Brona McVittie – Glass Studio, St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 26th January, 2019

Not only my inaguaral visit to the Glass Studio, but its first use as a concert space. As part of their extension St George’s built this intimate and lovely space. Seating 40 and with a sloped, gradient ceiling and wooden sound batons (all beautifully done) it maintains the excellent acoustics that the main hall is so famous for. No stage, so that the performers are on your level, adds to the intimate feel and suited Brona perfectly. I could have done without the fairy circle lights (more Mordor to me!) It was a nice idea, my eyes  struggled with the contrast though (I blow out candles on restaurant tables for same reason) so perhaps the balance could be better managed next time.

Brona walked through us to reach the performance area, all bare foot and long hair, towards her harp. So far, so folk standard. She was joined by Anne Garner on flute and backing vocals and Jack on a homemade lap steel guitar. Now I love a lap steel, but I’ve never seen one used in folk before. Nor the effects pedals, electronic boxes, switches, samples nor drum machine. This was folk, Jim, but not as we know it! “Steering folk into the 21st Century” is how St George’s had billed this. Needless to say, as someone who loves folk and electronic music, I loved this.

This was a wonderful marriage of traditional Irish folk songs, singing techniques, harp and flute with electronic affects and the lap steel to bear something old yet new to life. Brona sang a mixture of her own compositions (inspired by nature – she is also a biologist apparently), trad songs and inspired covers. It was gentle and beautiful, the perfect music to lift a rainy and cold winters night where I felt as dark as the rain.

During the interval I got a message from a friend, far away and at different gig entirely, “that feeling you get when an artist makes you wipe your eye 3rd song in” all I could do was reply “snap” Brona’s third song was a cover of Sometimes It Snows In April by Prince. On a harp and with her lilting Northern Irish accent. Not what I was expecting to hear this evening, but a wonderful surprise. I was weeping and I doubt I was the only one.

There were other covers, including a Dolly Parton song I didn’t know but must dig out. One of Brona’s own songs has a very long title, inspired she said by Pink Floyd who have a song with an 18 word title and W.B Yeats (where else would you get both of those as references eh?!) Neither of which will topple The Supremes Your Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart And I Can’t Scratch It as my favourite long titled song. Now a version of that on the harp would be something to hear! I can also confirm, having visited Newry, that Brona is right, that despite the song, there is no mountain there.

There was so much to take from this gig, so much light chasing away the winters darkness. So many things to say/discuss/ask Brona but I was too shy to approach. I didn’t want to write this last night, either, as I wanted to reflect and listen to Brona’s album again first. Sometimes music grabs you and sometimes it grows. Other times, and if you lucky, it does both. My attention was piqued last night, but I want to hear it all again. If you could find your way back to Bristol to play again, Brona, I’d appreciate it. Perhaps the Folk Festival could find you a slot, or maybe St George’s could have you back. I’d like that very much indeed.

 

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Florilegium:Complete Brandenburg Concertos – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 25th January, 2019

There aren’t a lot of concerts on in January, in the last 2 years I’ve been to none in this month at all. So I am very grateful that St George’s had this one. Doubly so as it coincided with Tom’s all too brief visit. We don’t usually go to classical concerts together, but as you absolutely cannot go wrong with Bach, and St George’s is such a welcoming place we both thought why not.

The opening lines of the concert programme made me want to love this evening, describing how the Branderberg’s had been written for “a man who didn’t want them, never heard them and may not have liked them if he had done so.”

I am still very much a novice classical listener, not knowing my concertos from my arias (or movements or what an adagio is) but I do know when I hear music I like and that moves me. I also know that the Bach I have heard has all been superb.

The 6 Brandenburg Concerto’s were played in full, by Florilegium, coming on and off in the various combinations of as required by each concerto. Of the 6, possibly 5 was my favourite, with the harpsichord acting a soloist (unusual). Since I visited the excellent Hendrix and Handle museum in London (it’s really worth a visit if you are in the area) and discovering that the harpsichord is closer to a guitar than a piano (the strings are plucked rather than hit) I hear it in a different way. So to my untrained ears this almost could have had guitar solos’ shredding their way through the piece. Bach was way more rock n roll than you would think!

I liked all 6 Concerto’s and you could hear how each was different, so even without the crib sheet of the programme, I could work out that they were a sort of Bach calling card of ‘look, this is what I can do.’ Each featuring different solo instruments, different combinations of strings and so on. They all had different feels too, some more upbeat and spring like, others more sombre. I recognised the 3rd, that must have been played on Radio 3 at some point when I’ve listened I guess! Mostly I felt light and lifted and happy, which are rather lovely things to feel on a cold winter’s evening.

Every musician was excellent and I like how in small ensembles like this you can pick out the sound of each instrument individually. Sometimes I even know which is which (hey, I’m still learning).

I’m sure that as my knowledge of classical music grows I’ll find additional layers to love, but even with my scrappy understanding, I know I enjoyed this concert.

 

Sandor Vegh Memorial Concert – St George’s, Bristol

Sunday 13th January, 2019

The last gig of 2018 took place at St George’s and it was the venue I went to most often last year, so it seems right that the first place I visited for live music in 2019 would be there too. I’ve not been to a January event in the last 2 years, but going out to live music is now such a habit that I couldn’t contemplate going a whole month without! So I had a good look around and found this concert at St George’s. A beautiful venue, music from 2 of the greatest composers, Mozart and Beethoven, in the late afternoon for only a tenner, it seemed too good to miss.

I am struggling with what to say about this concert. That is partly because I lack a grounding in classical music, but also because I rather stupidly didn’t pick up a programme to give me guidance. All I know is what is in the St George’s booklet tells me! A 16 piece string orchestra, made up of as many of the original players as they could, who recorded together in the late 1980’s. All former students of Sandor Vegh they have come back together to play the pieces he conducted in tribute to him. A rather lovely and touching way to remember him I thought. There were 4 cellos, a bunch of violins (what would be the collective noun for violins? A cacophony?) and violas, although I couldn’t see half of the stage. They played a Mozart Adagio and Beethoven’s string quartet no 14 as well as a Beethoven Gross Fuge (no, I’ve no idea either). I don’t know in which order, which piece was which, and in many ways that’s irrelevant. What I do know is how the music felt, which was mainly quite intense. These are physical pieces to play, there was a lot of movement and dynamism from the violin and cellos. The cellos in particular, where 2 of the 4 were very rhythmical and gutsy in their playing, the other 2 no less intense, but in a quieter way. Think of the difference between Gary Oldman chewing the scenery off, or Cate Blanchett brooding quietly in a corner. Both moody and intense, giving everything, in different ways. That was the cello section. Being up on the balcony allows you to see the movement of the hands, the finger placement, the concentration etched on the face of the player, and all of that aids my enjoyment and understanding. When the eyes are screwed up tight in effort and emotion, when the jaw clenched in tension, when the smile lets out relief. I really do need to see music as well as hear it.

The first half of this concert flew past, and whatever the second movement of the second piece was, I loved. That took flight and soared, like a migratory bird across a wild landscape. There were changes of tone and pace aplenty across all of the pieces, gentle and calm music it was not and yet I felt very relaxed. A mid afternoon start time, making it free (under the Cavatina scheme) for under 25’s so that there were lots more young people and families than you would usually find, added to that sense of ease.

Overall this was a pretty decent start to 2019’s musical adventures.

2018 Annual Gig Report

This is 2018 in gigs. In statistics.

Having completed 40 gigs, with 11 to spare, I set no goal or target for 2018. I knew gigs would happen, I had no idea how many!

Gigs Attended: 79

By location: 49 were in Bristol (62%), 14 in London (17%) and others in Bath, Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Reading and Sheffield also got visits. Amazingly, given that it’s 15 miles away on an excellent rail link I’d not been to a gig in Bath before 2018 when I went to 4 and I finally got to Edinburgh for live music (as part of Fringe Festival). Brighton was another new gig location, as was Reading. I covered a lot more miles in 2018 I think it’s fair to say.

By venue: 43 venues were visited, St George’s came out top with 14 visits (17%), Colston Hall/The Lantern 10 (12%) and newcomer Rough Trade 4  (6%). The most unusual venue was built entirely out of Pianos. That was fun.

By artist: I saw Gaz Coombes 8 times in 2018, The Paraorchestra 3 times and Elbow, Bill Ryder Jones, John Grant, Nils Frahm, Public Service Broadcasting and Solomon Grey twice each. There were more repeats this year than last and Gaz took up 10% of my gig going by himself! almost 30% of the gigs I went to were artists I saw more than once. 36%  were artists I hadn’t heard of before buying the ticket so I took fewer risks, but still leapt into the unknown on a third of occasions.

By month: Jan 0, Feb 8, March 11, April 6, May 10, June 6, July 3, Aug 4, Sept 6, Oct 11, Nov 7 and Dec 8 which is an average of 6.5 per month, 1.5 per week or a gig every 4.6 days. January still saw no gig action and March and October were still the busiest months. However, there was a general increase every month. August was boosted by the trip to The Fringe and December by a desire to get out of the house as often as possible to stave off seasonal depression.

By payment type: 10 were free, 2 free with album purchase, 2 guest lists, 7 gifts, 8 photo passes and Tom paid for 15, making 43% of the gigs paid for by others. Tom funded the travel and accommodation for a bunch of others, making them possible, but overall I spent a lot more of my own money in 2018. There was still generosity, but less in total as it was my 41st birthday, not 40th, and I didn’t ask for help as I had done in 2017. Perhaps I should have! I certainly need to if 2019 gigging is to be possible.

I went to 38 on my own (48%), 31 with Tom (40%) and 4 with Janine. So despite Tom arriving to sweep me off my gigging feet as it were, I still went out to a lot of gigs by myself.

By gender: Again only 14% were female, with 16% being mixed so I’m stuck on 70% male artists as a proportion. I am determined this will change in 2019 and of the 20 gigs I’ve booked so far, 45% are women, 20% are mixed and only 35% are all male. I will hear my sisters!

By ethnicity: Same stubborn 10% figure. Again this improves in 2019, when, so far, 35% of the 20 I’ve booked are black artists.

Best gig: This is a much harder choice than last year, there were too many brilliant ones to pick just one. Hannah Peel for sheer emotional power, or Gaz Coombes in Cardiff. Or Nils Frahm. Or Anna Calvi (I want to be her when I grow up, such power) or dancing with the Paraochestra onstage at the Old Vic. All of those were my best.

Worst gig: Again this is tricky because there wasn’t really anything I disliked, but the most disappointing was Max Richter. It went on forever and some of the selections were too strange even for me. It could, and should, have been a really magical night but was spoiled by someone not reigning Max in.

By genre: Much of the same broad mix of music was represented, I attended my first jazz festival, saw a lot more folk and classical, some fairly out there experimental stuff (music made by bicycle lights anyone?), harp and Kora music (sublime, beautiful, go), Americana, blues, brass, as well as indie and rock.

Top 10: in no particular order, and picking just 10 was actually quite tough. I’ve been to more, but also of very high quality. Such high quality that neither Elbow don’t make the cut!

Public Service Broadcasting at the Royal Albert Hall.  A more perfect pairing of artist and venue I’ve yet to see.

Ex Eye. Heavy but breathtaking.

Hannah Peel

Paraorchestra at the Old Vic. Simply extraordinary.

Nils Frahm at Colston Hall. Sublime beauty. It changed me.

Gaz Coombes in Cardiff. Just one of those very special nights I will treasure forever.

Mogwai. The loudest gig I’ve ever been too.

Kamasi Washington. You will never regret being Kamsi’ed.

Catrion Finch & Seckou Keita

Youngblood Brass Band

Anna Calvi

2017 Annual Gig Report

I should have done this at the end of 40 gigs really. The year in gig. In statistics.

I’m a geek at heart, I love a stat so I have finally gotten round to crunching some numbers and compiling an annual report of the year 2017. That was the year of 40 gigs. The year I set myself the challenge to attend 40 gigs to celebrate my 40th birthday that year. To think I thought that would be hard!

Gigs attended: 51

By location: 41 of those (80%) were in Bristol, 3 in London, 2 in Manchester, 1 each in Liverpool, Plymouth, Sheffield, Oxford and a forest outside Tetbury. Other than Plymouth and the forest I’d seen gigs in these places before.

By venue: 28 different venues were visited, Colston Hall/The Lantern were most visited with 25% of all gigs taking place there and a further 10% at St George’s. Most of them were my first visit to the venue, even the ones in Bristol. I discovered gems like The Exchange and the Folk House this way.

By artist: I saw Starsailor 4 times, Elbow 3 times and C Duncan and Winter Mountain twice each, leaving 40 other artists or bands seen. 24 of them were artists I’d not heard of before buying the ticket (47%), I took a lot of risks!

By month:  Jan 0, Feb 4, March 7, April 3, May 4, June 8, July 1, August 2, Sept 4, Oct 9, Nov 6 and Dec 3. This makes an average of 4.25 gigs per month, or 0.98 gigs per week or a gig roughly every 7 days. October, June and March accounted for almost half all the gigs (47%) and January was the only month to see no gig action.

By payment type: 4 were free, 7 given as gifts, 5 guest lists, 7 photo passes and 1 competition win meant that a whopping 47% were paid for by someone else. When you add the money I was given as birthday/mothers day/cos people are nice to this it takes the number even higher. Overall I’ve calculated that I only spent £64.59 of my own money on gig tickets (travel and accommodation costs not included, but I spent as little as possible on those).

I went to 29 of these alone (56%). My most frequent gig companion was Janine, who shared 7 of these with me. Before this we had never been to a gig together before! All the ones we went to were brilliant, Michael Kiwanuka, Penquin Cafe, Songhoy Blues and The Downs Festival among them. She has excellent taste in eclectic music, it’s no wonder we are friends.

By gender: Only 14% of the artists were female, a further 16% were groups of mixed gender (including orchestras), meaning a huge 70% of all the artists I saw were all male. I’m quite annoyed about this stat to be honest.

By ethnicity: I’m ashamed to say that only 10% of these gigs were by non white artists, and only 1 a black woman.

Best gig: This has to be the 1st time I saw Elbow, in Plymouth. It was an emotional night and I led to other wonderful things (photographing C Duncan on my actual birthday) and of course I shall never, ever forget being bear hugged by Guy Garvey.

Worst gig: A part of me doesn’t want to include this, but it is a question people ask. Music is subjective and there are so many factors that influence if a gig is good or not, but, having said that, there was only 1 of all the 51 I didn’t enjoy. Therefore the worst gig of 2017 has to be 3 Daft Monkeys. It really wasn’t for me.

By genre: I saw opera, classical, rock, folk, blues, jazz, indie, experimental, Indian classical, swing and a covers band. I generally dislike categorising music, it’s either music I like or music I don’t, but I did see a wide range of musical styles in 2017. Some for the first time. I discovered I like folk and jazz for a start, both of which have opened up huge avenues of listening for me.

When people hear the story of 40 gigs they ask me about the best gig and the worst gig and I am also often asked about a top 10. I honestly enjoyed 50 of them. To varying degrees and for varying reasons, but I took something positive from almost all of the gigs I went to in 2017. However, if pushed, in no particular order, these are the highlights.

Top 9: 

Colin Stetson

Elbow

Penquin Cafe

Low Roar

False Lights

Ryan Adams

Songhoy Blues

Andrea Belfi

Michael Kiwanuka

I found passion, joy and a renewed zest for life through music in 2017. Thank you to all who contributed, you are shining stars.