Thursday 21st November, 2019
From the moment I first heard Maalie on Mary Ann Hobbs’ recommends show (where would I be without her and BBC6 Music?) I fell in love with Erland Cooper’s music. Anytime I need to step away from the business of the world I put my headphones on and escape with Solan Goose.
I saw Erland live in May and when this tour was announced, with a date in Bristol on a night I could go, well I snapped up a ticket as soon as I could. There was no way I was going to miss seeing Erland live again. None.
The Arnolfini is a modern art gallery with an events room that is occasionally used for gigs and was being borrowed this evening under the Colston Hall Presents banner. Given that Arnolfini isn’t a full time gig venue I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of sound quality and atmosphere, but it delivered on both fronts. In fact I’d go as far as to say it was better than some dedicated venues (02 I’m looking firmly at you here). The stark white gallery spaces and sci fi vibe architecture give way to a dark and intimate live space which I think should be utilised more, CH take note please!
I was told that AVA, who were supporting, were excellent and to make sure I was there early enough for them. Well, I am almost always early anyway and enjoy taking in the warm up acts, so there was no danger I would miss them. However, Kev, you were right, they were fantastic. One of the best supports I’ve ever seen, perhaps even the best. Anna on violin and Aisling on keys, both dynamic and physical players, I would have happily paid the ticket price just to have seen them. There was a wonderful lyricism to their music, a sparseness of notes that was very moving. I even cried. They are contemporary and very cool classical. Anna is magnetic to watch play, sensuous and charismatic. Some musicians seem bonded to their instrument, as if they don’t really exist without, and Anna is one of those. She uses her whole body to play as if the music is being drawn out of her by some magical, unknown force. Aisling too, I feared for her core muscles, the way she was contorting to play the keys! Music is a physical force, it moves all of our senses and emotions and as someone who cannot sit still to music I love it when the musicians are built the same way.
I needed the interval to stretch (my only complaint about Arnolfini was lack of leg room and comfort) and to buy a copy of AVA’s album, Waves. I had exactly £10 in my purse, just enough to cover getting a copy. Yes.
Erland. Now what can I say about Erland? Whatever I write will not really capture the magic and a part of me wants to stop writing here and simply say thank you for a magical evening of music. Yet I cannot. I feel compelled to write and attempt to do justice to how I was made to feel by the wonderful music I heard.
From the opening piano notes of Flattie I was in tears. It took about three notes for the tears to spring forth and the all over body shivers to begin. Such beauty, sheer and innocent beauty in music. I usually write listening to the artists music, and I am doing so now, but have had to stop because Haar is moving me to tears and I cannot see the screen to type.
Erland Cooper wrote his Orcadian triptic to calm his own busy mind, never intending the music to be shared or to resonate in the way it has. It is music for soothing souls, for moving hearts and for calming troubled minds. It is music that in a time when we are so far disconnected from nature and each other, that grounds and connects us back. Back to mystical and magical places that we may have never been, to pasts, presents and futures. To lives lived and to come. To memory and place and time, while remaining free of all of them. It is music rooted so deeply in the Orcadian landscape, yet also speaks of all nature’s beauty. It takes me to the Isle of Staffa, to the Kintyre peninsular, to the peak of Nevis and the sheer awe of Loch Ness. It takes me to the Scotland of my childhood, of my adult escapes, and it takes me home too.
My foremothers are Scottish. My short stature, sturdy hill walking legs, pale skin and freckles show the Scots heritage and for reasons I have never understood one of the only places I have ever truly felt at home is in the Scottish wilderness. It has called me my whole life and I ache to get back to it; it has been far too long since I stood on an empty Scottish beach and breathed in clean air. There is a stark beauty in the Scottish landscape that is stunning in both sunshine and rain. My Mum, I know, felt the same and the day we went to Staffa was among the happiest of her life. Sat up on the rocks, watching puffins diving, she illegally and very carefully dug up alpine plants from the cliffops to transport home to her beloved garden. I will never forget the wind in my hair, or the sound of the crashing of the waves. I get profoundly seasick and vomitted over the side of the boat the whole way there, yet I would gladly board that boat again in a heartbeat. To have stood inside Fingal’s Cave and heard the mighty roar and crash of the waves, to taste the salt in my skin and watch wild seabirds fish, was an all senses, all encompassing sensation. I was ten years old. We also climbed Ben Nevis on that trip. And walked the circumference of Loch Ness. It was an exhausting holiday! We lived on a grey, concrete council estate in east London. To escape to all of that; to uninhabited islands, to vast empty landscapes, to high peaks, it was magical and spectacular and hearing Erland Cooper play live takes me back to all of it. To a place I’ve never lived, but still feel like home. It takes me back to my Mum and all the women who came before her that I never met. It connects me and makes me feel part of something bigger than myself.
The warmth of the resonance of the viola, violin and cello combined with the harvested sounds of nature, piano and tape loops are what make Erland’s music so very special and what moves me so profoundly. I am completely and utterly transported, perhaps not to Orkney as I’ve sadly never been there, but certainly away from the hard and difficult parts of my life and back to times when I sat watching sunsets on remote Scottish beaches, or boats floating in harbours, or drinking damn fine scotch straight from the barrel, I am taken to places in my head that I thought were buried. Memories flood back and are relived. Of my Mum’s smile. Of holding her hand. Of her passing me sweets to keep my energy up as I flagged nearing the top of Nevis. Of stopping and standing still, just to breathe in and feel present in the moment. Of lighthouses on clifftops, of solitude and quietness and stillness that I’ve never found anywhere outside of Scotland. Of peace.
Erland Cooper’s music is for anyone who is lost, longing or homesick. For all those who have lost and who mourn. It is music for troubled times to soothe and to heal. It is music that is profoundly moving and utterly transportive.
I didn’t think Erland Cooper could move me more than he had in May, but I was wrong. This was such a special evening. One of the very best, not just of this year, but of any. It was the 96th gig of 2019 and I have yet to be moved quite as much. Thank you for sharing your wonderful music, it is a gift. To each of the players on the stage, you are wonderful humans, please keep making music and thank you for making me feel so much and so deeply.
Erland, we shared a moment, a very special moment. I will never forget your kindness and the gift hasn’t left my sight yet. My Mum would collect feathers and so it not only reminds me of you conducting, but of the love she had for me. At some point I will stop crying and smile, but for now, know that you touched my soul deeply. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I walked home last night in a sort of daze, the sort of fugue or fog I only feel when I’ve experienced something truly spectacular. As soon as got in, I booked a ticket to see Erland play live again next June at the Barbican. Then I went to bed, with the Cattie Face feather next to my pillow, sleeping soundly and deeply.
Please buy Erland’s albums and get yourself a ticket to see him play live, it is a magical and wonderful thing to experience.