These are the days of miracle and wonder
At a certain time of the evening with the right lubrication and acquiescent company, I am known to go into one. You know, a rant (and I’m not talking about that unspeakable new album by the Futureheads…) The subjects vary, of course. Death to umbrellas (what’s wrong with hats, people?) Why golf isn’t and never ever should be considered a sport. The utter horrendousness of caravans. The pointlessness of Kent. The injustice of Chuck Brodsky’s obscurity. The fiendish methods of torture I’d use to exact retribution on the unknown tea leaf who liberated my case at Oslo Airport. The absurdity of football commentators/managers/players using the word ‘lottery’ to describe penalty shoot-outs (a lottery is when you pull random numbers out of a hat, a penalty shoot-out is a test of skill and temperament, Mr Motson!)
I might, if requested, even pontificate on the state of the British folk scene and the occasional disappointments yielded in what is widely considered a golden age of emerging vibrant young talent. Somewhere around the fourth pint I’ll start gabbling at a frantic rate and frothing at the mouth as I wonder why so few are feeding into the multi-cultural riches now freely accessible to all in this fair land to create something genuinely new, yet is also natural and organic and not artificially crow-barred together as so many cross-culture/genre unions tend to be. For if there’s one word that’s likely to have me reaching for the flame-thrower, it’s ‘fusion’.
One pre-Olympic weekend in London, however, provides plenty of food for thought. First to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where Imagined Village play as part of New Music: 20x12, a series of events commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad designed to showcase bold musical…er…fusions. It’s an invitation apparently stemming from Bending The Dark, a mostly instrumental opus developed by the band’s sitar player Sheema Mukherjee from an old morris tune into a 12-minute opus that became the title track and centre-piece of the band’s latest album in exactly the sort of spirit we ought to be hearing from younger protagonists.
For if there’s one word that’s likely to have me reaching for the flame-thrower, it’s ‘fusion’
First up, though, we get Aidan O’Rourke
– he of Lau and a trillion other explorative outfits – and his own quintet showcasing an An Tobar commission from the Tobermory Arts Centre
, titled TAT-1. Not exactly a sexy title, nor indeed a particularly sexy subject to inspire it – TAT-1 was the first transatlantic telephone cable, which ran from Oban – Aidan’s home town on the Argyll coast – to Newfoundland. “A journey of self-belief and discovery” is how Aidan describes the creative process – “faced with a blank canvas can be terrifying…”
Having spent many miserable hours staring at a blank screen at the dead of night, I know exactly what he means but, as the piece begins to build a rhythm when as he and the others play, it quickly acquires an engaging magic made all the more absorbing by its unpredictability. For this is a work acknowledging no perceived boundaries in its portrayal of an extraordinary technological adventure with an unlikely mix of fiddle, harp, sax, keyboards and bodhran. Almost unworldly atmospherics undercut the action in a seamless merger of classical references, jazzy asides, nods to the Scottish tradition and all those other cubby holes in which commentators feel compelled to incarcerate our music.Free our music! Liberate creativity! Vanquish cultural ghettoes!
These are the flags we should be waving and we’ll have Mr Aidan O’Rourke at the front, carrying the Olympic torch.
Him and Simon Emmerson.
You tend to forget Emmerson’s magnificent, groundbreaking CV with Working Week, Afro Celt Sound System, Baaba Maal and Manu Dibango with all the attention heaped on Imagined Village, but Simon is a walking, talking, producing, guitaring open-minded embodiment of music
– whether you want to term it folk, roots, world or whatever – as a natural and completely logical expression of modern culture. The question is, why aren’t more doing it?Read Colin's review of The Imagined Village at Queen Elizabeth Hall July 2012
And then, the following evening in Hyde Park, there’s a provocative reminder of world music past…and the moral dilemma faced by all us painfully right-on music hacks when Paul Simon
broke the cultural bar in South Africa to make his Graceland album in 1986. Most of us dutifully tutted and scolded him for his uncaring impudence but privately loved Graceland. What was not to love? He opened the door to a whole new cascade of riches for pop music and Graceland effectively kick-started international awareness and appreciation of the glorious sounds living, breathing and enriching lives in Africa and beyond. Besides, it soon became apparent that, while technically breaking ranks, Simon had acted with total honour. This wasn’t a callous imperialist raid ripping off ethnic music; the musicians were all credited and properly paid and Soweto’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for one, achieved a prolific international career directly on the back of it.Read Colin's review of Paul Simon in Hyde Park July 2012Colin Irwin