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A Magazine for Sheffield

Tramlines 2017 / Music in the Round / Beat-Herder

20 July
Upper Chapel

The world premiere of Howard Skempton’s setting of D.H. Lawrence’s 1923 poem ‘Man & Bat’ sounded wonderful in Sheffield’s Upper Chapel, with characteristically superb performances from Ensemble 360 musicians and singer-in-residence Roderick Williams. Following his success in scoring Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, premiered in Sheffield last May, Skempton explains he chose ‘Man & Bat’ because of its drama and compassion, among other qualities.

Skempton’s third large-scale commission from Maurice and Sheila Millward, ‘Man & Bat’ was just as impressive and pleasurable an experience as ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, yet quite distinct. Its quite different dramatic tone, and varied uses of each instrument, worked just as well to complement the singer's engaging baritone delivery. Containing considerable humour alongside marked pathos, the new piece’s range of emotion was richly expressed by Ensemble 360’s accomplished playing. Once again, Williams delivered a compelling rendition of Skempton’s work: beautiful phrasing and feeling, perfect enunciation, a symbiotic relationship with the seven musicians with whom he shared the stage.

The concert also included ‘a selection of English songs’ (by Gerald Finzi, Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells and John Ireland) and Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A, D. 667, ‘Trout’. I’m no particular fan of settings such as Britten’s, but the clarity of Roddy Williams’ performances made all four songs a surprisingly rewarding experience – especially Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Proud Songsters’ – while the understandably popular piano quintet was exquisitely lively.

In addition, Roddy Williams performed Schubert’s song ‘The Trout’, accompanied by 360’s pianist Tim Horton. A delightful last-minute surprise, this worked well as an introduction to the programme, linking as it did the main instrumental piece with the short songs via Williams’ voice, and resonating with all the evening’s songs, as well as with Williams’ recent performances of Schubert’s song cycles.

Samantha Holland


14-16 July
Ribble Valley

It’s never good to have a deadline thrust upon you, but when you’ve had the festival tickets you expect to have to write the review eventually. It's always good though to head up north, to where you’re from, when you find yourself living among millionaires and fumes in the capital.

We had a lift up with two dudes from Lahore, a Friday night in Manchester, cheap champagne (fizzy wine) at a house party in Chorlton, and by Saturday morning we were ready to go to Beat-Herder. Our only problem – how to get there – was solved when my mate’s dad gave us the keys to his campervan.

Drive north in a straight line from Manchester and you’ll eventually hit the Ribble Valley: so we did, and we did. The festival was already in full swing. We drank some more fizzy wine and followed Mikie, a bare-footed glittery dude who hadn’t been to sleep, into the festival. We lost him soon after, but before he went he agreed to hold an imaginary boom for an interview that we weren’t prepared for. It did go well though.

A band called Cabbage from Mossley – the ‘next big thing’ out of Manchester – are slowly planning world domination, one village at a time, and half of their village came out to see them play. Their gig was a personal highlight. They performed in the Lancashire rain next to pole dancing robots with their adoring fans and family in the crowd. They had a stage presence and a justified arrogance that make people write lazy things like ‘next big thing’.

It was all downhill from there. After the gig we found ourselves fully immersed in the Beat-Herder spirit. We visited a church, had a paint fight, watched some fireworks, sang along with Captain Hotknives, swam in a hidden pool, went on a double blind date, and probably lots more besides that has been lost somewhere in the Lancashire mud.

In the van back down to London, I realised that the really amazing and special thing about this festival is the people: Vikings from Carlisle, 17-year-old plumbers from Blackburn, Haçienda ravers, scousers dressed as hippies and hippies dressed as scousers. The kind of people who say thank you to bus drivers and stop to talk to strangers, all together in a field, drunk. London could do with a bit of what Beat-Herder’s got.

Josh Fenton-Thomas


Next article in issue 113

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