Lucinda Williams – O2 Academy, Bristol

My third and final Colston Hall presents at as part of River Town festival gig. In a venue I’ve not set in for a long time.

The last time I was at the 02 was probably 10 years ago. I have a deep dislike of all the 02 chain venues. They are generally overcrowded, overpriced and with terrible sound. The latter of which bugs the hell outta me as the main freaking thing I want a venue to get right is the sound! I have turned down amazing gigs at the 02 Academy in Bristol on this basis (Mercury Rev with an orchestra, Kamasi Washington etc) and will, wherever possible catch an artist in another city rather than set foot in the 02. However, Lucinda wasn’t playing another date I could make and so I had to put on my big girls pants and woman up. And I am glad I did. The layout is still awful and the overcrowding (even for this, a not sold out show) in evidence BUT they have sorted out the sound. The sound and lighting were no better or worse than anywhere else I have been. Hooray! I might, just might, be able to see gigs there again.

I was lucky enough to find a little space up on the balcony at the front so that I had clear view of the stage. How much I would have enjoyed that experience if it were crowded up there and people were jostling behind me I cannot say but for this gig it was a great spot.

There was no support act. Lucinda and her band were playing the whole of the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album in full as the first set, and then some other choice tracks for the shorter second set. I confess it is not an album I am familiar with, Sweet Old World is more the one I know, but Lucinda is a legend in country music circles and I knew whatever she sang it would be worth hearing. One of country blues musics’ grand dames, with Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams has been around the block more time than most and you will know her music even if you think you don’t. She was attracted to music through poetry, and it shows in the stories she tells in her songs.

As this was a full album retrospective we were treated to long, sometimes scripted and other times wandering, tales of the songs as well as a top notch slide show of photographs and handwritten lyric sheets in the background. Some of the stories were touching, others funny, hearing her bashfully talk about the men who she foolishly fell for (she has a reputation for having a thing for bass players. I hear you, Lucinda, I hear you) was very endearing. The tracks about him were among my favourites, they were far too relatable, so many of us women have been turned over by a shitty man, that any woman singing about it (and coming out of it triumphantly) is bound to hit a nerve.

Of the songs in the second set I really liked the new one, Bone of Contention, which was full of fury at the current US President; the drummer got so passionate in his playing he lost a stick. “I know you all got troubles of your own over here” made it highly, if sadly relatable .”In radicalised times, you gotta be radical you know” amen, Lucinda.

The encore was almost the best part, a wonderous cover of Should I Go Or Should I Stay by the Clash and a snippet of Walk on the Wild Side in Righteously were ace. Yes, the voice has aged, but given that it is singing country and blues, genres where you want to hear the experience in the voice, it only adds to the songs. Gravely, deep and not at all pretty it suits the down and dirty music perfectly. For too many years I dismissed country as hokey and boring, it is not. It is white working class soul, blues and folk. It is music about things that matter; love, hope and redemption. Universal themes and ones we need now more than ever.

Lucinda Williams was excellent and I am very, very glad that I took the chance and ventured back into the 02 Academy. If I hadn’t I would have missed one of country blues finest.

Robyn Hitchcock -Folk House, Bristol

Friday 26th July, 2019

A Colston Hall presents show as part of River Town festival.

I had a blast last year at the three River Town shows I went to and was a bit gutted to not be able to make a lot of this years one. They seemed to be predominately on Mondays and Tuesdays, which are nights I am unable to get out, or on the weekends I had my son. Still, it is an ace annual festival. The brief is wide open enough to allow for a broad canon of artists, from the weird and wonderful to the more straight down the line Americana you would expect.

I sort of vaguely knew the name Robyn Hitchcock in the back of my musical head as someone who is widely respected and nodded to as an influence, even if I did not know his music. It is also July and there are fewer gigs at this time of year as festivals dominate. Plus the Folk House is lovely so I bagged myself a ticket and thought let’s give this a go.

We were downstairs at the Folk House, which I love, as it has a school hall vibe about it. Low key and low tech, it is a place that feels very welcoming and friendly. You can get a cup of tea and an excellent slice of gluten free cake too for goodness sake.

Support was from “Davey from Melbourne” whose shambolic stage act was part of his charm. He can write a good tune and play a decent bit of guitar but I found him hard to work out. Right at the end he did a Spinal Tap cover and I figured he must be in that vein of comedy songwriters. Which only work if the audience are in on the joke, and I wasn’t until then. I find that sort of humour to be quite excluding, you have to be able to understand the references, and it is altogether too blokey for me. What do we gain by taking the mick out of other, usually very talented, songwriters? Does it move us on? If you are puncturing the egos and absurdity of excess (as Spinal Tap did) then I am with you. If you are running away from writing about real feelings by burying them in humour then I understand but I wish you would try therapy instead! It seems to be a lot easier to stand and laugh at someone than to put yourself in the same position of vulnerability. Overall I was confused by Davey, he was a talented singer/songwriter but I didn’t know what he was trying to say with his music, or how I was supposed to feel. He also did stand out enough, men with guitars is a crowded field!

Robyn Hitchcock is another man with a guitar. An old, white dude at that, and to boot, received a private education. He could only have been a product of that sort of background. He did a wonderful line in absurdist, surrealist storytelling and I enjoyed the show, as rambling and as odd as it was. In the audience were many other old white men, the sort who I imagine like real beer and are a bit bemused by lone women like me. The sort who sit in the front row, taking up two seats and lean back so far as to practically be in your lap. The types who have no clue how privileged their lives have been and how much space they take up.

As good as Robyn was, and he was, the hour and half in his company flew past, he was witty and has a unique voice, I have to place this all in context. White, straight, able bodied men of means still dominate the music industry. They still dominate everything else too. Bar Public Service Broadcasting (who may be male but always champion and celebrate women) and Robyn all the artists I have seen in July have been women. Mostly lesbian women. And they have an awful lot more to say to me, to society and about politics than any man I’ve ever heard. They are more relevant, fresh and exciting. They need to be given more space, their music amplified and heard more widely. And that can only happen with the acknowledgment that men have taken up more than their fair share of space thus far. Dudes, you need to share.

 

 

k.d Lang – The Forum, Bath

Wednesday 17th July, 2019

A Colston Hall presents show, part of River Town, part of k.d’s 25th+ Ingenue anniversary tour, at the beautiful Forum in Bath, it is fair to say this gig was covering a lot of bases at once. It was an expensive one, even the cheapest seats towards the back of the balcony were almost £30, but k.d is a rare talent and one that tours the UK infrequently so I decided it would be worth it.

I was 15 when Ingenue was released. At that time, living in a rural village in the days of 3 TV channels and before the invention of the internet, I wouldn’t have even known what a lesbian was, let alone have been able to name any! Representation matters. Things have improved somewhat in the intervening 27 years, but we still have a long way to go to reach full equality. Although I could name you a dozen famous lesbians now, few to none of them would be black or disabled – the intersections of prejudice still oppress. I would have written this without reference to k.d’s sexuality, but that would be to deny an enormous part of who k.d Lang is as an artist and it would also deny what her music has meant to so many. The audience was filled with women. Filled with gay women. Proudly there in couples, with wives, girlfriends and friends. The warmth and affection that k.d is held in evident in the deafening applause and laughter. Talking about the age of the album, k.d “you know what that means? We are gay elders. Do we have any in the house tonight?” met with applause, hoots and cries of yes.

Reflecting now, there are facets to Ingenue that bypassed me completely at the time, but that add layers and depth to the music for me now. That is where and how these whole album shows can be so good. They provide a way to relive music we loved in the past, hear it again anew perhaps, but they also serve purpose for those too young to have heard it live at the time. They can be a nostalgia trip and a money making scheme for the artists, but they can also provide opportunity to revive songs they have cherished too.

Ingenue is a much more varied album than I remember, and k.d a whole lot more than she is given credit for. It is a gentle, introspective and at times sad album about love and repression. There are country tinges, sure, but there are also bosa nova beats and lots of other layers. I’ve listened to it, in full, twice over today and I think I’ll be replaying it a whole lot more in the coming weeks.

The lighting and set design were superb, changing for every song. The backdrop, all swirling curtaining, spiralling like thick paint on a Van Gogh canvas, with circular lights that were the night sky, then sunflowers, then glowing suns. The rich colour palette and tones were also reminiscent of Van Gogh, rich, deep emerald green, vivid blues and yellows, strong reds. They added hugely to the show and the interpretations of every song.

k.d’s voice. Well. She has a beautiful voice. A soulful voice. An understated voice. A treacly smooth voice that drips warmth like honey. A voice that never falters and sails the musical ship with a steady hand. Part chanteuse, part crooner, partly from another time, yet timeless and modern too. Jazz, country, soul all rolled into one peerless package. The yearning and pain so cleanly felt and expressed. Every song sounded amazing, exquisitely delivered by a woman who knows her instrument and uses it so wisely to convey and share buried emotions. I was expecting Constant Craving to be the highlight, it is the best known and closes the album, but Outside Myself moved me a great deal more. Perhaps I could find parallels between k.d’s attempts at understanding and connecting herself to my own life. Whichever song you picked as a favourite, they all melted time. This was one of those gigs were I felt no time at all had passed, that we had simply drifted away on the pillowy cloud that is k.d Lang’s voice.

Now that the album was done, k.d allowed herself to open up and chat – she had refrained from interrupting the flow before. What a wonderfully funny, warm human she is! I could have happily listened to her tell stories for hours. The band were given full, loving, introductions, with bon mots and hugs. They were all excellent, providing the perfect backdrop to hang k.d’s voice from.

We were treated to a trio of covers, and when you can do Joni Mitchell and Neil Young justice, you know you can arrange and sing. Then. Then k.d performed Hallelujah. Stripped right back to a piano, a tiny portion of double bass and k.d’s incredible voice, it reclaimed the song from the X Factor and Shrek hell it has been languishing in and showcased what a songwriter Cohen was and what an amazing interpreter of song k.d is. Gentle, understated, plaintive and slowed down it knocked the breath right out of me. By the end you felt k.d was singing out her very soul. For me. For you. For us all. She ended with a plea for love, for kindness, dedicating it to Greta Thunberg and the young women of Florida taking on the NRA. I am not entirely sure how I didn’t cry.

I almost didn’t want there to be an encore, I didn’t feel you could find anything more fitting and perfect to end on than she had closed the set with. Yet, although different, she did, finding another tool in the armoury and concluding with another couple of wonderful songs that left us with hope in our hearts and a warm glow.

I had taken a bet that k.d Lang live would be worth it, and the gamble paid off. I would love to see her again. The love, warmth and humanity in her songs and voice are a much-needed tonic and balm for these troubled times.

 

 

Public Transport, food & Bury Transport Museum – Greater Manchester I thank you for all 3

This was not my first time in Manchester. Or Salford. Or Altringham. Or Bury. But it was the first time I saw all those places in one weekend. All made possible by an excellent public transport network. Trams that ran regularly, reliably and at an affordable price. Well done Greater Manchester for co-ordinating the works required across what I would guess is a number of local authorities over the past 25 years to ensure that the tram network works. Living, as I do, in a City without either an underground or overground light rail network, tram system or even bus network that makes any sense at all, I am super jealous of the ease and speed with which you can move about Lancashire. I don’t drive. I have never driven. It makes living in Bristol quite a challenge as we have an antiquated, expensive and unreliable bus system run with a stranglehold by First Bus. What I wouldn’t give for a MerseyRail or MCR Metrolink, or even Sheffield or Oxford’s buses. There are also some ruddy excellent place names Besses O’ Th’ Barn an obvious one, but I had soft spot for Pomona too.

What public transport does for a City is incalculable. Not just in environmental impact. Not just for the lack of pollution. Not just for the way people can live lives unhindered by not being able to access places if they don’t have or can’t afford a car. What good public transport systems do is level a place. We all have to travel. To school, work, to visit friends, for leisure. When we travel in shared spaces, in shared ways, we learn to mix and share as people. A mix of human life is on a tram, train, tube or bus. Young, old, racially diverse, those with and without disabilities (there remain barriers that should be being removed but aren’t), high- and low-income earners all commute to work the same way when the public transport is good. We learn to stand to allow others to sit when they are old, infirm or pregnant. We learn to share space. There are fewer and fewer places where we share space with each other. Public libraries are closing, museums and galleries reduce their opening hours, children do not play outside as we did. Public transport remains a realm in which we share. When a place has no functioning form of shared transportation, people travel in selfish ways. In cars, on bicycles, on foot with headphones firmly jammed on. We don’t relate to each other. It breeds a selfishness. And it changes the dynamics and culture of a City.

Manchester is known for being open and friendly. The towns around the edges aren’t fringe parts forgotten about, the names are known almost as widely as Manchester’s is. Greater Manchester as a region is powerful economically and culturally. Much creativity and great art has come from this region. Partly that is because people can move around it easily. Ideas can cross fertilise, people can explore and meet each other away from cliquey silos. Contrast that with the place I’ve called home for the past decade. Even the City itself is a series of villages, vaguely strung together, with no coherent soul or narrative. As for the edges, they may as well be on Mars if you haven’t a car. Portishead and Clevedon aren’t on the railway! Buses take quite a while to get there and you have to travel into the city to come back out. Bristol is a creative City, but in very specific ways and styles and if you don’t fit the clique you won’t get on here. There has never been a social levelling of the wealth here. There has never been a way to move people from their silos into other areas to allow for the mingling, mixing and essential opening up required for change to take place.

Ensuring that transportation is reliable, goes where people need it to, and affordable has to be an aim, living as we do in a climate emergency, that every political party should be pledging to. We need bold, unilateral planning that crosses local authority boundaries. We need to spend billions on new rail and tram networks. And we need to do it now. If Greater Manchester could do it in 1992 when Metrolink opened, why can’t we do it in the 21st Century?

As we were staying in Salford and had met, in part, thanks to BBC6 Music I suggested we pop into Media City to see the studio and give Chris Hawkins a wave through the glass. He was covering for RadMac and though I’ve been on his show, I’ve not met him before. This also gave me an excuse to visit the Blue Peter garden which is just opposite and have an 8-year-old girl geek out at being there. It was quite an exciting morning!

I was very glad of the tram to Altringham as it allowed me to visit Off The Wheaten Track, a new entirely gluten free cafe. AN ENTIRELY GLUTEN FREE CAFE. This is a very rare thing for a coeliac to encounter. No risk of cross contamination. No separate menu. Being able to order ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I liked. This happens very rarely indeed. The homemade beans on toast were pretty good. The pancakes, however, were superb. The peanut butter frosting on the cupcake a lovely surprise treat and the jaffa cake cake was the right combo of dark chocolate and orange. I went in hungry and came out very full. With extra cake to take home. If I was local it would have been pies, cheese and even more cakes I can tell you.

Full and happy we went over to the market to find Vinyl Therapy to do some crate digging. It is fitting and appropriate that the record I purchased was Colin Stetson’s as it was at his gig at MIF two years ago, to the very day, that Tom, Kev, Mikey, Mark, Paul, Scott and I had met Morv (who runs Vinyl Therapy) along with our shared shero Mary Anne Hobbs. Music brings people together.

The trip to Bury the next day wasn’t for food. Or to meet any more musical friends. It was to see the Bury Transport Museum. Now I love me a museum. Odd collections, strange themes, I’m up for them all. The Broseley Clay Pipe Museum is an underrated gem and I will get to the Bakelite museum in Somerset someday. Tom love steam trains and I like small museums so we were both very happy in a place full of old buses, trams, vans and railway memorabilia. There was a simple, moving and poignant tribute to the men of the area who were lost in the First World War. It showed the scale of how many men died; how many lives changed as the result of the conflict. There was amazing attention to detail in all the restorations and volunteers happy to chat. That is why I love these sorts of place. They are run by volunteers, who give their time for the love of what they do. When it comes from the heart, it shows. I flashed a defiant ankle at the horse drawn tram, which came from a time when women had no legal rights and had to sit back to back with men on the top deck due to the immodesty if a man were to accidentally see such flesh as flash of ankle! It felt like the right thing to do, to roll down my sock, roll up the leg of my jumpsuit and wave my ankle at the tram. I may be able to vote, own property and even divorce now but my status as equal to that of a man has yet to be reached. I will keep fighting, my sisters, as we all should, until that day comes.

Quite aside from music, I had a really great time, in Manchester. Thank you for making me welcome again in your fine City. Whatever the Mancunian version of the Trevi fountain is, I have thrown my coins in, vowing to return. A little piece of my heart resides up North, that’s for sure.

 

 

Stealing Sheep – MIF Festival Square, Manchester

Saturday 13th July, 2019

One of the ace bits about Manchester International Festival (MIF) is Festival Square. Bars, food stalls, a mini BBC radio studio and a tent for live music. Free live music most of the day and evening, every day the festival is on. My mate Kev was planning on coming down to see Stealing Sheep and as Tom and I had nothing else planned we thought it would be too good an opportunity to pass up.

The tent was welcome respite from the heat and although a decent sized crowd had built up it didn’t feel at all too busy. It was just right.

Stealing Sheep were such fun! Outrageous costumes, inflatable props, glitter, rainbows and bouncy beats. Their music is accessible feminist pop that you can dance to. It was lovely to see children, girls especially, dancing at the front. Visible role models matter. Seeing three women singing, playing instruments, enjoying themselves and having as much fun on the stage as we were off, was boss for me at 42, let alone for the under 10’s who were grooving away. The energy was infectious and I found myself bopping along to Stealing Sheep’s art pop. Sometime music serves you up exactly what you need, and Stealing Sheep put a great big smile on my face. Thank you!

David Lynch presents – HOME, Manchester

Friday 12th July. 2019

I went to my first Manchester International Festival (MIF) two years ago. That was to see master saxophonist Colin Stetson as part of a series of gigs curated by MaryAnne Hobbs. It was at that gig that Tom and I met and became friends. That was a special night and a special time, I was only in Manchester thanks to the kindness of strangers who put their hands in their pockets to help me out when financially things got a little sticky. 40 gigs moved into another gear after this and the people of Manchester played their part in making me feel welcome and accepted. Hence wanting to go back.

This year’s MIF has seen a major retrospective of David Lynch’s films and art and he has also curated a series of gigs too. All at HOME in Manchester, a multi arts venue that seems to be quite lively. This gig was being headlined by Anna Calvi who I have been crushing on since I saw her live last year. Such swagger, such confidence and such talent. I was not going to turn down the opportunity to see her play live again.

Before the music, though, I wanted to see David’s art. It came as no surprise to learn that he had studied art – his films are so painterly and lit so beautifully that it makes sense to discover he is also an artist. His art is as strange, disconcerting, weird and dark as the rest of his output. If, like me, you love his movies and TV shows, you will also love his art.

I was darn near obsessed with Twin Peaks as a young teen. So, to walk into the theatre at HOME to find a red velvet curtain and strange music playing. Well. It set us up for the evening that was to come. We were allowed no photographs, and had to remain in our seats for the duration. The way it should be.

Chrysta Bell sashayed onto the stage like a 40’s screen siren to read poetry and introduce the first act, Douglas Dare. He was part new romantic, part Ashes to Ashes era Bowie and all parts wonderful. Playing variously piano, guitar and an instrument I didn’t recognise it was torch song, lamenting folk music that showcased Douglas’ fabulous voice. He was lit to perfection which added to the thrill of it all. I liked him tremendously and would be very interested to hear him again. Theatrical, flamboyant yet also understated.

Chrysta came back onstage with much theatrical flair with her backing band of guitar and bass. She has an amazing voice and vocal range, but it wasn’t really working for me. The singing siren, however good, is a cliché. If I had those legs, I would wear thigh high split dresses too, but whichever way you cut the cherry pie, she was a sexual object titillating men. I also struggled to hear the lyrics over the bombastic sound mix, including a very loud drum machine. The moody, dramatic lighting strayed too far into darkness. Given just how perfectly Douglas had been lit, I am not sure what happened.

I waited through the long interval nervously. Please, Anna, be amazing, I thought. This was Anna solo, no band, no backing, nowhere to hide. Not that Anna hides. She lets her talented light shine out as brightly as the sun. And what talent she has. She can shred a guitar with the best of them. She is possibly the best guitarist I’ve seen live. She also has an amazing voice, with great power and range. There was less of the prowling, hungry hunter on display tonight, but the raw energy and power was not lost. Anna Calvi dominated the stage with nothing more than her voice and her guitar. Barely a word was spoken, Anna lets her music do all the talking and she captivated me just as she had last year. I said then Anna Calvi is everything I wish I could be and I stand by that. To have her confidence, her charisma, her talent as a songwriter and performer, to own who I am with that level of defiance and refusal of shame, to be that damn cool and sexy without in any way selling my body to the male gaze, well, imagine if all women could be that powerful and in charge of their lives! We would have the patriarchy overthrown by lunchtime. There is something very powerful, as a woman, in witnessing a woman like Anna Calvi perform live. I loved her music before I saw her live, but experiencing the power of Anna live heightens it. I cannot wait to see and hear her again.

This whole show, and it was very much a show, was wonderfully put together by David Lynch. The three performers complimenting each other and building to the wonderful crescendo that was Anna Calvi. Bravo!

 

 

 

Jesca Hoop – Rough Trade, Bristol

Thursday 11th July, 2019

In what seems another lifetime ago, but was actually just a little over two years, I saw Jesca Hoop at the Exchange. That was gig 11 of 40 gigs and I was mesmerised. It was one of those gigs that was almost too good. The sort where you don’t dare to see them again, for fear that it would and could never be as good as you remembered.

This was an album launch show. A different beast. Just Jesca and guitar. No band. Stripped back. All new songs. And I loved it still. Jesca’s voice is one of those soft, yet beautiful ones, that seem to wrap themselves around you like a soft scarf or comfort blanket. She was just as captivating and engaging.

The album, Stonechild, is well worth getting your hands on. As would be tickets to see Jesca on tour. Sadly, I can’t make her Bristol date, but if she is playing anywhere near you then I suggest you go. Beguiling music that makes me float away.

 

 

Public Service Broadcasting – Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly

Saturday 6th July, 2019

I love Public Service Broadcasting and have seen them live before. Most memorably at the Royal Albert Hall, which was just about the most perfect marriage of artist and venue I’ve ever witnessed. My boy is a big fan of PSB, Go! is his favourite song and I’ve wanted to take him to his first proper gig for ages. Caerphilly isn’t that far from Bristol on the train and it felt like the right time to try and encourage him into my world of music. Besides, a gig at a castle is pretty cool! Nervously I booked us tickets, arranged a hotel and sorted the transport. Would my boy cope with the noise, the crowds, the event?

He asked not to see the support act, so I’m really sorry Boy Azooga but we missed you. I knew it would be enough for him to see PSB and that asking any more of him would be too much. As we arrived and walked into the throng, he gulped “are all gigs like this, Mum?” and asked for the ear defenders. We had access tickets and would be up on the platform at the back, so I knew that once we had made it through the crowd he would be ok. And he was. He kept the earphones on and was playing Minecraft on his phone right up to the moment PSB came on.

The setting was lovely. Caerphilly is the most castley castle you could ask for. The second biggest castle in the UK with a moat, crenulated walls, leaning towers and a dragon! It will be well worth us making a return visit for the castle alone. I had somehow forgotten that PSB’s last album, Every Valley, was written about the coal industry of South Wales and so hearing some of those songs played in Caerphilly was very fitting. Knowing that in the crowd there would be ex miners and ex miners’ families gave all of those songs an extra poignancy. All Out had an even more defiant kick that usual, that’s for sure. Sadly, there was no Tracey Ann to guest on the vocals of Progress but we were treated to Haiku Salut on They Gave Me A Lamp. One of the things I love about PSB is that the role of women has always been upfront in their music. Valentina is celebrated as well as Yuri. The women who were the backbones of their mining communities, the feminism inspired by their struggles, all championed as much as the men who were fighting for their livelihoods.

I had warned my boy that he would have to wait ‘til the end for Go! and there were points when I worried he may not make it that far. He did and he was up on his feet, dancing and dabbing and telling me I was embarrassing for doing the same. His reaction to that and the dancing spacemen during Gagarin was worth it. He loved those two. His favourite bit was “the music, of course” but “gigs aren’t really my thing.” He rather sensibly asked to leave before the end so that we could avoid the crowds and so sadly we missed the male voice choir singing Take Me Home, which I’m sure would have been very emotional and powerful to have witnessed. But this wasn’t my gig. It was for my boy. And he made the right decision to leave early. I am proud of him for staying almost ‘til the end, for giving it a go, and for enjoying the music as much as he did. It may be a while before he decides to do it again, but it was wonderful to share it with him all the same.

Thank you Public Service Broadcasting for being your usual wonderful selves. I still love your music. The mixture of social history and commentary, never sentimental, always celebratory, blended with electronic beats and wizardry, is much needed in our times. Remembering the stuff that makes us a great nation, without ever resorting to cliched flag waving nonsense, using music to bring us together and in some ways heal. I am glad I got to experience aspects of Every Valley in South Wales. In a castle that can tell 800 years of Welsh history. With a crowd that spontaneously sang Welsh rugby songs and chants. The warmth and spirit of Wales was felt in both the music you made honouring those communities and in the people around us.

Thank you also for the gifts for my boy. We plan to frame them and hang them in his bedroom as memories of his first gig. What a way to start him off, eh?!

 

Classical Mixtape Live 2 – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 28th June, 2019

I had missed the first classical mixtape earlier in the year which was a shame as I really like the idea. Short classical pieces played by excellent young soloists as a taster, an introduction, a way in to classical music. If, like me, you aren’t from a culture with a background of classical music it can feel like a slightly scary world (it isn’t!) and worrying about when to clap, or making noise at the wrong point, does put people off going. Which is a real shame as there is such a magical world of music to be discovered. Hence me loving the idea of the mixtape and going along to support St George’s this evening.

The soloists were Jess Gillam on saxophone, Martin James Bartlett on piano, Chloe Hanslip on violin, Bartosz Glowacki on accordion and Andrey Lebedev on guitar. They were all superb and to single anyone out would be wrong. I had a couple of favourites, of course, but all five of them are very talented young musicians and the future of classical playing is in very safe hands.

Hearing pieces adapted for accordion and sax was ace, it bought pieces to life for me and I had no idea either instrument could be so versatile in this genre.

Each took their moment to shine as a soloist before coming together to play in a variety of combinations and then as a quintet for the final piece. They had only played together a few hours earlier, at sound check, so to have pulled off such a wonderful final piece was a real accomplishment.

If you get the chance to hear a classical mixtape take it, it was a really accessible way into the classical world.

Sayed Ali Jaberi & Hamdel Ensemble – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 27th June, 2019

Persian Sufi music. That was enough to catch my attention. A style of music I have no knowledge of and wanted to find out about, so ticket booked, off I went to find out. Expanding my musical horizons was one of the reasons I started and have continued on my musical quest. St George’s is such a lovely acoustic and hosts a varied programme so I felt safe to take a risk with something outside of my usual comfort zone.

The Hamdel Ensemble have been around as a collective of talented musicians and scholars since the late 90’s and include double bass as well as tanbour, oud and percussion. The music was polyrhythmic and trance like all at once. My feet could not help themselves from joining in. Building, slowly and repetitively to wonderful crescendos of voice and percussion and with a Sufi dancer whirling at times it was quite hypnotic. I decided not to join in with the group harmonies that we were asked to sing, I cannot hold a tune at all and that would have spoiled it for anyone who could hear me. It was beautiful to hear the rest of the audience, however, as it really connected us to the musicians on stage.

It was certainly enough to pique my interest in Persian and Sufi music and culture. I would really like to hear and see more.