To Old Paradise Yard in North Lambeth to join Simon Jacobs, friends, family and groupies for the launch of Simon’s long-awaited album, Circle Line.
I say long-awaited…some tracks on the album, the song Circle Line included, I recall Simon playing and me bootlegging onto cassette 35 to 40 years ago.
People had come from far and wide for this launch. As far west as Bristol, where Simon’s kid sister Sue lives…
As far north as Lincolnshire, where several of Simon’s family members live. As far south-east as Hong Kong, from whence the delightful and redoubtable Ting Ting had ventured specially to support the launch.
The venue was Eduard’s IKLECTIK Lab at Old Paradise Yard. Eduard himself was one of several really interesting, good company people we got to meet and chat with over the evening. Timothy, Lydia and Ting Ting were similarly people we met for the first time with whom Janie and I felt immediately at ease.
“I don’t have any more…just relax and party”, said Simon.
And so we did.
Mark Lewis turned up, which was a very pleasant surprise, having not seen him for decades. Janie enjoyed meeting him too. Mark triggered an old memory or three that I must retro-blog soon while the memories are fresh. Indeed, seeing several members of the Jacobs family gathered together again, including Simon’s mum, brought back many memories too.
It’s years since we have been to the proms. I used to go regularly, even before I met Janie.
Then in our early days together…indeed for many, many years, we would take The Duchess (Janie’s mum), as she liked the place and the concerts. But once the Duchess went off the idea of going out to concerts, we focused our concert-going on smaller, more intimate venues such as The Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square.
Anyway, Janie called me excitedly earlier in the week, as she was with Joyce Ma, who had excellent tickets for this concert and couldn’t use them. Would we like them?
It was hard to say no to such a kind and generous offer. We both love Bach and we both thought it would make a real change for us to visit the Proms again.
This concert was the very first time that the whole of Book One of The Well Tempered Clavier had been performed at the Proms. Interesting choice for a late night concert, as the 21:00 start meant for a 23:00 finish.
Imagine my delight when we entered the hall and I realised that Joyce had chosen pretty much exactly the seats I would have chosen myself “back in the day”, when I used to choose my seats with a connoisseur’s precision.
András Schiff performed the whole of The Well Temered Clavier Book One from memory, which seemed the most extraordinary feat in itself to me. He also performed with a wonderfully light touch and supreme confidence.
Both Janie and I nodded off at times – that is a compliment in a way because the music was so relaxing. In truth, The Well Tempered Clavier is not, to my taste, the most interesting work for listening rapt with attention. But it is delightfully easy on the ear if you listen to relax. This performance was a classic of a classic; it was just wonderful to end our day with it.
Janie took her own photos when Schiff took his well-deserved standing ovation and bow:
Jolly it wasn’t, but then what do you expect when you choose to hear requiem masses, Jeremiah’s lamentations and that sort of thing?
But very beautiful it was.
I especially enjoyed the Morales, which was the main reason I booked the concert. We hear quite a lot of the 16th century English stuff, whereas the Morales felt like a rare treat.
This type of music (mostly 10 voices in five parts) works so well in the Wigmore Hall and The Cardinall’s Musick are really superb at delivering this stuff. Andrew Carwood always explains the context in detail, but not painful detail.
The audience lapped it all up and managed to coax the team back onto the pitch for an encore – I think it was the first two verses from Tallis’s Psalm 1 setting.
It was a Tuesday evening and Janie had early patients etc. the next day, so we didn’t dine together – I think Janie got home just before the heavens opened. Good job I was in the flat when the rains came – it was torrential and I had left windows open. There’d have been Jeremiah-style lamentations from me if my computer and/or baroq-ulele had got wet.
“Hello, we’re a couple of Dinosaurs”, I said, as we arrived at the Wigmore Hall for the late night concert. The programme notes distributor smiled; perhaps a knowing smile – she probably thinks of all of us Wigmore Hall-istas as dinosaurs.
Wigmore Hall, like Lord’s, is one of the very few places in the world where I might still be addressed as “young man”.
But this was quite a youthful concert – a young jazz combo, Dinosaur, playing an interesting mix of styles, a bit jazz-blues-rocky, a bit avant-garde, a bit electric.
We stayed for an after concert drink and some more jazz in the bar – simply a pianist playing in a hotel lobby or restaurant style (second time in a row), rather than the more unusual/interesting stuff we got in earlier years after Wigmore Hall Lates – oh well.
I am mostly having the lessons via Skype, as Ian lives in Stourbridge. The first was on 3 May. I had a second lesson via Skype on 23 May and a third on 13 June.
The irony of using such a modern medium to learn how to play in such an ancient style is not wasted on us, but the Skype lessons really work.
Of course, the techniques that Ian is showing me don’t only work for early music. Several of the hands-on techniques that musicians started to use from the Renaissance onwards (before that, such stringed instruments were routinely plucked with plectra only) are perfectly useful and relevant for modern music too. The simple thumb strumming and finger arpeggiation I was using “self-taught” would only ever have got me so far.
It is all a real test of my resolve and patience; I am naturally a magpie with music, wanting to play lots of different songs, tunes and styles without really mastering anything.
Ian seems to be a natural “go with the flow” tutor who is willing and able to impart his skills and knowledge on me in whichever ways I choose and enjoy, giving me gentle but very helpful steers on how to improve and things to try.
The key for me is to use less effort and get more effect; usually by anchoring with my pinkie finger or my thumb and making less extreme movements with the moving parts. Easier said than done, especially if you are me.
Anyway, we went through some of the songs I have been working on. I have gone back to some easier ones (three or four chords, mostly open ones) that enable me to concentrate on the fingering. For example, I have been using Horse With No Name (or rather, my “Song With No Tune” version) to learn thumb inside technique. Randy Newman songs, such as Simon Smith and Political Science, work well with the thumb outside and quasi-rasgueado. Country and dance songs seem to work well with that style too.
It helps that Ian seems to like a lot of the songs I choose. I have also recently returned to We Sell Everything by Leon Rosselson, for example, which works great with these techniques. Ian really likes that song and liked the way I mixed the techniques before he had the chance to suggest similar. On several others, though, Ian suggested some technique mixing which hadn’t occurred to me.
Parenthetically, here is a lovely vid of Leon Rosselson singing We Sell Everything, although he is using far more sophisticated chords and modern style arpeggiation. My version sounds very different but I think still works…
Ian suggested that I try Rosselson’s (much harder) Let Your Hair Hang Down for next time and seemed very pleased to see that I already had the chords/words for it and that Janie really likes that song. So I’ll have another Skype lesson before my next face-to-face lesson, probably with Janie joining me, when we are both up for the Edgbaston test match.
Here is Roy Bailey singing Let Your Hair Hang Down. Unlike Leon Rosselson, Roy Bailey has a much better voice than mine, but like all of this stuff, I’ll try a few ideas out and give it my best shot.
Janie was very excited when we got tickets for Amanda Levete’s talk at the V&A, just ahead of “the big reveal” of the results of the new Exhibition Road Building Project. The talk was nicely timed for Janie’s birthday, 26 June.
We had hoped to get to see the Serpentine stuff that day as well, but we didn’t get our act together in time for that; indeed we only just allowed enough time to walk through the park from the flat to the V&A for the talk.
The talk was very interesting. Amanda Levete explained the background to and details of this extraordinarily ambitious and unusual project, to build a substantial exhibition space and piazza in what had been dead space at the Exhibition Road end of the V&A site.
Of course, the new exhibition space is underground, so cynics might argue that this V&A project was a gargantuan Kensington basement development. But we aren’t cynics in this regard – we were chomping at the bit to see the new space.
Drinks were pleasant enough and we chatted to Amanda Levete herself briefly. She cemented our view that we wanted to return Friday to see the new space properly ahead of the big reveal and events that evening.
Friday 30 June 2017
Daisy got her act together on the Friday, so we did have time to visit the Serpentine Gallery and Pavilion ahead of the V&A.
We started with the pavilion, not least because we were both peckish and could picnic therein…
…except we couldn’t, as an unattended bag encouraged the staff to clear the pavilion just as we started to munch.
I suppose there was some irony in me seeing the work of one of Chelmsford’s greatest so soon after my visit to Chelmsford. But I must say I prefer the idea of Grayson Perry’s work far more than I like the work itself. Janie is keener on the work.
Then on to the V&A to see the new space “ahead of the plebs”, as Daisy put it, with no apparent irony, despite her regular vitriol about social inequality, in the borough and beyond.
We then waited for “the big reveal” in the new Exhibition Road cafe. I thought there might be a fanfare at 17:00, or at least the multiple gates on the Aston Webb screen would be flung open, but no such thing happened. They merely started to admit people through the main Aston Webb gate whereas previously they were asking to see membership cards.
As we had some time to kill until the opening Friday evening events of the Reveal Festival were to begin, we went to see the Pink Floyd exhibition. Pink Floyd have never really been my thing, but of course I am familiar with much of the music and the iconography, so it was interesting to see it. Pretty crowded on a Friday evening, it was, especially as I suspect we weren’t the only people who had planned to take in that exhibition ahead of the live music events.
After the Pink Floyd, we wandered down to the John Madejski Garden to watch KOKOROKO setting up and sound checking for the headline gig later.
So we soon headed off upstairs to find the Hejira gig. This was in Room 82, a relatively small room, so we did the right thing getting to the room in good time, finding one of the last bits of wall space for a proper view.
The music is, in theory, inspired by Ethiopian music, but we couldn’t really detect much of that. Still, the lead singer is very elegant and has an extraordinary voice.
The following embedded vid is far funkier than the music they played in Room 82:
After that, we went to see the Music Television exhibit in the Tapestries room, then failed to get in to the virtual reality behind the scenes tour. I suppose, as we have had a special, private behind the scenes tour of the V&A in our time, our need for the virtual tour was not so great.
Then back to the John Madejski Garden to see get a drink and see KOKOROKO. The garden was really starting to fill up festival style, so we got ourselves a good position and enjoyed dancing to the DJ’s music while waiting for the gig.
KOKOROKO were very good – an afrobeat sound that reminded me a bit of Fela Kuti but with a more fusion/eclectic mix of sounds. I have embedded a vid at the bottom of this piece.
There was a great spirit among the crowd; we ended up dancing and high-fiving with various strangers. Whereas Janie and I had possibly been the youngest people at Amanda Levete’s talk on Monday, we were among the oldest people enjoying the festival headline act – who cares? We had a great time.
…Moroccan and North African sounds, folk and classical traditions, Israeli harmonies and Mediterranean rhythms to create a musical melting pot…
How right I was.
I hadn’t worked out, from that promotional material, that “Avital Meets Avital” is a relatively new combo, nor did it cross my mind that the two Avitals might not be connected to each other by blood. They just happen to be two musical guys who share the same surname who discovered that they make great music together and formed a fine musical friendship and combo.
The hall was pretty crowded, considering that the combo is fairly new and the Friday late slot does not always do well unless the act is well-known/a local favourite.
The group’s love of music and music-making together came across very nicely. In particular, Omer Avital (right of picture) came across as a real fun-loving showman – but in a good way. Janie is often put off by flamboyant musicians, but this was just the right balance of joyous music making, sharing that joy with the audience, yet relentlessly high-quality, professional musicianship.
Indeed all four of them are superb musicians.
Avi Avital must be one of the leading virtuosi of the mandolin – some of the intricate work he was doing, especially on the smaller of the two mandolins he played, was spellbinding.
The pianist, Yonathan Avishai, was mostly playing (in effect) continuo, but when he got the opportunity to extemporise with a solo, his ability as a musician became very clear.
The drummer, Itamar Doari, looked as mad as a box of frogs (or at least on a different cerebral planet) when he played – it was a wonder he didn’t spontaneously combust Spinal Tap style during his solos. Strangely though, in the bar afterwards, he looked surprisingly sane and normal.
There was a good vibe in the bar after the show, with a jazz pianist playing. It was good to see all four performers (as well as a reasonable chunk of the audience) joining in the post concert fun – that doesn’t always happen after these Wigmore Lates concerts.
I downloaded the Avital Meets Avital album as soon as we got home and we have listened to it several times over the past few days. I would recommend the album highly, but would also suggest that you get to see this combo live if you can – the recordings cannot quite do justice to the uplifting sense you get from seeing this combo perform live.
We agreed that the weather forecast for Saturday looked shocking and (I thought) agreed that a day out in Liverpool would be a good substitute for sitting around in (probably) vain hope of any cricket. We also agreed to liaise in the morning.
About 9:00 a.m. Daisy received a text from Lavender to say that, as the weather was so poor, they had decided to take the train to Blackpool for the day.
“What’s Blackpool like?” asked Daisy.
“I’ve never been on a wet June day and I’m not about to either,” was my reply, “what the hell was wrong with the Liverpool idea; I thought we’d all agreed a plan last night?”
Daisy phoned Lavender to ascertain that she had, in fact, confused the names Blackpool and Liverpool. The whole of the north of England is just one huge swathe of vaguely-named towns and cities to some people.
So we were as one with the plans and headed off to Southport railway station. For the princely sum of £5.10 each we were awarded the freedom of the Wirral and Northern Lines for the day.
We ran into some Middlesex supporters as we went to board our train. They seemed to think there might be play from 11:30 and wondered why we were fleeing town. The truth will have dawned on them as the day panned out – there was no cricket at all that day.
From Liverpool Central, we headed towards Albert Docks; our first stop being the Tate Liverpool. Daisy took some photos along the way.
We were really impressed with the Tate Liverpool and spent quite some time there.
We started with the Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus exhibition. I’m not 100% sure about the connection between Blake and Emin – this seemed to me more a marketing ploy than a genuine connection – but I had never actually seen the Tracey Emin bed before, nor had I ever seen so many William Blake pictures gathered in one place. Well worthwhile.
We then went through the upper floor (i.e. same level as the Emin/Blake) of Constellations – which is the main regular exhibition at Tate Liverpool. We all enjoyed that enormously but felt in need of a sit down and some refreshment at that stage, so we went to the cafe for a while and then looked at the rest of Constellations.
Buoyed by our refreshments, we wandered round the block to the Beatles Experience, where there were long queues and a rather touristic look to the place, so we decided to go to the Cavern Club instead but, before leaving the docks area, to take Mike O’Farrell’s advice and visit the International Slavery Museum . I’m really glad we did.
I find it hard to try and articulate how that International Slavery Museum made me/us feel. It is very interesting. Some of it is shocking, not least the matter-of-fact inventories and documentation that makes it so clear that people were seen as commercial commodities. But much of first section of the museum is a wealth of information on the African culture from which so many of the slaves came and much of the last section is a celebration of the modern culture that has emerged through the descendants of former slaves.
One especially thought-provoking section is about modern slavery – in particular sex workers – which reminded me that slavery in all its horrible forms has not entirely gone.
Between the museums and the Cavern Club, we wanted to see Judy Chicago’s Fixing A Hole mural, at Stanley Dock near the Titanic Hotel. We took a cab there, on the advice of some helpful police-folk:
We didn’t hang around in the plush Titanic Hotel, nor the Stanley Dock. We were told we’d have no trouble getting a cab to the Cavern up on Great Howard Street, but we walked 5 minutes or more along that road without a sniff of a cab.
Chris cleverly suggested that we try Regent Road (along the side of the Mersey) instead. That worked rapidly…and we landed up with a Scouse cabby from central casting who told us his life story, how many he smokes and yet how far he walks, tales of seeing John Lennon’s ghost, everything he thought we ought to see in Liverpool…you get the picture. He was great.
We decided to head for a train between 18:00 and 18:15 to get us back to Southport in time to freshen up before dinner.
Dinner was at a family-run Italian restaurant named Volare, about 30 seconds crawl on hands and knees (not that we did it that way) from the hotel. The food was excellent and the staff helpful/friendly. The highlight (or perhaps low-light) of the evening was towards the end, when the staff with great fanfare played “Happy Birthday To You” at full volume over the sound system and presented a rather embarrassed-looking lady at the table behind me with a candle-lit tiramisu.
Unbeknown to me, Daisy signalled to the staff that it was also my birthday (which of course it wasn’t), so five minutes later they went through the rigmarole again for me, much to my discomfort and the glee of the other three. I shall exact my revenge; don’t know where, don’t know when, but the dish will be served cold.
In truth, we’d done many interesting things and had a lot of fun that day, despite most of it being distinctly “Plan B” activity.
Today’s itinerary included some real tennis at lunchtime, then hot wheels from Lord’s (where Middlesex meetings would normally take place) to Saracens/Allianz Park where today’s “Middlesex in exile” meetings were taking place; then on to a jamming evening with DJ in Cricklewood.
No sense in taking Dumbo on those rounds, so I needed to get smart about my luggage. I discovered that there was but one sweet spot in Benjy’s ukulele case where both uke and racket could fit and the lid would close without difficulty.
That configuration (pictured above) raised a few smiles (and even photographs) as I did my rounds.
The day went well. I won my tennis (just), the Middlesex meeting was very productive.
The low point was the “greasy spoon” at the end of DJ’s road, where I squatted for 45 minutes before the jam. It neither looked nor was rated “greasy spoon” on-line…and since when did greasy spoons have fancy coffee machines with every conceivable variety of coffee available?
The jamming session with DJ was great fun, although DJ doesn’t think that the marriage of tennis racket and uke in one case is a good idea on a regular basis.
Yes, I know that the Wigmore Hall stub (and programme) suggests that Thomas Dunford was playing a lute, but believe me, it was a theorbo.
Indeed, having had my very first baroq-ulele lesson with Ian Pittaway on Wednesday, I was studying Dunford’s work like a connoisseur. A mixture of thumb-inside and thumb-outside playing, with some trill and rasgueado-looking stuff thrown in. Not sure he quite anchors his hand comprehensively, but then that would make playing the whole range of strings on a theorbo a lit of a challenge.
I also found myself fascinated by Dunford’s instrument straps; one for the shoulder (as recommended and now work in progress for my baroq-ulele), but also an additional one upon which he sits for extra support.
Mercifully, I didn’t let all of that geeky stuff detract from my enjoyment of the wonderful music.
The leader, Jonathan Cohen, introduced and discussed the pieces/composers masterfully. He isn’t a charismatic showman, but he comes across as very knowledgeable, very pleasant and inclusive of the other performers, which Janie and I liked. At one point, for example, he invited Sophie Gent to explain the techniques she was using to embellish the relatively simple parts that composers wrote down in that earlier baroque period. She explained herself very well.
Ahead of the Kühnel sonata, Jonathan Manson showed us the detailed craftsmanship of his viola da gamba. He explained that August Kühnel spent some time in England to study music around the time that Manson’s viola da gamba was being made, so Kühnel might have actually seen that beautiful instrument being crafted.
After the concert, the Wigmore Hall had arranged for some jazz in the bar, as they have done in the past but they had (or have not yet) not promoted that idea yet this season. Unsurprisingly, very few people stuck around, but we did, enjoying some 1950’s style jazz piano over a glass.
Janie and I were pleased to see the Arcangelo performers all supporting that jazz initiative after their gig. It also gave us a chance to congratulate Jonathan Cohen in person.
Arcangelo is a relatively new, young early music group; they are very talented and they deserve to do well. For sure, we’ll be looking out for them again.