Trio HLK and Dame Evelyn Glennie at the Corn Exchange on Sunday 3rd June 2018
Dame Evelyn Glennie is talking to me about listening.
Devizes Arts Festival have brought some quality acts to Devizes over the years, but to me this really takes the biscuit. Before I came out I listened to her leading a thousand drummers in a collaboration with Underworld at the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012. This is the image I have in my head of Evelyn, as some wild goddess with drumsticks raised, summoning awesomeness.
There’s nothing grand about her. She’s quiet, and dignified, and intense. She unloads her own marimba, a glorious enormous church organ of a xylophone, and the band and sound guys help her unload her drums and shiny ‘What’s that?’ ‘A bell tree.’ I am in awe of her instruments almost as much as I am in awe of her.
She laughs when I tell her about my awe and is happy to answer my questions. Later in June she’ll be performing with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a double concerto for percussion and oboe in honour of Thea Musgrave, and is currently working on a musical score for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Troilus and Cressida. Other projects include archiving all the musical instruments she has at home in order to establish a listening centre.
She’s all about the listening, is Evelyn. She’s on a mission to get the world to listen.
This is her fourth gig with Trio HLK, and she’s excited about it.
Trio HLK are an innovative ensemble comprised of Richard Harrold, keyboards, Richard Kass, drums and percussion, and Ant Law, electric guitar. They’re a pleasant bunch of blokes. ‘So talented’ says Evelyn, ‘so creative, and shy’. They tell me that they came together on New Year’s Day, 2015, as a result of an ‘arranged marriage band date’, and that they like to make rhythmic illusions and impossible rhythms. One of them points out the tiny symbol of the blivet, the Devil’s tuning fork, on their album cover. ‘Like that’ he says.
Andy the busker playing on the stairs as people filter in excitedly. Anticipation is high.
The instruments are waiting.
When it comes to words for sound and defining musical genres I am lost. In the interval and afterwards, people who know about such things talk about interesting textures and marvel at Kass’s polyrhythms. ‘It’s prog rock, really’, ‘It’s avant-garde in all aspects’, ‘It’s avant-garde jazz’, ‘Is it, though?’ No one seems able to tell me exactly what kind of jazz is being played. It’s a mystery.
I’m transported from the minute Trio HLK take the stage. ‘It’s all about them, really’ says Evelyn. She’s enjoying working with them, developing the music together, seeing what happens, enjoying the ‘unexpected, surprising, unwanted things’ that arise within the structure.
‘It’s far too early to categorise it as jazz’ she says.
Out of the silence comes sound.
Gentle, interlocking, broken and unbroken melodies, ‘refracted through our prism’ say Trio HLK. How they concentrate on one another as they play.
And then Evelyn comes on.
With the exception of her stunning solo on the halo drum, it quickly becomes clear that Evelyn is ‘just’ one of the band. It’s all about the collaboration, this. It’s not just about Evelyn.
Therefore anyone expecting The Evelyn Glennie show is disappointed.
And anyone expecting a night of the kind of music never before heard in these parts is delighted.
I know nothing about jazz, and I’m a poet, so for me it went like this.
Bells in oceans, rocks knocking, windchimes on mountainous heights, stars singing, cool corridors of monasteries, pianos in cathedrals, ribbons of sound and light weaving together and coming apart, weaving together and coming apart again, gongs falling down wells, soft, silvery streams, and the incessant beat of the universal drum.
And all in the Corn Exchange.
It’s moving. I cry a bit. It’s strange. The music has form, and is also formless. It’s spectacular. I’m mesmerised by Evelyn and her drumsticks and intensity.
At the back of the stage, in the stairwell, I dance to the drum.
‘I’ll be behind the curtain, taking pictures,’ I had said earlier, ‘in case you hear a sound’.
Later Evelyn said she saw me, out of the corner of her eye, as I took photographs from the floor underneath the marimba. ‘I thought it was funny’ she said.
(I have taken photographs of Evelyn Glennie. You may take me now, Lord.)
Evelyn and the guys come out at the end to sign the album ‘Standard Time’ and talk affably with the public. Martin has brought his drum skin for Evelyn to sign, and she strums her fingers on his bodhrán, listening carefully to the sound that it makes. She chats to Vicky, who apparently sang with her in a choir decades ago. For an icon she’s very approachable.
She and the guys are just very serious about sound.
And the verdict of the Festival audience?
Some people loved it all. Most people loved some of it. A few people loved it not at all. Bit progressive and unusual for some folk. Too edgy. ‘Interesting’, ‘Bit jangly’, ‘Not my cup of tea’, ‘Would like to have seen more of Evelyn’, ‘What I really loved was the communication between them’, ‘Great sound quality’, ‘Fascinating’, ‘Amazing’.
The serious jazz officianados and poetic types in the audience are blown away.
The Devizes Arts Festival is privileged to have been able to bring an act of this calibre to Devizes.
Dame Evelyn Glennie and Trio HLK. Thank you so much for coming.
And for letting us listen.
© Gail Foster 5th June 2018