Daylight Music – Union Chapel, London

Saturday 14th December, 2019

I had decided to treat myself to staying over in London, rather than getting a late coach home, which also meant I was able to get to Daylight Music for its last hurrah of the year. Daylight Music has been celebrating its 10th birthday in 2019, which is such tribute to Ben and all the volunteers who make it what it is. On most Saturdays in the year you will find them beavering away at the fabulous Union Chapel. There are always at least 3 acts, tea, cake and smiles. It is about the perfect way to spend a Saturday lunchtime in my book.

This Daylight Music was curated by the wonderful Lost Map record label, of whom I am a postcard subscriber and I was looking forward to hearing more from this quirky little label.

Callum Easter had the unenviable job of playing first, as the huge crowd were still thronging in. As a result I didn’t get to hear as much of him as I would have liked. A singing accordion player with electronics in the background, I liked him and will keep my ears pricked for an opportunity to see him again.

The in between act was playing Last Christmas on the church organ (covers are allowed under the rules of Whamaggedon so I’m still a survivor!) and hearing the Wombles theme tune played on a 150 year old church organ is something I will not forget in a hurry.

Rozi Plain, a Bristol local, was up next. I had heard as part of This Is The Kit at the BBC 6 Music festival a few yeas back, and despite everyone else loving them (and on paper them being a band I should love) I was underwhelmed. I am sad to say the same happened today. For whatever reason, Rozi’s music doesn’t sit with me. She is very talented, it just isn’t for me. I really could have done without the very long communist speech from the saxophone player in the middle of the set – I felt the band were about to launch into Internationale! I’ve no problem with politics in music, but an entire speech on a Saturday lunchtime for an audience that were not yours. No, lad, no. Rozi herself, speaking from the heart, about the need to draw together, was considerably more powerful.

Pictish Trail were next and I loved them, they were easily my favourites of the day. Looking like Aussie mechanics in boiler suits and caps, with a wonderful sideline in surreal comedy, possessed of a beautiful voice that filled the chapel, I was a happier bunny now. This was more my sort of thing. The right sort of strange. I think I would be quite happy on the fictional Scottish island of Egg with Pictish Trail. Given that politically I may well need to move to Scotland in a few years (thank you Scottish Grandma) this bodes well.

Glasgow Dreamers were last up and I also liked them. They played a series of Ivor Cutler covers and the surreal humour was a much needed and welcome release. Cow bells echoing out across and around the beautiful Union Chapel was worth showing up for all by itself. They closed with all the other acts of the day joining them onstage and singing Women of the World Take Over. If only, if only. That moment would have had a lot more power if there were more than 3 women on the stage, surrounded by three times as many men. Just saying, lads, if you want us to take over, you have to make space, by giving up some.

This was the musical tonic I needed. Saying a brief hello to Ben and Kate – good, good people who care, and being there with my friend Ian to share in the music and friendship was what was needed this weekend. I had taken myself mostly offline since the election results, I needed time to breathe and grieve. I wanted to concentrate on being in the real world and with the things that matter; music and people. I am still mourning for the country I thought Britain was; a place of more tolerance and caring than this. I am still frightened about the future. More than half of my income comes from the state in the form of various benefits. All of it if you consider that my earned wage is from the NHS. I am a single parent with multiple chronic long term health problems to a child with additional needs. Everything we depend on to make our lives worthwhile is publicly funded. I have no partner, almost no family and very few friends. No state help and I am finished. The very real threats to my livelihood, financial support and the school support my son needs are terrifying.

My return coach to London cost £12, entry to Daylight Music is free and my Air BnB was £27. Little luxuries like these will go soon. There will be others (perhaps me, who knows) who lose a lot more. Homes, jobs, lives.

I needed time to remember what is good, and what matters. Music. Friendship. I hope those things last. I will be clinging to them both with all the hope I can muster for the next however many years we all have to endure this cold and cruel government. At some point I will find the strength to think about how I can help ensure there are better days ahead, even if I don’t live to see them. Like old folk who plant trees in who’s shade they will never sit. I have to believe in the power of art to change lives and indeed the world. For now, while I still could, I enjoyed the warmth of the community of music.

BBC Symphony Orchestra – Barbican Hall, London

Friday 13th December, 2019

I had planned this trip some time ago, not knowing there was going to be a General Election the day before. One in which the result would bring me profound grief and fear. I am very glad that I had some light to enjoy in the darkness, in the form of friendship and music.

I spent the afternoon hanging out with James and Josie at Soho Radio, being among good people, playing music and having fun. It was what was needed.

The Barbican is such an odd place. Baffling and bewildering, even when you have been there before. Credit to them for attempting to brighten up the place and improve the signage so that it is possible to find your way around the vast building. For those who have never been, the Barbican is an arts complex, modernist and brutalist in its architecture (with an attached housing complex to boot). Purpose built, housing a theatre, concert hall, cinema, gallery, restaurant and bars; it is a huge concrete monolith in the heart of London, surrounded by business district and high rise buildings.  It sort of hides despite its vast size. It is a place I’ve visited a number of times for a number of reasons (photography exhibitions, Indiana Jones film marathons, concerts and indeed my own University graduation ceremony) but it is still not a place I find I can love. There is something about it that still feels off putting, cold and the public spaces between venues have horrible swirling acoustics that hurt my ears as the cacophony of noise swirls within it. Yet, I end up going back there as the concert hall is superb and it is the home of the BBC SO, one of the finest orchestras in the country.

I have never heard any Mahler live, and his reputation as a stirring composer drew me to buying this ticket. As external events unfolded, I wondered if his bombastic style would be the right response!

Before we could get to Mahler there were two modern compositions by Brett Dean and Judith Weir. I preferred the second of the two, an oboe concerto. There was a dialogue between the oboe and the other instruments, chiefly the strings. It soars and flies like a bird above and was a gentle, light piece.

Then we got to Mahler and it was nowhere near as stirring and bombastic as I was expecting! The first movements in particular were considerably more gentle sounding, with a slow and winding build up. There were also echoes of Jewish music at points, at least to my ears, and bursts of frenetic strings. There were elements I enjoyed, but as a whole it didn’t entirely work for me. Perhaps Mahler isn’t my sort of composer, much as I like some bands within a style, I don’t like them all and maybe I’m just more of a Beethoven girl. The only way I’ll find out is to keep listening, which I intend to do.

There is always something impressive about seeing an orchestra play; the combination of each individual contributing to the whole, like worker bees or ants in a colony. Every player must be superb, even when you rarely hear them as an individual.

I am still very new to classical music and my comprehension of the language is almost non existent, yet as the old adage goes, I know what I like. The thing is, with all music, not just classical music, having an open heart and ears is all you really need to understand anything. How does the music make you feel? Don’t like one composer or one piece, try another. Classical music is as broad a genre as any other so why not try something? I did as part of 40 gigs and now I’m a semi regular classical listener! New musical worlds can await you if you are prepared to listen.

 

Three Cane Whale – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 5th December, 2019

This is a long overdue entry, this gig was 10 days ago.

It has taken so long to write this as I’ve not been in the mood to write at all. There has been a lot going on, both in my life and the country. That swell of emotions and my physical health not entirely holding up added to the usual difficulties of dealing with Christmas season (always a hard time of year for me) and the words have just not wanted to come.

I have wanted to see Three Cane Whale for a while, but their Bristol gigs always seemed to sell out before I could get a ticket. Popular, local, folk, all good things. Would they be worth the wait?

There was a support act, playing folk as a string quartet, who I did really like, but I’ve no idea of their name! They played a mixture of original and traditional compositions and the mixing together of the folk and classical traditions was fun.

I also enjoyed Three Cane Whale, who treated us to the whole of their mini album as well as some other tracks. It was all rather gentle, calming and nice. Not a bad way to spend an evening at all.

 

Book review – Lowborn, Kerry Hudson

I had been wanting to read Lowborn ever since I read Kerry’s columns in the now, sadly, defunct, Pool online magazine. Her writing felt familiar, like I knew her, the warmth, honesty and humanity with which Kerry writes made me feel somehow at home with her words.

Hardback books are expensive and difficult for me to hold, with arthritic hands, and although I think audiobooks are wonderful things, they don’t really work for me in the same way, I resigned myself to waiting ages for the paperback version. Then I went to a writing workshop, organised by Kerry, that was completely free to attend and designed to help boost the confidence of marginalised writers.  I came away inspired and have written the first 15, 000 words of my book as a result. We were given a goody bag, which included a copy of Lowborn. I was thrilled, especially as I got to meet Kerry, give her a great big cuddle and get her to sign my copy.

That was back in the summer, on a fearsome hot day and I have only now, in the bitter cold of winter, finished reading Lowborn. It isn’t even a very big book! I am simply not the reader I once was and have little time for the pleasure of reading anymore. I also have this love hate relationship with books I enjoy, where I want to complete them whilst also never reaching the end. There are also some difficult things to read in Lowborn. Hard truths about Kerry’s early life and that of the people who didn’t escape the hardships as she has. It is a book that makes you look at all the things you would rather look away from; that collectively we have as a society all looked away from. Grinding poverty, addiction, child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and the ripping away of public services and support from those who are most in need. I could sense the pain Kerry felt, both as a child, and as an adult revisiting her life, altogether too keenly at points.

Her story resonated. I was a rung above Kerry on the ladder of poverty. My parents were together, worked and we had a family network nearby that meant we never went without. I did, however, grow up on a sink estate on the fringes of a town on the fringes of a city and I was surrounded by people barely getting by. Mum used to take a pen and paper with her on the weekly big shop to the supermarket, writing down the prices of everything, totting up a running total as she went, to ensure she had enough money to pay for everything. I remember asking if I could have a 3.5p back of sweets and being told I’d have to wait until the end to see if we had enough. Some weeks we did, some weeks we didn’t. I know my Mum worked just about every job going to top up Dad’s milkman’s wage. Cinema usher, bar maid, shop assistant, sewing jobs, she did them all. I remember wanting Barbie and My Little Pony and school shoes from Clarks but being given market stall rip offs and my cousins hand me downs instead. I never went to bed empty tummied or had holes in my shoes, and I knew I was lucky in that sense because there were kids on my estate who did. But I also new we lived in the wrong part of town and that we were considered poor. Growing up on a council estate in the Thatcher ensured you knew your place in the pecking order.

I physically left that place in 1987 when we moved to a rural Hampshire village but psychologically I have carried it with me all of my life. The estate I grew up on is in the process of being destroyed and rebuilt. I went back to visit three summers ago. I felt I needed to see it, to say goodbye. Those are feelings I share with Kerry and why I felt Lowborn so keenly. The sense of rootlessness and longing for stability and home has never left me. I am so glad that for Kerry there has been some resolution and that in her wonderful husband, Peter, she has the love she has always deserved. One day perhaps I will be able to put down the burdens I have carried about relative poverty, of class injustice, not having a family or a place to call home. One day, perhaps, I will find my Peter too.

Lowborn is most definitely Kerry’s story, but parts of it felt so familiar that they could have been my own. I wish I did not share some of her sense of loss at robbed opportunities. I wish we all lived in a world where we could say that those things are in the past, that the bad days are over, but I know we are not. Years of austerity have taken us back decades in terms of the progress that had been made in lifting children out of poverty. As soon as the coalition government removed the words Every Child Matters from the Sure Start programme I knew that kids like the ones Kerry and I had been would be forgotten. We have no idea how much talent and wonderousness is thrown away as a result. How many lives lived in the shadows when they should have been supernovas.

Reading Lowborn has been at times difficult and at times glorious. I felt seen and represented in ways I rarely am in any art form. Kerry is a generous and open hearted writer, who lives her life as she writes, with compassion and kindness. Those are lessons we could all learn from.

Thank you Kerry for being brave enough to share your story, for the writers workshop and being you. If you are ever round Bristol way, let me know and I’ll stand you a cup of tea and a bun.

Richard Spaven – Colston Hall Foyer, Bristol

Wednesday 4th December, 2019

I missed out on seeing Richard Spaven at Rough Trade earlier in the year, and as a jazz drummer with a love of hip hop and dub, he seemed interesting enough to try to catch this time round.

This was the first time I’d been to a gig in Colston Hall’s foyer that wasn’t seated, which came as a surprise (lesson: read the read the small print) but I must thank the very lovely staff who got me a chair so that I could be comfortable.

Being sat at towards the back did mean that I couldn’t see anything on the stage and that I was exposed to the talkers. I fail to understand why people spend money going to gigs and then chat during the music! Yes, even during the support act I expect you to listen. If you want a chat, go to a pub. If you aren’t interested in the support then either show up later, or go away and come back. Your talking spoils things for others and is disrespectful to the artists. End of rant.

There was a support band, Sydney, who I think were a bassist, keys, guitar and electronics but I cannot be sure as I couldn’t see them! I liked them and they were a good choice of support for Richard stylistically.

The crowd was a lot younger and hipper than I and I was feeling a bit out of place (especially sat down). There were a lot of young, white men in the audience and the only other women I could spy appeared to be there with blokes. We really do need to change the culture of going out so that women, alone or in groups, feel comfortable and welcome everywhere.

Richard Spaven is indeed, as promised, a jazz drummer who throws down hip hop, trip hop, dub and club culture beats with his drums. I liked that he is pushing jazz in a less traditional direction, I like that it was attracting a different and younger audience (no music, not even orchestral music, can survive preserved in aspic forever, it has to adjust and change with the times it finds itself in) and on another night I think I would have been really enjoying myself. As it was I did enjoy all the music I heard, I had taken on too much in one day and was exhausted.

I let before the end to catch a bus as they only run every half an hour and I wanted my bed.

I think I am going to have to seriously scale back the gigging next year. This was gig number 98 of 2019. That is too many.

 

AKA Trio – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 28th November, 2019

I had been looking forward to this one for a while. AKA are the initials of the three musicians, and I’d seen the K, Seikou Keita play before. He is a kora player and it is such a beautiful sound that for that alone this gig would be worth showing up for. The two A’s are Antonio Forcione and Adriano Adewale an Italian classical guitarist and a Brazillian percussionist. Add them together, three musicians from different continents, cultures and playing styles and you get a fusion of lovely music. Their latest album is called Joy and that is what I went to hear. It was what I heard, the music was lovely. I was just not in the right headspace or physical place to enjoy it at all.

My arthritis/fibromyalgia/nerve problems/whatever the hell it is flared up badly and I was in pain. Far too much pain to enjoy being there and to be able to concentrate. I had to leave at the interval to get home to painkillers, hot water bottles and bed.

Pain steals from you. It steals experiences and memories. Tonight it stole this gig from me. It is almost impossible to describe what chronic pain feels like to those fortunate enough to have never experienced it. Whatever short term, reasonably predictable pain you have experienced in your life from accidents and the like is very different to the chronic, unreliable and confusing pain of long term conditions. Nerves get fired and inflamed and they never really learn to calm down fully. I have learned to live with a level of background pain that would probably floor most people. I’ve become inured to it; I’ve had to. But sometimes it breaks through and you have no choice but to listen to it and pay attention. You have to stop, take the damn drugs, and hope. That is what happened at some point on Thursday evening.

I had to miss gigs on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday evening too. Perhaps I need to slow down the gigging and learn to do something else with my time instead.

I hope that I get to see AKA trio again as what I can remember of what I could hear and focus on was good. They were a real harmony, each of them playing to compliment the other two and not to try to dominate, it was gentle and it was fun. Another time. Another time.

 

Erland Cooper – Arnolfini, Bristol

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.

 

 

Sofar Sounds – a house in St Andrews, Bristol

Saturday 16th November, 2019

Instead of rushing home to write this, I’m not sure I can be bothered to write about this gig at all!

Sofar is a concept, whereby house parties and other unique venues are used to put on a range of acts. You apply to go not knowing who will be playing or where and if selected (about 2 weeks beforehand) you can buy tickets for about £12. This goes on all over the world.

I was dubious but had friends who had been to ones in Bristol and said they were good. I don’t mind the not knowing who is playing, I go to random gigs all the time, but not knowing the venue was kinda anxiety inducing. Especially as someone who does not drive as Bristol’s public transport isn’t exactly great and I cannot afford taxis. Knowing the rough area isn’t really enough to be able to plan.

This Sofar was in a house and I was sat on a table, although there were a few chairs available, the majority of the 60 odd strong audience were sat on the floor. That is not something my back or joints could have managed.

The rest of the crowd were a lot younger than me and way hipper. I would not have managed to be there alone, it was only because Tom was with me that I could deal with feeling quite so out of place. The vibe was young, hip and Saturday night party. None of things that fit me. I’m more comfortable in a concert hall or folk club!

The music acts themselves weren’t bad. They just weren’t good either. Other than the middle act (Austel) I was pretty underwhelmed. Jonny Morgan seemed like a perfectly nice white, middle class boy with a guitar, but the music industry isn’t exactly short of those is it? His voice was good enough, but neither that or his songs had anything special that marked them out. I can’t remember a single one now, only a few days later.

Austel – the only female musician of the night – played synth pop with a dark edge and her voice was clear as crystal and showed her classical training background. I quite liked her stuff and she was by far the best of the bunch.

Elephant Radio, the last group. Well, they were introduced by the host with an anecdote about how they got thrown out of a strip club in Amsterdam. Not cool. On any level. Of all the things we could have been told about this group of 4 lads, this was the story you chose to go with? I was annoyed at the level of casual sexism, that this sort of “banter” from, about and for the “lads” was considered acceptable. It isn’t. As if I couldn’t have felt any less comfortable, I pretty much now wanted to leave. The music Elephant Radio made was pretty standard, generic indie rock, with synths, drums, guitar and bass. Again, four white lads making music you’ve heard in a million iterations before.

There was nothing fresh or exciting about this gig and we did actually leave before the end to make sure we got the train home.

I would like to say that this was my first and last Sofar sounds gig, but I had stupidly bought a ticket for one in December before going to this. I may just lose my money and not go. An evening on my actual sofa is considerably more appealing!

Essentially I am not the target market for Sofar. Which, given how much I love and support live music is a real shame. Like so many cultural events, they are dreamed up by white middle class people of relative privlege, wealth and health who pay no attention whatsoever to making themselves welcoming and inclusive of anything that is not exactly like them. I am never going to feel comfortable in those situations.

I am sure there are people for whom Sofar is an amazing experience and musicians for whom it gives valuable exposure. For me, it was a waste of an evening and I honestly wish I’d not gone.

Barb Jungr – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 14th November, 2019

I used to do this, rush home from a gig and type. I rarely do thesedays partly because I go to so damn many gigs and partly because through the discipline of regular writing I don’t feel the need to. Yet, tonight, I want to get down how I felt about this gig as soon as possible.

I’ve just got home. It is cold. The temperature is barely above freezing. My feet don’t seem to belong to my body. Yet I feel a warm glow inside my heart. The music I’ve heard tonight has made me feel all aglow.

Shame on me, but I had never heard of Barb Jungr until I saw this gig in the St George’s programme but anyone who could be described as the love child of Edith Piaf & Nick Cave deserved to be seen I thought. Besides anyone eccentric enough to declare that they will only sing songs written by composers whose names begin with B is my kind. Hence Bob, Brel and Me as the subtitle of this show. Only songs written by Jacque Brel, Bob Dylan and Barb herself were included. They were all ones she hadn’t covered before and in new translations to boot.

As soon as Barb walked onstage, resplendent and beaming I liked her and felt immediately at ease. She sings with her heart on her sleeve, with all the emotions beautifully controlled, but nonetheless poured into the interpretation of the song. There was her beautiful smile, warmth, playfulness and wit through most of the brilliant first half which included Jacky and Tambourine Man, but her own works were the best.  Cathedral (A Brel song) was incredibly moving, the words given meaning and life by the tone, timbre and colours in Barb’s voice. Later there was anguish and pain;  we ran the gamut of what it means to love. If We Only Had Love was a masterclass in how to deliver the emotional sucker punch of a song without ever losing control, it was close to being too powerful. What a jazz chanteuse she is.

Barb is a great storyteller, both in words and song. I will not forget the tiger tamer’s white leather in a hurry is all I can say! I think I could listen to her spin me a yarn about almost anything. She was more than ably supported by Jenny and Jamie on piano and organ – I hope Jamie enjoyed spending his birthday playing for us.

This was a wonderful gig and I am very, very glad that I bought a ticket. Thank you, Barb, your warmth and kindness shone through.

 

Ezra Furman – O2 Academy, Bristol

Wednesday 13th November, 2019

I’ve seen Ezra before and loved his energy and verve, but it came at the end of a relentless week in May when I was too tired to really take it in, so I’ve been wanting to see him live again since and despite misgivings about the venue I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Having been tempted back into the 02 earlier this year and having had a good time that night (Lucinda Williams) I thought I would chance seeing Ezra there. Besides, he had only 3 UK dates and I couldn’t get to either of the others.

Things I still dislike about the 02; odd shaped size and shape room with bar located too close making it noisy and almost inescapable, £3 for the cloakroom which is up a weird windy staircase, security that is over the top (hello metal detectors), the sound which is adequate at best and the total lack of atmosphere. The one thing, the one thing, I want a gig venue to get right is the sound. The 02 clearly has all the right equipment and simply can’t be arsed to use it properly. That is just inexcusable in my book. All of it adds to a venue with about much life and soul as a dead duck – the vibe in there is always flat – even for performers as good as Ezra.

Things I now like about the 02; the attempt to make viewing possible for short people with multi levels (even if it still fails, at least they are trying), aircon and abundant women’s loos.

We missed most of the support act, which was a shame as they were energetic and fun. I would like to try to hear Pom Poko again.

Ezra and his band looked great, but nowhere near as resplendent as they had before. Red boiler suits were no match for the white, winged angel look and Ezra wasn’t as glamourous this time either. The smaller stage perhaps didn’t help, but it was all a lot less of a performance than when I saw him last.

He opened with Suck The Blood From My Wound which was a bold choice, given that it one of his better known tracks, and as great a song as it is, the sound wasn’t quite right and Ezra’s voice wasn’t either. Maybe tiredness, overuse or jetlag, but he wasn’t in the best form last night is all I can say. There were a fair few tracks from the newest album, which I like, it is punkier and harder sounding than the previous one. There were tracks I wanted to hear that weren’t played and ones that sounded nowhere near as urgently demanding of my attention as they should have.

My joints were hurting and I had to go sit down a few times (thankfully there was space where I could do this on the balcony) and my view wasn’t the best from right up at the top, all factors that contributed to me not having a vintage night.

When I saw Ezra at Colston Hall last May he shone like a jewel from the stage, he gave such a great performance that it reached me sat in the stalls. The atmosphere passed back from the front of the hall to reach me too and it was a great gig because of it. Tonight, without the ooommmppphhh of Ezra of the crowd it felt disappointing.

I still really love Ezra Furman’s music; he is bold, brave and unashamedly himself which is fucking wonderful to see. We need more outsiders and freaks showing us their beautiful selves. I am not the same sort of outsider as him, but I recognise the way it feels to be on the margins. When you see and feel that being reflected by someone on the stage, being adored for who they are, it is really powerful. To bear witness to that with others, to share it with those who have also been on the fringes, can be a beautiful thing. Ezra is capable of delivering that; I’ve seen him do it. The theatricality and cinematic sweep of his last album did it in spades. This current show not so much. Now that’s cool, he moves in whatever direction he wants as an artist, but it wasn’t what I expected or needed this gig to be.

The venue wasn’t right, I will pick who I see there carefully and where there is a choice between any other venue and the 02 I will still take the former. I would like to see Ezra in full flow again one day.

Overall, I am sad to report that this was a disappointing gig on many levels. I guess they can’t all be transcendental experiences can they?