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A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

Banana Hill / Music In The Round

11 August
The Harley

In 1980 American composer and theorist Jon Hassell coined the term 'Fourth World music' with an album he made in collaboration with Brian Eno, Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics. On his website, Hassell defines Fourth World as being "a primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques." Manchester-based crew Banana Hill have long taken that ethos and applied it to the dancefloor, blending global dance styles with the precision engineered machine funk of modern Western club music.

Nowhere is this approach more evident than in the genre of the 'edit', and Hill main man Cervo has released great club-ready edits of The Kondi Band from Sierra Leone and of 'Mrhaba' by Moroccan oud and guembri player Majid Bekkas. With it being Banana Hill's first release as a label, the latter unsurprisingly got an airing as Cervo took control of The Harley's decks for an all-night-long label showcase. He was billed as being joined by fellow label resident JVC who sadly couldn't make it, leaving Cervo a full five hours at the helm.

He used the opportunity to cast the net a little wider, opening with slower and groovier soul sounds, including a remix of the seductive 'Thinkin' About Your Body' by Bobby McFerrin. The bulk of his set was more house focused than I've seen him play before, perhaps reading the energy of the small but energetic audience, or falling under the influence of new label-mates at Black Acre. He finished up with the tune cited by Peter Shapiro in 'Turn the Beat Around' as the first real disco track, 'The Love I Lost' by Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes. The 1973 track’s hissing hi-hats and silky strings courtesy of producers Gamble and Huff continue to cast a spell, as do Banana Hill themselves.

Sam Gregory


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


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