The World Of Byrd: Consorts Hymns Divisions & Dances, Phantasm, Wigmore Hall, 20 February 2018

This was a lovely concert of English viol music, specifically William Byrd, from the late Tudor/early Jacobean period. Phantasm are seriously good at this stuff.

Janie was up for this one. Wigmore Hall – warmer, much warmer. Byrd too.

William Byrd
An evening of early music with my Byrd
Funnily enough, come the interval I realise that, sitting behind me, was the very couple I sat next to at the Ancient Montreal concert the previous week, with whom I had swapped stories about the cold…

Music in New France & Québec, Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal, St John’s Smith Square, 15 February 2018

…we all agreed that the Wigmore Hall is much warmer. There’s something warm about Phantasm too. They come across as a very mellow, gentle ensemble. Laurence Dreyfuss always explains things and reads things out as if he is sitting in your private parlour having a comfy chat.

Here is a link to the Wigmore Hall resource on this concert.

Anyway the music was very soothing and relaxing, although it didn’t quite manage to do the de-stressing job on us that particular Tuesday night, while we were both having “a bit of a week”. That is the thing about Tuesday evening concerts.

That’s not Phantasm’s fault, nor the Wigmore Hall’s I do realise.

The B*easts by Monica Dolan, Bush Theatre, 17 February 2018

This was a very interesting piece about sexual exploitation of children, written and performed by Monica Dolan, who was excellent on the stage.

Click here for the Bush resource on this play/production.

Janie got more out of the piece than I did – I found the ending a little contrived and felt the piece lacked drama. It is difficult to make monologues truly gripping – we’ve seen some corking good ones lately. This one is redeemed for me, though, because the piece is so interesting and Monica Dolan is such a strong stage presence.

Below is the trailer…

…and below is a “meet the writer” vid:

The reviews are, deservedly, pretty darn good – click here for a search term that finds them.

Another winner at The Bush as far as we are concerned.

Music in New France & Québec, Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal, St John’s Smith Square, 15 February 2018

I took rare unilateral action to see this concert. I booked myself a single ticket. I’m really glad I did.

It sounded so interesting in the SJSS brochure, but could I persuade Janie (Daisy) a few months ago to agree to venture into Westminster on what she suggested might turn out to be a bitterly cold Thursday evening in February? Could I heck.

Here’s a link to the SJSS rubric, which worked so well on me but not so well on Daisy.

As it turned out, it was a bitterly cold Thursday evening in February.

I had a Skype music lesson with Ian Pittaway before heading off to SJSS. I am working on some very strange and ancient plainchant with him at the moment. I’m trying to sing in a slightly higher register now, which seems to have more going for it with my voice than the lower register I find safer. Also some tutorial on transposing complex lute parts into simpler baritone ukulele (Tudor guitar) parts without turning, for example, Byrd’s “Though Amaryllis Dance In Green”, into a banal three or four chord pop song.

William Byrd
An evening of early music without my Byrd
On all of these matters, I’m sorry to say, Ian Pittaway concludes his seemingly helpful advice with the words, “that’s it – now keep practising that before the next lesson.”  Why can’t he teach well enough so that I can get it 100% right first time and not need to practice? That’s the sort of teacher I want. I’d even pay a few bob extra for one of those teachers. 😉  I mentioned this evening’s concert and asked Ian if he had heard of Aux-Cousteaux – Ian asked if he was a deep sea diver who also composed music. Does this guy know much at all about early music or is he just spoofing us all with his waggish manner?

Joking apart, the music lessons are going rather well in fact. But by the time I had finished fiddling around with one or two of those ideas in order to try and cement them in my brain, then finished off a couple of pieces of work that I really wanted to get out of the way before the concert, it was time for me to get my skates on…more importantly, time for me to don my hat, scarf and gloves…and head for Smith Square.

Preparing spiritually for a cold Québécois evening

The crypt was swarming with Québécois dignitaries being entertained and fawned over by the waiting staff, so my half-baked plan to pre-book the dining arrangements for my next visit with Janie, in May, came to nought. I hasten to add that the entertainment and fawning was a very dignified drinks and nibbles reception for the lucky Québécois swarm. Nothing “Presidents Club” about it.

Anyway, instead I bought a copy of the CD which seemed to be closest to the evening’s performance…

…then took up position along with a small posse from the regular SJSS front row mafia. The Québécois dignitaries had been allocated that “middle of the front block” which is deemed to be the best seats, although frankly, for a small enemble like this, I think front row is best even in a hall the size of SJSS.

I immediately knew the music was going to be to my taste. Ten voices singing a cappella, beautifully.

On researching the matter before the concert, I wondered why the Québécois considered this French early Baroque music to be their own. After all, Quebec City and Montreal were tiny little trading posts during that early Baroque period – a few hundred people in each place, mostly fur traders with a hundred-or-so monks in each town praying for the inhabitants to be spared famine, pestilence, Algonquian marauders, British marauders or combinations of several such fatal misfortunes.

It was all explained in the programme.

Firstly, some of the music they performed on the night is sung in the Abenaki language – that of the indigenous Algonquian people of that part of Canada – which is quite interesting. So it wasn’t all fisticuffs with the indigenous locals in those days.

In some ways more interesting is the sacred music of the early Baroque period by French composers, such as Henri Frémart, Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy and especially Artus Aux-Cousteaux. The monks brought the current music with them when they settled New France in the mid 17th century. There’s some very good music in there, which apparently would have been completely lost had scores not survived in Quebec, as all known copies of many of these composers’ works were destroyed in France at the time of the revolution.

So in those ways, this music is the Québécois people’s own.

The embedded sample is part of one of the Aux-Cousteaux pieces they performed on the night, so it gives you a very good feel for what we heard. I recommend that those who cannot resist the Aux-Cousteaux/Jacques Cousteau pun listen to this clip while submerged in their bath. Other folk, simply wallow in the delicious sound.

There was one modern piece by a young Québécois composer named Maurice-G Du Berger, who was at the SJSS gig to hear his piece and took a bow with the choir. It might be the first time I’ve seen a composer who was probably the youngest person on the stage in such circumstances.

At the end of the concert, the round of applause was resounding, but it wasn’t until towards the end of it that I realised that the Québécois dignitaries were doing that very North American thing of giving a standing ovation – the result being that the front row mafia was doing the SJSS regulars/British thing of politely but loudly applauding, while the rest of the audience was on its feet.

I hope the visiting choir didn’t think it was being dissed by the regulars, because the few I spoke to were all transfixed by the music and by all accounts the CDs sold like hot cakes in the interval.

It was a truly delightful concert, to round off a very interesting day of early music…

…but by heck it was a cold journey home that night. Not even faintly cold by Canadian standards of course, but for a wimp of a Londoner like me, it was well taters.

MCC v The Dedanists’ Society, Lord’s, 10 February 2018

About a month earlier, Mr Thirlwell and I entered the Lord’s dedans a few minutes before our scheduled gladiatorial hour, quite by chance to encounter Messrs Snitcher and Leigh planning the teams for the MCC v The Dedanists’ Society.

“Would either of you gentlemen possibly be available to represent the club on 10 February?” we were asked.

Both of us replied that we would check our heaving social calendars, but, each of us coincidentally suspected that the afternoon of 10 February might just be a tiny window of opportunity for the club to co-opt our services.

Mr Thirlwell relaxing in the dedans gallery after doing battle – with thanks to Janie for all of the photos and the videos

An hour later, as Mr Thirlwell and I were dragged off the court kicking, biting, punching and yelling at each other…

…as usual…

…yet another draw for the real tennis on-line score book…

…Messrs Snitcher and Leigh looked at each other and exclaimed in unison, “yes indeed, these two will be ideal canon fodder for our friendly match with The Dedanists’ Society.”

The Dedanists’ Society is a group of real tennis enthusiasts who raise money for good works in the sport – click here for further details.

Janie and I had enjoyed a Dedanists’ Society evening event only a few months earlier – click here or below for the story of that evening:

Drinks and Nibbles With The Dedanists’ Society, The Estorick Collection, Islington, 5 September 2017

So Janie needed only a little persuasion to join us on 10 February for lunch and to watch her boy (me) in action. By then we knew that I was scheduled to partner Mr Snitcher himself, for the first time in a match since my very first attempt at a doubles match some 18 months previously – click here or below for that tale of derring-do:

MCC v The Wanderers, Real Tennis Match, Lord’s, 10 September 2016

Janie and I planned, on the morning of 10 February, to play an hour of modern tennis before heading to Lord’s for lunch. But as there was still frost on the cars when we planned to set off to play, we postponed that fixture. All dressed up with no place to go for physical preparation, I resorted instead to psychological methods:

Preparing spiritually for the big match against the Dedanists

Janie and I arrived in good time for lunch; getting to see the end of the second rubber and chat with a few people before the all important business of chowing down.

The grub was good. The centrepiece was a very tasty chilli-con-carne with rice and vegetables, supplemented with some tasty nibbles, a brightly-coloured soup (carrot and tomato I should imagine) and an elegant cheese platter. Washed down with plentiful wine for those who had already done battle and a thimble-full of wine for a combatant-to-be, like me.

In truth, this particular fixture must be one of the friendliest matches in the whole of the global real tennis calendar. Most MCC members who play in the fixture are also members of The Dedanists’ Society. Most of the players on the day were members of both clubs; so much so that, at times, during play, we were struggling to work out which team was which.

Mark (the nominative deterministic gentleman who marks the matches), Mr Snitcher and yours-truly – let the battle commence

Soon enough it was our chance to play. The last rubber of the match – surely the highlight of the fixture. So much so that some of the people who had done battle earlier in the day simply couldn’t take the tension and left Lord’s before the game. Still, a good dozen or so people remained, hardly any of whom were having an afternoon snooze.

Mr Snitcher and I had spent many seconds preparing our tactics for the match. We agreed that I would do most of the running, so I should not expect to hear the call “yours”, I should only expect to hear the shout “mine”, at which point I should leave the ball.

Here’s an example:

Somehow it seemed to work out…

…as did my serve on the day; most but not all of the time:

…even my volley worked a bit better than usual…

…as one kind gentleman pointed out to Janie, I was in the zone…

…which is a polite way of saying that I was not really keeping track of the score, much as some people struggle to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Tony and Mr Devlin watched with rapt attention – it was that sort of match

Even Tony seemed full of glee at the end of the match. He told me and Mr Snitcher that we had excelled ourselves on court. He also said that we should be delighted with the progress we are making…

…at least I think that’s what Tony said. To be honest I wasn’t listening; apparently none of us ever do.

Joking apart, all the participants had spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at Lord’s and raised a few bob for The Dedanists’ Society in the process.

Booby’s Bay by Henry Darke, Finborough Theatre, 9 February 2018

Oh dear.

We found this one a real dud. Both the play and the production.

The subject matter really interested us. The housing crisis and the notion of a protester taking on the establishment…

…but this play missed the mark for us in so many ways. The protester was not only a flawed hero (that’s a good idea for such a play) but is in many ways a shirking beneficiary of the housing crisis. It is hard to buy into the conceit of a play when you find the moral hero at the core quite so conflicted and irritating.

Click here or image below for a link to the Finborough resource on this play/production.

The production had ideas beyond its ability to deliver too, with several long interludes of singing and movement that were almost embarrassing in their amateurishness. Janie struggled (failed) to avoid laughing in inappropriate places at times – the good news being that those were such noisy times, few if any other people would have noticed.

Another scene that really didn’t work for us…let’s call it the shark scene…had us laughing at the artlessness of the performance rather than at the material itself, which was meant to be comedic, but not in that way.

The good news for us was that we were both in a pretty relaxed mood on that Friday evening; this lemon of a play/production was so poor it almost entertained us to share that sorry experience and chat about it afterwards. Had we been in a stressy-end-of-the-week mood, having rushed to get to the theatre on time, we might have been far less amused.

Also, as we were just around the corner from Mohsen, we had a very tasty Persian meal to look forward to and then enjoy in Noddyland after the show.

Here is a link to the reviews, which have not been brilliant although some have been much kinder than ours.

We really do think it is a shame that this one was such a flop for us. We’re becoming very fond of the Finborough and we also both think that the subject matter – the housing and inequality crisis in our society, is a very relevant topic for theatrical treatment at the moment. Just not this play/production.

Here is a link to the trailer:

BOOBY’S BAY Trailer 1 from Henry Darke on Vimeo.

A Couple Of Gresham Lectures To Enhance My “Tudor Guitar” Knowledge, 17 January and 7 February 2018

I felt a little foolish at the end of the Gresham Society soiree in December, when Professor Cox asked me, after seeing my Renaissance guitar and vocal performance of Innsbruck – reported here and below, why he hadn’t seen me at Christopher Page’s lectures on 16th and 17th Century guitar…

Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

…the answer, quite simply, was that I hadn’t even noticed that they were happening. I know I’m supposed to be finding more time for the things I want to do now, but I hadn’t even skimmed the Gresham College lecture list for the 2017/18 year.

Of course, one of the many wonderful things about Gresham College these days is that the lectures are all archived on-line, including in video form.

So over Christmas I caught up with Christopher Page’s series, by watching the first two lectures on-line.

You can find the whole series here – to the extent that it has already been delivered and uploaded by the date when you click through.

I found both lectures absolutely fascinating. I was particularly taken with the notion, which Christopher Page stated very clearly in the first of the lectures, that the Tudor guitar was, to all intents and purposes, a baritone ukulele; i.e. “my” instrument.

I learnt a lot watching those two lectures and/but I realised that such lectures, with live performance included, would be far more stimulating and enjoyable live…

…especially in the beautiful setting of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

…which is, after all, within even easier reach of the Z/Yen offices than Gresham College itself (by a few hundred yards).

So I booked out the remaining four dates in my diary and resolved to try my very hardest to organise my City working days around those slots.

I’m glad to report that my plan worked for lectures three and four.

17 January 2018 – The Guitar in the Age of Charles I

This was a wonderful lecture, not least for the diversity of the performances that peppered the lecture. Not only several different stringed instruments – the period covers the transition from four-course gittern-type Tudor instruments to five-course Baroque guitars of the Spanish variety – but also some performance with castanets which was a very pleasant surprise and addition. Christopher Page himself played a bit during this lecture.

So I commend the YouTube below if you can spare the time to watch it – most enjoyable as well as informative:

This link to the Gresham College site itself – click here – not only has the video but also the transcripts and audio file.

I picked up a few ideas for my playing at this lecture, not least realising that even I can muck around with the later Folia progression.

A charming lady sat next to me during this lecture – a visitor from Canada – who was strolling the City – had never heard of Gresham College and had simply wandered in having seen the sign outside the church. She was absolutely transfixed by the lecture and the whole idea of Gresham College. She chatted for a while with me, Professor Francis Cox and Frieda after the lecture; it turned out she was also named Francis.

7 February 2018 – An Englishman (with a Guitar) Abroad

I actually did a slightly better job of organising my work around this day, but that did mean that I really was squeezing in the lectures time slot, but still I was able to get to the church in time to grab a decent seat.

At the time of writing (9 February 2018) the video has not yet been uploaded, but the other resources are there and the lecture will go up in full eventually I am sure – click here for the available resources.

Ulrich Wedemeier – the sole performer for this lecture

Again the lecture and the performances were fascinating and interesting.

My fun takeaway from this lecture was a vignette about Charles Stuart (soon to become Charles II) spending 50 livres to transport one guitar and 18 tennis rackets from France to England (presumably in expectation of the Restoration).

Click here for a link to the relevant page in Christopher Page’s book.

This possibly says something about Charles’s relative levels of interest in those two hobbies, but probably says more about his relative playing styles and the fact that broken tennis rackets cannot be repaired in quite the same way that guitars can be restored.

It brought to mind one of my favourite pictures from a busy day a year or so ago when I indulged both hobbies on the same day:

Packing it all in; real tennis and 16th/17th century guitar jam – did Charles Stuart’s consignment look anything like this?

An Unusually Busy Day With Tennis, Middlesex/Saracens and DJ Jamming Session, 9 May 2017

The rest of that day was littered with early music coincidences, which took me back thirty years and involved the Hilliard Ensemble and even Christopher Page’s Gothic Voices project too. Truly weird. Watch this space for a retroblog piece on’t.

The Believers Are But Brothers by Javaad Alipoor, Bush Theatre, 3 February 2018

“Please leave your mobile phones on and be sure to set the volume to loud”…

…is not an entreaty you’ll often hear in the theatre just before the start of the show, but for this show it makes a great deal of sense. It makes even more sense to join the Whatsapp group set up for the piece – not a requirement but an experience-enhancing move for sure.

The scene as we entered the theatre

Janie and I both obliged, but while I found all the social media discussion and exposition fascinating, Janie got lost in the techiness of it all and said the piece left her cold…

…which is a shame.

Because the story was, in my view, well written and well told by writer/performer Javaad Alipoor. He shows, through the stories of three disaffected young men, how people can be radicalised through social media, both to Islamic extremism and also to alt-right type fanatical politics.

Janie said she found the whole idea of it rather depressing. It didn’t make me feel that way. Concerned, yes, but not depressed. Disaffected youngsters have always been susceptible to extremism – social media is just the modern way of grooming and recruiting them.

I’m more concerned with the ways social media seem to be polarising opinion and dragging communities apart from each other, rather than fulfilling their potential role as universal media that can bring people closer together.

But that’s another story…and if Javaad Alipoor wants to write a play about that, I’d be up for seeing more of his work…

…but Janie might not be so keen to go with me.

Here is a link to the Bush resource on this piece/production.

Mixed reviews from me and Janie – similarly mixed reviews from the critics – click here for a search term that finds them.

The Lords, Then Lord’s, Plus A Coincidental Segue Between The Two, 1 February 2018

Just before Christmas , I received an invitation from the House of Lords to give some follow-up evidence to the evidence I gave on Brexit back in October 2016 – click here or below to read about that first occasion:

Two Visits To Two Different Lord Places In One Day, 27 October 2016

You can also read the report that came out in March 2017, which (I was pleased to discover) cited me several times – click here.

Anyway, I decided to make it a Lords/Lord’s day again, so booked to play real tennis late afternoon.

On this second occasion, the chair of the committee, Lord Witty, was away, so Lord Aberdare took the chair. I have embedded the vid below.

You can judge for yourselves how it went. If you are a Facebookista, you can see how my Facebook friends reacted by clicking here.

I think my key moment was at c10:36 (about 30 minutes in) when I made the topical West London analogy of the slightly leaky pipe c/w the major burst water main. Much of West London had been without water pretty much all day on the day before the hearing – which I found rather nerve-wracking while I prepared, but it did lend me a useful analogy.

I did say some other stuff too, so it is certainly worth getting a bucket of popcorn and hunkering down for an hour of viewing.

16 months deeper into my real tennis career (and into Brexit of course), I kept thinking during the hearing that the name “Lord Aberdare” was familiar to me in a tennis context…then wondered whether I was getting confused.

When I got to Lord’s later, I saw that, as I had half remembered, the name “Lord Aberdare” was all over the real tennis Gold and Silver Racket honours board.

It transpires that our man, the current (fifth) Baron Aberdare‘s, grandfather, who was the third Baron Aberdare – click here or picture below for bio – had a twenty-or-so year cricket playing career for Middlesex County Cricket Club before and after the First World War and also went on to dominate amateur real tennis between the wars; probably one of the greatest amateur real tennis players ever.

by Walter Stoneman, bromide print, 1930.  From – see there for full details of non-free use rationale, which also applies to my use.

You’d have thought that this wonderful coincidence would have inspired me to a great victory on the tennis court that evening…but you’d be wrong. The 3rd Baron would not have been impressed by my performance on the court…

…I wonder what he would have made of Brexit and or my performance before the Peers? Would he have yelled “better than half a yard” or “hazard the door” to mark the end of my pivotal speech?

Brexit, Middlesex cricket and real tennis…the story of a fair chunk of my life at the moment, I suppose.