Culture from 2019

October ’19

Poor Nameless Boy, The Live Room – Saltaire

Songs based on stories

Laidback Canucks gently told us stories and then sang to songs they inspired. Some lovely electric guitar work.

Lauren van der Heijden, BBC Philharmonic – Joana Carneiro, Town Hall – Leeds

Neuroses in music

As a Jew forced to convert to Catholicism for his career, it’s not surprisingly that Mahler was mentally conflicted. His 5th Symphony seems a battle between the forces of order and disintegration; the Adagietto excepted. Fantastic performance, Carneiro drew fabulous playing, particularly from the brass. The concert was a first for me in that it combined females in the roles of soloist and conductor and composer. Anna Clyne’s Masquerade was a colourful opener and van der Heijden sparkled in Saint-Saens.

Catrin Finch and Seikou Keita, The Live Room – Saltaire


Great to see ‘world’ roots at The Live Room; recent winners of BBC Folk Awards fusion category. Much as I loved the sound it was a bit monochrome for a whole gig.

Arcade, The Live Room – Saltaire

But I don’t like ’80s pop

The Live Room is essentially a ‘roots music’ gig and as Heidi Talbot is a renowned folk artist is was a bit bemusing to find Arcade is an incarnation, with Adam Holmes, were they channel their love of ’80s pop. Best song: cover of ‘I’m on Fire’.

Halle Orchestra – Andrew Manze, Jame Ehnes, Leeds Town Hall

Not the simple patriot he might appear

Although Ehnes played Bruch’s warhorse well, the highlight was Elgar’s first. He epitomise, for some, misty-eyed patriotism but it’s clear that after the ‘big tune’ flowers beautifully in the finale it all crumbles to dust afterwards.

William Blake, Tate Britain – London

The Ancient of Days

I don’t know why but I’ve always liked Blake. After experiencing this excellent exhibition I still don’t know why. Not that that matters. I had that not uncommon experience of finding a favourite piece (above) was actually not much bigger than a postcard!

Manu Delago, Circadian
Rowan Rheingans, The Lines We Draw Together
The Small Glories, The Small Glories
Donnacha Dennehey, The Hunger
Debussy: Les Trois Sonates, The Late Works
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos 2, 5 & Piano Works, Chamayou, National Orch of France – Krivine

Women and Power, Mary Beard
Searching for John Ford, Joseph McBride

September ’19

Sekiya Maki, The Venue – Leeds

Slight but powerful

Although Sekiya failed to lift the piano lid without help, her performances were powerful. The Chopin Nocturnes didn’t sing but she caught the drama of Beethoven’s last sonata, blasted out Liszt’s ‘La Campaniella’ and fully caught the essence of Gybaidulina’s ‘Chaconne’. Good concert.

The Lonesome Ace String Band, The Live Room – Saltaire

Astonishing playing

These Canucks apparently describe themselves as ‘journeymen musicians’ but they are extraordinary virtuosos. Great gig.

Fraser Anderson, The Live Room – Saltaire

Engaging musically and as a band

Not all the songs were strong but the playing always was.

The Overstory, Richard Powers – brilliant combination of trees and humanity

Christian Scott, The Emancipation Procrastination
The Lonesome Ace Stringband, When the Sun Comes Up
Fontaines DC, Dogrel
Black Midi, Schlagenheim
The Flaming Lips, King’s Mouth
Idles, Joy as an Act of Resistance

August ’19

3hattrio, The Live Room – Saltaire

From the desert

It’s difficult to characterise this band; as they say, they’ve created a new genre, ‘desert music’. I loved the drama of the songs and the electronic interventions. Great singing voices too. One of the best gigs of the year.

Whitby Folk Week

The best bit

After a couple of dire concerts it was looking bleak. However, the music making in the pubs made me feel I was in Ireland. Paul Sartin created ‘Living By the Sea’, featuring Faustus, a choir and narrator Matthew Crampton was excellent.

Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari – thought provoking
Music, Music, Music, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Boys, Boys, Boys, Viv Albertine – honest and insightful
Semiosis, Sue Burke – fantastic ‘first contact’ novel

Caroline Shaw, Orange, Attacca Quartet

July ’19

Alvin Youngblood Hart and the Muscle Theory, The Live Room – Saltaire

As Mr Hart said, ‘I hope you’re not here for folk’.

What they did was rock; at least in the 2nd half. The first half didn’t grab me but in the end they were brilliant.

Mama’s Broke, The Live Room – Saltaire

Incredible virtuosity from Lisa the fiddle

They made up for what they lacked in audience rapport with stunning playing on a variety of instruments and gorgeous harmony.

Tao of Glass, Royal Exchange Theatre – Manchester

The repetitions of life

Phelim McDermott’s brilliant tribute to the role of Philip Glass in his life is as much a meditation on the latter as the former. Great performancers from McDermott, the puppeteers and the musicians. Pretty much a one-off.

The Color Purple musical, Hippodrome – Birmingham

Deserved curtain call

Whilst I wasn’t wholly won over by this episodic adaptation, the performances were brilliant. Interesting that the audience, with a higher proportion of BAME folk, was much more involved in the action than the usual middle class rabble.

Gigspanner Big Band, The Poly – Falmouth

Rocking folk jazz

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner, supplemented by Edgelarks to make it ‘big’, blazed with brilliance. Most tracks started folk and the middle section featured extended solos and duos (versus) which where utterly gripping. Great harmonica too from Philip Henry; can’t wait to see them again.

The Brother Brothers, The Live Room – Saltaire

Twin harmony

Good repartee and some excellent songs; particularly liked the cello playing.

Normal People, Sally Rooney

June ’19

Huddersfield Choral Society, St Paul’s – Huddersfield

Glorious harmony

This was a ‘scratch’ performance of two pieces by Eric Whitacre and masses by Vaughan Williams and Faure. Fabulous sound and performances.

A Ladder to the Sky, John Boyne – superb dissection of ambition
The Snakes
, Sadie Jones – brilliant critique of capitalism
1984, George Orwell
Native: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala – essential political history of racism
Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson – gripping investigation into what it means to be human
Roboteer, Alex Lamb
The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts

The Comet is Coming, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
Tchaikovsky: Symphony 6, BPO – K Petrenko
Third Coast Percussion, Perpetulum
New Order, Power, Corruption and Lies
Clinic, Wheeltappers and Shunters

May ’19

The Willows – The Live Room, Saltaire

Occasionally took off

Engaging but not immersive.

Rachel Yamagata, Trades Club – Hebden Bridge

Good connection

I like Rachel Yamagata a lot, she has a soulful voice and intense performance style. However, the sound was far too loud in such a small venue.

The Little Unsaid – The Live Room, Saltaire

Saying a lot

Great set, mostly from their yet-to-be-released album, including that rarity, a techno-roots song. Top stuff.

Golden State, Ben Winters
The Damned,
Nick Riddle
All the Colours of the Town,
 Liam McIlvanney
A Closed and Common Orbit,
Becky Chambers
The Big Sleep,
Raymond Chandler
The Dry
, Jane Harper
Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, Serhii Plokhy
Beneath the World, the Sea, Chris Beckett – fantastic novel about the instability of the self

Rhiannon Giddens, There is no Other (with Francesco Turrisi)
Chemical Brothers, No Geography
Holly Herndon, Proto
Benyounes Quartet, Innovators
The Little Unsaid, Atomise
The National, I Am Easy to Find

April ’19

The Unthanks – Square Chapel, Halifax

This a cappella gig suffered from a lack of variety no matter how beautiful the voices are. And Kit Dowell’s and Aiden O’Rourke’s jazz-folk did not gel at all.

West Side Story – Royal Exchange, Manchester

1950s brought to life

Superb production of superb musical. Shit hot band.

Fatherland, Robert Harris
The Dark
 Circle, Linda Grant
Film Noir
 Prototypes, eds. Alain Silver and James Ursini
A Month in the Country, JL Carr

Zibuokle Martinaityte, In Search of Lost Beauty
Matthew Bourne, Nightports

March ’19

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko, Philharmonic Hall – Liverpool

Glorious singing

Although Beethoven’s 3rd rarely grabs me, Petrenko still made it interesting and he gets the best out of Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead. Best of all was Elgar’s Sea Pictures, with Kathryn Rudd in total control.

Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee, The Unthanks, Bronte Parsonage Museum – Haworth


The Unthanks and Emily Brontë are a good match and this short walk from their Parsonage, through the graveyard, onto the moors accompanied by song and reflection is a good way to engage with this place 200 years ago.

The Barbershop Chronicles, Inua Ellams, Royal Exchange – Manchester

Essential tails

Although the Royal Exchange’s ’round’ wasn’t ideal for me to see this, the accents were difficult to decipher when the actors’ backs were towards me, I still enjoyed these tales of black, male experience.

Track Dogs, The Live Room – Saltaire

Superb live band

Although I found their album ‘only’ ‘listenable’ (that’s damningly faint praise), live they were superb. Particularly enjoyed the Spanish influence; they live in Madrid but are American, English and Irish.

Mark Thomas: Check Up: Our NHS at 70, Home – Manchester

Thomas has the ability to nail the politics with a one-liner; “There are more types of dementia than there are UKIP councillors.” It’s a shame he, by default, preaches to the converted.

Martin Parr: Return to Manchester, Manchester Art Gallery


Parr is one of Britain’s great photographers of the working class. His affectionate eye often captures the plain daftness of life. The great show goes from the early ’70s start up to last year.

Unsung, Lisa Holdsworth, Unsung collective, Square Chapel – Halifax

Like Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls Holdsworth places four women from history: scientist (Lovelace), doctor (Jex-Blake), soldier (Bader) and writer (Dunbar) together. It’s an effective dramatisation of the patriarchal barriers these women had to overcome.

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
The Glass Room, Simon Mawer
Burnt Orange, Harriet Tyce
Walter Wanger Hollywood Independent, Matthew Bernstein

Sibelius: Symphony 1, Gothenburg Symphony – Santtu-Matias Rouvali

February ’19

Katya Kabanova, Opera North – Leeds

Burning with guilt

Stephanie Corley was excellent in the title role; indeed there wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Scene changes took too long and drained the drama somewhat but Sian Edwards ensured the orchestra was in top form.

The Rite of Spring – Phoenix Dance TheatreGianni Schicchi – Opera North, Leeds

Haitian rite

Jeanguy Saintus’ choreography for Stravinsky’s Rite channeled Haitian voodoo. I couldn’t follow it and one of the dancers was often out of synch but it was great nevertheless.

Melodic farce

Interesting double bill, coupling opera and ballet. Puccini’s farce is fine but crowned by the gorgeous ‘O mio babbino caro’ with Richard Burkhard as Schicchi and Tereza Gevorgyan as Lauretta. Excellent production and performances.

Opera North String Quartet – The Venue, Leeds

Brilliant performance of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’.

Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things, Hepworth Gallery – Wakefield

Gob smacked

This is a fantastic exhibition of Odundo’s amazing er pots. They are exquisitely beautiful and Farshid Moussavi has curated it in a fascinating way, contextualising the the work with objects ranging from recent to 5000 years old.

Beyond Belief, Tmesis Theatre, Square Chapel – Halifax

Well titled

All the interesting ideas of how our relationship with AI is going to transform our lives plonked onto the stage.

Liverpool Philharmonic – Varga, Liverpool

Great afternoon programme with Kristóf Baráti playing Mozart’s ‘Turkish’ concerto, which followed Haydn’s 49th. The orchestra swelled in part two for Wagner’s Faust Overture and Hary Janos by Kodaly. Could have done without conductor Gilbert Varga’s ‘old man’ flirting with the first violin.

Fitzwilliam Quartet, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Great programme that highlighted Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ quartet and Shostakovich’s Octet. I’d never heard the latter but it was played so well they encored the second movement.

War and Peace, Lautten Compagney
Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
Debussy, Dutilleux, Ravel: Quartets, Arcanto Qt

Dark Pines, Will Dean
Transcription, Kate Atkinson
Studying Ida, Sheila Skaff
Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine, Helen Fry
The Medusa Chronicles, Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds
XX, Angela Chadwick – quite brilliant
From a Low Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan
If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin

January 2019

Schubert: String quartets 14 & 9, Chiaroscuro Quartet
Suzanne Farrin: Dolce la morte
Stravinsky: Petrushka, Mariisky Orch – Gergiev
Nneka, My Fairy Tales
The Willows, Through the Wild
Lisa O’Neill, Heard a Long Gone Song

Embers of War, Gareth L Powell
Defender, GX Todd

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