Category Archives: reviews and reports

I started off today resenting Jimmy Fallon and went on a glorious journey

I thought I knew what I was going to do this morning. There are definitely things that I *should* have done, but I got terribly, wonderfully sidetracked.

I saw a tweet to a Joe.ie article about Michael Stipe performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ on The Tonight Show. I was intrigued – I perform that song when I play in The Candlelight Bar. If you haven’t already watched it, take a look:

I wondered who the piano player was. I wondered even more when I realised that he was accompanying Michael Stipe as an equal, with an obviously classical sensibility, not as some background chord player supporting a star. There was a notated arrangement on the music stand of the piano, it was a nice piano, it was a beautifully played, sensitive accompaniment.

A quick Twitter search gave me the answer, it was a composer called Paul Cantelon. His name wasn’t mentioned at all on the show, which really irked me. The various ‘articles’ that attach themselves to pieces of content like this did their usual job of contributing nothing. Jimmy Fallon is obviously a music fan, too, but it was an unusual moment for his show. The pop world has taught us not to acknowledge the musicians that accompany singers (either solo artists or band members). I felt bad for Cantelon when Fallon came over at the end and just impolitely ignored him.

Paul Cantelon is a fascinating character, as I just discovered by listening to a wonderful podcast conversation between him and Joseph Arthur. (I hope you can listen, as it’s on SoundCloud, which is currently changing its access model…) It’s a remarkable series of stories over two and a half hours(!), and what emerges is a picture of a fascinating life and the gracious, humble musician who has lived it. He grew up as a child of an evangelical preacher, was publicly shamed by Pierre Boulez at the age of 11, spilled hot chocolate over sheet music notated by Ravel, swung a piano into a 12th century Parisian church window, attended the 1st Church of the Surf, had an awkward encounter with Nina Simone, was in a coma for three weeks… Funny, charming, poignant, and profound. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend you take a listen.

In a weird way, Jimmy Fallon’s rudeness did me a great service. If Paul’s name had just been noted in the blurb at the bottom of the video, I’d not have found out about him. Such is the world we live in. “Oh right, that’s that bit of information, I’ll hurry on.” This might not be that moment for you – it’s supremely unlikely that you will have anything like the connection and experience I’ve had this morning with this person I never knew before. That’s the joy of life, the joy of autobiography, of story-telling, of honesty, of seeking meaning and beauty and creativity.

Here’s a Spotify link to one of his compositions for the film ‘Effie Gray’.

San Fermin at Whelan’s, Dublin (28 April 2015)

 

My friend Andrew sent me a link to ‘Sonsick’ last year while I was in the U.S. on tour. I remember listening to it backstage at the venue we played in Mill Valley, CA — playing it loud through the JBL desktop speaker as we celebrated after the gig. I’ve listened to it many, many times since then — it’s one of my top five songs of last year. (My research led me to discover Lucius, whose lead singers Holly and Jess sing on San Fermin’s first album.) I missed them the last time they were in Dublin, so I was determined to catch them this time.

After a short instrumental track that played as the band walked onstage, they started with the first three songs on their newly released second album, ‘Jackrabbit’:

THE WOODS
Allen Tate’s voice softly sets the scene in this disquieting tale of a boy and a girl and the dark and the deep. The instrumentation gradually grows in menace and Tate sings the last verse an octave higher, the change in tessitura bringing out a more impassioned timbre in his voice. The song culminates in a snarl from the most unusual instrument in the ensemble, the baritone sax.

LADIES MARY
This short song introduces Charlene Kaye’s voice, weaving one of the many great melodies that we’ll hear tonight. The band’s composer, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, stationed at the side of the stage, plays the bass line on a Moog synthesizer.

EMILY
The crowd relaxes into this song’s backbeat and we travel further ‘down the rabbit hole’ to the sound of John Brandon’s trumpet. This is a cracker and will grace many a festival stage this summer, I hope.

From here, we hark back to a song from the first album:

CRUELER KIND

I’m listening to the album version as I write this. It’s cool to hear the various musical themes from the album appearing in the long instrumental section. Such a rich and rewarding work. Charlene Kaye and violinist/vocalist Rebekah Durham harmonise beautifully, Durham also employing a really great tremolo effect that caught my attention. Ludwig-Leone acknowledges Kaye’s great performance (the songs from the first album are seriously difficult to sing!) and comments that it’s a year since her first show with the group.

ASTRONAUT

Back onto the Jackrabbit playlist now with these next two songs. Astronaut is one that I was curious to hear live, as it features a virtuoso soprano line at the end that emerges and floats away from the other instruments. Wisely, they’ve elected to put that line on violin for the live shows — it just isn’t a practical thing to try and do live in a sweaty club. You should definitely take a listen to it on the album, though. Beautiful singing. The acoustic guitar part on this song is also really lovely.

PHILOSOPHER

This must be great fun to sing — a strong lyric that Kaye *owns*.

METHUSELAH

Two from the first album now, Methuselah giving the enthusiastic Dublin crowd a chance to sing along with its infectious, breezy chorus. Again, Tate’s emphatic higher range is used to great effect in the last round.

THE COUNT

Chamber math rock — again, this must be class to play, because it’s certainly class to watch!

WOMAN IN RED

…when you go to sleep don’t close your eyes…

Another brilliant vocal from Tate in this rocking tune from Jackrabbit.

PARASITES

Kaye leads off in this, a warped bluegrass duet with a choral cadence in the middle that leads onto some more awesome sounds from the baritone sax and the kind of dense ensemble work that makes San Fermin such a brilliant band to experience.

SONSICK

My favourite! (And, at close to 4 million streams on Spotify, beloved by many others it seems.)

…when you think you’re thinking clear / you’re really tied up and committed / but it’s an awful lot of talk…

RECKONING

I noticed the lovely celeste sound on this song (that, on listening back, I can hear a lot on the first album, too). Ludwig-Leone uses a Nord Electro — I wonder if it’s the sampled instrument from that?

TWO SCENES

Charlene rocks out on Telecaster for this…

BILLY BIBBIT

These three complete the Jackrabbit run through, but for the title track which is kept until last.

JACKRABBIT

I asked Ellis to sign the vinyl record I bought afterwards and, when I complimented him on the artwork, he said an artist friend had done both album covers. He mentioned wanting to relate the Jackrabbit image to the first album’s menacing bull, but to hint at something unnerving, too. Listening to the track now, it strikes me that this effect is achieved in the music, too. The song is at once a joyous expression and a reflection on life’s brevity and humanity’s cyclical existence. This idea could be extrapolated to a sorry conclusion, but Ludwig-Leone’s music and his band’s wonderful performing leaves us with a fiercely life-affirming message: 

…better run for the hills…

——–

DAEDALUS (WHAT WE HAVE)

This tune, which permeates the first album, is coupled with a lyric that muses poignantly on mortality and remembrance (“…when it’s going quickly and it’s like we’re half asleep…”). It begins whimsically and gradually squeezes shut its eyes and clenches its fists and crys out to seek some catharsis. Beautiful work.

BUDDY HOLLY

This pretty faithful cover of the Weezer song acts as an antidote to the intensity of the last. Brilliant gig 🙂

RTE Concert Orchestra (NCH, 25 March 2015): Ravel’s piano concerto in G

RTÉ Concert Orchestra: Essential Classics

John Wilson conductor
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet piano
RTÉ Contempo Quartet

Eric Coates Dancing Nights
Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Gershwin An American in Paris

“What links all these pieces?” began conductor John Wilson, biding time as the stage was reset after the Vaughan Williams piece.

“Maurice Ravel.”

With a raconteur’s fluency, leaning casually on the podium, Wilson then gave a fascinating programme note. (I had been, shall we say, just in time for the concert, and so hadn’t availed of a printed programme.) Ravel was teacher to Vaughan Williams for an intense period that marked a transformation in his style; Gershwin adored the composer but Ravel famously recognised that the world would benefit more from a first-rate Gershwin than a second-rate Ravel; Coates was one of the few composers that Ravel sought out, on account of his command of the modern instruments (e.g. vibraphone, saxophone).

Coates’s ‘Dancing Nights’ was the only piece that I hadn’t heard before, but its stylish gaiety — with such glorious melodies and harmony! — was immediately familiar and just thoroughly enjoyable. It’s the music from this period that John Wilson has championed in his career and it is one of the very best things to do in Dublin to hear him conduct the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Onto Ravel. I fell in love with this piece of music when i first encountered it at university. (The conductor of the Edinburgh University Chamber Orchestra at the time, Richard Jeffcoat, conducted it from the piano. I was on clarinet.) It may say ‘piano concerto’ on the cover, but it’s an incredible piece of work that treats the orchestra more as a chamber ensemble. The writing for each and every instrument demands extraordinary technique. Perhaps this is why it’s so exciting to hear: it’s just so interesting! Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the piano soloist, was such fun to watch — his remarkable abilities allowing the jazzy energy of the music to shine. There’s a thundering piano run in octaves in the first movement that he played rather differently than I’ve heard on recordings and that was the moment for me when I knew something really special was happening.

The second movement is one of the most perfect things ever committed to paper. It is simply one of the best things in my life; one of those things that I can’t even really recommend to you because, to me, it’s so completely mine.

(If you look very closely you can see me sitting in the balcony, directly above the harp!)

Here’s a gem of a book (click the cover below for Kindle version) by the brilliant fiction writer Jean Echenoz that I read, and loved, a few years ago. Echenoz uses the facts of Ravel’s last ten years to create a wonderful, charming work:

Reading Room

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I’m writing this surrounded by cherubs and scholars in the reading room of the National Library. I have always meant to get a Reader’s Ticket and today finally got around to it. I was in town, at the sumptuous 37 Dawson Street, filming with James and the band for the RTÉ arts show ‘The Works’, which airs this Friday (7 March) at 8.30pm.

We finished our European tour with a really brilliant show in Paris (at La Gaité Lyrique) just over a week ago, having blazed a post tropical trail through Germany, Holland and Belgium. We played in quite a range of venues, from a small 200-seater (Brotfabrik in Frankfurt — dear knows what the venue guys thought as we ferried our entire lighting rig up the narrow, metal fire escape stairs that lead up from the courtyard below), to the unexpectedly brilliant venue in the old botanic gardens in Brussels, to the classy, professional venues that seemed to be everywhere in Holland, to what was for me a real highlight: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

It won’t be long now before we’re back on the road again for five weeks in the US and Canada. I’m really looking forward to it: it’ll be my first time visiting most of the places we’re going to. My sister and I took a trip to Philadelphia / Virginia (& Washington DC) / Long Island (& New York) / Toronto (& London, ON) in the summer of 2000. We crammed all that into one month, staying with family and friends along the way (and enjoying the hospitality of the Salvation Army in Toronto!).

This time out it’ll be a tour bus bunk all the way. That was probably the hardest thing to get used to, and there was much discussion as to the merits of top, middle, or bottom bunks. I only tried the top bunk last time, so I must experiment with the other options on this run.

I got through two books: ‘Stoner’ by John Williams and ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan. Both were brilliant and weren’t a million miles apart in terms of subject matter and tone (although Jennifer Egan pulls off some beautiful chapters in voices ‘other’ than that of her primary style). I was also introduced to the delight that is ‘East Bound and Down’. It had been my intention to try and get through the last few seasons of ‘Breaking Bad’, but that would’ve meant isolating myself from the group and well, gosh darnit, if they weren’t just too good to be around! I really must try and get to it on our jaunt around America, though. The others have all seen it (and there’s more than one of them has some item of clothing related to the show), so I’d say they’re champing at the bit to talk about it sometimes!

London // Bristol // Manchester

I’m on a tour bus heading for Glasgow. Last night we played at the Barbican in London, a beautiful hall and the biggest venue we’ve done so far. I was really happy with the show and delighted that my aunt and uncle were there. I stayed with them in London for a week when I was seven. I flew over by myself, an experience that I still vividly remember bits of (not least because they “encouraged” me to keep a scrapbook every night. Something I probably resented at the time but am very glad of now!) — getting to see the cockpit, and being frightened by the ‘woman in the library’ in my Ghostbusters photo story book. Anyway, I was so glad they were there along with their elder daughter, Alice, and another of my cousins, Lauren, who’s studying music in London. Lauren was really chuffed to meet James afterwards 🙂

I was also really pleased that my friend Alan was there (enjoying a rare night out with the father of his toddler daughter’s bestie). Alan and I began our tinnitus together in one of the outhouses at my family home, playing Clapton, Hendrix, U2 — him on guitar and me on drums. Good times 🙂

The Barbican was amazing. Great backstage facilities (including a Steinway grand piano *sigh*) and a concert hall thoroughly deserving of the high regard it’s held in. Definitely a highlight for me so far. James talked a little bit about the first time he played there — solo, the long walk to the stage, hearing his footsteps echoing in the pin-drop auditorium, looking up in the darkness and seeing the exit signs glowing way up on the upper balcony… That was the only real clue as to the size of the room until the lights went up at the end and we saw everyone as we left the stage. Such a feeling! I high-fived the overhang at the stage door as I walked off 🙂

The night before we played at St George’s in the beautiful city of Bristol. I went for a little walk around in the morning when we arrived. I love the Georgian architecture and sense of public space. It also makes me a bit sad in that way that beautiful things can.

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The church of St George was begun in 1821 to a design by Robert Smirke and is in the style of some of the churches I’m familiar with in Dublin, St Ann’s and St Stephen’s (‘the pepper canister’). It is now a really lovely concert venue, like The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. One of the bar staff, Dorian Childs-Prophet, was improvising on the Steinway grand piano (*sigh*) at the end of the night when everything was packed up. I stood listening to him for a while and then, buoyed with confidence after playing our show, sang a minor-bluesy version of Gershwin’s ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ with him. I was so elated I left my umbrella at the venue (slightly gutted about that — it was a really good umbrella). There’s a quote by the composer Leoš Janáček in the grounds of the church, inscribed in Caithness stone by poet-sculptor Ian Hamilton-Finlay:

On the paths I’d plant oaks that would endure for centuries, and into their trunks I’d carve the words I shouted in the air.

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It’s taken from Janáček’s ‘Letters to Kamila’. I conveniently found a copy at the bookshop at the end of the street for £2 — a nice souvenir of the visit.

We started the tour the night before that in the stunning setting of Manchester cathedral. Its beautiful stained glass and awe-inspiring architecture (and splendid brand-new floor!) made for a remarkable first gig of this European tour. Looking forward to the rest!

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First week back…

This past week was my first back after the summer. I had a wisdom tooth out on Monday 2nd and took that whole week off to recover (although it wasn’t as stressful and traumatic as the extraction I had back in April…). It was good not to try and start back that very first week and let the kids get back into the school routine. My timetable didn’t need too much tweaking, thankfully. I’m teaching every afternoon and it all seems to work, travel-wise. Tuesday is a bit frantic and I reckon I’ll need to get a GoCar for those days, but the rest is doable on public transport.

I’m listening to the new album from Elvis Costello & The Roots, ‘Wise Up Ghost’, as I write this…

I’ve started some new things this term, too. I’ve started singing with Anúna — so far I’m getting to know the music and the group. It’s going to be a steep learning curve: the choir sing everything from memory and I’m just not used to that yet. I also have a good deal of work to do on voice production. Over the next weeks and months I’m going to seek out some voice lessons from a very experienced teacher who will be able to help me get a bigger sound.

Another new group I’ve joined is Dublin Symphony Orchestra, a long-established amateur orchestra in Dublin. I expressed my interest to their clarinettist literally years ago when we worked together on a theatre piece. Woodwind spots don’t come up very often, so I was delighted when he got in touch a few weeks ago and invited me along. We read through Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on the bare mountain’ and Wagner’s ‘Siegfried Idyll’ at the rehearsal and it was so good to be back in an orchestra. Seems like a lovely group of people, too 🙂

Something had to give with all this novelty, of course, and I’ve bid farewell to my regular gigs at The Millstone. We had a good run — I’ve played there at least once a week for over a year — and I’ve learned an awful lot in that time. Obviously my repertoire has hugely expanded, too, and I’m going to try and capture some of the breadth of the material I can do now on my YouTube channel over the next months.

Definitely try to give ‘Wise Up Ghost’ a listen — mellifluous grooves, fabulous lyrics delivered by a confident, experienced front man…

Broadcast charge

Minister for something, Pat Rabbitte, is trying to instigate a charge on every household in Ireland. He gave two reasons for this in an interview today: there’s a lot of evasion of the TV licence fee, and there’s a seemingly unfair situation currently where hotels pay a single licence fee that covers all the TVs in all the rooms whereas a cluster of separate holiday cottages, say, will have to pay separate licences.

The proposed charge is to be levied on every household, regardless of TV ownership, on the assumption that people access content via their phones or tablets or laptops. Mr Rabbitte doesn’t believe that anyone doesn’t access some kind of content through some kind of device (or, as he put it, he doesn’t think we have cavemen in this country

Jen and I actually don’t have a TV, as I’ve smilingly told licence inspectors in each place we’ve lived in our (as of today!) eight years of marriage. This televisionlessness was mainly an ideological choice. We watched DVDs on the computer, trying one of those delivery services for a while. We quickly discovered box sets and watched ‘A Touch Of Frost’, ‘Alias’, ‘Scrubs’, ‘Lost’, ‘The Wire’, ‘House’, and lots of others. We dabbled guiltily with downloading bad-quality episodes of shows from nefarious sites, and just got a subscription to Netflix there a few months ago when Arrested Development was released. (Maybe someday we’ll get around to watching all of that…) Our current vibe is ‘Lie To Me’, starring the splendid Tim Roth.

It seems to me that the Internet has changed the landscape utterly in this regard in the short space of time it’s been around. I think that what’s needed is a comprehensive survey of how people access content and how people should pay for that access. (The question of ‘if’ people should pay the Irish government to access content that does not originate here will probably not get a hearing…) We already pay VAT on the broadband services we subscribe to and the devices we watch/listen to content on. The TV licence was a tax on owning a television set and, since they were the only show in town, paid for the national broadcaster, RTÉ. I hardly ever watch or listen to RTÉ. If my content usage had a nutritional information label, RTÉ would be listed as ‘trace’. As I understand it, it’s now impossible to watch RTÉ without a subscription service like Sky, anyway?

Survey every household. “Do you have a TV? More than one? How many? How often is each one used? Do you have access to the internet at home?” Even as I write this, I realise that people aren’t going to want to give information like that to the government, though, are they? The government is making big assumptions about how people access content and if they want to bring in a universal household tax like this, they should be able to present those households with a very clear set of logical reasons for the change.

The hotel room thing is a red herring. The evasion thing is an uninformed assumption. I am just not convinced they know what they’re doing. Join the queue, says you…