Saturday, 28 January 2023


Concorde 2, Brighton
Fri 20th Jan

“Where you been?” someone shouts as they take the stage. He gets back a deadpan answer about road miles from Glasgow. But we all know. This isn’t just the first night of the tour, but the first Delgados appearance since 2005. (Before I started this blog, which I believe officially places it in pre-history.) 

Which of course raises the question of which Delgados we have back. Their indie credentials included being John Peel faves and launching the Chemikal Underground label, but musically they’d throw in the changes. (I made a hamfisted attempt to span their eras here.) When string players assemble on stage, it seems a give-away. This is going to be the time of ’The Great Eastern’, where such things augmented their sound.

In fact they pretty much play through everything, even their sparky power-pop origins. (When, in their own description, “two of us couldn’t play very well and two couldn’t play at all.”) They concentrate on their middle three albums, true, but that’s as it should be.

As the night goes on, we discover two things about those strings. First, appealingly, it’s the very same players as back then. Also, they’re used as sparingly as they were back then. It’s like the way only certain letters require accents, they embellish precisely where the music needs it and no more. Too disciplined to come in just because they’re there, they just sit quiet much of the time. Then and now a band credo seems to be “only do something where something needs doing.”

I don’t seem the only soul glad to see them back. The venue’s sold out, and pretty much every number gets only a few notes in before being met by applause. One comes to an emergency stop when a lead gets yanked, only to meet a bigger round of applause the second time. Quieter sections reveal pretty much everyone is listening, no-one talking. All of which makes of a pretty good start to a years’ gig-going.

Have they changed much in the interim? Not a whole lot. Songs so precision-engineered don’t lend themselves to radical reworkings. Alun Woodward’s fey, indie voice seems almost uncannily unaltered, but Emma Pollock’s, who was perhaps a little more rock even then, has gone more that way. Which can change the overall sound. ’Accused Of Stealing’ (always a personal favourite) probably isn’t played all that differently, but comes to sound more like the Velvets covering the song. Which is not at all a bad thing.

Someone else shouts if there’s any new songs. “Not yet”, they respond, a little teasingly. You never know your luck…

‘The Light Before You Land’…

Brighton Philharmonic
Brighton Dome, Sat 21st Jan 

This programme was designed as a “Winter journey… exploring Arctic landscapes”. But more importantly, in a sign Brighton Philharmonic may be becoming more adventurous, every work was by a contemporary composer - all born within the last century, all bar one still living and one younger than me.

The opening ’Twine’ by Rolf Wallin, for marimba and xylophone, I confess did little for me. But the accompanying visual, by Kathy Hinde, a semi-abstract collage of river sediment and algae, was splendid. Hinde’s visuals continued throughout the night. And if they peaked at that point, they were all pretty darn good. Always inscribing themselves on your eyeballs, but never dominating over the music, more instillation pieces than mini-films.

It’s a peculiarity of life that Johny Greenwood is the guitarist of the risible Radiohead, yet can make music worth hearing when left to his own devices. This was a suite from his soundtrack to ’There Will Be Blood’. Six short movements were fitted inside sixteen minutes, of widely varying style and - it should be said - quality. Some did just sound like film music, when that’s the last thing film music should ever do. But others were way more inventive. Two successive movements I mentally dubbed ’Slide’ and ’Pluck’ after their dominant style of playing, with ’Slide’ seeming to shimmer in from somewhere else.

Philip Glass’ ’Glassworks’ from 1981 was described in the programme as “an immediate hit” which “introduced… minimalism to a huge public”. Which of course means it’s really post-minimalist. You listen to individual lines rather than a composite, and at points a particular player leads. Glass himself has confirmed he deliberately wrote something more cross-over, and the title has more than a little of the calling card about it.

Does that matter, when the music itself sounds this enthralling? (Partly because Glass can write so exquisitely for solo piano.) Only that, when minimalism when post-minimalist, a lot of the sense of nature left it. Those churning, flurrying wind instruments sound more like a machine. A serene machine, neither Victorian heavy industry nor malfunctioning Microsoft software, but still a machine. I think I tend to picture some dashing adventurer/ eccentric inventor sweeping along in some gleaming limousine, possibly powered by elegance alone. (Akin to the way Neu! can evoke the machine sense.) While his earlier works were more like mini-ecosystems. Notably, Hinde’s visuals shift away from nature scenes, to city squares and similar.

Of the two John Luther Adams pieces, ’Drums of Winter’ worked the best. Unlike anything I’ve heard from him before it was short and punchy, the polyrhythms of four pounding drummers. It could have been played to a rock audience and got a similarly euphoric reception.

While ’songbird songs’ did seem a regressive step in imitating birdsong. Nature can be an endless source of inspiration to art, but art imitative of nature is always going to be merely constrained. Some did work better than others, particularly ’mouring dove’ with its eerie Ocarinas.

’Cantus Articus: Concerto For Birds and Orchestra’, by Einjuham Rautavaara completed the night. As all that might suggest, the composer’s from Cleethorpes. Only kidding, its Finland. It tackled the bird song question more elegantly by playing back recordings over the music. Which confirmed the sheer strangeness of them, perhaps emphasised by being out of context. 

Musically, it was the most ‘classical’ work of the programme. I suspect when people used that word they really mean Romantic. And I was to read afterwards Rautavaara has been described as Neo-Romantic. At times my somewhat inexpert ears were reminded of Stravinski. But it had the sublime sense of the otherworldly that the best Romantic music has. There were points where the bird song enveloped the music, like a flock of feathers had somehow blown in the venue, and others where the two essentially met in the middle.

Psst! Brighton Philharmonic! Still three more seasons to go!

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