The sacred Oratorio is a particular art-form, akin to a the dress rehearsal of an opera, with the lead singers up front, an orchestra about them, & the great phalanx of the chorus behind them. Each singer utilises a book & weaves their warbling sonars about the ever-wafting threads of the music. On Friday last the wonderful white world that is the main concert hall of the City Halls saw a performance of Handel’s Theodora, an exceptional piece of dramatic celestiality, brought to us by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, a classic piece in love & virtue that, although never popular, has always touched the souls of the few who have witnesses its wonders.
Between Handel’s music & libretto we are given the story of Theodora, a Christian martyr who broke Roman law by refusing to worship the emperor as a god. Didymus, a Roman officer, is falls in love with and is converted by Theodora. By the final Act both are facing death for their faith and disobedience. The piece is a wonder, especially for the vocal of Didymus, originally written for a castrato, played here by countertenor Iestyn Davies’ Didymus with an ethereal beauty. His timbre is warm and human, with a controlled melancholic grace that is simply breath-taking.
Perhaps in the final say, some aria performances felt over nuanced and words could not be heard distinctly, but the power with which they were sung transcends this lack of accessibility. This lilting and entrancing performance carries us to the final duet of soprano Stefanie True and countertenor Iestyn Davies when we are lifted to heaven alongside them in an uplifting, sublime crescendo.
I myself enjoy most genres of music, however classical is a new concept to me; I have very few pieces of classical in my musical collection. Whilst looking through the Eden Court program, my partner highlighted Schubert as an excellent choice of music for a good night out.
In Schubert’s Company (2013) was written by Sergey Akunov, who put together a competition for musicians to write a contemporary new piece of music structured on Schubert’s own work.
Maxim Rysanov won with this very impressive musical score which involved an intro of violins and violas being plucked, with lots of undertones and overtones including the build up of cellos and bass, a very pleasant melody. The whole performance was very thoughtful and rousing. Maxim describes his music as “I understand that contemporary composers often have extended annotations to their works which explain how to understand their music. Many years ago I wanted also to be smart, to have smart ‘concepts’… But as I got older, I decided not to say anything more than the listener can hear in my music. The ideas in my music are obvious. This can probably be called my ‘concept’.”
At Maxims request Sergey Akhunov wrote Der Erkonig who “wanted this sort of fast and demonic music, but connected in some way with a Schubert ballad”. Taking Schubert’s 1815 Lied of the same title as inspiration, Akhunov’s new interpretation duly mirrors the structure of the chilling Goethe poem that forms the songs text, which depicts a child being chased by a shadowy supernatural being – the Erlkonig – who finally kills him. This is a very gripping piece of music, which is fast based, played with lots of base notes and playing techniques to incorporate the required sound for the music.
The next piece, written by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828), Sonata in A minor, “Arpeggione”, D.821 (1824) was an excellent addition to the evening, & was played in four ways;
1.Allegro; 2. Moderato; 3. Adagio; 4. Allegretto
The arpeggione instrument was invented between 1823 and 1824 by Johann Georg Stauffer, a bowed instrument with six strings and frets, held between the knees, it was a cross between a cello and a guitar. I found the music very enjoyable, putting a smile on my face as well as the musicians. The music evoked imaginations of dancing in fields, star crossed lovers illicitly dancing in secrecy and intrigue, openly dancing in corn fields.
I have to say I enjoyed the first performances before the break for ice-cream and refreshments a lot more to the more traditional high and low contrasts developed in the Franz Schubert string quartet in F minor, ”Death and the Maiden”.
To conclude all the music was played in a very colourful, visual and contemporary style with a final score being much darker and traditional. I much preferred the Maxim Rysanov modern contemporary adaptions to Schubert’s compositions and would look for his name more than Schubert per se.
Folk music has long formed part of the mainstream music scene in the UK with acts such as Jethro Tull, Nick Drake and Kirsty MacColl breaking into the charts over the years. More recently there has been an uptake in interest with the huge success of Mumford and Sons. Ken Nicol is a veteran of the UK Folk scene active since the 1970s playing along with such big names as Steel eye Span and members of Fairport Convention. Becky Mills first came to prominence as part of the band “Waking the Witch” whom she performed with in the early 2000s.
Ken performs with an extraordinary talent; able to pick up a large variety of instruments from the ukulele to the electric guitar and make them sing. Becky sung with crystal clear poignancy that draws the listener in. Throughout the set the pair alternated between duets, solo singing and instrumental songs, this gave the evening nice contrasts in the pace and tone of the evening. One notable instrumental song ken performed was “Waltz with Alice” a beautiful tribute to Ken’s Mother.
Many of the songs Ken performed including “The Song of Two Bridges” he had co-written with the legendary Ashley Hutching and it was obvious he was very proud of his time collaborating with him. Becky performed several songs from her first Solo Album “Dandelion” all of which come across with a sincerity and beauty that I can only recommend.
When they sang together their different vocal styles complimented each other well and in between songs they kept the audience amused with a variety of stories and chat. Overall it was a very enjoyable evening and it was a shame that there was not more people to enjoy it. They are next performing on the 22nd October in the Hungry Horse Folk & Acoustic Club, Ellesmere Port and I would recommend any fan of heartfelt folk music to check them out.
Audio heaven last night in the form of live act Ruts D.C. a three piece punk/reggae band that have their roots firmly entrenched in the enclaves of punk history. Originally The Ruts, their adroit merging of punk and reggae/dub in 1981 ensured their place in music history – that and the fact that they got regular playings on The Peel Sessions with infamous experimentalist DJ John Peel not only playing their music but helping the fans to obtain their tracks when few record shops stocked their albums. The D.C. is short for ‘de capo’ which is Latin for ‘from the beginning’.
Performing to a packed crowd their support band UK Feds were much rawer live than their youtube videos would have you believe – they are a Birmingham punk/ska band with an impressive backlog of supporting Adam Ant and now Ruts D.C. Formed in September 2015, (yes last month) these Midland musicians are Jon Kings (lead vocals/guitar), Ryan Kings (vocals/bass), Ricky-Lee Cooper (drums) and second guitarist Mikey Rainsford. Intense, sharp sociopolitical songs like, ‘Minimum Wages’, and ‘Trouble in London’ engage an audience that want an intelligent response to their ‘Anger’. These musicians sing about the essence of the ‘stuff going on in the world that affects us, just like bands in the 70’s and 80’s did.’ The two guitars on set gave an extra kick to their loud delivery and they were a real treat to see because they were so fresh and passionate.
Speaking with Ruts D.C. guitarist Leigh Heggarty outside before the doors opened I asked him what his best venue of the tour had been so far. He said that the ‘Jazz Cafe in London was a good gig, but here’s good, we played here last year to a great crowd.’
When Ruts D.C. came on after the soundcheck the crowd had already taken their surge forward. I’m now proudly wearing a ring of bruises round my right leg from the stage edge as I managed to get front row and befriend two females to dance with – it was a testosterone-heavy night. Best workout ever – almost 2 hours of non stop dancing to Ruts classics ‘Babylon’s Burning ’, ‘Jah War ’, (which was a response to the Southall disturbances of April ’79) and ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ amongst the highlights.
Their eighteenth gig out of a thirty one gig ‘Psychic Attack Tour’ that started in Muster, Germany late September and finishes on the 5th December in Blackpool was a testament to the energy of singer/bassist John “Segs” Jennings, drummer Dave Ruffy and guitarist Leigh Heggarty who, though heavy weights themselves, have recently played with Rancid, Buzzcocks, Goldblade, Social Distortion, Public Image Ltd and reformed Anti-Pasti. Great venue and legendary act made for an intimate experience that ticks all the boxes.
Jean-Claude Picard who has recently been promoted to Associate Conductor at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra chose to conduct Mendelssohn’s: The Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), followed by Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending, arranged by Katherine Bryan and lastly Jean Sibelius: Symphony No 2 in D Major as he thought there was a “strong link” between the three pieces as they each have a quiet strength and power.
The evening began with Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture, which was inspired by his trip to Scotland, which involved a boat trip to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. The contrast between the more dramatic melodies and quieter more tranquil parts evokes the feeling of travelling at sea and brings to mind opposing nature of Scottish scenery. It was beautifully conducted by Jean-Claude Picard.
Katherine Bryan, the RSNO’s Principle Flautist then joined the orchestra for the first live performance of her own arrangement of The Lark Ascending. In the pre-show talk she explained the reasoning for adapting the violin solo for the flute, she felt the flute is often slightly overlooked and would suit this piece, bringing something unique and adding a different colour and sound. It also has special meaning as it is was one of her fathers favourites.
It was interesting to hear the challenges of playing a violin concerto on a flute, such as having to split the double stopping between the flute and the clarinet and using techniques such as pop tonguing to replicate Pizzicato or plucking of strings. Katherine added a sense of glamour in her blue chiffon dress and gave a stunning passionate performance, that sent tingles down my spine, and her encore performance of Sarasate – Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) was equally breathtaking.
The short interval was followed with Sibelius’s epic second symphony in four movements. Sibelius composed the majority of it in Italy and he described it as “a struggle between death and salvation” and “a confession of the soul” but the piece is still steeped in Finnish folklore which is accentuated by oboes and clarinets and it is often identified as the symphony of independence. It takes you on a roller coaster of gentle melodies on strings, rolling timpani drums which is held together with recurring patterns and ends with an intense emotional finale played magnificently by the orchestra. Jean-Claude Picard conducted this concert with dynamic flair and brought a fantastic cohesion between the orchestra and these three performances. A thoroughly delightful evening which was only mildly disrupted by some incessant coughing from the audience.
Having just finished performing with Martina Cannon And The Mean Reds at the Red Sessions in the Blind Poet I made haste for the La Belle Angelle to witness the famed Yellow Explosion of positive rock n roll. Colonel Mustard And the Dijon 5, a 14-piece outfit, were in town. Now this is another Scottish Band (heralding from Glasgow) that Divine has performed on the same bill as, at many different events, but because our performance times have clashed, I have been unable to relish the joy that this wonderful band generate.Until Last Night.
I hit the Cowgate in Edinburgh and was called into Bannermans by Lorraine Thomas, where I had a swift pint of Guinness and joined the yellow Army who were also heading to the much anticipated gig. On arrival at La belle Angelle, a young band from Edinburgh called Durty Works immediately grabbed me with a sound not dissimilar to the great band, Echo And the Bunnymen. Oh yes Divine loved them. This brilliant example of Rock N Roll grabbed me in an instant promoting the dance moves that great Rock N Roll should do. this young band of merrymen are gonna go a long way. Divine was more than suitably impressed. Next up, The Begbies a full band with a rather brilliant horn section, producing a big band sound (not as big as the Mustards) [laying original compositions and some well chosen Specials covers. They Suitably prepared the dance floor for the all-captivating Colonel Mustard And The Dijon 5.
Resplendent in the most positive colour, the Yellow Movement graced the stage with Jamie of Jamie and Shoony Fame opening proceedings with his buoyant and fun stage presence. Introduced by the good Colonel. Now The Mustards are a band that are legendary for the fun that they promote, I have been friends with the rather beautiful supporting female singers for some time, but this was my first experience of why this band are doing so well.
La Belle Angelle became a playground for grown up kids and audience participation became the maximum. With fun games and Rock n Roll Grace it was fun and the whole night lightened my load significantly. Aye it was Fun Fun Fun. The cherry on the cake to top the night off was Jamie’s rendition of their classic, ‘Anyway Anyway.’ Keep your eye’s peeled Colonel Mustard And The Dijon 5 are coming your way. Divine’s Yellow Cherry has been popped. Play it again Sam! Yeeha! Good Time
Opening the show for Eric Taylor: Stuart Warburton. As well as being Taylor’s tour manager Warburton admits his love of playing on the stage when ever the opportunity arrives. With a few little stories of his own to tell Warburton gave a warm and friendly opening to the evening. A noteable track to watch was…”Three Chords And The Truth”
After a short interval Eric Taylor arrives on stage , a big Texan man takes centre stage. No introductions neeeded Taylor starts with his first piece inspired by time spent living on indian reserves with his friend across america. ‘we gave them our money they gave us their wives’. Throughout the performance Taylor would switch from telling stories to playing guitar/ singing without pause. So most songs where not introduced by name.
As we here stories of his incredible life Taylor affectionately talks of his grandma- Mee Maw, detailing how she dressed and the colour of her hair with such love. She would welcome him and his wayward friends over to her house. Then later when she was dying he would play to her in her bed……requesting a song about his ex con friend….taylor sang ‘give him half a hundred, hel come back with a ton’.
The audience are treated to tales of being sued by Rolling Stones magazine and having to move to the middle of no where then acquiring a horse jack, who never much liked him. He introduced this song as ‘Texas Texas’. Written after his friend had come to stay in a similar predicament and unfortunately a big storm hit and he lost the horses. Taylor also talks of his love for strong woman who never seemed to stick around and his ex-partner walking out after 7 years in the blink of an eye.
Overall he is an interesting and intriguing man he not only sang and played but also spoke in verse. Strange pauses in his speech and a unique story telling manner teamed with husky vocals and stylized guitar playing gave Taylor a different edge. Certainly a unique experience and an enjoyable night but sadly with a slight lack of energy in the room.
Rachel Sermanni is a Scottish folk musician from Carrbridge, in Strathspey. She has toured with a number of well-known folk and indie artists in the United Kingdom. Her first album was released in September 2012. Sermanni was influenced by musicians such as Eva Cassidy, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan and often talks about vivid dreams that slowly transform into songs. She developed and understood performing when she began listening and performing Scotland’s traditional music at school. One of the first songs she wrote at 16 was featured on the first album despite it being four years old by the time of its release. Later she performed in pubs around Glasgow, where many have a traditional music night. In September 2009 she went to see Mumford and Sons at the Loopallu festival in Ullapool. After the performance, she found them in a pub “and asked them if they wanted to jam”, resulting in a jamming session on the beach. In 2011 she supported them at Dingwalls in London. Sermanni also toured with Fink on his European tour in 2011, was showcased at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, has supported Elvis Costello and Rumer, and performed at 150 gigs between June 2011 and June 2012.
Rough Trade Records released a new EP, Black Currents, in February 2012, and in August Sermanni appeared on the BBC Introducing Stage at the Reading Festival. In October she toured Ireland, and on 31 December 2012, she headlined BBC Scotland’s annual Hogmanay Live programme, appearing in the Glasgow studio with Frightened Rabbit, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain. Glasgow newspaper, The Herald, chose her as one of their “stars of 2012”. Her first album, Under Mountains, was released on Middle of Nowhere Records and Rough Trade Records in September 2012
At Eden Court, Inverness Sermanni continued her tour for the Tied To The Moon album. The stage was set for Rachel Sermanni, with drifting smoke above the musicians heads, with a black backdrop, and “a hundred year old piano.” The lass sings like an angel and talks like a pixie; dressed in a long flowing sleeveless red skirt and top, pale skin, long tied back but flowing brunette hair, her amethyst green eyes (the green amethyst stone clears disharmonious energy, activates your inner vision & enhances your heart based spiritual connection to Mother Gaia.), she opened up her set with two mesmerising slow tracks played on her mandolin, what a great start.
Rachel then got more upbeat, playing several tracks on her electric acoustic guitar, backed up with a bass guitar, piano, drums and cello. She then gave us a couple of stories during her tracks, one was about nightmares, though when one woke up and recounted them, they turned out to be “quite funny”, such as the one were Rachel’s cat was dreamt drinking and smoking, whilst in another dream she was a woken in beads of sweat by someone splashing water on her face in her “nightmare”. One of the tracks she played was called Sleep which was a very smooth melodic track, whilst Marshmallow Unicorn was a much slower track which gripped the audience, we were now truly under Rachel’s spell, with lyrics that repeated in a chorus “ripple on a water she prays”. We were treated to other delights such as Tractor (named because the first lyrics were thought in a tractor, the rest of the lyrics came about a few months later after a bit of research on subject material), The Fog and Under a Mountain, to name but a few.
I had wanted to see Rachel Sermanni play in Aviemore a few months back, but was unable to make the gig. When I heard she was playing at Eden Court, I had to go and see her play; I was not disappointed a very talented musician, with a lovely joyous sense of humour, a joy to listen and watch her play. Her newest release, Tied To The Moon, was written over four days in an apartment above a pottery studio deep in the sticks of Nova Scotia, Canada, recorded in the Highlands of Scotland sees Rachel digging deep and offering a darker and more rhythmic flavour of poetry and music.
Rachel Sermanni (vocals, electric acoustic guitar), Jennifer Austin (piano, organ and backing vocals), Gordon Skene (bass and cello) and Tom Terrel (drums, electric acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Colin Macleod (recording and production), tracked all takes, live, in Colin’s living room in the Scottish Highlands.