Erland Cooper – The Barbican, London

Saturday 10th October, 2020

My first indoor gig since March. The first opportunity most of the musicians on the stage had to play for a live audience in 7 or 8 months. A concert we did not know was going to be possible even as short a time ago as a few weeks. That may not in a few more. Where people came to gather and share, in small groups, at distance and wearing masks. Our lives, our relationships, to each other and to the world, have been altered.

Music has been my constant. My companion, my best friend, my lover, nursemaid; my home. Live music gave me a place to belong, and people to belong with. No livestream can ever replicate that, no technology, no piece of vinyl, will ever be as powerful as sitting or standing in a room with others hearing music performed live. Hearing and seeing performers pour out their hearts and souls on the stage in front of you. Being part of that. sharing in it, being connected by it, has been essential to my wellbeing. The only way I can explain how the past few months have been without live music is bereft. I know for many it has been being without friends or family, not being able to hold a loved one close, but for me it has been the shared experience of live music. That is my community.

There have been socially distanced outdoor concerts and I have loved them. There have been album listen alongs, live streams, Insta live events, and they have all been enough to keep me going. But nothing will ever replace, replicate or bear witness in the way an indoor, live music event can.

Erland Cooper was due to play all three of his Orkney albums, in full, with the LSO, at the Barbican in June. I was supposed to be there. On the 12th June, the day the concert should have happened, I sat at home and played Solan Goose, Sule Skerry and Hether Blether in full, allowing in the emotions this music stirs and I wept. Simply knowing music this beautiful exists gives me hope. I had to hope that one day I would hear it played live again. We have to hope. Our pandemic world is very different, but it will not last forever. There will come an end and although things may not return to the way they were, we will have been changed by this experience of that there is no doubt, there will be an end point at some time in the future. Not all of us will see it, but like old women who plant trees in whose shade they will never sit, there will be better times to come. Music gives me that hope. It is a rope to our pasts and our futures. Musical threads weft and bind us to ourselves and to each other.

I fell utterly in love with Erland Cooper’s music the very first time I heard it and it continues to entrance me. Music written, from the bottom of his soul, to calm his own troubled mind, privately and then shared with such love and tenderness. It is music so deeply rooted in place that it can act as an aural vehicle to transport you across land and sea to Orkney, whilst remaining universal, speaking to deep emotions of homesickness, loss and longing. There is a keening, a yearning, to Erland’s music that speaks to my heart and soul. I feel seen, heard and understood in his musical world. My relationship with music is as deep, mysterious and essential as any I’ve ever felt. There are not a lot of artists I would have made the journey from Bristol to London for in current times, but to hear Erland live I would have moved mountains.

There were so many expectations and emotions bubbling away inside me, the Barbican Hall, the musicians about to play, and the rest of the audience. I am sure it was an emotional experience for many. I cannot have been alone in my tears. There has been a deep, aching, longing, in me for live music like this. Erland’s music reaches those places that you cannot understand nor explain. It was the perfect way to reintroduce live music.

I had been prepared for tears, extra tissues had been packed in my bag just in case, but the depths and swells of the emotions I felt at the beginning of this concert were like no other. Haar makes me weep every time I hear it, those opening bars just melt me, and live it is that to a greater power. Live strings, in the hands of wonderful performers like Anna and Jacob (plus everyone else onstage tonight, I am sorry I do not know your names), are things of such beauty and steer us into the realm of the divine. They transported us through time and space, lifting and moving the Barbican from where it was moored, into Stromess Harbour and beyond. This is music that can take you to places unlimited by your imagination. It is beauty and it is truth and I love you for sharing it with us, Erland. Thank you.

The last time I saw Erland live he gifted me the feather he conducts with, and I have kept it safely treasured since and it is my tiny connection back to what was a very special live experience that I want to live in forever. That feather was safely tucked into my handbag for this concert, it needed to come home as it were. Well I now have another to join it. Erland graciously and ever so gently, passed me another feather as he left the stage. I will keep the pair of them safe, together, forever, Erland. They, and what they represent, will be safe with me. As will your music, in my heart. Music that brings me back, that takes me home, that makes me feel so much less alone.

I may have been sat in the Barbican, but I felt as if I were in another place, and of another time. The music was both safe harbour, storm and calm sea. It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful and I cannot thank everyone involved in bringing this gig into being enough.

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