Sunday, 29 July 2012

You are what you Tweet... #openingceremony

Just in case you missed it... some great appearances in my tweetline:

@memorybanks: It's the taking part... Volunteeer actor Neil Smith reveals all: #olympics

@kesterbrewin: Really spot on review of Olympic #OpeningCeremomy by @sarahlyall: < first sentence nails it.

@dpcmike: For those who'd like to understand the the Opening Ceremony a bit more… a superb & quick explanation!

@SimonGCutmore: Los Angeles Times review "it was bloody well wonderful.. part Charles Dickens, part Benny Hill".

@CityFaiths: Danny Boyle Olympics opening ceremony and Britains cultural landscape via @guardian - Good piece on amazing ceremony

@simonmayo: "Danny Boyle wins the Gold": The New Yorker's brilliant verdict on the humour & generosity of the opening ceremony

@MartinWroe: 'Bespoke both destiny of Christian elect and pagan air of festival - elegiac, rejoicing.' #openingceremony

@gtomlin: "A great empire, gone. Military might, ebbing. Sense of humor, very much intact" (Washington Post) #olympics

@dianabutlerbass: Beijing celebrated conformity; Britain celebrates creativity. #OpeningCeremony

@pmphillips: Danny Boyle: "Our show was the volunteers' show. If you want to judge us as an island, these people are the best of us"

@maggidawn: This is great: last para of Boyle's programme notes.

@BBCBreaking: In pictures: The Olympic opening ceremony - the fireworks and the flames, David Beckham and Usain Bolt #bbc2012


Friday, 20 July 2012

Gustavo Dudamel, let us be numinous...

The phenomena that is El Sistema, the Venezuelan 'system' that introduces young kids to playing musical instruments in an orchestral, classical music community which lands up changing their and their families lives has been well documented. Now a good few years since its inception by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, the orchestra has removed the word Youth from it's name and has become the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV). Along with the world renown and highly respected conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, the combination is a powerful force that bucks the traditional enclave within the classical music world.

Even if you have the T-Shirt, watched the videos, seen the Prom broadcasts, nothing can prepare you for the experience of seeing them in action live, it is totally overwhelming, the impact it had on me is still fresh and imprinted in my consciousness. There is so much more to say and I will endeavour to explain more in due course, but the overall impact is one of an intense spiritual and worshipful moment that captivates everyone in the room. Performers, conductor and audience find themselves caught up in unison, a rare and numinously transformative place.

Whilst the orchestra's appearance in 2007 won hearts with robust performances of Bernstein and Latin composers, this recent concert in June 2012 depicted above demonstrated their ability to perform principally European works with astonishing sublimity.

However, for me the moment occurs right at the end...

Move the time bar to 1hr46mins45s, the start point for the encore, humbly introduced by Gustavo, Sir Edward Elgar's Nimrod. Then enjoy the performance, again, totally sublime, and wait to see what happens right at the end of the piece. There is a full 28 seconds of silence, a pin drop pause, a selah, before any applause starts.

Everyone is caught up in the extraordinary moment and it is so clear to see the effect it has had on orchestra and conductor. What is notable that neither Elgar's nod to his buddy Jaegar nor the subsequent notion of the piece being so linked to Churchill's funeral were anywhere in the ether, this is a new and transcendent interpretation that only comes with fresh ears and eyes...

...we have so much to learn!


Sunday, 15 July 2012

In Memoriam, Pete King, missed, never forgotten

Friend, brother, soulmate, kindred spirit... Pete was all these and much more. The song claims 'a good heart... is hard to find', yet the word 'good' serves insufficient justice to what an amazing person Pete was. Thoughtful, kind, generous, quick witted and humorous yet he was also one who knew his own mind, taking key decisions with confidence.

And PK (in After The Fire lingo) was, of course, a sublimely brilliant drummer. I can still recall a couple of shows where the rest of us turned round and watched in amazement as he completed a seemingly impossible fill that he'd already embarked upon!

Despite being such a strong and super fit individual it was to be cancer that was his undoing. Strangely, at an early ZipcodeS gig in 1983, when a close friend of ATF already in terminal decline from the same disease arrived in a wheelchair, PK confided in me that he foresaw himself landing up in the same state. Naturally, I dismissed it at the time, now that prophetic remark is a dark ghost in my memory bank.

He was the baby in After The Fire and we all looked out for PK as our younger brother. Yet with his stint depping in ELO and later as a full member of top flight German band BAP, he landed up becoming the most successful musician of us all.

Personally, I miss him dreadfully and I am well aware I am not alone. Conversations with close friends and family regularly land up remembering him. Furthermore BAP nobly braved the potential emotional black hole by recording their deeply personal tribute, as above.

When our post funeral posse stopped off for some sea air by Sheringham waterfront 25 years ago I felt this moment when Pete whizzed past nearby 'up there', just for a split second. And I had this overwhelming sensation that he longed for us to delight in his new incarnation rather than suffer the grief of our loss...


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Serving up Dylan for Amnesty International...

Eric Burdon is one of the artistes that has contributed to Chimes of Freedom, a 4 cd album set of Bob Dylan songs supporting the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International. Some approach the songs and arrangements pretty much as an homage to the original, others, like this, have a spirit of re-invention. This song is taken from the first of Dylan's 'Christianity phase' albums, Slow Train Coming and features Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers from Dire Straits amongst the musicians on the 1979 release.

It was the 1960s hit for The Animals, 'The House of the Rising Sun', that launched Eric Burdon on his career, followed up by a string of hit singles for the band. In a recent BBC documentary about the Gospel hymn Amazing Grace the Blind Boys of Alabama sang the words to the tune of House of the Rising Sun, an apposite combination.

I've picked out the Eric Burdon track as a highlight, IMO I don't hear many other moments of inspiration and it is difficult to even imagine who this collection would appeal to. Certainly Dylan aficionados will find it painful and, ironically, the least original approaches marginally less so. Supporting Amnesty is a good thing, so cut out the middle peeps and send them some dosh direct instead!


Monday, 2 July 2012

Emmanuel Jal - Savvy Peace Soldier...

Last night I was privileged to attend the Get the Youth Talking event in Camden, organised by a handful of charities linked together by the extraordinary and charismatic singer Emmanuel Jal. The evening was effectively in four parts commencing with a lively panel discussion on how to engage the far flung young and exiled Sudanese to work together to stimulate peace in their troubled land. As well as Emmanuel the contributors included representatives from Amnesty International (student section) and Jeremy Gilley from Peace One Day.

The video above can only give some idea of the fragile situation in Sudan since South Sudan declared independence last year on 9th July, hence the mobilisation to engineer the rallies outside embassies on the anniversary in one week's time on Monday. The panel and audience discussions were revealing, encouraging and sought to gain positive ground with insightful and well informed views.

Part two of the evening was spend enjoying East African cuisine from one of the sponsors, restaurateurs Abyssinia, and very splendid it was too!

Before the host took to the stage the seating was cleared away and Congolese poet JouJou Bola painted a moving picture of reality in African countries plundered for their conflict minerals.

One of the first surprises was to see a full band in action behind Emmanuel rather than the usual decks and tracks accompaniment. Emmanuel appeared at the back of the venue, clambered through the expectant audience bounced and onto stage before proceeding to lead the band through a seriously energetic performance. The set list comprised a selection picked mainly from War Child and his forthcoming CD, See Me Mama, the latter scheduled for an August release.

Throughout the set high energy levels were maintained, the band cooked, the drummer being the star player, and everyone couldn't help dancing to the groove. It was exuberant, colourful, moving and anthemic with the musical direction tipping a big nod towards reggae rather than solely hip-hop or rap. To Emmanuel's surprise and delight the audience was mainly Sudanese, whereas he usually plays to predominantly European or American punters.

After the show I was able to grab a few moments with him and he stressed the We Want Peace movement is an ongoing initiative despite the immediate focus on the worldwide rallies on July 9th and the follow up concert in South Sudan linking in with the Peace One Day 2012 on 21st September. Emmanuel is known worldwide as an activist, he now wants to mobilise people with the same vision as 'Peace Soldiers'. The downside is that all this activism is mainly self financed which has prompted him to start ringfencing his music work, his own label Gatwitch Records has been formed to consolidate this.

See Me Mama will be his fourth full CD album, he categorised his previous work as follows:
  1. Gua (2005) - Expression to God, giving thanks
  2. Ceasefire (2005) - exactly that (also a collaboration across religious divides)
  3. Warchild (2008) - telling my story and developing as an artist
Undoubtedly War Child is his best known album as that was created once sufficient time and healing had elapsed for his remarkable story to be revealed, the song Forced to Sin effectively encapsulating it in a deeply moving, hip hop elegy. As well as the radio friendly title track another song about his late rescuer, Emma McCune, received recognition as it was introduced at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday gig by kindred spirit, non other than the venerable Peter Gabriel.

Emmanuel's music deserves much more commercial success, one of the down sides of achieving almost cult status as an outspoken activist is that does not translate into sales. However, listening to the advance copy of the new CD on the way back the move toward the sing-along, anthemic style is a potential winner along with the grooves and unique voice. Furthermore, the growing interest from his fellow countryfolk may mean he can overcome the challenge of being a prophet in his own land...

Other important Emmanuel Jal links to check out:
Gua Africa
Lose to Win
Blog post on We Want Peace video

Sunday, 1 July 2012