Quercus at the Howard Assembly Rooms, Feb 7th


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






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.


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!


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.


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

Instrumental evening, Love Arts Festival, October 2012

As part of the Love Arts Festival, Instrumental hosted a great evening at Swarthmore Education Centre.  This quick film shows the highlights of the evening.

I interviewed Dave Lynch who represented High Royds Memorial Garden and Mike Jolly from Cloth Cat, a music charity in Leeds.  Dave talks about how music helped him express his feelings and Mike Jolly encourages people who are in receipt of means tested benefits to take a free course.

The artists involved were Lunar Calling, Georgette Hilton, Dave Lynch, The MoMo’s, Instrumentalists and Biscuit Heads & the Biscuit Badgers. They were each very different in style and the talent really was outstanding.

Instrumental promotes gigs in Leeds to raise awareness and money for mental health causes. The evening was a collaboration between Arts and Minds, Cloth Cat and High Royds Memorial Garden.

A very inspiring evening..

Thanks Vicky 🙂

Free Music

Music is definitely one of things that’s helped me through this life. It’s disturbed me too at times, given me unsettling dreams of glory, excited me to get involved when I really shouldn’t have, made me weep on several occasions, but on the whole it’s been a brilliant, positive force – whether listening to songs that have helped me make sense of things, trying to write them, singing in bedroom, bath or choir, playing in a band and making people dance, or just tootling about on pianos or pipes. It’s one of the nicest and least dangerous things to do with other people. I often feel a bit lost and puzzled in the houses of friends who don’t have musical instruments lying around to play with. What do they do while they’re waiting for the kettle to boil?

It’s great that there’s so much music going on all the time in Leeds, and that so much of it is either very cheap or completely free.  At a music pub like the Grove, for instance, you can hear the ‘world’s longest running folk club’ every Friday, go to the Tuesday blues jam session, take in a French traditional music session every third Thursday, or a gypsy folk night every 4th Monday, and quite a bit more. There’s a whole host of open mic nights around the city, including at either the Grove or the Victoria behind the town hall, on Wednesday evenings. The magnificent Cloth Cat run one at the Chemic in Woodhouse every Thursday evening. When I’ve been there the music has been high standard, played through good equipment with a sound engineer on hand to balance things. The only cost is a whip round in a beer glass for the one booked act each week.

But also there is lots of quality classical music going on this Autumn completely free, including free lunch-time classical concerts at the University. They take place most Fridays at 1 p.m. at the Clothworkers Hall, which is about a hundred yards down on the right if you go from Woodhouse Lane into the University (with the big, white Brotherton building on your right). Last year I saw the brilliant Kronos Quartet – world renowned musicians! Free! And this years programme looks pretty interesting. For instance next Friday 5th October you can see David Greed (violin), the leader of the Orchestra of Opera North, and Ian Buckle (piano), his long-time accompanist, play Mozart’s only work in E-Minor (that surprised you eh? all that stuff he wrote and only one thing in E minor! And you can hear it for free next Friday!)

If one dose of free classical music a week isn’t enough for you, Leeds College of Music have a season of lunch-time concerts at The Venue on Quarry Hill, every Wednesday til next April (ok, apart from Boxing Day and Jan 2nd, if you’re going to be pedantic.) They start next Wednesday 3rd October (two days time) with Lionel Cottett (cello), and Louis Schwizgebel-Wang (piano, and I honestly haven’t made up that name), playing Beethoven Cello Sonata No1, 6 Schubert Lieder transcriptions, and Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro. It starts at 1 p.m. at The Venue, St.Peter’s Square – which is more or less directly opposite you, as you stand waiting for your bus in the bus station. Performances timed at 50 minutes for busy lunch-time punters, or readers of the Wellbeing Web and other idle singers of an empty day. Terry