Friday, 12 October 2018



Minimalist music seems to be most associated with strings. But the organ is actually a great instrument to hear it on, because it straight away dispels so many misconceptions. This is music which is mistakenly assumed to be stark and austere, made for people who demonstrate their wealth by having precisely one piece of furniture in their entire house. While the sound of the organ is warm and resonant. It’s impossible to reduce it’s flows and surges back into individual notes. And it fits Glass’ music like a glove.

Glass may well be the popular face of Minimalism. Still, McVinnie started things off with a short talk, which seemed based on the idea that while the world’s got used to later Glass the earlier years still take some easing into. He used 1976’s ‘Einstein on the Beach’ as the switching point from l’enfant terrible to  star guest of the Brighton Festival.

And it was bizarre (in a good way to watch McVinnie at the organ for 1969’s 'Music In Fifths’, his hands occupying such a small area of those amassed ranks of keys. But, as ever, you don’t need signposting so much as the willingness to give the work a little time to… you know… work. As ever, what initially seems reductively simple soon beguiles you, until you can no longer tell simple and complex apart. They start to become just different ways of looking at something. Which is in fact the way we do look at things.

McVinne then smartly went into the Finale from ’Satyagraha’ (1979), a richly melodic work. And he closed proceedings with the classic ’Mad Rush’ (1989), a rival to Pruitt Igoe’ as his ‘hit’ and fully deserving of its reputation.

Yet the highlight for me was the opening ’Music In Similar Motion’, also from 1969. Interestingly, this work wasn’t composed for the organ or even a solo instrument. In Glass’s words, it had “an open score which can be performed by any group of instruments”. And in fact it works by building up line atop line, like acrobats forming a human pyramid. In other words, an ensemble piece. Yet that turns out to be precisely what makes it effective for the organ, as it builds up layers of sound all by itself.

The organ works were interspersed with piano pieces. Which mostly felt like the bread in the sandwich. Perhaps the piano is simply a more familiar solo instrument, or fares badly when one-on-one against the fuller organ sound. Yet many of Glass’s works are scored for either piano or organ, and in general I’m a fan of his piano pieces. The best-known version of ’Mad Rush’, for example, is on piano.

So it may be the piano pieces in themselves just weren’t great. In particular the two ’Etudes’, from 2014, weren’t post-Minimalist so much as non-Minimalist and sounded no more than some bloke plonking about on the piano.They suggest, alas, a degeneration in Glass’ composing to the point he now just sounds like everybody else. Had I heard them blind, I don’t think I’d have guessed they were by him.

Truth to tell, I didn’t have particularly high expectations of this event, which I thought might be too much of a ‘proper’ recital. For quite a long period, Glass forbade performances of his compositions not by his own Ensemble. Though there may have been a financial element to this, I’d suspect that also he didn’t trust classically trained musicians to be in sympathy with his work. Perhaps not as extremely as when the BBC Symphony Orchestra would ‘interpret’ popular hits of the day, but along similar lines. My mind may have also been influenced by not enjoying so much a previous performance of McVinnie’s, though there the problem lay in the Squarepusher piece. (And, when I go back and read my own blog post, I’m reminded that he finished that set off with some Glass then.) So, despite a couple of weaker works, my overall response was very pleasant surprise.

Not from the night but a piece McVinnie played (even if I hopelessly don’t mention it anywhere else)…


The Hope and Ruin, Brighton, Thurs 11th Oct

If I say you could learn everything you need to know about the Godfathers’ from their song names, I mean it in a good way. We are, after all, talking about titles such as ‘This Damn Nation’, ‘I Want Everything’ and ‘I’m Unsatisfied’. Articulating the sense of how it feels to be young may be the default form of rock music, which might make it sound like trodden ground. Yet the Godfathers excelled in articulating the inarticulation.

Their sound combined punk energy with Mod sharpness, all amphetamine attitude with guitar lines slicing like Stanley knives. They even affected a sharp-suited image, very different to the charity-shop apparel of indie then all around. (I’d assume the clobber led to the band name.)

Which seems strange in retrospect. Seventies Punk was itself about returning to the live-wire energy of the mid-Sixties even while it pretended it wasn’t. Yet going on to make that connection overt still seemed to make a huge difference. Mark Deming may resolve this when he says: “they gave their music a level of craft and polish that made them accessible without blunting the rage.”

Yet their greatness also proved their limitation. I was initially excited to discover them, yet without my making any conscious decision they soon dropped from my frame of vision.

But then the adolescent mind really only has four settings - “it’s all about me”, “I pronounce this world wanting”, “I am extremely angry about about a thing” and “sex is great (from what I hear.)” All of which you can fit on a three-minute single quite comfortably. Perhaps their attempt to take things back to the mid-Sixties was too successful, making their natural habitat the single in a world now based around albums. (Denning comments how their album sales never matched their singles.)

Alternately, perhaps they hit a problem normally thought to beset later bands like the Strokes. They needed to hit the ground with all cylinders firing, to get everyone’s attention. But as they’d already mastered what they wanted to do there was nowhere for them to go.

Yet, at my age, that sense of how it feels to be a raging adolescent seems something to rekindle. So lucky for me, they’re back. (Since 2008, as it happens. Nobody tells me anything.) In fact only frontman Peter Coyne remains from the first time. But they’re as sharp as they ever were, new songs fitting in easily with the old. ‘Defibrillator’ in particular was enough to shake your fillings loose. They still want everything, they still want it now. They are, truth be told, in exactly the same style as the old. But if a thing’s working, why not keep working it?

The only downside was that they didn’t play their two cover versions, Lennon’s ’Cold Turkey’ and - compellingly if improbably - Rolf Harris’ ’Sun Arise’. But they promised to be back, so you never know your luck…

’Everything’, from Edinburgh (he said alliteratively)…

…plus my first ever sighting of the band, under their original name The Sid Presley Experience, from ’The Tube’ in 1985…

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