Here’s a Swedish Christmas carol played by the Danish String Quartet.
They’re an accomplished classical quartet – three Danes and a Norwegian (he’s the cellist) – whose repertoire includes works by Classical composers such as Beethoven, but also traditional Scandinavian folk tunes
On a daily basis, we delve into works by great masters such as Beethoven and Mozart, but we also play the occasional folk music gig.
Here’s another version where they’re accompanied by a choir.
Every year in November, Kendal hosts a Mountain Festival – four days of of films, talks, exhibitions and events covering all aspects of mountain and adventure sports culture. It’s probably the major gathering of outdoor enthusiasts in the UK and I’ve never been – although I did buy a ticket to watch the talks which were shown on-line during the Pandemic. Now I have more free time I was thinking of spending some time there, but the weekend events clashed with the Rugby League World Cup final which took place on the Saturday. However, I’d spotted an event on the programme on the Friday evening – Music on Nature: Finding A Language For Landscape – “tracing the connections between nature and sound, … (and exploring) the landscapes around us through music, prose and poetry“.
The publicity for the event told us that
In this new and exciting event, we welcome you on a sound journey to explore what the landscape means to you, how to tune into and unlock its hidden tracks. Set your ear to the earth and travel through its layers. Join us as we travel through deep time and sing the songs of the Anthropocene – enter a sonic world encompassing a nature rhythm to capture the visceral tones of our world – and dream of a history of things to come.
It sounded interesting so I booked a couple of tickets. I thought we might travel over and experience the exhibition and free events in the Base Camp and at the Brewery Arts Centre before the concert. A well intentioned plan didn’t work out quite so well as the weather that day was appalling. It was chucking it down and windy too so we delayed leaving and driving up the M6. We were lucky and managed to grab a space on the packed Parish Church car park, as someone was leaving just after we arrived.
It was only a short walk to the Base Camp which was on the park near Abbot Hall (we’ve missed our visits to the gallery while it’s been shut for over 2 years for refurbishment – crossed fingers it opens soon) so we were able to have a look round the various stalls and grab a coffee before crossing over the river and walking the short distance to the venue at The Barrel House. We went back to Base Camp after the event and had a bite to eat in the Food Court before setting off back home.
So, what about the event? We didn’t know quite what to expect.
First up wasAmy-Jane Beer is a biologist, nature writer and campaigner, based in North Yorkshire, whose book , The Flow, was published earlier this year.
a book about water, and, like water, it meanders, cascades and percolates through many lives, landscapes and stories. From West Country torrents to Levels and Fens, rocky Welsh canyons, the salmon highways of Scotland and the chalk rivers of the Yorkshire Wolds, Amy-Jane follows springs, streams and rivers to explore tributary themes of wildness and wonder, loss and healing, mythology and history, cyclicity and transformation.
She read passages from her book about swimming in a chalk stream in the Dales and the Severn Bore, accompanied byJack McNeill a local clarinettist, composer and maker who created a soundscape of computer enhanced sound effects and clarinet tunes
Zaffar Kunial is a poet who was born in Birmingham. He has a connection with the Lake District having spent 2014 in Grasmere as the Wordsworth Trust Poet-in-Residence. Again accompanied by Jack McNeill, he rad selections from his latest collection, England’s Green has been shortlisted for the 2022 T.S Eliot Prize. One of the poems, Ings, was inspired by Zaffir receiving points on his licence having been caught twice exceeding the speed limit near the said village. Anyone who has driven to Windermere from the M6 via Kendal will be aware (or needs to be!) of the speed camera on the A591 where it passes through the small village and where the speed limit suddenly drops from 60 to 40 mph.
Ings. The name came to mean: Now. Slow. Down. And little else. A splash of houses cut by a dual carriageway, a petrol station, a lane with an easily missable church.
It’s a long poem which takes in a subsequent visit to the village where he goes into the church and graveyard and reflects on what he sees and feels.
I’ve been absent from WordPress for a few weeks – neither writing or keeping up with reading blogs I follow as I’ve been busy with work ever since Christmas. And after being glued to Zoom all day for meetings and delivering training, I’ve been less keen on spending more time in front of a computer screen during my free time. But work pressures are easing off a little so it’s time for a catch up 😉
It’s getting on to close to a year now since life has been disrupted by the pandemic. We’ve been in and out of lockdown and although I’ve been restricted to local walks for substantial periods I was able to get out to the Lakes and Anglesey during the summer. We haven’t been able to get out to concerts, the theatre, galleries and exhibitions since last March, though and I’ve certainly missed all that. I have sustained a semblance of cultural activity though, as some organisations have managed to run events on-line. So I’ve been able “attend” three virtual folk festivals, Kate Ruby’s Christmas concert and watch a few National Theatre productions . I’ve also been able to “visit” the Hay Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival, the Orkney Science Festival and the Kendal Mountain Festival all of which were run online – events I’d always wanted to visit but have never had the opportunity. Watching on screen isn’t the same as being there, of course. It’s too easy to be distracted when you’re in front of the TV and you miss the excitement of being somewhere different and mixing with other people. But, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to attend most, if not all, of these events if they hadn’t been run on-line.
Another annual event I’ve always fancied attending is the Celtic Connections Festival that’s run every January up in Glasgow. The festival focuses on traditional Scottish music international folk, roots and world music artists with concerts, ceilidhs, talks, free events, late night sessions and workshops too. It always seems like a good way of cheering up the rather dark and dismal days that follow on from Christmas.
Last December I got a tip off from Anabel , the Glasgow Gallivanter that the festival was going on-line and that early bird tickets were available for a very reasonable price of £30 that allowed access to all the concerts. So I snapped one up and was able to keep myself entertained during the dark January evenings.
There were plenty of traditional Scottish and Gaelic bands, playing jaunty music with fiddles, pipes and the like. I was able to watch concerts featuring some familiar musicians like Karine Polwart, Rachel Newton and Julie Fowlis.
The Transatlantic sessions is a project that brings traditional musicians together from, as the name suggests, both sides of the Atlantic – from Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the USA in particular. I’ve watched some programmes on the BBC over a number of years, so it was good to see them performing “live” – with a number of performers on stage in Glasgow with video links to musicians over the other side of the water.
The concert of Quebecois music – Quebecfest – featuring Vent du Nord, De Temps Antan and Grosse Ille was another highlight
But there were new discoveries too – from other traditions and musical genres
Xabier Diaz from the Gallicia region of Spain, backed by a group of female singers playing what must be a rectangular Gallician version of the bodhrán
Fergus McCreadie, a talented young Scottish jazz pianist who plays “an innovative blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music”. Many of his compositions are inspired by the Scottish landscapes, with titles such as Cairn, North, Across Flatlands, Mull and The Stones of Brodgar
Dreamer’s Circus, a Danish / Swedish trio with a contemporary take on traditional Nordic music
I didn’t watch every concert – there were too many, and there workshops too (not included in the festival ticket, though) – but certainly enjoyed the experience. It would have been better to have been there and savour the atmosphere, but that wasn’t possible. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to go up to Glasgow this January anyway so watching on my TV at home allowed me to get a taster. And it’s made me determined to get up there next year when (hopefully!) it will return to being a live event. And an opportunity to meet up with a bloggy friend too, perhaps 😉.
For this old Christmas song, of Elizabethan origin, they’re singing to a modern arrangement using synths rather than traditional instruments and with the singer’s voice electronically distorted. I rather like it.
The song is about putting aside differences, forgetting old wrongs, and singing, dancing, eating , drinking and playing together. Although this arrangement is much less jolly. More like a lament for activities that aren’t allowed at the moment. Very apt for our times, I think.
Way back in 2012 we went to see Kate Rusby’s concert at Warrington’s Parr hall during her annual Christmas tour around the UK. Since then we’ve been to see her perform several times, usually at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall when we would combine the concert with an afternoon looking round the Christmas market and a bite to eat. None of that was possible this year due to you know what. It’s been a difficult time for musicians with no venues open but there have been some imaginative initiatives where artists have ben able to perform over the Internet.
We’ve always enjoyed Kate’s concert’s immensely. For someone who isn’t so tall (!) she has a big stage presence and twinkling eyes and a smile almost as wide as the stage. She chats away between the songs and really does seem to be enjoy the Christmas celebrations. And combined with the Christmas market her concert has felt like the start of Christmas for us, so I was delighted to find out that she was arranging to stream a concert from Doncaster with a limited live audience (of family and close friends, I guess) so we signed up to watch the performance which was broadcast last Saturday.
Her Christmas concert is based around old traditional versions of carols as performed around the pubs in South Yorkshire . Some of the songs were well known carols but sung to a different tune with other traditional songs sung to more familiar tunes. She was accompanied by her band of folk musicians and also by a brass quintet, which makes the performance particularly Christmassy for me.
Of course, watching a concert from your own living room isn’t the same as being in the midst of a crowd in a concert hall, but we made the best of it, streaming onto our main TV. We’d put the tree up during the afternoon and we even arranged to have our own version of Christmas market food with German sausage hot dogs with mustard and (well we like it!) a helping of saurkraut (or choucroute if you want to be French). The concert though was pure Northern English entertainment and accents (listen her pronounce “come” and “choir”) – I’ll always forgive Kate for being from the wrong side of the Pennines!
It was the first time my daughter, who has moved back in with us for the time being, has seen Kate perform but, just like us, enjoyed the performance.
So there we are – our Covid Christmas has started. And next year, hopefully all this mess will be in the past and we’ll be able to see her perform live to kickstart the Christmas celebrations.
So I hope everyone reading this has a great Christmas break – but make sure you take care so that all your loved ones have a good chance to be around to celebrate properly in 2021.
Last week Florian Schneider, one of the founders of Kraftwerk died of cancer aged 73. I was never a massive fan of the band. Although I could admire the cleverness of their work, I always found purely electronic music didn’t stir me emotionally. Neverless I liked some of their songs. Perhaps my favourite was Autobahn, although due to my ignorance of the German language, until J, who studied German to A level, put me right, I was convinced they were singing of having Fun, Fun, Fun on the Autobahn.
Anyway reading of Florian’s passing I was reminded of a favourite tribute to Kraftwerk by Bill Bailey.
So, on Easter Monday, during the lockdown, I went to a music festival. The people behind the podcast Folk on Foot, which I subscribe to, had organised a “Front room festival” . I hadn’t been to a festival since the Reading festival in 1975, but on Monday, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, I settled down on the couch in front of our TV, to watch 15 top folk artists, most of whom had featured in an episode of the podcast, playing in their front rooms who all played sets of around 30 minutes.
The whole festival, over 7 hours long, can be viewed on Youtube
And there’s a podcast available of some ofthe highlights here.
There was a twitter hashtag for the event #frontroomfestival and it was fun to read the comments and look at the photos being posted there. Some people were really getting into the spirit of the thing, setting up their living rooms as if they were out in the middle of a field somewhere! (Absolute Radio were also running something similar, but with a different type of music! and were using the same hashtag)
And like any other music event, they even had a “merch tent” with t shirts and hoodies for sale.
No beer or food tents, mind. You had to sort that out for yourselves!
Folk on Foot was launched by the broadcaster and former BBC executive Matthew Bannister in August 2018. In each episode Matthew walks with a leading folk artist in the landscape that has inspired their music and they sing and play on location.