Friday 27 February 2015

Ólafur Arnalds Plays Broadchurch. Glasgow Film Festival, ABC. Live review

Ólafur Arnalds Plays Broadchurch. ABC, Glagsow. Live review. 25 Feb, 2015

There ended up being an accidentally Northerm European slant to the events in this years Glasgow Film Festival which I managed to get to. First there was the "Moomins on the Riviera", a traditionally animated cartoon, bringing Finn Tove Jansson's bizarre characters to the big screen. Then I went with my son to see Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds perform from his soundtrack of the TV series Broadchurch amongst other pieces. I had been listening to it at home the previous week and my 12 year old son thought it was great so we decided we'd both go. 

About 10 years ago we went on a family holiday to Iceland, one of the best trips we've had. As is my want, at the time I was trying to soak up some Icelandic culture before we went. As well as reading the novels of Halldór Laxness and Hallgrímur Helgason I took in any Icelandic musicians that were passing through Glasgow. As I liked what I found I've kept on doing it. This meant that I have got to enjoy Múm, Sigur Ros, Mugison and Amiina amongst others (I suspect this may mean that I've seen Ólafur Arnalds cousin, Ólöf Arnalds, perform at some point). Since I made that trip the opportunities to hear the distinctive sound of Iceland has become increasingly easy in Glasgow ever since BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conductor Ilan Volkov joined the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. In the past couple of years diverse acts such as S.L.Á.T.U.R. and the fabulous Hildur Guðnadóttir have played in Glasgow as part of the Tectonics festival which Ilan Volkov curates. 

So as well as the Icelandic angle appealing to me for this concert there was also the fact that I am a big fan of soundtrack music, although I don't really think it counts as a distinct musical genre as it contains such a diverse range of stuff. When I was younger the soundtracks from the films "The Godfather"  and from "Betty Blue" were two of my favourite albums. More recently I have had been listening a lot to Broadcast's soundtrack for Berberian Sound Studio, Mogwai's album for French TV series Les Revenants and driving about Glasgow picking up strangers in my car whilst listening to Mica Levi's Under the Skin soundtrack. I haven't ever watched Broadchurch but I guess it is a pretty tense, haunting and melancholy affair as that was the feeling I got from listening to the soundtrack album this week. 

For the live performance at the ABC in Glasgow Ólafur Arnalds sits at the grand piano, synthesizer and iPad. He is accompanied by a string quartet (have at least one of them been in Aamina?), two musicians on French horn and another on keybord/ Octapad/ trombone. At times the playing is quiet and ethereal whilst the audience's attention is gripped throughout. At other times, supplemented with a crescendo of electronic percussion, the drama mounts, augmented by the austere lighting at the back of the stage. Despite the sombre and unsettling music, between tracks Arnalds is affable, witty and chatty with the audience. As well as the Broadchurch music he dips in and out of his back catalogue too, giving us a bit of context to the music.

In the middle of the performance singer Arnór Dan joins them onstage. Looking like John Hartson and sounding like Andy Bell, he gives us a chance to hear his song from the Broadchurch end credits, which he laments is usually interrupted by the ITV continuity announcer. It is an excellent change in the tone of an evening which has been put together so well, and flows perfectly. 

The well put together shape of the evening is made clear by the two songs of the encore. At the end Arnalds is left alone on stage to round off the night perfectly by performing the evocative "Lag fyrir ömmu" (For Granma). 

As I am making another trip to Iceland this summer I am putting together a new holiday playlist. I've got Ásgeir on there, I'm waiting patiently for Bjork's Vulnicura album to come out, but I've just added a few Ólafur Arnalds tracks to it in the meantime. It is rare for my taste and my son's musical taste to overlap, but tonight it did.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Ibeyi. Live gig review. Broadcast, Glasgow

Ibeyi. Live gig review. Broadcast, Glasgow. Feb 2015

Just like comic book superheroes, bands need a good "origin" story to grab the interest. Maybe the murder of your parents as a child or being descended from a Viking god. Perhaps something that makes you a bit different, to stand out from the crowd, such as being bitten by a radioactive spider or possessing a healing factor. 

It seems like Ibeyi were created by someone with a vivid imagination. They are 20 year old French-Cuban twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. Their father is Cuban musician Anga Diaz, percussionist with the legendary Buena Vista Social Club. After his death when they were aged 11 they took up playing his instrument, the cajón, a box-shaped percussion instrument you sit on and slap. Their Venezuelan mother taught them the Nigerian Yoruba language and songs, brought to Cuba by African slaves. Now they have their debut album out, on groovy label XL Recordings and sing in Yoruba and English with Lisa-Kaindé calm and soulful on keyboards and Naomi antsy and lively on percussion. With a backstory like that it is no surprise to find that playing live they are incredibly charismatic. 

I didn't know much of this when I turned up to see them at their sold out show in Broadcast on Sauchiehall Street last night. I had read a good review of their album and picked it up last week and liked it, and when googling them found they'd be playing in Glasgow a couple of days later. Other people had been following them for a while longer it seems. The group of girls standing beside me who had come down from Dundee to see them, told me all about who their father was and when they played the lead track on their album, River, the crowd largely sang along. 

The sisters are clearly different personalities and the music seems a bit pulled in two directions at times. When Naomi plays percussion on "Mama Says" it starts on the cajoné then goes onto chest slaps and finger clicks and you feel she just wants to rip loose, but her sister draws her back (I'm guessing that really is their mum in the video for that one).

When called back for an encore they admit that they don't have any more songs so give us a more a capella version of "River" with everyone in the room singing along this time. We've had a good time, they look like they've had a good time, but where they go from here will be interesting.

On a side note there are more and more venues in which it is nigh on impossible to see much of the act if you don't have the physique of a basketball player. This is largely due to the fact that all the people over six foot in height seem to feel it is their place to stand at the front of an audience these days, whereas in the past they skulked slightly embarrassed at the side. I'm not necessarily saying "down with tall people" but maybe forcing people over a certain height to kneel would be an idea, or possibly higher stages in some venues? Just a thought. 

Friday 20 February 2015

Gruff Rhys - American Interior. Live Gig Review

Gruff Rhys, Art School, Glasgow. Feb 19th 2015. Live gig review

Gruff Rhys brought his American Interior show back to Glasgow last night, in its fully polished, multi-media version. Last year I enjoyed reading his book which told the story of Rhys following in the footsteps of 18th century Welsh adventurer John Evans. Proving that truth can be weirder than fiction, we hear the story of how a misguided, one man expedition to track down a long lost tribe of Welsh speaking native Americans led Evans on an extraordinary adventure. He goes from hunting bison to joining the Spanish, languishing in prisons, annexing North Dakota from the British to mapping rivers unexplored by Europeans through the American interior. In the book Rhys takes a felt mannequin version of John Evans with him as he tries to recreate his route, playing gigs and writing songs along the way. The book is a great read, a "psychadelic travelogue" written with Rhys's usual droll humour. This has spawned an album, a book, an app and now a live tour.

The live show starts with a 10 minute clip from a 1970s documentary in which a strident, stalky Welsh historian in cyan flares tells us about the myth of Prince Madoc who allegedly sailed to America in 1170, founding tribes of Welsh-speaking descendants. Rhys and his band then talk and sing us through the story of John Evans who sought out these tribes in the 1790s. Star attraction onstage amongst the paper mache cacti was the John Evans mannequin himself. With Rhys controlling his powerpoint presentation of photos from his travels we went with John Evans from London to Baltimore, St Louis and up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers towards Canada, before going back to New Orleans.

From the vigourous drumming of the song "Iolo" (for Iolo Morganwg who came up with the notion of Evans's expedition) to the power ballad "Walk Into The Wilderness" and "Allweddellau Allweddol", sung in Welsh above the chanting of children, the music swings from one style to another. Rhys's magpie like collecting of details on his trip obviously fed his imagination on the songwriting front too.

We finish Evan's story with the stand out track on the album "100 Unread Messages" and it has been fun, if slightly bonkers, to accompany Gruff Rhys on his road trip. Excellent, inventive and imaginative stuff.

Horse - The Diamond Speaks. Celtic Connections Jan 2015

Horse - The Diamond Speaks - Live gig review. Jan 29th 20154

Looking for my passport recently I came across some old ticket stubs for concerts I'd been to in the 1980s and 1990s. Amongst them was a ticket for a very memorable concert in Level 8 at Strathclyde Student Union, where I was taken to see Horse by a friend who was right into her stuff. It is a concert that really stuck in my mind. Hearing her fantastically strong, rich voice live led me to follow her output in the intervening 24 years.

Horse McDonald, to give her her full moniker, is a singer-songwriter originally from Fife whose distinctive, deep, soulful voice appears to be undiminished by the passing of time. She was performing at Celtic Connections this year in a concert called "The Diamond Speaks". After coming across the works of neglected women poets she has decided to put music to their oft forgotten words. Before coming to that however, she gave us a blast through some Horse highlights, performing songs such as Breathe Me, Careful and Home alongside her classy five-piece band.

The second half started and ended with poems by Mary Queen of Scots. The first of which pictures the gift of a diamond Mary gives to Queen Elizabeth, speaking on her behalf. Her musical interpretations avoided using tropes of traditional music to interpret this 450 year old poem, and at times the music was quite modern and experimental as the night went on. 

I'm sorry to say that beyond Mary Queen of Scots I hadn't heard of any of the women whose works were performed and I guess that is one point of the exercise. We also had works from Anne Hunter, an 18th century songwriter who wrote the words to some of Haydn's English Folk songs, Mary McKellar from Fort William who wrote in English and Gaelic, the Jacobite Lady Nairne Caroline Oliphant and Ellen Johnston, a working class Victorian poet from Hamilton. The twentieth century was represented by Marion Angus from Arbroath and Olive Fraser from Aberdeen. The programme notes and the introductions by the singer gave us a thumbnail sketch of these women and maybe a chance for other works of theirs to surface.

I like poetry, I like Horse, so I was always going to enjoy this show and I hope that it ends up resulting in an album sometime soon. She has a great voice and always something interesting to say.