A Night at the Proms

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Ligeti: Poème symphonique
Berio Sequenza V
Xenakis: Phlegra
Jonathan Harvey: Mortuos plango, vivos voco
Louis Andriessen: De snelheid
John Cage: 4’33

I went to the Royal Albert Hall the other night for the late night Prom. May have got there a little too early and despite having to dash over to the park to find the toilet I was still third in the queue for an arena promming ticket! At one point a lady from the venue came out and gave us all a raffle ticket to mark our place in the queue but no one ever asked to see them so I wasn’t sure what the point was. Shortly afterwards a load of people who were at the earlier Prom came out for the interval and started having picnics on the wall next to me!

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After the first prom finished there were more people joining the queue and to my surprise people who were at the first prom were given preference over those of us who had waited in the queue. Either way I still got ticket number 26 and when we were allowed into the arena found it quite easy to get very near the front.

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While we waited I noticed that behind the orchestra position on the choir seats sat 100 metronomes stretched across the whole width of the stage. As we sat several members of the orchestra sat on the stage near the metronomes and suddenly without warning they started them going and left the stage. People around me continued to talk as the metronomes clicked frenetically away. It was only after a while that the house lights dimmed and the audience began to focus on what was happening (apart from one woman whose voice could be heard loudly from the area of the circle). Slowly the metronomes started to run out of steam and one by one they dropped out until only two next to each other remained clicking in a melancholic duet slighly out of time with each other . You could have heard a pin drop as the last metronome ticked slowly to a stop, the silence in the room held for an eternity until the audience broke into applause.

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Afterwards there was an example of Proms humour as the applause died away someone clapped mimicking the metronomes. This was then imitated by others but was suddenly halted by the first blare of a trombone as Byron Fulcher appeared at the top of the steps to the left of the stage dressed in a clown outfit complete with white face and red nose! He played Berio’s Sequenza V very theatrically before collapsing on the floor at the end. Afterwards was my favourite piece of the night which Xenakis’ Phlegra – I first heard Xenakis on Radio 3 from the Proms a few years ago and fell in love with his music straight away so it was good to see a performance at such close quarters.

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We were told that when the Xenakis piece finished we would be plunged into darkness for the next piece but sadly the RAH doesn’t do dark very well. It was a shame really as I would have liked to have heard Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco in complete darkness with the way the 8 track recording spun around the room. Following an interview with composer Louis Andriessen there was a performance of his piece De Snelheid which I found the hardest of all the performances this evening – all of which, I later noted, that my wife would have asked “what the hell is that…” if she heard them!

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The final billed performance was John Cage’s infamous silent piece 4’33” which I’d been looking forward to. I liked the ironic way the orchestra tuned up for it before sitting silent through each of the 3 movements, turning the pages at the end of each bit. The idea is that the performance space creates it’s own sounds and throughout you became aware of the small sounds that go on around you all the time but are usually drowned out. The shuffling of feet, people coughing, seats creaking and even the sound of your own movements all become the focus as the orchestra sits there in silence. I did wonder if Radio 3 had to turn off the system that would normally shut down the transmitters after such a lengthy period of dead air.

The final piece which wasn’t on the original bill was by Matthew Herbert and was called Encore Intervention – Small, smaller, smallest. A team of people had roamed around the hall during the performances recording bits on mobile phones to create a soundscape. The audience was meant to join in at a given point by sending themselves a text message but this sort of went wrong as I don’t think we all got the instructions so mobiles were going off left right and centre but to my mind this added to the whole composition.

Plagiarism?

I was listening to the radio in the car and it was the top 4o countdown and I couldn’t help noticing a familiar line in the new Britney Spears song “Hold it against me”

The chorus goes
“So if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?”

Which to my mind is very similar to the Bellamy Brothers song from 1979 which goes
“If I said you have a beautiful body, would you hold it against me”

Apparently this similarity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Bellamy Brothers either and their lawyers are on the case!

A thought for election day

A Place called England

I rode out on a bright May morning
Like a hero in a song
Looking for a place called England
Trying to find where I belong
Couldn’t find the old flood meadow
Or the house that I once knew
No trace of the little river
Or the garden where I grew

I saw town and I saw country
Motorway and sink estate
Rich man in his rolling acres
Poor man still outside the gate
Retail park and burger kingdom
Prairie field and factory farm
Run by men who think that England’s
Only a place to park their car

But as the train pulled from the station
Through the wastelands of despair
From the corner of my eye
A brightness filled the filthy air
Someone’s grown a patch of sunflowers
Though the soil is sooty black
Marigolds and a few tomatoes
Right beside the railway track

Down behind the terraced houses
In between the concrete towers
Compost heaps and scarlet runners
Secret gardens full of flowers
Meeta grows the scent of roses
Right beneath the big jet’s path
Bid a fortune for her garden
Eileen turns away and laughs

So rise up George and wake up Arthur
Time to rouse out from your sleep
Deck the horse in the sea-green ribbons
Drag the old sword from the deep
Hold the line for Dave and Daniel
As they tunnel through the clay
While the oak in all its glory
Soaks up sun for one more day

And come all you at home with freedom
Whatever the land that gave you birth
There’s room for you both root and branch
As long as you love the English earth
Room for vole and room for orchid
Room for all to grow and thrive
Just less room for the fat landowner
On his arse in his four-wheel drive

England is not flag or Empire
It is not money it is not blood
It’s limestone gorge and granite fell
It’s Wealden clay and Severn mud
It’s blackbird singing from the may-tree
Lark ascending through the scales
Robin watching from your spade
And English earth beneath your nails

So here’s two cheers for a place called England
Badly used but not yet dead
A Mr. Harding sort of England
Hanging in there by a thread
Here’s two cheers for the crazy Diggers
Now their hour shall come around
We can plant the seed they saved us
Common wealth and common ground

Maggie Holland

Sweeps Festival

Beltaine

It’s been the annual Sweeps Festival in Rochester this weekend and as usual the street have been filled with the sounds of Morris men, the jingle of bells, the clashing of sticks and a myriad of folk tunes played on accordions, whistles, guitars fiddles and mandolins. From the white shirts and hankies of the Cotswold sides, through the clog dancers to the black faces and tattered jackets of the Border Morris men, there are traditional dances and dances with a modern twist every where you look.

Musical Interlude

As well as the music in the street music spills from almost every pub and street corner, folk singers, folk bands, hurdy gurdy players, traditional folk, folk rock even folk punk! There’s a marquee in the castle grounds and an open air stage in a car park or you can just catch impromptu performances under a tree or in a beer garden.

This year, because of the way the dates fell, the festival opened with the traditional Jack in the Green awakening ceremony at the top of Bluebell Hill. The ceremony starts at sunrise which is at 5:32 am, in a ring of fire sits the jack in the green who has been slumbering through the winter. At the appointed time the members of Motley Morris carrying sticks shovels form a circle around the Jack and sing the Jack in the Green song to awaken him. Once the jack is awoken they dance around him before making way for other Morris sides to dance in their own particular way. The Loose Women, Wolf’s Head and Vixen, The Gong Scourers, Beltane Morris and Bishop Gundulf and others dance in their own particular styles.

Jack in the Green

I’ve been going to the May Day ceremony since 1992, first as a member of the audience and then as a member of Wolf’s Head and now as a member of the audience again. I danced the Wolf’s Head signature dance, The Four Seasons, for the first time here in 2003 and I was glad to see them dancing it again this year. Over the years I’ve taken my camera and this year was no exception. I also took my video camera this year and hopefully will put together a short video of the morning soon.

Ragged Crow

In the meantime you can see my photographs taken with my Fuji S9600 or my HTC Magic cameraphone using FxCamera here

Sometimes even I think I’m weird!

Yesterday I ended up staying late at work and while I was working I was listening to music. Some of the stuff I was listening to was quite weird by most peoples standards! I started listening to a download from the Avant Garde Project of some music by pioneering composer of electronic music Morton Subotnik.

In the middle of the cacophony of sound that was pouring forth from the speakers I suddenly looked at the clock and realised the time. I paused the music and switched on the radio just in time for the Archers!

The loss of a very dear friend

I was still working at 12:45 this morning when my phone buzzed to let me know an e-mail had arrived. I looked to see what it was and it was an automated e-mail to let me know that my friend’s blog had been updated with a private message. I don’t know why, perhaps it was the time it arrived, but I knew instantly that it was going to tell me that she had died.

When I logged in the title of the post “Very Sad News” confirmed my instinct. I’d known for some time that she had been ill, she had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus some time ago and she had undergone major surgery but her last post had informed us that her condition has worsened and that the prognosis was that she only had 6 months to live at best.

In some ways I guess it is better that she went as quickly as she did, at least she didn’t have to suffer a slow and agonising death. I feel sorry for her family especially “t’old man” and her two daughters and my thoughts are with them at this time.

Isadora was one of the first friends I made when I first started blogging about 5 years ago. She had been one of the first people to set up a blog on blog.co.uk and she had called it “Greetings from a Greeter” because she worked in Asda at that time and she would often blog about the strange events that went on in her shop. Even after I left blog.co.uk I still kept in touch – she was only one of two of my blog friends that I kept in contact with.

She had such a zest for life and could see beauty in almost anything. She had been a hippie in the 1960’s and had gone to some of the big UK festivals including the Isle of Wight events. She would often reminisce about her youth which had been quite eventful including a time when she had to be repatriated from Ibiza which resulted in her having her passport taken off her and when she wanted to go abroad about 30 years later she had to pay the £10 that she had been loaned to get home before she could get a new one.

She had a passion for music and Spain. She would often pack up her tent and head off to a local folk festival for the weekend and blog about the music and the dancers and whatever else had attracted her attention. She also went off to Spain regularly and stayed with a Spanish family she had met on her first visit. She had been taking Spanish classes and although she said she wasn’t very good – I suspect that she was really. I also seem to recall her taking up belly dancing at one point as well.

It’s such a tragedy that such a life should be cut short in such a cruel way, she was only just in her sixties and was looking forward to retiring and having fun. I for one will miss her dearly and even though I never actually met her I feel honoured to have been her (cyber) friend. And judging by the comments on her blog I won’t be alone in that.

Rest in Peace Isadora – the world has lost one of it’s brightest lights.

The A to Z of Music

I thought it would be fun to see if I can get from A to Z using the artists that I have on my MP3 player (a 20Gb Archos) – so here goes…

Ayler (Albert)
Beck
Captain Beefheart
Dylan (Bob)
Eels
Faust
Grateful Dead
Harper (Roy)
Incredible String Band
Jethro Tull
Kesey (Ken)
Led Zeppelin
Misty in Roots
Nyman (Michael)
Osibisa
Pink Floyd
Queen*
Rachmaninov
Shesh Besh
Television
UB40
Various Artists**
Wake the Dead
Xenakis (Iannis)
Yes
Zappa (Frank)

* yeah I know but I still have a thing about Sheer Heart Attack
** This might be cheating!

and music of the past….

Many years ago I went into a second hand record shop in Newcastle, I’m guessing it was after university but before moving to London. It wasn’t one I included in my blog about record shops from my youth but a good one non the less. Browsing through the racks an album cover caught my eye and on closer inspection it turned out to be a compilation album with some quite good bands on it. The album was called Gutbucket and I bought it.

One of the tracks on the album was called The Wall and was by a band by the name of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat. I then spent many many years looking for their albums on and off. Eventually last week I managed to track tehm down and finally got to have a listen! The band were really a group of poster artists based in London and they designed posters for the likes of Pink Floyd when they played at UFO.

The first album released in 1967 was called Hapshash and the Coloured Coat Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids but the collective had split up by the time the second album Western Flyer came out in 1969 but the album did feature Tony McPhee from the Groundhogs and Mike Batt (who later became the voice of the wombles!)

Since A program a few weeks ago about Krautrock I’d been trying to remember the name of a German band who I used to own an album by. I’d bought it at the Durham Book Centre which was one of the shops mentioned previously. All I could almost see the cover in my head but the only thing I could remember was that we had argued about what one of the lyrics had been! Neither were much help in tracking it down. I was pretty sure I still had the vinyl but I wasn’t about the go and get all my records out of storage and go through them all to find it!

Then one day I was sitting at work and it just popped into my head – Jane. I was sure that was what they were called so I Googled Jane German Band and sure enough there they were. The album in question was the imaginatively titled third album III.