Tag Archives: music

Celtic Connections (gig #8) (The End) (for this year anyway)

Last night I went back up to the old Fruitmarket for my final Celtic Connections gig of the year. It was a bit of a strange experience – partly because I was entirely by myself (this being the ticket I got in exchange for one of HD’s as he’d had to miss a concert being ill last week), and partly because culturally I found it really difficult to connect with both the audience and the main act.

Moishe's Bagel at Celtic Connections 2007Firstly though, this is a photo of the support act, Moishe’s Bagel, who I thought were absolutely brilliant. [As an aside, I’m also really pleased with the photo, as it was taken with a 4-5 second exposure, no flash and no tripod, just me hanging over the balcony holding my breath and trying to keep still. Proving, for the idiots who annoyed me so much in other concerts by taking flash photos when they were asked not to, that it’s entirely possible to take decent pictures without flash]. Anyway, Moishe’s Bagel. They play a mixture of klezmer, eastern European, jazzy sort of stuff and I really liked their sound – fantastic musicians, and when I’m not broke I’ll definitely be getting hold of their CDs.

After they had finished, I hung around and became aware of the groups either side of me, who were both clearly Jewish and were talking about various things which were just not on my radar as I’m culturally from such a different place (actually their conversations were really interesting, so I didn’t feel too guilty ear-wigging). Then the main act, the Klezmatics, came on, and although they were clearly excellent musicians and I actually like the kind of klezmer music they do, something about it just left me cold. I don’t know what it was – they obviously had the rest of the audience totally eating out of their hands, including a family near me doing some great and uninhibited Jewish dancing – but I just didn’t feel any connection between what was happening on stage and my heart/guts. They have been Grammy-nominated for a project they have done recently putting music to some of Woodie Guthrie’s previously unknown lyrics, but to be honest I think Billy Bragg and Wilco did the same thing much better. I stayed for about 40 minutes of their set, but in the end decided that I just wasn’t enjoying it so might as well go home. As I was putting my coat and scarf on, one of the guys standing next to me asked me why I was going, so I just said although I’d really enjoyed Moishe’s Bagel this just wasn’t doing anything for me. He then said something to me in (I assume) Hebrew, which of course I didn’t understand, so I apologised and he said “Ah, just checking … you’re goyim, yes?” And although I know he didn’t mean anything other than a statement of fact, it did just emphasise even more that this was just not my culture and that I was totally an outsider in this context. It was very strange, and a bit sad and disappointing. It did get me thinking about how at home I feel in Christian/church culture and how bewildering and strange and exclusive it must feel to people who aren’t familiar with it.

So, a subdued end to Celtic Connections this year. But do go and check out Moishe’s Bagel. They were great.

Free concert and an alarming lack of work being done

Good thing about today: I went to a free concert in the uni concert hall (the music dept put on a free weekly concert, often with visiting musicians, which are of a very high standard). Today’s included a 16 year old clarinettist who was excellent – a very charismatic performer called Scott Lygate, I suspect he’ll go far. Though mid-way through the concert, remembering my own early days as a musician, music degree etc etc, I did have a bit of a “what am I doing here?” moment. Not that I want to be a musician – I know I couldn’t hack that! – but just that it’s funny that I’ve ended up here, doing what I’m doing, instead.

Not so good thing: I’m knackered, have no energy, and am struggling to do the bare minimum of work. All I want to do is sleep. But I also can’t stop feeling guilty about all the work that’s not getting done. And I’m starting to feel sick already at the thought of supervision next week. Bleurgh.

Still, I’m away at HD’s for the weekend, I’m looking forward to that a lot (understatement). I’m going to have to buy myself a private parking space at the airport though, God knows I’m spending enough time there.

I didn’t mean to ….

So I found myself in town earlier and thought I’d pop into the local music emporium to see if they had King Creosote CDs, as I wanted to buy one for my friend for his birthday having seen them at Greenbelt and thought he would like them. They did indeed have said CDs, and I therefore successfully purchased exactly the item I had always intended to. Marvellous.

However, er, I also managed to buy:

King Creosote CD for me
Primal Scream CD for me
Red Hot Chilli Pipers CD for me
Seth Lakeman CD for me

Whoops.

London culture

Slightly belatedly, here are the links to some of the culture I managed in August (just like old times!).

The Kandinsky exhibition at Tate Modern was great, although there was so much there that I wanted to take in that by the time I got to the last room I was a bit Kandinsky-d out. I also preferred the earlier stuff (his early landscapes, hinting at abstraction but still recognisable), so probably zipped round the last couple of rooms faster than I would have done otherwise. I did enjoy though seeing the early stuff so that it was possible to recognise shapes in his more abstract works which previously I would have just thought were shapes but now could recognise as the Angel sounding the trumpet for the Last Judgment (or whatever). By the end I started seeing things in all the shapes though (at one point I was sure I’d seen a Dalek), which I think spoilt it a bit – sometimes you just have to stop over-analysing and looking for meaning and just appreciate it as a picture.

I also forgot to mention that I went to a Prom concert, for the first time in 20 years (I never did manage to go all the years I lived in London, though I was always full of good intentions). It was Prom 53, the London Philharmonic conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, plus the London Philharmonic Choir and the Philharmonia Chorus. The opening piece was the UK premiere of “A Relic of Memory” by Mark-Anthony Turnage, a composer I’d never heard of before so I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised – it wasn’t plinky plonky at all (that’s a proper term – I have a music degree you know) – and I thought the choir were excellent. It took fragments of texts from Shakespeare and the Requiem Mass, and in parts was really rather beautiful. They then did the Prokofiev 2nd Piano Concerto, the soloist (Nikolai Lugansky) was amazing. Then after the interval was Rachmaninov’s choral symphony “The Bells” which I thought was lovely (again a work I wasn’t very familiar with). We (my friend S and I) sat right up in the gods, so we had a wonderful view of the orchestra, choir and soloists, as well as getting a great sense of the Albert Hall as a whole. I’m sure promenading is great fun and all, but we were able to take a picnic up there and loll while we listened, and it was just great. Why on earth did I leave it 20 years?!

Greenbelt – more details

My biggest musical highlight this year was Courtney Pine. That man is awesome! We also managed to almost be in the front row in Centaur, and almost in the middle, which meant that for large parts of his show it felt like he was playing just for us. See what I mean? :-

Courtney Pine 2Courtney Pine 3

At one point, as well as the soprano and tenor saxes, he played a silver electronic-y sort of thing shaped like a sax and using sax fingering which (so I’m told) hooked up to a synth, which meant that it had the most amazing range (the clarinet has a range of nearly 4 octaves which for a woodwind instrument is pretty impressive, but this thing had high and low notes far in excess of that). It also had a beautiful clear sound, and he played a modern reworking of a Thelonius Monk tune (I think it was called “Around Midnight” or something like that) which was so beautiful I just wanted to cry.

The other highlight had to be the utterly bonkers Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. I probably shouldn’t confess this, but I took a couple of little surreptitious videos of them on my camera – mostly I just have snatches of songs, but got almost all (apart from the beginning) of their wonderful encore, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Sadly I wasn’t able to get the utterly surreal “Theme from Shaft”, which was just superb and probably the highlight of their set for me, although a ukeleled “Yes Sir I can Boogie”, “Life on Mars” and “Slave to the Rhythm” (Grace Jones! On the ukelele!) were also something else (to put it mildly). Here’s a not very good picture of them:

main stage

I also saw – and enjoyed – King Creosote, a Scottish band who are plugged quite a lot up here but who I’d never got round to hearing before. That’s also sorted out a birthday present dilemma – a friend of mine (who never reads this) (I hope) would really like them so I shall sort out getting a CD of theirs for him.

I also renewed the classical highlight from a couple of years ago, when I’d sat and watched the Festival Orchestra and Scratch Choir do Faure’s Requiem with iGeek from the Ship. We’d both enjoyed that very much, so this year, along with a few others, listened to them do the Mozart Requiem which is one of my favourites (it also reminds me of Amadeus, which is one of my favourite films).

As predicted, I managed to miss Cara Dillon because I was in the shower queue. I had thought I’d have time to do both, but having been in the queue nearly an hour already when her set started, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave it. That queue was unbelievably slow – I was half expecting to be a cobweb-covered skeleton by the time I was actually able to get my tickets. It did seem to bring out something of the Blitz spirit in people queueing though, and it was nice to be unexpectedly be behind some Scottish shipmates I’d not seen for a while. And hooray for the YMCA workers who dished out umbrellas.

Talks-wise I (yet again) hardly got to anything. I did see Dave Tomlinson, who is always good, though as I’d not slept very well the night before (woke up at 5am! For no good reason!) by the time he was mid-way through his talk (on Psalm 23) I was nodding off, even though he was very good. I just couldn’t help myself.

Worship-wise, it sounds like having a shower during communion wasn’t such a great idea this year. I’d heard so many moans about last year’s communion service that I’d felt really smug that I’d booked a shower at that time, but this year as I came out of the shower and made my way back to our camping area I passed by the main stage and must admit it sounded so good I did regret not going. I mentioned previously that the only worship I’d managed to get to was Rev Gerald, which was (obviously) a time full of anointment and ministration, but I did feel the need to try to get to something vaguely seriously worshippy, and was going to go to a contemplative worship thingy just after I blogged. I did go …. unfortunately it turns out that it wasn’t happening, and was a misprint which wasn’t supposed to have been included on the programme, so I ended up in the Organic Beer Tent instead. I really will do more worshippy stuff next year. Honestly. (I’m such a great Christian)

Like last year I also did a couple of shifts on the Angels desk – the Angels are the people who support Greenbelt with regular financial giving, and I enjoyed my time talking to festival-goers and hopefully signing a few people up. It wasn’t as manic as last year – I remember being hoarse after every shift last year, but it seemed much quieter this year, although apparently they signed up as many new Angels this year as last, so that’s good.

And last but not least, the wibmeet – wine (lots thereof), crisps (lots thereof), wonderful people (lots thereof). Roll on next year – as I mentioned to Dave and Maddie I’m really hopeful that I will make it to GB07 despite officially being in Moldova then but just flying over for the festival before flying back for my last month of fieldwork. So flapjacks probably won’t happen next year either, as the tupperware is more than a bit on the big side for my luggage, but I’d be really disappointed to miss it.

So overall verdict: much enjoyed, fantastic, will do it again 🙂

Choices

Last week at the concert I blogged about, I was thinking about some of the choices we make. Specifically if you turn out to be good at something, like music or sport. As I watched the harp being played, and thought about what a ridiculous-looking thing it was, I mused on what might have prompted her to choose the harp as her instrument as opposed to the violin, or whatever, when it’s such an awkward beast to manhandle, especially for a young beginner. I suppose the fact that hardly anybody else plays it is a big plus, whereas everyone plays the violin or clarinet (my choice) – although I love playing the clarinet, the fact that the world and his dog play it means that I’ve been rather limited in opportunities to play in orchestras now that I’m no longer school-age, and so sometimes I did wish that I’d taken up something a bit more obscure, if only the option had been available.

Not that I’m complaining – I adore the clarinet, and when I play my own, even though technically I’m not as good as I was due to lack of practice, I can still make it sing much more beautifully than if I were to use my voice, if that makes any sense. And when somebody else plays my clarinet it’s not as nice – I guess we’ve kind of got used to each other. When I got home I looked at the sleeve of the CD I bought of Julian Bliss, the (16 year old) clarinettist I’d seen at the concert. It talked about how he’d been given a recorder at 4, and he’d given it back as “it made the wrong sound”. He describes how he felt when he heard the clarinet, loving its different sounds, and how he now sees it as an extension of himself.

So yesterday I was watching a bit of the Winter Olympics whilst doing my Russian homework, and a similar train of thought struck me. I can kind of see why someone would get into skiing or skating or half-pipe or whathaveyou – there’s a certain glamour to it (that’s not to decry the hard work involved), and depending on where you live there are plenty of opportunities to practice. But please – like the harp or the sousaphone – what bizarre processes are gone through and what random series of choices are made to reach the point where someone decides that *their* sport is the luge?

February culture (part 1)

I went to the most fantastic concert last night. One thing I was aware of when I was doing my London culture vulture stuff was that I never managed to get to much in the way of live performances – it was mainly museums and exhibitions. However, I rectified that this time with a great concert by the Scottish Ensemble, a string ensemble made up of players who are all soloists in their own right. Each year they do a season playing with “rising stars”, and this month they were performing with the 16 year old clarinettist Julian Bliss. I know that people bandy about the term “child prodigy”, but this guy was incredible – he performed at the Proms in 2002 (when he was 12 or 13) and has already built up quite an international performing career, despite not doing his A’levels till next year! The Ensemble performed the Mendelssohn Octet and Copland’s “Hoe Down” from “Rodeo”, and then they were joined by harpist Sally Pryce for Debussy’s “Danses Sacree et Profane” (it struck me watching this, as it often does at this sort of thing, what a ridiculous-looking instrument the harp is. She played it beautifully, and it was amazing to watch her fingers gliding and picking their way over the strings, how she ever figures out which one is which I really don’t know). They did two pieces with Julian Bliss – Finzi’s “Five Bagatelles” and the Copland Clarinet Concerto. I must say, although I’d booked the ticket as I’d particularly wanted to hear the Copland (one of my favourite works), the highlight of the concert for me was the Finzi. Beautiful, lush, yet so simple, it’s not technically all that difficult in the scheme of things for the clarinet (I was playing it at his age), but the sound he made was incredible – perfect control throughout the whole range of the instrument, he made the music soar for me, and the Ensemble’s accompaniment really was the icing on the cake.

I was surprised by how emotional I felt during the Finzi, and I left feeling really reflective. Up till then I had been thinking about how the concert would be perfect if the man in front of me hadn’t had a head (I had to keep peering round him, and couldn’t see the whole group at the same time!), but during the Finzi I just closed my eyes and felt myself transported back in time – partly to that lush, green, idyllic England of the inter-War period that probably never really existed anyway (as exemplified by Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Delius and co), and partly to when I was his age, when music was all I wanted to do, when anything seemed possible. I must confess to a little twinge of, well, not quite sadness or regret, but a little twinge of *something* – a sense of something lost forever, as I’ve got bogged down in responsibilities and life has started to take its toll. There’s so much I’m really glad about, with the benefit of hindsight, and I’m not regretting the way life has turned out, but it did get me musing somewhat. It’s amazing the power of music to do that, to transport you back to a particular time, particular moment even, in a way that more tangible things like photos can’t always, and a lot of earlier 20th century British music, particularly if it’s stuff I’ve played myself, gets under my skin to some really quite hidden places.

Free music

One good thing about being at university, particularly one with a half decent music department, is that lots of free concerts get put on. I went to one this lunchtime, an Australian clarinettist called Ros Dunlop (who teaches clarinet at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and who, I thought, looked just like the wibsite’s very own Miffy) who did a number of very modern compositions, none of which I knew before. I really enjoyed it, particularly the first few pieces, though much like modern art and modern winetasting some of the programme notes really wouldn’t have been out of place in Pseud’s Corner.

She reminded me though why I was never going to be a professional clarinettist. She was SO good. I was utterly in awe of the flutter tongueing, slap tongueing and multiphonics, I was never able to do any of that. And, even more impressive, her control of the notes in the really high register was awesome. Most people (me included these days) would only have that level of control at quite a high volume. She played perfectly up there, not losing the depth or quality of tone, even at pianissimo. Incredible.

My last night in England

Not for ever, obviously, but for a while – tomorrow, after months and months and months of planning this move I finally cross the border into Scotland. I’m really excited – I’m ready for a bit of a new life – though I must admit I’m not thinking too much about leaving down here because I get a bit emotional sometimes. I did shed a tear as I drove out of Brockley for the last time, along Brockley Road and Wickham Road, as they’re all so familiar and I’m moving to the basically totally unfamiliar and so I’m feeling a bit unsure about this “unknown” business. I decided to go the long way round on the way to the Blackwall Tunnel and drive past the surgery where I worked until recently to have one last look at the place – and the next thing I knew I realised I was at the bottom of the hill, I’d driven past it without even noticing, and I had no memory at all of just driving that particular stretch of the A20, I could have run over a couple of old ladies for all I knew. Oh well.

Had a nice couple of days at my parents’, including last night going to the monthly folk club that my dad goes to. He used to play in a folk band in the 60s, so is quite handy at this sort of thing, and his friend let me play one of his recorders (just quietly, playing along with everyone else, I wasn’t brave enough to do anything more!) which brought back all of my dreams of buying a set of whistles and joining a folk band. One day. Maybe. After I’ve got my PhD and saved the world.

What was also lovely was my aunt gave my dad a really old family photo to scan and produce copies for whoever in the family wants one. It includes my grandmother, who can’t have been older than 5 at the time (so this would have been just before World War One), plus 7 siblings (3 more were born later) and her parents. I don’t know all that much about my family, so it was great to hear my aunt and dad talking about the aunts and uncles in the photo (and the family skeleton in the cupboard too – previously I thought I came from the only family in the world without a skeleton in the cupboard, but apparently not).

And now here I am in the North-East (staying with friends from SoF), where they’ve put me in a bedroom which also houses their computer. So I’m getting my “fix” for the time being, and hopefully blogging will be a bit more regular soon.

I’ve had the theme song to “Take the High Road” in my head all day. You’d think with all the great music that’s come from Scotland over the years I could do better than that.