Tuesday, 30 July 2013

BRISTOL PROMS: InsideOut – Hauschka with Rod Maclachlan


When German pianist Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) prepares a piano, he really prepares it. I am used to Cage's carefully positioned pins and Satie's simple sheets of paper. The Old Vic's grand was laden with foam packaging, bubble wrap, strips of ribbon, the odd small wooden drum, beer bottle top hi hats, mirrors, ping pong balls and even a tambourine. All were strategically placed to add layers of new sounds and textures to a set of minimalist improvisations. 

In this brilliant late night prom (we took our seats at 10:15pm) Hauschka demonstrated the unusual sound combinations that come from placing items over piano strings and under the foot pedals. Small ball bearings danced on glass discs as he spread minor chords across semi-quaver passages, and ping pong balls jumped across syncopated rhythms. Whilst being extremely well controlled and carefully thought out, this was an exercise in indeterminacy. The resulting sounds often lay at the hand of chance. Indeed, some objects were placed in approximate positions, rather than fixed ones, and were free to move from pitch to pitch. The pianist captured a nice balance between planning and spontaneity, I think. 

Tonight Hauschka was joined by artist Rod Maclachlan who drove a robotic camera to create a stunning video of the piano's prepared interior whilst the music was played. It was brilliantly atmospheric and he achieved something that wasn't too literal. Instead, images were merged and delayed across one another, and the result was beautiful to watch.

In the penultimate piece, Hauschka dramatically stripped the piano bare of objects, leaving a trail of debris. It was striking to hear the piano back in its natural state before the finale. For the finale simple strips of duct tape were applied at approximate intervals and a hypnotising soundscape ensued for an atmospheric end to the concert.

All in all, it was a brilliant evening. The Bristol Proms is aiming to take classical music to new audiences. The week-long celebration of music is taking place at Bristol's Old Vic theatre for a start – the idea is that it is a more intimate and welcoming venue than a large concert hall. Core repertoire is being performed with visual and digital elements to encourage a fresh approach to high art music. The roster of top musicians that the festival has lined up is impressive and the enthusiasm is palpable. It is definitely worth a visit.

Hauschka at #BRISTOLPROMS | Photo: Gobinder Jhitta/Classic FM

Hauschka at #BRISTOLPROMS | Photo: Gobinder Jhitta/Classic FM
Hauschka at #BRISTOLPROMS | Photo: Gobinder Jhitta/Classic FM

Bristol Proms runs until Saturday 3rd August. Click HERE for event details.
Visit: bristololdvic.org.uk

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A rose by any other name...

When my sister sent me a text to inform me that JK Rowling had published her second post-Potter adult book, I was surprised that I had heard nothing of it and that there had been no advertising campaign to speak of. Perhaps I had become buried so deep in Bristolian life and culture that I couldn't see beyond the street art and smokey drum and bass dens. Or maybe it was that trip away to the far reaches of South West Cornwall… But after a little research I realised that tere had been an advertising campaign, but I could not be blamed for missing it. For it was actually promoting a novel by one Robert Galbraith entitled The Cuckoo Calling. It turns out that Galbraith is Rowling’s pseudonym. 

Now that I know that the novel is by Rowling I shall certainly pick a copy up – her prose style never fails to host brilliant colour and sharp wit, and, for me, she weaves a story as well as any author writing today. Because of my own desire to discover a book now that I know it to be by one of my favourite – and one the nation's favourite – authors, I started thinking about why the power of an established name (in JK Rowling's case, an inescapably famous one) and why authors would decide to use a pseudonym at all. 

A pseudonym that protects an author in artistic or professional terms makes sense. For example an established author of a beat poet-inspired genre novel may not want their name simultaneously associated with the gay erotica they write on the side to pay the bills. A money spinning, formulaic franchise is not to be sniffed at, just perhaps not directly owned up to. Similarly a 'chick lit' pioneer may not feel comfortable with their name making a sudden transition to graphically-portrayed horror. But this doesn’t quite explain Rowling's decision. When A Casual Vacancy was released in September 2012 it was defined by the fact that Rowling had made a huge change of direction and, if you like, 'come of age' since the Harry Potter series (however right or wrong those judgements were). A Casual Vacancy carried the tension and mystery that is characteristic of a crime thriller – indeed The Cuckoo Calling is an extension of Rowling's application of her talent to more adult themes, I think

Another reason an author may choose to write under a pseudonym is to have their work taken more seriously than it otherwise may be. For example, the female writer Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Elliot to reflect gender prejudice from Silas Marner and Middlemarch. Rowling herself has claimed to have enjoyed pulling the wool over many a critics' eyes with her inner male.

In her statement about why she chose to write under a pseudonym for The Cuckoo Calling JK described her desire to go back to the status of a new writer starting out and that if the book was to have a sequel, Robert Galbraith would of course be writing it. Rowling commented, "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name." She did say she was disappointed at not keeping her secret guarded for longer, but added that, "The upside of being rumbled is that I can publicly thank my editor David Shelley, who has been a true partner in crime, all those people at Little, Brown who have been working so hard on The Cuckoo’s Calling without realising that I wrote it, and the writers and reviewers, both in the newspapers and online, who have been so generous to the novel."

Perhaps compared to Evans's desire to overcome gender prejudice, or indeed the author of A talented My Ripley Patricia Highsmith's desire to keep her lesbian romance under the radar (the level of prejudice towards homosexuality is still absurdly high and dogmatically unforgiving), Rowling's reasons for a pseudonym are a little frivolous. There is many a writer who would give anything to be as well known and 'hyped up' as Rowling is worldwide.  But the sentiment is understandable from somebody who will never escape the legacy of writing the best-loved childrens' books of our time. And it is nice that she has had a chance to publicly thank her partners in crime for keeping her secret. Now, where is the nearest Waterstones?

JK Rowling | Photo: Andrew Montgomery

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Lafrowda 2013

I have just spent a dreamy weekend in the far corner of Cornwall diving into deep blue seas, dining on barbecued chicken, dancing to some ('interesting' is probably the only way to describe it) drum and bass takes on the classics, and batheing in too much sun. 

The purpose of my trip – aside from catching up with family and friends – was to visit the annual community festival of performing arts in my village. Lafrowda Festival is run by a group of volunteers aiming to showcase the brightest talent from the local area. It features parades of huge papier-mâchéd statues and school children proudly carrying banners, eccentric street entertainment and a variety of music to suit all tastes. Unfortunately, this year the selection of music wasn't quite up to scratch (too many choirs and not enough variety, not to mention the lack of folk), until the evening when the programming was slightly redeemed by the appearance of Rosie And The Vandals. I fell in love with her high-pitched vocals and catchy electronic riffs. Some good dancing was had there. Shindig, a group of dancers who tap out traditional appalachian songs also deserve a big-up – always a highlight.

Either side of the festival we spent a beautifully languid day lying under the sun on huge granite rocks and diving into turquoise sea, and two evenings sat around fires feasting on great food, good conversation and songs around the campfire. 

It was a beautiful four-day weekend and here are my 35mm snaps. Peace out.

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

We met the pet lambs | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
Summer = Pimms (of course) | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Steam Punk cycling | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Procession | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

I noticed | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

On the left, I wear: sunglasses, Ray-Ban; t-shirt, Zara | Photo: Emily Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Our cyclist heads home | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Rosie Vanier, Rosie And The Vandals | Photo: Andy Soden

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Playlist: The Mariner's Children

I first heard The Mariner’s Children when Rosie Sleightholme (+ her band, which I am of course a component of) supported them at The Cube, Bristol at the beginning of this month. The stunning seven-piece folk band spout driving beats and strong lyrics surrounded by captivating rustic melodies. What was evident in the live performance is the raw emotion they put behind each and every note of the music they play. And that certainly translates into the recordings, my favourite of which is the 'Sycamore' EP, released in February this year. The title track is just stunning. Lead singer Ben Rubinstein has a voice that fluctuates beautifully from soothingly soft to rough-with-emotion, and Emma Gatrill compliments this subtly with beguiling harmonies. The added riffs from the strings – that is Becca Mears on the cello and Emma Kraemer on the violin – cut refreshingly through the thick harmonies. It's perfect. Another track I love from 'Sycamore' is Wolves Within The Woods for its pretty, lyrical melodies, and It Carved Your Name Into The Ground from the first EP 'New Moore Island' is brilliant for its angst and intensity. For me, this is music for a summer’s day, but one that is tense with the promise of a passionate love affair.

Photo: The Mariner's Children/promotional

Cover artwork: The Sycamore EP

Visit: themarinerschildren.com

Monday, 15 July 2013

The English Seaside Chronicles, Part II

Burnham-on-Sea | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
False advertising? A day at Burnham-on-Sea
I keep doing this. I keep promising myself an idyllic beach day. You know the one – tan bodies, the smell of sun cream mixed with sand, and a refreshing dip in the Atlantic. But it doesn't ever quite work out that way now that I live in Bristol. You may recall my post about Weston-super-Mare, another typically-English day at the seaside. Last weekend I spent a similar day longing for my beach-babe roots. Yes, I am from South West Cornwall, and at times just crave one of those magical days on golden sands lapped by turquoise seas (yes, it does sound too good to be true doesn't it? But it is true).

Anyway, we jumped in the car with the ambitious intention of reaching Devon's north coast. Two hours, one HOT traffic queue and a quick Google search later, we decide to take the next turn towards Burnham-on-Sea. "It looks big and really nice!". I think the photographs and small iPhone screen made the pier look bigger, the sea look brighter and the mud – yes, more mud! – look a whole lot sandier!

But it turned out to be a beautiful day in spite of the threats of knee-deep sinking and occasional militant commands shouted at us through the tannoy. "That's quite far enough. Please make your way back up the beach." Yes, we did make a run for it (I really wanted to splash my ankles!) and yes, we were reprimanded. Not exactly the bohemiam beach dream, huh? We had a lovely sunbathe though (tan bodies – check); gave in to taking a walk rather than trying to reach water; and even enjoyed an ice cream on the modest pier. So, a lovely traditional seaside day it turned out to be. And the good news is that I am heading to Cornwall next weekend, so will get my salt-water swimming fix then. 

The mud plains of Burnham-on-Sea | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Sailing the mud | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Shining | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Marooned | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

'Wish you were here' • We went paddling at Burnham-on-Sea | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Monday, 8 July 2013

The Playlist: AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge – that is London-based electronic duo Aluna Francis and George Reid – is definitely a strong part of the Rosie-Pentreath-summer-'13 soundtrack. I had always liked the music when it was playing in the background, but when I saw them perform live at Evolution Festival back in May, I had one of those 'oh, I really get this now' moments. I caught them performing at Glastonbury too, and with the debut album 'Body Music' imminent, I am psyched to hear more.

Aluna plies the music with edgy and confident vocals, whilst the electronics contain irresistible riffs and catchy dance vibes. Your Drums, Your Love dominated radio playlists for a brief period last summer and Attracting Flies has done the same recently. But it was the collaboration with Disclosure for White Noise that really placed AlunaGeorge firmly on the commercial music map. And I am glad their music is getting recognition.

AlunaGeorge | Photo: Phil Sharp

AlunaGeorge plays Glastonbury 2013 | Photo: Pooneh Ghana/NME

'Body Music' will be released on 29th July.
Visit: alunageorge.com


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Glastonbury 2013: REVIEW

This year’s installment of Glastonbury felt like the biggest and best ever. Michael Eavis is famous for claiming that every year has been the very best, but when he said it this year, I felt inclined to agree. Between wandering around in The Green Fields and shaking out some moves at various silent discos, I managed to see many of my current favourite bands. In a set of brief reviews, this is how they each sounded.


Haim • Pyramid Stage
Haim were just the second band to play the iconic Pyramid Stage. Sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim make up the ultra-cool rock/country band from Los Angeles. Cool they may be, but their edge seemed to wear away with the weight of playing one of the world’s most famous festival stages.

Jake Bugg • Pyramid Stage
Country singer Jake Bugg sings as though he is from Kentucky, but when he speaks his Nottingham roots are revealed. At just 19 years old he held his own on the large Pyramid Stage with an incredible voice and irresistible cool demeanor in perfect music for a sunny afternoon. A legacy in the making, for sure.

Rita Ora • Pyramid Stage
I like to catch the odd glamourous pop princess at Glastonbury. This year Rita Ora took the pop-spot and was well worth the watch. When the music wasn’t developed enough to hold my attention, the backing dancers certainly did. And I can’t deny singing along with ‘Shine Ya Light’ with the most ardent devotees.

Rita Ora, Glastonbury 2013 | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The Lumineers • Other Stage
I was lucky to pass through Other during The Lumineer’s set. Beautiful folk vibes and it was incredible to see members of the band climb down into the crowd to continue their set touching shoulders with adoring fans. A brilliant Glastonbury moment.

Alt-J • Other Stage
Alt-J began by playing through the first three songs of their highly acclaimed debut album – no need for any introduction – just pure Alt-J sounds. The brilliantly conceived and tightly executed set did not disappoint.

Foals • Other Stage
I feel that Foals really came of age in their two latest albums, Total Life Forever and Holy Fire. Tonight’s set was characteristically energetic, beautiful and wholly absorbing.

Crystal Castles • John Peel Stage
Crystal Castles were 25 minutes late for their set and Alice Glass threw a tantrum (she took her anger out on the crash cymbal) when the electronics didn’t go off according to plan. But that didn’t stop this being a great set. The best in high-octane and trippy dance music.


The Park, Glastonbury 2013 | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The perfect soundtrack to lunch of halloumi and spicy rice in The Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon – tuneful electronic vibes.

Laura Mvula • Pyramid Stage
One of my highlights was catching Laura Mvula toward the end of her set. She has an incredible voice for the soul/pop she sings and I fell in love with her stage presence and genuine manner.

Ben Howard • Pyramid
Ben Howard gave an incredibly intense and emotional performance and it was impeccable from start to finish. Just, wow.

Daughter • John Peel Stage
Elena Tonra – the voice of folk trio Daughter – is sweet and shy on stage. But that didn’t stop her giving a powerful and beautiful performance that broke all of our hearts. Poignant lyrics coupled with incredible melodies.

Daughter, Glastonbury 2013 | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Alabama Shakes • Other Stage
Soulful rock and roll from the Deep South – plenty of personality and fun for a sunny Saturday evening.

The Rolling Stones • Pyramid Stage
100,000+ people filled the pyramid arena (surely the biggest crowd Glastonbury has ever seen?) to  see The Rolling Stones in this historic gig. Jagger still has his moves, the music rocked and despite comments about band members' ages, I felt the boys were on top form.

The Rolling Stones, Glastonbury 2013 | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Sheelanagig • Croissant Neuf
I wrapped my Saturday night with a good ol’ knees up with Eastern European gypsy folk band Sheelanagig. Incredible instrumentalists, brilliant humour and irresistible dance beats.


The Heavy • Other Stage
"We’re kind of a night time band, but ya’ll made it out at 10 past 12 on a Sunday afternoon so – thank you." A dose of funk-rock with my late breakfast…

First Aid Kit • Pyramid Stage
You would be forgiven for thinking that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg were from one of North America’s southern states (I did!). In fact, they are from Sweden, but nonetheless evoke brilliantly the country singer ilk – the likes of June Carter and Emmy Lou Harris – that they so clearly admire. With lovely folky harmonies and familier tales of love, self-discovery and journeys, this is music for the great American road trip.

Deap Vally • John Peel Stage
Ultra-sexy and unstoppably cool, rock duo Deap Vally shook the John Peel tent on Sunday afternoon. These girls have been playing together only a couple of years but are already a strong female force to fall in love with.

Deap Vally, Glastonbury 2013 | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Villagers • John Peel Stage
I listened to The Villagers whilst lying under a satisfyingly warm sun – perfect for a chilled summer day.

Tom Odell • John Peel Stage
“I’ve just found out that my album is number one.” The roar from the crowd was unbelievably loud with that, and deservedly so. In his heartfelt ballades and cleverly conceived piano songs, Odell is a superb musician with an incredible voice and charming manner. Swoon. What an honour to witness this brilliant set.

Jessie Ware • John Peel Stage
Jessie Ware is a charmer. And just so much fun! She gave us a great set with strong vocals and catchy electronic beats – the highlight was singing my heart out to ‘Wildest Moments’ along with the best of them.

James Blake • John Peel Stage
The experience of watching James Blake live was without doubt one of the best I have had at any Glastonbury so far. His brand of electronic music is heart-wrenchingly beautiful, powerfully intense and wholly consuming.  Simply stunning.

The XX • Other Stage

The XX began their headline set earlier than programmed. I experienced a fabulous moment running down the hill whilst the introduction to ‘Try’ pierced the air. Certainly a chilled end to the festival programme, but not a disappointment. Incredible chemistry and uplifting electronics. 


In between the main bands I sipped tea in folk tents, experienced the hedonistic surrealism of Shangri La, danced through sunrise at the Silver Hayes silent disco, made an abstract terracotta portrait, watched a classic film, and visited Left Field to attend a talk on Feminism. 

 + I hugged a hippy.