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Blog : Posts tagged with 'folk music'

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Quiet, please

In which the reference library is louder than you might expect, but somehow seems quieter than normal


Saturday night: to Bristol Central Library, for a gig by The Wraiths, a local band whose “thing” is setting classic poems to music. We’d seen them twice before, at various events,* but last night was the first time we’d seen them performing as a full band.

You might think that a library – the Reference Library Reading Room, in fact – is a slightly odd place to hold a gig. Unusual, I have to admit; Lancaster Library is a regular indie venue, but this was only Bristol Library’s second public concert. The tickets impressed me, for a start: the organisers were clearly trying to set the theme.

Library bookplate or concert ticket?

The library reading room is an amazing space. Part of an early building by Charles Holden, the architect of various iconic London buildings,** it has a high, vaulted ceiling wtih two gallery levels. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to bring a camera along; the clatter of a camera shutter can sometimes be a little unwelcome at quiet, intimate gigs. I’ll have to come back on an evening sometime, when the library is open for normal business, and see if they’ll let me take some photos of the interior. It is, allegedly, haunted; the band tried to persuade the gig’s librarian organiser to give us a talk on the various ghosts that live in the building, but sadly it never occurred.

The gig itself can’t really be disassociated, in my head, from the venue. The overall effect was magical, the music filling the vault, although if anything they should have turned the volume up slightly. Although there wasn’t any support, the band played a very full set, two halves and an interval, and the library reference desk had been turned into a cafe-bar for the night. As I said above, we’d seen them twice already, but this gig, with a fuller band, was by far the best; maybe because this time, they were the headline act. They persuaded us to buy their CD,*** and happily encore’d away, slightly tentatively, at the end.

All in all, a great gig, and the second good gig I’ve been to at the library. I’m hoping now that the library sees fit to extend this event into a whole series of concerts: they have a wonderful room, after all, and it makes the music shine.

* and I have a photo of the first time we saw them performing.

** including Senate House, 55 Broadway, and various other Underground Group/London Transport Art Deco premises. At the time Bristol Central Library was built, of course, Art Deco had not yet been thought of, so it’s in more of an Edwardian Classical style.

*** or, rather, the CD of theirs that we didn’t already have.

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A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes


A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Another topical search term: “what happens to Annie in Being Human?” Episode 5 spoiler time: sharp-eyed viewers will have noticed that although Annie was on the verge of passing on to the next world, she hadn’t actually gone when the credits rolled, so will no doubt still be in the final episode. Highlight the preceding bit to read it.

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

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Condiment Frenzy

In which we are delighted by music and storytelling


Since we moved here, we’ve been promising ourselves that we’ll get Out And About, go to lots of local events, be actively artistic, and so on. And, well, we haven’t quite managed it. We’re doing better than we used to; we go to more things than we ever did before we moved; but the calendar still isn’t quite as full as we’d like.

As I’ve said before, though, one of the things I love about this city is that it doesn’t take long before you hear about a good-looking event.* For example: we quickly popped into Boston Tea Party at the weekend for tea and cake,** only to spot a poster on the wall that we quite liked the sound of. A regular event called Folk Tales, at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf, on the last Wednesday of the month. So, we went along.

It turned out, as it happened, that one of the organisers of Folk Tales was one of the performers we saw on New Year’s Eve at the Cube; so we knew that things would probably turn out for the good. And any gig where the door-person, after taking your money, points you to the kitchen where you’re free to use the kettle, make yourself tea and help yourself to a biscuit,*** is going to be a good gig.

And, indeed, it was a good gig. Folk Tales is a mixture of folkish music and storytelling, as you might guess from the name; and the whole thing together made a rather good combination. I’m not really a fan of some “professional” storytelling, because I find it rather over-dramatic and stilted; I prefer a more naturalistic style of recounting. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy the storytelling as much as the music; but because of the mixture of performers, that wasn’t a problem. The storyteller closest to my taste – for that reason – was the aforementioned Jethro McDonald, who told us about a man who, after a kitchen accident, and ambulance delirium, became obsessed with falling. As I can just about remember a similar chunk of ambulance delirium myself, I could sympathise.

In-between the storytellers, came a selection of local musicians with a similar ambiance: quiet, thoughtful, and with stories to tell. My favourite was probably Shaun McCrindle, partly because of a coincidence: one of the stories in his songs was an anecdote in the David Crystal book I recently read and keep writing about; the others, though, both women playing ukeleles,**** sparkled just as much. Thoughtful songs, which raised wry smiles.

We’ll be going back to Folk Tales, and we’ll remember to get there early again next time, because the audience really had to pack themselves in tightly. We’re making sure we keep turning up in time to get a seat and a cup of tea; not to mention, making sure we can get in the door. If Folk Tales gets much more popular, people will be spilling out onto the quay outside. Understandably so, I’d say, because it’s a very good way to spend a weekday evening.

* and one of the other good things about this city is the converse: if you’re running an event, if you advertise, people will turn up. Putting random posters around the city does work.

** Why we say “let’s go for tea and cake” when we both rarely drink tea itself outside of the house is one of those eternal mysteries. I had coffee that day, for example, and K had hot chocolate; but we still referred to it as “tea and cake”.

*** Dark chocolate digestives, for the record. And we did indeed have tea, despite the previous footnote.

**** It wasn’t clear whether that was themed or coincidental, really.

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Folk

In which we review Rachel Unthank and the Winterset


This weekend’s gig: Rachel Unthank and The Winterset, at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Theatre. “People ask us if ‘Unthank’ is our stage name,” said Rachel. “Who’d choose a name like ‘Unthank’?” Personally, it reminds me of Scotland;* but the Unthank family are Northumbrian. Rachel and her sister Becky share the major vocal parts, with a piano and another musician behind them.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of folk; but then, I don’t really agree with the concept of genre to start with. And, to start with, it was a little avant-garde: slow, not really rhythmic at all, but relying on the beauty of the sisters’ voices, the pianist darting from one end of the keyboard to the other and occasionally reaching inside the piano’s innards to pluck its strings directly. We were a little distracted by a woman just in front of us in the audience, who had decided that the quiet opening was the ideal time to take a loud phone call. “Don’t you shush me!” she said, harshly, to anybody who complained, as she pushed her way out of the row. “MY SON is more important than YOUR HEARING”. I was sorely tempted to mutter “Oh no he isn’t” sotto voce, but the rude bint would probably have tried to lamp me one. Fortunately, she was soon gone.

The gig continued, with songs getting a little more up-tempo, but always with the slight flexibility implied by the lack of percussion. If the band needed percussion, they provided it with their feet; but its lack gave them the freedom to explore, to work in free time without any constricting structures. They seemed to be able to soar at will with their voices; and Rachel stood with her hands spread and moving across her lap, as if she was consciously grasping the music with them and guiding herself.

I must have been enjoying it, because I even joined in with the audience participation sections, something I’m normally loath to do, and despite barely being able to carry a tune. Not that it matters when you’re in the middle of an audience; but still. After a rousing and catchy midwinter song** about the Allendale new year fire ceremony, they finished up with all four of the band, together a capella, singing a Shetland song with lyrics in Norn.*** I couldn’t make out the words from the sound, but the sound was beautiful enough to not need anything more.

* One of my favourite novels is Alasdair Gray’s classic Lanark, largely set in a city called Unthank.

** So catchy the chorus is still stuck in my head three days later.

*** The strand of the Nordic languages spoken in Shetland until the 19th century, similar to Faroese and some dialects of Norwegian

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