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.)

 

 

A Musical Chain

Before we start, it seems worth noting that this far-from-august organ has been in existence for five years.  Who, back in 2010, would have thought it?  What pointless commitment to a rather foolish idea this demonstrates: if only I could generate the same long-term dedication to something more useful.  So, that little bit of admin over, let us proceed with post 675!

I should start by making clear that I have no intention of impinging on the copyright of Messrs Radcliffe and Maconie: rather than linking tracks, I shall be linking gigs through the interstitial medium of my own life.  Southampton has a surprisingly vibrant cultural scene, but does work quite hard to conceal this fact from the casual (or merely mildly determined) viewer.  I am becoming better connected, largely by using social media to stalk any individual, group or organisation that, by lucky chance, I discover – but this is a slow old process.  It would seem that most use social media to share images of themselves, their food or children and to shore-up their political beliefs and share videos of cats: I seem to mis-use it terribly by sharing bad jokes and attempting to find interesting gigs – but I don’t seem to be breaking any rules, so I shall continue with my slightly outré take on the virtual world.

Still, the last ten days have been pretty fruitful when it comes to finding live music.  It started, as so much does, at the Arthouse Cafe with my first visit to a Three Monkeys gig.  This involves three, unrelated guitarists who each play a song.  This is repeated three times, followed by an interval and then another 3×3 set of songs.  This is a very entertaining format and occurs every month – so I’ve only missed 24 or so.  At the end, I discovered that an Oxjam gig was taking place the following day in a vault beneath Southampton High Street – not much notice, but better than the negative notice which often accompanies my discovery of local culture (which is less than helpful given that my best wormhole, to date, has only allowed a worm to move a short distance within space).

The Oxjam gig involved a series of ‘acts’ playing a ~30 minute set across the afternoon and evening.  A broad range of music was covered, though mostly involving stringed instruments and remaining within sight (albeit sometimes aided by binoculars) of the folk genre.  A lot of fun, if a lot of standing up, and a chance to see half-a-dozen acts before I was forced to retire (a wise decision as my walk home just managed to beat the start of the monsoon which has been such a major characteristic of the end of August 2015).  Most significantly, the gig introduced me to a local singer-songwriter called Jack Dale and another two CDs were added to my collection.  I also discovered that another charitable gig involving a line-up of local, musical talent was taking place the following Sunday (or ‘yesterday’ as I now like to call it – but only for another twelve hours or so) at a pub just a short walk from Fish Towers.

I rather enjoyed spending the afternoon in a dank vault as the last of the summer’s sun beat down on those foolish enough to be outside.  No need to worry about UV protection for me!  However, I can’t help feeling that Oxfam would have done a little better financially had the gig been more widely publicised: it was rather sparsely attended and I only found out about it by chance (and would like to view myself as fairly core, potential audience).

Yesterday (see above), the Big Gig at The Shooting Star – a pub with a bar billiards table (among other delights), a rare sight in these debased times – was huge fun (and, I was even able to spend much of it sitting down).  The three bands on the bill, included two fronted by soloists seen the previous week at Oxjam.  The Horse – fronted by the aforementioned Jack Dale – were particularly entertaining and meant that I ended the night with a smile on my face (and once again, a lucky return home just before the heavens opened: I feel I’m going to pay for this continuing good fortune at some stage).    Another two CDs also managed to sneak their way into my flat: this burgeoning habit might start becoming a storage issue if I’m not careful.

The chain of musical events will continue on 3 October, which I now know to be Music in the City: where live music fills all manner of odd spaces across Southampton (and of which I’ve only missed two through complete ignorance of their existence).  I can only hope that this in turn reveals more musical events which have so far been hidden from my insufficiently curious gaze…