Rain Dance

*

Waiting for thunder, waiting for rain
Waiting for lightning to strike on the plain

When will it come, when will it come?
The heat of the sun on the skin of a drum

Watching horizons, watching the hills
Watching the widening cracks in the rills

When will it come, when will it come?
One drop of rain on the skin of a drum

Dreaming of rivers, dreaming of seas
Dreaming of streams and delirious trees

When will it come, when will it come?
Two drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Thinking of doomsday, thinking of drought
Thinking of reservoirs all drying out

When will it come, when will it come?
Three drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Dying for water, dying of thirst
Dying of waiting for heaven to burst

When will it come, when will it come?
Four drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Crying for mercy, crying for men
Cry for the rain to come falling again!

Hearing it come, hearing it come
The beat of the rain on the skin of a drum

Waiting for thunder, waiting for rain
Waiting for lightning to strike on the plain

*

© Gail Foster 27th July 2018

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Trio HLK and Dame Evelyn Glennie at the Devizes Arts Festival; a review

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

 

The Sacrifice of Song

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The Choir of St. John the Baptist, Devizes

sing Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral

4th January 2017

*

The Temple of St. Paul’s, at Evensong;

The voices of our little children ring

In tones divine, as through the ages long

Our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters sing

How lofty, lowly, wide, and deep, and high

The mystery, the magnitude, the sound

How thunderous, the whispered gilded sigh

Of doves that fall from dome to holy ground

On altar bright; what sacrifice is this

This mass of light, this sungen density

This quantum quality, this ancient bliss

That renders speechless such a man as me

I fall upon my knees upon the floor

Sing, children, songs as these, for evermore

*

© Gail Foster 6th January 2017

Green Tears for Beauty

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*

for jemma brown and the invitation theatre company
on the occasion of anthony brown’s production
of ‘war of the worlds’, at st. mary’s in devizes

*

a mellifluous light

cello ripe and butter sweet

slides through the silence

a river of silver

flute bright and sugar spun

streams through the shadows

forever the autumn’s

melancholy melodies

play on the heart strings

suddenly remembering

past loves and passion plays

men become young again

 …

envious angels

up in the rafters weep

green tears for beauty

 *

© Gail Foster 20th November 2016

The War of the Worlds at St. Mary’s; a preview

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The Invitation Theatre Company rock ‘War of the Worlds’ at St. Mary’s, Devizes

On hearing of this production my thought process went something like this; War of the Worlds, that’s that old 70s album, right?  The Invitation Theatre Company, didn’t they make Jesus Christ Superstar kind of interesting?  St. Mary’s, oh, visuals, now you’re talking.  Steampunk?  Sold.

It was the very end of the nineteenth century when HG Wells penned his tale.  Men have a habit of fearing the apocalypse at these times, and Wells gave those fears form in this science fiction story of war between Martians and humanity.  It took till 1978 for Jeff Wayne to pick up the ball with his album, and until now for Anthony Brown to take a chance and run with it in Devizes.

I’ve been to the tech rehearsal.  I’ve been to the dress rehearsal.  I have been playing the album all day.  I want to go again.  Sold to the barking poet.  Utterly.

The visuals first.  It’s a medieval church for starters.  There are Martian lights in the lofty arches, soft reds and greens tickling the pinnacles, shimmers of Victorian velvet and shifting shadows on the walls.  Above the main arch the conductor’s shadow moves like a demon possessed, and the Red Weed (just say no, kids) doth spill across the stone like blood.  A lightfest, so it is, a delicious smorgasbord of colour.  The set; minimal, just the narrator’s chair on high and a tall tower o’ drums on the other side of the stage.  And cogs.  Massive wooden cogs.  No Martians.  No one dressed as aliens.  Thank goodness for that.  All conveyed with lights, it is, with lights, and sound, and a well placed stare.  Clever.

The band take up over half the stage.  There are (deep breath) four keyboards, four guitars, four violins, viola, cello, a big fat double bass, percussion, drums, and a conductor.  It’s a wonderful score, besides which everything else is mere illustration and tableau, beautiful but secondary to the sound.  The band are great, despite the fact that they have played together less times than the fingers on my hand.   Flutes from keyboards, sweet violins, drums, and old stone walls drowning in sound.   Nice.  Very nice indeed.

So nice in fact that when ‘The Eve of War’ kicks in I experience a sudden ‘wild trembling exultation’.  I do hope no one noticed.  Although one is prone to these reactions it is surely only a man with no soul or rhythm who would not shift a little in his seat at some point during this production.  Or shiver at Jemma Brown’s voice.  Or at some point during ‘Forever Autumn’.  Or at the haunting ‘No Nathaniel, no’ refrain, so sweetly sung by the elegant Mari Webster, in ‘The Spirit of Man’.  Oh dear, now I am listening to it again.  I blame TITCO.  Help me.

Opportunities for serious acting are thin on the ground in this show, but what parts there be are played very well indeed.  There’s real talent here.  Paul Morgan’s voice of the journalist is reminiscent of Burton and old wirelesses; perfect, archetypal.  His reading provides the cues for the music so his timing has to be right.  Safe hands, methinks, safe hands.  Jonathan Paget; excuse me but is he actually from this century; great look.  Chris Worthy as the Artillery Man giving ‘Brave New World’ everything he has…er, why isn’t he acting and singing professionally…just asking.   And Ian Diddams, channelling the angst of all humanity with a look, a stance, a hammer and a melodious tone; presence, man, presence.  All good.  All really good.  But my prize for best actor goes unreservedly to Sean Andrews, as the demented and religiously deluded Parson Nathaniel.  His duet with Mari Webster is stunning.  When he raises his cross and the light hits it…well, what can I say.  ‘Tis a moment, to be sure.  Well done, that man, take a bow.

What else?  Oh yes, great backing vocals, particularly in the chilling ‘Ulla’ Martian song of death.  And the women look gorgeous.  When you’re done with the dresses, if you’re stuck for somewhere to store them, I might have a bit of cupboard space.  Top hat and ribbons?  Why thank you, I don’t mind if I do.

Tricky moments?  The odd sticky mic.  And, to call a spade a spade, moments in the choreography that could do with tweaking.  It’s all so complicated, with so many factors to co-ordinate, and very little space.  Fingers crossed it will be alright on the night.  No, I’m going to stick my neck out and tempt fate by saying that it’s going to be more than alright on the night.  It’s going to be glorious.

Special mentions?  Anthony Brown, ably assisted by his partner in crime, Jemma, for being brave enough to direct and conduct such a complex production.  You may have played a blinder here, sir.   And behind the scenes, Tracey Lawrence and her crew; so much sourcing, so much sewing, so much work, and all so very beautiful.

And, finally, the band.  That’s some sound you’ve got going on.  Thrilling.  But also rather challenging, methinks.  So break a leg, bow, drumstick, whatever.  For you and the sound guys hold this whole show in your hands.

No pressure…

War of the Worlds at St. Mary’s, Devizes, in a nutshell?

Just go.

For yea verily, it is seriously spot on.

© Gail Foster 15th November 2016

The Souls of Spring’s Children

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*

softly, whispering

featherfalls on silent stone

winter, gravity

lost in the fog, birds

grieving morning voicelessly

remembering love

dead diamonds, ditches

glittering cold promises

fossil furrow froze

darkness, deepening

the womb and the grave hiding

secrets and shadows

in the ground, waiting

the souls of springs children sing

muffled lullabies

 *

© Gail Foster 2016

Fiona In The Night

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for Fiona Meyrick, poet and musician; a Petrarchan sonnet

*

Fiona, in the silence of the night

Sings songs of sorrow soft in minor key

That sigh above all formal melody

In cadences that dance like birds in flight

She rests within the dark, composing light

In subtle shades of sweet philosophy

Transposing on the stave a mystery

In spills of sound like ink on paper bright

Fiona, at the stroke of midnight blessed

Plays pianissimo the ocean’s rage

Transforming all the sins of man confessed

In gentle rhythms traced upon the page

A modern muse, an ancient truth expressed

In lullabies to sooth our restless age

*

© Gail Foster 2016