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Clameur Matthew Pollard Music This Concert Will Fall In Love With You

Glen Capra

Glen Capra, photo by Adrian Turner

Like many of his friends, I was distressed to learn of Glen Capra’s death on 29th August in Greece. I was one of a group who regularly went for beers in The Evening Star with Glen when he made one of his regular visits back to Brighton after he had settled in Kavala.

Glen was a considerate and sensitive man, who was passionate about his relationships, music, art and life. This makes the fact that he took his own life extremely hard to take. Close friends, especially Richard Gibson, were in frequent touch with him before he died. He had been depressed and disoriented after his short marriage had abruptly ended. His death was a shock for everyone, and texts I’d had from him a few days earlier showed no sign of what was to come.

I watched Glen perform on many occasions in the UK and in Greece. He was a sensitive accompanist and wonderful pianist with a particular passion for Rachmaninov.

A little over nine years ago, Glen and I met through our mutual friend the composer Matthew Pollard. Matt and I were collaborating on a project that was to become This Concert Will Fall In Love With You — later recorded with additional material as the CD Clameur and Glen was Matt’s first choice to play piano. Matt and Glen had were old friends, performing together in the Tacet Ensemble and The Rainbow Chorus for example. Matt also wrote three linked compositions called Three Portraits for Poet and Piano, which Glen and I performed in its premiere in 2012.

Clameur written my Matthew Pollard and Peter Kenny featuring Glen Capra on piano.

For me it was the start of a friendship that would endure until now. Glen was a thoroughly good bloke, who was hugely liked by a great many people. I will miss him.

Below is a YouTube video of Minotaur, one of the Three Portraits for Poet and Piano by Matt Pollard with Glen on piano and me doing the words.

Featuring Glen Capra on piano, Minotaur by Matthew Pollard and Peter Kenny

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Matthew Pollard Music Poetry

Minotaur

I don’t dwell much on past projects.  I’m always focused on the next thing.  On Friday I had a few beers with Glen Capra, and this reminded me of Glen and I recording my poem Minotaur, which had been set to music by Matthew Pollard, in one take back in 2011. I made this video afterwards, using a flip camera to get a labyrinth effect walking around in Brighton.  The poem’s hero doesn’t realise he appears monstrous to others.

 

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Music Poetry

Is this the year of The Shakespeare Heptet?

I love the The Shakespeare Heptet. I have previously called them the greatest unknown band in the UK. So I was pleased to catch them in one of their  Brighton Fringe performances at St Mary The Virgin in Kemptown on Saturday 13th May.

The Heptet is designed to have a revolving cast. But on Saturday 13th May, they were playing as a four piece, with Richard Gibson on guitars Silvana Montya, Rebecca Macmillan on vocals, and Aaron Power on percussion and vocals. Their stagecraft is taking great strides. This was a slick performance.

As ever, the music is exquisite. Obviously their lyricist is probably the world’s greatest poet. Their performance, which features the sonnets projected on the brick wall, was abetted by having their context and subject matter pithily introduced by members of the band.

Richard Gibson (in what I first thought of as a bit of a madcap scheme but now is clearly a magnum opus) has now set something like 90 of the sonnets. They are simultaneously timeless and often naggingly catchy. An amazing trick to pull off. What’s weirder is that when I picked up the sonnets again last night, I could hear The Heptets’ voices singing in my head. The sonnets are completely alive and well in the 21st Century.

Is this the year that the world finally catches up with The Shakespeare Heptet? I hope so. Theirs’ is an amazing project.

Photos below: Richard Gibson, shortly before the gig, Richard and his shadow, the Shade of Shakespeare, the band in the church, and The Heptet, left to right, Richard, Rebecca, Silvana and Aaron.

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a writer's life Music

About ‘The Centaur’, an opera written with Helen Russell

I’ve not talked much about the work I am doing with Helen Russell. We met in December 2014. She contacted me after hearing the CD called Clameur I had done with Matthew Pollard, and she needed a librettist for new a project based on a short story by José Saramago called The Centaur. Here is a link to Nadine Gordimer reading the story.

The project was an opera. And its narrative is centred on the last living Centaur. Saramago shows us the struggle of his half man, half horse nature. He has managed to survive by hiding in the woods of Europe over the centuries. Naturally, he is lonely, and an encounter with a woman by a river triggers a series of events where the centaur draws attention to itself. Eventually he falls from a hilltop trying to escape pursuit, and is split apart and killed on a jagged rock.

The story is deceptive, it seems quite simple to begin with, but rewards reading and thinking about. Nadine Gordimer wrote, ‘there’s as much in this little story as in 20 novels and 20 poems’. Certainly the more Helen and I thought about its dramatic and philosophical implications, the more excited we became. In the intervening years we have found ourselves discussing philosophy, mythology and ontology and the whole process has been one of personal growth. For me it also led naturally from poetry I’ve written re-imaginging mythological characters in a contemporary space. My poem ‘Minotaur’, from the pamphlet, The Nightwork  is one such example. Here it is set to music, not by Helen, on YouTube. I like it when your work seems to organically develop like this.

So for the last couple of years I have been popping around to see Helen in Hove every now and again, armed with tranches of libretto, while Helen has busied herself writing a lush and involving score. With now more than an hour of the opera safely on Sibelius software, plus notebooks of musical sketches and our carefully worked out, our vast project is gradually taking shape. Naturally, as it is opera, there’s no need to hold back from passions, and writing on a grand scale. We have written all kinds of scenes, the first we worked on was a love duet between the woman bathing in a river, and the Centaur who chances upon her. All looked over by Selene the goddess of the moon, as baying dogs and an angry crowd gather offstage. Not every day that you put yourself into that kind of imaginative space.

This is a long project, but I intend to put some more about it here. Meanwhile, here’s a snap of Helen Russell at her piano.

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Clameur Matthew Pollard Music Performance Poetry This Concert Will Fall In Love With You

The story of your eyes

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Matt Pollard conducts The Tacet Ensemble, with Peter Kenny

Met up with my great friend Matt Pollard recently, with whom I collaborated on the high concept piece This Concert Will Fall In Love With You in the Brighton Fringe back in 2010.

It was a strange idea in retrospect, that a concert could be haunted by an entity with a voice who fell in love with the audience, only to be left brokenhearted as the concert finished and the audience departed.

Naively, I thought that by combining contemporary classical music with poetry you’d double your audience. While we had a more than healthy turnout for our three concerts, the area of the Venn diagram where lovers of poetry and new classical music overlapped was pretty small. I wrote highly-charged prose poetry monologues, and Matt put them to some utterly exquisite music.  I also decided, quite rationally of course, that dressing up as a Victorian undertaker was a good idea. I was convinced that the piece was a melodrama, and so dressed accordingly.

I’m still very proud of this work, and working with Matt was an education. Through his enthusiasm I listened to all kinds of music I would never have otherwise encountered. Some time later we recorded the piece and made the world’s worst selling CD from it, called Clameur.

If you have a moment, listen to this, one of the tracks from the album, called ‘the story of your eyes’. If you’d like to hear the rest of the work, it’s on Spotify under Pollard & Kenny. The words are below.

The story of your eyes

Because you are still here, I choose to tell you now that your eyes are beautiful.
To me, they are your supreme feature. When you gaze at me, I come to life.

It’s as if I called out, like a poet in a storm, and suddenly you tumbled wingless from the sky just to see me.

Your fascinated eyes inspire me; they have seen unimaginable things, and now I live among them in the cinema of your mind.

But when you look away, my love, darkness advances. For I believe that beams of light shine from your eyes. And just to be seen by you is to bask in perfect light.

I adore the colour of your eyes, but I love your pupils even more. I watch them dilate, excited by the dark. Or I see them contract to pinpoints when you are led into uncertainty, our tracks melting behind us in the paper-white snow.

I gaze back at you now, transfixed by your eyes and their flecked perfection.

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Greece Music Performance

Singing from the soul of Greece

 

What can you say about a singer who can moves you to tears even when you can’t understand the words. I’ve just returned from ‘The Songs of Greece’ a performance by Eleni Galanopoulou and Glen Capra, with Kostas Katoinis adding some deft and beautiful guitar to the arrangements, and featuring  a selection of songs by Hazidakis, Karonakis and Thodorakis.

Eleni Galanopoulou has a voice that is possessed of an electrifying hurt glory; and magical ability to trigger a whole range of emotions just by the sound her voice makes. Why else would I be sniffing and dabbing my eyes and feeling uplifted and affirmed in a grey and rainy lunchtime in Brighton? And I wasn’t alone in reacting this way in the Unitarian Church’s lunchtime concert.

I have worked with Glen Capra on a few projects, including the CD of Clameur. And it is a privilege to see his musical partnership with Eleni Galanopoulou evolve into a masterclass of sensitive and complementary listening and musicianship that sets the jewel of Eleni’s voice perfectly. ‘I know how and where she breathes’ he told me afterwards, and this attention to detail shows in the performance.

This is the only the second time I have heard Eleni sing, the previous time was in Kavala, Greece.  At the time, I said jokingly to Glen that it was as if the soul of Greece is singing to you. Now I don’t think this is a joke at all. There are very few voices like this, with a fiery beauty that seems to magically transcend the individual singer. Eleni Galanopoulou has one of them.

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Glen Capra and Eleni Galanopoulou

 

 

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Autobiographical Music

Remembering Chris Squire

csquire-1Chris Squire, the legendary bass player with Yes had died. I have few heroes, but during the gawky isolation of mid-teens when I listened to Yes obsessively, Chris Squire was my absolute hero.

He was born in Kingsbury, north west London where I happened to live as a teenager. He sang in the church choir of St Andrew’s church, which I passed on the 83 each day going to school. I used to look at that Church wonderingly. Could Kingsbury have spawned such a titan? Yet as a fan, I knew that his choir experience there maybe ten or so years before had taught him how to arrange the complex vocal harmonies Yes often employed.

For me listening to Yes was an otherworldly aural refuge.  I always heard the music through its relationship to Squire’s leviathan bass runs, or his subtle every-note-counts approach. I found his melodic playing sometime swelled full of a majestic pagan power which I found full of meaning. His one solo album, Fish out of Water is a lesser known gem too, full of stunning work.

Despite this reverence I only saw him play live perhaps six or seven times. The first time was in 1975 at QPR stadium, on the Relayer tour when I was fifteen. For me the juxtaposition of ‘cosmic’ Yes with the place that Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis got stuck in studs-first on the field was a bit jarring. An effect doubled when I and the school friend I was with were offered an enormous and aromatic joint by someone sitting next to us. We primly declined. But the event itself was enough to blow my head off.  It was utterly the best thing I had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to see them again, but I had to wait almost two and a half years till late October 1977 and the Going for the One tour. By then veteran of several gigs, as well as forays into gobbing punk, I took my younger brother and we saw what still ranks as the single best concert of any kind I’ve ever seen.

To quantify how much I worshipped Chris Squire, at the time I had a weekend job as a floor housekeeper in the hotel next to the what was then called the Wembley Empire Pool. A day or so before my concert, I was checking a room that was almost completely empty, opened the door of a cupboard and Squire’s unmistakable harlequin-like black and white stage clothes (see pic above) hanging in a wardrobe. Falteringly, I touched the great man’s trousers and left, feeling as if I had touched some potent religious relic.

But what is a hero? For me it someone who pioneers a path into new areas of the imagination. Squire reimagined the function of a rock bass guitar, in a way that changed the way bassists have played since and had brought joy to millions. In carving out new possibilities of music he will always be a hero for that alone, let alone for his excellent songwriting and general likeability.  What a guy.

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Autobiographical Music Real life

A one-way ticket to Palookaville and other random observations

There are all kinds of romantic ideas about how you should behave as an artist. But starving in a garret, which I have done in the past, was not for me. Just recently, pockets full of air after moving house, I had a sequence of six freelance assignments being cancelled one after another – all for legitimate and completely random reasons. Suddenly worries were tugging at my sleeve like a tiresome child, saying ‘how can you be wasting your time on stupid POETRY when you are not earning any MONEY’. Luckily the pesky tyke has given it a rest lately as I have work again. Obviously, thanks to the work I’m now doing, I have no time to finish off the poetry I was able to start in the last few months, but was too twitchy to complete. The Catch 22 of real life.

Having returned from 15 or 20 years scribbling about locusts in the wilderness, I notice that the poetry world is now populated by poets who market themselves excellently through social media. Of course there are people who are giants in cyberspace, but Lilliputians on the page and vice versa. But I love the fact that the internet has opened up avenues to all kinds of writing. But I do get irritated by all the ‘on-message’, relentlessly positive stuff – almost as much as I do with passive aggressive self-righteousness. When the little homunculus of real life is goading me and I’m not feeling positive, I try to steer clear of cyberspace for a few hours. With my marketing hat on, I’d say sincerity is an undervalued commodity when building any kind of a brand, especially a personal one.

I prefer to get hold of a book or a pamphlet and read a collection. I want my attention to focus on what I’m reading, not see it on a screen where there are a bazillion other possibilities trembling with life at the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse. I felt this when I started and edited an e-zine around 2000-2003 called AnotherSun. Although it was quite obscure it featured the work of poets around the world and was visited by quite a few in its time.

A one way ticket to palookaville
A one way ticket to Palookaville

One way to be successful, of course, is to focus on one thing and do it properly. A life lesson I have never been able to learn. If I had focused on AnotherSun for a few more years, for example, perhaps I could have been somebody, instead of sitting writing this at my computer screen like a bum.

But focusing on one thing is just not who I am. I wish I could because I think I would be a lot more successful. Poetry as my first love has cut the deepest, but I can never resist diversification.

The Opera I’m working on with Helen Russell, for example, is going remarkably well. We have settled into a good working arrangement, meeting regularly to discuss at length the section we are about to write, and how it fits with the shape of the whole piece. I write some words and Helen then scores them for singers and an orchestra. Naturally my bit is a good deal faster than Helen’s, but we already have nearly half an hour of music fully scored with words since February. I like writing these words as you can introduce as much fighting, sex, and stabby stuff as you like. After all, they lap it up in opera I’m told. More news of this when it happens.

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Music

The Shakespeare Heptet – the greatest unknown band in the UK

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The Shakespeare Heptet L to R Dipak Chanda, Rebecca Macmillan, Aaron Power,  Sylvana Montoya and Richard Gibson

And great Art beaten down was the phrase suddenly rolling doomily in my head last night. I was drinking a nice pint of bitter in a pub called The World’s End in Brighton while hugely enjoying The Shakespeare Heptet playing in the corner of a pub. As usual, their musicianship was near immaculate. This despite the fact that outside in London Road a shop alarm was wailing peevishly, and that the pub was noisy. Of course people coming in for a drink are perfectly entitled to chat and enjoy themselves. But I can’t help but marvel at how some people can be so willfully oblivious to the miraculous music happening in the same room.

This is just me being an old curmudgeon, of course, the band played with enjoyment and expertise, and those who had ears loved it.

I have written about Richard Gibson’s plan to set every Shakespeare sonnet to music before here before. Although it seems at first a madcap scheme, the results are stunning. While the music is rooted in an absolute immersion in the sonnets, the results are completely contemporary.

In his quest he has been abetted by exquisite guitarist Dipak Chanda and a band featuring Aaron Power on percussion and vocals, Nick Fuller on bass guitar, and Sylvana Montoya and Rebecca Macmillan on vocals. The music is hard to categorise – but the word that always comes to mind for me is timeless. They blend so many influences that they have their own distinct sound. These are fabulous songs and if the Gods were at their desks doing their bloody jobs right, The Shakespeare Heptet should be in the throes of a major tour with a couple of renowned CDs behind them. But instead we’re here. With groundlings like me able to watch them for the price of a pint or two in The World’s End.

I’d love to see them in a setting where those perfect words and the fabulous playing can be heard. More than that I wish I could write something that makes the world wake up to the Shakespeare Heptet. But instead I’m writing this: The Shakespeare Heptet are the greatest unknown band in the UK.

This recording of Sonnet No. 20 below is from the early days of the band, when they were known as the Shakespeare Trio. Their sound is fuller now, positively ballsy when it has to be. But I still love the crystalline clarity of Richard and Dipak’s playing in this track and Richard’s excellent voice.

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Design Music

Wonderfully ingored

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To be ignored by a piece of art is an amazing possibility. I came across this article in The Guardian about a book with facial recognition software built in. According to the article it is “Designed by Thijs Biersteker of digital entrepreneurs Moore has created a book jacket that will open only when a reader shows no judgment”.

I have always been attracted to the idea of a sentient piece of art. For example, when I wrote, with Matthew Pollard, the piece, This Concert Will Fall In Love With You, we envisaged a piece of music haunted by a sentience that was aware of its audience, which gradually became heartbroken as it realised that the music would end, and the audience leave. This interaction explicitly acknowledges the fact the audience exists and is listening.

I love the idea that a work of art can choose to withhold its engagement, to ignore you as a person might, really appealling.