Sharon Van Etten – SWX, Bristol

Wednesday 27th March, 2019

I fell in love with Sharon Van Etten pretty much the 1st time I heard Seventeen on BBC Radio 6 Music. An arresting voice that came out of the radio and grabbed me. I was really excited when I saw she was playing Bristol, bought a ticket and waited eagerly.

Come the night and I was in pain and badly in need of rest. I knew I had to risk things getting worse, and dosed up on painkillers I headed out. I knew Sharon was going to be special.

When I arrived things looked good, the venue staff were helpful and showed me to my reserved seat (I’d emailed in advance knowing I wouldn’t manage standing). It was high, which was a struggle to get onto, but would hopefully afford me a good view.

Support was from Golden Filter, who I really rather liked. Jarring electronic pop, beautifully lit and with a great aesthetic going on, I’d happily see them again.

This was when things started to go a bit wrong. I needed to use the ladies and so had to get through the crowd, which had grown considerably. Weaving through them, alone, and at 5ft tall, is daunting at the best of times, but when you are hurting, doubly so. When I reached them the toilets were disgusting, I’ve been at cleaner festivals!

I was jostled and knocked a fair few times on the walk there and back, almost falling once or twice and when I got back to my seat I found the crowd around me uncomfortably busy. Despite the chair next to me being empty (I didn’t have a companion) people were standing in front of it and leaning against it, making it knock into me. There were also people standing on the stairs in front of that (which made me anxious as surely that is a fire escape route and should be kept clear?) Essentially I was blocked in place, couldn’t move or see which wasn’t what I was expecting from a reserved area for disabled patrons. And no I didn’t feel able to say anything, that takes considerable confidence and I was alone, feeling pretty vulnerable.

Despite being told security would be “right over there” to provide any assistance I could not reach them nor could they see me or patrol the area as it was too full of people. During the concert there were 2 occasions when help was required, security didn’t even see the 1st one, where thankfully the lad who fainted got back up and was assisted out by his friends. The 2nd incident happened at the end and was noticed from the stage, but it took a while for the person to be reached as security couldn’t get through the crowd. I will be taking this up with the venue as there were enough issues concerning safety to make me wary about returning.

If I could have safely left the venue at this point I may well have done. More than anything I wish I hadn’t been alone. Having someone to guide me through the crowd, to have a polite word with people and generally keep me calm would have made the world of difference. As would the reserved seating area being properly set aside and the needs of disabled patrons taken into fully into account.

I wasn’t at all ready for Sharon. I wasn’t at all ready to engage and enjoy. I’ve no real memory of the band coming on, or of the first few tracks at all.

At some point the crowd in front of me parted enough that I was able to see Sharon (yay!) but not the rest of the band. This helped. I was no longer in a crowded room of people listening to a loud radio (how it can feel when you can’t see who is on stage) but I was able to see Sharon’s face as she sang, watch her play the keys or guitar and begin to feel the connection between performer and audience. Then. Then she played a cover of a Sinead O’Connor track that has always left me in pieces. A reasonably obscure and very political song. One written by a woman in immense pain, with a heart full of love and pain and anger. Just Sharon and the keyboard. It floored me. Cut through all the rest of the crap and hit me deeply in the heart and the emotions. Tears started to flow and flood and then I couldn’t see Sharon through the mascara stuck to my glasses, but I could feel every ounce of emotion poured into that song. To go from that into Seventeen was another emotional sucker punch. Sharon’s voice. When she hits those notes, the wail, the scream, the visceral rawness of it, all superbly controlled, well, it was something pretty special. Female to its core, it speaks to and of every young woman.

The encore was opened with I Told You Everything, which just chills me. I feel Sharon’s pain, love, redemption and hope in my bones when I hear this song. It is gently sung without being gentle, its power imparted with sparseness and suspense.

At the start of this gig I wanted to escape. At the end I wanted to stay. Sharon Van Etten you did that. Your music pulled me up, out and through the other side. It was almost worth the pain. Ah, fuck it, it was worth the pain for Black Boys On Mopeds alone. That was stunning. Simply stunning.

I hope that one day I get to see Sharon again in better circumstances. If she can be this good when I’m struggling, I wonder how transportive and transformative her music could be if I were well.

 

 

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Soweto Kinch – Winston Theatre, Bristol Jazz Festival

Sunday 24th March, 2019

Back in December when I started planning which gigs I’d go to at the Festival, one name stood out and that was Soweto Kinch. I’d just watched a documentary he’d made for BBC4 (they should commission him to make more) and thought ok this guy is articulate and smart and he knows his jazz inside out and backwards, I should see him live.

Given how tired I was and that it was Tom’s last night here before flying home I almost bailed on this gig at the last minute. Something inside me knew I’d regret it if I didn’t though and I stayed put, killing time in the thankfully quiet foyer.

Soweto was right on time and strode on with the kind of charisma and charm you can’t buy. I liked him from the get go. When someone is billed as a “master of the saxophone” I always think to myself “yeah, well, I’ve experienced Colin Stetson live, show me what you’ve got” and although different in technique and genre Soweto convinced me that he is indeed a master sax player. He can also MC, rap and programme a laptop/sound boxes with the best of them, This was at times pure jazz and at others hip hop jazz. It sounded like nothing I’ve heard before, but then there isn’t a lot of music inspired by algebra is there? (mores the pity on the evidence presented here).

Witty, articulate and engaging, Soweto has the stage presence and confidence of a born performer. I shan’t forget the improvised, audience influenced Bristol Jazz and it’s references to radishes anytime soon that’s for sure!

I would have loved to have stayed around at the end to meet Soweto and tell him how ace I thought this gig was, but it being a Sunday night and the buses in Bristol being what they are (are aren’t) I had to run off to ensure I was home to see Tom before he left for home. I’ve said it all here instead. Soweto Kinch, thank you for topping off my 2nd Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival in some style. I hope to see you play again sometime.

 

 

Dennis Rollins’ Funky Funk – The Winston Theatre, Bristol Jazz Festival

Sunday 24th March, 2019

Well when a gig is called Funky Funk you buy a ticket, right? Who wouldn’t want to get down and funky on a Sunday evening? My heart said yes, my tired and achy body had other ideas and was pleased that this was seated. In many ways that is a shame as I feel this, of all the gigs I saw over the course of the Jazz & Blues Festival would have been better in atmosphere for being standing. People needed to be able to get up and dance, to shake their hips and groove to the funk. Which is pretty difficult in chairs in a polite theatre space in Clifton.

Getting into this gig was even worse than the night before, the queue was cramped, crowded (two events starting at the same time in a tiny corridor was not a good idea) and made me feel pretty scared. We were kept waiting by a full length sound check that started late due to an overrunning previous gig. Not cool.

Dennis Rollins is, however, cool. Very cool. As were his band. They thundered through some uptempo and groovy tunes that certainly delivered on the promised title. Cameron Pierre on guitar slayed it, making noises and sounds that were terrific. There were bass solos! A relentless rhythm punched out on the drums and  the brass duetting of trombone and alto sax.

I feel like I should have enjoyed this more than I did. Perhaps if it had have been on later and in a standing venue I would have, it didn’t feel suited to the early evening time slot if I’m honest. That said, it delivered on its promise of being damn funky and hearing great musicians play is never time wasted.

 

 

 

 

Huw Warren:Do Not Go Gentle – St George’s, Bristol Jazz Festival

Sunday 24th March, 2019

A jazz suite based on the poetry of Dylan Thomas, this sounds like my sort of thing I thought as soon as I read those words in the programme. An afternoon at the beautiful and sound perfect St George’s, yes, I’m in.

It turned out to be a perfect Spring day, sunshine and a hint of warmth. The sort of afternoon that should be soundtracked by jazz. If I said the music was calming and gentle, although this would be in parts accurate, it would also make it sound safe and easy, which it was not. It takes talent to make complicated things seem easy and that it what this group of performers did. One piece so evocative of the Swansea landscape that you could almost have been transported out of the very nice surroundings of St George’s and into a more industrial landscape. The chimes of factories, the power of machinery, the lilting of Welsh voices shouting and laughing were all conjured with piano, drums, bass and sax. I closed my eyes and drifted away during some of the other pieces and I wish I spoke Welsh to have known what the closing piece was saying to us.

It was exactly the sort of gig you would wish for on a relaxed, sunny afternoon and I enjoyed it very much.

 

Yazz Ahmed – Winston Theatre, Bristol Jazz Festival

Saturday 23rd March, 2019

The second gig of the day, the third of the Festival for me. I had been the very first person to buy a ticket for this gig, I know as my ticket says 1 on it and when I went into Bristol Ticket Shop to purchase it, they had to print it specially for me. So ner.

Yazz is a British Bahranian trumpet player and that alone was enough to tempt me in.

The organisation is nowhere near as smooth as it was in Colston Hall, which is much more suited and used to running these sorts of things, but while that is closed for refurbishment I guess the University of Bristol Students’ Union building will have to suffice. The bar was frighteningly busy but I had no choice as the pop up bars only sell cocktails when I wanted a soft drink. I was on edge due the above and just wanted to get in and pick a seat. That I couldn’t do as doors weren’t open and the queue took us along an enclosed space and a stairwell.

Given that I was not feeling relaxed or calm, Yazz and her band would have to be something pretty special. I looked at the stage and saw a 5 string bass and a vibraphone, ah, this could be interesting. Add a drummer, Yazz on trumpet and a bass clarinetist (I had no idea what it was at first, it looked like a saxophone and a clarinet had a love child) and I got the sense that the sound was going to be very interesting indeed. And it was. Music that was inspired by Saudi Arabian feminism, St Paul’s Cathedral, Bahranian pearl divers, art that was itself inspired by the music and other eclectic sources were all woven together in the most amazing combinations by Yazz and her band. Blending together western jazz heritage with Middle Eastern musical heritage to create modern, creative jazz with heart. Yes, this is my sort of jazz. An inclusive and interesting music that draws you in with elements you know whilst adding ones you don’t. Oh, I almost forgot that Yazz was also playing a box of tricks to add reverb, overdubs and tape sounds to the music, something I see and hear with electronic music but not often in jazz. I liked it. It added a layer of modernity and freshness to the sound.

It is a sign of a good gig when time starts to disappear and you feel lost in space, unaware of what else has gone on around you. Tonight managed that. We were fully an hour in before I even knew where I was. I would have happily stayed in my seat for another half hour of music at the end!

Music that is creative without being alienating, full of warmth and charm.  My kind of music. You should see Yazz Ahmed live, or get her album (the sleeve artwork is stunning).

 

Matthew Bourne & Kit Downes – St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 23rd March, 2019

Another chance to see Matthew Bourne in the beautiful St George’s for the Jazz Festival, of course I was going to be there.

Matthew is a fabulous jazz pianist and I’ve been lucky enough to see him twice before but today he was playing tracks from Isotach with a violinist and cellist (apologies for not catching their names) before improvising with Kit on a pair of pianos. Improvised jazz piano duets, now this is much more up my street.

Isotach is a wonderful album which I encourage you to buy. It was how I heard of Matthew, as Mary Anne Hobbs played tracks from it on her BBC6 Music Recommends show. So to hear some it today, played live and with the strings, was really rather splendid. A couple of times I found my eyes moistening as I was swept into the emotions of the music. This is what I’ve been missing, this is what I have needed a gig to be, one that moves me, that stirs my soul.

The improvised musings of Kit and Matthew together were like a masterclass in jazz improv. They haven’t played together publicly before which makes it all the more remarkable that they managed to produce such extraordinary sounds together this afternoon. At times angry and jarring, other points emotional and gentle.  I closed my eyes and allowed the music to take hold. The angry, crashing sections felt like an out of control plane swerving and diving, the pilot wrestling with the controls to just about land safely.

If you get the opportunity to hear Matthew play, take it, he is one of the finest pianists you will hear. Innovative, precise and controlled his playing is passionate yet restrained.  He is at one with his piano and a master of making it sound both delicate and powerful.

A Saturday afternoon in the Spring sunshine listening to improvised jazz piano music is one well spent in my book.

 

 

 

 

Elles Bailey – Winston Theatre, Bristol Jazz Festival

Friday 22nd March, 2019

I enjoyed myself so much at last years Bristol Jazz Festival that when the tickets went on sale for this years Festival I went and got myself tickets to 6 gigs, Elles Bailey among them.

I picked her as part of my drive to see more female artists and because she was described as having a deep, smoky, blues voice. The ticket was only £12 (there’s a discount for booking early) and I had a £10 Bristol Ticket Shop voucher to use. If you are ever in the unlikely position of wanting to get me a gift, by the way, Bristol Ticket Shop, St George’s and Colston Hall all sell gift vouchers. You know, I’m just saying.

Anyhoo, with Colston Hall closed for refurbishment the Jazz Festival has had to find a new home this year and one of the venues they are using is the Winston Theatre, which is part of the University of Bristol Students’ Union building. I’d been here once before, to the fab Anson Rooms, but not into the smaller more intimate space of the Winston. Seated and holding about 200 it’s certainly an intimate setting and as the seats are tiered you would be guaranteed an excellent view wherever you sat. I was and am grateful for seats (and lifts) and the moment as flare up’s of my various ailments make walking and standing hard. However, some of the atmosphere was lost in being seated so far from the stage listening to music that would have made me and many others dance (joints willing!)

It was difficult to get into the start of this gig as at least 20 people were admitted late, after the band had come on and started playing. I think this, and the frequent pass outs some members of the audience had, shouldn’t be allowed. It’s disruptive to the rest of the audience and disrespectful to the artist on stage. Especially at a festival event where you know it will only be 90 minutes long, get there on time and stay put! At times if feels as if some of the audience aren’t really there for the music. If you get up to go out and buy a beer, come back, go out again for a wee, you’ve missed at least 15 minutes. And disturbed me and the rest of the audience. Is it honestly too much to ask for you to stay put for an hour and half? I understand entirely that there will be people who have bowel or bladder issues or other reasons to need to move or leave, but they are surely small in number compared to the near constant stream of movement up and down the stairs at this gig.

Elles Bailey can certainly sing and the promised deep, smoky, blues voice was self evidently there. She can belt out a tune alright. The backing band performed sterling , solid support too. However it all felt a little predictable and generic if I’m honest. Given that I didn’t know Elles music before the gig, I could easily guess the lyrics, the chord changes and the direction the songs would take. They are good, but they have been done before. Clichéd and hackneyed phrasing, however well delivered, won’t set my world alight. I can see Elles being a big hit and getting a lot of airplay on Radio 2, I’m pretty sure she’ll be very popular. So is Ed Sheeran. That isn’t the sort of music I love or admire. It isn’t the sort of music that moves me or transforms me or that we talk about in 20 years as being influential or revolutionary. It has its place, that I won’t deny, but it is absolutely not my bag.

Blues is a raw and tough music, born of slavery and of suffering. It is the music of endurance, of survival. It has to come from your soul and it has to be believable. I’m afraid, that for me, as technically good as Elles Bailey is, it didn’t feel authentic and therefore I couldn’t connect to it emotionally. Elles was too polished and polite. The between songs patter too rehearsed. It felt like Elles was playing the role of being a blues singer, not living it. I want the real, the raw emotion, I want to feel things.

It was a good gig, but I’m not looking for good. I’m looking for transcendental.

 

 

 

 

The Coral – Tramshed, Cardiff

Thursday 14th March, 2019

Well this is a very overdue entry. I am in a gig funk and not feeling it at all at the moment. Would indie kids The Coral pull me out of it?

I’ve been to Tramshed a couple of times,  as a photographer/fan of some of my favourite artists and those were both special nights. Cardiff is an easy hop by train from Bristol so when Tom said he’d get tickets for this I said ok.

I remember The Coral from that wave of indie guitar bands in the early noughties when they had some big, catchy hits and thought it would be interesting to see how they’ve fared. I’d also heard good things about them live.

The venue I like, nice room, decent sound, friendly staff, so that was all good.

There were 2 support acts, Marvin Powell and Cut Glass Kings. I preferred Marvin. He was all long hair, gentle voice and acoustic guitar. Cut Glass Kings were a drummer and guitarist who were very, very loud. Not to my taste.

The Coral shambled on, two of them in shades, with barely any patter, giving them a pissed off arrogant attitude that did not endear them to me at all. When people pay good money to come see you, is a hello and a smile really too much to ask for? And I wouldn’t want to be the road crew who the singer kept throwing daggers at every time they needed to fix a problem with his guitar cable.

As for the music. Well, I recognised about half the set and some of the songs are alright. Nothing hugely special though. Generic jangly indie guitar pop with some decent guitar work. Not my bag. It is music for lads who don’t want their world to be challenged or disrupted in any way. Ergo almost everything I dislike. This is music so male it may as well be a bottle of Old Spice from the 70’s. Outdated, nowhere near as good as it thinks it is and smells bad.

A few years ago I would have shrugged my shoulders at all this, looked at all the young and wished they were still young men in the audience and just gone this isn’t for me. Now. Now I see just how hard it is for women to make any headway in the music industry, how it is almost suffocatingly male at every level and I think no, we cannot stand for this anymore. Until I looked at the stats for the last 2 years of gig going I didn’t realise how few women I had seen play live. 70% of the acts I saw in 2017 and 2018 were male. And I was making an effort to see women! Scan the listings of any venue, any festival (other than Glastonbury) and you will see how few female musicians get booked. We have to stop accepting averagely talented white boys with guitars as being our cultural norm and cast our net more widely.

I’m also beyond accepting that bands like The Coral and their music provide emotional outlet and release for those same male fans. We need to teach boys and men that it is ok to have a range of feelings, and allow them to express them in their everyday lives. We have to find a better way that doesn’t lead to this sort of tribalistic music nerdery. I’m fucking fed up of it. I want to raise my boy to be the sort of man who isn’t selfish, reliant on alcohol as an emotional release valve. One who respects women enough to treat them as equal human beings.

The best thing about The Coral was Bill Ryder Jones and he left a decade ago to write much more interesting, diverse and emotionally rich music that demonstrates vulnerability, fragility and truth about modern manhood.

So no, The Coral couldn’t shift me out of my gig funk. I have tickets to 6 concerts as part of Bristol Jazz Festival next weekend where I am hopeful of finding something more uplifting and exciting.

Ibibio Sound Machine – Trinity Centre, Bristol

Saturday 9th March, 2019

I think I am falling out of love with writing. And with going to gigs. I used to be in a terrible rush to write, words tumbling out of me as soon as I got home from a gig that I had almost always enjoyed. Not so much lately. The words have been a struggle and the gaps between attending and writing getting bigger. It has felt like a chore I have to complete rather than something I love. I’ve also been deriving less enjoyment from going.

I’d seen Ibibio as part of the Downs Festival line up in 2016 and vowed to see them again, on their own and in a small venue, as they were such fun. Energetic, vibrant and with a great front woman. When the opportunity came up for this gig at Trinity, a venue that seemed to suit them perfectly, I was excited.

Come the day and I almost didn’t even go. And when I did, I didn’t want to be at the front. We found a spot on the side where we thought it wouldn’t get too crowded. Wrong. A bloke stood on my foot during the support act and a row almost ensued when I stood up for myself. Thankfully he moved. There was also a lot of talking among the crowd and everyone seemed to need to move to the bar/toilet/outside for a fag every 3 minutes. I wasn’t feeling very comfortable so moved to the back, where I could only just about see Eni on the stage and none of the rest of the band at all.

Given how lively the rest of the crowd were and how infectious Ibibio’s music is, I was surprised to find myself unmoved and stood stock still.  I was even checking bus times and planning what time I could escape.

Mostly I’m sorry that me being at this sold out gig denied someone else the chance to be there, someone who may well have had the time of their life. Plenty of people in the crowd were smiling and sweaty from dancing. Even Tom shook his booty. So it was very clearly me and not the band.

If I hadn’t another 47 million gigs already booked I think I would take a break from gigging. Perhaps I’ve just been to too many. I’m gig jaded and that’s about the last thing I ever want to be.

 

 

Sean Shibe softLOUD – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 8th March, 2019

A third trip to St George’s in as many days, I really do love this place and the range of music they host. I was recommended this gig by the venue, who know I like less mainstream music. I’ve not seen a solo guitar player before, and don’t think I’ve seen a classical guitar player either, and I’ve certainly never heard lute or flute or bagpipe music recomposed for guitar so tonight was always going to take me to new sonic territory.

Sean had put together a programme called softLOUD with gentle then angry music. The soft section opened with 18th Century lute music played on classical guitar. Music so old, that Scotland (the land of Sean’s birth) was an Independent and European facing nation and America was still a colony of England. From this Sean jumped straight into the 20th Century with music that “would comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” which I found to be comforting. Make of that what you will.

After the interval things became LOUD with an electric guitar, tape loops and reverb. The Steve Reich piece Electric Counterpoint was ace, as you would expect of Reich. Lad, originally composed by Julia Wolfe for 9 bagpipes was ear-splitting, droney and challenging. It was angry, born of grief and played with controlled fury by a young man with a passion for making classical music stand away from being a dusty library. Somehow Sean made his electric guitar sound like bagpipes and as brilliant as it was it was also quite hard to listen to. The final piece, Killer by David Lang had Sean kicking a bass drum whilst riffing which lent an urgency to the music.

This was music on the edge, creative, challenging and interesting. I would like more classical musicians to get this angry!

As a listening experience to enjoy the first half, the soft, was much nicer. As an experiment in what you can do as a classical guitar player the LOUD was more interesting. Sean Shibe is a young musician to watch for sure.