MANCHESTER CAMERATA.

CITY HALL.
4th OCTOBER.

REVIEWER – BEN ECKERSLEY.

Manchester Camerata is one of the leading chamber orchestras in the UK. A small and dynamic group, their regular visits to Sheffield are a refreshing change from the larger symphony orchestras that often grace the stage here. Tonight’s programme featured key works from three important 18th century composers – Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. The orchestra has a new director, Venezuelan-born violinist Giovanni Guzzo. Still in his 20s, he is a rising star in the classical world, praised for his passionate and exuberant style. He began the concert with a brief but useful introduction to the pieces.

First on the programme was Haydn’s popular Symphony No. 44. It’s known as the Trauer symphony (meaning ‘mourning’) and is a classic example of the heavy and dramatic Stürm und Drang (storm and stress) style so popular in the late 18th century.

Guzzo directed the orchestra from the violin. While the Camerata is smaller than many orchestras, it’s still a lot of players to hold together without a conductor. But the risk paid off, as the sense of commitment and unity this brought from the orchestra was startling. In a piece like this, with fiery passages at a ludicrously fast tempo, there is a very thin line between messiness and playing clinically, and the Camerata toed this line perfectly.

I was a bit less excited about the Mozart Violin Concerto (No. 5), which followed. Guzzo’s solo playing was nigh on flawless, but I felt the orchestra had lost some of the earlier passion. After the interval, however, their reading of Schubert’s magnificent Fifth Symphony was tremendous, Guzzo leaping out of his chair to drive the music forwards. For those interested in music of this era who are not sure where to start, this piece – with its huge diversity, passion and drama, mixed with beautiful, elegiac melodies – would be a great introduction.

Classical concerts at City Hall are comfortable and very relaxed, though I’d recommend sitting nearer the front for better acoustics. There are pre-drinks available in the bar from 5pm with performers dropping in to say hello. Some highlights of the next few months include Britten’s pacifist masterpiece The War Requiem, performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on 1st December, and former BBC Young Musician of the Year Guy Johnston playing Shostakovich’s magnificent Cello Concerto No.1 on May 9th.

Slim Chance.

Greystones.
17th October.

Reviewer – Lewis Pendleton.

Ronnie Lane was, and remains, one of this country’s finest songwriters. He is also one of the most overlooked.

Often cast into the shade by the voice and ego of Steve Marriott, his sparring partner in the Small Faces, by 1972 the more introspective Lane could see history repeating with the brash and single-minded Rod Stewart, reducing him to bit-part player in his own band. Tiring of the excesses of the Faces and doubting the motives of Stewart, Lane turned his back on the limelight and shipped out to rural Shropshire, crafting songs infused with pastoral wistfulness, irresistible melodies and a genuine wonder at the world around him.

This he did with the help of a new outfit, Slim Chance, who, 40 years on, rolled into suburban Sheffield and showed why Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton still hold him in such high esteem. That Lane could not be there himself is the tragedy – he lost a heartbreakingly long struggle with multiple sclerosis in 1997 – but his band, all sharing vocal duties, did an outstanding job of doing his songs the justice they deserve.

By their own admission, they are not exactly in the first flushes of youth, but the six-piece played with an energy that would put bands half their age to shame and displayed versatility and musicianship of the highest order.

Beginning with a knees-up version of Lane’s country-blues B-side ‘Well, Well Hello’ followed by a more faithful representation of the stunning ‘Roll On Babe’, Slim Chance, after a generation on hiatus, quickly stated their intention to show Sheffield what it has been missing.

Lane’s most famous paeans to the country life, ‘Kuschty Rye’ and ‘The Poacher’, glowed, and the hook-laden hit ‘How Come’ is just as infectious as it was when it reached number 11 in 1973. ‘Debris’, Lane’s bittersweet 1971 lament to his father, was given a new verve when executed with a bouncy rhythm and jaunty accordion without losing any of its emotional punch, and the band demonstrated just why the ballad ‘Don’t You Cry For Me’ has few peers.

An overdue tribute to an oft-forgotten artist, perhaps the only pity was that more were not able to hear the beauty of the night’s last classic, ‘Ooh La La’, but that was of little concern to the audience in the Greystones’ sold-out back room. Long gone, but the songs live on.

1981.

Audacious Art Experiment.
15th October.

Reviewer – Rowan Blair Colver.

Having never set foot in the AAE before, I was a little confused when I walked past this odd looking workshop style building with a few blokes standing outside. Not knowing this was it, I continued up Harwood Street until I heard the sound of frantic punk drumming from the only illuminated building on the short road. I made a quick u-turn and invited myself in. Inside it was like a cross between a hippy squat and a music studio.

Members of Martha were chilling on a second hand sofa, eating plates of grub while a Super Nintendo played demos of Street Fighter II on a tiny colour cathode TV. It wasn’t long before I had a go. I was a bit chilly, and there was no bar or any sort of public service look to the place. It was just a matter of being there really. I’d recommend bringing friends when going.

The first band on, Brainfreeze, were awesome. A group of blokes in black making loud Pantera-style groovy, angry, thrashy punk dominated the building for 20 minutes. Although their lyrics were gruff and almost indiscernible from howling, I did notice quite a few poignant and political lines in there. Good stuff if you ask me.

Martha, a young group of talented musicians, were next up. I’d heard good things about them and many of the people in the building had come specifically to see them. Their high-pitched, harmonic singing was what got me. The whole thing reminded me of Punky Bruster, an album by Devin Townsend. All members had a go at adding their voice, and they did it well, drummer included. He was a very talented drummer, who I found out later prefers to play guitar. The two front men bounced guitar riffs around while the bassist kept hammering down the groove.

1981 arrived late after flying in directly from Finland. They’d been up all day and their faces showed it. Kudos for dedication – they played wonderfully and gave us an almost studio perfect rendition of their material. They were young, excited to be here and eager to give us their breed of polished and technical punk rock. They concluded their set with a great number and quickly put their things down and went off stage. The crowd demanded more, and after a short while, amidst complaints of being awake for 20 hours, they played one more. Very impressive.

Refract – Soulessness.

24th October.
Showroom.

Reviewer – Lucy Holt.

The world of computer music is simultaneously ubiquitous and, to most, a complete and utter mystery. As part of the Refract series of events examining the phenomenon, the Showroom Workstation hosted an audio-visual lecture by musician Therre Thaemlitz, which on some levels sought to trace lines between the digital and the human, especially concepts of gender and spirituality.

So far so theoretical, but the Soulnessless project makes sense. As a ‘thing’, it exists as an album that fills the entire capacity of an SD card – five cantos culminating in a 32-hour piano solo, recorded in a number of eight-hour sittings. Thaemlitz is well aware of the irony of using a classical instrument to fill the scope offered by technological advances. The fact that producers still insist on making albums at an industry standard length, due to precedent and expectations set down by the fetishisation of vinyl, is a major point of frustration for him.

But it’s the previous four cantos that Refract was most interested in. Through four short films, with overlaid text explaining the narrative in a deliberate parody of cult initiation films, Thaemlitz delved into her own family history and travels to examine how spirituality permeates the way we thing about gender, immigration, the military and, most tangentially, audio equipment.

As a staunch and articulate critic of all religion, Thaemlitz’ films took a cynical but curious approach. “In a world that demands soulness, I am soulnessless,” declared one early frame. From her grandmother’s shame over possessing a statue of a male Virgin Mary, to Dominican nuns’ obsession with their chapel sound system via her father’s forced circumcision at a catholic military school, the cantos offered as much incomprehension as insight. As an opponent to the idea of collective experience, Thaemlitz said afterward that it was a conscious decision to avoid a satisfying conclusion of consensus, in reaction to its prevalence in cinema and music.

The music almost seemed peripheral – a close, rough-hewn but incredibly precise score of almost horror movie dimensions, utilising silence as much as sound.

As a project, Soulnessless may seek to confuse, but leaves no doubt that Thaemlitz is as intelligent and genuine an opponent of spirituality as they come, presenting her findings as art over propaganda.

Vandermark & Nilssen-Love Duo.

22nd October.
Queens Social Club.

Reviewer – Rob Aldam.

If you’d told me a couple of months ago that I’d be at a free jazz gig I would have laughed at you. The term instinctively brings to mind a terrifying image of old men gathered in smoke-filled rooms to make untenable noises with beautiful instruments. I’m a casual admirer of the work of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, but have always felt disconnected from musicians producing free jazz today. After tonight, I can safely say my preconceptions were completely unfounded.

While I am slightly disappointed that Trans/Human have not managed to somehow squeeze their van into Queens Social Club, we are treated to a live video link from the car park. It works beautifully. Outside, Adam indulges in a last chip before the duo begin, and Luke stoops over a prepared electrical guitar in front of us. Trans/Human are sonic scientists. Any stage is their laboratory. It’s a very immersive experience. Sonically, it’s reminiscent of the sound of the forges and furnaces portrayed in The Big Melt at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year, but with an electronic industrial heartbeat.

Mick Beck is a bit of a legend in these parts. He’s Sheffield finest free jazz improviser and one of the most influential in the UK. Tonight he’s joined by guitar and drums, performing as Beck Hunters. What follows is truly mind-blowing, ranging between a cardiac arrest, epileptic fit and a nervous breakdown. The trio are extremely tight, threatening to unravel before skilfully coming back into sync. There is some jaw-dropping guitar work and Mick’s is a maestro on the saxophone, the music oscillating between anger and desolation.

Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love are both international renowned artists who have been playing together for over ten years. I doubt they’ve had to compete with bingo before, but they both seem completely unfazed. Starting off like a whirlwind, they create a cacophony of noise which feels like a full-frontal aural assault. Playing saxophone and drums respectively, they’re performance is electric and shimmering with kinetic sparks. Nilssen-Love is a whirlwind on drums, producing some of the most awe-inspiring drumming I’ve ever heard. The sheer energy they must expend is frightening. But it’s their more introspective moments that hold the most resonance, at times feeling like the soundtrack to a Kurosawa film. When Vandermark picks up the clarinet something magical happens.

They pair are joined at the end by Mick, and as the saxophones teasingly duel to a playful finale, it strikes me that I’ve not been as entertained at a gig for a long time.

Chvrches.

Leadmill.
12th October.

Reviewer – Rob Aldam.

The mediaverse is buzzing with debate about the role of women in music at the moment, from the adventures of Miley Cyrus to Charlotte Church’s John Peel lecture, in which she attacks the representation of women in music. Glasgow band Chvrches recently shared some examples of comments sent to them via social media regarding lead singer Lauren Mayberry. On the back of this, she was invited to write a piece for the Guardian amidst widespread dismay at some of the “suggestions”. While she alludes to her brief radio appearance, tonight was all about great music.

The Leadmill is already packed to the rafters as London’s Thumpers (or THUMPERS, as the growing Caps Lock virus spreads) take to the stage. Formally of Pull Tiger Tail, Thumpers are a duo sculpted in very much the same mould. Their numbers are augmented on stage and they impress as a very tight live unit. Mixing indie and pop with a sprinkle of folk to flavour, it’s safe to say they’re never going to re-invent the wheel, but still produce radio-friendly, upbeat sounds.

Chvrches are one of the hottest bands in the UK at the moment – as tonight’s sell-out attests – and the anticipation of their imminent arrival is palpable. When the synths splutter into life as ‘We Sink’ bursts through the industrial gloom, they are greeted by a mass of enthusiasm, silhouetted by moody lighting, their logo emblazoned in lights behind them.

Tonight they are on sparkling form. Their set passes like a whirlwind, with only the occasional interlude for banter, but they are clearly in good humour after kicking-off their tour in Glasgow. Comprising of 14 songs, and even throwing in a cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’, there’s never a weak moment. Their music bounces off the walls, seeping into every nook and cranny, with fabulous renditions of ‘Gun’, ‘Recover’ and ‘Lies’ receiving rapturous ovations. They end their well deserved encore by sending the revellers into raptures with a stunning rendition of ‘The Mother We Share’.