If you have a spare ear over the next week, have a listen to yesterday’s Early Music Show (the shorter podcast version should be available outside the UK), in which Catherine Bott talks to David Wulstan. When I bristle at being described as a musicologist (perish the thought) I try to respond with a simple ‘I’m not a musicologist’. As you’ll hear in the programme, Wulstan’s response to the same accusation is to scream, and threaten the use of some of his martial arts expertise. Perhaps I’ll start trying that too.
It was his first LP of Gibbons’s music with the Clerkes of Oxenford (now comprising the first nine tracks of this) that got me interested in early music in the first place, when I borrowed it from the Mitchell Library in 1981 or thereabouts. Listening to it now, there are plenty of things that you can say are ‘wrong’. His theories about high pitch are viewed with some suspicion these days, and one of the viol players later told me of his horror at being presented with parts written out in B flat minor: the use of string instruments in a church setting is historically out of place anyway. But … the sound that the choir makes is thrilling in a way that the work of later collegiate-influenced choirs just isn’t (not to me at any rate), and Wulstan’s intention to remove himself from the musical result and present the composer’s work as uninterpreted as possible was a very forward-thinking approach back in the 70s, even if in some cases he had composed quite a few of the notes himself. Also, their wonderful recording of Tallis’s Gaude Gloriosa Dei Mater has really loud traffic noise on it, and it doesn’t matter at all.
“Hiding. Yeah, I’ve been hiding” (Peter Blegvad, ‘Chicken’). Not really. But one consequence of doing too many interesting things is that there is no time left to write about them, other than in short bursts on twitter.
A week in Aldeburgh with 10 musicians over a month ago was very productive indeed: here is the band photo we’re not going to use: Will Pound had already dashed for his train by this point …
… and here I am doing the Frank Zappa ‘thanks for coming to the show, good night’ thing (I’ve always wanted to do that).
With such a diverse and ridiculously talented bunch I could recommend everyone’s latest album, but I’ll stick to the two I hadn’t heard before, which are this bit of medieval Welsh harpery from Bill, and Zan & Jake’s English grounds – I’ve listened to both of these a lot over the last month. You’ll have to wait for a while until you hear the one we all recorded together on 1 April.
Also on the recording front, the score for Skins Pure is in the can and just needs a couple of final tweaks and some twiddles from His Grace the Fat of Segal. I don’t think there are many yoof TV dramas that have two wire-strung clarsachs on the soundtrack, ha ha.
In the last couple of days I’ve been learning all about DPC latency spikes, which have crippled two computers in the last few weeks: I know a lot more about them now but I still can’t make them go away. Other things that I wish would just go away include the Bank of Scotland. Last September we filled in all the (copious) documentation to change the signatories on our ConCal bank account, and despite continual asking at the branch, nothing seemed to be happening. Finally I was given another phone number to try a couple of weeks ago, and when I got through to a real person I found out that nothing had happened at all since November, and that nobody knew why. Eventually our case was ‘prioritised’ (I wonder how long it would take to process if it wasn’t) and I got a package in the post from the bank on Saturday. I was hoping for a ‘we’ve done it now’ notification, but no such luck. It contained a whole new set of forms, almost identical to the first lot, and a covering letter saying ‘Unfortunately you have completed the incorrect mandate for your type of business’. No, it wasn’t ‘unfortunate’: they screwed up, gave us the wrong forms and then sat on them for six months. Anyway, what the Bank of Scotland doesn’t know is that our last board meeting has already approved that we should take our meagre cash resources elsewhere, so I’ll ceremoniously bin their pointless time-wasting forms later.
What a busy couple of weeks it’s been. We have a new album out at last: I don’t know why it hasn’t appeared on iTunes yet but it does appear to be everywhere else. Talking of new albums, this one is rather good too. I keep trying to persuade John Butt to join twitter, but he says he’s in too much trouble for spreading gossip already. And this one isn’t out yet but is absolutely amazing.
Preparations for Purcell’s Revenge next week took an unexpected turn when we heard that the UKBA will require us to present our passports to the folks at Aldeburgh for inspection. What? Aldeburgh has hard-won UKBA sponsor status so that it can invite non-EU artists without visa requirements: this is a wonderful timesaver for the artists (some of whom might have days’ journey just to get a visa), and a treat for audiences as we get to see and hear them perform. Now, as anyone working in higher education will know, the UKBA are not the easiest of people to deal with. They change the rules at short notice. They are, well, let’s be charitable and say insistent that things are done their way. There are other less charitable and more graphic descriptions of how they sometimes work – Google it yourself.
Now if there was a uniformed border guard visible at the side of the stage checking that we were all British enough to be allowed to perform without further documentation, we’d all know where we stood. And the audience would (I hope) be utterly outraged. But this burden is passed on behind the scenes to the promoters, in this case to Aldeburgh Music, the most supportive and encouraging organisation towards musicians that I have ever encountered. The administration of this alone is an enormous task for them – every performer who is there for more than 24 hours, even if they are from the UK, must fill in the UKBA forms and present their passport for inspection and copying.
So John Potter has decided to make a stand against this: he’s just not coming. You can read his reasons here. If you’re thinking ‘what has this got to with Purcell?’ the answer is ‘a hell of a lot’. I don’t think it’s being glib to suggest that Purcell’s work is multicultural, especially when a Tory MP can deride last year’s Olympic opening ceremony as ‘multicultural crap’ (and voices have been raised publicly against it again recently). The French influences on Purcell’s music are clear and obvious, but we’re also going to be pulling out the Irish tunes and the Scottish fiddle music that he worked with. We’re not just going to play some nice tunes and think about happy we are to have ‘British culture’ (or English in some cases): the idea of playing early music purely as a branch of the heritage industry has never really appealed to me. I love museums but I wouldn’t want to live in one.
When foreigners are viewed with suspicion, everybody suffers, but culture is one place where you can easily see how much poorer we become. So please stand up and make a noise about this. In the UK as a whole (but thankfully not here in Scotland) suggesting that the country closes its borders is now seen as legitimate political debate rather than the dangerous right-wing ranting that it is. These people must not win.
Anyway, besides all of this it’s been the end of term at the university and I have the little matter of a score to write for two hours of rather wonderful television drama. So I’ve been much too busy, and my family now only know me as the guy who sometimes shows up at mealtimes and stares at the table. Must do better.
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