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Thursday 1 March 2018

After a protracted gestation period, the album I started recording with Alasdair Roberts and Amble Skuse about four years ago, What News, will finally be released by Drag City on 23 March, and we have a launch gig in the Glad Cafe on the 27th - tickets here.

I’ve mentioned it here before (on 28 October 2011) but one of my favourite records has long been the Red Byrd & Rose Consort of Viols recording of the Gibbons verse anthem ‘This is the Record of John’, with a riveting account of the solo part from Charles Daniels (Spotify link). It’s not just that they sing it in regional accents. The notion, still largely current, that you can only sing classical music in English if you use a slightly antiquated SE of England accent is a (ridiculous) convention that, wittingly or unwittingly, carries strong messages about who the music is for, and who are the ‘right kind of people’ to participate in it.

A couple of years ago while on a rehearsal break in Halifax, NS, I asked Charles Daniels about it, and his response was something like: it must have been difficult being an Anglican. This is not what I expected him to say at all. I had to go away and think about it a bit, and realised that the sound of a collegiate choir in a big opulent acoustic, the sound that we generally associate with that sort of music in the late 20th/early 21st century, is the sound of comfort: it denotes wealth and a measure of privilege and luxury. And in the classical music world, it’s rarely questioned whether this soundworld is appropriate.

A record company executive and producer once said to me about one of our records ‘I want it to sound expensive’, which is fine if your aim is to charge a premium price for your product, but as artistic ambitions go is pretty bankrupt (ironically enough). But for as long as ‘early music’ is located within classical music, one of its basic tenets will be that it is, or was, connected to the wealthiest parts of society.

Returning to Charles’s comment, one of the challenges it raises, and not just in early music, is how to express a sense of struggle or difficulty in a way that makes the musical experience more thrilling and communicative, rather than less.

Anyhow, while you’re waiting for ‘What News’ to come out, the new False Lights album will repay your close attention (in other words, it’s great), and I've been recently reintroduced to the delights of Marcolini chocolate: a luxury item I can get behind. i like the austere elegance of the packaging too.