Friday, 31 October 2008

The Sixteen/QEH

A wonderful and eclectic programme of choral music reaching back to the 15th century to the present day from this excellent group celebrating Mary, Jesus's mum. All the better for being sung in a concert hall where the sheer quality of writing could be fully appreciated. Don't get me wrong, this would have sounded glorious in a church too - most of this repertoire was written for it after all - but the acoustics of a vast ecclesiastical interior do tend to swallow up some of the finer nuances of music which can create a wall-papery effect. You'll be pleased to know that the Sixteen are returning to the QEH on Dec 12 for a Christmas themed concert. Join the choir afterwards for carols in the foyer. Please, don't request Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Nell Bryden/Cobden Club

I've never been sure how much appetite the UK has for this bluegrass-dixie-country sort of thing, but Nell Bryden is certainly worth more than a nod of interest.

Polka dot dress, red stiletto heels, Dorothy-esque moves, you wouldn't believe her last gig was entertaining the troops in Iraq. But go she did minus her usual band who were 'too afraid'.

So here she was back in London compete with new band (although you'd never have guessed it) headlining, if that's the right word, at the Hit Sheet Showcase at the Cobden Club. It's a pity more people weren't there to catch her brief stint. She's a good old fashioned rocker at heart (Janis Joplin came to mind actually) who was kind enough to share her meze with me beforehand, which was nice.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Irritators/Edinburgh Cellars

A spirited and oh so noisy set from this band at a Newington Green boozer. Two members are dads at my kids' primary school and fine players they are too. But it's the band's lead guitarist David I'd like to single out. You may have seen him busking at Oxford Circus tube, usually Hank Marvin and Eddie Cochrane sort of stuff, that never fails to raise the spirits. I wish the rest of the Irritators had given him the time and space to do the same thing this afternoon. Anyway, I'm a fan. Here's his website www.myspace/surfhiphop
I also promised to give his girlfriend's site a mention, could be useful...

Festival New Orleans/O2

To O2, or the Millennium Dome if you prefer. Far from being the large cavernous space I always thought it was, the Dome is in fact a huge shopping mall teeming with every chain food outlet you can shake a stick at. Its very American feel lent itself nicely to the first Festival New Orleans that took place today and yesterday. It features some of that city's best known musicians. I caught most of Marcia Ball's set in Matter, the O2's smaller music venue. Sat crossed-legged behind her keyboard, she and her band socked home some fabulous rhythm and blues, my favourite 'Peace Love and BBQ'. Allen Toussaint had already started his set by the time I'd relocated to the Louisiana Pavilion, a large outdoor area (although indoor if you see what I mean) complete with phony grass. All that was missing was a cool summer breeze and the smell of portaloos. Great music all round but I wanted some other reminders of New Orleans - where was the gumbo?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


Ivanov (Kenneth Branagh) is having one hell of a mid life crisis. He doesn't know what to do about it, or more likely, he doesn't really want to do anything about it. Er, that's kind of it. Great performances though.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Joe Stilgoe/Ronnie Scott's

Here's someone to watch. Just signed to the Candid record label (Jamie Cullum began here), the breezy Joe Stilgoe delighted the crowd at Ronnie's on Monday despite the bigger attraction of Brad Mehldau at the Barbican. 'It's taken me ages to get here, it's a pity I'm going to throw it away with cheap gags.' In actual fact the gags were pretty good (his dad is Richard Stilgoe so no excuse) but it was his piano playing and rich tenor voice that really enthralled. His own compositions sat nicely among the usual standards - short and snappy and delivered in a curiously English manner that will appeal to many beyond the jazz world.

I guess he'll leap frog the Loose Ends type circuit pretty quickly. I don't know where he will land but I'm sure it will be somewhere interesting.

Friday, 17 October 2008

La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ/RFH

About a third of the way through this I asked myself why this large scale work for orchestra and chorus wasn't as well known as the Turangalila. About two thirds of the way through I think I knew why. Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely piece, full of lush feather-bed chords. But it lacks the playful liquidity of Turangalila. Rather, it moves along in dense blocks of sound. Whether it was down to Kent Nagano's interpretation or simply flaws in Messiaen's composition, we were left with sublime pockets of ecstasy that never really gathered momentum .

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Music in the City

Tucked away around one of Leicester Square's darkest corners you'll find Club Vertigo. A bugger to find but well worth it, especially if you're a mustard keen amateur musician who likes hanging out with other musos. I'm talking about Music In The City, an occasional club night (no membership required) that allows musicians of all standards to gather and play and drink. I got there a little after nine and was greeted by about four or five different chamber ensembles (thankfully no brass) bashing through all manner of repertoire. It's the brain child of the genial Simon Hewitt-Jones , a young professional violinist who is also the founder of the excellent He has big plans for the club and the website so watch this space. I liked the vibe very much and I suspect they'll be moving to bigger premises soon. I wondered about the competing noise generated by the different ensembles but they didn't seem to mind, it's as much about socialising as anything else. The next night is in Dec, no date yet,. On the floor immediately below is a hostess club. Unaffiliated I can assure you.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The South Bank Show/The Messiah (1)

It's the 250th anniversary of Handel's death next year so it seems appropriate to mark this with a South Bank Show about his best known work, Messiah. We're approaching it from a grass roots perspective, that is from the view point of the thousands of amateur singers who perform it with their local choir every Christmas (and Easter too sometimes). So, where to start? Well, Yorkshire, that's where, after all, it is the home of some of our best known choral societies (Huddersfield, Halifax...). Our thinking at the moment is to follow three or four choirs as they gear up for their Christmas performance. Through them we discover the secrets of Messiah's enduring popularity. It may be stating the bleeding obvious but for many of the singers we met on our recce earlier this week, it's the words as much as Handel's music that pack a punch. Anyway, we've begun...will keep you posted, obviously.

Friday, 10 October 2008

La Clique/La Calisto

This was fun, sexy circus/cabaret for trendy Londoners. Its jugglers, acrobats and magicians set alight the Hippodrome in Leicester Sq, a perfect venue for undemanding, edgy burlesque that will run and run.

It segued nicely into David Alden's La Calisto at the Royal Opera the following night, an adaption of Ovid's Metamorphoses by the 17th century Italian Franceso Cavalli. Calisto is a beautiful nymph who becomes the centre of Giove's world, a naughty philandering God. And so on...

Lots of stuff has been thrown at this production, including sexy models brandishing bows and arrows, giant lizards, a shagging satyr and the rest. But try as he might, Alden's cabaret sheen on this overlong tale couldn't really bring this opera to life. I blame Cavalli as there isn't really a big musical hit here. But then, my mind was wandering a bit that night.....

Yes, I will add pictures, promise.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Kings Place

A kindly neighbour hands me a ticket for the opening concert at Kings Place, London's new music venue. Don't be put off by its Canary Wharfy, corporate, feel - it's a bit like walking into a bank - because things quickly improve once you've made it to the building's basement. Here two handsome concert halls await that seat 450 and 220 people respectively. Before we go in a lone french horn player, Steven Stirling, greets us with a stirring solo work by Martin Butler that, whether intentionally or not, makes wonderful use of Kings Place's impressive atrium. Then, a little past 9.30 in the morning, the oboist, Melinda Maxwell performs Disparate by Simon Holt. Maybe we could have had something a little more rousing and, well, less difficult (c'mon, atonalism first thing in the morning?!) to launch this welcome addition to London's musical life. But as a statement of intent it fits the bill exactly: Kings Place is the rightful home of contemporary music. The Holt was followed by shortish works by Kondo and Castiglioni, both of whom I'd never heard of, and rounded off with a solid performance of Bartok's Contrasts. And what about the acoustics? Well I didn't really notice, which is a good thing I guess. And at £2.50 these introductory concerts are an absolute bargain. Lucky old London. Go.