Celebrating Early Music and Early Music Performance

Reviews of performances recently visited

Southern Tenant Folk Union

The Junction, Cambridge, September 16th 2011

Chris Purcell - Vocals/Guitar
Carrie Thomas - Vocals/Fiddle
Jenny Hill - Vocals/Double Bass
Adam Bulley - Vocals/Mandolin
Pat McGarvey - Vocals/Banjo
Jed Milroy - Vocals/Guitar/Harmonica
Ewan Macintyre - Vocals/Guitar/Percussion

I remember the time whilst at school, being admonished (usually with red ink) on a regular basis for oft-repeated ‘tendencies’ – both with my class and homework.  The paraphrased scenario went thus:  “Content good, presentation poor”.  It was the bane of my academic life, and to be quite frank, I never much improved.

I was reminded of this unfortunate propensity of mine to go one step forward, quickly followed by another in the opposite direction, whilst watching the Southern Tenant Folk Union (STFU) at The Junction, Cambridge, a couple of evenings ago.  Oh for the absent plaudits all those years ago – and how these guys must have been top of the damn class, week in and week out!

It was a strange start to the evening.  Having arrived at the Junction, the Early Music Radio child taxi service obediently performed its mandatory duty; that is, depositing daughter number four, complete with accompanying friend into the main auditorium to watch/scream/get soaked with water at some-or-other grunge combo.  Wife, daughter number three and I then wondered what on earth we were going to do with ourselves for the next four hours; that is, until the girls emerged tired, weeping and wet following their seminal baptismal soiree!  The opportunities on the face of it for we remaining three, were somewhat limited.  We had the choice of tenpin bowling followed by a Mexican, or a Mexican followed by tenpin bowling!  Perhaps, we could throw in a visit to the Tesco Extra as well if things dragged a tad?    

What we hadn’t realised straight away, was that The Junction had more than one auditorium and that J2 (for that’s what it’s called) had an evening’s set lined up also.  Therefore, kismet intervened and we found ourselves in a truly welcoming and bijou arena, awaiting our evening’s entertainment.

To be continued


Trio Medieval and Arve Henriksen

Wigmore Hall, London, February 14th 2011

What have an Apple laptop, a pair of half-decent bi-amplified computer speakers, a Scandinavian vocal ensemble specialising in, amongst other things, ancient polyphony and a man with a couple of trumpets have in common?  Usually, not a lot – however, mix them all together and drop them off at Wigmore Hall on St Valentines day – and hey presto, you end up with a breathtaking and mesmerizing evening.

Trio Medieval have never stood still and have consistently developed several strings to their musical bows.  Apart from their own personal projects, the Grammy nominated trio truly excel with their Early Music repertoire. They are renowned exponents of Norwegian folk music and also regularly perform contemporary compositions with a breathtaking delivery in their own matchless style and sound.  If that isn’t all, they have seemingly no fear in collaborating with other diverse entities, such as percussionist, Birger Mistereggen and the Bang on a Can project.  For this evening however, Trio joined forces with Norwegian jazz trumpet player/singer Arve Henriksen.

For me, my evening started with a ridiculously early arrival at the Wigmore Hall, having caught an even more ridiculously early train from St Evenage.  Wandering into the empty lobby, I sat down on the sumptuous leather bench next to the imposing highly polished mahogany doors that lead to the concert hall and twiddled my thumbs – and then it happened!  The beautiful and unmistakable sound of Trio accompanied by Arve rehearsing the forthcoming set, drifted from the hall into the lobby – and for a time it was just them and me.  Worth the ticket price alone I thought; and what a surreal moment. 

I was fortunate enough to buy my ticket quite some time ago, and from the front row seat I occupied, I was probably closer to Arve in terms of meters than that of Linn Andrea Fuglseth.  It was, therefore, a useful vantage point to watch the interaction between the performers – and of course, enjoy the concert.  Surprisingly and bravely, the opening piece, Alma redemptoris mater, was started by Arve playing a simple, soulful, and somewhat contemporary sounding solo trumpet passage; the spotlight was truly on him.  When Trio eventually began to sing, the piece subtly morphed into glorious liturgical splendour; somehow it all seemed to make perfect sense. No doubt, the majority of the audience was there that night to listen to Trio; therefore the simple act of kicking off with Arve was not only a great piece of theatre, but a subliminal message to all - he is our equal!

During the evening Arve often used the trumpet as a fourth voice, adding an additional harmony – sometimes a counter melody, or perhaps a simple riff.  On other occasions he cleverly created sound sculptures of storms, strangulated voices – and even a didgeridoo!  Throughout, Arve used backing tracks stored on his computer to interact with himself and Trio.  The overall effect was one of a sympathetic understanding of the core element of the performance – rather than an obtrusive bolt-on.

The evening’s programme consisted of blocks of three to four pieces that were seamlessly joined together using several musical devices; and the fascinating thing was that a conjoining of the medieval and contemporary within the same block didn’t grate or jar at all – who would have thought it!  Trio were clearly comfortable with Arve, and he with them; when it was his turn to perform on his own (trumpet and singing - accompanied by laptop!), Trio were happy to take a seat at the corner of the stage and join in with an occasional refrain –  and when encouraged by Arve, so did the audience.

If you have seen or listened to Trio Medieval you will be familiar with the trademark clarity of their presentation, and this evening was no exception.  I was left with the feeling that they could probably sing the Argos catalogue and make it sound wonderful!

The evening finished with a couple of well-earned encores, and then we all retired to the lobby to buy a copy of Trio’s pre-release CD, A Worcester Ladymass, and for some, possibly all of the ensemble’s back catalogue.  Anna, Linn and Torunn were on hand to sign our purchases, and as my cover was being scribed, I mumbled some inane nonsense to Anna about the concert and how much I admire Trio.

  As I left the building, I was reminded of my Grandmother’s salient advice:  “If you've got nowt to say, keep your trap shut”.  A wise woman was my Grandmother!