Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Brighton Fringe Music

Brighton Fringe: The Shakespeare Heptet

The Shakespeare Heptet
The Shakespeare Heptet at the Blue Man Brighton

In the last year or so, The Shakespeare Heptet have morphed from a beguiling two guitar two piece, (with the shade of Shakespeare making up the former Shakespeare Trio) into the barnstorming Shakespeare Heptet who, in its current iteration, also features percussion, bass and banjo. The result is that their mix of blues, folk and magpied scraps of bluegrass, eastern, medieval now has added oomph and dynamics. Sparking the genteel audience at The Blue Man on Queens Street, Brighton, clapping along and contributing the odd oooh or la-la-la to the proceedings. The fact is this music is fantastic, and even if you have no interest in the Bard it doesn’t really matter.

So what of Shakespeare in all this? Setting Shakespeare’s sonnets to music has been done before of course, but never with such persistent single mindedness as by band leader Richard Gibson whose highly intelligent interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnets is based on several years engagement with them. The Shakespeare that emerges is no fossil. The sonnets are full of  disappointing human relationships, passion, hurt, vengeful feelings and love. In other words this Shakespeare is completely alive and kicking. It’s a heady mix for an evening out – and music this good needs to be heard.

You can catch the Shakespeare Heptet one more night at The Blue Man Queens Street Brighton at 8:30 on 17th May 2014.