An Interview with Danny Holdsworth

download (1).jpgHello Danny, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?

Hi! I’m currently at home in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney in Australia.


When did you first realise you were musical?

I can’t remember not having music in my life. I grew up in a house full of instruments. Both of my parents play a bit, and I have always been intrigued by anything that makes a sound.


Can you give us a brief resume of your musical career thus far?


In the UK, the thing I’m probably best known for is the show, Tubular Bells for Two, where two blokes attempt to play Mike Oldfield’s classic album, Tubular Bells. We juggle 20 instruments between us in a highly theatrical event, as you could imagine. Apart from that, I’ve played in many bands in Australia, and also compose music for theatre, TV and film.

Can you tell us about the ‘Darks Common Underground’ collective?

Darks Common Underground is a fairly recent project I’ve been working on. We are a group of musicians from the Blue Mountains, and I’m the main songwriter. Our music is has a bit of a folk undertone, and we’ve just released our debut single, Meteorites and Other Things.


What does Danny Holdsworth like to do when he’s not being musical?

When I’m not playing music, I suppose my not-so-secret passions are cricket and Nintendo. I’m a bit of a cricket tragic. I play for a local team. I stay up all night watching matches from all over the world. And I also love Nintendo, especially the Zelda series. At the moment I’m absolutely hooked on Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch!

Next month you will be touring your ‘Tubular Bells For Two.’ Can you tell us about the project?

Tubular Bells for Two is a show where two blokes attempt to play all of Mike Oldfield’s classic album, Tubular Bells, live. We try to replicate the album as close as we possible can, juggling 20 instruments between us. It is a tense, theatrical and thoroughly entertaining performance that lives on a knife edge. The task at hand is so mammoth, it really can fall apart at any moment. I developed the show with my good friend and long time collaborator, Aidan Roberts. It started as a silly idea, jamming on a bunch of instruments in our living room. We never thought it would become an actual show, let alone one that would go on to tour the world! We’re both big record collectors, and one day we just happened to have a night listening to a bunch of albums of the seventies. We put on Tubular Bells, the first time either of us had heard it in a long time, and we were just mesmerised by it. So we decided to learn bits of it just for a bit of fun. On the album, at the end of side one, there’s this moment where a bass guitar plays a riff over and over, and then a procession of instruments are announced one-by-one, and each plays the main theme. So we thought, wouldn’t it be great to be on a stage, announce these instruments, then run around and play them all. And so Tubular Bells for Two was born.

We did a a one off performance in 2009 in a small venue to a bunch of family and friends, and we honestly thought that would be the end of it. But word got around about the show and people started inviting us to play it. We did the Sydney Fringe Festival in 2010, then got invited to tour Australia, then we got invited to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. Since then we haven’t looked back. It just keeps going, and we’ve now taken the show all over the world. The big news this time around is that, due to family commitments, Aidan has decided to stop touring the show overseas for a while. So we decided to get someone new to fill his shoes. So this tour will be the first time our new member, Tom Bamford, will be joining us. As you can imagine, its been a huge undertaking for Tom. He’s spent many months in rehearsals, and his first ever performance will be in Glasgow next month.

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You have toured the show in both the UK & Australia. What differences, if any, have you found from the audiences?

People in the UK seem to have a strong sense of ownership of Tubular Bells. I get the sense its viewed as a quintessential British achievement. Not only was it a massive hit over there, the music was ground breaking, going against all pop traditions. It was a defining moment for an entire generation, as well as launching Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. So when we first performed the show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we were unsure how it would be received. Here’s two barefoot Aussie larrikins in a crazy performance that, on the surface, seems like some kind of piss-take. But it really isn’t. We take the music very seriously. The humour and theatricality come from the ridiculous situation we have placed ourselves in. But, whilst its an entertaining and tense show, at the heart of it is our deepest respect for this classic work. And I think the audiences really got it and were willing to come on the ride with us. Every night we have the same challenge in trying to pull of a near impossible performance. Sometimes things go terribly wrong, but the audience is always there willing us to get to the end. This isn’t just a musical performance, it’s a tense journey where the music becomes a beautifully structured soundtrack to an epic task. We were absolutely taken by surprise when we received several highly esteemed awards at the Fringe. And I can’t believe that five years on we’re still being invited to perform.

Can you describe the musical partnership between yourself & Tom Bamford?

Tom and I have known each other for many years. We’re both from the Blue Mountains. We’ve played in bands together. We’ve been involved in each others different recording projects, so it just made sense that he be the person to come on board with the show.


What is it about Tubular Bells that has compelled you to recreate it to such a high standard?

It is a piece of music that, I think, stands the test of time. It doesn’t take the audience for granted. It invites you in to go on a journey. It’s beautifully structured, with an arc that is synonymous with a great classical work, or a great film. And even after all these years of performing it, I still discover small details hidden within it. If you’re going to take on performing a piece such as this, you need to do it with the utmost respect.

What will you be doing after the tour?

I’ll be heading back to Australia, preparing to launch the debut album of Darks Common Underground. Plus there’s a few theatre projects I’m really excited about. I love the idea of performing music in a way that gives an all-encompassing experience for the audience. Something more than just a band standing on a stage. Musical performance needs to be engaging, and I have a couple of new projects brewing that will, hopefully, offer some unique live experiences.


You can catch Tubular Bells for Two in the UK right now

30/09/2017 Glasgow : Lomond Auditorium, SEC
01/10/2017 Edinburgh : Queens Hall
02/10/2017 Manchester : RNMC
04/10/2017 Guildford : GLive
05/10/2017 London : Union Chapel
07/10/2017 Birmingham : Birmingham Town Hall

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Steven Osborne

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Sunday 17th September

Scottish pianist Steven Osborne turns his talents to the challenging works of George Crumb (b1929) and Morton Feldman (1926-87). Both American composers of the twentieth century and part of the avant-garde movement. The evening commenced with Morton Feldman’s Intermission 5, he consciously avoided traditional form and preferred to create music that did not tell a story or proceed in a predictable way, encouraging the listener to be in the moment. He even went to the lengths of moving bars around if he thought it necessary. Much of the piece is soft and quiet giving it a pensive, unassuming quality. However at other times it is louder and more agitated. In Piano piece 1952, the piece is played one note at a time and Feldman explores what can be done with just one finger. Extensions 3 returns to a softer quieter style with notes largely in the higher register. It is contemplative in nature and it is this quality that I enjoy about his music. The longer Palais de Mari, which he wrote in the year preceding his death, concerns a painting in the Louvre of a royal palace in the ancient region of Babylon, Syria. Feldman himself was born in New York to Russian Jews. Feldman is probably the more challenging of the two composers, as it is more abstract, but as Steven Osborne says in his introduction, it is “strangely beautiful”. But at times frustrating, as he consciously avoided taking his music in any particular direction

George Crumb’s works start with his Processional, his work falls between neo-classicism and avant-garde and his musical influences for the piano were Debussy and Bartok. Personally I enjoyed the balance between harmonic and atonal phrases. The next piece by Crumb was A Little Suite for Christmas ‘ad 1979’. This is inspired by Giotto’s frescoes in the chapel of Padua, of the story of Jesus (1305). It’s certainly a little dystopian in it’s interpretation. Crumb shows his inventiveness by using both the keys and strings at the same time, it is cleverly evocative of ancient times, and there are consistent themes of bells chiming, and dramatic echoes in the lower register. Crumb said that he sought to achieve a balance between spirituality and technicality in his music, which is clearly evident in this piece. He was born in West Virginia, and considered his music, to be “a stamp of West Virginia, with echoes and haunting sounds that cross the river at night.” George Crumb was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

Steven Osborne is an accomplished pianist, who trained at St Mary’s School in Edinburgh before going to the Royal Northern College of Music. He performs recitals all over the world. All credit to Steven for performing such challenging and for many, controversial works.

Reviewer : Sophie Younger

Lammermuir Festival 2017

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The Lammermuir Festival, under the patronage of Steven Osborne, is East Lothian’s answer to a night of high culture on the town, but scattered amongst the splendidly carved architectural delights of Scotland’s greenest county jewel. Over the weekend, I managed to catch a couple of this year’s outings; the opening concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the antique, cavernous & elegant parish church of St Mary’s in Haddington; & the much smaller, but equally as pretty-a-place-to-be church that is Dirleton Kirk. Both events were packed out & both selections of music were outstanding, as walls & rooves made to reflect choirs & ministerial preachings were all set to amplify & imbue with beauty the dancings of the reeds & strings.

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Martyn Brabbins & the BBC-SSO

At St Mary’s on the Friday, I was furnish’d with a fine three-course feast all cooked up for our delectation by conducting master-chef, Martyn Brabbins. For starters we had two slices of Wagner; The Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, both of which leapt upon the delicious acoustics of the kirk like young & playful embattling stags. As soon as the Prelude began we were all rooted to the spot, the music wafting over us as if fanning our cheeks on a warm summer’s eve. This opener – to both opera & festival – then grows in intensity until the cosmic, oversensual climax, & we were off, the Lammermuir Festival of 2017 was under way.

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Rowan Pierce

The next course consisted of three arias by Mozart, exceptionally sung by the young & meteorically rising talent that is soprano, Rowan Pierce. A Samling artist, she had won the first Schubert Society Singer prize at the London Song Festival in 2014, & one soon understood why as the ghosts of choirboys past lifted her angelically jasmine voice to the rafters & beyond. After an interval of exquisite honeycomb ice-cream & polite chitter-chatter, the third course was served, Mahler’s sleigh-bell jangling, soul-pounding four-part Symphony Number 4. Each of the four movements were played with both neat precision & piece-specific bombast, & the hour simply flew by upon electric wings.

The next night I drove for the first time to Dirleton, a wondrous little place, rather like a Mendips village, quite untouched by modernity, in whose kirk I would be nestling for a while. The reason was to be the Hebrides Ensemble, eight extremely talented musicians who would make Schubert’s Octet in F Major their own. Prior to this was a wee waltz though the short Rhapsodic Quintet of enigmatic 20th century composer, Herbert Howells. One can really feel the burgeoning century’s love-affair with new music in his notes, all of which are most serendipitous to hear. To listen to this particular piece is to enter a dream-bending drama, a darkly dancing-carousel & an exceptional exposition of the full range & capabilities of the Quintet.

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To the main action, then, & the Octet – a brazen attempt to out-Beethoven Beethoven – offers the hearer a growing & continuous delight. The opening note drills a hole into the psyche, through which pours wave after wave of Schubert’s melodic genius. Sometimes eyes were closed, sometimes they were gazing at the buttermilk walls, sometimes they were watching Enno Senft wield his double-bass like a medieval potter’s wheel. I felt my imagination hurrying through time to the dances of Regency England, & recreating the dance moves of gallant lords & passionate ladies in my mind. From the Allegro Vivace onwards, this Octet is near perfect, almost otherworldly in its brilliance, full of fluttering phrases & feet-thumping rhythms. Combine all this musical manna with the location & an ephemeral 80 minutes, then a simply wonderful time is had by all.

This was my first taste of the Lammermuir Festival, & I recommend it most heartily. East Lothian is a fascinating & quite frankly gorgeous corner of God’s green earth, & an excuse to wander its contours is to be well-received. Mix into this several heady portions of classical music excellently chosen, excellently played & most warmly appreciated, then one cannot fail in feeling rather exultant about life. Indeed, one could fall in love on evenings like these.


The Lammermuir Festival (September 15-24)

Is currently being played out across verdant East Lothian 

Album Review : Hippopotamus

01 Hipopotamus

In a sterile period for experimental pop music, Ron and Russell Mael have nailed down fifteen tracks in California which kindles daydreams, pinning hopes like merch-stall badges upon their fans’ space-dandy jackets. Off-kilter pop is the spine which carries the band’s latest album ‘Hippopotamus’. The rambling keys, which are so distinctive of Sparks, are aided by undulating synth reverberations on songs such as the stirring ‘Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)’ and ‘A Little Bit Like Fun’.

The vagaries of Sparks complexion oscillates between meditative and a devil-may-care nature, pegging the listener. On the foolhardy ‘Giddy, Giddy’, the title works in tandem with the light-headedness of the melody before leading into the BBC Radio 6 favourite and monster smash ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’, with its Godhead figure narrating everything the world prays for, from finding missing pets to Arsenal winning – and is a truly breath-taking single propelled by an electronic drive grinding and griping with phenomenal authority.

Like some cultural safari, title track ‘Hippopotamus’ is full of rousing, agitated-lyrics and cacophonous din before tumbling into the glorious melancholy-hype of ‘Bummer’ which sees Russell Mael transform into The Fall’s Mark E. Smith at the chorus. Sparks’ lyricism remains a key weapon in the band’s arsenal, and the gratification in titles such as ‘I Wish You Were Fun’, ‘So Tell Me Mrs Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?’, and ‘Missionary Position’ plausibly surpass some of The Smiths’ finest inventions. On the former, the line “I wish you were fun – you say that your favourite colour’s brown” is an example of the simple but effective humour which the band have so often demonstrated within a number of their spicy compositions.

What is noticeable on ‘Hippopotamus’ is that there is no contrived endeavour to be popular – or even contemporary, and yet somehow the band prosper on both fronts. Film director Leos Carax’s accordion on ‘When You’re A French Director’ is unorthodox but works as a homage to the band’s apparent enthusiasm for his country, while American operatic singer Rebecca Sjowall’s contribution on closing track ‘Life With The MacBeths’ aides Sparks scornful outlook on television’s greed and need for ratings with a quite unearthly and beguiling reverence. This is fresh, Bohemian, tender and intelligent music. Take a step out of the mainstream and wallow in ‘Hippopotamus’ for a while.

Reviewer : Stephen Watt