Bristol Folk Festival 2012

A week on from The Bristol Folk Festival and I have decided that a blow by blow account of the festival may not be the best idea. It would leave me with questions such as ‘you spent how much?’ and ‘you did what until seven in the morning on the bank holiday Monday?’

As a result, I’ll just list some of the moments I found note worthy. In no particular order:

Solarference and Duotone both had interesting uses of live looping. The former using Max/MSP to create ambient soundscapes from voice, guitar and specific props. The latter using a traditional looper on voice, cello and guitar to create some big building tracks, as well as some prettier moments. Unfortunately, I doubt either will translate adequately to a recorded medium.

The duos Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin and Katriona Gilmoure & Jamie Roberts used purely acoustic instruments, but showed songwriting prowess with some modern influences. The former beatboxed whilst playing harmonica and lapsteel very well. The latter had one of the more poppy sounds of the weekend and played guitar percussively to good effect.

Show of Hands and 3 Daft Monkeys were good, as always. The former have just played The Royal Albert Hall and are deserving of their reputation. The latter are just fun. This time they had a dance floor and got us all to waltz.

Afro Celt Sound System were the find of the festival for me. I was familiar with who/what they were, but not their material. As with last year, the headliners were different from any of the acts before, but you could hear their influences throughout their sound. They married Celtic sounds with African and modern drums, as well as synths to make a unique sound. All this whilst having an enormous amount of fun and feeding that energy to the crowd.

As well as the acts above a couple of songs stood out. The Chemical Worker Song was sung by The Young ‘Uns. The song is a tragic 20th century tale of a post-industrial pre-health-and-safety world where people would go where the money was well aware of the effects it would have on their health. The Young ‘Uns’ a cappella that was immediate and powerful.

Lady Maisery sung The Changeling’s Lullaby. One thing I like about the folk tradition is the story that the song brings and the group suggested that this song about a changeling (i.e. a screaming child in the night) may have been a way of attempting to explain post natal depression with a lack of understanding. It has been said that a song should speak for itself, and it did, but what it could not do is explain the world in which it was created. A gap that the group ably filled.

John Cage’s Musicircus

by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum

3rd March 2012

When invited to an event that even the person inviting me doesn’t know what to expect what am I to do other than check my calendar and say ‘sure’. John Cage is not an artist I was familiar with and the event was something that I was unlikely to have discovered myself.

The ‘Happening’, as the program describes it, was a temporal, spacial and sensory collage. In short a collection of art, musical and visual performances. The event was spread across most of the building with about a douzen rooms and corridors filled with installations, musicians and performers. We wandered moving from complete bewilderment to a sense of comprehension picking up on threads and ideas as we went.

The performances ranged from choral and classical music through to abstract and surreal visual performances. There were orators reading various works, mime and other visual artists. There were props and pieces of art ranging from simple pictures to a monkey suspended from the ceiling.

The themes of mushrooms, time and chance were throughout. Each person’s experiences would differ as the performances were chosen at random (typically by dice) and as some of the performers moved about.

I was glad to have been invited and it was an impactful event. I may investigate Cage further. However, is what makes good art what makes a good experience? My interpretation of the work falls into the same category as mine of Andy Warhol; I like the ideas presented, but I am unsure of the art itself.

I would recommend the work to people who like their preconceptions and senses challenged, but personally I would have preferred a more interactive environment. You always felt like an observer. A couple of the artists involved the audience, but even this felt as if it was being done to you. Although chance was a large part of the concept I wonder if the event could have been improved with some form of narrative; something that increases its complexity when discussed with other attendees.

Perhaps the linear route we had to travel had something to do with it. You couldn’t really explore. Given the theme of chance, this was a major limitation. I do not know whether this was intended or due to the venue. An open plan exhibition centre with freer movement would have changed the nature of the interactions.

Regardless of niggles over the implementation I was glad to have gone. It was an interesting event and the concept will stick with me. How can the success of this show be measured other than to say that I definitely came of in a different state of mind than when I went in.