Quercus at the Howard Assembly Rooms, Feb 7th

Quercus

The Howard Rooms are a great place to hear live music. The hall is big enough for a sizeable crowd, but small enough to feel like you’re in a friendly pub, and the wood everywhere, including the amazing wooden ceiling, gives the place a warmth, even in a cool February. Quercus (meaning ‘oak’) are singer June Tabor, Iain Ballamy (playing saxophone) and Huw Warren (piano), and on Saturday they played a repertoire that ranged from traditional folk to experimental jazz, from extraordinarily gentle to wildly exuberant. June Tabor’s voice has a huge range of emotion and colour, and it worked well with the saxophone as a second voice – the human tones and the sax’s metallic hoarseness weaving together, backed by some really versatile piano playing that could be hauntingly delicate or sometimes cacophonous as it created the effect of a whole band behind the voice and solo instrument.

Some of the highlights for me were a Robbie Burns love song (you can hear the studio version of this at http://player.ecmrecords.com/quercus ), a moving lament for first world war fallen from Coope, Boyes and Simpson, and a great, sad, slow version of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – a song that was so popular and well played in folk clubs of the 70s that it seemed to became a cliché and almost disappeared for many years. This version brought out the ache behind the deceptively simple chords and made you remember why it became so popular in the first place.

I first became aware of June Tabor through the album Silly Sisters that she recorded with Steeleye Span singer Maddy Prior in 1976, and then through albums like Anthology (1999), which has much the same jazz/folk span as Quercus. I’ve always loved the uniqueness of her voice and her defiance of being held within any one tradition. On Saturday I did impromptu interviews with members of the audience to test their reaction to the music:

“She still has a wonderful singing voice and a really easy comfortable rapport with the audience.” (Franz, harpist)

 

“I particularly like the pianist.” (Jean, jazz aficionado)

 

“Put it this way, I shan’t be asking for my money back”, (Pete, art critic)

 

“I just loved them. They’re so good at drawing you in, and although that can be quite intense they’ve got an openness you can really relax into. There’s something sea-shorey about the sound. She’s the rock at the centre that frees the other two ” (Gail, crime writer)

 

There’s  a lot going at the Howard Rooms over the next couple of months, from classical film like Metropolis (2nd April) to more musical feasts like the Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell (17th Feb) and the saxophone playing son of John Coltrane, Ravi Coltraine (11th March), as well as Opera North’s ‘Little Voices’ Saturday morning programme for under 4’s and a lot of other stuff worth checking out at http://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on

 

Terry

 

 

 

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Icebreaker – Kraftwerk Uncovered

The group Icebreaker have previously done a tour where they re-interpreted songs by Brian Eno. Brian Eno shot to fame in the early 70s with the band Roxy Music, where he played synthesizer, an instrument which was in its early stage of development.  Eno had previously been an art student, inspired by ‘minimalism’, an art form which is about only using the basics.  Eno then went on to work with a wide variety of other bands, such as David Bowie, Talking Heads and German ambient pioneers, Cluster.  After this tour, they wanted to do something similar.  They chose Kraftwerk because like Eno, (in fact much more so) they were highly influential in developing electronic music, from the early 70’s and up until the present day.

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On the 23rd of January Icebreaker performed at Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds. Before the main performance, Icebreaker did their version of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’. Terry Riley was, an American minimalist composer. ‘In c’ is considered by many to be a masterpiece. The composition went through many different shades, from mellow to noisy, from joyous to dark, from hypnotic to intense. It gradually built up from a luxuriant clarinet to a climax of sound. There was a part that for some reason made me think of a giant worm coming out of the earth!

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Each Kraftwerk song was performed as an avant-garde instrumental, apart from a little snippet of processed German vocals, which I believe was sampled from Kraftwerk. Each song segued into the next. The performance was for about an hour. The songs combined many eclectic sounds and influences. After a while a booming bass appeared. The drums were more for percussive effect, such as crashing symbols, rather than rhythm. They were combined with electronic drums for extra volume and bass.

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Above the musicians were three large screens.  The screens began showing abstract shapes and rotating wire mesh which flashed to the pulsating bass and crashing symbols. There were shots of what would normally be mundane – doors, windows, pieces of metal. Grainy black and white images of Kraftwerk’s home city of Dusseldorf, desolate streets and factories with no people.  Weeds blowing in the wind, industrial chimneys blowing out thick smoke.  These images could have been filmed anywhere in the Western world. Scenes that would usually have been empty and inhuman evoked emotion.  The film, created by Sophie Clements and Toby Cornish, is intended to create insight into Kraftwerk’s ideas of technology and how technology affects urban and natural space.  For the song ‘Autobahn’, first we were shown a car driving down a motorway, from the viewpoint of a passenger.  Then, the screen showed the white lines of the road, which you would expect to be dull but was in fact rather intriguing!  The bleak images contrasted with the powerful music.  It would be interesting to know what Kraftwerk would think about this! I thoroughly enjoyed this performance.  Much thanks goes to Howard Assembly Rooms

Members of Icebreaker: James Poke – flute, pan-pipes, WX11 wind synthesizer, bass drum, Rowland Sutherland – flute, pan-pipes, Bradley Grant – saxophone, clarinet, Dominic Saunders – keyboards, Ian Watson – accordion, Audrey Riley – electric cello, Dan Gresson – percussion, James Woodrow – guitar, bass guitar, Pete Wilson – bass guitar with J.Peter Schwalm on electronics and processing.

By Daniel Tavet

Free concerts at the Howard Rooms

I saw a brilliant concert one recent Friday evening, when the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani sang at the Howard Assembly Rooms. She kept an audience of a couple of hundred people entertained for over an hour with songs from all over the middle east, with quite a bit of musical and other history thrown in for good measure. The most amazing thing was it was completely free. The Assembly Rooms are part of the newly refurbished Leeds Grand Theatre, and the regular concerts there range from fairly cheap to moderately pricey. But every so often for reasons I can’t quite fathom, you get the chance to see brilliant musicians for free. It’s really worth checking out if, like me, music is crucial to your well-being, but you can’t afford to see a lot of live music. The next free stuff at the Howard Rooms is on May 12th, when there’s a session on Opera’s Greatest Duets, and a Sacred Harp Singing Workshop. You just have to go to the box office at the Grand and ask for a ticket.