Eddie Prévost”s 70th Birthday Concert

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OK, so some kind of round up of the weekend’s musical events is in order, but really, having taken in I think a total of seventeen different pieces of music/film over the two days there is no way I can write about every one of them, so an overview of each event is all I am likely to manage, particularly given that I worked long and hard today and am running primarily on strong coffee tonight. On the Saturday evening, Julie and I made the familiar trek across to Café Oto in Dalston to attend a concert arranged to celebrate Eddie Prévost’s 70th birthday, which actually turned out to have been almost a month ago, but Café Oto is a busy place these days and hard to book on precise days… The evening included a numb roy intriguing sets, but opened, rather brilliantly with the AMM duo of Prévost and John Tilbury. Now, I had assumed, as I guess had most of this win attendance, that AMM would close the evening, but it says a lot about Eddie’s personality and dislike of being under the spotlight that not only did they open the evening, but they also started playing without any announcements, quietening the considerably large audience with their music alone. The set was predictably fantastic. Tilbury clearly dislikes the dreadful Café Oto piano, and restricted his playing to mostly percussive sounds, using a lot of preparations and working inside the instrument far more than he touched the keys. Eddie played as well as I have heard him in a long time, using a variety of metal objects and his large tam tam, and the duo just did what they do so well, just falling into the flow, pushing, tugging at one another, building into little crescendoes, dropping into silences, playing AMM music. Their sound is incredibly familiar, they work within wells defined boundaries, but they make very special music. the first half of Saturday’s performance was a marvel to listen to, as AMM just about always are. After twenty five minutes or so a mobile phone went off close to Tilbury, during a quiet passage, and he threw his hands up in the air and although annoyed, light heartedly declared that to be the end of the set. Prévost however continued to play, which amused John, who at first played the opening line of Happy Birthday to Eddie, and then stood up and levelled a hefty clout at the piano’s lid, as if taking the opportunity to show his dislike of it, before settling down again to a further ten minutes or so of delicately nuanced music. The last section was lovely, with a fantastic ending created as Tilbury ran a wooden rod up and down between the strings, so letting a gentle wail emerge and die into the silence.

Other events on Saturday included a quintet performance by Harrison Smith, (sax) Gerry Gold, (trumpet) Ross Lambert, (acoustic guitar) Jenny Allum (violin) and Guillaume Viltard (double bass). Despite being such a large group and containing so many potential soloing instruments, this set was remarkably soft and gentle, all flowing together in a  traditional but calming manner, with Gold, who I didn’t know at all before, impressing a lot with some low, purring muted trumpet. Quite the opposite was John Butcher’s remarkable duet with Seymour Wright, which saw the two saxophonists really go at it full pelt, both stood up and often screaming long warbling lines at one another, the combined effect being quite amazing to sit in between, feeling somewhat assaulted by the combined attack at times, but also right at the point where these two remarkable musicians combined their sounds into one. There was also something quite amusing watching the pair, billowing cheeks alongside each other, straining into their instruments but staring dead ahead as if the audience wasn’t there.  Michael Parsons played a handful of recent brief Christian Wolff pieces at the piano, a nice and fitting touch but somehow the difficult music was a bit lost in the crowded room. Sebastian Lexer also played an intriguingly peculiar set with John White, who went about his way in typical fashion, using samplers to trigger strange R2D2esque sci-fi scribbles and the cheesy pre-set rhythms from early Casio keyboards mostly, with Lexer fighting to wrap his far more delicate, romantically austere sounds fold around them. As often as Lexer managed to mould everything into something finely crafted, so White would throw it all apart with a loud blast of something completely out of place, destroying all concepts of the hierarchies of sounds within improvised music, playing loud and obtusely when the music called for quiet and reflective, deliberately not allowing the music to settle into anything expected. The only irony of it all might be that White did exactly what I expected him to do, which perhaps makes it less than a surprise then we might expect.

The evening closed then with a performance by Eddie son’s little group- very different music that saw him play tin whistle in a They Might be Giants cover amongst other items. This was far from what I would call good music but that wasn’t the point here- the appearance of Eddie’s son was a surprise to everyone and made for a fine end to a packed evening and a really decent celebration of not only a great musician’s career, but of the way the music community pulls together to get things done. Saturday night was organised by regulars attending Prévost’s weekly improv workshops, with support coming from all directions, and even Eddie’s wife Jean combining forces with Janice Tilbury to bake cakes and lay on a spread of food for the audience. A great night then, for many reasons.

Julie and I stayed in London overnight, and on Sunday afternoon popped up to Angharad Davies’ house where we attended a cosy showing of two of Kostis Kilymis’ films. Now, on eo these films can be seen in full at the Compost and Height site, so I am going to attempt to review it properly a bit later this week, roping in elements of the second film we saw as well, as they are linked works. So for now a quick review of Angharad’s gluten free chocolate cake- wonderful.

Sunday evening saw us attend the concert venue come art gallery come cultural centre come airport waiting lounge that is Kings Place and a repeat of the Lost and Found concert that I reviewed here when I saw it as part of the Audiograft festival in Oxford this year. There were some changes- some of the acts were not present, and Paul Whitty and Stephen Cornford played a duo that had appeared on a different day at Audiograft that I had not attended, but the bulk of the music, and in particular the many pieces played by the large group [rout] and the Cover me Cage set by Kerry Fong were, I think largely the same. I sadly enjoyed Fong’s skilled but uninspiring performance even less than I did the first time, and somehow I struggled with [rout] as well. If you asks due why, I would struggle to identify what I didn’t enjoy about the group, and certainly they played some lovely music, but it just seemed to lack a certain subtlety for me. Their realisation of James Saunders’ wonderful work for cardboard take-away coffee cups; Imperfections on the surface are occasionally apparent just felt cold to me- the musicians spread out in a long line across the somewhat sterile hall, the very quiet sounds rudely scrawled over by some kind of ugly air conditioning type sound flowing about the room. I suspect the performance couldn’t be improved that much, and that the issue was with the hall rather than the musicians, but there was something disappointingly unsatisfying about the performance of this piece.

Cornford and Whitty performed …it pays my way and it corrodes my soul, a loud, electro-acoustically ugly set that saw Cornford gradually take apart an old tape player while Whitty continued to take some kind of feed from it and flow it through effects pedals and other simple kit. The resulting sound world reminded me a little of Tudor’s Rainforest, and it was difficult music to follow, but the visual element, with various metal plates and parts of tape deck being pulled from their home and placed on the floor beside Cornford was something to behold. The two other sets I enjoyed a lot were Tim Parkinson and James Saunders’ realisation of Parkinson’s Songs 2011, which didn’t change much since its Oxford premiere, so there is no point reviewing it again, and The Albion Players’ (Patrick Farmer, Sarah Hughes and Cornford again) surreal take on pages from George Brecht’s Water Yam. Whether each of the musicians told one another what they intended to do this time or not I am not sure (I suspect not) but they each went about their separate ways producing elements to the performance that were in essence unconnected but still seemed to work together very well. Hughes sat behind a Steinway piano and apparently played a Satie piece backwards- faithfully sticking to tempo and the order of the played notes, just playing them in reverse order. Hughes’ contribution was actually extremely beautiful, and I owl every much like to hear her play the work the correct way around one day. As Sarah played, so Patrick Farmer disappeared to a different corner of the room and let occasional rolls of drum in to the space, drumming properly with rapid flurries of softly beaten strikes building into a circus-style drumroll. This then seemed fitting as Cornford took out an old turntable, placing it on the floor in front of the audience on top of a large plastic sheet. He then placed a metal eggcup onto the spinning turntable, and set about trying studiously to drop raw eggs into the cup, stood with arm outstretched, high above it. If this spectacle wasn’t absurd and circus-like enough, with the audience letting little oohs and aahs go as the eggs often went close, so the blue spotlight on Cornford’s curly hair made him look clown like, and Farmer’s drum rolls were the perfect companion. Later, Farmer also sat and tied knots in a piece of string before cutting it up, all following different parts of Brecht’s remarkable score. the performance ended when Cornford ran out of eggs and Hughes reached the start of the Satie piece. Brilliantly amusing, creative and inspiring all at once.

An intense, hectic and very full weekend then, that I have only scratched the surface of here. Nice to get out and see some music after a relatively quiet year of concert-going otherwise in 2012. For those near to London there is another not to be missed performance next Sunday which can be read about here.

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