Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero - UK mini-tour, November 2009
(Colston Hall, Bristol, 29/11/09): So you missed it, eh? Well eat your heart out. It was a sell-out, and deservedly so. Absolutely brilliant. 90 minutes of non-stop showing-off. Next time they are around, you'll find it difficult to get a ticket at all. They are set to play Jools Holand's New Year's Eve show this year. This was the last of the UK appearances as part of the world tour promoting their third studio album, 11.11. Rodrigo y Gabriela rose to prominance with their second, eponymous, album in 2006, but have been around since 2001 or before. They play Spanish/classical wide-neck acoustic guitars, and are genetically inclined to the latin sound (being Mexicans). But this is hot flamenco on speed. Their claimed heavy metal influences become more apparent live than on record. In conventional terms, Rodrigo is the lead guitarist whilst Gabriela is the rest of the band. This is not to denigrate Gabriela's playing. Quite the opposite. She manages to be rhythm guitar, bass and drums all at once. The drumming bit is quite literal. Her percusive style on the strings extends to outright drumming on the body of the guitar (the technical term for which escapes me). How she throws her right hand around like that and keeps it up for so long is amazing. Her solo with the wah-wah peddle was something else. Rodrigo tends to carry the tune and is, in comparison, just your average utterly brilliant guitarist. His attack is so crisp that I thought he was using wire strings initially. But, no, they're nylon. The two players appear to use identical guitars, but their techniques are so different that they produce distinct and complementary sounds. Rodrigo plays with a plectrum. There's no question of any plectrum with Gabriela's right hand blur. If I have any criticsm of R&G (and it's hard to have any) it is that viruosity alone can only carry you so far. True, their compositions are excellent and very entertaining. But the live show is perhaps rather too flash. They even stop mid-tune for applause. Perhaps this is the latin temperament. And it is understandable given their long years in obscurity - and their leanings towards rock posturing. But in the long term the music should be first and the virtuosity second.
Gypsy Fire (Ben Travers and Stuart Carter-Smith)
(Wotton-under-Edge Arts Centre, 30/1/10): Well, that's a trick I've not seen before. I wasn't entirely sure what the term "Gypsy guitar music" might mean, though it conjured up visions of Django Reinhardt. This, it turned out, was spot on. Much of the material was Reinhardt and/or Grappelli. What was not tended to be of that same era, though with some exceptions (e.g., the theme from the Focus advert - much better than that sounds). The emphasis was on sheer speed - as it would be for Reinhardt-alikes. But the tempo was varied enough to maintain interest, and actually rather more melodic than a lot of the old Quintette du Hot Club de France. Altogether quite a triumph and well worth the trip out. Strongly recommnded. Have a taste here...
Having not seen two people playing the same guitar before, Jack made me aware of this...(it appears to be an accepted technique)...
Natalie Clein and Xuefei Yang
Natalie Clein (cello), Xuefei Yang (guitar) [St.George's, Bristol, 5/2/10]: Bach cello suite No.1 in G ; Bach violin sonata No.1 in G minor (transposed for guitar) ; Casals Song of the Birds ; De Falla Siete Canciones ; various by Villa Lobos, Piazzolla, Stephen Goss.
I am not competent to pass comment on this really. I had swotted up on the pieces beforehand, though, which helps. The playing was immaculate, obviously. I was a bit iffy about the combination of guitar and cello. There is an obvious dynamic imbalance. This did indeed turn out to be an issue. A good deal of Xuefei's playing was difficult to hear behind the cello. I suspect there's something of an emotional mismatch between the two instruments as well. Consequently, I enjoyed the two long solo pieces most. However, the duos were noble efforts and well worth attending. I was curious to see how the violin sonata would come over on the guitar. The problem with transposing from violin to guitar is that a violin can sustain a note indefinitely, whereas a guitar cannot. I think the transposition got around this by replacing sustained notes with arpeggios on the guitar (but I'm an idiot and I could be wrong). Given this problem, you might expect the last (presto) movement to come over best, as it did. It was stunning in fact. I wonder if Xuefei's recorded this piece - I would hope so.
(This is a rehearsal, not a live peformance)
Nogabe Randriaharimalala and his band [Wotton-under-Edge Arts Centre, 27/2/10]: This is too good to continue. 100 yards from my own house and no need to book in advance - and music of this quality. Hats off to the programme coordinator. But it may be too good to continue next year, when Stroud District Council cut the very modest grant to the Arts Centre. Thanks, bankers, you bunch of....bankers! Back to Nogabe, though. All the way from Madagascar (is it not the Malagasi Republic any more?) to play in Wotton. I dare say they have other venues in the UK too. Not noted as a centre of World Music, Nogabe nevertheless went down a storm in Wotton. Why call it World Music when its African, btw? I dare say African music has many varieties. I could not claim much knowledge. But this was notably African. More melodic than, say, Zimbabwean jit (e.g., the Bhundu Boys), but sharing the same DNA. They played for nearly two and half hours, with a short break, and would have been happy to play far longer. The good burghers of Wotton would have been equally happy for them to continue, but I suspect the music licence necessitated an end, it being after 11:00pm by then. Check Nogabe out in the video...
Turin Brakes (Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian)
Turin Brakes [St.George's, Bristol, 10/3/10]: Touring on the back of the newly released album Outbursts, they played a long set which contained plenty of their well known material. This was the second day of what looks like a gruelling two month European tour. They get classed as folk, but it's thinking man's pop music imho. They appear to attract 30-somethings on the whole. Even a not-very-long-time fan like me knew many of the songs. In fact there were several I knew which they didn't play. They have a substantial back catalogue having been around for 11 years or more. Extremely polished performers with a band to match. The attraction of Turin Brakes is the singing and songwriting, rather than the instrumental flashiness I normally go for. They did not disappoint. At one point they went un-plugged, standing at the front of the stage in a line - even the drummer playing acoustic guitar. That went down well, though too quite for more than one number. Try a random example of their sound...
Troyka [Wotton-under-Edge Arts Centre, 13/3/10]: Troyka are a jazz trio based in London. It was a real pity Wotton could not find a few more people to attend. The audience was desperately thin. A great shame because here were three musicians of considerable ability playing cutting edge stuff that you won't often hear outside the big smoke or in specialist jazz clubs. It was challenging at times. They were not taking any prisoners. And the guitarist did like his squawks, creeks, whines and industrial steel work collisions. But occasionally they interspersed this material with more accessible covers or blues-based numbers, just to prove to any doubters that they could play perhaps. The guitarist was obviously aware of the potential communication problem. He quipped whilst retuning his guitar that, "perhaps you might not see why I'd bother tuning at all". But actually they were very tight and well rehearsed. Classed as jazz-rock, they were definitely at the jazz end of that spectrum. Whilst practising before the show, I heard them discussing whether a certain note should be natural or flat. Far too intellectual for rock music. Hey, you just pick up the guitar and hit it don't you? Amongst the covers were a Nirvana track (Heart-Shaped Box), which was excellent. After an attack of the giggles, it was introduced as a sensitive ballard, and strangely (given the original) it was. A great improvement on Kurt and friends' version. The other cover was their encore, namely Black Hole Sun. This was stunning. There's a live Troyka version of this on YouTube, but not so good as I heard live. (I was racking my brains to remember who the original was by. I got it wrong. I thought Audioslave, but, no, it was Soundgarden).
Anyway, I really enjoyed it. Just a pity more weren't there.
Check out some of the nicest bass playing I've ever heard - Zander Zon (though I assume that's not his real surname, given that he plays a Zon bass)...
Sam Carter [Wotton-under-Edge Arts Centre, 22nd May 2010]: Rather a coup for WuE Arts getting this guy. He studied guitar under Martin Simpson. (Jack tells me that his style is completely different, though). In February he won the Horizon Award for best newcomer in the 2010 BBC Folk Awards. Fortunately he was booked before this, so we got lucky. A good night, with Sam playing everything from his first (and currently only) album Keepsakes. If this was a coup, just see who WuE Arts have got coming in the Autumn....Martin Carthy!
Bad Religion [Academy, Bristol, 7th August 2010]: 90 minutes of non-stop energy from the punk granddads from California. They formed in 1979, so are entitled to call themselves punks, unlike most of the US new-wave punk bands. This was officially their 30th anniversary tour. The main man is the vocalist, Greg Graffin. In his other life he is a university lecturer at UCLA, teaching life sciences and paleontology. Credit to the guy, he doesn't try to look like anything other than a college professor on stage either. The band is incredibly professional and well rehearsed: maturity shows. Unfortunately their main guitarist (and song writer), Brett Gurewitz, was not with them. I believe he does not normally tour with the band anymore, though he has featured on the recent albums, and will also feature on the new album to be released at the end of September 2010. His absence was rather apparent in the guitar solos which the other two guitarists could not really rise to. Incidentally, despite the band's name and their logo (see the videos), they are not the out-and-out 'Richard Dawkins' atheists that you might imagine. Graffin styles himself a naturalist, whilst Gurewitz admits to being a provisional deist (which is pretty close to the same thing) - whilst the bassist (Jay Bentley) has spiritual beliefs. There are some very bad recordings from the event itself below. It was HOT in there...
Gypsy Fire (Autumn 2010 line-up)
Gypsy Fire (16th October 2010, Wotton-under-Edge Arts Centre): We were so impressed with their January performance, we invited them back again. This time the original guitar duo, Ben Travers and Stuart Carter-Smith, were joined by Ben Holder on violin and Paul Jefferies on double bass. This made for a fuller sound and more variety on the solo pieces as Holder took his turn on violin. So, even better than before. Though many of the pieces were the same they had been given a new twist. Ben Holder was very much the Stephane Grappelli sound-alike, matching the Django Reinhardt-alike guitarists very well (but he could perhpas do with a bit of reining-in). Also deserving an honourable mention was support act and local boy James Aldridge. He also supported Gypsy Fire back in January and had come on dramatically in the intervening 9 months. In particular he did a remarkable version of Simple Man and some right flash acoustic guitar tapping & slapping.
A good time was had by all.
Martin Carthy (20th November 2010, Wotton-under-Edge Arts Centre): This was a major coup for WuE Arts - the grand old man of British folk music in person. Certainly the biggest act we've ever had. We could have sold out three times over. No support act and no band, Carthy carried the whole evening on his own with a set that lasted two and a half hours with a small break. But the time flew. There's no compromise with Martin Carthy. You get genuine traditional folk music and nothing but just that - with a few more recent songs written in the same idiom. His own output in terms of song writing is, rather surprisingly, just two songs. Carthy is principally known as a promulgater of the tradition, not a song writer. Check out a typical bit of informal Carthy...