Gaz Coombes – Cardiff Castle, Cardiff

Friday 24th May, 2019

Okay so the gig was actually Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Gaz was one of the supports but I was there only for Gaz. Yes, I’ve become that much of a fan. Besides Tom was going to be there and we have been apart nearly a month, what better excuse could I need to be on a train to Cardiff for the second time this month?

Cardiff Castle is an amazing place to visit, full of history and atmosphere, would it lend any to a gig? Getting in was actually not at all stressful, we had arrived early enough to not be herded into massive queues and the security staff were cheery and had a sense of humour. This sort of environment, large crowds, queues for everything, loud, isn’t usually the sort of place I would feel at all comfortable. But I had Tom holding my hand and that helped a great deal. We hung back for Boy Azooga, who provided pretty decent entertainment I have to say and only moved into the throng at the end of their set. We weren’t able to get right to the front, so I was sort of wedged behind a very stocky chap four people back. My view was ok, if he didn’t move I could peep between him and the woman stood next to him, who was as tiny as me. I did feel hemmed in and a little bit shaky so I popped in the ear buds and held onto Tom’s hand for dear life while breathing deeply. It was a long 45 minutes waiting for Gaz’s set I can tell you!

The relief when he and the band came out was amazing. Great music will get you through pretty much anything. The sound was surprisingly good (it isn’t always at these sort of events) and they all looked relaxed and happy to be playing in the sunshine. The Roxy’s were on fine form, looking and sounding sharp. As did Gaz in a snazzy royal blue jacket. The setlist was more  upbeat and as I just about had enough room to shake my groove thing, I cut loose as best I could. Salamander (his new track) got another outing and hearing it like this, with the full band has helped it to grow on me.

This was a very different beast to the Sheldonian, but it was always going to be. A support set on an outdoor stage, with the crowd mainly there for the headliner made for an entirely different atmosphere. I knew it would and had accepted that as part of attending the show. Besides I don’t think I could have coped with another really emotional night, like Oxford had been! Great artists and bands adapt and can play pretty much anywhere. Gaz is one of those. I’ve seen him play solo in the back of a record shop to a couple of hundred and now I’ve seen him play a festival style slot to thousands. Both wonderful in their own ways. Great music is great music is great music. And Gaz makes great music.

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Steve Williamson – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 23rd May, 2019

It was the write up in the St George’s brochure that drew me to this. That and my new found appreciation for jazz.  A legendary saxophonist was promised. A man who has spent his life studying harmonics. I went to the “in conversation with” beforehand and found Steve to be fascinating. He talked about how listening to bees inspired him, along with fractals and the sounds of birdsong. The beauty and harmony of nature via mathematics, something I can get down with, even if wasn’t to be an easy listening experience.

Support was from String Ting, an all female string quartet reconfiguring jazz standards for strings. Experimental and interesting. I liked. Playing the violin like a guitar, a cello like a bass.  I don’t know my jazz well enough to know what they were covering, but it sounded good to me.

Steve and his band of young players (the drummer is only 17!) blended together experience and enthusiasm to play for over 90 minutes (longer than billed). I did struggle towards the end, it isn’t easy music to listen and concentrate to for that long. Steve is a physical player, stalking the stage whilst also giving off laid back coolness. As St George’s (and my ears) has such a sensitive acoustic I did find the sound mix slightly too loud on the drums which was a shame. When String Ting came back out to add an extra element to the sound I preferred that, then we had a blending of classical and jazz which was much more interesting.

This was a cerebral gig rather than an emotional one, it took work to think about what I was hearing. Steve is clearly an excellent musician and an interesting man, with a real passion for teaching and passing on music as a shared experience. Sadly it didn’t work all that well for me on this night. Not all experiments work out, but the joy is often in the art of the experiment, rather than the result. Perhaps I am not ready for deep dive harmonic jazz just yet.

 

Gaz Coombes & The Hot Fruit Orchestra – The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

Sunday 19th May, 2019

When the opportunity presents itself to see Gaz Coombes (who I love) playing with an orchestra (love me a bit of violin I does) in a University of Oxford building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (now I do like a bit of neoclassical architecture), celebrating its 350th birthday, to support charities that help women into music and autistic people to flourish (things I passionately believe in), you don’t turn it down do you? Not when you are me. It is almost as if this gig/concert (goncert perhaps?) was made for me.

It also gave me the opportunity to meet Claire who I have known on twitter for years. She is one of the kindest people I’ve known and she lives in Oxford. Hey, I’ll be in Oxford on Sunday 19th May, let’s have a cuppa and some cake I said. So we did. And it was really rather lovely to cement a virtual friendship into a real one.

Things didn’t start well. I stumbled and fell over a staggered step I hadn’t seen. I realised my seat was at the very far end of the row. As far from the exit as you could get. I felt trapped and uncomfortable. That only got worse as the place started to fill up and the combination of being so far from a safe leaving point, the chattering noise (echoing as it would in a domed building) and the height meant I was properly panicking by the end of the support. Somehow I found my way back down and out into some fresh air, but I was not in a fit state to climb back up. The benched seating was so high I couldn’t touch the floor without leaning forward, giving up any back support. My head was spinning and my back was aching. Seeing I was in distress the usher found a manager, who was calm and helped to find me alternative seating lower down and nearer an exit. She offered to take me somewhere quieter and get me water. Thank you, Sheldonian for training your staff so well that they recognised I needed help and offered it appropriately. It made an enormous difference. I wish all venues were so accommodating and kind. Thank you, Jools, for the big Mum hug, it was exactly what I needed.  Also thank you to the kind lady seated to my right, wearing an exquisite silk jacket that you let me stroke, the softness of the fabric and your gentle voice also steered me back to the moment I needed to be in.

Out came the orchestra and then Gaz. They opened with Matador and well, I was crying within a few bars. It’s a pretty emotional song on its own, but with the addition of the orchestra, well, a whole new level of making Emma cry was reached. It was a pretty powerful way to start us off. Every time Gaz played the grand piano, I was a very happy lady as I’ve only seen him play keys before and there is something very special about the sound of a piano. So much more warmth, depth and resonance, it just added that extra layer, the magic something. The amazing band of musicians Gaz plays live with usually, plus the Roxy’s on backing vocals, dipped in and out. Every time we had the full band and the orchestra playing together it was heaven. Actually, the whole damn thing was. The acoustics were brilliant and what really shone out was the quality of Gaz’s voice, which can get a bit lost in the noise of an electric band. Backed by brass, wind and strings, it bought out the vulnerability of his voice and wonderful tones that almost made some of the tracks seem brand new. Well, one was, Salamander, but you get what I mean. Hopefully.

I’m trying to pick highlights, but there were too many. The trio of Oxygen Mask, GWFTE and The Oaks, all of which had me in tears, the quiet loveliness of Seven Walls, hearing 20/20 and Detroit devoid of drums but with a full orchestra, Slow Motion Life in the encore making me all goose bumpy and gutted it was all to be over soon, all of it basically.

GWFTE always makes me cry, but when the strings kicked in and the mirroball scattered stars across the ceiling, well I was a goner. It was so beautiful. I wanted to drink in the sounds of the violas, cellos and violins. I wanted to inhale them. To have them become part of me, to keep them cherished forever somewhere deep inside. There is something so spellbinding and wonderful about a fleet of strings played together and hearing them married to some of Gaz’s songs was sublime. It was almost perfection. It was almost too much, at times I was biting my lip or had to look away as the tears were flowing a little too freely. Gaz, what you do to me! Toying with my heart and emotions with your music in such a way. I love you for it. Please never stop making music that speaks to my soul.

Luke Lewis’ clever and brilliant orchestrations highlighted just how good a songwriter Gaz is, how dense and layered his songs are. I loved what you added with the orchestra, it took music I already love to a different place and made me fall in love with it over again. It was a magnificent night and the roars of applause that bought Gaz back out twice show how well received the night was by the rest of the audience too. Huge slaps on the back all round are well deserved I feel.

This was one of the gigs I had been looking forward to with nervous excitement for ages. That it delivered everything I could have hoped for, and more, was pretty special. I’m not sure I want to hear Gaz play without a full orchestra now! I’m also not sure I want to go to gigs that aren’t in either historic buildings or art galleries either.

I hope that plenty of cash was raised for Yellow Submarine and Young Women’s Music Project by the event, that was, after all, the point. Maybe some people reading this would like to make an online donation here or here (donate button at the bottom of the page).

Thank you everyone who was involved in dreaming up this magical, amazing, wonderful evening of music. It had all the ingredients to make it very special, and it was.

 

 

We Can Time Travel -Bristol Old Vic

Saturday 18th May, 2019

Not really a gig. Not entirely a play. Theatre, yes. A performance, absolutely. In fact I’m not really sure what I would call Dom Coyote’s creation. A polemic, call to action story about loss, memory, disconnection, environmentalism, time travel and fantasy. Perhaps.

I feel disoriented and confused. I feel lost and bereft and slightly staggered. Thoughts are racing in all sorts of directions. Like a computer with too many inputs, my mind may meltdown with overload or have a Eureka! moment, possibly simultaneously.

I saw Dom playing guitar with Paraorchestra last week (he was amazing) and so when they retweeted the link to Dom’s show I thought it might be worth checking out. The last of the three night run was tonight and as it happened I was free and tickets were still available so I thought why not and headed to the Old Vic.

The Old Vic is not a place I’ve been a lot, nor somewhere I feel entirely comfortable. The new bar/restaurant has awful acoustics for someone with sensitive ears like mine and the whole place gives off a vibe that feels excluding. White, monied people come here. Ones who know the works of Chekov and Ibsen. Not people like me.

I timed my arrival so I wasn’t hanging around too long and with the excellent new signage (well done on that) it was easy to find the Weston Studio and my seat. For once I regretted the choice of front row, the chairs were very low and I struggled to get in and then out of my seat. It felt very intimate and therefore intimidating.

Hot Chip’s Over and Over was playing – a clue of what was to come? Perhaps. Dom came out and with storytelling, singing, tape loops and electronica told his tale of time travel. Of a personal and societal grief. Of isolation and despair. Of all sorts of things and themes. In the space of just over an hour. How did you manage to cram in so much to such a short time, Dom? We went on a time travelling journey with you, to the end of the Earth and back. So many things were said and yet left unsaid. Hints and threads left unpulled. Circles and echos drifting back. It was all very cleverly done and I want to see it again to help some of it make sense! Or meet you to have a very long chat.

When it was over I felt as if I needed to stay still and run away at the same time. I felt disoriented and confused. As if I really had traveled back and forth in time. The noise of the pubs on King Street roared through my ears as I walked away, placing me very firmly back in the present moment.

I am not sure where I went between 8 and 9pm this evening. I know a performer called Dom Coyote took me and dozens of others somewhere and that I am now safely back home again.

Music is very often a time capsule, locking into our subconsciousness, burying itself in places so deep it surprises us when we remember lyrics heard decades ago. Music and memory, they run deeply together.

I started writing about music as a way to help me process and understand my emotions. As a way of documenting and keeping them safe from the filtering of memory. Of preserving the way I felt in a moment in time. To paint a picture in words. I think, I think, that is part of what Dom was edging us towards. The creativity of a mind that can bring a show such as We Can Time Travel to life fascinates me. So many elements! The sound/lighting/looping/electronics/vocals/effects. The ideas. Too many. Questions and thoughts. I’m going to park them in a quiet cul-de-sac for the night.

 

Erland Cooper -Milton Court, Barbican, London

Thursday 16th May, 2019

I fell in love with Erland Cooper’s music when I heard Mary Anne Hobbs play him on her Recommends show a while back and he’s been tucked into the ‘I want to see him live’ section of my brain ever since. I almost found out about this one too late, there were only a tiny number of tickets left when I booked. It would involve long, and late coach journeys to be there, but I knew, just knew, that Erland would be worth the effort.

Getting there was a trial, my coach was late. Then a major incident on the tube left lines running slow with a backlog of passengers. Standing in Victoria station main hall with rushing people and crowds held back behind barriers my legs started to buckle and panic began to rise. I reached for headphones and the live session Erland played on Mary Anne’s show earlier this week. It got me through and it got me there. Thank you kind man on the tube, who seeing my distress let me have a seat, that small act of kindness meant more than you will know.

Before I launch into many words about how much I loved the rest of the gig, there was an all too brief support slot.  Played by a surprised and engaging Alex Kozobolis who I would like to see again. His 20 minutes of piano openings, including loft/lost whatevers was very sweet.

If you are yet to experience the majestic beauty of Solan Goose or Sule Skerry then do yourself an enormous favour and stop reading this and go listen to both albums. They will lift your spirit and make everything better, for a while. .

Written and recorded with no audience in mind, as an exercise in calming his own quiet mind, Solan Goose is a record about home, space, time, memory, the power of nature, the power of love to redeem. And it is beautiful. Almost beyond words. Evocative, warming, full of compassion and gentility, it is almost perfect.

Hence wanting to hear it played live. The resonance of live strings, of viola, cello and violin with gorgeous, gorgeous piano all conjuring up the most beautiful of landscapes you can imagine. I’ve never been to Orkney (well I don’t think I have) but I have been to lots of other wild parts of Scotland and they are what I think of when I listen to Erland Cooper. Of the wild, rugged coastline of the Kintyre Peninsular, where you can have an entire beach to yourself for hours and be lost in the sea and sky and sounds of waves and birds. I think too of the most glorious place I’ve ever been; Isle of Staffa, watching puffins dive from the cliffs and hearing the roaring crash of waves inside Fingal’s Cave. Of the honeycomb rock formations and of my Mum using a penknife to cleave rock plants off the cliff to carry home in secret. Of my brother with binoculars and a birding book attempting to educate me about birds (I regret paying no attention now) and of me clutching a toy panda as I threw up over the side of the boat as we left (seasickness is a bitch).

My foremothers are Scottish and for reasons that make no logical sense to me, I only ever feel truly at home in the remoteness of Scotland. There is a solitude and a quality of light and air there that speaks to my soul. Erland Cooper is an Orcadian native (lucky bugger) and his music encapsulates all of this, of his longing for home, of the space to breathe and feel freedom, the warmth of sun on your face and sound of nothing but birdsong in your ears.

All of this, and more, were captured as musical notes and played with such love tonight. Despite his declarations of nervousness from the stage, Erland showed none, nothing but beauty and truth in music came from the stage into my ears. All of it was utterly wonderful, but there must be special mention for Maalie. How could there not? The lights were dimmed to almost blackness, only tiny specks of light on the stage and slowly, slowly the lights came up, like a spectacular sunrise with the piano and strings as our birdsong. It was magical and so beautiful that it made me weep. That we were treated to the live poets remix with Will Burns (who has just released an ace album with Hannah Peel – Chalk Hill Blue that you should also buy) was even better.

The musicians playing tonight were all superb, the energy and sensuality Anna bought to her violin playing was amazing, Lottie’s soprano so gently folded in, Jacob and Clara on viola and cello = sublime. Tingles, goosebumps and tears, there is nothing more to ask for is there?

It finished far too soon and I was left with hours to wait for the coach. I got home at 2.45am, having been up since 6.30am the previous day. I have had only a few hours sleep. I will be recovering for days. It was worth every step, every penny, every ounce of panic on that tube to get there to hear such sublime beauty. Music like Erland Cooper’s is the best of us. Reminders of that are much needed in dark times such as ours. Look for the light. My light, my hope, is music.

I get shivers listening to Erland Cooper on record as well as deep, deep sense of calm. Imagine that, but live. This was a very, very special gig. Thank you Erland for sharing your music with us. Imagine if Solan Goose had stayed a private project! I hope our paths cross again some day.

Jim Moray – St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 15th May, 2019

Jim Moray is partly responsible for me getting into folk music. Without seeing him and Sam Carter, as False Lights, at BBC6 Music Festival in Bristol a few years ago I may well have remained closed minded about a genre of music I’ve come to genuinely love. Subsequently I’ve seen False Lights rock out the folk, Sam solo but not Jim. Tonight was my chance to rectify that. Given that it was back in my beloved St George’s on a night I could make, well, you can see why I found myself sitting in the stalls for this gig.

It was a small but enthusiastic crowd. Perhaps it was timing, coming so soon after the Folk Festival, meaning Bristol’s folkie crowd were too tired out from all the amazing music there to have ventured out for Jim. It made for an intimate atmosphere and the level of applause and warmth Jim received demonstrated how appreciated the music was.

Why I love False Lights, and by extension Jim, is that he takes traditional folk and plays it on electric guitar, making it more accessible. His playing is subtle and gentle still, but has a different tone and adds something. He takes old music and makes it new is probably the best way I can describe it. Folk music has always adapted to the times it finds itself in, the old songs, the ones sung for generations, sound timeless and of their time all at once in hands like Jim’s.

We were treated to a mixture of songs from Upcetera, Jim’s previous album and tracks that will be out on his new one soon, False Lights tracks and traditional songs. Some of them were old (Jacobean), some 20th Century, one about the Sounds Of Earth. All told tales, this is folk after all, and all subtly and understatedly played. Joining Jim were two other fab musicians (sorry, I’m rubbish with names) on double bass and fiddle and they made a great trio.

This was a lovely, gentle gig that left me filled with a warm glow. Not bad for a Wednesday night, thanks Jim.

 

 

 

Paraorchestra:The Nature of Why – Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Thursday 9th May, 2019

My birthday eve. Or the night I was going to celebrate turning 42. It feels like yesterday I was counting down the last days of my 30’s. How did an extra 2 years get added? So much has happened in those 2 years. So. Many. Gigs. Remember this whole ridiculous thing began as a 40th birthday celebration. 40 gigs in my 40th year. Easy when I think about it now. Given that this was my 40th gig of this year. Yep, I’ve already been to 40 gigs in 2019 and we are part way through May. There is no goal, no aim, no magic number this year, I just don’t seem to know what else to do with my time!

I first saw the Paraorchestra in April last year, entirely deconstructed, spread over all four floors of Colston Hall’s foyer. I fell in love with them there and then and have seen them perform a few more times since. Everything they do is extraordinary. Everything they do pushes the boundaries of what an orchestra can be and do. They are hugely accessible and approachable and want to make classical music playing relevant, creative and exciting. It is as far from the stereotypical orchestral performance as you can get. Nothing staid, polite or boring here. The one and only time I’ve seen them play on a stage where I was sat down in front of them was in a nightclub where they were reimagining Kraftwerk. Basically, it was a warehouse rave with an orchestra. See, nothing at all as you would expect. Nothing ordinary. Nothing safe.

I first saw The Nature of Why performed on 11th May last year, and I jumped at the chance to see and hear it again. It is like nothing else I’ve felt musically.  Scored by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, based on an old BBC interview with theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, intercut speech with performance that takes place in and around the audience with free-flowing dance movement and singers it is an almost indescribable premise that may seem strange, but trust me is simply extraordinary.

The audience enter the performance space. Conductor Charles Hazelwood introduces the concept. The first audio/visual of the interview cuts in. Then, slowly, the musicians and dancers’ parade in, taking up their first positions among the audience and begin this extraordinary show. As the performers move, so do we as an audience. Standing still is very much not encouraged! We entangle and entwine ourselves with the performers, sometimes literally, and at each turn there is something new to discover and delight in. The percussionist lifted into the air like an arabesque ballerina, continuing to play as she does so. The horn player blowing as he dances and spins in his wheelchair with the dancers. The harpist, with instrument strapped to her like a babe, dancing and playing at the same time. The lines between dance/music/art and even science begin to blur. As do those between audience and performer. We are as integral to the performance as every musician and dancer.  Slowly, ever so slowly tonight, people begin to get it. Hips sway, arms move, contact is made, hands are held and dancers encourage the flow of movement from our limbs until the knots and tangles are all merging.

I stood right behind Charles as he conducted. Where else would you get to experience what that feels like? To have the violins and cellos so close to you that the air vibrates? That you can focus in on the sound of a particular instrument as it plays right next to you. Or strain to hear the one on the opposite side of the room. You make your own sound mix as you move around. Your ears. eyes and emotions all working together to create an experience unique to you. For a few glorious moments I was stood right in front of a violin, bursting with life and fire and energy. It was thrilling and sent shockwaves through my system and set my synapses on fire.

It was intense and overwhelming and I shed a few tears, more as release and relief than anything else. Or because I was listening to Richard Feynman’s words about how ‘why?’ is a question that begets another question. That so many things are given as mutually understood until you ask the question why and that when you do all you can do is ask more questions, chasing answers into infinity. He found that quest stimulating. I find that quest, daily, to be both liberating and constraining. I felt at once, both understood and confused.

A dancer, deliciously and invitingly close, held out a hand, I slid mine into hers for a brief moment of connection before the ebb and flow of human movement inched away to another corner. I noticed the dancers more tonight, it felt as if there were more of them, they were more dynamic and fluid and beautiful this time. Rugged and strong with gentility and purpose too, like waves or links in a chain, or even electrons transferring energy. The symbiosis of music and movement was perfection.

The joyful, climactic ending saw me, and many others, joining the dancers, holding hands with strangers to connect in the beauty and joy of human movement. In the fluidity and incongruous nature of why. I felt as if I may explode with happiness with a grin a mile wide as I twirled and span around the stage. I felt rooted, connected, loved even. In a room full of strangers. This is what the best of human endeavour is for. Be it art, music, dance or science. It is about bringing us together, whoever we are and celebrating life.

It was wonderful, magical, exciting, thrilling, emotional, complex, intellectual, stunning and very, very moving. It was immersive and inclusive and I delighted in every single second.

I cannot wait to see what the Paraorchestra do next. Whatever it is, it will be like no other orchestra before or since. I love what you do, I love the boundaries you push against, I love the creativity you bring to music. Paraorchestra you continue to be extraordinary. Thank you.

 

Alexandra Streliski – Colston Hall, Bristol

Wednesday 8th May, 2019

One of the ways Colston Hall is keeping everyone abreast of work as they undergo a major restoration is with a podcast. They interview people about the work and because I’ve been such a champion of their events, me. As a thank you I got to go attend this gig as a guest. So firstly, I have to say thank you.

Alexandra was on my radar from Radio 3’s Late Junction, who played a track from her new album a few weeks ago which piqued my interest. If, like me, you are a fan of Olafur Arnolds and Nils Frahm, but with a darker and more cerebral edge, then Alexandra is for you. A gifted pianist and composer whose latest work is called Inscape after a period of introspection and revelation.

There was no support and Alexandra came on in total darkness, wearing black, saying not a word until after she had played the first two pieces. Subtle lighting and projection deftly suited the mood of the playing, enhancing the sounds. We were all too polite as an audience, I think, waiting with baited breath for the very last note to end before daring to clap. Each piece built on the last and the running order was clever, in that it opened gently and then scattered sparse, yet pretty rainbows of melancholic hope throughout. I was glad to have positioned myself to the left, so that I could see Alexandra’s hands on the keys as well as reflected in the piano. The gentle, golden light that played with the edges of her hair and her outline, ever moving and shifting, suiting the tone and mood of the music wonderfully.

It was an all too short performance, lasting only around an hour. I could very happily have stayed for more.

 

 

Bristol Folk Festival – St George’s, Bristol

Sunday 5th May, 2019

The finale of the Folk Festival was to be at my beloved St George’s – wonderful music in a wonderful setting. No matter how tired I was I was going to be there. There had been plenty else going on during the final day but with Sunday buses and the Bristol 10k I knew it would be impossible to get out and back again and being out all day and night was too exhausting a prospect so I had to pick only one session to attend. I plumped for St George’s in the evening as it is a venue I know and love. There was also the attraction of Kris Drever, one third of Lau, who I’d seen earlier this year and had been moved to tears by. Besides a Ceilidh with my dodgy knees wasn’t going to be a good idea!

Our night began with Thom Ashworth who in the tradition of folkies everywhere was a really chipper bloke who sang miserable songs! He plays acoustic bass, which was something a little different. He also used loop pedals to enhance the sound, another way of bringing a little modernity to trad folk. More overtly political than everything else I’d seen over the weekend, drawing parallels between the soldier’s laments of the past with his own compositions about how we will all be replaced by robots. Yes, his songs were really that cheery. I’m not sure that being the opening act on the last night was the right place for him, given who else was on the bill. I felt he would have been better suited somewhere else in the schedule, but otherwise he was worth a listen.

The flowing Orcadian tones of Kris Drever were our next treat. And a treat they were. I could listen to him talk, let alone sing, for hours in that beautiful lilting accent. His warmth and humour also endeared him to my heart, but mostly it was the beautiful, beautiful songs. The electric guitar came out for an instrumental traditional Orkney song, Unst Bridal March, and that made me weep. It was gorgeous. I was taken by surprise by how deeply Lau had made me feel in February, Kris on his own had the same effect. He was one of the best acts I saw all weekend. Please bring him, and Lau, back next year if you can.

I had also seen Cara Dillon before, last December and I had not had the best night. I’m a bit of a Grinch and it was a Christmas tour so I felt I owed Cara a fresh listen. She has an amazing voice, of that there is no doubt, but it really isn’t for me. She wouldn’t be out of place on daytime Radio 2 and I listen to the weird late-night bits of Radio’s 6 and 3. Cara’s voice is technically superb, but it wasn’t the balm to soothe or move my soul that I look for. I also found her husband, Sam (brother of Seth) Lakeman annoying. Cara is the billed headliner, why are you doing all the talking? Couple, argumentative ‘banter’ isn’t what I want to hear. I stayed through most of the set before giving up and heading out to the bus stop. I wish Cara Dillon well, but her music is not for me.

To the Executive Directors of Bristol Folk Festival and everyone else who was involved in bringing the Bristol Folk Festival back to life this year, a huge and hearty well done and thank you. It was worth all of your time and effort. The broad scope of artists you put on show that the folk scene is in rude health and safe hands for the future. I have discovered new gems and had a great time. There have been smiles, laughter and tears. What more could I have asked for? See you again in 2020!

 

 

 

Bristol Folk Festival – The Folk House, Bristol

Saturday 4th May, 2019

Having had a lovely afternoon of trad folk in the Church I went home for a rest and some dinner and then set out to hear more music.

It was another tough choice between sessions, the excellent Lady Maisery were the headliners at St Stephen’s, but I decided my back couldn’t take any more of the pews and besides the Folk House does decaff tea, gluten free cake and a superb range of soft drinks. There was also much more left field folk on the programme so the Folk House it was to be.

Our first act was Rachel Dadd, who has lived in Bristol many a year and has even worked on the ferries, as well as spending plenty of time in Japan, so her music has a range of eclectic and interesting influences. These came through in the rhythm patterns of the drumming, which was more jazz than folk (no bad thing to my ears) as well as the sometimes unusual ways she ended her songs. This was part folk, part jazz, part prog and all kinds amazing. At no point was I sure what direction the music would go in, it was creative, eccentric and full of love. More of this sort of thing, please!

The song written about how hard it is to be in a relationship with someone from another country spoke to me as you can imagine. I was relieved to hear that Rachel’s husband is now able to live in the UK with his family, but I know of many others who aren’t as lucky. I love a man from another land, we don’t choose with whom we fall in love.

Amadou Diagne was rounding off Saturday night and was the reason I’d been tempted to stay at the Folk House. A Senegalese musician now living in Somerset (now there’s a tale or two in that all by itself) playing the Kora. Oh, yes please, very much my sort of thing. If you haven’t heard the Kora played then stop reading and go listen to Seiko Keita or Sona Jobarth immediately. I’ve seen them both live and so I knew what a treat we were in for this evening with Amadou. He started off on acoustic guitar though, with his band, who were a mix of Anglo, Irish and African musicians playing electric guitar, bass, drums and percussive drums between them. I was intrigued as to how the mix of western drumkit and African drums was going to work, and I can’t entirely describe why it did, I just know that the rhythms got into my soul. Deep. Layer over that a blues rock guitar as well it was pretty amazing stuff. I’m pretty sure pure sunshine was pouring out of the instruments and into each and every one of in the hall. There was infectious smiling, spontaneous dancing, talking to strangers even! You couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face, nor stopped my hips moving if you had tried. Even if I did have to chair dance due to my dodgy knees, I was having the time of my life. As were the band it seemed as they jammed and riffed off each other. This was all before Amadou even lifted the Kora up to play! It is the most beautiful sound, rich, gentle and very versatile. You really do need to hear it at least once in your life.

“I’m not sure how he got in here, but I’m very glad he did!” was how the bloke next to me summed it up. This was as far from traditional English Folk as you could get – not a beard, real ale or fair isle jumper in sight, but it was ruddy fabulous all the same. I love West African music, I love the Kora, I love blues, this was all of that rolled into one infectious groove. Thank you, Bristol Folk Festival, for the bold choice, keep it up!