Category Archives: Music

Revelation Of The Week (5)

One of the iconic moments of early BBC radio history was an outside broadcast on May 19, 1924, featuring cellist Beatrice Harrison sitting in her Surrey garden playing a duet with a singing nightingale. Through the crackly airwaves listeners were thrilled to hear a nightingale joining in with her rendition of the Londonderry Air. So iconic a moment was it that it elicited thousands of letters and was repeated annually until 1942. Live radio had arrived.

Illusions, though, are there to be shattered. In a Radio 3 programme to be aired today, April 17th, on Radio 3 called Private Passions, Professor Tim Birkhead, billed as a world expert on birds, reveals that the nightingale was not a real one but none other than a musical hall siffleur, Maude Gould, who went by the stage name of Madame Saberon.

Recording equipment at the time was heavy and cumbersome and a nightingale, even one so entranced by Harrison’s playing, would be too unpredictable for a scheduled live programme and so a back-up plan was hatched to have Gould on stand-by.

Birkhead’s sonic analysis suggests that the sound patterns of the song of the nightingale in the broadcast and those of a “real” nightingale are slightly different, evidence enough to convince him that it was faked. The Beeb have held their hands up and admitted the deception.

If you want to hear the recording, follow the link below:

Music Of The Week

If music be the food of love, play on, wrote Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. At The Trentham Monkey Forest near Stafford, the Park Director, Mark Lovatt, has hired a Marvin Gaye impersonator, David Largie, to perform some of the singer’s greatest hits inside the Barbary macaque habitat to put the females in the mood for love. Whether they monkeys will say “Let’s Get It On” for some “Sexual Healing”, and increase the monkey population, only time will tell.

Lovatt will be hoping for more success with his choice of music than authorities in New Zealand have had. In an attempt to disperse protestors who are camped outside the Parliament buildings in protest against Covid-19 vaccination mandates, they have bombarded them with Barry Manilow’s greatest hits and Macarena on a loop from one of parliament’s loudspeakers.

While it might have got me scurrying to the hills, the demonstrators are made of sterner stuff. Inevitably, James Blunt got in on the act, giving permission for You’re Beautiful to be blasted out on a loop. Rather than dispersing, the protestors put on their own music and had a party.

You can’t win ‘em all.

Gig Of The Week (5)

Yesterday you know it never really happened/ Tomorrow you know it never really had…

A rare trip up to London on the train to take in the Curved Air show at the 100 Club, an overnight stay at the London Central Tower Bridge Hotel and a trip to the City of London Distillery the following day, what could possibly go wrong?

Trespassers on the line in the Egham area, some Herbert then pulling the train’s communication cord near Staines necessitating all of us to troop off and wait for the next one, getting to the hotel to find our reservation had been cancelled without anyone telling us, resulting in a fraught 30-minute argument to secure a room, oh, and a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night causing us all to wander out into the cold in our jim-jams, that’s what.

The 100 Club is always a favourite venue of mine, nice and intimate. What you lack in sharpness of sound, the narrow, elongated room makes mixing a challenge, you make up in the feeling of connection with the musos. Curved Air, in a rare outing, didn’t disappoint their fans, most of whom, by the look of them, had been followers since the band broke into the big time in the early 1970s.

I loved their first two albums (still got them on vinyl), that mix of progressive rock with folk and a smidge of the classical and amazing musical virtuosity, the interplay of violin, keyboards and guitar and the majestic, ethereal voice of Sonja Kristina, made for a distinctive and easily recognisable sound. Only Kristina is left of the original ensemble, it is a moot point as to how few of the group have to remain before it becomes a tribute act, but the line up of Chris Harris (bass), Robert Norton (keyboards), Andy Tween (drums), Grzegorz Gadziomski (violin) and Kirby Gregory (guitar) got to grips with the material, a mix of old favourites like It Happened Today, Backstreet Luv, Propositions, Marie Antoinette and some (marginally) newer stuff from the 2014 album, North Star, like Stay Human and Images and Signs.

It wouldn’t be a prog rock concert without interminably lengthy solos, the encore version of Vivaldi being a tad overlong for my liking and with a dread drum solo, to boot, but the band were in good form and deserved their moment in the sun. After a slightly shaky start, Sonja Kristina got into her stride, her voice still as fine as ever, and she soon had the crowd eating out of her hand. The range of her stage moves was her only concession to the passage of time. It’s their 50th anniversary next year, she reminded us, and promised some big, exciting things to come. This gig did seem like a band knocking the cobwebs off their music and polishing up a show. We will see.

The experience and the musicianship, though, made up for the rigours of the day that had passed and were to come. It really did happen today.

Baroque ‘n’ Roll

Jethro Tull – Birmingham Cathedral

It takes a lot to imbue me with the spirit of Christmas, it’s all this enforced jollity and good will to all men that gets my goat, but I must admit that when I left the architectural wonder that is Birmingham Cathedral, I felt at peace with the world. It’s amazing what a couple of pints in the Old Joint Stock and a cheeky large glass of wine in the cathedral’s nave can do.

This concert was part of the Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary tour and for the last ten years or so the band have been putting on concerts in cathedrals around the country to celebrate Yuletide. This year it was Birmingham Cathedral’s turn. All monies raised went to the cathedral’s restoration fund and, in particular, towards the preservation of the wonderful Edward Burne-Jones stained glass window. A worthy cause, to be sure.

One of two baroque cathedral in the country, St Paul’s being the other, and one of the smallest, standing cheek by jowl with the edifices of Mammon on Colmore Row, it made for an unusual and curiously intimate setting for a seasonal and more acoustically orientated Tull gig.

Ian Anderson has had to be inventive in recent years to mask his set of failing vocal chords but there was less need for such subterfuge as he wasn’t having to battle against the might and fury of a prog band at full throttle. A gentler, more relaxed style seemed to suit him better and perhaps this is the direction that he should move towards, if he feels the need to continue to tread the boards.

The band was helped out by the Cathedral choir on a few seasonal ditties which were given the Anderson twist. The set included a generous helping from the 2003 Jethro Tull Christmas album, was sprinkled with a few old favourites, Aqualung in particular was heavily bowdlerised to suit the surroundings, and seasoned with a couple of guest artists.

Violinist, Anna Phoebe’s version of Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes and the breathtaking Celtic/Moroccan fusion that was Babouche were stand outs as was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, started off on the stentorian cathedral organ and finished off in style by Florian Opahle on lead guitar.

A splash of celebrity star dust was provided by Loyd Grossman who thrashed around on lead guitar as well as treating us to some words of wisdom from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I could easily have done without him but that may just be my taste buds.

Anderson knows how to put on a show and is beginning to acknowledge the effects of anno domini – he did seem to take more of a back seat and happier to let others share the limelight.

A lovely, uplifting evening and the Cathedral is a few steps nearer to getting those windows restored.

Hey! Santa! Pass us that bottle, will you?

Gig Of The Week (4)

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets Band – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wow, what a concert!

My brain is still scrambled. I set the control for the heart of the sun but at least I didn’t end up on the dark side of the moon. Our seats were up in the gods but our view was not obscured by clouds. The sound was superb.

The central conceit behind Mason’s band is to resurrect the early Floyd music, pre-Dark Side when it then all got a bit too pompous and up itself, such entertainment as there was coming from an extensive and over-blown light show. I much preferred their earlier stuff when the much-lamented Syd Barrett’s psychedelic musings and ramblings ruled the roost.

You can also see why Mason has a penchant for this era. By the time Floyd had become mega stars, the role of drummer in the band had been relegated to pretty much an also-ran. But the drums are much more of a feature of the early stuff, non more so than the urgent primal drumming of the central section of Saucerful of Secrets.

Accompanying Mason on his first tour since the 1994 Division Bell tour are long time Floyd bassist, Guy Pratt, Gary Kemp, a surprisingly accomplished guitarist, Lee Harris on guitar and Dom Beken on keyboards. All the favourites were played – Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, the wonderful Bike – as well as Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Saucerful and Set The Controls, representing the more experimental side of the band. I particularly enjoyed a rare outing for Fearless and the Vegetable Man.

Two thoughts. Rather like jazz, psychedelic music sounds so much better live than on record. I wonder why? And what is the definition of a tribute band? Does having a member of the original group mean that the rather pejorative term doesn’t apply?

Whatever the answer, there is no doubt that the evening was a wonderful homage to a period when Floyd were rightly lauded as one of the more inventive and experimental bands of the time. If you can get to see them – they have just announced extra dates – do so or else you will wish you were here.