Category Archives: reviews and reports

Gig in the Swan Centre, Rathmines

I just finished playing a set of an hour or so as part of a community day that’s happening in Rathmines today. Great fun 🙂 (I’m writing this to the soulful strains of local jazz singer, Emilie Conway, who was on after me.) A lovely sunny day for it — although the glass dome of the centre was right above me as I powered through my more ‘up’ covers. And now I’m chilling out at ‘The House of Tea’ having afternoon tea, if you please…

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Here’s what I played:

Englishman in New York – Sting
Imagine – John Lennon (via Herbie Hancock)
Why, Georgia? – John Mayer
The Wild Rover – trad.
Alberta – trad. (via Eric Clapton)
Trust You – moi
Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Just The Two Of Us – Bill Withers
Way Down In The Hole – Tom Waits
Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
Better – Tom Baxter
Something For The Weekend – The Divine Comedy
Seven Days – Sting

I put out my tip jar (and my nifty cat) and got more tips than I do on the average night at the restaurant! I’m still trying to crack the secret of getting tips at the restaurant. I think the fact that I was very visible today helped, and also that I was more playing the role of a busker. In the restaurant I’m tucked away, out of the view of most of the tables, and it’s less common to tip a musician in a restaurant. Maybe people think the musician gets some of the service charge? (They almost certainly *don’t*…)

The tea I’m drinking is a delicious Darjeeling, recommended by the waitress (who sounds like she’s from the north). Kept warm on a little tea light burner. Lovely little cafe, this 🙂

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Albert Herring

Firstly, delighted with myself: I completed the Crosaire crossword in The Irish Times today, most of it in less than an hour as I ate my dinner. One of the very last ones I got was rather nice.

Most uninhibited sort are confused by thief dropping farthing on road (9)

If we ‘confuse’ the letters of the word ‘are’ we get EAR…if we ‘drop’ the abbreviation of farthing (F) from thief we get THIE…and road=street=ST. All that gives us our answer: EARTHIEST (“most uninhibited sort”).

I’ve started working with a young singer/songwriter called Laura Elizabeth. I’ll be doing some playing on recordings she’s planning to make in the next while. Definitely one to watch — I’ll keep you posted. Check out her videos on YouTube.

This evening I went to the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s production of Albert Herring, an opera by Benjamin Britten. It was brilliant. The staging, for a start, was really economically managed, but pleasantly fulsome to set the scene in the happily bustling rural English town. The grocer’s boxes are full, the tables for the May Fair groan with delectable treats. Scenes were changed fluidly, only once requiring crew to come onto the stage. Costumes were a treat — Margaret Bridge as the imperious Lady Billows was gloriously bedecked in sartorial finery (to match her superb singing). Her sidekick, Florence Pike, sported an ominous eyepatch and self-important tweed skirt and jacket. The school mistress, the mayor, the young buck Sid, his sweetheart Nancy, the three kids, Albert, and his mother; all these characters were dressed in the colourful and elegantly practical clothing of an idealised inter-war England. The local policeman and vicar (played outstandingly by Padraic Rowan) wear the uniforms of their stations.

It’s a fairly evenly-distributed score, with everyone getting their chance to shine. Particularly impressive are the ‘crowd’ scenes and one ensemble that comes to mind is the one in the grocer’s in the second act. Mrs Herring and Nancy are joined by the octave-apart unison of the vicar and the school mistress (who, in the tradition of Oscar Wilde’s Dr Chasuble and Miss Prism, seem to have un petit frisson between them) — those pillars of society enveloping the fretting mother and guilt-ridden friend with stoic music. One part that feels underwritten is the mayor, a tenor role that doesn’t seem to add much to the drama. When given the podium at the May Fair to honour the newly-crowned Albert, he goes off on a self-aggrandising tangent about his council’s past achievements. Perhaps a bit of social commentary is being made…?

Britten’s music is wonderful. I’m not familiar with most of his operas, but those I have seen have convinced me that his reputation as a master of the genre is thoroughly deserved. This one, in particular, seems to be a great choice for a university level cast of the calibre of the RIAM singers. The music is supremely challenging for vocalists and orchestra, but marvellously engaging for an audience. What a delight to have such operas in English! I’m looking forward to the next one already.

A old friend of mine, Conor Mitchell, is one composer who is doing brilliant work. I went to see his opera ‘The Musician’, based on the story of the pied piper, in Belfast a few years ago and was blown away by how good it was. He just completed a set of Cabaret Songs to texts by WH Auden and Mark Ravenhill, which will be performed at Britten’s centenary celebrations in Aldeburgh later this year.

Crosaire No 14,970 (and Tim Garland)

Completed most of this one quite quickly last night and finished it this morning. But for two clues:

16d Rank fellow with you close to messy room (= FUSTY)

I actually had _UST_, and my mother impressed upon me at a young age the usage of ‘sty’ to mean a messy room. ‘You’ equating to U is a commonplace device, but I just didn’t cop ‘fellow’ as being F. As in FRA (Fellow of the Royal Academy). I got sidetracked with thinking that ‘rank fellow’ referred to a person of rank. ‘Rank’ here is, of course, the definition.

The other I missed was 24 down:

Come in for the end of the traffic light (= UNDERGO)

I got that ‘GO’ is the traffic light, and (with the benefit of the answer in front of me) that something one ‘comes in for’ – like criticism – is something that you ‘undergo’, but I don’t immediately get how ‘under’ is used for ‘the end of’.

Anyway, quite chuffed to get all the rest. Excited to get cracking on the Christmas Crosaire over the holiday.

Happy Christmas 🙂

PS Listening to an album called ‘Rising Tide’ by saxophonist Tim Garland recorded in New York in 2002. We saw him in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London a few years ago with a band that included the two amazing players who play with Garland on this, Geoffrey Keezer on piano and Joe Locke on vibes & marimba. There are a couple of pieces, the long-form work ‘Sonata’ and the (regular size!) ‘Fantasy’ that feature a string quartet. ‘Sonata’ was, according to the liner notes, written for author Paulo Coelho. All beautifully inventive and with the ‘tonality dial’ at just the level I like! Some of the vibraphone runs are just breathtaking – check it out 🙂

The Dark Knight Rises

Such an enjoyable film! These are just some scattered thoughts.

This most recent take on the Batman story by director Christopher Nolan has been characterised by its brilliant baddies. A deep-seated desire for revenge fuels every one of the characters who rise above the throng of Gotham to engage in the struggle for its soul, and deception is very much the weapon of choice.

Despite having seen promo shots of Anne Hathaway in a catsuit, I was still delightfully surprised at her deft handling of the mask of Catwoman’s character. Gone is the weirdness and slight supernatural flavour given to the character Michelle Pfeiffer so memorably embodied. Here is a truly suitable partner for Bruce Wayne.

Perhaps it’s just my overactive crossword cortex, but I wondered at the link between her name, Selina Kyle, and the apt adjective ‘slinky’!

Bane was amazing. A true monster, right down to his buried heart. The tenderness with which his mask is repaired by the object of his affection was beautiful.

A few musical things stood out. The music that plays at Miranda Tate’s charity benefit (to which Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle dance) is Ravel’s gorgeous ‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’, which translates as ‘Funeral music for a dead princess’. Later in the film, we learn just how much the death of a princess has brought about Gotham’s apocalypse.
There is a great moment, as Bruce Wayne fails in his second attempt to escape his prison, when the tensely pulsing strings suddenly chug to an embarrassed slower tempo. An extremely satisfying musical joke, pitched perfectly, as was all the humour in the film. (Sweeping generalisation, perhaps…your thoughts?)

Lovely reappearance by Cillian Murphy, who gets a great line as he pronounces sentence on an unfortunate victim. The hint of scarecrow in his costume was bang on.

One last thing I noticed was how the timescale of this trilogy is believable. There aren’t endless villains, nor is there endless time. A man – for that is what Batman is, after all – has but a short time to live. As remarkable as Bruce Wayne’s physical transformation is during the course of the film, he is not superhuman. There is a limit to personal vendetta. But, as this Olympic year has shown us, there is always a fresh generation of achievement, a fresh hunger to carry the ancient fire of the gods.

The Mucky Duck

I played a solo gig last night in The Mucky Duck pub in Celbridge. I haven’t done very many gigs where it’s just me and the piano (when I have done gigs in the past, it’s mostly been on guitar). It was great, though, and I really enjoyed myself. Feedback was good from the audience — a nice mix of friends, punters sitting listening, applauding punters having conversations and food… Crucially, too, the proprietor and the guy who did my sound also thought I did well. The wonderfully nice guy who did sound for me — Mike Wilkins — took some video which I will hopefully be able to post up here in the next week or two.

I played all covers, some of which worked better than others. Ones that went particularly well were John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, done in the more up-tempo style of Herbie Hancock’s recent version (which, if you don’t know, you *must* check out…the rest of the album is absolutely brilliant, too. Seriously, iTunes, now…), also Dire Straits’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and Michael Bublé’s version of ‘Quando, Quando, Quando’ (although, sadly on this occasion without Jenny’s harmonious corollary). I did some jazz arrangements by Jack Long from a great book I have, ‘Blues for Piano’, although it was hard to read in the low light, so I didn’t enjoy that so much. Must get a wee LED gooseneck lamp…

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click for their page on Menupages (a restaurant rating site)…

Anyway, really hope to do more of this type of gig. Maybe a restaurant or hotel… I’ve enquired with a place on Dame Street that’s looking for a musician, so we’ll see what comes of that!

Superbos!

'Called' - Bruce Herman (click for article about the artist)

Last night was the performance of Bach’s Magnificat and it was such fun. We met at the concert hall at 4.15 and went through the programme with the organist and the orchestra. We stood on the stage (five rows, I think it was, of about twenty-four singers each). In front of us were the orchestra — it’s quite a small band: double bass, cello, bassoon, chamber organ continuo, oboe/cor anglais, two flutes, triple strings (as far as I can recall) and timpani. Also not forgetting the trumpets that play such a great part in the outer movements. The choir is in five parts and there are five soloists, too, each of whom gets a solo aria.

The instruments are all given a moment to shine, too. I love the ‘Esurientes implevit bonis’ (the text of which translates as “he has filled the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty”) — it features a flute duet obbligato (music-speak for the fact that they play all the way through, as importantly as the vocalist) that at times trips along in thirds or sixths, and at times has the two lines tumbling over each other. Bach plays a little joke with the words at the end: the flutes stop short of the final note, leaving it to the bass instruments. Sending us away empty.

Bach dissects the text of the Magnificat (the song that the writer of Luke’s gospel ascribes to the awestruck teenage mother of God), making twelve separate movements. I was at a talk during the week by theologian Terry Eagleton and he mentioned that the lines I quoted above sound like a political chant — the sort of thing that crowds would’ve shouted in protest against a corrupt and oppressive ruling class, say.

Another musical joke (a traditional one — Durrante does the same thing in his setting of the Magnificat, which we also sang in the concert) is the use of the same music at the end of the piece as the start. The last line of the doxology (Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.) lends itself nicely to the musical task of recapitulation (music-speak for having the first tune come back at the end). And what an ending it is! All trumpets (one of them a wee piccolo trumpet, playing gloriously high, piercing through the bustling music with a high, descending chromatic line. It’s as if, for a moment, we catch sight of something amazing before getting on with the business of jubilation.

Grace and poise

This weekend, New Dublin Voices took part in a production of ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ at the National Concert Hall. It was a full week of rehearsals starting with the conductor, John Wilson, putting us through our paces on Monday evening before we went along to the full orchestral rehearsals during the week. It was a wonderful experience—I really enjoyed sitting beside the bass clarinet player, having done a lot of orchestral clarinet playing in university. Being inside the orchestra was great. John Wilson reconstructed the score, the original having been tragically consigned to landfill many years ago. (In an article I read in Classic FM magazine with John, he also sadly notes that a lot of the music libraries of the big studios were destroyed. There was nothing for it but to literally write it all out again. It must’ve been a mammoth task!) The RTÉ Concert Orchestra were augmented with a rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass, drums) and, behind us on stage, a full saxophone section. They had some really lovely moments in the score, providing that close-harmony sound that only saxes can do. Seriously, it was a real treat sitting in the middle of it all and watching the realisation of this sublime music.

Here’s the sequence from the film for ‘Moses Supposes’, which the amazing dancers did pretty much step-for-step at the NCH:

A couple of my friends posted links to this video, too. Jaw-droppingly good. Danny Macaskill is to a trail bike what Gene Kelly is to tap shoes.