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even the darkness is made of love / Union Chapel, 25.11.’11

I remember this concert. Actually, I’ll never forget. How can you forget perfect happiness?
(This is yet another re-blog from my music blog as I’m merging both.)

Paralympics and some thoughts on humanity

I’m just coming away from the TV right this moment, after watching the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. And I liked it. I liked the dignity and the beauty and the fun and the messages of it. It could have done with a little bit more fun, but still, I really, really liked it.

My Dad and I were the only ones who stayed up to watch. Oh, and the dog, but in his case it was only because he likes to get his belly rubbed and his ears scratched, so I’m not sure that counts.

As a human rights person*, I especially appreciated the message of  “All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and the signs reading “Rights” and “Equality” everywhere. I only wish that the states represented at these Games will take these messages home and start putting them into practice. But then again, I guess it’s a very big and very cool achievement to have so many nations competing in the Paralympics, and I also liked that there were female athletes in almost every team (I think only three of them are only men). That’s a good thing. And I liked that the Committee issued ‘wildcards’, allowing teams to compete that did not yet meet the athletic standards, but that will really benefit from the experience of taking part in the Paralympics and receiving aid funding for future athletes.

So yeah, all in all, I think London’s done (another) really good job. And watching the ceremony, I had a short moment when I felt like crying. Because of exactly that. Because they got it right. Because humanity is capable of all the dignity and beauty and joy that they showed and talked about, even if sometimes it doesn’t look like it.

* I’m using ‘person’ here in want of a better word. I’m not (yet) a human rights professional, nor am I an academic anymore, and believer… well, I hope most people are human rights believers, even if they haven’t consciously thought about human rights so far. 


writing about music

I’m passionate about music. I used to live in London for a while. What can the intelligent reader conclude from these hints?

Yes, of course: live music. Lots and lots of live music. Quite some for free, other concerts I had to pay for, I didn’t go to enough (what’s ‘enough’ anyway when it’s about music?), but I shared my experience of some of these concerts on a music blog I created – Cresting the Sounds – and that I had been contemplating creating for some time before then anyway, because not only do I love listening to music, I also love talking about it and exchanging experiences and songs and reactions. So that seemed like the perfect way forward!

Now, I live in rural southern Germany, in my hometown. It’s nice, it’s pleasant, it’s green, it’s outdoorsy, summer is coming and I have a huge garden to lounge in… all great. The big drawback? No live music. Nothing except a few local bands that do mostly covers, or some small, potentially interesting bands that play in some remote village that I can’t get to. *sigh*

What’s the point of this tale? Just to announce that I have reanimated my music blog, because I found that I still have lots and lots to say about music, even if I cannot share concert experiences. My sparklingly new post at Cresting the Sounds is asking if music is seasonal and I’d be very interested in your answers!

even the darkness is made of love / Union Chapel, 25.11.’11

We’ve just come in from standing outside in the cold for almost an hour. They said the doors would open at 7pm and we were there early, because we didn’t have tickets and were banking on still getting some on the door. Needless to say, they didn’t let us in till 7.30. Shortly before that, I was close to turning to my friend and saying: “You know what? Let’s forget it and go see a movie.” Of course I didn’t. And now we’re inside, I’m deeply grateful that I disregarded my numb feet and frozen face – this venue is one of the most amazing I have ever been in, if not the most amazing.

I sit in a wooden pew, near the front, in the middle, pretty much where you want to be. My friend has gone to get us two cups of hot tea. I can feel people streaming in from behind me, surrounding me, hushed chatter rolling around the octagonal room, while above us the wooden, carved ceiling arches high, guarding the silence. It feels special to be here, in a church, a holy space and the place where so many great artists have performed wonderful concerts before. The air hums with expectancy and very soon all the places are filled up, and while people still move about, there’s many who watch the stage, talking quietly to their friends and neighbours, waiting. Music is played softly over the speakers, Greg Brown’s deep voice singing some of his more melancholic songs, and others I don’t recognize.

Suddenly a girl walks on the stage, young, red hair in two braids. She picks up a guitar and whispers into the sudden silence “I’m This is the Kit” and starts playing. The first line intrigues me (“tonight we are the same age”), and the many repetitions heighten my anticipation, but unfortunately there is no resolution. For the second song she takes up a banjo and, most endearingly, asks one of her friends, that she thinks she has spotted in the audience, if he could play the guitar part for this song. He comes up to the stage and they play the song ‘Easy Pickings‘ together. The whole set lasts only a bit more than half an hour. Overall, I think that This is the Kit is a very young performer that still has quite some growing to do. I like her voice, I like the way she plays the guitar, I like the melodies and she seems a very sweet person, but her songs lack impact. The lyrics are unsatisfying and less of the ‘ooh’-ing could be an improvement. All in all, it was very pleasant to listen to, but none of the songs stand out, and after the last note has sunk, nothing has really stuck with me.

We have about half an hour now. Most people get up and mill about. My friend gets us a hot chocolate to share, while I scribble down some notes and impressions and enjoy the atmosphere. The sound system is trickling … well, I guess it’s music, but it sounds like a guitar being tuned. Whatever it is, it’s slow and quiet and hypnotic. We exchange opinions about what we’ve so far heard.

Then, suddenly, quietly and modestly, Alexi Murdoch walks on the stage, picks up a guitar and starts fiddling around with the technical equipment laid out on the floor of the stage. Still standing sideways to the audience, he starts picking the guitar and fine-tuning the loop pedals. Nothing can be heard in the hush of the chapel except his guitar and the weird guitar-tuning sounds coming through the loudspeakers. At a nod from Alexi, those stop and he turns fully to the audience and starts playing over the looping guitar.

I’m not a fan of long standing. I have known his name for a while, I’m in love with ‘All my days’ and I like the juxtaposition of his first and last name (one so Greek-Russian-orthodox, the other so Scottish-dour-correct), yet the very first song makes me tear up. I sit there, staring at this unpretentious young man who seems to effortlessly reach inside me and touch my innermost self. The music does not need to wind through my ears and my mind – his voice simply removes all outer layers and speaks directly to my heart. I try to film or take pictures, but I simply feel too emotional, too overwhelmed to be able to concentrate on something as mundane as that. It is as if he is singing exclusively to me, and from the absolute stillness around me, I think that he has the same effect on everyone else. This is the most intimate performance I have ever had the amazing luck to attend. He seems to be equally impressed, whispering into the microphone: “This place is amazing. Where did you find it? Where did you all come from?”, then segueing immediately into the next song.

I’m impressed with is his musical virtuosity – Alexi Murdoch changes between guitars, and between guitar and other instruments easily and smoothly. He plucks a violin like a guitar, he plays a beautiful little impression on the piano, he uses a hand organ, something I have never experience live, and he employs another instrument played with his hands, which is a total mystery to me and looks more like a toy than a serious instrument. All of it is done with grace and naturalness. If it weren’t for the fact that I am totally in awe of him, and trying to deal with the raw emotions coursing through me, I would certainly be developing a most serious case of fan crush right about now.

A recurring theme in his songs is the sea. And darkness. All the pictures he draws are somewhat dark and while they certainly aren’t light and joy-filled, they aren’t sad either. They are as inevitably honest and as unchangingly real as the coming of night at the end of the day, or the ebb and flow of the tide. The stunning setting that he performs in tonight adds to the depths of his words. The sensation is quite indescribable when his quiet voice reaches up to the ceiling of the chapel, soaring in this beautiful building with the words: “there is no God, there’s only love”.

He uses words with the same ease and lightness of touch that he uses his instruments. It seems to me that he writes songs the same way that the stonemason in the old story makes the statue of a lion by simply chipping away all the rock that doesn’t look like a lion. He seems to have a vision of what a particular song is supposed to sound like, and then takes away everything that is unnecessary until he reaches that sound. The fact that the songs still sound full and gorgeous and perfect is proof of his mastery.

On the records, his sound reminded me very much of Nick Drake – a certain quality of languid beauty, quiet desperation and overarching love is in both of them. Live, however, the songs are much starker, increasing the impact. There is no resemblance to Nick Drake left, instead I can hear a certain Irish-Celtic sound in some of the songs that I never noticed before. It’s not in his voice, but more in the way he sings.  It gives the music a deep wealth of connotations.

Towards the end, he engages in more talk, saying that he isn’t sure how much time he has left and that he always thought this whole encore-thing “a bit of a sham”, but since it makes him feel good, he will now play the last song, “if you know what I mean”. This ‘last’ song finally topples me over the edge that I have been hovering on since the first line of the first song and tears are rolling down my cheeks and breathing has suddenly become hard, because my throat has closed up and I have only ever once before felt like sobbing my heart out while at the same time being so ecstatically happy that I feel as though every cell of my body will explode with it. I am being blessed by music.

During the encore he shows his kindness, including a song that he forgot to play at the very earnest-sounding request of a fan. It’s another stunningly beautiful song, and while the words of the fan thanking him (“Thank you. That was cool.”) seem to me extremely inadequate, the emotion is clear and he accepts the thanks with a little nod, before playing the encore he had planned.

When people are filing out of the chapel afterwards, I linger, unwilling to break the spell. Talking is hard. And there is no need for talk anyway. Everything has been said.

fray, twist, skip and blaze / The Front Room @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, 20.11.’11

It’s been ages since I went to see live jazz. I had forgotten how much fun it is. Especially when it’s as high quality as yesterday’s free concert at the Southbank Centre as part of the London Jazz Festival.

Jazz trio Phronesis had embarked on a collaboration/workshop with a whole bunch of very young, very talented musicians and they interpreted some of their material and also included two songs by two of the young’uns. And I’m not even sure now which was better – the pieces by the old hands or by the young people. Together they were awesome.

Before I tell you about the concert, I have to warn you: I really don’t know much about jazz in the technical sense. I’ve been to a number of concerts; some of the first concerts I can remember as a kid were jazz. I listen to some of the big names from time to time. I stop and listen to street musicians improvising. But I don’t know “the scene”. And that is also what I don’t like about it – it tends to be quite elitist. However, I firmly believe that even without “knowing” one can still “know”. I cannot talk about the concert in technical detail, but I can still give you a fairly good (hopefully) impression of how it was – all fervent jazz aficionados will have to excuse me.

What I liked most about the concert yesterday was that it reminded me that jazz is unexpected. As much as I adore folk and reggae and ska and quiet singer-songwriter tunes – none of that has the ability to completely surprise me. None of the songs last night sounded like the one preceding it and – even better – none of them stayed the same themselves. What started out as a quirkly little bass rhythm with a tiny smattering of melody swelled into trumpets blaring, clarinets shrieking and the drums going wild only to suddenly fray into different strands of melody, all loosely twining around the rhythm. And what started as a pleasing, interesting melody went suddenly into blaring overdrive, only to shatter into a myriad of different instruments, playing with the original theme and only connected by one constant – the humming of the bass or the dancing of the drums or the swinging of the vibraphone or the snaring of the cajon.

The solos were short and snappy and to the point and played with vigour. The enjoyment of the players was evident on their faces and their passion for the work they put in to produce this concert could be seen in their hands softly or not so softly slapping their thighs when they weren’t playing, in their sometimes closed eyes, in heads nodding, in smiles spreading, in the little signs sent across the stage to some of the other performers by looks, hands and quick movements: ‘He totally nailed it!’ – ‘I knew you could do it, that was awesome!’ – ‘Wow, we really got it more than right this time!’

The voices of the ten young women (17 to 24 years old, if I remember correctly) acted as added instruments, with them doing shrieks, the sounds of raindrops or simply singing sounds. Some parts were also sung in the traditional meaning – words set to a melody. All ten sounded fabulous and very interesting. They had come together from Voicelab, a project by the Southbank Centre, and were led by Sam Coates.

The musicians, apart from Phronesis (Jasper Høiby, Ivo Neame, Anton Eger), were the 16 to 24-year-old members of Soundbank, another Southbank Centre project, and led/directed by composer Dave Maric.

Alltogether, there were twenty-four performers on the stage, plus the two directors. The fun they had playing with this material and arranging it into something unique transmitted itself easily to the over 300 people who had come together to listen to this one-off performance. It certainly transmitted itself to me. As Jasper Høiby said: “Jazz is growing. Everybody’s saying it is dead, but I don’t think so.”

I don’t think so either.

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the serious game of growing up / The Garage, 9.11.’11

How much do you bring to a song and how much is there already?

Maybe it’s because I’m grappling with this situation myself at the moment but the main theme of last Wednesday’s concert at The Garage seemed to me to be that of coming to terms with growing up, connecting the support and the headlining act in a very smooth arc. Maybe all that I heard was only my interpretation. Maybe it was there anyway. I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that it was another beautifully passionate concert by The Head and The Heart, with the support of Singing Adams, who set the mood just right and introduced me to some wonderful new songs.

Singing Adams 

Steven Adams, Matthew Ashton, Melinda Bronstein and Michael Wood have songs that extend from dancable to personal hymns. In the former category are songs like Injured Party, Good Luck or Building a Wall, while the latter holds I Need Your Mind, St. Thomas and my personal favourite, Sit and Wait.

All the songs have lyrics that in some way deal with loosing dreams, realizing that priorities are changing, becoming aware that personal ideals aren’t what they used to be anymore – in short, they deal with the transition from the adventurous, finding-onself part of adulthood to that part where things become more serious, where reality checks some of the wild ideals and first disappointments happen. Does this sound very sad and dismal? It’s anything but. The lyrics are witty, ironic, nice-at-first-glance-until-you-really-listen-and-have-to-laugh-from-surprise. The music is has driving rhythms (girl drummer, yeay!), solid guitars and the singing a cheerful, yeah-it’s-a-bit-tough-right-now-but-let’s-not-take-it-so-serious attitude. And at least two of the songs (I Need Your Mind and Sit and Wait) felt like hymns-in-the-making to me, the kind of hymns you sing at the top of your voice.

(this is from the actual concert)

The Head and The Heart

*sigh* What can I say? I love them. In my eyes they couldn’t do anything wrong. Even better, they didn’t do anything wrong. They delivered everything I expected: beautiful songs, a passionate performance, down-to-earth attitude and heaps of fun. There isn’t a TH&TH song I don’t like, but I do have some that somehow touch me more than the others,and Lost in my Mind leads on that, with Ghosts following closely behind. All of them, however, gave me chills, made me dance and some of them almost made me cry (Lost in my Mind and Josh McBride) . Chasing a Ghost, the first encore performed by only Jonathan and Charity, was almost painful in its beauty.

Drops of sadness:

a) Singing Adams didn’t hang around long enough for me to get the chance for a chat, while The Head and The Heart were beleaguered and therefore equally inaccessible (very sad!!!)

b) The London crowd’s disinclination to dance. It’s very boring/frustrating to dance to songs you love in a whole crowd of people standing still and giving you strange looks.

All in all – non-dancing crowd, but soul-freeing music in an interesting venue that I will check out more. A great evening!

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a new adventure. or two. or …

Sorry for being silent for over a week! But there are several adventures lined up in the immediate future and they require a big part of my attention.

First adventure

NaNoWriMo is less than 24 hours away. After starting some elaborate planning, I got frustrated and didn’t finish any outline or anything. I know my protagonist like the palm of my hand (Ally, a young woman of quiet, dry humour and a strong wish for a normal life, as unlike that of her eccentric, uncompliant family as possible), I know my setting (a bookshop in contemporary London that is much more than is discernible at first glance and where, at second or third glance, some very strange things can be seen to be taking place), I know my antagonist (currently without a name and a pretty shady figure anyway, therefore going by the pseudonym of “evil apprentice” – someone formerly connected with the bookshop who has very dark designs on it, on the people working there, without being fully aware what that means for the world of fiction – although he wouldn’t much care if he knew anyway). There’s a score of side characters, from Earl, the owner of the bookshop, to another guy with a pseudonym (‘green eyes’), to some of the elderly regulars and some people who seem to be straight out of fiction. And maybe they are.

Second adventure

After travelling over land from Germany to London (with a stopover in Brussels for a friend’s birthday-surprise-party), I’m now at another friend’s house, and will start this morning with my room hunt. I’d love to find a one-bedroom apartment, but the chances for finding an affordable one are slim, so I’ll be looking at shared flats as well. A whole city to choose from!

Third adventure

Something equally essential: job hunting! I’ll be looking for a job that pays for a roof over my head, some food in my mouth and lots of live concerts for at least six months.


Pretty obvious –  I’m insane.

Jittery-stomach nervous and wild-to-discover-something-new excited at the same time for all three of them. Adventure two and three are about to start. Adventure one will start tonight at midnight. Let the revelries begin.