Colin Stetson – The Round Chapel, London

Wednesday 30th October, 2019

As soon as the tickets for this went on sale, I grabbed one, not entirely knowing if I would be able to get there or not; a Wednesday night in London, during half term, might prove tricky. I v the risk because Colin is like no other you will see live and I knew that whatever strings I had to pull to be able to be there would be worth it.

It all worked out in the end and I was even able to grab a seat in the front row, mere minutes before the first support act came onstage.

I have no idea what instrument Stefan Fraunberger played, he may or may not have made it himself. Part electronic, part stringed, played with beaters and bows and capable of making very loud and very soft noises all at once, fed through effects boxes, switches and peddles it was certainly original and I was happy to have been there early enough to have heard him. I don’t know if he played one continuous piece or if there were separate tracks within the cacophony but it makes no difference, the jarring and unnerving sounds were entirely suited to the beautiful chapel and All Hallows Eve Eve. I sighed deeply and felt at home with his strange music. It felt almost like the soundtrack to a dystopian sci fi movie directed perhaps by Fellini. I liked it a lot.

Neumes were next, and although slightly more standard; there were drums, electrics, a guitar and voice, they were also making music that felt difficult to classify and that is an area I am happy in. The tracks played on piano were my favourite, the vocals were easier to hear and I am a sucker for an old Joanna.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear Colin Stetson play live twice before, once solo and once with his band Ex:Eye so I thought I knew what to expect. I didn’t. Even my very strong memories of being completely blown away by him in Manchester as part of 40 gigs weren’t quite flavoursome enough.

He opened with Spindrift and as the notes slid around in the acoustics of the chapel (heavenly indeed) I started to cry. I couldn’t help myself; the sound was so enveloping and intense. Hearing Colin play is an experience, a full senses assault, one like no other. He is an original, a one off, a special talent who pushes the saxophone and his body like an endurance athlete, into new sonic soundscapes that go places dark and deep to explore emotions hitherto undiscovered.

When he took out the big bass sax, a proper beast of an instrument, the depth of the sound made the floor vibrate and my senses tingle. Colin and his saxophones are as one, like a gazelle and a lion, locked in the dance of death. There is spectacular beauty in the fight, a majesty in the hunt and even the kill that demands respect. Being sat mere feet away and able to see the puff in Colin’s cheeks, the strain of muscle and sinew, the effort of every note, feeling the floor beneath my feet vibrate through my body as the music hit my ears, was something else.

There was a track on the middle size sax, the one I’ve no idea what it is called, that looks like a scientific instrument rather than a musical one, that knocked me sideways in its complexity. There was just so much going on sonically that the only way I could process it was to gasp and then cry some more. No other response would have made sense to my overwhelmed senses. It was exactly what I needed. Another track, which I think he said was called The Six, that truly amazed me. It started off almost like a hymn with beauty and truth to it, before turning darker and more twisted and becoming something completely different. The sheer range of sounds Colin produces is incredible.

There was a brand new, as yet untitled piece, on the tenor sax that was so beautiful it also moved me to tears. I sat, gazing up in wonder and simply marvelled at how these sounds were possible. One man, one instrument, no looping, no effects, just Colin and a saxophone.

I’ve been in a terrible gig funk, not really enjoying myself and feeling as if I’ve lost the thing that means the most to me. music.  Well I found the cure for my malaise last night in the shape of Colin Stetson. The music poured in and the emotions spilled right out, exactly as I needed it to, order was restored.

No words will ever do justice to Colin’s talent. No record will ever capture the essence of hearing him play live. If you ever get the chance to see and hear him play, take it, grab it with both hands and hold on for dear life. It is an experience you will not regret I promise you.

Thank you, Colin, for sharing your musical talent with us. Oh, and come back soon, I want to hear you play again and again. This one was truly special.

 

The Lion King – Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol

Sunday 27th October, 2019

My boys birthday treat. Rather sweetly, when I booked the tickets months ago and told him it would be his birthday present, he asked how much it cost and when I told him gasped “that’s a lot of money, Mum.” No, I said, that is an excellent deal, the tickets should have been a lot more “all that for a film!” He didn’t realise that the Lion King was a musical stage show as well.

I don’t think either of us were really prepared for what we saw on the stage. It was magnificent. The music, the puppetry, the dancing, the story was bought to life so spectacularly that I think I really did see an elephant on the stage.

At the end I asked him to score it out of 10 and he replied “9 and a half, maybe even a 10” my job was done. I wanted to make some special memories with him, something for this birthday that was him and me, and I think I succeeded.

Hannah Gadsby – New Theatre, Oxford

Thursday 24th October, 2019

Not a gig. Need to make that clear at the start. Stand-up comedy, not something I go to see often and certainly not something I would usually travel this far for. Yet here I was on a dismal night in Oxford, sat in a theatre, waiting for someone to make me laugh.

Getting into the theatre was a reasonably stressful experience. On Hannah’s nod there were to be no mobile phones, they had to be locked into pouches only unlockable by staff. Now I am very happy to see phone use curbed, but this was a draconian way to achieve it. I am a single parent to a disabled child. I need to be contactable. I asked if there was a direct number for the theatre I could use in case of emergency. It took 4 members of staff to achieve that. Four. That isn’t excusable, all staff on the night should have had that information available. It was a need that could and should have been thought of beforehand. Then, the queues to get in were ridiculous as the extra security to search bags and provide the phone pouches took ages. I am not good with queues and crowds at the best of times, I was starting to panic. Then, in another move that could and should have been foreseen, without phones the crowd all talked to each other and the levels of background noise became unbearably painful. I had earplugs, but they do only go so far. If I had been able to play on my phone to distract myself, or listen to music, I would have felt an awful lot calmer. I am very happy to support other means of phones not being used at events, but not this one. There were ways compromise could have been achieved that gave Hannah what she needed (no phones during the event) and gave me and others access to what they needed to remain calm and comfortable. The solution should not have been for me to have contacted the theatre beforehand (no direct email or phone number for them listed anywhere for a start) and the onus should not be on me (especially when already in distress) to explain. Venues really must learn to do a whole lot better in terms of access; ramps and wheelchair spaces are great but represent a TINY fragment of the needs disabled people have. Do better.

We were late starting by a fair margin (that extra security again), which coupled with the show being longer than advertised (the website clearly stated at 9.30pm finish) meant I was also panicking about making my train home. All in all, I was not a happy bunny and was very close to walking out of the theatre before the show began. Just as I was about to make that call and walk, the lights dimmed and out came Hannah.

In yet another surprise (another thing I don’t like) there was to be a support act, and Hannah came out onto the stage to introduce her personally. I think her name was Susie, but it was a week ago and the tour listings and reviews don’t include her name so I cannot tell you to go see her! Which is a shame because she was good and the coup de grace at the end was very funny.

I survived the interval crowd and noise only thanks to friendly people sat next to me, who by wonderful fortuity were also from Bristol. We had briefly chatted at the Bristol Folk Festival in May and Molly recognised me and was sympathetic to my train worries. A lift was offered if I were to miss the train and that kindness enabled me to relax. Small things can make enormous differences. Such as the theatre usher, who came to find me to give me an up to date finish time for the show.

I’ve not seen Nanette, Hannah’s surprise smash show for Netflix (because I don’t have Netflix), so in Hannah’s words “what the fuck are you expecting tonight to be?!” Honestly, I wasn’t at all sure when I booked the ticket, let alone when I was sat in the theatre! All I knew was that there was a lot of heat and chatter about Hannah Gadsby, much as there has been about Fleabag. Now that alone would not usually be enough to tempt me out (I’ve not watched Fleabag. Nor Peaky Blinders. Nor anything else popular or cult. Not my bag). So, what was it about Hannah that drew me in? Gut instinct is all I can say. I get a feeling about things, sometimes films or theatre or music, or like tonight, comedy, and I just know I have to go. It has rarely been wrong; I trust in my instinct. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, Hannah is autistic. There are precious few positive portrayals of autistic people in culture, fewer still of women and even fewer so openly proud and authentically their autistic selves as Hannah. That matters. It matters to her; it matters to me and it matters so much more than any neurotypical person will ever know. (Neurotypical is the term for anyone who isn’t neurodiverse and neurodiverse means anyone who is autistic, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexic, dyscalculia, dyspraxia etc).

The show itself? Brilliant. Hilarious. Pointed. Incredibly funny. I laughed until I cried. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe. I laughed until I thought I wouldn’t be able to stop. I laughed more in the space of an hour and a half than I have in the preceding year. I laughed more than I have at any other comedy performance I’ve seen. I laughed in recognition, I laughed in support, I laughed in celebration and jubilation. Basically, Hannah is fucking funny and I cannot recommend her humour highly enough. The anger at seemingly irrational things! The art history lecture take down of the patriarchy via the medium of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! The Three Graces! The embarrassing sex story! It was brilliant. It was brilliant because Hannah was herself. Unashamedly herself. Proudly and defiantly her authentic autistic self. She smashes the lazy, untrue stereotype that autistic people don’t have a sense of humour and can’t be funny by simply being herself, and by being wickedly and brilliantly funny with almost every line.

Representation matters. Authenticity matters. If you have never been an outsider (black, poor, gay, disabled, female, neurodiverse) you cannot begin to comprehend how much of the world isn’t designed for you and how much you are excluded from. When a voice breaks through, that speaks of and for you, it is the most incredible feeling. A feeling of hope.

Given that I sat down in the theatre in a state of high stress and anxiety and left it feeling euphoric shows you just how good Hannah is.

I had missed the 10.30pm train, and although there was one at 00.07 Molly wasn’t going to leave me stranded in Oxford and reiterated the offer of the lift. Thank you; the kindness of a stranger saved me waiting on a cold train platform alone late at night. It was hugely and gratefully appreciated.

 

 

 

 

Alasdair Roberts & Friends – Colston Hall Foyer, Bristol

Wednesday 23rd October, 2019

Oh dear I am behind with writing, this gig was 8 days ago! October has been a busy month.

I think this was another ticket picked up in the Bristol culture flash sale, making it just over a tenner to hear some gentle folk music in the Colston Hall foyer and that was why I picked it. As regular readers will know I’ve developed a real love of folk music and Bristol has a glut of venues and artists to find more.

Alasdair is a soft voiced Scottish traditional folkie and this should have been the balm to sooth my troubled soul. I has been a busy old time for me of late and emotionally this time of year can be difficult;  the change of season, the coming of the dark, my boy’s birthday and other stuff tend to make me quite miserable. I was very tired, having come from work and a board meeting (I’m a trustee – not a high powered executive!) I wasn’t really in the headspace for this gig.

I liked Alasdair as soon as he gently welcomed us with “Hello, I’m Alasdair Roberts. And these are my friends” in his soft Scots burr. The music was lovely. I was just too exhausted and overwhelmed to take it in. I lasted until the interval and then left. I felt bad doing so but the band deserved an attentive audience and I wasn’t in a position to be able to be that for them.

I got home and put myself to bed early and slept a solid 9 hours, so I was clearly exhausted and in need of rest. Maybe one day I will learn to balance rest with activity properly.

I’m listening to Alasdair’s latest album now, The Fiery Margin, and I’m enjoying it. He has a soothing voice and the music is gentle. Perhaps I will get another chance to hear him play live and I’ll be in a better position to enjoy it.

 

Amanda Palmer – St David’s Hall, Cardiff

Saturday 19th October, 2019

I went to St David’s Hall for the first time not long ago and whilst I was there I had a look at the upcoming programme of events and saw that Amanda Palmer was playing. It was on an evening I had no other gig planned (unusual at this time of the year) and so I took a chance and booked a ticket.

Then I realised the gap in my schedule had been left to meet up with friends who live in Weston Super Mare and thought oh well I’ll just spend a lot of time on trains that day. Then it transpired that there were rail replacement buses between Bristol and Cardiff so I would have less time with my friends. Then I discovered that Amanda Palmer’s show would be over 3 hours long and that the last ‘train’ was just before 11pm and coach not much later. All in all, it felt very much like I shouldn’t be going to this one!

I have heard of Amanda Palmer, through feminist twitter and sci fi twitter (she is married to Neil Gaimon) but had not heard her music. My reason for going was that I am trying this year to support more female musicians plus a huge dollop of curiosity. Some of the best gigs I’ve been to have been ones where I’ve not known the music beforehand; if you never try anything new you never find new things to love. I was hoping the shock of the new would shake me out of this gig funk I’ve found myself in.

Despite all of the ridiculous journeying, and arriving in Cardiff a lot earlier than I needed to, I was almost late into the gig itself. I had porridge for dinner as that was all this coeliac could find to grab quickly in a coffee shop near St David’s. I met up with a writer I had met at the Breakthrough festival earlier in the year, which was a nice surprise.

There was no support, and Amanda came out promptly at 7.45pm. She began at the back of the stalls, strumming her uke and singing without a mic, like a wandering minstrel of old. She incorporated straddling up onto the stage with beats in the song, adding humour and I thought I’m going to like this woman.

If you like Amanda Palmer, I get the impression, you really, really like her, the level of applause she got for simply being was remarkable. The following seemed quite devoted and if I am honest this was putting me off. Anything that is loved with such zeal and intensity runs the risk of messianicness. I find that dangerous and excluding. This is not Amanda’s fault, and I am sure that many of her fans are smashing people (quite possibly people like me from the fringes and edges of society). The problem with any group, even one made up of people rejected from other groups, is that they tend to be quite closed. I’ve never been part of a group, a gang, a tribe or a gathering, heck I’m not even part of a family anymore, I’m nervous of anything that involves a congregation for that reason. Especially ones that are unquestioning in their devotion. And yes I am aware of the hypocrisy which you could accuse me of at this point. I may be an enthusiast and a fan, but I am not a slavish follower of any band or artist. There are Starsailor songs I’m not all that keen on, I’m not a fan of James Walsh’s solo material, I don’t like the new Elbow album, Madonna has had some very dodgy moments. Artists are as human as the rest of us and not everything they do resonates.

Amanda is an incredible storyteller, full of wit, dark humour and strange twists. I imagine she is a superb writer (beyond lyrics I mean). The tales told between songs, interwoven and expanding the meaning of the music, were wonderful. They contained a level of truth, rawness and funny that engaged me. The songs, sadly, did that less so. Partly that was because I couldn’t always hear the lyrics clearly and partly because Amanda’s voice wasn’t one that worked for me. That is just a subjective opinion.

The lighting also did not help. I was sat right at the back of the tier above the stalls. Everything in darkness apart from Amanda at the piano in a spotlight was straining and quite difficult to focus on for that length of time. It wasn’t helped by the sound desk being in my line of sight and being lit bright enough to be seen from space. I know the sound person has to be able to see in order to work, but if they are in the eyeline of the audience could some sort of screening be deployed? The seats were small and uncomfortable and put me in a position where the nerve problems I have with my arm and hand were made worse.

St David’s was opened in 1979 and it shows. It is in huge need of modernisation (where were the lifts?) and refresh. The decor in parts reminded me of the working class clubs/pubs/halls we went to for parties as a child!  Velour and concrete. Mmmmmm.

Amanda had been playing for one hour forty five minutes before we broke for the interval and despite all I’ve said above, that time had flown, she really is a terrific raconteur and the final song before the interval was as comic as it was tragic. A long, sprawling, journey through guilt, sadness and remorse, all I can say is At Least The Baby Didn’t Die.

I looked at the time we were due back in after the interval, 9.45pm and then at the times of the last transport home. Shit, I am never going to make the whole of this show I thought. I considered leaving there and then, hesitated and snuck back in and stood on the stairs watching the beginning of the second half. My seat was in the middle of a row and I wasn’t prepared to disturb people so I hung out of eyeline of the stewards and watched for a little while before leaving in the middle of a song (which I hate doing) to catch the rail replacement bus back home.

I am usually a weeper. I cry at the drop of a hat about almost anything and usually I don’t consider it a good gig unless I’ve had a little cry somewhere. Music is the key that unlocks and explains emotions to me and for me. Amanda Palmer deals in emotional things; abortion, terrorism, compassion, terminal illness, child abuse and the abusive way boys and men treat women and girls. All of which should have tugged at my tear ducts. Everyone else there seemed to be needing a tissue, I mean the merchandise included an Amanda Palmer hanky, it was that sort of a gig. Yet, my eyes remained dry. It even took me a while to laugh along with the bone dry humour. I am just not feeling anything of late. It isn’t a depression, that, for me, is an excess of negative emotion, and right now I’m feeling empty of all emotions. For someone who is used to living life with extremes of emotions in all directions, this mehness is very confusing (in an intellectually, removed confusion, not an emotional one).

I do know that, Amanda, it wasn’t you, its me. I admire your bravery and honesty and it is fucking fantastic to see and hear a woman being so candid about aspects of women’s lives that we bury. When you said that you had kept your first abortion secret, but not your second and that everyone had a story to share when you shared yours, that was powerful. It made me reflect that, although statistically I must know women who have had terminations, I don’t actually know any. I’ve not had one myself, I’ve never been in the position to make that choice. My one and only pregnancy was planned, wanted and there were no complications with it.  If circumstances had been different I would have wanted all the options and choices available and I will always support any other woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Women should not be shamed into silence about their reproductive rights. And I will also think about that young girl and all the others like her.

Music, live music, has been my lifeline and without it I am a bit lost. This gig didn’t help me find my way back home. One will, soon, I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lubomyr Melnyk – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 10th October, 2019

When I started writing, as part of 40 gigs, I used to open my laptop as soon as I got in from a gig to capture everything as quickly as possible. As time ticked by and I wrote more and more (there are over 200 entries on this blog now) and I went to an increasing number of gigs the pace at which I write has slowed. There are still gigs I am desperate to write about, of course, times when words come tumbling out like a stream. Then there are others where I need time to contemplate and ruminate on before the words will come. And then there are gigs like this one where the words just will not appear. Hence it taking 5 days to even start.

I had this gig on my radar, on the planning list for autumn (there are paper lists and a spreadsheet, I have to be organised with the sheer number I attend) for a while. I was planning to wait for the culture flash sale. Then I heard Lubomyr on Radio 3’s Late Junction and I thought to myself, I had better get a ticket for this guy, he’s really good.

The past week or so has been a really strange time for me emotionally. Lots of random, irrational crying. The change of seasons, the loss of light, the increase in rain, the loss of love, all weighing on me. Music has always been my release, my light, my key. And in David McAlmont the night before that had been so very true and I had a wonderful evening. I needed and expected something special from Lubomyr and I guess I was left feeling disappointed when I didn’t get it.

I cannot fault his technical skill as a pianist – his repetition and crescendo building, note after note endlessly crashing into and over each other, his hands flying at bewildering speed across the keys, was something to behold. But it did not land emotionally with me. I expected to be carried away on a beautiful cloud of music (the music doesn’t have to be happy in subject for this by the way). Instead I found myself wondering when it would end.

Partly this was influenced by Lubomyr being, to put it politely, eccentric. To be anti-science and evidence is a problem to me; it may not be perfect but scientific rigour is about the best we have. To dismiss sound waves as baloney when you are a musician? Just confusing. His insistence on moving his piano 3 feet closer, against the skill, experience and acoustic knowledge of the venue staff (St George’s know their stuff) was arrogant and annoying. It made zero difference to anyone but Lubomyr. Strange I can deal with, challenging I can deal with, but this was something I found uncomfortable.

The music itself was good and there is nothing wrong with good. I wanted and needed spectacular, incredible, to be moved to another realm of consciousness. Was I asking too much? I’ve been lucky enough to hear some amazing and transformative pianists play. I’ve been taken on journeys into other realms. I’ve had music move my soul.

There are so many factors that influence a gig experience, many of which are impossible to pin down. Sometimes the music can be amazing and yet I still leave feeling miserable. Perhaps it was my general malaise, perhaps other factors were at play, whatever it was this wasn’t a vintage gig experience. I’ve had other gig funks before. With a packed week of events, Festival of Ideas talks, live music, theatre, political panels and poetry events ahead I hope this one doesn’t last too long.

Part of the reason I continue to write is to help me process. There is something in the act of typing words that helps my brain to make sense of the experience. It focuses and distils and enables my jumbled wires to connect. There is a stillness to writing that helps me. Perhaps putting off writing about this gig was about running away from my own emotions and admitting that things are hard for me right now.

What I know is that I am glad that Lubomyr Melnyk played in Bristol and that he has developed a style of playing that it his own. I also know that I wasn’t the intended audience for it last week. His music and me weren’t compatible on that evening, in that time and in that place.

David McAlmont presents Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall – St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 9th October, 2019

A man with an incredible voice paying homage to one of the finest jazz and blues singers of all time at St George’s, the venue with the best acoustics in the City, of course you were going to find me in the front row of this one.

I had been intrigued by this concert since I read about it in the St George’s programme and put it on my autumn gig list and waited, patiently hoping decent seats would still be available by the time the Bristol Culture Flash Sale appeared (a bi-annual sale whereby many of Bristol’s cultural institutions sell tickets for selected events at discounted rates). My patience was rewarded and a good seat became mine for all of £14.40. Bargain.

You will know David McAlmont’s voice even if you don’t know his name, a serial collaborator, he has worked across genres with some of the greats (Bernard Butler, Michael Nyman and David Arnold among them).If you don’t know Billie Holiday then please go find some of her music and listen. Now.

This show was conceived by David with Alex Webb as an homage to Billie’s wonderful talent. An attempt to redress the balance and remember her voice and musicianship above all else. Drawing inspiration from a concert she gave at Carnegie Hall in November 1956, where readings from her biography were given along with the music, David and Alex conjured up a words and music event that is not a tribute show, but a love letter from musicians who adored her.

Before the concert David and Alex had an in conversation event. These can prove enlightening and are precious, given how performers need the time before a show to compose. I am really glad I went along, hearing them talk about the reasons for putting the show together, what they thought of Billie’s legacy, how the music industry has changed and delving a little deeper was interesting and helped my understanding of what was to come.

We were treated, and I really do mean treated, to a wonderful concert. Expert jazz musicians on drums, bass, sax, trumpet and piano supporting David’s fantastic vocals. This was not an impersonation. It wasn’t a tribute act. It was a loving and tender homage to one of the greatest singers of all time. David had studied his Billie, that is for sure, the notes he chose to include and leave out, the phrasing, the style were all influenced by Billie but they were not a carbon copy, they were his own superb take. His voice soared and flew, pouring controlled emotion into every note. It was a pleasure to simply sit in wonder and breath it all in.

Between the songs David talked; stories of his own life, Billie’s life and that one extraordinary concert. The introduction to I Cover The Waterfront, talking about the rivers of Billie’s life, of David’s life, of how rivers are meeting points, of bridges and bodies of water as places walked late at night, was perfection. As was the song that followed. I cried rivers of tears listening. Some pieces of music, some songs, simply dig right to the heart of you and expose all the emotions you are trying to hide, bringing them flooding to the surface, tears crashing out of your eyes like waves. For that alone this was a very special experience. Add the other dozen plus tracks and it was heaven.

David was a real showman, expressive and fluid and I could listen to him sing all day and all night. Everyone on the stage was superb, not a note out of place, nor a superfluous one either. I am still rather new to the world of jazz, but I know damn good playing when I hear it. Talent shines.

I give standing ovations about as rarely as Craig Revel-Horwood gives 10’s on Strictly Come Dancing. I was on my feet applauding at the end of this show. How could I not be? It was wonderful, pure and simple.

If you had told the 18 year old me, drunkenly and defiantly singing along to Yes by McAlmont and Butler (a song I will always treasure for speaking to and of all those of us who sit outside of the mainstream and gave and still gives me hope that things can and will be better) that 24 years into the future I would have heard that voice live, singing fine jazz, and more than that, that I would be telling David McAlmont after the gig how wonderful he was and how be bought me to tears, well I am certain I wouldn’t have believed you.

Tonight was a milestone. It was my 80th gig of 2019. That crosses a threshold, as last year I went to 79 in total. Everything from here on in is uncharted waters. So was jazz for me two years ago. So were so many things. The wells of strength I have mined to be here now. To be myself. I couldn’t have done it without music. Without people like David McAlmont. So, thank you. Thank you for a magnificent and special evening that I will treasure. If I was home tonight I would spend the time drinking whisky and listening to Billie Holiday.  As it is I am off back to st George’s to hear more music. But I will raise a glass to Billie, Alex, David and the wonderful band over the weekend. Thank you.

 

The LaFontaines -The Old England, Bristol

Sunday 6th October, 2019

A Sunday night. What would be the sixth gig of the week. I was exhausted. I did not want to go out. The venue was changed two hours before the gig was due to start. To a location much harder for me to get to. But. The LaFontaines are my mate’s favourite band and it was her birthday treat from me to go. I put on my big girls pants, necked some painkillers and caught two buses.

It has been ages since I’ve seen Claire and we had a proper good catch up, missing the support band as we were chatting.

The venue is a pub down a side street between Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road and the live room is teeny, with the toilets just off the side back of the stage, which is only about 10cm high. All I knew about La Fontaines was what Claire had told me, which was to expect loud and rap. Not really things I like to be honest, but other than heavy metal and boy bands I’ve not ruled anything in or out on my musical journeying.

We wiggled ourselves towards the front and I took a deep breath. The drummer and guitarist took to the stage. The front man stood chatting with us in the crowd before joining the rest of the band to begin the performance. For that is what it was. Handsome and charismatic he wasn’t going to be happy until everyone was bouncing, waving, smiling and singing along. I’ve no idea what he was rapping about, the combination of heavy Glaswegian accent and sheer volume put pay to that, but the energy, verve and swagger with which he delivered was enough to win me over almost immediately.

After only about 10 minutes I felt my right knee go. It was soon joined by my left. Arthritic joints and a bouncy gig are not a great combination! Especially when you are right at the front, inches away from the band. Despite this I was having a really good time, an awful lot of fun and was smiling broadly. Being in such an intimate space with strangers, with an engaging front man determined to ensure you had a good time, reminded me of all the small, sweaty venues in which I’ve seen bands I love in the past. The passion of hardcore fans who knew every word and trick and wanted nothing more than to mosh like their lives depended on it was infectious. I joined in as best I could until the encore when I retreated to the back and the respite of a chair.

I had been promised loud and my ears were indeed assaulted by bass drum, excellent guitar shredding and Scottish rap. What more could you want on a dreary autumn evening? Sweat was pouring off the walls by the end. These sort of gigs are the lifeblood of the live industry, not in terms of the money they make (almost none I would have thought), but in the way they allow bands and fans to communicate with each other in such an intimate way. Bands learn their trade in pub back rooms and music lovers discover music in tiny venues, where ticket prices are low enough to afford risk. So many small venues have been lost, especially in the regions, that energy and fun get lost with them.

So long may pub back rooms continue to put on exciting bands. Long may La Fontaines play in or near Bristol for Claire’s birthday. See you down the front next year?

Penquin Cafe – St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 5th October, 2019

I saw Penquin Cafe in 2017 as part of 40 gigs, as part of Erased Tapes is 10 and had one of the most gloriously joy filled evenings of music I’ve ever experienced. So it really was a very easy decision to get tickets for this concert, especially as they were playing at one of my favourite places in Bristol, St George’s.

The first half of the concert was Penquin Cafe playing their latest album in its entirety, a darker and more coherent body of work than I’d heard before. Mostly written for a Greenpeace film about penquins (I wonder why they were asked?!) there was bleakness and wildness about the music, conjuring up the Antartic landscape and the hardy penquins who call it home. The opening piece was played almost in darkness, with soft lighting spilling through; small shafts of light penetrating the gloom. I wasn’t surprised to learn it was called Winter Sun, the string section and lighting working together to create an atmospheric mood. There were playful elements to the music too and the overall effect was to create a hopeful vista that left me feeling relaxed in an otherwordly way.

There were fewer members of Penquin Cafe this time, there had seemed to be about 25 of them last time I saw them, this time piano, bass, percussion, viola, cello and violins only. The sounds they made were very beautiful and with the almost perfect acoustics of St George’s the sound was round, full and suited the required sparseness of the landscape they were inspired by. There was a small part of me that missed the larger ensemble though.

It wasn’t all icy wilderness and isolated penquin colonies, there was also music inspired by ancient Greek mathematics by way of the BT engaged tone which was inspired, funny and touching in equal measure. Of course there was Perpetuum Mobile, I am sure they will be playing that at every concert forever. A solo piano track inspired by the kora, the west African percussive harp that is so spectacular to hear, was wonderful, as was The Sound Of Someone You Love Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter, which may replace Your Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart And I Can’t Scratch It as my favourite long song title.

Arthur Jeffes formed Penquin Cafe as a continuation of his father Simon’s work with Penquin Cafe Orchestra and a more loving tribute from son to father I don’t think you will find. There is tenderness and so much love in Penquin Cafe, it is felt in every finger stroke on the piano and in the warmth they create with their music. In keeping the spirit of eccentricity, intelligence and creativity alive in the music, Arthur is not only honouring his fathers memory, but ensuring it remains vital and relevant. He is not gone while he is still here. The continuum of musical notes, scales and cadences will outlive us all by centuries.

This was a different sort of Penquin Cafe concert than last time I saw them and that is no bad thing. Last time was joyfilled and joyful. This was more thoughtful and introspective. Both wonderful, relevant and useful experiences. Music that leaves you gently pondering, that it unclassifiable, that is made and shared with gentleness and great humanity is always music I will want to listen to.

 

Kathryn Williams – Rough Trade, Bristol

Saturday 5th October, 2019

I was supposed to be resting. Just like I was last night and yet I went out to a gig, and I went out to this free in-store gig today as well. I just don’t seem to be able to help myself do I?!

I had heard of Kathryn’s name in folk circles and then heard her music played on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 2 folk show (yes I am this much of a convert to folk music now) and thought to myself, I should see her live. A tour to support the release an extensive anthology meant that Kathryn was playing in Bristol last night, which I of course missed as I was seeing David Allred instead. There was this free in store though, and although not the same, at least an opportunity to hear her play live.

The live room at Rough Trade is much better than the back room of a shop needs to be, the sound is always really good and they have a good range of acts on, some of which are free, like today. It takes the risk out of seeing someone live, that is for sure.

Kathryn herself ushered  us in, and I liked her immediately for doing so. It was an intimate group, a select band of music lovers who had gathered to hear Kathryn sing. It is the first gig I’ve been to where a small child coloured in super heroes on the floor, it was that much of a relaxed vibe.

It was evident to me very quickly that I was going to fall in love with Kathryn’s music. Within seconds I was kicking myself for not discovering her music any earlier. Better late than never, and if anyone would like to gift me the anthology box set (£65 which is a steal for how much you get with it, just a little beyond my budget at present) then I would at least the opportunity to dive in with a brilliant set of albums.

Kathryn talking about how, when touring in China people had asked for Mirrorball, and how “my music has travelled further than I have” made me smile. Music is our only human, universal language and it reaches us on a level nothing else can. It was a beautiful song and I’m not at all surprised it touched people half way across the world. Heart Shaped Stone made me wistful for days beach combing in the autumnal sun. My Mum was a champion stone finder and I still look for perfect ones for her now she is gone.

Kathryn’s voice is soft, gentle and warming. I feel as if she could sing me anything, a shopping list, the end credits of Eastenders, and I would still love it! I clearly have much listening work to do, going back over 20 years of music to find all the gems.

This was a wonderful half an hour of music and I wish I could have heard more. Thank you Kathryn for taking the time to play for us.