Monday, 3 July 2017

Where do they all come from - and more praise for Emily Barker

WHERE do they all come from? I ask after a fabulous evening at Bassment, Chelmsford listening to three hours by three performers of excellent and original work. Watching TV’s talent offerings you could be forgiven for thinking the majority of ‘talent’ is essentially of the Karaoke variety. Not so, not at all so.
The headliner who drew me there of course was my favourite singer-songwriter of the past decade, Emily Barker and more of her soon. But it would be unfair not to start by praising the support.
First, we had Carousel – five chaps and Sarah. As with most at Bassment they accept the description Americana but don’t let that scare you. The music is mainstream folk/roots with drive like rock, soul like soul and rhythm like rhythm. ‘Tis music my son and sounds good. Carousel are a great example – catch them if you can
Up next was Lisa Wright, a very fine young singer with a strong country style. An Essex lass she writes very much in her own milieu and tells neat anecdotes to place them in her life. Her recent recording session in Nashville thrilled her and neatly presaged what came next.
For the star of the night was Emily Barker who has just released to huge acclaim an album recorded in Memphis with a strong Memphis groove. It marks a further development of her style – and a far cry from some of her early if no less lovely works. My fervour for her biases me of course but what she writes, what she sings, how she sings and how she performs is in the very top drawer. Add to that a very wonderfully winsome way on and off stage and you have, potentially, star quality. Go Emily.
Supported exceptionally well by her talented friend Lucas Drinkwater (his bass makes waves like few others) she started with a bit of a look back via some old(ish) favourites. They benefit greatly it seems to me from the further development of her voice. She told amusingly of youthful days in Oz singing along for hours to Aretha Franklin before learning to “project” (I’d suggest she also learned how to breathe too) and thus save her vocal chords and talents for us. (TV talent shows please note.)
She moved smoothly into some of the new album material, including tribute song Sister Goodbye, the driving lovelorn No 5 Hurricane, melancholy If We Forget to Dance, the Boo Hewerdine influenced leaving home moody, Over My Shoulder and of course the very groovy album title track, Sweet Kind of Blue.
The ‘Wallander’ theme Nostalgia was willingly offered to her fans – most of us present probably found her ten years ago via that very song. Now back to its Melbourne form and with a lot of added overtones, it continues to be a solid showcase of her gifts. Lucas Drinkwater (once again, no doubt) found himself among many now dying in June fields at the hands of his erstwhile lover as the tortured duet Fields of June got its regular airing – it really is a very compelling song, even if most of us feel for the poor guy!
And then as it drew to a close up came Emily’s tour de force – Precious Memories sung akapella to the rafters (low in this case!) – and it was finger clicking good. Actually she and Lucy earlier appeared to find the Bassment room harmonic – a strong soprano in this case. Echoes of The Place in Norwich where Steve Knightly regularly bids (successfully) to hit the tenor harmonic there.
And now here’s the thing – three acts, three hours and all original works sung by hugely talented people. OK, I’d put Emily a head up but this was good company to keep all round. And once again demonstrated that, until you have seen them live in an intimate venue like the Bassment, you know them not. Thanks to all – and special salutations to the Strine now in the UK for nearly half her life; stay, please.
Carousel - on Facebook
Lisa Wright -
Emily Barker -
Bassment -

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My first Famous Five

AGEING produces many changes but one curiosity is how the mind ravels backwards, driven I suppose by ones inner sense of mortality. Hey ho.

Among many reminiscences came one about the people who have figured as significant in my life. The list was quite long, multi-ethnic, duo-gender and interesting. I have chosen to blog on the subject by linking the reasons for 'greatness' in my mind. 

And to a degree all this can be done to the sound of Neil Diamond who, among many great songs, penned Done Too Soon. This covers many of my heroes.It his list not mine the general idea is good..

So this blog is about the people who I think have laid down some of the biggest historic markers for black people across the world.

We begin when I was five years old and so have to admit most of my admiration comes from later reading and acquired knowledge - Mahatma Ghandi, or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as he was named. 

Sadly he died in the year I was five and a few months before my brother was born.
But I grew up with the name of Ghandi underscoring my growing years. By the time I was about 15 and had settled on being a left-winger to the annoyance of my very Tory father I was also ashamed of colonialism, Imperialism and especially partition. 

It was some years before I was to learn just how outrageous that act was in conception and implementation. So Ghandi: a hero of the victims of colonialism. A flawed hero to be sure but in history it is eventual reputation that wins and this is built on results. For me he represents the antithesis of all that pomp and merciless ceremony that disfigured the Raj. 
Indeed, the antithesis of Mountbatten who is sometimes unfairly it seems to me, gifted all the blame for what Britain did to the Indian sub-continent.

It was not long before this child of the 50s began to see a different world from the one he had been raised and taught to see. And one key ingredient was Martin Luther King.

Here indeed was the leader of opinion writ large. I of course only enjoyed a few years of his lessons (he died in 1968) but it was he more than anyone who made me focus on the plight of the black community in the 'good old' USofA. And thus I came to see that what is portrayed may be far from the reality. Today we talk of 'fake news' because a man who hates exposure to anything but adulation has coined the phrase. He is wrong - 'propaganda' has been with us always and that is why he avoids calling it so; for his home is in propaganda valley. 

Oh for there to be a Martin King, junior to strip Trumps down to size.

Around the same time another extraordinary man came to prominence. But where King used words this man used his body - Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay as he started out before freeing himself from an unforgiving past, was a true people's hero. Arguably the finest boxer of all time in terms of his craft, he used his success to point the way for his fellows.

Like King, he was telling the downtrodden black people of America that they were as good as anyone and could rise to greatness.

And unlike so many boxers he carried forwards, from an illustrious amateur and Olympic career, the lightness of movement and the deftness of touch that always marked him out. It was in that dance that he set himself apart from all boxers and demonstrated the grace of the athlete. I hate boxing but I loved Ali.

Back to the world of politics now and we come to a hero few will disagree with - Nelson Mandela, born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in 1918.

Here was the true dedicated man. His stubborn defence of freedom in the face of cruel apartheid led him to gaol but not to the shadows. He was the haunting of F W de Klerk and in the end his nemesis. That he became the first president of a free South Africa was the rightful pinnacle of an illustrious life.

He was the quiet man of one of the greatest drama of the 20th century, played out in South Africa, a land so beautiful it might be judged heaven it was, instead and for decades, hell for its rightful inhabitants. 

Apartheid in South Africa was for too long the secret justification for similar barbarities in many of Europe's former colonies.For once Britain was not wholly to blame but to coin a phrase, tell that to Australian aborigines or native Americans.

And now we enter a new century and something that seemed impossible for all the first 60 or so years of my life. And to all who have been named thus far. Barack Obama is elected president of the United State of America. Let your tongue roll around that fact today and remember - it was the same electorate that produced "Ginger November". 

But to win was not his last or finest achievement - for he did it again! Not so many white men have achieved a second term but Barack did. Oh his tenure may have been blighted by the disastrous Republican majorities in both the US houses.And I am sure he found plenty of other opposition along the way.

But not only did he tear down the big barricade; a black man in the Oval Office NOT serving the drinks. He did it twice. Let us just get through the Trump aberration and maybe, just maybe, we will see that Barack Obama's legacy is the final emancipation of his fellow Black Americans. What, even a Mexican president? Now that would be something.

So that's it - my first famous five. They share their gender and their ethnic background but it is good to note that they also share a belief in their fellow humankind regardless of race, colour or creed. I salute you all for helping me believe that good can win - eventually.

Next time: Science and technology - my Famous Five Boffins.