Sam Lee – St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 20th February, 2020

My gig buddy Janine had taken me to see Sam Lee a few years ago, without telling me what his music was about for fear of putting me off (this was before 40 gigs and all the ways in which it changed me) and I was entranced by this handsome and talented man, singing the oldest of songs. Many, many gigs have come and gone since then, but my love of folk music has deepened and grown so of course I was going to say yes when Janine asked if I wanted to see Sam Lee with her again.

St George’s, rightly described by Sam as “one of the finest rooms to make music in, in the whole country” was as warm, welcoming and stunning in its acoustics as ever.

The first thing that stuck me was how loud Sam was amplified. That may seem silly to anyone who has not experienced how beautiful the acoustics are at St George’s. Last time Sam sang here acoustically and with minimal support, he and the room didn’t need more. Tonight though was Sam Lee plugged in, turned up and amplified to another level. The depths and richnesses revealed in his voice by doing so were wonderful.  The drumming and double bass had a jazz flavoured tinge that I loved. There was sensitive violin and piano, sitting understated, underneath everything else, holding and supporting the rest of the music and Sam’s wonderful baritone voice. The music was like a beautiful birds nest or protective cocoon inside which Sam’s voice could rise and soar.

He is a fantastic storyteller and at heart that is all folk music is; stories in song. It is why I love them, the deceptive simplicity reaching across the centuries and moving me just as they have countless others through countless years. There is great comfort in feeling part of the human continuum through music. It really is the tie that binds. Long before I was here, and long after I am gone, there will be music. There will be folk music and there will be versions of these songs. The same notes, the same words, they have and will ring out down the centuries. How incredible is that? How beautiful and needed is that?

Sam is a song collector. I like to imagine him with jars like the BFG, roaming around the UK learning and saving ancient folk songs, often from travelling gypsy people. Some of them are incalculably old, hundreds of years, with verses that vary from place to place, telling stories of land, sky and sea. Of tales as old and as modern as time itself. All reworked and rescored into new arrangements for our times. Songs of environmental destruction, loss of habitat and wildlife, of lost love, finding your way home in nature and how we have lost touch with ways of life that ebb and flow with seasons and tides. These songs may be ancient, but they have never sounded so vital and modern as in the hands of Sam Lee.

Lullabies of apology for environmental destruction and destitution were heavy and deep, as they should be. There were moments that made me shudder in dread. There were also moments that made me shiver with joy, goosebumps flying all over me during refrains of songs I recognised from my childhood. However urban my upbringing was (concrete at every turn), my mothers ancestors were Scottish highlanders and my fathers Irish travellers, somewhere very deeply buried were fragments of music. Tiny pieces of hidden memories, weathered like pebbles on a beach, growing ever smaller and fainter with the tides ebb. Sam dredged at them, brought some of those fragments back to life within me. I’ll never make a singer, but I can live vicariously through Sam’s recorded voice pressed into vinyl. I am listening to his new album now, “Old Wow” I suggest you get a copy. Immediately.

I couldn’t really afford to do it and I had no bag to keep them safe in, but I purchased all three of Sam’s albums anyway. By some miracle the rain held off all the way home, I journeyed on the bus clutching them tightly to my chest. Thank you for signing them all, Sam, and for all the hugs. I would apologise for milking that, but I don’t have a tremendous amount of adult human contact. Sometimes I go for weeks without sharing touch with another, so when an artist I admire hugs me and picks me up I am going to ask for extras! Forgive me?

I had been yearning and keening for live music to move me and stir me again, clearly what my soul needed was a journey along a folk road in the company of Sam Lee. I felt the music deeply in my bones as it stirred at my soul. You can’t really ask for more than that, thank you, Sam.

Smoke Fairies – Rough Trade, Bristol

Saturday 8th February, 2020

A Saturday night where I had nothing else to do. A band recommended by a friend whose taste in music I trust. A female band when I am trying to support more women in music. A venue I like, that is friendly. What else was I going to do but get a ticket for Smoke Fairies?

Rough Trade have put themselves firmly on the Bristol map in the time they’ve been open and whether you want to browse for records, have a coffee or a beer or catch live music, they have it all. They were really brilliant about getting me a chair, even asking where I wanted to sit and positioning me so close to the stage that I may as well have been on it! Against the wall for back support and made to feel as if this was no trouble at all and all done with a smiling welcome. Thank you.

Support came from John J Presley. He has a great rock voice and can shred a mean guitar but it wasn’t to my taste, it was too heavy for me. There was one track I liked more, well at least the start of, because the drum rhythm was different and more interesting, but it then reverted back to the standard boom, boom, boom rock pattern and lost me as a result. Talented but not for me is the conclusion.

I will confess, that not having listened to Smoke Fairies beforehand, they were not what I was expecting. This is no bad thing as I like to be surprised. A pair of complimentary and harmonised voices was the folk influence I was prepared for. The bluesy rock I was not, but then I should have paid attention to their name. Or listened to the record. My bad.

There were elements I really liked and the time passed quickly by (always a good sign) but this was a gig to like, rather than love. Left To Roll was probably the track that stood out for me, it was quieter and slower paced with deep vocals and lyrical content that I felt and I also liked Out of the Woods and that they were selling candles on the merch desk, to chase away darkness.

I guess I am still finding my gigging feet this year, for various reasons I am not feeling the music as much as I used to. It will come back, with time. If blues tinged rocky guitar music with cracking vocal harmonies is your bag, then Smoke Fairies will very much float your boat and be worth investigating.

 

Anna Meredith – Trinity, Bristol

Thursday 6th February, 2020

Another artist I discovered through both BBC 6 Music and Radio 3. Any artist at home on both of those alternative stations (I listen to late night Radio 3 – the weird bits) is also at home in my record collection. I was reasonably excited about seeing Anna live, her mixture of electronica and orchestral is the sort of genre blending stuff I love.

After having trouble standing at Trinity last week, and not having the best of weeks with my health, I emailed asking if I could have a seat and Trinity were happy to help. Colston Hall, whose banner this gig was under, and Trinity are both keen to open up access and for this evening a section at the front was barrier-ed off for those of us who needed a support. I wasn’t the only disabled patron. I am not the only disabled patron at most gigs, but it takes confidence to ask for help from a venue and not all venues are as accommodating or helpful as they should be. An awful lot has been done to open things up, but abelism is so ingrained in society that there is still plenty to do.

There was excellent support from Grace Lightman, who has a great voice and whose slightly off kilter electronic pop was a great choice of warm up for Anna. I would really happily see her play again.

I knew Anna and her band had excellent costumes as I had seen friends photos of the gigs in Manchester and London (at least 8 people I know are also seeing Anna on this tour!) and had been assured it was a great show. That it was.

Combining brass, strings, percussion and electronics Anna and her band took the orchestra to a rave, danced together, fell in love and had musical babies. How else could you explain the music she composes? It is hard to type as I am chair dancing along. It is funky, groove laden, somehow apocalyptic yet also joyful at the same time, creative, inventive, fun and exciting. It feels like the sort of music you would play at the end of the world, to celebrate and mourn. It feels very now. If I had been well enough to be in the throng of the crowd, dancing and being carried away in musical celebration, I think this would have been an amazing gig. As it was, from where I was seated with plenty of space, it was still an amazing gig. There was a lovely sense of community in music as I could see people moving and grooving away near me, whilst being safely behind a barrier. It was the first time I’ve smiled in weeks. Anna Meredith made me happy and that was exactly what I needed. This gig did me the power of good. Music is the best medicine. For broken hearts and broken bodies. For a couple of hours I forgot about my pain and had fun.

Highlights? The exquisite cello of moonmoons, the wonderful brass of Nautilus and how can I forget the extraordinary pop cover mash up ending, please Anna do more Abba is all I can say. Call me maybe?

You want creative, clever music that makes you smile while the world is burning then pop on an Anna Meredith record I say.

This was Anna’s first headline show in Bristol and I sincerely hope it is not her last. Please come back again real soon.

 

KOKOROKO – Trinity, Bristol

Wednesday 29th January, 2020

While Colston Hall are completing their refurbishment they are working in partnership with other venues in Bristol, Trinity being one, so this was a Colston Hall Presents show. I trust CH’s judgement on music, they bring such vibrant and diverse music to Bristol how could I not?

I can’t remember if I picked up on KOKOROKO from 6 Music or Radio 3, it could have been either or both given that their music would fit as well on Freeness, Late Junction or on Mary Anne Hobbs or Giles Peterson’s shows on 6. Wherever it was I was pleased that they were playing in Bristol so I would get a chance to hear them play live.

Trinity is a great arts and community space, perfect for this sort of gig. With a DJ set by way of support it was pretty easy to get close to the front so that I could see some of the musicians on the stage. Even with my slightly stacked trainers on, I am very short so seeing anything of the performers is not a given!

Even with the jostling and movement of people back n forth, my little spot proved to be a good vantage point and I could see most of the stage. Result. As much as you are there to hear the music, it helps me if I can see the performers and watch the interplay between them, the way they move, how they get lost in the music and interact with the crowd.

It did take time to warm us up, it was a cold night after all, but there were pockets of dancing going on from the start. KOKOROKO are an afro-futuristic jazz octet. There were funky rhythms and grooves, percussion and brass going on, complimenting and not competing (jazz can seem like a sonic dissonance battle sometimes) and everyone on the stage seemed to be having a great time. Most of the rest of the crowd did too, I saw lots of happy faces and bodies moving in unison around me.

I was struggling. Both emotionally to be in a place that holds memories that are at the moment painful and physically as the standing wasn’t doing my nerve damaged neck many favours. I tried to keep my body as fluid as the music demanded (it is staying in any one position too long that tends to hurt) and even attempted a little bit of dancing, but it was all too much and after about an hour I needed to move away and find somewhere to sit down. This wasn’t easy, as the limited seats (1 small bench and 2 stools) were already occupied so I ended up sitting on the floor at the back! I don’t know what the solution to this is, by the way, but I wish venues could find one. I am finding that seated gigs with intervals are much easier to manage generally and standing ones are becoming increasingly ones I have to avoid. Perhaps it is time that I accept that age and illness are more limiting that I want them to be.

I left slightly before the end as I wanted to avoid any crowd crush and I as left the sounds of happy people and quality music filled my ears.

KOKOROKO are a great live band, making interesting and exciting music that speaks of African heritage and modern London that makes people smile and dance. That was worth showing up for, even if I was unable to fully join in.

 

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.

 

 

Beethoven’s 9th – Barbican, London

Saturday 28th December, 2019

Knowing my son would be with his Dad for part of Christmas and not wanting endless days of being home alone, I had booked myself a day trip to London to see this concert. The chance to see a fine orchestra play one of the finest symphonies written by one of the finest composers wasn’t one I felt able to pass over. 2020 will be the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, but I thought I would start celebrating a little early.

This was my last gig of 2019. The 103rd of the year. Seeing out such a busy musical year with Beethoven seemed sort of fitting.

I am not from a classical music background, it wasn’t the sort of music the working class community I grew up in listened to and my University was a former poly and we didn’t go back to ‘digs’ to listen to LP’s (we were too busy getting wasted in the SU bar and listening to Britpop). I knew Ravel’s Bolero only because of Torvill and Dean and Oh Sole Mio because of the ice cream advert! Four Seasons was a pizza, not a piece of music.  Classical music was still high culture, the rarified air that posher people than me breathed until a few years ago when 40 gigs made me try all sorts of music for the first time.

Even with my limited knowledge, I knew that Beethoven was one of the greats. Your basic troika are Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. You can’t go far wrong with any of them. Beethoven’s 9th, with its rousing Ode To Joy finale is one of his most famous works and even if you have no idea that you are listening to Beethoven, you will recognise its stirring ending. I have never heard it performed live before and as it such a famous and revered piece I thought I would take the chance to here the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play it.

The Barbican is a vast place and the main hall is huge, but it does have excellent sound right to its rooftops so a balcony seat was purchased (the only level in my price range) and round its maze of steps I went. Entering at that top level provided me with weird flashbacks of my graduation ceremony, where I had been left in charge of the VIP guests and had gotten lost with them. I could see clearly the steps to the stage that I had almost fallen from whilst wearing ridiculous platform shoes (the 90’s was a strange decade). The area where the photographer had taken my photo; no need to tell me to smile as I beamed with pride as the only member of my family to have ever completed an education of any kind beyond 16; it shone out of my face like a sunbeam. My Mum and Nan both speechless at meeting the VIP’s afterwards (Lord Rix and Honour Blackman) and then being left alone in that vast hall, watching the throng of students in caps and gowns peel away with their families, off out to lunches and celebrations. It was just me. On my own, walking into an unknown future. I am in much the same position now, except it is my choice to be alone. I am comfortable in my own skin and am self reliant in a way that would make both Mum and Nan proud I hope.

As usual I have wandered off, but that is me and this is my writing. Music is a key that opens up doors, memories, sensations, experiences and I write about them all. It has never been just about the music.

The Royal Phil was joined by Daniel Lebhardt on piano for the opening piece, Beethoven’s piano concerto number 5 and an excellent job he did too. I was finding it hard to concentrate on listening as all the memories of being in the Barbican more than 20 years before spilled into my head, but I did enjoy the music nonetheless.

After an interval where I ascertained that I would need to leave pretty sharpish at the end of the concert, due to the later finish time than first advertised, I prepared myself to be blown away by Beethoven. The first movement is gentle, setting up the sweeping musical motifs that will circle their way throughout the symphony. The second picks up (and is probably my favourite part), hinting at the crescendo that will come at the end. Paces slows again, like waves crashing slowly in, before building back up and up before reaching the thunderous conclusion of choir and orchestra in an ending so famous that even I knew it before hearing it tonight. Perhaps it was because I was worried about time, but the ending was less than I expected it to be. I was imaging crashing and chaotic noise, but it felt too restrained. Maybe it was because I was so high up. Maybe my expectation was set too high. Or perhaps it was too politely played, by an orchestra and choir in back tie playing to the same rarified air audience I am not a part of. I wanted to see an orchestra almost lose control of themselves, to play with wild abandon and passion. To play as if their souls depended on it. I don’t think that is possible in an evening gown, playing to a polite audience! I want orchestras full of musicians playing for their lives, giving me everything they have, sweeping me up in a wave of tumultuous emotion. It is possible, I have heard classical music played that way. I have heard all sorts of music played in that way and it is the music I love the most.

I was expecting greatness and got acceptable. This wasn’t how I wanted my gigging year to end, but perhaps I am too exhausted from it all, or to jaded or spoilt by wonders. Next year there will be fewer experiences, of that I am sure. Perhaps I will hear more Beethoven (I hope so, I’ve yet to hear Eroica live) and perhaps I will be blown away by that. For now, I am glad I went, even if it did not meet my expectations.

2019 has been a very busy year. 103 gigs. I’ll be wrapping them all up in an end of year report soon.