Fear not, gentle reader, I am not about to ‘come out’ as a closet poet and this post will not be written entirely in rhyme (although, now I’ve had that thought…). Nor will I be exploring the horrific sonic experience which I fear shop workers (and some others) will have been subject to since a point in the autumn. I feel that if Christmas “hits” were blasted into the unprotected ears of prisoners of war for several hours a day over a period of months, the Geneva Convention would be invoked and Amnesty would step in – but there seems no such protection for those who work in retail. No, instead I shall be focusing on the live music that I have chosen for my ears to experience in the run up to the apotheosis of the annual commercial orgy of Saturnalia (and its successors).
Firstly, this post gives me a chance to mention two great gigs from 2017 missed from the last post (as I knew something would be – and something still will be, I have no doubt) given that they also occurred in the run-up to Christmas (or after August, as the period is also known).
ICP Orchestra: a truly extraordinary night of music from the Dutch ensemble, which probably had jazz as its starting point but ranged widely and joyously across and around genres.
Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita: another amazingly joyous performance that defied categorisation but used piano, kora and a plethora of percussion.
This last week, I have been to a number of gigs with a more overtly seasonal vibe about them. Even where not directly Yule-themed, I think they have captured what (for me) is the real spirit of Christmas which is the coming together from our ever more atomised, siloed lives to enjoy something with others and a proper feeling of community. It is said that Christmas is a time for family, and many a soap opera and sitcom episode has been predicated on this premise and the conflict that can arise, but my feeling is that it is a time to interpret the concept of family in its broadest sense. As Adam Rutherford’s excellent book A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived makes clear, we have to go back surprisingly few generations before we are all related – and not just to Kevin Bacon.
On Thursday afternoon I had my regular piano lesson, with my repertoire being joined by the Snowman (well, the chordal element thereof). My first Christmas song! This was very exciting and as a result I did manage to smack my head into the piano lid a record (and skull) breaking four times!
That evening, only mildly concussed, I went to the Tuba Libres Xmas Bash at the Talking Heads. The Tuba Libres are a funk brass ensemble, who clearly have both jazz and video game influences in their music. I have also never seen them together and not in some form of fancy dress, though one member (no names, no pack drill) does appear to believe that Man United kit counts as viable fancy dress for every theme: I assume he’s hoping that the team will be a man down and he will be called upon to help close the gap with City at short notice. I was hoping for something special for Christmas and the lads did not disappoint!
There were old tunes, new tunes and even festive tunes and, so far as I could see, everyone had a ball (the tenor sax sported a shiny pair!): some people even overcame their reserve and danced! So full of some sort of spirit was I, that on retiring to the other bar I gave an unrehearsed (and best avoided – but it did help clear the bar) performance from Oklahoma! Probably not my first choice of Broadway song, but the overlap between available music, bass parts and music I’d ever heard before was quite limited (and I sang the one piece in the sweet spot of that musical Venn diagram).
On Friday, it was the Christmas Three Monkeys at the Art House. This is always a joyous event, as I have documented before, but there is something extra special about the Christmas show: this year we had five monkeys (though nominally grouped into three meta-monkeys) with one returnee from the 2016 Xmas show. This gig was rendered even more special by me knowing everyone on stage (and much of the audience) which made it feel more like a party than a typical gig. It would certainly have made it on to my list of the top gigs of 2017 had it occurred just a few days earlier (or I had kept my powder dry a little longer). As can happen at such events, a whole series of in-jokes developed during the evening and will forever bond together those who were present (but will only confuse those who were absent and who should be counting their every hood cheap). I can reveal that the sole male monkey was cast as the baby Jesus (to accompany three wise women and the VM) and that I shall expect a mention in the cover notes of the first album from Allure of Velour.
Following the gig, I shall view any reference to a ‘glock’ as relating not to the gun, but to the xylophone’s metal cousin (a surprisingly versatile instrument) which is a much happier image (though it might make for a rather different next Bond movie). I also acted as violin tech (OK, holder) for half of Bridge of Sighs, which was my first chance to get my (only slightly sticky) mitts on a violin (I was not trusted with the bow). Still, it was a good opportunity for a discrete post-gig pluck and a fairly poor pizzicato rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was the result (there have been worse consequences of illicit plucking…). I found the neck and fingerboard of the violin very cramped after the guitar and I think some basic knowledge of how a violin is tuned would probably have helped, but I feel basic nursery rhymes could lie within my grasp – well, if someone is fool enough to offer me regular access to a violin.
Finally, on Saturday I went to the Esterhazy Family Christmas Concert in Lewes. This featured carols and other songs classic and new: though on the whole, the classics worked better. Christmas is a time for shared rituals and I guess it is tough for new songs to break into the canon – but at some time every song was new, so I mustn’t be too set in my festive ways. Listening to In the Bleak Midwinter, I couldn’t helping noting that Christina Rossetti wasn’t much of a farmer (or, indeed, a shepherd) as obtaining a lamb (other than from a supermarket freezer cabinet) at mid-winter would be a challenge: frankly, your typical shepherd would find it easier to source myrrh. I also gained great enjoyment from the sight of ladies of a certain age wondering a church and approaching people with the phrase “pound a strip”. I’m reasonably sure that they were referring to raffle tickets, but we were close to the loucheness that is Brighton and so perhaps your pound would have provided a more eye-opening experience.
And, my musical Christmas is not yet over. Tonight I shall join the Southampton Philharmonic Choir for carols around the (very dangerous!) piano (I may bring protection), whilst I am spending tomorrow night in baroque Italy (in sound, if not physical person – a much trickier proposition altogether) for some festive tunes from traditions past.
At this stage, I’m not sure what will fill the rest of the week – but it will certainly hold my annual viewing of the greatest Christmas film and the greatest Dickens adaptation ever created and also the high point of Michael Caine’s career (higher even than blowing the bloody doors off): I refer, of course, to The Muppet Christmas Carol. There will also definitely be more live music and plenty of mince pies. The last week or so has led me to think that I should have suggested the deep-filled mince pie to Tim Harford as one of the 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy (perhaps there’s still time for the second edition?).
In news about other things that will be filling me (and some of my week), my own take on pannettone has just emerged from the robotic grasp of my breadmaker. It is currently both warm and delicious: one of these will fade but I hope the other will last right down to the last slice (which, if I can stiffen my will power, will not be later on this evening).
There may be another post before Christmas is upon us, but in case the muse stays away, readers should endeavour to enjoy themselves (despite the many challenges that the season offers to the achievement of that objective) and consider participating in some positive, seasonal community ritual. Release the midwinter merriment! (A phrase which will appear in my new line of GofaDM themed Christmas cards in 2018: it will be slightly tweaked for the southern hemisphere.)