I accompany the Gardiner Street Gospel Choir each Sunday evening at the 7.30pm mass in St Francis Xavier’s Church on Gardiner Street. This Sunday was a special service to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Joseph Wresinski, who strongly believed that “extreme poverty is the work of mankind and only mankind can destroy it”. He founded the organisation ATD Fourth World in the 1950s and it continues to bring the voices of the world’s poor to the corridors of power.
Take a moment and read the last letter he wrote before he died in 1988:
We sang Michael Jackson’s song ‘Man in the Mirror’ (written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard) after the mass as a special tribute to Wresinski’s legacy.
Such a great track (sidenote: there are apparently two versions in the new Lego Batman movie). The outro is just fantastic. The choir (The Andraé Crouch choir, The Winans, and Siedah Garrett), the synth bass, the whole thing in a slightly other world at the end. The song’s key change lifts us from G major up to A flat major (listen how the electric piano sound is switched out at that point for a grand piano…Greg Phillinganes really lets loose!). The whole last section rests on a variety of the IV chord – D flat sus 2 – which provides the ‘open’ feeling. The bass that punctuates every six bars rather than eight, as we might expect, and this also destabilises the listener. You just have to relax into it. The singers are so confident, though, as is the bass…it leans us out over the edge of the chord, starting on a B flat, but draws us strongly back in…B flat, F, C, A flat, D flat. So satisfying! I love that the song stays in this place right to the end. Michael’s final urging to ‘make that change’ flies off at the end with infinite possibility.
I visited this room for the first time only last week — the City Assembly House, just beside the Powerscourt Townhouse on Dublin’s South William Street. It’s a beautiful, surprising, melancholic space and it works as a perfect backdrop here, an extra character in 4 in a Bar’s video for ‘Hide and Seek’.
Spin me round again…
…walls where pleasure moments hung before…
Like their Facebook page to encourage further beautiful things from this group: 4 in a Bar
I was invited along to this concert by my violin-playing friend, Feilimidh (pronounced FELL-uh-mee). I’ve just come on board with GoldenPlec.com as a classical reviewer, so I was happy to have a reason to write something before I get my first assignment from them!
Dublin Brass Week is now in its fourth year and, despite not receiving any public funding, is going from strength to strength. The calibre of guest players in evidence at this concert, the palpable enthusiasm from the attendees, and the remarkable energy and capability of its organisers will hopefully mean that funding can be secured for next year and beyond.
The concert was in the beautiful chapel in Trinity College. It’s an odd venue in some ways, with its rows of stepped pews facing each other across the central aisle. As the night went on, the various performers processed down the aisle, providing lovely moments of interaction for the audience. I sat up near the front, on Feilimidh’s advice, since the acoustic was rather reverberant for some of the crisper, rhythmic music in the programme. Best seat in the house!
The concert opened with one piece that was perfectly suited to the chapel’s acoustic – a sonata by Gabrieli, performed by eight players from the choir balcony. Four players stood on each side, forming two distinct groups that showed off the composer’s echoing and overlapping musical ideas.
Of all the amazing musicians performing at the concert, trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich stood out for me, utterly connected with the music and his fellow musicians. In the bars when he wasn’t playing he couldn’t help but ‘conduct’ with his free hand. Music of this period – the Baroque era – is usually not conducted in the modern sense, but is rather led by a communal language of gestures. This makes it wonderful to watch. I do think Baroque music represents a pinnacle in music as a beautiful artform. Music of later periods seems to move away from the togetherness of the Baroque (necessitating a conductor) and also into a celebration of a hero pitted against an orchestra. A generalisation, to be sure, but there is truth to it. Reinhold Friedrich’s ‘conducting’ was a reminder of just how enjoyable this music is.
If the trumpet sounds high it’s because it’s a clarino trumpet – a teeny tiny trumpet that Herr Friedrich made sing more beautifully than I’ve ever heard before. My friend Pat Morris, who was sitting beside me, turned to me after the first movement and whispered “I could listen to him all day!”
The backbone of Baroque chamber music is the continuo – usually a harpsichord and a cello. Both instruments play the bass line and the harpsichordist improvises an accompaniment, following the ‘figured bass’ notation on their part. David Adams is a master of the keyboard and it was a real pleasure to hear the sparkling flourishes of his playing underpinning the excellent ensemble. Yseult Cooper Stockdale, the cellist, almost stole the show with her sublime playing in the middle movement of the Vivaldi double horn concerto. The two soloists in this piece, the world-class French horn player Richard Watkins and (making her professional solo debut) Hannah Miller, stood on either side of the group, a choice that again gave an interesting manifestation to the musical interplay.
Arminta Wallace interviewed David the other week and her article appeared in this weekend’s edition of The Irish Times — this weekend was the actual anniversary of the 1916 rising.
Here, from David’s forthcoming album, and with me on piano, is ‘The Rising’:
1916 as you’ve never seen it before
Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times — Saturday, 23 April, 2016
By his own account David Rooney was an unlikely person to be asked to illustrate a book about the men and women of 1916. “For me growing up, everything associated with 1916 was coloured by the Troubles,” he says.
“My dad grew up near Enniskillen, and came down here to join the guards, getting away from the poisoned land, as he saw it, of sectarianism in the North. And I wouldn’t be alone in this: many people of my generation would have a real repugnance about the continuation of violence.”
But when Rooney got into the nitty-gritty of his research for the project he was fascinated by what he discovered.
“I’ve been reading the 1916 stories for more than a year, and there are so many instances where everything changed in people’s lives – and the lives of everyone around them. They fragmented, altered, spun off in all sorts of directions. Maybe the anvil of an event like this produces really extraordinary arcs of story – or maybe the stories always happen, and we just don’t register it. But when war happens, when conflict happens, the natural trajectory of things is altered. Like the refugee situation now. And we’re still living in the broken mirror of 1916.”
Rooney’s 42 thoughtful black-and-white drawings give the book 1916 Portraits and Lives, a collection of biographical essays published by the Royal Irish Academy and based on the academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, a visual – and, indeed, emotional – heft that helps it stand out from this year’s 1916 publications.
Originally the plan was to use photographs of the characters concerned, but in some cases the available imagery was of poor quality or simply nonexistent. So the academy’s graphic designer, Fidelma Slattery, had the idea of using original artwork. Its managing editor, Ruth Hegarty, ran with the idea, and Jackie Moore of the Office of Public Works – “the third part of that triumvirate of powerful women”, as Rooney puts it – came on board to support the project by buying the originals for the State.
How did Rooney get so up close and personal with his subjects?
“A friend of mine told me to read James Stephens’s The Insurrection in Dublin. That had a huge impact on the colour of it, because Stephens’s account is really what a journalist would do now. “It’s moment by moment. ‘Here I am on the corner of Abbey Street . . .’ It’s amazing – and an amazingly neglected document.”
The 1916 Portraits and Lives project has taken off to such an extent that it now has a life of its own. The book won a design award and was shortlisted for the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year. The ebook was made available for free download, and such was the uptake – more than 65,000 copies downloaded worldwide – that the offer has been extended until the end of April.
Limited-edition prints of the portraits are available to buy from the Royal Irish Academy’s website, and the originals will be on display at an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol from May 12th.
As for Rooney himself, after 30 years as a visual artist, the illustrator with the highly distinctive visual “voice” is now developing another voice – as a singer-songwriter.
“There have always been guitars around, and I liked the idea of writing songs but didn’t know where to go to find them.”
A chance meeting with Glen Hansard changed all that. “I went over to his house, and I saw him working on the songs that became his Grammy-nominated album [Didn’t He Ramble]. To see them as pencil sketches – well, I recognised something in that. I thought, I know where to find my songs. They’re in the same well as the drawings, but much further down – and much harder to get at.”
Hansard has become a close friend and a constant source of musical inspiration. And with Declan O’Rourke producing and a band that includes the jazz drummer Conor Guilfoyle and the pianist Jay Wilson, who plays with James Vincent McMorrow, Rooney has now recorded 10 songs for an album due to be released this autumn. “It has been an absolutely incredible journey. With the drawings the best ones come if I get out of the way and let it flow. With music I have to be totally present at all stages of it.”
As for recording and performing, that’s a collaborative process that is a shock to a perfectionist who is used to working at home alone. “I’m in total control of the images. With the music I have to let go. Take that de Valera image. If that was music, okay, I get to do de Valera, but I’ve to get you to do the swan, because you’re the person who can do swans. While we’re rehearsing, the swan is exactly like it’s going to be here. And then comes the day of recording, and you’re thinking more of a goose. ‘Why does it have to be a swan,’ you say. ‘Can’t it be a cormorant or . . . a shag, maybe’?” He laughs. “Yeah. And you have just to say, ‘Okay. Let’s try that’.”
Last night I recorded a version of one of my favourite songs by The Divine Comedy, ‘Bad Ambassador’. (One take, so as not to annoy our neighbours too much…it’s not the sort of song that works quietly!)
It was the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Regeneration, the album that the track is taken from, on 12 March 2001.
Fifteen years ago I had just moved back home after graduating from the BMus course at Edinburgh. I was working at the Ulster Orchestra as their Education & Community Outreach Assistant. My diary reminds me that I was teaching clarinet to a wee girl called Sarah; I took her and her mum along to see the orchestra performing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. I was helping prepare the confirmation class at our church. I was playing in a band with my friends Jonny Boyle, Gareth Leslie, and Gareth’s brother-in-law Ben.
I didn’t work out how to play this song until years later, but Neil Hannon’s acoustic version was definitely released as a b-side…free with a weekend paper, I recall. Also on that CD were some behind the scenes videos of Neil in the studio with producer Nigel Godrich. He was renowned for his work with Radiohead and there were certainly tell-tale similarities in some of the sounds and techniques on the album.
I’m on a plane from Boston to Washington DC, where we play the first gig of this tour tomorrow. It’s a relatively short run, just two weeks, and in that time we’ll do eight shows: Washington DC, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
I’m excited — our tour of Europe in October went really well — and also nervous. It’s cool to be going back to cities we played earlier in the year, this time to slightly larger venues. There’s a sense of growth and development that’s satisfying and gratifying. I’m looking forward to visiting Portland for the first time, too.
On the flight to Boston, Adrian and I watched the very funny ’22 Jump Street’ and then I watched some episodes of ‘Girls’, ‘Hello Ladies’, and ‘True Detective’. Cue much accent mimicking on my part in Boston airport…sorry guys!
On this flight, I started reading Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please’ (which is already funny and charming and wise) and listened to a wonderful recording of Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto, played by Elisabeth Leonskaja with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (it’s on Spotify — check it out).
There are kids in this airport with ‘Class of 2020’ shirts on! On that note…here’s to a brilliant tour!
This is one of my favourite Neil Hannon songs, from the ‘Regeneration’ album. I hadn’t seen the video until this morning, when I got to it in rather a roundabout way. I was watching Portlandia, season 2, the episode where Kirsten Wiig plays the groupie/stalker/kidnapper. Amber Tamblyn does a turn as an intern in the feminist bookstore, too. And there’s another guest, Miranda July, who plays someone who’s had a bunch of jobs but, happily (and to a musical number) “she’s making jewellery now”.
Miranda July is a Portland-based artist, married to artist Mike Mills who directed the ‘Bad Ambassador’ video. There’s a connection, too, via the roller-skating theme, to the video Emma J Doyle and Cory Philpott shot in San Francisco for James Vincent McMorrow’s song, ‘Gold’…
…which we’ll be performing a special version of at Electric Picnic this weekend!
All airports have three-letter identifying codes. Dublin is DUB, London Heathrow is LHR, Sydney International is SYD…so far, so decipherable. The Canadian airports’ codes, for some reason that I can’t Wikipedia right now, begin with ‘Y’. Toronto Pearson is YYZ and Edmonton, where I’m currently flying from, is YEG. Whatever the reason, it works brilliantly in this day and age of hashtags. Canadians are famously proud of where they’re from (backpackers sewing flags on their packs is a charming cliché), and using these tags online is another example of that instinct.
Last night we played the main stage of the Edmonton Folk Festival. I had a thoroughly enjoyable day and was really really impressed by the hospitality we were shown as well as the myriad little touches that belie the festival’s strong ethos and thirty year history.
The stages are set at the bottom of steep hills, creating natural amphitheatres. The deal is that you bring a tarpaulin and literally stake your claim. (There’s a prize to be won each year of being the first on site, so you can get the best spot.) Festival goers can get little tealights so, for us on stage, that meant looking out at a twinkling tidal wave, topped last night by a beautiful yellow moon.
It’s probably a bit vulgar to talk too much about how well we get treated sometimes. (Naturally, sometimes it’s exactly the opposite!) Edmonton was lovely, though. The festival is staffed by a veritable army of volunteers — three or four thousand, we reckoned — and it gives a reassuring sense of community and calm to the proceedings. Massage, expert tea brewers (a big plus for we Irish!), tasty food, blankets and extra layers and umbrellas for the uncharacteristic rain and cold we had yesterday, a work station manned by technicians who could do repairs to instruments and amps, and a million other things that succeeded in the fact that they *weren’t* obvious.
A huge bonus for me was that my favourite band of this year, Lucius, were playing straight after us. Despite our very early start this morning, I was able to stay and hear their entire set. It was the first time I’d seen them perform live, and they were brilliant! Definitely a band to go and see if you get the chance 😀
Tonight I’m bringing half a dozen of my piano students to hear Benjamin Grosvenor’s piano recital at The National Concert Hall. For many of them it’ll be their first time at such an event. I don’t know a great deal about Mr Grosvenor (although he’s probably weirded out by people calling him Mr Grosvenor), other than that he’s a phenomenal pianist, a prodigy, a wünderkind.
I showed some of my students a YouTube video of an 11-year old Benjamin performing with astonishing maturity in the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year back in 2003. Tonight, his programme consists of transcriptions of Bach, some Chopin (including the Op. 22 Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise), Scriabin, Granados, and ending with a virtuosic arrangement of Strauss’s Blue Danube. Here’s a Spotify playlist I put together of the pieces. One of the Bach pieces I couldn’t find and one I could only find in its original solo violin form (but I’ve included it anyway).
I’ll let you know what we all think 🙂
The book in the picture, by the way, is something I found in a charity shop (possibly The Secret Bookstore on Wicklow Street). First published in 1950, it’s full of entertainingly unapologetic opinions such as:
A word about the habit of giving bouquets at concerts. You will see it both at star recitals and, sometimes, at recitals by new artists. It’s silly really, and as it’s perfectly obvious that the flowers are sent in by friends or, in the case of young artists, by proud relatives, it deceives nobody into thinking any the more of a performance. It was, I think, Bernard Shaw who pointed out the impossibility of an audience offering spontaneous tributes, and who referred ironically to the custom of well-bred people of always taking a bouquet with them to a concert on the off-chance of wanting to present it!