Catrin Finch & Cimarron – St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 26th January, 2020

I had seen Catrin Finch before and loved her and this gig seemed to tick all the boxes I would need to cheer up a dark winters night. Plus it was included in the Bristol culture flash sale so I saved 20% on the ticket price, win all round I hoped.

There was beautiful harp playing from Catrin of course, but there was also Columbian rhythm, singing and stomp dancing. Something to warm you up and make you smile. Even in my not quite present emotional state those things reached me and I was amazed at how quickly the two halves of this gig went past. I wasn’t joining in with the foot stamping and hand clapping and there was no way I was going to try the audience participation singing (in Spanish!) but I was cheered and glad of it.

The energy and passion each musician bought to the stage was evident and heartening. If I was not in the middle of heartbreak I probably would have really loved this show. As it was, it lightened my mood for a few hours and gave me reason to smile. Right now, I will take that and be very grateful.

Music serves many purposes for us all, tonight it was distraction and direction.

Bait film screening – Rough Trade, Bristol

Wednesday 22nd January, 2020

I wouldn’t normally write about going to see a film, but then I don’t normally see films in the live rooms of record shops.

I have never seen a film at Rough Trade before and I knew I would need reason to get out of the house, so I figured I had little to lose by going. Entry was by way of either DVD or soundtrack vinyl purchase and the cost of the DVD wasn’t a lot more than the cost of a cinema ticket, so why not I thought to myself? The soundtrack, sorry original score, written by the director/writer/camera operator (probably tea boy as well) Mark Jenkin was described as minimalist and that is a style of music I am very happy in. I also trust in Rough Trade, they associate themselves with a level of quality and so I felt this was a risk worth taking. A copy of the DVD was ordered.

On the night I did not want to go. I wanted to stay home and nurse my aching heart. Turns out that the best cure for heartbreak is a black and white art film about fishing. That came as quite the surprise.

The crowd was young, full of hipster creative types and I felt really out of place. Hand processed films, supported by the BFI are not my bag anymore. There was a time when I would have felt very much at home in an art house cinema talking about the mis-en-scene or diegetic sound but my love of film disappeared when I was trained in how to take it apart; it lost most of its magic. Then like a lot of parents I spent many years only watching kids movies. I had forgotten how much I love quirky and unusual films, made by people in love with the medium. Mark Jenkin reminded me of all that with the remarkable Bait.

Unlike the questioners at the end, the technicalities of the making of Bait meant and mean fairly little to me. I don’t care what it was made on, I care about how it makes me feel. Bait made me laugh, think and feel and that is a winning combination. There is a great deal of wit in Bait and the whole thing is so beautifully understated; the sparseness of the dialogue serving to highlight the emotional emptiness and bleakness of landscape. Being in black and white meant it could have been partly anytime, place or season, which gave it more power. The story may be set in Cornwall amongst the tensions of fishing vs tourism, but the themes run deeper. I’m a City dweller and I get seasick simply looking at the pitch and swell of a boat, yet Bait still spoke to me. Of loss and regret and shame (or lack of), of privilege and class and entitlement and the way working class culture has been disappeared from its own landscape and history by gentrification, of emotional repression and of loneliness and isolation. Those are all things I have felt and continue to feel. They are all things not unique to Cornish fishermen. That is why Bait worked so well. That is why the best films, stories, books, sculptures, paintings and music work. They tell their stories, from their point of view, yet they speak of broader themes. That is what great art is. That is what being human is.

I started the night feeling maudlin and sad and I ended it smiling and renewed. Thank you Mark Jenkin for making Bait, the 20 years you spent developing it into this little gem of a film were ones well spent.

Field Music – Rough Trade, Bristol

Thursday 16th January, 2019

The first gig of 2020 and the last one I would share with Tom. It was a last minute decision to go. Our relationship was forged in music, it felt appropriate for us to go to a gig to mark its ending.

Field Music was a name rattling around in the back of my brain as a band I’d heard on BBC 6 Music but nothing concrete came to mind.

Rough Trade’s live room is way better than the room at the back of a record shop needs to be, with a small low stage and an intimate vibe. I’ve been there for some cracking performances before. Field Music were there to promote their new album Making A New World.

Somehow five musicians took to the stage, filling it up completely. For the next hour we were treated to some old and plenty of new songs, I loved all of them. The new record is a concept one, about the after effects of the First World War. Now that might sound pretentious and worthy, but it was groovy, fun and like a mini history lesson set to music. The sleeve artwork contains additional information too, so it tickled my intellect and my body; my kind of music entirely.

Brothers David and Peter are the heart of the band. Working class men of the North East, descended from a long line of bingo callers, they certainly know how to deliver a line. Both funny and also both singers/guitarists/drummers, how could I not love them? There was wonderful humour peppered throughout the set.

There were songs about the development of ground to air radio, post war housing estates in Becontree, the history of menstrual hygiene products, pioneering plastic surgery and the Inter Allied Womens Conference. What more could you ask for? All set to indie rock n roll beats! It was brilliant and fun and I had a really, really good time. I never thought I would end up grooving to a song about sanitary towel development but there you are. I did not know that they came from wound dressings that Kotex invented for use at the front in the First World War either, and I do now. David explaining, through embarrassment, how hard it was for him to even say the word menstruation and explain the song was a properly ace moment. We cannot begin to have open and honest conversations about something that is normal for half the worlds population unless we all talk about it. Thank you for being a ally. If it makes you feel any better about it David, I menstruated for 27 years and I find it embarrassing to say too!

I am not sure how Field Music had passed me by until tonight and I am really glad I found them. They were fun, entertaining, played great tunes and I came away having learnt something. It was a great start to the gigging year.

A Trio of Tates – Kara Walker, William Blake & Barbara Hepworth

10th and 11th January, 2019

A sort of accidental triptic, if you were. A weekend of travel, first to London and then to Cornwall via the night riveria. There was excellent cake, Southwark cathedral and a walk by the Thames first, before a quick stop at Tate Modern to see the current Turbine Hall installation by Kara Walker. I am not a fan of Tate Modern, never have been. It is badly laid out, displayed, curated and frustrating to visit. The vastness of the Turbine Hall contrasting with the tinyness of the galleries makes me scream in frustration. It is so hard to get around, the escalators take you up or down further or less far than you want or need and the walkways are so narrow. The lack of available information is woeful. I wanted to try to find the Rothko’s and Rodin’s but there was NO information in the leaflets or wall planners to tell me where they were. We don’t all want to come in and spend hours traipsing through the whole gallery, Tate, sometimes we want to find a particular piece or style and that is it. I am an experienced gallery goer and art lover and if I find the place frustrating to navigate it must be thoroughly off putting for those who don’t. In fact, I know it is, because down the years various people have told me so. As a public art body, your job is to engage with and encourage visitors. Tate Modern feels like it does everything it can to put people off!

I have visited for exhibitions and to see the Turbine Hall installations and lord knows I’ve tried to find things to love about the place, but with the exception of the Frida Khalo exhibition more than a decade ago this has not proved true. Until I saw Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus. which I really, really loved.

It is the best temporary piece I’ve seen in the space. It fills it and dominates it and begins a conversation with the building, its surroundings and us all at once. The sheer scale and ambition of it! I found myself moved on many levels and intellectually stimulated all once. I laughed, gasped and cried, all the while my brain whirring away with thoughts and observations. It is both a comment on history and something very modern; the figures attempting to escape sharks could well be representations of refugees drowning on European shores as easily as they are slaves thrown overboard. The levels and layers intrigued me, the more I looked, the more there was to see and you had to observe from the top to the bottom and all the way round for it to make sense. It truly was public art, with people sitting at the bottom reading and chatting as they would in a public square like Trafalgar. The uppermost figure, spouting water from her breasts; the fecundity of womanhood, would be easy to misread, to miss that the water is also spouting like a bleeding wound from her neck, inflicted by the cruelty of white man. That says something deeply profound about the nature of patriachy  and racism. As did the clam shell, instead of heralding the perfect vision of white womanhood, Venus, it was filled with the death of a black slave child. A clever play on the history of art and its symbolism of virginity, whiteness and perfection.

It was a wonderful, though provoking and intelligent piece of art and if you get a chance to visit it you should. It is showing until the 5th of April.

From Tate Modern to Tate Britain, the original home of the Tate gallery and that will always have a special place in my heart. I was taken to the Tate so many times as a child, that when I went back to visit as an adult, after 15 years or so of not visiting, that I could remember every step of the walk from Pimlico station without a map, and the layout inside the building to boot. The cool, calm, quietness of the place has always made me feel at home. The smooth marble, grand entrance way and large galleries the same. I am safe here and there are wonderful, wonderful treasures abound inside. This visit was for the extensive and expansive William Blake exhibition. I was drawn to it by the numerous 5* reviews it received as Blake was not an artist I knew well. It was busy; all these blockbuster shows are thesedays and I must find a way of visiting when they are quieter (that don’t involve the expense of being a member or a corporate sponsor).

Each room was a treasure trove of prints. There were so many to see! The range, the depth of colouration and the texts were stunning. The opening piece, Albion Rose, gave you everything; light, colour, expression, intent and things only got better from there on in. The level of detail and expression in everything was vast, even if the works themselves were on a small scale. The ambition within them was huge. The emotional complexities they conveyed the same. There were three in a row, I think in the third room, from a series I’ve forgotten the name of (I should have taken notes or bought a copy of the guide) that winded me. They were darker, exploring pain and burden and they spoke to me, into my heart and soul. Reader I gasped and wanted to hold them in my hands and sigh. Then the realisation that I did know Blake, as a poet, rather than artist, with Tiger Tiger Burning Bright and Songs of Innocence and Experience.

I had lingered in these first few rooms too long and was running out of time to take in the rest. That is my only regret, that I did not have more time. There was so much content I could have spent hours and hours gazing, finding new depths among the detail. Alas I could not, but I am glad of the time I was allowed with William Blake’s art. Art nourishes the soul and I felt very well fed by this all too brief visit.

After a wonderful dinner in a purely gluten free restaurant (leaving me a full and happy coeliac) it was off to catch the nigh Riveria to Penzance; my first sleeper train experience. I was nervous but enjoyed it and despite feeling like I hadn’t slept I did feel well rested. From Penzance in the morning it was a short skip to St Ives by train.

St Ives, even in the wind and rain, was beautiful and the famed quality of light was just about in evidence even on a blustery January day. Walking on the almost empty beach, hearing nothing but the rush of wind, crash of waves and call of birds was lovely. Sadly Tate St Ives was closed for some minor works, or else this would be a quartet, rather than a triptic, but I will get to visit it one day. Instead I found myself almost entirely alone at the Tate run Hepworth Museum instead.

For a few glorious minutes I was alone in the main room with Hepworths sculptures and it was bliss. I have loved sculpture since I was a small child, some of my earliest memories are of Rodin. The forms and shapes and beauty of abstract sculpture have entranced me since I was a little girl. Hepworth is one of the greats. I took a seat in the main room and just breathed in the quietness, the stillness, the calm, the essence of life humming through every piece of metal and wood in the room. Some spoke of birth, others of death, but all with a life force you couldn’t deny. To know that this wasn’t simply a gallery, that it had been Barbara Hepworth’s home and she had worked in this room and the workshops in the garden was so wonderful. To walk in the footsteps of genius is a rare treat. Those workshops and the garden were sublime. Sculpture in nature is perfection. The weathering and changing light conditions, the way they look different in the harshness of winter (when I was visiting), compared with the abundance of spring, is just everything, To be able to sit and admire the view, breath clean, fresh air and simply be among Barbara’s art really was a slice of heaven for me. There was one piece I wanted to climb up and stand inside, the smoothness cocooning me, enveloping me and making me feel as one. This is how it was designed and used by Hepworth herself, and discovering that thrilled me to my core. You are still allowed to walk through Four Square (Walk Through) and the way the angles and viewpoints change as you are inside I loved. I took a place on the informative and excellent tour, which helped to deepen my understanding of this art that I already loved. There was even a gallery cat! Honestly it was the most wonderful way to spend a couple of hours and I would dearly love to visit again.

My Tate triptic took in art from different times and in different forms and I loved them all.

2019 Annual Gig Report

This is 2019 in gigs. In statistics.

For 2019 I had no goal and no agenda, I was just going to go to some gigs. I knew there would probably be a lot; 40 gigs had been habit forming, but I had no idea the total would end up as high as it did. That certainly wasn’t the aim at the start of 2019!

Gigs Attended: 103. Even I find this ridiculous.

By Location: 70 were in Bristol (68%) which is a slightly higher proportion than last year. London again came second, with 14 visits again (13%), I went to Cardiff 5 times (5%), Reading twice and everywhere else once, although I saw 2 gigs apiece in Manchester and Birkenhead despite visiting each place only once. Bath, Brighton, Exeter, Frome, Oxford, Caerphilly, Wolverhampton and Tonbridge Wells were all visited. Five of those were places I’ve not been to for gigs before and I’m pleased some new places were explored. You can tell that I don’t drive, as all those places are on rail routes. Imagine the possibilities if I had access to a vehicle!

By Venue: I visited 43 different venues, 23 for the first time so I certainly spread my wings a little more. St George’s was visited the most, with 33 visits, a full third of everything I saw in 2019 was within it’s walls. Colston Hall’s foyer had 7 visits, Bristol Folk House, Union Chapel and Rough Trade were all visited 5 times each and other than a couple of places I went to 2 or 3 times, there were 32 venues I only visited once.

By Artist: Gaz Coombes was again responsible for a fair chunk of gigs, I saw him 7 times in 2019 (7% of all gigs) but only two other artists more than once, Erland Cooper and Bill Ryder Jones, leaving 91 other artists seen. That is a lot of bands/groups/singers/orchestras! 24 gigs were people I had seen before (including the 7 Gaz gigs), leaving me to discover 79 artists for the first time. Or if you like them as percentages, 23% I’d seen before, 77% were the first time I had seen them live. I am quite pleased with this, it means I saw people I wanted to see for the first time and that I discovered a lot more new music. The increase in the amount of classical music I heard played a large part in this, and I suppose we could split hairs over whether I can count Bach and Beethoven as new, but if I’ve not heard it live before then it counts as new to me. It breaks down to 68 artists I had not heard of before I booked the ticket (66%) and 35 I had (34%) so I took a lot more risks in 2019. I leapt into the musical unknown a lot.

By Month: Jan 4, Feb 10, March 13, April 6, May 15, June 7, July 7, August 6, September 5, October 12, November 12 and December 6 or an average of 8.5 gigs per month, 1.9 per week or a gig every 3.5 days. It really is no wonder I am quite so tired. May was my busiest gig month, although March, October and November were also pretty busy. January saw gig action for the first time and gigging was spread slightly more evenly across the year.

By Payment Type: 10 were directly paid for by Tom, plus he gave me gift vouchers for Christmas that paid for a few more, 19 were either free or I was on the guest list or I was photographing, making roughly 70 gigs I paid for myself. It is no wonder my meagre savings pot has dwindled. It is pretty cool that 18% were on the house, and that about another 14% were directly gifted, but the remaining 68% coming out of my pocket has made a significant dent in my purse. If for no other reason that this I will be gigging less in 2020; simply put I cannot afford it at this pace.

There were a number of shared gigs, of course, 25 with Tom, 8 with Janine, 2 with my son and 1 with Claire. That means 35% of gigs were shared and 65% I went to by myself. Taking my boy to his first proper gig, Public Service Broadcasting at Caerphilly Castle was pretty special and dragging him to Rough Trade’s live room on Mothers Day to hear Merry Waterstone and Emily Barker was also rather lovely. He found both very loud and music is my jam, not his, so sadly I’m not sure I will get to share my profound love of music with him again, but I live in hope. I never expected to go out alone to so many gigs, but as with so many other aspects of 40 gigs I have been surprised by how it changed me. It is still seen as brave and somewhat taboo for a woman to go out alone.

By Gender: I was determined to improve the number of women I saw play music live in 2019 and I am very pleased to say that I did. I doubled the number of female artists I saw to 25 (24%) and there was a similar increase in the number of mixed gender bands to 30 (29%) which means that the number of all male line up’s I saw decreased to 47% (48 gigs). I said I would hear my sisters and I did!

By Ethnicity: This was an area I also wanted to improve on and although the numbers went up, only 18% of the gigs I attended were by artist of colour. This is a slight improvement on the 11% of the two previous years, but it remains an area I want to improve upon. Without the Asian Arts Agency or the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival this number would have been ever lower.

By Sexuality: I hadn’t included this in previous years reports, but as part of a diversity audit where known I want to include this. It seems churlish to monitor how many women and artists of colour I see and not how many are LGBTQI+ or have a disability, so I am planning to try, where I can, to monitor and increase the diversity of the artists I see. Of those who have made public who they love, 7 artists were members of the LGBTQI+ community which is under 7%.

By Disability Status: Again, not previously monitored and difficult to quantify as many of the artists I saw may well have hidden disabilities, but where knowledge is in the public domain, then only one group, the Paraorchestra, contained disabled musicians.  I would like music and all art forms to be more reflective of the world in which we live. Among the working age population of the UK, 19% of adults have a disability. That increases with age, to 45% of total UK population. Shouldn’t there be a lot more disabled musicians? No wonder the Paraorchestra are such a force for good! As a disabled writer I really do want to do more to highlight the inequalities in access to music for audiences and artists alike.

Best Gig: This is always a difficult decision, I take something from every gig I attend and they are all in their own way special (even the ones I don’t like!) but this year there were only a few that moved me beyond words and those would have to be the joint best ones. Paraorchestra again, with the Nature of Why, it is one of the most joyous things I’ve ever experienced and I want to spend my birthday with you every year please! Gaz Coombes in the Sheldonian Theatre with the orchestra was sublime and along with Erland Cooper at the Arnolfini showed me the emotive and redemptive power of music. Sebastian Plano took me to another realm with his cello, a transformative and immersive experience I will not forget. So those four combined will be my best for 2019.

Worst Gig: For once, this is an easy choice. The Coral were by far the worst live band I saw in 2019. Not. For. Me.

By Genre: Another broad mixture. There was a folk festival, a blues and jazz festival, some big band, world music, Indian classical, pop, rock, indie, a lot of experimental music, classical and modern classical, avant garde, minimalism, country and lots of things I wouldn’t like to try to classify. My tastes have certainly broadened I think it is fair to say. I even found myself sitting in the dark listening to a three hour piece at a Deep Minimalism festival. That is not something I ever thought I would do.

Top 10: In a random order, the ones I loved the most in 2019 were;

Gaz Coombes and the Hot Fruit Orchestra at the Sheldonian theatre. Oh gosh, more tears that you could fill a bucket with. Gaz. With an orchestra. In a 350 year old Wren designed building. It was almost perfection.

Erland Cooper at the Arnolfini. Profoundly and deeply moving.

The Paraorchestra at the Millenium Centre. Joy, pure unadulterated joy. An overwhelming, enveloping sensory experience that I want to repeat as often as possible please!

Colin Stetson at the Round Chapel. Never, I mean never, turn down the chance to hear Colin play. He is supreme.

Sebastian Plano at Colston Hall. Took me to a different realm. Simply breathtaking. The reason I gig. The reason I live.

Poppy Ackroyd at Colston Hall. There is just something special and stunning about the piano that I adore.

Lau at St George’s. The finest folk music you will find.

Terry Riley. The master of minimalism live. Enough said.

Bill Ryder Jones in a Church. That fragile and beautiful voice, quivering and sending shivers through me.

Beverley Glenn-Copeland at St George’s. One of the most life affirming and lifting gigs I’ve heard in a long time. There was lightness and celebration.

That was my 2019 in gigs. In difficult times, when division and bitterness seem to have spread like a virus, music was my respite and hope. In music I have a purpose, a place, a community and a home. For each musical experience, if only for the time it takes for the artists to play, we are united and as one. There is real power in that. Music transports and heals and it allows us to feel in ways nothing else does. That is why I have kept gigging; looking for the light in the darkness. In 2020, when I expect the world to grow even darker, personally and all around me, I will draw on as much music as I can to envelop myself in as much hope and light as I can find.