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Family visits and Red Priest

I spent the weekend in Birmingham on a parental visit, vaguely structured around going to a concert in Warwick on the Sunday afternoon. Mum is looking slimmer and stronger every time I see her now that she has come off the steroids, though she is still slow and wobbly compared to how she was before she became ill. She likes going for walks around the neighbourhood to build up her strength, so on Saturday afternoon we walked along the local part of the Rea valley trail past playing-fields, dog-walkers and children on bicycles, while on Sunday morning we went up into Bournbrook to have a look at the massive demolition, river-culverting and road-construction works which are under way with the aim of completely changing the course of the main traffic flow through that area. It will definitely alter the landscape of my child-hood – but less so than I'd thought from what I'd heard about the project. In fact, as we walked around we passed my old piano-teacher's house, my old Brownie hall and even the row of purportedly-temporary huts on the University campus where my mother used to take me for the Mothers and Toddlers club when I was all of one year old. So I don't think I need to get too concerned about having my past erased.

The concert in Warwick featured Piers Adams, a baroque recorder player who is famous for taking an innovative approach to the music he plays, and a group which he has put together called Red Priest. The programme was all Bach, but most of it had been rearranged to suit the instruments available: recorder (obviously) plus harpsichord, violin and cello. When I say 'rearranged', I mean that things like the double violin concerto and an organ concerto had been re-written for this group, so this was quite serious re-working – but it did work on the whole. The guiding spirit of the group as a whole was to present the music as something to be played around with rather than just reproduced in the standard approved manner, and this extended to dressing up in bright red and black rock-star style clothing, and working little snippets of things like the Fawlty Towers theme tune into their pieces (which actually worked, too).

Piers Adams as group leader was putting his all into the part of band front-man, leaping around the stage in a shiny red jacket and black leather trousers, doing his audience patter and coming across not unlike an '80s Cliff Richard. This was fun and engaging, but it also included long-term trade-mark playing techniques of his, such as deliberately over-blowing, under-blowing, playing out of the side of his mouth, swaying around describing huge patterns in the air with the end of his recorder, and in extreme cases actually playing two recorders at once. I give him total credit for really engaging with the music and ensuring that it does not go stale, and he certainly is an extremely accomplished player – he very definitely knows the technical rules which he is breaking, and can respect them too when he wants to. But for me the effect was only about 75% successful – fun to watch, yes, but quite often just coming across as out of tune and out of time.

Perhaps the most interesting piece, in the end, was actually a solo cello number – the only one which was played by anything other than the full four-piece which made up the main band. The piece itself was the Bach's cello suite no. 1, a very famous work for the cello which I played myself as a teenager, and which I'm sure most of you would recognise if you heard it – Youtube link here if you want to check. But as the cellist explained at the start, the particular approach she was taking was slightly different from the standard one. Apparently, there is no surviving manuscript by Bach himself for this piece, but what we do have is a version hand-written by Anna Magdalena (Bach's wife). On the version which she wrote down, Anna Magdalena had included phrasing marks which are completely inconsistent, slurring and separating different groups of notes in phrases which were otherwise clearly written to be equivalent to one another. Most modern editors ignore this in favour of a more consistent approach, but the cellist had decided to have a go at just playing exactly what Anna Magdalena wrote. She also played the piece much slower than usual, so that we could really hear what she was doing, which was nice in itself. And while the phrasing definitely was a bit idiosyncratic, I actually kind of liked it, because it gave variety and interest to what can otherwise become a somewhat repetitive piece. I guess overall I'm more for that kind of modest experimentation than I am for people playing recorders out of the side of their mouth.

Meanwhile, being in Warwick gave us a chance to drop in on Charlotte and Nicolas after the concert, which was great because I haven't seen their new house since the day they moved in. It's now looking a lot more cosy, with a lovely big soft sofa in the front room, a nice antique-looking coffee table and an iron-framed bed upstairs. We were also able to have a quick look through their wedding photo album, which our cousins (who did the photos) finally got round to putting together last month – only six months after the wedding. ;-) It's lovely, though – there are some absolutely gorgeous photos of Charlotte looking like someone out of a bridal magazine, all the standard shots you would expect of people processing out of the church and standing in groups, but also lots of lovely 'behind-the-scenes' shots of people who didn't know they were being photographed, laughing and smiling and playing silly jokes. It really captures the day very nicely, and I think was worth waiting for.

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 15th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Interesting to hear about a Red Priest concert; we've got a couple of their Vivaldi recordings, which have a certain style to them (including, IIRC, a snippet of the British National Anthem in the middle of The Four Seasons).
Mar. 15th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that sounds like them! They're definitely worth catching live if you can, as they put quite a lot of effort into their visual performance. Details of their current tour are here - the most workable date for you might be London on May 18th.
Mar. 17th, 2010 10:24 am (UTC)
Hmm, we're already booked for a concert of Vivaldi and Piazzolla the weekend before, and a trip to Cambridge the weekend after, so looks like we'll miss it this time. But thanks for the link, it will probably be worth keeping an eye on that. (I once heard an item on Radio 3 where Sean Rafferty said "and they're playing in Basingstoke tomorrow" ... it was a bit short notice!)
Mar. 15th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
I remember that Mothers and Toddlers group? do you? Very weak orange squash and a "humpty" toy much beloved of the toddlers, similar to that from Playschool! Happy days :)
Mar. 15th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, I do. I think I remember actually going there myself, but of course the trouble is that I also remember going along sometimes in connection with Charlotte being there, so it is a bit difficult to tell which memories are which. I do definitely remember the nursery school I went to for a short time only just after it, though, so it's plausible I really do remember Mothers and Toddlers too.
Mar. 15th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
I think your nursery was the rather nice one very near the University (Bournbrook Road)? The Mothers and Toddlers group was the slightly shambolic room with a few toys and many chairs in, I'm sure I remember us making an obstacle course out of the many plastic chairs that were there, although that would still be in the 70s so open to interpretation :)
Mar. 15th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
And Brownies!
Mar. 15th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
Yes, I did go to the nursery you're thinking of - it was Tiverton Road nursery. I'm quite impressed you remember that, as I don't know what nursery you went to. I know you went to Moor Green Lane primary school, but I am ignorant of what happened to you before that!

Anyway, directly after Mothers and Toddlers I actually went to a different nursery school for a while, in a place which I think was called Spring Road. I believe Sarah Chicken went there too - do you remember her? I think she ended up at EHS, didn't she?
Mar. 16th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
I definitely remember thinking that Sarah Chicken was not a real person, but someone you'd made up to tease me! She was at EHS prep, but not in the senior school! But remember Anna Perone....
Mar. 16th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
Thanks for explaining about Red Priest - I'd seen their recordings in Blackwells but wondered where they stood musically...
Mar. 16th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
No problem. I suspect they're better live than on CD - as I said above, sometimes Piers Adams' on-stage antics do compromise the sound a little, and if you're not getting to see the visuals, that would be annoying. Then again, maybe he is more sober in the recording studio.
Mar. 16th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
"Mum is looking slimmer and stronger every time I see her now that she has come off the steroids" How fantastic to read this after some of the darker posts from the past!
Mar. 16th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
Yes, definitely. It could still all come back again, and the doctors say it is inevitable at some point. But she is certainly doing better than any of us could have dared to hope a year ago.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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