Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WOMAD 2010

27 July 2010

I had a great time at the WOMAD Festival at Charlton Park in Wiltshire last weekend. It was near-perfect festival weather – dry all weekend but not too hot. I saw 28 bands in total, ranging from the Cuban son of Sierra Maestra to the West African funk of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou from Benin, to the Pakistani devotional singing of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali. There was a distinctly humorous flavour to this year’s festival which included lounge versions of ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ and ‘Blue Monday’ by the French group Nouvelle Vague, the politest singalong version you will ever hear of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ led by the excellent Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the surreal experience of being part of a massive crowd singing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with octogenarian world music original Rolf Harris! Rolf was on fine form, entering into a conversation with every heckler and signing ‘thank you’ to the sign language interpreter at the side of the stage who was struggling to translate the nonsense words and farmyard noises of one of his songs. I particularly enjoyed hearing the young Iraqui oud player Khyam Allami, accompanied by the amazing Italian master percussionist Andrea Piccioni who could make a tambourine (well actually a tambourella) sound like an entire drum kit. And I would have liked to have heard more of Kormac’s Big Band – the live hip-hop orchestra from Dublin who include a barbershop quartet alongside the eponymous DJ. I loved watching Takht Al Emarat – a group of seven very serious, straight-faced young men from the United Arab Emirates who played some lovely traditional classical music. I don’t think any of the musicians could speak English so the gaps between pieces were just a brief embarrassed silence but as the enthusiasm of the crowd grew, you could start to see a few smiles creeping onto the faces of the players and by the final rapturous reception they were beaming from ear to ear. It was also great to see the Bavarian group LaBrassBanda really working a huge festival crowd with their unique take on fast-pumping techno dance music played on trumpet, trombone and tuba. The incredible Staff Benda Bilili (reviewed here in November 2009) were on excellent form and it was good to see the late great Charlie Gillett remembered by having a stage named in his honour. But I think my two favourite performances were by Lepistö & Lehti and Chumbawamba. Accordionist Markku Lepistö and double bass player Pekka Lehti are former members of the Finnish band Värttinä and have created a lovely album (called ‘Helsinki’) of contemporary tunes drawing on the Finnish folk tradition. They are gently engaging performers and played a wonderful set on the BBC Radio 3 stage in the arboretum on Saturday afternoon. I had never seen Chumbawamba before but was completely bowled over by their appearance on Friday evening. Their ‘Tubthumping’ days are now a historical footnote (and they resolutely resisted many calls to perform their solitary hit) but they are still articulate, witty and strongly political. Incorporating traditional English folk songs, acapella voices, catchy tunes, radical messages and fascinating stories, they were excellent and I strongly recommend their 17th album ‘abcdefg’ – “a concept album about music”.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gilberto Gil

22 July 2010

Following the ‘Point of Culture’ debate at the Purcell Room on Wednesday, I made my way next door to the Royal Festival Hall, together with Alan Davey, Jude Kelly and my Points of Contact colleagues, to see the legendary Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil give a rare UK concert as part of the Southbank Centre’s ‘Festival Brazil’. Gil was a key figure in the Tropicália movement in the 1960s and spent time in London when exiled from Brazil by the military dictatorship. More recently, of course, he was the instigator of the Cultura Viva programme and its ‘Pontos de Cultura’ scheme which I visited Brazil in March to observe. But on Wednesday his performance was a celebration of forró – the high-tempo, rapid-fire dance music of Gil’s home territory of the North East of Brazil. He also included a few examples of something I think he called ‘shott’ – a corruption of ‘Scottish’ – which blends forró with European folk dance music to create a strange Brazilian version of Scottish country dance tunes: bizarre, surreal but still incredibly cool. Forró is infectious, toe-tapping music featuring the distinctive syncopated tinkling of a triangle, with accordion, violin, banjo, guitars and drums. Gil’s version is turbo-charged forró with electric guitars and a rock flavour but it still has that traditional rural party-music feel – a little like rockabilly. There was some jeering from fans upset at not hearing Gil’s greatest hits: imagine going to see a Paul McCartney concert only to discover that he wasn’t going to play any Beatles songs but was going to do 2 hours of skiffle (but actually, wouldn’t that be amazing?!). Gil is a bit Paul McCartney, a bit Bob Marley, a bit Chuck Berry and a bit Nelson Mandela. For all his legendary status as sixties pop icon and exiled political activist, it is hard not to keep returning to Gil’s appointment as Minister of Culture in President Lula’s first government. As Gil jigged his way across the stage, a little grandfatherly but still incredibly cool, I couldn’t decide whether it was more amusing to imagine a British rock star becoming a government minister or to picture a government minister dancing in front of a packed Festival Hall audience.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

20 July 2010

On Sunday I played in the annual Northampton Symphony Orchestra Friends’ Concert – a free bonus concert for subscribing ‘Friends’ of the orchestra. This is always a nice way for us to say thank you to the people who have supported us throughout the year and for us to feature particular sections of the orchestra. I really enjoyed Sunday’s programme which included Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ (for brass and percussion), Elgar's ‘Introduction and Allegro for Strings’ and the ‘Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments’ by Richard Strauss as well as the ‘Karelia Suite’ by Sibelius and Rossini's overture to ‘The Thieving Magpie’. For a short programme it was surprisingly strenuous, particularly in a very hot theatre, but I think all the pieces went well and it was a lovely way to round off our 2009-10 season.

Labels: ,

'Bedroom Farce' by Alan Ayckbourn

20 July 2010

On Saturday evening we were at Milton Keynes Theatre to see Peter Hall’s Rose Theatre, Kingston, production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1976 play ‘Bedroom Farce’. Set in three contrasting bedrooms, all seen next to each other on the stage, this is a cleverly constructed comedy which features four couples so that someone is always out of place. A variety of devices are employed to create reasons why people end up in each other’s bedrooms but ‘Bedroom Farce’ isn’t really a bedroom farce at all in the conventional sense. Like most Ayckbourn plays it deals with ordinary people in a domestic setting and is concerned with relationships at different stages of development. As well as being very funny, ‘Bedroom Farce’ is suffused with typical Ayckbournian poignancy and it’s easy to recognise aspects of yourself and your own relationships in all four couples. Setting all the action in three bedrooms is a model that was developed to great effect by Andy Hamilton in his ‘Bedtime’ TV drama series but Ayckbourn was doing it 30 years earlier.

Labels: ,

Milton Keynes International Festival

20 July 2010

On Friday we were at the opening evening of the first Milton Keynes International Festival. We started with a visit to ‘The Magical Menagerie’ (‘Le Manège Carré Sénart’), the latest fantastic Artichoke production created by François Delarozière and his company La Machine who were responsible for ‘The Sultan’s Elephant’ that transfixed the streets of London in 2006 and the giant spider, ‘La Princesse’ that was a seminal moment in Liverpool 2008. ‘The Magical Menagerie’ is a spectacular variation on the traditional fairground carousel. Life-size models of a bull, a buffalo and other animals rotate while giant insects circle them in the opposite direction and brightly-coloured fish rise up to the roof. Each seat on the carousel is equipped with a lever which you can use to move the head, tail, eyes etc of the relevant creature. The whole machine resembles an exaggerated Victorian automaton. It’s bizarre, beautiful, fascinating and completely captivating.

Next we ventured into the darkened interior of the former Sainsbury’s supermarket to see ‘Asleep at the wheel …’ an ‘immersive sound installation’ by Janek Schaefer. Entering this vast, unlit, low-ceilinged space, and walking towards a queue of parked cars with their hazard lights blinking, felt like entering an eerie, underground car park. You are encouraged to move from car to car, sitting in the back seats and immersing yourself in a confusing soundscape emanating from the car radios. You gradually realise from the snatches of spoken word amongst the music, static and sound effects that this work carries a strong message about environmental sustainability. But, for me, the attraction of ‘Asleep at the wheel …’ was the childlike excitement of exploring this spooky film-set rather than the message.

Finally we made our way to Campbell Park for ‘Full Circle’ by The World Famous with Terrafolk, an outdoor spectacular with music, lighting and fireworks. Terrafolk are a Slovenian turbo-charged folk group who I first saw some years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are virtuoso musicians who mainly like to play it for laughs – always crowd-pleasers. In ‘Full Circle’ the four musicians were suspended in translucent pods which gradually opened to reveal them to the audience – which immediately conjured up memories of ‘This is Spinal Tap!’ (although in this case all four pods did open correctly!). We were then treated to a range of musical styles accompanied by stunningly beautiful fireworks and other effects. An odd mixture of sublime and ridiculous (particularly the death-metal version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’!) it was certainly a memorable performance. At times it felt very ‘prog-rock’ – you half expected Rick Wakeman to appear. But it was good fun and an interesting way to end our first experience of the Milton Keynes International Festival.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 12, 2010

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen, adapted by Laura Turner

12 July 2010

On Saturday we made the short journey to the gardens of Woburn Abbey to see an outdoor performance of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Chapterhouse Theatre Company. It was a perfect setting for a tale set in and around grand country houses and it was a beautiful evening to be entertained by the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen. The actors at these outdoor productions really work hard – having to project to be heard at the back of a large audience spread across the lawns and not getting any break as they spend the interval strolling through the crowds, selling raffle tickets and programmes while still resolutely in character (the Bennet girls clearly on the search for potential husbands in the audience!). Even the drawing of the raffle was done with Austenian flourish and those female members of the audience celebrating their birthday were called up to the stage for a kiss from Mr Darcy! It was a very enjoyable evening with fine performances, particularly from Hannah Lee as Elizabeth Bennet and Edwin Wright as Darcy.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra concert

6 July 2010

On 24 June 1990 I played in the inaugural concert by the City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra. The concert took place in Peterborough Cathedral, conducted by Antony Hopkins, and featured Rachmaninov’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’ played by Anthony Goldstone and the premiere of ‘Portrait of Peterborough’ by Amanda Stuart. It was very exciting to be a founder member of a new symphony orchestra and I soon got involved in the committee and became Chair of the orchestra in 1993. My involvement with the City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra set me on the path that led eventually to becoming Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts. So I was delighted to be invited back to Peterborough Cathedral last Saturday to attend the CPSO’s 20th Anniversary Concert – though the realisation that it’s been 20 years makes me feel extremely old! It was a splendid concert, with the orchestra giving a wonderful performance of Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 9’, conducted by Russell Keable and involving four local choirs. The Choral Symphony is a mammoth work and a major challenge for any orchestra. We first performed it with the CPSO in 1993, conducted by Norman Beedie, in the first of our annual ‘landmark’ concerts. Saturday’s performance was extremely impressive and the ending of the final movement was thrilling. There are only a handful of players left in the orchestra from my time in Peterborough, but it’s great to see it still going strong after 20 years. And lovely to see the indefatigable Steve Osborn and Jackie Over still driving the organisation. I’m looking forward to the 30th anniversary concert already! (Read the Peterborough Evening Telegraph article at: http://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/lifestyle/culture_2_1843/music/celebrations_reach_a_crescendo_1_653796)

Labels: ,

Wimbledon 2010

6 July 2010

We had a lovely day at Wimbledon last Friday. We saw both ladies’ doubles semi-finals (including the ladies’ singles finalist Vera Zvonereva) and both mixed doubles semi-finals on court one. There was some very entertaining tennis – particularly the mixed doubles match won by the eventual champions, Leander Paes and Cara Black. And we had plenty of sunshine and more than six hours of uninterrupted play. It was a shame to miss the men’s singles semi-finals, which were being played on centre court, but we were sat towards the back of court one and could hear the reactions of the crowd on Henman Hill and snatches of commentary from the big screen, so it was relatively easy to work out what was happening.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

‘Inspector Drake and the Perfekt Crime’ by David Tristram

1 July 2010

The TADS Theatre Group’s performance of the gloriously silly ‘Inspector Drake and the Black Widow’ by David Tristram (reviewed here in April 2009) was one of my picks of the year for 2009. I was delighted to discover that Joe Butcher’s wonderful performance as Inspector Drake won him the NODA ‘Best Actor in a Play 2009’ award – extremely well-deserved. But I was even more delighted to see that Joe and Kevin Birkett were to reprise their roles as the Inspector and his dim-witted Sergeant in David Tristram’s sequel ‘Inspector Drake and the Perfekt Crime’. So last Friday we made the short journey to the tiny TADS Theatre in Toddington for another evening of excellent mockery of the murder mystery. It was a brilliant send-up of the genre, incorporating slapstick, visual gags, word-play and with “more twists in it than, well, a really twisty thing” – all excellently performed by a great amateur cast.

Labels: ,