changed. I felt and still feel a lot of emotions stood in Park Hill. That first visit has stayed with me. I wanted to explore and roam around it some more, finding the hidden corners and parts long neglected and forgotten. I remain an outsider, that I know. But I know that the people who lived, loved, died and simply were in Park Hill deserve to be remembered and documented. Their stories matter.

I am glad that the site is being redeveloped and is once again going to be filled with life. The juxtaposition between the old and the new was more marked this time. Last time I had started at the old and discovered the new, by chance, at the end. Now, I knew the redevelopment existed and has even featured as a location in Doctor Who.  It still stirred things deep in my soul.

I grew up on a concrete, post war estate, not entirely dissimilar to Park Hill. I remember the community it fostered and endangered in equal measure. I remember playing outside, gangs of kids freely able to roam through car free streets. The sound of children’s laughter seemed to be ever-present then. It was the only time I’ve ever felt I belonged, or that I had a home. Perhaps that is why Park Hill resonates with me so much. For reasons I cannot explain, I feel at home in Sheffield in a way I only do otherwise in the Highlands of Scotland or stood on London’s Brick Lane, and I have lived in none of those places. Given that I have spent 3/4 of my years feeling rootless, homeless and without a family, feeling comfortable anywhere is a feeling I chase and embrace.

I feel terrifically mixed about Park Hill, as I do about the Estate where I was born. They were created in the heat of post war optimism and gave many working class people inside plumbing and heat for the first time. They were modern, forward-looking and designed by eager young architects with the aim of making lives better. And they did, for a time. Before economic and industrial decline changed things forever. Poverty trapped many. Those who could, left. Like we did. I was just 10 when we moved away and I lost every connection to my early life. I have never felt settled since. I have also never forgotten the people we left behind.

Park Hill is undergoing huge redevelopment and will again be a large urban housing complex. With a nursery and other facilities. It was seeing the abandoned and moss covered children’s playground the first time that made me weep. It was just the saddest of sights. That and the derelict pub – the heart of the community – stopped, frozen in time. It will be joyful to see the new Park Hill finished only, and this is an enormous only, if it once again is populated by working class people. If it becomes a gentrified haven of ‘creatives’ then the tears I shed won’t be of frustration, they will be of anger. The only way Sheffield can honour it’s past, the only way Park Hill can pay homage to its former residents, is if ordinary working people live in it again. The estate I grew up in is being partly destroyed (it has no listing or preservation order as Park Hill does to protect it) and redeveloped too. I went back last year, as part of grieving for my Mum. The place was a shithole and I felt no more I belonged there than I would on the Moon.

Sheffield is a special place. It welcomes you with open arms and tries to make the best of itself. It isn’t a fancy place, but it has heart and humour. It has the most diverse architecture, in the smallest space, of any City I’ve wandered about in and I love it for that. It has buses that go to Halfway! It has a functioning public transport system, that is integrated (as a Bristolian this is such a dream). There is not a single Tory on Sheffield’s council. It gave the world stainless steel, Henderson’s Relish and Richard Hawley. For reasons I perhaps will never understand or be able to explain, Sheffield makes me feel at home. I hope this City has as bright a future as it has had past, its people deserve that.

Sheffield, like me, wears its heart on its sleeve and that is why I love it.

John Grant – The Octagon, Sheffield

Friday 2nd November, 2018

You know how I love John Grant. You know how I love Sheffield. Those 2 things combined? As if I was going to say no!

There was time for a gluten free chinese meal (oh yes, Sheffield, thank you from a very full coeliac) with Andrew off Twitter. He’s one of the people I’ve come to know through Mary Anne Hobbs’ weekend breakfast show on BBC6 Music and it was lovely to meet him and his daughter before the gig.

The Octagon is another odd place. Part of the University of Sheffield, a 1980’s 8 sided building made of concrete and stone. It felt smaller than the Forum, but the capacity is roughly the same. It had a nightclub vibe and was darker, lower and smaller lending the air of a more intimate feel. Tom had sensibly chosen the option of seats and we lucked out in being seated 3 rows up behind the sound desk so we had a great view and sound.

I enjoyed Two Medicine’s support set again, although the crowd weren’t as polite and the general hum of chatter meant I couldn’t hear them as well as I had the night before. Their album has just come out so maybe add it to your list of purchases? If you like dreamy synth pop (who doesn’t?) then they are worth a listen.

John took to the stage brimming with confidence and joie de vivre and instantly any tension I’d been carrying melted away. The set was roughly the same as the night before, but by being closer to the stage in a smaller venue it felt like an entirely different gig. The stage was smaller and some of the lighting and screens hadn’t made the journey to Sheffield, we were all a lot closer together. It was hot, even at the back in the relative comfort of the seats. I know venues like to keep you hot so you drink more and they make more money, but it is an access and a safety issue to not provide air conditioning. That grumble aside, this was a fantastic gig. John’s vocals were stronger and better mixed, allowing his gorgeous honeyed tones to really reach where they should. And those witty, brilliant lyrics could get the showcase they deserved.

John is a big bear of a man, with a voice to match, low and powerful. You feel safe in his voice, like being wrapped in an aural embrace. I choked up early than expected with It Doesn’t Matter To Him and Is He Strange? and the emotional flow felt a lot more steady this evening, despite there only being one change to the set list as Glacier was moved later into the set.

Time was melting away remarkably fast and what had been a full set felt like only a few songs. As we started to approach the end of the main set John bought out a special guest “my very good friend, Mr Richard Hawley” oh my gosh I thought I would burst. I adore Richard Hawley as much as I do John Grant and I knew the song he had bought him out to play on was Glacier. A song that melts me, creates rivers of tears and lifts me back out of the valley with it’s beauty and love. With Hawley on his red Gretsch. It was perfection. Richard stayed on for Queen of Denmark, adding riffs and licks and enhancing it. He took songs that were already slices of musical heaven and lifted them to another plain. It was magnificent.

Diet Gum found a place in the encore in all it’s bitter, angry brilliance, more of those hilarious and searingly honest lyrics. I love this track and it was ace to hear it live. With added Hawley. Oh yes.

It had been a somewhat emotional return to Sheffield for me (I really do love the place) and the venue (new to me) with all it’s heat, darkness, strange shape and busyness had thrown me. The music, the superb musicians backing John, and his safe pair of hands voice, were what I needed. I wept, I laughed, I soared and I sang (silently, I’m not a monster) and I embraced what this music means to me. It is belonging. It is being embraced and held and made to feel not alone. I love you, John Grant. Thank you for the music. You are, like Sheffield, a magnificent bastard.

 

 

 

Public Service Broadcasting – The Royal Albert Hall, London

 

Thursday 1st November, 2018

I was itching to write this as soon as the gig ended, but being away from home and without laptop (this I must remedy) I have had to wait until now to get words down.

Tom had originally booked us tickets to see First Aid Kit on this date, who I love and really want to see live, that I would give that up for PSB pretty much tells you all you need to know. Public Service Broadcasting at the Royal Albert Hall! Who would pass up the chance of that? Not me.

I have been to RAH only once before, many years ago, to see the Scissor Sisters so I was very much looking forward to going back to this historic and iconically British venue. It is a special place for us Brits, long associated with the Proms, Land Of Hope and Glory and all the pomp, circumstance and pageantry that go with it.

The excitement of getting to our stalls seats was only added to when I discovered that they swivel! Swiveling chairs, how civilised darlings. The ceiling was lit in the most beautiful purples and teals and the architecture of the place is pretty breathtaking.

Support was from the equally impressed Tracyanne and Danny, who were clearly chuffed to be playing at RAH themselves. All the time I was thinking, I know I know that voice, and it turns out I do because Tracyanne is none other than Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. This is a great partnership of a band, playing wry indie pop tunes. Cellophane Girl and the one called Jacqueline about “a girl called Karen” stood out for me.

Public Service Broadcasting came onstage with a string section and full brass section. Oh yes. I knew in my bones this was going to be a special gig and my instincts are rarely wrong. Playing the Albert Hall is a big moment for any artist and PSB rose to the challenge of the place superbly. The lighting, the audio visual effects, the sound, were all spot on. We had perfectly placed seats to take it all in as a spectacle I think (thank you Tom).

Highlights? Best bits? Almost too many to mention. From the opening notes of Every Valley onwards I was in awe. They brought Traceyanne out to sing on Progress, as she does on the album and that was superb. Then Haiku Salut came out for They Gave Me A Lamp and I was crying. Happy tears. A song dedicated to the women of the pits, to feminism, sung in a Hall where Suffrage campaign concerts took place, 100 years after some women won the right to vote. It was pretty stirring stuff. Then to hear White Star Liner live for the first time and London Can Take It, in London, a year after I lost my Nan (who survived the Blitz), I was goosebumpy all over with the sense of history. Theme From PSB has never seemed to appropriate or apt as it did in this environment. I felt every ounce of passion and love PSB have poured into their music coming out at this gig. They are so quintessentially British, in the very best way, celebrating all the aspects of our past that make us Great. Including women. Including working class life and culture. Telling stories with great compassion and care. It is history without nostalgia or rose-tinted spectacles, documenting the best of us.

All Out, dedicated to Orgreave, was anger and pain and I felt it. PSB should get angry more often, righteous fury harnessed like this is potent.

By Go! I was in tears, of wonder and joy at the journey we had been on with PSB. To see a crowd the size of the Albert Hall chanting along, fists pumping the air, all the way to the very top of the Hall, was just wonderous.

The encore included the rather beautiful You+Me with Lisa Jen Brown duetting and Gagarin with the fabulous brass taking a well deserved slice of attention. We were all up on our feet and dancing, how can you not groove to this tune?

After PSB left the stage. the Beaufort Male Choir came out to sing Take Me Home. Oh wow. Tingles and tears. Not only a standing ovation, but louder applause than the band had received I think! That PSB chose to end the night with a historic Welsh male voice choir tells you everything; this is a band of generous, collaborative souls who care very deeply about the subjects they sing about. The attention to detail and meticulous research that must go into everything they craft is so self-evident. What a swell bunch of lads they must be!

It was such a show. I cannot imagine a more perfect combination than Public Service Broadcasting and the Royal Albert Hall. A special place, a special band and a special night.

John Grant – The Forum, Bath

Wednesday 31st October, 2018

I adore John Grant, and although I’ve seen him live 4 times I have never seen him headline his own show. He was the best thing about BBC 6 Music Festival, owning the stage and making me smile whilst breaking my heart. That remains one of the best performances I’ve seen. I also saw him as part of 3 Ring Circus with Richard Hawley and Bill Ryder Jones (now that was a very special night indeed) and as Elbow’s special guest twice earlier this year.

I love his music. It’s varied, eclectic, witty and always searingly honest. His voice is like honey, warm and can sweeten even the bitterest pill. So you can imagine my excitement when this tour was announced and the location and date worked perfectly can’t you?

The Forum is a beautiful venue, lovingly restored to it’s Art Deco glory (a style I also love) with brilliant acoustics and somewhere I was happy to be visiting again. We were seated in the front row of the balcony and had a superb view and the sound was top notch too.

Support was from Two Medicine, who I really liked. Synths, guitar and lush vocals, it all felt quite dreamy. They painted song soundscapes that manged to feel intimate despite the size of the venue. Tom and I had been talking earlier in the day about what makes a good support act, Two Medicine were an excellent choice by JG.

The man himself. I feel better just knowing John Grant exists and that he makes music. He is a superb showman, the theatrics of his music were matched by dramatic lighting and he was backed by a brilliant band of musicians.

There was something particularly delicious about hearing Smug Cunt sung in a building owned by a Church I have to say. It’s one of my favourites on Love Is Magic, it paints such a vivid picture and displays JG’s fabulous wit. As does Preppy Boy which makes me laugh every time I hear it anew and discover more lyrical nuggets. Anybody with the skill and flair to write a song that makes me laugh, dance and cry is somebody I am going to love. Oftentimes John manages all of that in the space of one song, he certainly does it over the course of an album or live performance, “emotional whiplash” he called it. The shifts in tone between the up tempo, dancey numbers (which wouldn’t have been out of place in a nightclub) and the piano led, vocal rich tunes, did jar occasionally, but then this is John’s music and I don’t know how else he would do it. I love all of his output, it is the stuff of life – the highs and the lows all mingled together. John Grant, above all else, is an honest musician. That is the reason his music resonates so deeply with me.

The extraordinary Metamorphosis should become John’s calling card. It’s almost 3 songs in one, and shows off almost all of his brilliance. He is best known for Pale Green Ghosts, GMF and Glacier, all of which were aired tonight and get better the more I hear the more I hear them. The first time I heard Glacier was at BBC 6 Music Festival and it broke my heart. It still does. It is such a beautiful, emotionally deep and painful song, yet ultimately about the redemptive power of hope. It could have only been written by someone with lived experience of the types of pain most can only imagine in nightmares. And it is shared with love, with the hope it helps others. John Grant has a beautiful soul, it is poured into every note. I wept.

I went into this gig already loving John Grant and I came out with that renewed and strengthened.