A Monday Villanelle

A modest degree of research will reveal that I am not writing this on a Monday, though thanks to the gloriously asynchronous nature of GofaDM you may be reading it on one.  Assuming that readers are equally likely to visit the blog on any day – which is by no means certain, or even likely – then there is a one in seven chance that you will encounter this on a day for which the Boomtown Rats held scant affection.  Further, I make no claims that consuming what follows on a Monday will, in any way whatsoever, improve the experience.

A while ago, in a moment of hubris, I promised a friend that I would write a villanelle.  At the time, I had only the haziest recollection of the nature of a villanelle, remembering only that it was a highly structured form of verse.  Inspired by a recent evening with Johnny Fluffypunk and a pair of ridiculously talented young poets (each a scant third of my own age), I decided it was time to deliver on my rash promise – though, when you read what follows you may feel it had more in common with a threat.

By way of introduction, I shall mention that I had a particularly enjoyable evening of music, good company and beer this past Monday and determined that I would prepare a post about it.  However, I am aware that (a) I can go on a bit and (b) reading about me having fun at gigs may become a little wearing.  To partially tackle these issues, I decided that my evening would make the perfect subject matter for my first (and – depending on the critical response – last) villanelle.  This will limit my natural loquacity to a mere 19 lines in a form where two of the lines are repeated four time – so a mere 13 lines of original content!  Or ‘one line short of a sonnet’ as I have yet to be described, but it can only be a matter of time…

I have chosen to use tetrameter, which I fondly hope is charmingly antiquated.  I can only apologise for the spacing of my tercets and quatrain: WordPress (or my skills therewith) seems ill-suited to the poet’s art (and to mine).

 

Reject the ever glowing screen,

Embrace Apollo’s métier,

Support your local music scene!

 

In ambered space do friends convene

With strings and reeds in vast array.

Resist the ever glowing screen!

 

Three hurdy gurdies intervene!

Girt by tunes: quelle belle soirée!

Support your local music scene!

 

Watch Lost or Stolen strut half-seen

In thrall to rhythm’s wild affray.

Resist the every glowing screen!

 

Songs full charged with power’s mien

Move hearts as bodies start to sway

Support your local music scene!

 

Such hallowed space: not evergreen?

Ne’er should dawn so dire a day!

Resist the ever glowing screen!

Support your local music scene!

 

Some visual support for the poetic imagery…

The return of the Ethenyl Group

I was taught chemistry in the late 70s and early 80s and so defer to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) when it comes to chemical nomenclature.  If you are going to chlorinate ethene (please don’t, it makes for a very unpleasant compound which is highly inimical to life) and then polymerise the results you will produce polychloroethene.  Sadly, I would seem to be in the minority and people insist on calling it PVC, or vinyl for short, for which we must blame a wine-obsessed German who first coined the term in a footnote, of all places.  I dream that one day I too will coin a neologism in a footnote that will still be in regular use 167 years later!

Vinyl, in the form of a rigid circular disk bearing music carved into a spiral groove, is making a major comeback.  It no longer seems to be limited to those who regard the Victorian butcher or lumberjack as their paragon of style, but has broken into the zeitgeist.  I continue to resist its lure on two main grounds: (i) I can remember vinyl records the first time round and just how annoying and impractical they were and (ii) they require hugely more physical storage space than either CD or MP3 and, despite physicists suggesting that it is being created at an accelerating rate, I am rather short of space.  In researching this post, I can now point to the very unpleasant nature of its constituent monomers as a third reason to avoid it.

Despite this resistance, I do find myself in vinyl record shops on a rather regular basis having visited examples in Romsey (Hundred Records), Winchester (Elephant Independent Record Shop) and (last night) Southampton (Vinilo Records). Each of these visits has been prompted not by the presence of vinyl but because the shops were playing host to live acoustic music sets.  These have always been absolutely glorious sessions despite the spaces always being small and rather cramped.

Though I have only a very limited interest in vinyl, I find that I am rather fond of vinyl record shops (or at least the local examplars).  This fondness must derive from an element of nostalgia, though I was never an habitué of record shops in my youth.  I think a larger element can be explained by the appeal of the visual aesthetic of these stores.  In these days when it so easy to buy stuff on-line (well, right up until the delivery) there is probably a need for shops to provide something that the internet cannot.  Book and record shops both provide the opportunity to stumble on something as a result of an unexpected juxtaposition, which on-line stores seem incapable of replicating.  Perhaps they also offer a secular meeting space where slow browsing and a form of contemplation is encouraged.  For me, there is also something very comforting about a bookshop: probably something about being surrounded by words, many of them in a form which I have yet to read.  There is probably some of that feeling in a record shop, but I think there is also something about the artwork of vinyl LPs.  The LP has a scale – and so a certain majesty – that a CD lacks and when a few are displayed on the wall they give a record shop something of the feel of a rather intimate art gallery.  They also tend to offer more interesting background music – even when not hosting a session – than many stores.  As a result, I tend to feel guilty that I cannot support these shops – though if they do offer CDs, I can (and try to) make a direct financial contribution via that route.

Last night was my first trip to Vinilo Records, central Southampton’s take on the vinyl record shop.  I went to see a mixed bill of music and poetry, but may well return for the vegan hot chocolate – made with almond milk and tasting rather different to dairy hot chocolate, but still delicious – and excellent ginger cake which the store offers.  They also offer coffee and tea and a modest range of other sweet treats.  It was while drinking their green tea that a thought about that particular beverage finally crystallised in my mind.  On its own, green tea always has a slight hint of sardine about it: there, I’ve said it.  Normally, I drink it as ‘green tea with lemon’ which removes the fishy element, but as a pure green tea that piscine under-note is always there.  Is it just me that feels this way, or can others detect a hint of the ocean in green tea?  Should I be seeking medical help?

Anyway, I seem to have digressed, how unlike me!  Vinilo is sited in an unprepossessing building in the city centre and you can easily walk past and miss it (as I have).  The interior decor is simple and slightly distressed, but does contain a very fine cactus (see below).  For the gig, most of the windows were shuttered which created a wonderfully intimate setting.  The evening alternated between poetry and music, with decent gaps in between for conversation and refreshments.  It was a near perfectly constructed evening and we were done by 9pm – so no need for a late night!  Sometimes in US TV or film dramas set in New York, characters will go to Brooklyn for some sort of amazing cultural event and I would once have wished that such delights were available closer to home.  With events like last night’s, I need wish no more: Southampton offers an extraordinary range of cultural events of a range that (in some areas) would probably put a city, allegedly so good that it was twice-named, to shame.

Last night started with the very affecting poetry of Chloë Beihaut, followed by the chilled musical vibe of Kitty O’Neal and her band in fully acoustic mode.

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What a glorious cactus!  Tempted to have one chez nous… (Don’t think the band would fit in my tiny flat though, sadly)

Then followed the amazing vocal delivery of Joshua Jones with powerful poetry from a Llanelli youth and life on the oft-ignored, more difficult side of 21st century Britain.   Finally, Joe Booley finished the evening with his elegiac songs and guitar harmonies (which later in the evening soothed me to sleep via the miracle of Spotify).

I particularly love the photo of Joshua on the left: nothing to do with my skill with a camera (if you take enough photos, a few are bound to turn out OK), but because it captures something of the magic of the evening and the space.  I feel Southampton should be using such images to promote itself as the truly great place to live that it can be.  It is not just home to a million traffic lights, a similar number of alarmingly brazen rats, some dreadful road surfaces and West Quay: there is an amazingly vibrant arts scene which I am still discovering.

Conversation with friends, three interesting new voices, great words and music and delicious cake in a lovely, welcoming space: what more could a chap ask from an evening!   It might even re-start my career as a tennis ace (in a game where aces are low, obviously).  A very fine investment of £3.

Musical cheer for the time of year

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!

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Despite this fine example, I didn’t even wear the offered paper crown…  Three ghosts clearly await my Sunday night slumbers!

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.

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Satin, Bridge of Sighs and Kitty O’Neal (+the baby Jesus): all in action!

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.

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As London appoints a female bishop, Lewes still leads the way with its ursine vicar!

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.)

 

 

Not a complete ranker

We are well into the season (and have been since mid-November) when various commentators favour us with their top X events of 2017 (for suitable X in the set of Natural Numbers).  X can be as low as 10, but I’ve seen a lot of 50s and I’m sure larger numbers are available (just one of the advantages of having a Maths degree!).  The events in question could be sporting (goals or innings etc) or cultural (films, books or TV shows etc) or I’m sure are available in many other spheres of fleeting human endeavour.  It is not just important to pick your top X but it also seems critical to rank the events in order.

In my modest sampling, this urge for ranking seems to be strongly linked to possession of a Y-chromosome by the commentator – and this certainly seems to fit the general male stereotype.  I must admit to having a Y-chromosome but do not really have the urge to place my experiences (or much of anything else) into a ranked sequebce.  Depending on your point of view, this may make me a very poor or very good example of modern masculinity – but I rationalise it by reference to my degree.  In my first year, as part of the module on Continuity and Differentiability, I was required to prove that no order relation exists on the complex numbers.  Despite their name, complex numbers are not that complex (though you do have to imagine a square root exists to -1, which is only slightly absurd) – they can be represented by a pair of numbers: one representing the real part and one the imaginary part.  If there is no order relation on something so simple, how can one hope to rank events in sport or the arts which one would struggle to characterise, even using many more than two numbers?

Despite the above, it has been suggested that I provide a list of my top 10 gigs of 2017 and, in common with so many media outlets, I cannot afford to ignore content suggestions from my public.  However, I will draw the line at ranking in such a pubic forum – I might consider it behind a paywall – and, as you will see, will be heavily caveating my selection.  It will offer more of a flavour of some of my favourite gigs of the year, skewed towards those that I can remember (so may favour more recent outings), and trying to capture some broad trends of my 2017 in music.  For the eagle-eyed, number-fans I will admit now that my list will contain twelves entries – very much an Imperial take on a top 10 (i.e. I’m working in base 12).

I have no idea how many gigs I’ve been to this year, but it must be into the low hundreds.  Not all of these will be have related to music – I have to find time for theatre, circus, dance, science and spoken word – but music is very much in the majority.  If I have missed your gig – or it has yet to happen – don’t think that I didn’t (or won’t) enjoy myself, its absence may be explicable by the insidious impact of age and alcohol on the fleshy-tablets of my memory.  Or I may just be harbouring a grudge!

Rafael Aguirre: a classical guitarist I’ve seen twice this year, first alone at Turner Sims and once with a cellist at King’s Place in London.  If I had to pick a stand-out tune played by Rafael, it would be Gran Jota by Francisco Tarrega.  His dad also makes a very beautiful guitar!

Manu Delago: a hang player and percussionist with a curious penchant for recording music videos up an Alp.  I saw him at Turner Sims – having no idea what a hang was – and am planning to seem him again in the New Year.

Extrapolations: this was chosen as just one example of the free Professional Lunchtime Concert Series at Turner Sims.  I’ve seen some truly amazing – and often seriously weird music – at these gigs, mostly recently Three Voices by Morton Feldman.  Extrapolations was amazing contemporary music using a harpsichord – and I do love a good juxtaposition!

Lau: the folk trio and subject of a recent blog post!

Maple Leaf Lounge Sessions: there have been a couple of dozen of these in 2017 and they’ve all been fun and some have been amazing.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the line-up of a particular favourite as they sort-of blur together in the recollection (and while I could review my blogs for clues, I feel it is enough to write them and live with the author 24/7 without having to read the wretched things).  The sessions wonderful resource for musical discovery, ales, cake and meeting/making friends.  Snaps to Cat, Hayley and Satin for organising them!

Music in 12 Parts: My marathon with the work of Philip Glass at the Barbican.  My first time being total immersed in a soundscape and an experience alluded to in an earlier post.

Out-take Ensemble: hard to choose one of their three amazing gigs, but I shall go with the latest, as mentioned in a recent post.  One of the great, unexpected pleasures of living in Southampton.

Papillon: a violin/guitar duo which – as with so many gigs – I went to on spec, with no real idea what to expect.  They claim to create cinematic soundscapes based on Eastern melodies – which sounds about right to me.  I had an absolute ball, but this entry in the top 10 also stands in for so much new music and so many new artists I have discovered through the welcoming doors of the Art House.

Perpetual Motion Machine: Sunday night is Southampton Modern Jazz Club night at the Talking Heads and this has introduced me to so much great jazz over the course of 2017.  PMM were my absolute highlight with their rock-infused take on jazz.  The lads were loads of fun to talk to after the gig as well.

Playlist (@ Cobbett Hub): in a very strong year of Playlist gigs this was my favourite.  Tabla music, contemporary classical with the Workers Union Ensemble and the stunning folk of the Drystones.  I love three genres in one gig: even better when surrounded by books in a library (though surrounded by beer in a craft ale pub comes a close second).

Romsey Beggars Fair: not perhaps a single gig, and I didn’t stay for the evening – packed pubs full of the inebriated do not represent my preferred music venues – but a really great day of music (and stilt-walking Italian theatre).  Most of my day was spent at what I think was officially called the Abbey Stage, but which all right-thinking people refer to as the ‘Chris Lucas Stage’ (though I did defect to Hundred Records for a little while) .  So much great music with excellent sound (especially given the stage was a flat-bed truck), Bad Cat were probably my highlight from a very strong field.

Three Monkeys (Jack Dale/Charlie Hole/Real Raj): the Three Monkeys sessions at the Art House are always fun, but this session was a particular scream as documented here.  Are you practicing safe capo?

So, there we have it: a very partial and subjective take on my favourite gigs of the year.  I’m pleased to say that all but one took place in, or very close to Southampton, such is the huge range of music and talent available locally!   I know that as soon as I press Publish, I shall remember a dozen other gigs that should have made the list – but such is life: any blog post can only be a snapshot of the author’s soi-disant thoughts.  There were also dozens and dozens of local gigs alone that I failed to attend, how many potential favourites did I miss out on?  I’d make a resolution to try harder in 2018, but I think I am close to the physical limit for a human being without a major breakthrough in either physics or biology allowing me to be present in two (or more) locations at the same time and somehow successfully integrate the memories.  I’d also have to ensure that all versions of me provided “good audience”, a skill I have been complemented on more than once which I think alludes to my inability to remain stony-faced and physically immobile in the presence of good music.  This probably indicates that a career on the international poker circuit is not a great plan, unless I can ensure that my face acts as a better vizard to my heart when playing cards (I fear it would also fatally interfere with my gig going as well).

 

 

What’s the Deal?

Audiences regularly baffle me.  Sometimes in terms of their composition, but more often in terms of their numbers.  I rather suspect this is because I extrapolate from myself and, despite attempts to correct for my musical (and other cultural) tastes (broad though they may be), I am clearly not coming up with a decent model for the general public.

Most of this post will be about the Southampton scene, but I thought I’d start in the nation’s capital.  On Saturday evening, I went to a folk gig in a London venue I assumed to be somewhat famous to see a pair of musicians I also assumed to be famous: I was anticipating a fairly packed 200 seater.  I think I may have been confusing the concepts of “known to me” and “famous”.  The music venue at The Harrison was a surprisingly small cellar with dangerously low ceilings (well for me, my mother would have had nothing to worry about).  While the cellar became moderately busy by the end of the gig, I think I was in a very small minority having booked ahead and I suspect the only person to have travelled even a fraction of my 70 odd miles.  It was a lovely gig and Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss (footwear sponsored by Adidas) do some amazing work with viola and melodeon (I am listening to Laguna as I write this post).  Even better, the boys finished in time for me to catch the 22:35 train home (albeit with some fast footwork across the Waterloo concourse): an important aspect of any night out in London!

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Moore & Moss: too formally attired?

I have been to some stunning theatre in Southampton, often very highly reviewed by professional critics (rather than random, self-obsessed bloggers like me), but very rarely in a mid-sized theatre even as much as half full.  This fact has proved quite handy for me as I can book very late once I know I will be at home, rather than over the Irish Sea, but can’t be ideal for the funding of the arts.  I also feel that lots of the folk of Southampton and its environs are missing out on some reasonably priced treats: I can generally go to the theatre half-a-dozen times locally for less than the cost of one trip to the west end (and this is very much what I do: there’s nothing wrong with thrift!).

However, the main thrust of this post will be about music and my totally inability to guess how busy a gig will be.  Part of this must be down to my rather sketchy musical knowledge: especially in regard to the popular music of my lifetimes.  There would appear to be large number of touring bands of yesteryear that visit Southampton, perhaps with some changes from the original line-up, of which my memory can deliver no recollection whatsoever.  I have, for instance, noticed that there were a lot more punk bands than I have any memory of and can also observe that the years have not treated the fans of these bands kindly.

I do have a feeling that a significant audience prefers to go (or only goes) to see musicians they fondly remember from a formative period of their youth.  Luckily, I don’t do this – or I’d never go out.  My youth seems to have been formative in non-standard ways, if at all…  Recently, in an unexpected (and now forgotten) context, I heard a JFK quote about not looking to “the safe mediocrity of the past“.  I’d been planning to use this in a savage indictment of the recent politics of both left and right – and perhaps typified by Brexit.  However, I shall instead – and perhaps more in keeping with the character of this blog – apply the principle to being culturally adventurous, with particular application to music.

I do wonder if there may be a certain lack of courage when it come too programming music – though, there may be some financial wisdom to this cowardice as I suspect audience caution robs them of experiences they would love.  Just this Sunday, I went to see the Armida Quartet playing at the Turner Sims.  My reading of the audience – including a few I chatted to over cake at half-time – was that the most enjoyed piece was the least safe choice in the Bach, Mozart and Beethoven: the third string quartet ‘Jagdquartett’ by Jörg Widmann.  It was the presence of this piece (well, that and the free half-time cake) that was my trigger to book the gig, but I suspect I was in a tiny minority (if not alone in this).  I was not disappointed: great music and visually exciting to watch as well – particular snaps to the acting skills of the cellist!

However, sometimes I am positively surprised.  Last Tuesday, I went to my Sofar gig – as part of Sofar Southampton.  These were traditionally held in people’s homes, with the venue announced only 24 hours ahead of time.  This has been an issue in the past, when I have been dependent on public transport or my bike.  They also have tended to require booking ahead of time, which has also been an issue with my rather variable availability midweek.  However, I now have a car and decided to take a punt.  As well as not knowing the venue, the artists performing are not announced at all: you find out who they are when you arrive at the gig.  So, no safety net: you are entirely relying on the skill and judgment of the local Sofar team (I will admit I do seem to know several of them).  I always feel slightly ambivalent about music taking place in unusual places: it is always great fun to see new places (I’m as nosy as the next man – more, if you’ve seen my face), but I feel I should be supporting established venues which have a hard enough time financially without the nation’s reception rooms filching their raison d’être.

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This is not the droid you’re looking for, it’s busy enjoying the music!

No cause for guilt last Tuesday as the ‘front room’ was upstairs at the Art House (a music venue I have often visited).  However, they maintained the usual Sofar vibe by having much of the audience (including me) sitting on cushions on the floor: I’m too old for this, I have come to realise and next time I’ll sit on a chair with the old codgers.  All four acts were great fun: Tom Pointer was originally from Southampton, Djuno are a local band and Ciircus Street had come from exotic Reading.  I enjoyed all of these, in each case sat underneath the neck of some sort of guitar, and would certainly seek them out again.  The headliner (or at least he was on last), Will Varley, claimed to have come all the way from Deal, however, post-gig conversation (as I was buying CDs) revealed he actually lives in Kingsdown (but he did have a range of Southampton gigging experiences, so I think we might still claim him as a son of the city).  I spent chunks of my youth in Walmer (I lived there for four years, as a blonde!  All natural!  Where did it all go wrong?) and regularly walked over Kingsdown with my grandparents and their dog.  Apparently, the area has changed somewhat and is now trendy and possessed of a vibrant music scene (in my day, I think the music scene was limited to the Royal Marines Band).  I now have a hankering to return to the places of my youth, walk the cliffs and prom and take in some live music: might wait for the weather to warm up a little first…  Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress!

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Will Varley with an almost JJ Abrams vibe, viewed from beneath.

Despite the uncertainty about location and musical fare, the gig was fully booked – and I believe this is not unusual.  Clearly there is an audience in the Southampton area with a sense of adventure, but where – I found myself asking (as I didn’t recognise most of them) – are they the other 29(ish) days of the month?  I’ve been to many gigs with three or four acts unknown (to me – and I suspect many others), often at lower cost than a Sofar gig, but been part of a sadly tiny throng: most of whom later turn out to be in (or related to) one of the bands on the bill.  What is Sofar‘s secret and how can we spread it more widely around the local music scene?

Every time I go to update (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide (as I did this morning) I find yet more music and other cultural treats in and around Southampton.  I think I might have to establish a new page to capture details of the potential audience so that we can (together) do suitable justice to our cultural riches!  It’s either that or some experiments of very dubious ethical standing to clone myself – and nobody wants that!

Finding the spirit

There was an exciting festive moment this morning as I drew the first curtains at a little after 10:30.  Would there be snow, as Twitter suggested there might?  No, a far more typical British festive scene greeted my eyes: rain and strong wind attempting to steal the last few leaves that the trees had managed to retain.

Given this opening paragraph, readers might wonder if the author is an avatar of the pre-haunting E Scrooge (I am haunted, as already established, only by sliced white bread).  I like to think not, but that perhaps I do Christmas slightly differently (or perhaps, as so often, I am just deluding myself that I am some counter-cultural maverick).  This post will likely provide some evidence for both the prosecution and the defence – but will serve as a note of my “preparations” to date.

In most respects, any preparation has been purely pyschological in nature – though yesterday I did technically buy a Christmas present.  However, in the interests of full disclosure I must admit this was only because I had no cash and needed to reach the card-minimum spend.  I have also, as I believe is a widely observed tradition, acquired an Advent cold.  I am taking some time to shake this off – I don’t think my sinuses like the combination of viral load and extreme temperature changes – but I have high hopes that one morning I shall open the Advent calendar window of my duvet to find a different treat lurking beneath (so far, just phlegm-filled lungs)!

I have visited not one but two Christmas markets!  Both in November – breaking a general, though weakly enforced rule of not troubling the concept of Christmas until December pits in an apperance.  On both occasions the draw was the prospect of a warming polystyrene beaker of glühwein.  Winchester was perfectly adequate, though I did object to having to queue to enter, but it did give me something to do both before and after seeing Temples of Youth play to a packed (and not easy to find) Elephant Independent Record Shop (and again, while waiting for a train home – you can’t be too careful when trying to avoid contracting a chill).  Belfast though is much better – which I can (and do) visit on my walk from the office back to my hotel.  It is such a joy to buy and then consume patisserie in my very rusty French (I do have order something I can remember the vocab for) and then do the same for glühwein in German.

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A festive City Hall and the Xmas Market, Belfast.

As December began, I started an ill-fated arithmetic series of mince pie consumption.  I did manage one on Dec 1 and two on Dec 2, but then I was struck down with man-flu and my subsequent performance has been much poorer.  Some days, I have failed to consume even a single mince pie – it has been too chilly to take my germs out to hunt and/or gather examples of this festive treat.  I prefer to avoid the industrial, plastic-wrapped, cardboard-boxed variety and go for those made in-house.  Both the Art House and Mettricks in Southampton offer excellent examples – and I hope to try some more venus and examples before the season comes to an end (though today’s weather is reducing the temptation a little).

I have also been to my first Christmas concert of the year, staged at Turner Sims by the students of the music department.  This contained all of the expected treats: an obligatory Oasis cover (nothing says Christmas like the feuding Gallagher brothers), seasonal music and audience participation carols.  I was reminded, once again, that glorious as Hark the Herald Angels Sing is, as a carol (who can fail to enjoy and/or snigger at the line ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’: always feels more like a reference to almighty Zeus rather than his Christian counterpart), it is very hard to reproduce with a bass voice.  Or at least I find it very hard, and this was not aided by my cold which moves my voice even deeper into Barry White territory than usual.  My attempts to access sufficient head voice rather oddly left me with a rather severely aching jaw.  Frankly, given the amount of exercise it gets both talking and chewing, I had not expected my jaw to prove the weak link in my performance…

There was a grade one orchestra – a group of people who can read music but playing instruments they have only just started learning – playing Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas (the most aggressive of all the carols).  I am learning three of the instruments being showcased and now feel much better about my own abilities: particularly, my feeble attempts to generate music using the clarinet.  I reckon I could produce a pretty functional rendition of either tune – albeit with some pauses to lie down and take oxygen – if transposed into a suitable key.  Still, it was great fun watching young people flounder – rather than just seeing, hearing and feeling myself do so!

The gig also included two members of the faculty applying their four hands to the piano to bring us jazz versions of a couple of seasonal classics.  Once you’ve heard, Jingle Bells played as a jazz standard or Away in a Manger as a minor key samba you will never want to go back to the original versions.  To be absolutely clear, I am not joking and if Ben Oliver and Andy Fisher are willing to write and record a Christmas jazz album or EP, I would be willing to stump up some cash to make that happen!

The gig was held in conjunction with Mencap, so I manage to leave the concert not only full of Christmas spirit but also with a bag of home-made deep-filled mince pies.  I regret to inform you, dear reader, that these did not survive the afternoon: my jaw recovered pretty swiftly given a suitable incentive!  Still, what a joy to support charity, local musicians and fill my face with festive treats from a single event.  I think this might be my closest approach to the true spirit of Christmas and one which can be enjoyed by those of almost any religion or none!

Despite the bravado of that last statement, in this coming week I shall have to knuckle-down and face the horrors of Christmas shopping, writing Christmas cards and the like.  Then again, I seem to recall that last year the extraordinary shop workers of Southampton – I remember particular snaps are due to those of John Lewis and Game – actually made the shopping experience a pleasure.  How they retain such good humour given what must be an appallingly trying job at this time of year, I do not know – but I doff my cap to them.  I feel that there ought to be a charity that does something special for shop workers once they have survived the horror of Christmas and the January sales: perhaps to send them all on holiday somewhere nice come February.  Lacking that, we should all make an effort to treat them well, however, stressed we may be feeling…

 

 

No sign of an organ-grinder

(Though there was an appearance by a pianist, plucked from the audience).

Yesterday was the third Friday of the month which, for lovers of the music scene in Southampton, means the Three Monkeys Showcase at the Art House.  Last night’s event took place under the umbrella of SO: To Speak (just as well given the rain!), Southampton’s annual festival of words.  Fear not, word-lovers, there are still plenty more festival events to catch before the festival ends on 28 October!

Regular readers may have wondered about the reduction in quantity (and possibly quality) of updates to this blog, particularly those of a more diary-like nature.  There are a couple of main factors involved: (i) I am going out a lot more often which (a) restricts my time for writing this sort of nonsense and would (b) try the patience of even the most loyal reader if I immortalised them all through GofaDM and (ii) I’ve started using Facebook to memorialise the more quotidian details of my existence.  I may be slightly(!) over-using Facebook but, despite the underlying sensation of abiding evil which seeps from the platform, it is very handy way to share my life and bad jokes in real (or near real) time with people who are more likely to be interested (or willing to feign such interest) and it seems to provide better audience interaction than WordPress.  This more Pepysian instalment of GofaDM (though despite intimations of imminent apocalypse, I have not yet started burying my cheese in the garden) reflects the author being commissioned to produce a few words about last night’s gig (well, I say commissioned – I don’t think the person who asked for a few words had this in mind!).

The Three Monkeys has a deceptively simple premise: there are three performers (sometimes a performer may be comprised of more than one person) who perform one song each in sequence.  They do this three times followed by an interval and then a further round of three songs each.  While simple, the concept is rather brilliant, which coupled with the friendly and inclusive nature of the Art House, creates an (almost) unique vibe for the gigs.  Having all the musicians on “stage” throughout the gig gives them more chance to interact with each other and the audience.  It also means the audience don’t just turn up for their favoured act but get to see the whole gig which must help with music discovery, even for those normally reluctant to sample the new.

The Three Monkeys Showcases are always good and some have been really special, but even given this very high historic bar (limbo was much easier in the past) last night was particularly great.  Our Monkeys last night were Jack Dale, Charlie Hole (and if no-one has already done so, I shall be writing a series of children’s books with him as the principal character – what a name!) and the Real Raj (or Rat as he was introduced thanks to some dodgy typing).

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A Simian Trilogy!

I won’t attempt to assign a musical genre to each monkey – partly because I don’t really approve of pigeon-holing (even for pigeons) but mostly because I don’t really understand genres except at the Phylum level.  In each case, we had a chap with a guitar producing glorious music with mouth and strings – and, in the case of Jack joined for one number by a random audience member (aka his ex-stablemate Patrick Ytting) on the piano.  Perhaps in honour of the SO:To Speak Festival, the verbal interplay and trade in quips between the songs: both intra-monkey and with the audience were a much larger feature of the gig than is traditional – and the gig was all the better for it.  I fear it will be impossible to explain here the importance to the evening’s merriment of such topics as heavy breathing, wedding singing, radio racism, rule breaking and the importance – and competitive nature – of capo position, nor indeed the major role played by the absent Tom Dale!  Suffice it to say, I doubt any members of Genus homo will have had more fun last night than the near capacity crowd at the Art House did.  St Crispian’s day may still be four days away, but I feel more than 7 billion people will be counting their manhoods (or alternative gender appropriate head coverings) cheap this morning.

Music in the city

Strap in people, this is going to be a long one!

I have found Southampton to be a surprisingly musical city, since I made my fateful move here a little more than 4 years ago.  I knew there would be some music as the presence of the Turner Sims concert hall was one of the factors which led me to choose Southampton as my domicile.  I had imagined it as the local equivalent of West Road in Cambridge – but now know that it is a fish of an altogether different feather: with a broader range of music of higher quality, but fewer student orchestras and classical ensembles that its East Anglian counterpart.

I suppose the omens were good.  On my first evening in the city, staying in the most budget of the city’s Ibis hotels, I came across live music sheltering against the side of The Cellar (as it then was) and sat a while and forgot about the stresses of moving.  In that same first week, my neighbours and friends staged some live music in the little courtyard garden behind my flat.

However, initially the city’s musical offerings seemed rather weak compared to Cambridge.  As I now know my focus was far too narrow in terms of both venues and genres.  Before coming to the city, almost all my experience of live music had been classical – with just very rare forays off-piste in a somewhat desultory attempt to broaden my musical palate.  With classical music, I knew what I was doing: you get a named seat and a start time which will be pretty rigidly adhered to.  During the concert itself, you sit down and shut up and applaud only when a piece has come to a complete stop and any batons or bows have clearly moved out of use.  I am led to believe that this somewhat rigid regime puts off many folk – and is considered elitist – whereas, the lapsed mathematician in me appreciates the order provided.  Other genres with their less structured approach to attendance and applause, their patchy provision of chairs and somewhat medieval approach to time-keeping (I presume most favour sundial, candle or clepsydra rather the piezoelectric qualities of quartz) always seemed rather daunting.  I think we can safely say that I have mostly overcome any diffidence I may once have felt about turning up at a venue for some live music and now just brazen it out: the broad principle of finding someone who seems to know what they are doing and generalising from their behaviour seems to work fine.  It also helps to bring a good book and some way to read it in poor light (or a friend) to cope with the rather optimistic approach to timing employed by many music venues.

Southampton seems to has been fortunate to retain, for now at least, a decent number of dedicated mid–scale music venues along with a number of spaces, pubs and cafes, which stage regular smaller scale gigs. My experience has been with live music, but I get the impression that the student population also supports a range of venues offering dead (or recorded) music with DJs and the like – though cannot speak to the range of musical tastes these cater to.

The city itself seems to have a rather ambivalent approach to its musical riches.  I feel that at some level it does appreciate them, but does rather tend to the “all help short of actual assistance approach”.  It does hold intermittent, relatively major events which have music at their core or as a major component – but these always seem slightly divorced from the city’s music scene and I’m not convinced do much to strengthen that scene away from these flagship events.  There doesn’t seem any coherent attempt to sell the city both to its residents or the wider world as a truly great place for live (and/or other) music.

Over the summer, the city organised a major series of cultural events – including a range of gigs – in Guildhall Square under the tagline Summer in the Square.  I enjoyed a significant number of these, but I go to a lot of events anyway and am reasonably good at hunting out the cities cultural riches (however vast the bushel that may be concealing their light).  Most events I was at were rather thinly attended by the general public: a group I will define here as people I don’t recognise (which suggests they probably aren’t regular gig-goers – or are mistresses of disguise).  So, while it provided some musicians with a paid gig and a chance of a very modest new audience, I fear it may have left only a de minimis legacy for music in the city.

Last weekend was Music in the City, where multiple gigs take place in unusual places across the city on Saturday (and to a lesser extent, Sunday).  This is my third year going to MitC and it is a lot of fun and does seem to attract a significant audience.  It can be a joy going to a gig in a space which isn’t normally open to the public, and the city is lucky to have several vaults (from its days as a major wine importer, but I’m trying to cut down) and other historic spaces which make very atmospheric places to enjoy live music.  This year, I felt there was more focus on pubs and cafes as venues: often those which don’t host music for the rest of the year and which really didn’t make very successful venues due to layout or acoustics.  I worry that as much fun as MitC can be, it creates the impression that music in the city is something that only happens once (or perhaps half-a-dozen times) a year as part of some centrally-planned event.  It is also largely separate from the places where music actually occurs nearly 365 days of the year in the city – there may be some practical reasons for this given the dispersal of venues a little way from the central core of the city, but the event already runs free bus services between venues (one of which was at the docks) so this doesn’t feel like an insuperable obstacle.  I’m sure the commercial venues did decent business during MitC, but I suspect the musicians weren’t particularly well-paid (if paid at all) and I think that value of “exposure” is massively over-estimated by those offering it.  To paraphrase an old boss, “exposure and 50p will get you a cup of tea” (this was the 90s, so a chap could realistically expect a 50p cuppa): clearly, in those halcyon days, 50p would also get you a cup of builders without the exposure.

Over recent months it has become clear that many of the city’s music venues are struggling financially, needing to run crowd-funding appeals to carry out basic maintenance and just tide themselves over the quieter summer months, when the students are away.  I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, when I was treasurer for an organisation putting on classical music concerts in Cambridge we thought ourselves lucky if ticket sales covered 50% of our costs: and to reach 50% you had to have bums significantly outnumbering bum-less seats.  For classical music (and a lot of theatre), the shortfall is made up from grants, for example for Arts Council England or the Lottery, by corporate sponsorship or by fund raising.  Most music venues don’t seem to receive grants; ACE, for example, seems to have a somewhat narrow definition of the Arts and declining resources.  I suspect that all but the largest venues struggle to obtain significant corporate sponsorship: companies seem willing to splash more cash on taking clients to the opera or ballet than to see some live music in a more ‘spit-and-sawdust’ venue (this may be because the former are considered more high-brow, but more likely that they have better access to the traditional trappings of corporate hospitality).  Finally, I suspect that the donors answering fund-raising pleas from small-to-medium venues are not as wealthy as those supporting, say the Royal Opera House or Chichester Festival Theatre.  So, many venues rely on bar sales to square the impossible circle.  I know it’s tough and none of us want to do it, but I think we all have a civic duty to drink – and drink reasonably heavily – whenever we go to see live music.  I am selflessly sacrificing my liver that live music may live on!  (I suppose I could consume soft drinks, but whilst I am a monster I’m not an animal!)

I love the theatre and have visited the ballet this week and will be going to the opera next week, but the city and our culture will be hugely impoverished if we lose our live music venues.  They seem very vulnerable at the moment as arts funding and people’s budgets are squeezed and business rates for many are rising.  Many are at risk of being redeveloped (these days, it seems, to be replaced by student flats) or find their activities curtailed by noise complaints from nearby new developments which appeared long after the music started.  I worry that on-demand TV is meaning more people stay at home, slouched like a bag of spuds in front of haunted goldfish bowl or laptop.  So, live music is a pubic health issue!  Going to seem some music and enjoying a bit of moshing – or even more gentle swaying or foot-tapping – would boost activity levels and the health of the nation.

This has been rather longer than planned and a tad preachy – but I always felt I’d make rather a good vicar (and I think belief in God is largely optional in the modern Church of England) – but live music is important and is one of the few things we don’t yet import from China and where the human element is unlikely to be replaced by robots.  To keep (and maintain) a vibrant music scene you first need musicians – but I feel any even modestly-sized city will throw these up.  To develop they need a good range of paid, local gigs and this means we need venues and an audience.  Yes, we the audience, need to recognise the vital role we play in developing new musicians and music, in supporting venues and keeping them open.  You probably don’t have to go quite as far as I have: mostly people won’t have the time (or inclination) to attempt to spend “no evening in” or to try and fit multiple gigs into a night – though by all means feel free to follow in my footsteps, it is a huge amount of fun!  I also suspect relatively few readers will want to support their local music scene by hiring local talent to teach them how to play their previously neglected cache of musical instruments – though again, I can thoroughly recommend it.  Still, I think most of us can go to a gig a bit more often and try something new occasionally!  Drag a friend or relative (or enemy – we all know how critical it is to keep such people close) to join you!  Have a drink! Have several!  If you like the band, buy a record!  Chuck a couple of quid at a venue or band fundraiser!  Let’s keep the UK a great place for live music, and especially Southampton as I love being able to walk home from a gig with a smile on my face and music ringing in my ears (and I really can’t face dealing with estate agents for a while yet!).

Embracing the young

Only with their consent, obviously.  If I’m entirely honest I lack the confidence to initiate a hug and so limit myself to reciprocating when young folk (or even those much older than me) start the process.  While I was alive during the 1970s (yes, all of them), I have no intention of joining many of its stars in jail (or the grave for that matter, but I fear this latter project may ultimately prove beyond me).

Hug

This is the size I need emojis to be, if my fading eyesight is to have any chance of identifying the emotion being expressed.  Otherwise, I am an emoji Vulcan.

Since I arrived in Southampton, nearly four years ago, my life has changed in ways that I never anticipated (despite a career in forecasting).  A surprising amount of this change has been caused by my tendency to talk to people, especially bar staff.  A couple of years back, I was acquiring liquid sustenance at Turner Sims talking to the young chap serving me when he invited me to a free gig his band were playing at the Talking Heads the following night.  In the spirit of adventure, which is such a mark of my life (well, as long as there is no risk of physical danger or getting my hands dirty), I found out where the Talking Heads was located and went to the gig.  How bad could it be?  (Very much my ‘goto’ phrase when offered an opportunity – yes, I know I should be using subroutines).

I am probably now averaging 4-5 gigs per week and spend very few evenings at home (as I have other, non-musical cultural activities to fit in as well).   So, be careful where your spirit of adventure takes you: some adventures can be addictive!  Some of this upswing in activity can be explained by my desire to support the arts in the current financial climate and some from the Talking Heads having moved rather closer to my tiny garret.  However, I suspect the primary drivers are the way I daisy-chain my life and the interaction between my tendency to chat to strangers and to prove oddly memorable to them (then again trauma can lead to particularly vivid memories being laid down).

I’m not entirely sure where my tendency to talk to strangers came from, as I’m fairly sure it was frowned upon when I was a child.  I think some of it may arise from my attempts to simulate empathy (and thus more readily pass as human) but mostly because other people often provide a very cheap form of entertainment if you talk to them (just watching them can also work, but such observation does need to be performed with care and it’s best not to focus for too long on a single target: however funny they may be).

I am even less clear why I should be memorable – though the name must help (but I’ve found it is in no way a necessary condition for others to remember me).  I do tend to sit in the front row in gigs – I claim this is for the legroom and it also obviates the need to wear my glasses (which we can probably put down to vanity) but I suspect a small part of me is always hoping to wangle a part in the show.  However, I’m not sure why this should cause musicians, comedians, actors or bar staff to remember me – they must see far more audience than I see performers and I don’t think I’m that unique looking (so anonymous am I that I frequently fail to recognise myself in reflective surfaces).

Which brings us to the daisy-chaining…  Whenever I see a band or musician I know, I will invariable see a couple of other acts that I don’t on the same bill – and I may well find I enjoy their music.  Added to this, I’ve discovered that most musicians are in more than one band or group in addition to any solo outings.  So my knowledge of the local music scene rose exponentially – well, it did until I ran out of spare evenings!  This may have reached its apogee last Friday when I went to two gigs, but there were at least four others within a few minutes of my home which I also wanted to be at.

I have now reached the point where it is almost impossible to go to any cultural activity in Southampton without meeting people I know: either on stage or in the audience (usually both).  One of the enjoyable oddities of my cultural excursions to London is the strange anonymity they usually offer.

When I see a band or musician I like I tend to follow them on Facebook as this has proved the most efficient way of finding out when and where they are gigging.  However, as I now know a lot of these people to talk to and/or drink with I find myself as Facebook ‘Friends’ with them as well.  While I am still some way off Dunbar’s number, my list of Facebook friends has risen deep into double figures in recent months.  This has enriched my Facebook feed but also had a slightly odd effect on Facebook’s attempts to sell stuff to me.  There are now fewer offers of singles in my area and catheters (hooray!), but more offers of trombone related memorabilia (modified rapture!).  Much as I love the trombone, I fear I lack the room or embouchure to keep one myself.  I also worry about the impact on my poor neighbours were I to take it up.

Whilst I do go to some gigs with musicians around my age, the vast majority involve musicians who are yet to clock up even half of my own orbits around the sun.  A substantial proportion of the musicians I know are current or recent alumni of the University of Southampton’s music department – and what a fecund department it is!  I am now friends (in some form) with more freelance musicians, peripatetic music teachers and bar staff than I had even imagined.  The creative young have to manage matrix ‘careers’ in a way that I never had to – which I find rather impressive, though I fear it may not prove a workable option far into their thirties.  It has been a real privilege to spend time with such talented young people, though it does cast my own rather more modest achievements – suspended as they have been over a much longer timeframe – into rather deep shade.  Still, it is probably good for my soul (subject to its availability) and is almost certainly keeping my inner old codger at bay (or at least more frequently on the back foot).

 

Compressed music

I should make clear that I am not one of those people who bemoans the loss of vinyl, I’m more one of those astonished by its return.  To me, vinyl is like flared trousers, I am old enough to remember how dreadful it was the first time round and have no desire to relive that particular element of the past.  I willingly embraced the CD – though am less keen on the plastic cases they tend to come in.  Luckily, a fair proportion of my more recent CD acquisitions come in a much nicer cardboard alternative: it takes up less space, is much comfier in the hand and is probably better for the plant (or at least the main raw material for cardboard can be replenished more rapidly than it can for its plastic counterpart).  As a dweller in a small flat, I have also welcomed the digital download and its even more modest demands on my available physical storage space.  To the horror of musical purists, I then route my MP3 music via Bluetooth and a DAC to my hifi.  What an impoverished soundscape I must be supplying to my poor benighted ears.  I fear I can’t tell the difference: though I do revel in the absence of hiss and the immunity to scratches.  However, perhaps it is the losses occasioned by all this data compression that continues to drive my love for, and frequent attendance at, live music.

And so, as if by magical, we are delivered to the main topic of today’s thesis.  I have of late (well the last 6 months) attended a number of live performances in spaces that frankly struggled to contain the musical forces at play.  A number of these have taken place in the rather fine crop of craft ale bars that the Southampton area can boast in re-purposed commercial premises.  The Overdraft in Shirley – which as its name suggests is in an old bank – has wisely stuck to the single performer, usually wielding nothing larger than a guitar.  It is a lovely space and has an aesthetic that brings to mind how I imagine a similar venue would appear in the trendiest corner of Brooklyn.

The Butcher’s Hook, just over the Irwell in Bitterne, is somewhat smaller and sited in an old butchers – complete with much of its beautiful original tiling.  It was here that I went to the last Playlist gig.  This boasted Olivia Jaguers on a full-size concert harp, which I sat in very close proximity to.  Ambitious enough you might have thought, but the next act on was the local Gypsy jazz band the Manusa Project (very local, one third of the band lives directly above me and gave me lift home).  They include a full-sized double bass (and player) plus two guitarists – quite the squeeze with the harp and an audience.

I’m not sure what the Olaf’s Tun in Woolston used to be as its interior betrays fewer clues as to its past life.  It is a small space, but bravely invited the 6-piece folk and ceilidh band Monkey See, Monkey Do to perform (with smaller than usual toy monkey).  This was the tightest squeeze yet, with the bassist and one of the violinists having to move each time a member of the audience (or just bar patron) wished to micturate (or more).

I must admit I do love music in a tiny space: it does make the whole experience very personal and direct.  MSMD have also promised to bring some Welsh folk to their next gig as it was the only one of the home nations neglected at the Olaf’s Tun.

Gigs pushing the available space to the limit are not always in small craft ale bars.  As part of the fund-raising for Comic Relief, the Turner Sims concert hall staged an Orchestral Decathlon.  This was made up of ten well-known favourites from the orchestral canon – including five symphonies and two piano concerti – performed by the same orchestra in a single day.  As audience, we arrived a little before 2pm and escaped just before 10pm.  The day was divided into three “concerts” each with a normal 20 minute interval and a 45 minute gap between them.  The wise concert-goer bought a packed tea and other snacks: I am a wise concert-goer (in this respect, and probably very few others!).

Turner Sims seats around 400 people, I’d estimate, but doesn’t normal host anything larger than a chamber orchestra.  For the Decathlon they must have had an orchestra of around ninety which left the stage area pretty full.  For the piano concerti the stage was very full!  For Shostakovich’s second, I was sat in the middle of row B (row A being under the Steinway) and effectively listened to the piece from inside the piano which was quite an experience.  For Rachmaninov’s second, I was still in row B but a little further across – so could readily have helped out playing any high notes.  I could also see, though not entirely focus, on the music.  There were an awful lot of notes, but I did discover that I could have accurately page-turned the piece a good 75% of the time – probably more with my glasses.

My most recent musical experience in a small space was at Hundred Records in Romsey: a very fine and friendly record shop.  I was there for the launch of the latest EP by A Formal Horse, a local band I “discovered” at a recent Maple Leaf Session.  This was once again a tight squeeze, so much so that the drummer could only watch from the side-lines.  It was a real enjoyable experience, boosted I feel from the critical input from the guitarist’s very young daughter who I fear may not entirely approve of daddy’s musical direction.

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Two-thirds of A Formal Horse, in concert!

Others may prefer their music surrounded by mud and twenty thousand of their closest (and not recently washed) friends or professionally produced in a stadium with impressive (and expensive) staging and light show.  Given me the real up-close and personal performance, preferably slightly shambolic and in not quite enough space, every time.  If you can throw in a home-made raffle, forgotten until slightly too late (as was offered by A Formal Horse) then you will have a fan for life!