Clinging on to youth

I find myself in the final week of what is conventionally (without the aid of a face-saving switch of base) considered to be my forties.  My roaring days are almost over but, on the plus side, I believe there is an end to rationing in sight.

I am trying to resist some of what I imagine are the mental changes which overtake people as they age.  Primarily, I am trying to dodge the lurch to the right, the decrying of all things young and new and the retreat into what is known and thus, presumably, comforting.  Resisting the call of the right (or for that matter the left) is made all too easy by its use of third-rate pantomime villains peddling their transparent falsehoods and the bitter bile of hate.  Avoiding descending into mental cliché is more of a challenge, but I am spurred on by the hope that there is more to life than re-runs (and re-makes) of what has gone before.  So it is that, in addition to consuming the blood of innocents, I attempt to fill my life with new (and relatively low risk, as measured in millimorts) experiences.  Of course, this could all be a post-hoc rationalisation (always better indulged in after a glass of Rhenish white) of recent activities or a feeble attempt to link a few disparate ideas together in the hope of forming a post.  Still, I think we can safely discount those more outlandish theories and return to the main thread of today’s symposium.

This headlong pursuit of novelty has found me, not once but twice, attending an event at the London International Mime Festival.  What have I become?  As so often, many a younger me would be appalled.  In 2016-me’s defence, I must say that neither event was what I would have called mime.  No white-face make-up, no Breton shirt and absolutely no walking into the wind whilst trapped in a  box.  Either mime has moved on, or my stereotype was dreadfully wide of the mark.  This blog has already covered Circa – more circus-cum-classical-recital than mine – so I shall merely mention my second ‘mime’ event: Celui qui tombe.  This was unlike anything I’d even imagined, let alone seen, and is almost indescribable.  There were elements of circus, dance, grandmother’s footsteps and some surprisingly competent choral singing all set on, under or dangerously near a large wooden platform which hung, dropped, teetered, spun and swung above the stage.  There is so much more in heaven and earth (and the Barbican theatre) then is dreamt of in my philosophy.  I eagerly await next year’s LIMF and have acquired a Breton-style shirt in preparation.

I have recently discovered that Southampton University stages free lunchtime concerts, an analogue to those I used to attend in Cambridge, on (some) Mondays and Fridays in term-time.  As with so much local culture,  this discovery did not come easy and even now I usually only know one is happening by attending its immediate predecessor.   These concerts have introduced me to the piano music of the rather interesting Brazilian composer Almeida Prado – who I suspect would otherwise never entered my life, to its detriment.  As well as classical fare, there is often a performance by a jazz-influenced student group.  Via this route I experienced the delights of a saxophone quartet: boasting the full range from soprano to baritone.  The former, to my eyes, looks like a blinged-up clarinet whereas the later is a hefty beast and could, in time of thick fog, be used to keep ships off the rocks.  As well as the amusement engendered by the instruments, I also enjoyed the  works of Alfed Desenclos and Joe Cutler.

In fact, in 2016 I have been tipping my toes a little more seriously into jazz-infested waters and have actually paid to see it performed.  There seems to be a lot more to the world of jazz than the traditional form I heard in New Orleans or the totally unlistenable version I occasionally catch on Radio 3 as I race across the room in search of the off switch.  By far my favourite, so far, was this last Saturday night and came from Norway (probably in the hope of a little warmth and sunlight).  The Daniel Herskedal Trio were wonderful – and supported by a 15-person string ensemble drawn from the university – producing music that I am going to describe using the phrase ‘restless serenity’.  It was also the first concert I’ve attended where the tuba took centre-stage as soloist.  It is a much more versatile beast than I had imagined – it can offer so much more than a basso-profundo ‘oom-pah’ – and I’m convinced that young Mr Herskedal was producing polyphony from it (though I have no idea how).  I think he should also be credited as the first person I’ve seen on stage at Turner Sims to wear leather trousers: a look which I feel he pulled off with some aplomb.

This concert also confirmed my escape plan, if ever life in these isles is made untenable by the meddling of our political classes.  Yes, folks, I shall be emigrating to Norway – though I may have to overcome my aversion to wearing jumpers first (a vest can only take a chap so far).  Still, BBC4 has been doing its best to prepare me for life in Scandinavia: so I think I should cope.  In the pre-concert interview, it became clear that their musical culture is rather impressive.  Ayolf, the excellent jazz pianist with the trio, had just finished a couple of weeks going around the primary(!) schools of Oslo introducing them to improvisational music.  Even in the better funded school music of my youth, I only had Mrs Spicer and a recorder or two to launch my musical education.  Today, when the heirs of Thomas Gradgrind have taken over education policy, I fear jazz may be a rarity in the UK’s primary schools: we can’t afford any distractions from the training the little darlings up to serve the business needs of yesteryear.

So folks, enjoy me while you can!  Before long,the temptation to seek more enlightened policies to the Arts (and much more besides) may grow too strrong and I’ll set sail across the German Bight and up towards Fisher and the Utsires.  Payback for the Vikings, at last!

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