Do not worry, I am not in immediate need of rescue – or at least no more so than usual. I shall be discursing on the traditional holiday rather than the cry for help (or the deadly butterfly-toting Bond villain). Wordpress does not like me using the word ‘discursing’, but it is a perfectly valid word, if archaic: so I shall raise a small number of fingers to ‘the man’ and continue.
People make a wide range of choices for their May Day celebrations. The psychotic supreme leader or gerontocracy that traditionally run totalitarian states seem to prefer having a large proportion of their military forces paraded in front of them: usually sporting both silly hats and walks. I know one chap who by 5am was not only up, but about and in town performing (I assume with other like-minded folk) in a bout of Morris dancing. The lone Morris dancer is a very sad and lonely sight: even if there is no-one there to observe him. Do his bells make a sound?
At 5am on May 1, I was still safely nestled neath my duvet: I may be a fool, but I’m an old fool and time in bed sleeping is rarely wasted or later regretted (which is more than can be said for many of a chap’s waking hours). I did eventually stir and after a light luncheon took the train up to London to visit the Barbican Centre. This is my fourth visit in the last 12 months or so, and for the first time managed to walk from Moorgate tube station to the Barbican and back (later) without going the wrong way or becoming hopelessly lost. For my next trip, I think I can safely leave behind the reel of cotton and the 800g sliced loaf and rely on my own navigational ability to brave the heart of the labyrinth and then later emerge unscathed. For any of you who were worrying. no man-bull hybrids were harmed in the making of this post.
I was visiting the Barbican Centre to listen to Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts: a four hour extravaganza of musical minimalism suspended over 5.5 hours once the (3) intervals were included. I have heard a small amount of Mr Glass’ percussion music in the past and some of his film soundtrack work, in particular to the film Koyaanisqatsi, but this was going to be something of a leap into the musical dark. Still, I somewhat knew the chap organising and directing (from the keyboard) the gig (having twice shared a pint or two with him: which I think in many cultures would make us brothers) and follow the viola da gamba player on Twitter (surely, everyone must follow at least one viola da gamba player on Twitter, or how do they sleep at night?) so I figured it would be worth a punt. Also, in purely economic terms, it was one of the cheapest concerts I’ve ever been to in terms of a pence per minute rate.
You will be pleased to know that my punt paid off handsomely: I had a glorious afternoon and evening. It quickly became weirdly engrossing in a way that I imagine meditation or mindfulness is supposed to. I felt oddly cocooned in music and it was slightly shocking once each segment came to an end and I was forced to face the real world again for the upcoming interval. For perhaps obvious reasons, the piece is rarely played (despite being shorter and less stressful than most of Wagner’s output) and this was the first time it hadn’t been played by the Philip Glass Ensemble: so it was also a fairly[sic] unique – or at least once in a generation – experience. I did find myself wondering how the musicians maintain their concentration and remember which ‘repeat’ they are in: I become confused/lost within even a couple of repeated phrases in a piece of music so would have been entirely at sea in the hypnotic soundscape of Philip Glass.
The intervals were also quite stressful as it was in these brief interludes that the audience had to attempt to refuel with the victuals needed to make it through the next three parts (of the twelve). The Barbican did not make this easy of us: the Members’ Lounge was closed all day and the centre has few eateries. I booked at table at one of these for the long interval (1 hour) only to be told when I arrived to eat that they had stopped serving food two hours before. Not a welcome message I can tell you! I had to make do with a merely adequate wrap and brownie combination from a snack bar in the basement. The Barbican really isn’t very accommodating to the tapeworm-infested or merely hungry visitor: it has very limited options and going “off-site” to find and eat food in an interval of only an hour is quite a challenge. It would really require a native guide and access to motorised transport. In this respect it contrasts rather unfavourably with the Southbank Centre which has a huge range of dining options within a short walk and a vastly lower chance of becoming lost on the way.
Still, it did expunge some of the blot from its copybook in the short intervals. The Jude’s brown butter pecan ice cream I had in interval one – continuing with the sense of adventure that characterised the day – was very tasty and the elderflower and ginger martini I had in interval three was divine (if rather too expensive for everyday – or even every year).
Overall, I had a brilliant time and must take my hat off (sadly left behind on the train on my way home, please don’t blame the martini) to James McVinnie for organising such a wonderful gig. I eagerly await his next offering…