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Music

Something I really enjoyed about the Easter holiday was going to a singing event at a local church on Friday.  Quite a large crowd of singers turned up and we spent the afternoon rehearsing Mozart’s Requiem with some instrumentalists, before performing it as a concert in the evening. I find Mozart’s Requiem such a beautiful piece of music, so I was quite excited about this event. The singing was aided by tea and hot cross buns, and the concert raised money for the church’s new choir school so there were some cute little choir boys who handed out bouquets to the soloists at the end!

Another nice thing about the weekend was realising that I have acquired several new books that I am looking forward to reading. First of all, speaking of Barbara Pym, while I was at my parents’ house at the weekend, I managed to hunt down A Very Private Eye, a collection of Pym’s diaries and letters, and I can’t wait to find out more about the life and personality of a writer I admire. I think it is interesting when reading an author’s letters or diaries to see how much the person seems familiar from their novels and to what extent a different side to their character is revealed. I will be particularly interested to read Pym’s diaries from while she was studying in Oxford and her letters to Philip Larkin. He is one of my favourite poets so for a while now I have wanted to learn more about the friendship between them.

While rummaging through boxes of my old books at my parents’ house, I also unearthed a Muriel Spark novel, A Far Cry from Kensington, which (if I am organised enough) I hope to read for the Muriel Spark Reading Week at Stuck-in-a-Book. I have loved some of Muriel Spark’s books (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means) while strangely there are others I have not liked much at all (Loitering with Intent is one I remember). I do find her interesting so I’m definitely looking forward to reading this novel, especially as a quote from the Sunday Times on the cover describes it as set in ‘a 1950s Kensington of shabby-genteel bedsitters, espresso bars and A-line dresses’. That sounds perfect to me.

One of my recent book purchases is The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen, which I have already started reading. As I like her writing very much, I have decided to try to read as many of Elizabeth Bowen’s novels as I can over the next few months. She also published some travel writing (A Time in Rome) and wrote memoirs about her childhood (Seven Winters) and her family’s house in Ireland (Bowen’s Court), so I’d like to try these different genres of her writing as well. The House in Paris is so far a beautifully written and mysterious novel, and I hope to write more about it later.

Finally, I have also acquired a copy of The New Moon with the Old, a novel by Dodie Smith. I enjoyed I Capture the Castle but only discovered recently that Dodie Smith had written other novels for adults. The New Moon with the Old looks like an entertaining and magical story about a woman who becomes secretary to an eccentric family, so I’m saving it for when I’m in the mood to be cheered up by my reading.

Has anyone read (or would you like to read) any of these books?

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Not many bookish thoughts today – mainly ramblings about the live music that has been making me happy recently.

I went to an amazing gig in Bristol on Friday night, which was especially exciting because the venue was a boat! It was my first time at the Thekla, which has been used as a music venue for years, and so I was looking forward to the experience of a gig on board a ship. It’s actually quite easy to forget that you’re on a boat as the Thekla is in the dock and you can’t feel any waves swaying it around, plus the gigs take place in the hold rather than on deck (wouldn’t that be great, though?!). Still, I liked the venue very much and I really enjoyed myself. The band I saw was Wild Flag, who are an American indie/rock band made up of musicians who used to be in Sleater-Kinney and various other bands.

I’d only listened to Wild Flag’s album a couple of times before going but their songs are instantly loveable and the atmosphere was great. It was the first time I’d been to a gig where the band took loads of photos of the audience, telling them to smile and then make various serious/funny/sexy faces. Luckily I wasn’t quite near enough to the front to be involved in this…

Most of the audience were going crazy and I did a lot of jumping around and dancing. I think the friend I went with (who absolutely loves music and introduces me to many of the recent bands I like and tells me about all the gigs that are on) was surprised by this, as I’m generally a quiet person who likes going to melancholy folk-ish gigs where the audience sit in appreciative silence. But I have a more rock side as well, so I’m really glad that I went to see Wild Flag.

Another thing that made me happy recently was getting a ticket to see Bonnie Prince Billy and Trembling Bells do a joint show in Oxford. This isn’t until May but I like having something exciting to look forward to. I’ve liked Bonnie Prince Billy for ages and have become a big fan of Trembling Bells recently too, so I’m really interested to hear their collaboration on the album that’s coming out soon. I’ve seen Trembling Bells twice before – the first time was the gig where I started to like them (my favourite songs are Willows of Carbeth and Baby Lay Your Burden Down, and I also love it when they perform beautiful a cappella duets, such as Seven Years a Teardrop). Then I saw them again last year at a gig they did with Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band, a folk/psychedelic band from the 1960s and 70s. This gig was wonderful because it brought old and new folk music together. I’d heard the Incredible String Band because my mum used to listen to them and she bought me a CD of their songs. I listened to it often and got to know their songs well (my favourite is October Song). It was really nice for me to hear their music performed live, with Trembling Bells joining in singing harmonies and playing as part of the band. Anyway, I am very excited about the gig with Bonnie Prince Billy in May because it’s a chance to see two acts I love performing together.

After seeing Wild Flag, I didn’t have many other plans for the weekend so I spent yesterday afternoon relaxing and reading with a nice cup of tea. I have a stack of books to read, including some authors I’ve enjoyed recently: a couple more Barbara Pyms (I’ve already finished Crampton Hodnet, which is very funny and set in Oxford to boot) and more J.D. Salinger, so I’ll be able to read the other Glass family stories very soon. It’s nice to spend a weekend just indulging myself in books!

I’m unemployed at the moment, although luckily I have a temporary job starting in December, and so I’m trying to do as many interesting things as I can with all this free time I have, while spending virtually no money – quite difficult! Singing is one of my main interests and it’s especially nice at the moment for me to get out of my flat and be part of a choir, so that I don’t turn into a complete hermit. I’m a member of a choir that sings evensong regularly and I take part in other events and concerts as often as I can.

Yesterday I went to a one-off event in a church near where I live, where we spent the afternoon rehearsing Faure’s Requiem and then performed it during the church service. This was the first time I’d been to one of these ‘just turn up and sing’ events but I liked the whole idea and hope to go to a few more in future. Faure’s Requiem is so beautiful. I’d never sung it before and didn’t know it very well, apart from Pie Jesu. Here is the gorgeous In Paradisum. I also had an interesting conversation with the lady next to me about how she studied in Cambridge during the Second World War, before women were allowed to be official members of the university and when she was one of only 500 female students at the whole institution. I’m sure it must have been fascinating to be one of the first female students and I would love to know more about their experiences.

The next singing event I have in my diary to look forward to is a workshop all about singing sixteenth-century Spanish choral music. That really is my idea of a fun Saturday! And I can’t wait for the season of carol singing and Christmas concerts to begin.

Have you been to any interesting musical events or concerts recently?

 

Today I thought I’d have a change from book reviews and talk about my second love (after reading): music. In fact, I would find it impossible to make a choice between music and books, and feel happy that I can have both in my life! Listening to music and going to gigs are some of the things I enjoy most in the world.

I am lucky enough to live in a city where live music happens quite frequently, and the bands and singers I like do sometimes tour here. However, sometimes I am forced (poor me) to go to gigs in London, as there’s a million times more choice and excitement there, and I can hear the bands who aren’t visiting any local venues. I think going to hear live music (when it’s good!) is a unique experience. Sometimes, when I’m at a gig by someone I love, the vague background feelings I often have – wishing my life was more exciting or the uneasy feeling that I should be somewhere else, doing something else (rather pathetically I often feel this, especially as I’m at a bit of a loose end at the moment…) – disappear, and I feel as if I’m doing what I should be and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. (I don’t know if there’s a specific word for this emotion but I think there should be.) I imagine that many other people who like music feel this way, and that’s what makes the atmosphere at gigs so fantastic.

I am thinking about this because on Tuesday, I went to London to see an American singer, Marissa Nadler, who I’d discovered through the recommendation of a friend I went to the gig with. She has a beautiful, ethereal voice and the songs she writes are nearly all quite melancholic. If you like sad, downbeat music, you really should check her out! (Actually at the gig she made a few comments sending up her gloomy image, which was quite funny). I think she is seen as a folk singer but her music is quite otherworldly at the same time. One of my favourite songs, Ghosts and Lovers, shows her style much better than I can describe it!  She also does a great cover of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, and much to my happiness she sang this on Tuesday. Anyway, this gig had the kind of special atmosphere I am talking about, with everyone in the audience mesmerised by the music, and Marissa Nadler even said it had restored her confidence! This is my favourite kind of concert.

Marissa Nadler has some gothic influences in her music (she said at the concert that when she started out, she was always listening to Nick Cave) and on her first album, she has a song called Annabelle Lee, which is a setting to music of the Edgar Allan Poe poem. I really like this poem, and, just to end on a more literature-related note, I thought I’d share the song with you. I like the sense of mystery of the ‘love that was more than love’ and the idea that angels in heaven could envy lovers on earth. It’s also interesting that the poem influenced, and is partly quoted in, the beginning of the novel Lolita. It’s definitely a beautiful and haunting poem.

 

On Thursday, I went to London to see a singer I love, Mark Kozelek, play at the Union Chapel in Islington. Whenever I walk down Upper Street, I always remember back to when I lived in London and it was one of my favourite places to wander on my lunch break. It was perhaps a little quieter than usual but there were no signs of any rioting, only groups of policemen every few yards and outside every pub.

The Union Chapel is a beautiful and cavernous building, with very high ceilings and stained glass windows up in the darkness. I had been there once before, to see Wildbirds and Peacedrums perform with a choir, which was also a very exciting experience for me. Mark Kozelek was perhaps even more of an event, because I have been a fan for several years but had never been to one of his gigs before. The chapel was lit only with candles and some low lighting on the stage, but quite early on, Mark asked for the lights to be turned down even further, which definitely added to the atmosphere. There was no support, so he came on stage early and played for about two hours. I was so happy to be in the same room as one of my favourite singers, hearing his incredibly emotional and moving voice.

The setlist consisted mainly of his more recent music, from Admiral Fell Promises, along with some songs by a band called Desert Shore, with which Mark has been singing. He also played some quite funny songs he’d written while on tour. This was definitely the most unexpected part of the evening, as I wouldn’t usually associate Mark Kozelek with comedy. Considering the songs were quite disparaging about various English cities and MK fans, they received a good response from the audience. Mark was fairly chatty and I felt as if he really wanted to create a connection with the audience, asking questions and trying to start a conversation, which was quite difficult at times considering everyone was fairly quiet and ‘polite’. For better or worse, the Union Chapel isn’t the kind of venue where drunken exchanges with the musicians tend to happen, but I thought the atmosphere was nice, very attentive and absorbed in the music.

Mark’s guitar playing is very expressive and works perfectly with his voice. The best moments for me were the songs I already knew well and loved: Heron Blue, Katy Song and Mistress. Actually, my one small complaint about the gig is that (even though I understand why this doesn’t happen) I would have liked it if Mark had played some more older songs, the ones I’d liked since way back.

I first heard Red House Painters (Mark Kozelek’s band in the 90s) in the summer after my second year at university. I was teaching English at summer schools in Italy, and had just got together with my ex-boyfriend, who was also teaching there. My boyfriend had to go home a week earlier than me, since his contract had ended, and so he left me with some CDs he’d brought, one of which was Down Colorful Hill. When I felt lonely, I listened to the CDs at night with headphones, in the room I shared with the other English teachers in an old house in the countryside, and that was how I began to fall in love with Red House Painters. When, later on, I heard all RHP’s other records, Rollercoaster became my favourite album and maybe still is. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve rediscovered Down Colorful Hill. To me, the songs 24, Medicine Bottle, and the title track are all incredibly sad and beautiful.

So I would have liked to hear these old songs played live, even though maybe that time has passed for Mark Kozelek. Despite this, I really loved the gig as it was and feel lucky to have been there.