I am but a fool

My last post gained some unexpected traction, which made slightly galling a scattering of rather obvious uses of words which, despite some similarities with the desired word, were clearly typos.  I believe these have now been fixed but as the author and proof-reader share a brain (or what remains of one) this cannot be guaranteed.

Given the above, you may chose to believe that the title represents a charming bit of self-deprecation by the author or, perhaps, some long awaited self-awareness on his part.  If you wish to retain either of these beliefs, I strongly recommend that you stop reading now.

With a scant fortnight to go until the most heavily-freighted bank holiday in the local calendar, I find myself forced to face up to its imminence (it has been immanent, at least in the retail sense, since September).  This post could be considered a form of displacement activity particularly coming, as it does, after the completion of a number of domestic chores.  Nevertheless, I insist that it is thematically relevant as it will cover a couple of Christmas themed gigs I have been to over the past extended weekend.

The first concert was a celebration of the Oxford Book of Carols, originally published in 1928 (the Oxford Book of Catherines is yet to see the light of day and anyone hoping to see the Oxford Book of Zadies must be planning to live well into the next millenium).  Our guide was the gloriously enthusiastic, even eccentric, David Owen Norris who really made the book, and unusually its preface and notes, come to life.  Among many lessons, we learned that carols are not just for Christmas but there are examples for many times of the year: especially harvest-time and May.  The audience were encouraged to join in with several of the carols – all of them new to me (while simultaneously being very old) – with surprisingly pleasing musical results.  In fact, the book appeared to contain very few carols with which I have any familiarity (perhaps none) though the older members of the audience seemed to remember more than me.  Nevertheless, it was a wonderfully enjoyable way to spend the early part of my evening, rendered even better by the provision of free mulled wine and mince pies to the singers after the show: tackling unknown carols can be very draining and current medical advice strongly advocates that participants should seek warming sustenance as soon as possible after any such undertaking.  I left the event filled with seasonal spirit and festive cheer, not bad for an outlay of a fiver! I am rather tempted to acquire a copy of the book and to try and bring a few of its gems back into more frequent circulation (at least chez moi): though I am slightly daunted by the authors’ expectation that the user should be able to transpose a complex piano part from C to E in their head while playing! (I shall have to rely on the use of tighter kecks to keep singer and accompaniment in a common key.)

Last night, I ventured by bike and train to darkest Netley (and boy was it dark!) to the recently restored Royal Victoria Hospital Chapel.  Despite it dominating the country park in which it now sits, it was remarkably hard to find by bike from Netley station.  As it transpires, my route was pretty direct despite being based on a combination of dead-reckoning and guesswork having briefly checked a map on leaving the station.  Even more surprisingly, I managed to find my way back to the much less obvious station in the pitch black relying on vague memories of trees and fencing with only one minor mis-pedal.

The chapel was once part of the world’s largest hospital but is now the only element that survives: but what a survival!  It is a very impressive building – with a lovely little cafe – and the new interior decor sounds a huge improvement on the previous brown (which I never saw).  I was there to attend the Christmas-timed (if not themed) Sofar Sounds gig.  I’ve been to a few Sofar Sounds gigs now and rather enjoy them, though recognise that they are not for everyone.  You have to book without knowing either where they will be held or which musicians you will be seeing (though I do sometimes have some insider information, though for legal reasons I never trade on this).  They are often held away from traditional venues and are designed to put the music and its purveyors at the heart of the experience: which is not always the case at music gigs.  Usually, most of the audience have to sit on a cushion on the floor, which I tend to do as part of my more general raging against the dying of the light despite the protestations of various of my joints.  I am always pleasantly surprised by the ability of Sofar to sell tickets for these gigs, given the general reluctance of people to go out and even more to go out and see something new.  I assume the international brand name must count for a lot of this success: visitors to a city (and more than 400 of them take part world-wide) might be more willing to try the relatively known quantity of a Sofar Sounds gig than to experiment with an unknown local venue.  Interestingly, the guy who started the whole thing was there last night and got introduced to me for his pains (an unexpected downside of his otherwise successful project).  I wonder if his examples offers any lessons here for more traditional venues…

Last night’s bill of fare offered four local bands – at least one of which I had, disgracefully, never seen before (I’ve almost seen them several times but that really doesn’t count).  They covered a diverse range of musical styles but happily the audience seemed to be there to enjoy themselves and there was a really great atmosphere.  A ‘good’ audience can really help to make a gig a night to remember, it’s a real boost if they are an active part of the experience rather merely being physically present (in which role they could be replaced by a similar number of cardboard cut-outs or a single matte painting).  I had an absolute ball and even, egged on by Route2Roots (the last band), ‘danced’ to the last of the songs (and not just as an excuse to stretch my legs – though I’ll admit that did act as a spur).  Only one of the bands played a Christmas song and Wild Front‘s rendition of We Three Kings was one of the best, and most haunting, I have heard in many years.  It also marked the third time I’d seen their lead singer perform in the last ten days: though I wish to make clear that I am not stalking the poor chap, it is purely a coincidence.

There will likely be more music with at least a nod to the season over the next couple of weeks and there will definitely be more dancing as I am at a ceilidh on Saturday.  However, for now I really ought to return to putting some festive preparation into my own life or Tuesday week will find me playing the role of a woeful, modern-day Æthelred.  As I wave adieu this wordy procrastination, I shall leave the explanation of my choice of title as an exercise for the reader: it is not just at gigs that the audience should be an active participant!

Feel free to continue the lunacy...

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