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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Street Life CCXXIX






If It's Tuesday It Must Be Tallinn I

Fairport Convention Festival Bell



Festival Bell
Fairport Convention
Matty Grooves

As quintessentially English as the gentle knock of a cricket ball on willow, it’s 43 years since Fairport Convention released their debut album. Their place in the cultural and physical landscape seems set to continue long into the future after their name was recently inscribed onto a new bell installed at St. Mary’s Church, Cropredy, near the site of Fairport’s celebrated annual three-day festival.

That the peal of a bell bearing their name will ring out across the fields and hedgerows surrounding the Oxfordshire village long after the rest of us have shuffled off this mortal coil seems wonderfully apt for a group so intimately connected to long-standing tradition.

Clearly on robust form, their first studio album since 2007’s Sense Of Occasion, has them criss-crossing, as ever, through different narrative streams, with Chris Leslie (still regarded as a new boy after a mere 15 years of being with the group) providing some of Festival Bell’s strongest songs.

Mercy Bay, featuring Simon Nicol’s stout vocals, thrums with dramatic intensity, relating tales of heroism on the high seas of 1850, and also on Around The Wild Cape Horn, the latter being one of two Ralph McTell tunes covered. Revisiting their own heritage, there’s a comfy-cardigan remake of the Sandy Denny-penned, Rising For The Moon.

Forceful, sprightly instrumentals are found in violinist Ric Saunders’ Danny Jack’s Chase and Danny Jack’s Reward. Both ripple with a tricksy, jazz-rock sensibility that wouldn’t have been out of place in Saunders’ late 70s pre-Fairport outfit, Soft Machine.

Whilst Festival Bell lacks the visionary presence that made 1969‘s game-changing Liege & Lief so influential, and established the group’s pre-eminent position in the folk-rock firmament, the album nevertheless confirms Fairport’s reputation as an ongoing repository for quality songwriting.



This review first appeared here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tallinn - Gatwick - Newcastle

All good things must come to an end so I spend the last morning in Estonia in the rather agreeable surroundings of the Nordic Hotel Forum...

On the bus back to the airport...

If ennui had a face it might look like this...


Off to Gatwick...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tulev And UMA

In the evening I headed out for the Mustpeade Maja....


I was going to see a performance of a piece called “I said, Who are You? – He said, You” by a composer called Toivo Tulev. I'd heard the name before, and yesterday, on Aleksei's recommendation, I bought this beautiful CD for four of your European euros (as my e-pal, Mr.CBQ might say on this occasion) ...

Inside the Mustapeade Maja (this time going through the main entrance on Pikk) folks started to arrive...


I nabbed myself a rather good seat at the front...

Behind me, the place was packed to the gills with more people following...

The piece was gorgeous and mysterious, with a powerful performance from counter-tenor Ka Bo Chan.When “I said, Who are You? – He said, You” had finished the hall erupted into sustained applause for some ten or fifteen minutes, with the composer thanking members of the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra...

Afterwards I stayed for a piece whose title I didn't catch by a composer called Tonu Korvits performed by the orchestra and members of the Youth Choir of Tallinn, seen here tuning up...

I caught the next two pieces - which were full of lovely harmonies - but had to leave in order to make my way to catch UMA's performance. Pausing on the corner of Rataskaevu to snap this impressive looking tower lost in the shadows...

I made it in plenty of time to the Von Krahl Theatre to be able to catch UMA do their thing...

l -r: Robert J├╝rjendal and Aleksei Saks



Regular readers of the blog may recall that I was rather taken with UMA's most recent album, Hymn To Undiscovered Land. For me this one gig was worth the entire trip. Seriously.

Taking Tea And Cakes

A strange but exciting evening yesterday.

Having found the venue for the evening, Mustpeade Maja, on Pikk, I discovered that the entrance in use tonight was round the back, down Puhavaimu a decidedly treacherous-looking slope. It looked quite beautiful in the gloomy yellow street lights, making the surrounding clumps of piled-up snow look like dollops of Walls’ ice cream. Underfoot, the cobbles were speckled with an icy glitter.

Whilst this was a feast for the eyes, it was utterly perilous and progress down the incline was slow and perilous. As I inched my way towards the basement entrance, a couple of folks further down slipped and fell heavily on their behinds.

Somehow I made it to the venue and entered the vaulted ceilings which looked exactly like those places you’d see in the old Universal horror movies, where the Burghermeister dismissed talk of monsters and weird goings on up at Castle Frankenstein, until finally agreeing to get out the torches and pitchforks.

The gig itself was fascinating not only for the music but for the numbers of young women that seemed to be in attendance under their own volition rather than at the behest of an earnest and unequivocally enthusiastic partner.

This should not be interpreted as a sexist comment but merely an observation that the kind of left-field music performed by Multiphonic Rodent, Pastacas or Kreativmootor wouldn’t normally attract, or so demonstratively engage, so many of the female persuasion were this gig taking place in the UK. At least not in my experience at any rate. Maybe I need to get out more?

In the lobby at 1.00 p.m. to meet Aleksei and Dr. Margus Laidre. Although Margus and I have exchanged several emails in recent years this is the first time we've actually met. Margus, who was the Estonian ambassador in London for four years, has a book I recognise...

After chatting at Margus' apartment for an hour or so, we took a walk out to a local cafe...

I'm told that the weather in Tallinn is unseasonable for this time of year, and also very cold. If the locals are telling me this then I don't feel so bad.


Yesterday when I was taking photographs in the old town, after only a few minutes my fingers began to hurt so bad from the pinching cold that I had to put my heavy gloves on. I thought I was being a wuss.

Our reward for working so hard in the last couple of hours...

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Future Is Now

Refreshed after a lovely walk about the old town with Aleksei, I attended one of the seminars taking place throughout the weekend. The title of this one caught my eye...

The panel was dominated by public service broadcasters who said that the future was about getting away from the tyranny of the playlist and recruiting broadcasters who could be trusted by the listeners. Their model broadcaster was John Peel.

The future was about detailed content and lots of it - the more the better. These days any fool can throw together a website or podcast (guilty as charged, I thought!) but what will count in retaining and growing listeners, is depth, knowledge and integrity.

After all the talk, a bit of a walk...

and, the sun having passed the yardarm, a reward...

Then off out to Mustpeade Maja where several bands were waiting to be watched...

All The President's Men

Up early and keen to get on with the day, I catch up for emails and knock back endless cups of tea in the hotel breakfast bar. Interesting hearing all the voices from so many nationalities merging and mingling into English.

The president of Estonia, Thomas Ilves came to address the delegates of Tallinn Music Week, where there are over 100 bands performing in seven or eight venues across two days.

The very short version of what he said was that basically whatever language we speak, music is something we all understand. It's easy to be cynical about such pronouncements, especially out of the mouth of a politician, but it's true and powerfully so.

His other message was that Estonia, although a small country, had a big vision especially for its music - this is the country that gave us Arvo Part, after all. Estonian music, Ilves said, should continue to trust its instinct, retain its own voice, and believe in itself as a world player.

Without really knowing anything about the politics of the man, I instinctively liked him. This intuitive response was confirmed when I found out later that Ilves claims to have been the first kid on his block (he grew up in the USA) to buy a copy of In The Court of the Crimson King in 1969. Afterwards the president chats and presses the flesh...

flanked on all sides by a watchful security detail...

President Ilves and his efficient entourage have left the building...

Afterwards I was lucky to meet up with Aleksei Saks of UMA, who took me from the hotel and into the old town, where I enjoyed getting his perspective on the Estonian jazz scene, and the wider musical landscape. The venue for our discussions took place in a lovely cafe in what looked like it might have once been an old church or merchant's warehouse...

Once inside...

cake was consumed!
Then a wander about with Aleksei...




and then returning through the gates of the old town back to the hotel...

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