Terry Riley -St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 13th April, 2019

This one has taken a few days to write, partly as I’ve been busy but partly because I had no idea what to say. I was rendered almost speechless at the end of this one, a pretty rare occurrence.

When the announcement for this gig arrived in my inbox I was instantly clicking the book now button. Terry Riley, one of the master of minimalism, a towering great in modern composition, you do not turn down the chance to see him play. Especially as he is 83. The rest of Bristol felt the same and the only ticket I could get was in the third row of the side stalls, with a restricted view. Nah bother, it’ll be worth it to hear Terry Riley play I thought and spent more than I usually would on a ticket.

“How does a youngster like you know about Terry Riley?” I was asked by my row C companions as I took my seat. BBC4 and Radio 3 I answered, besides, he has influenced just about everyone and everything with his music. Turns out they had travelled from Suffolk to be at this gig and the guy at the end of the row had waited 50 years to see Terry live, and had with him his original vinyl to get signed (I really hope he did) so I was in good nerdy musical company!

Terry, on piano, keyboards and melodica (a first for me) was joined by his son Gyan on guitar. Just the two of them. One playing keys, the other guitar. Nothing and no-one else. It was spinetingling. It was goosebump introducing. It was spectacular. Tears fell. I was transported to other worlds entirely. St George’s was transformed from a concert hall to an audio spaceship that took us to amazing places. I felt the shivers. I cried. I saw all sorts of colours swooshing about. It was all sorts of things that I cannot describe. I experienced a tingling sensation at I can only explain as being like feeling the presence of an absent loved one. My whole body felt light and I was covered in goosebumps from head to toe. Music lights up all areas in our brains, it is unique in that, and when music is this brilliant it just does things to me that I can’t really explain or share, I just know I like it when it happens and that it happens all too rarely.

In the first half there was a piece played on the keyboard that sounded like a harpsichord with the guitar distorting and it sounded exactly as if Handel and Hendrix had made a tune together. I couldn’t help but smile and remember standing in the Hendrix & Handel museum last year. In the second half there was piece that went deep, dark and disturbing. It was quite creepy and yet spellbinding.

Elements of the whole thing sounded like jazz, classical, folk, avant guard, prog rock or traditional North African music. Some, or all, may have been improvised. There was and is no way to classify Terry Riley and that is why I loved this gig. Time disintegrated. I felt disoriented at the end, as if my molecules had all been rearranged somehow. Someone shouted “wow” from the balcony and it was the most enthusiastic standing ovation I’ve seen given. I was stunned. It was stunning. I am not at all sure I could have written this on the night,it has taken a few days to sink in deeply enough for the words to appear.

Nothing I write will do the experience of seeing Terry and Gyan Riley play live justice at all, but I had to try. Thank you both for being so brilliant and for making me feel all the things.



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