Monday, 29 October 2012

What makes a performance?

This week has had rather a lot of music in it, one way or another.

Partly, this has been the composition of it, inasmuch as we had a meeting with the director and producer of the next Launton Village Players pantomime (oh yes we did!) in which the script as written by the OH with occasional help from yours truly was read and the songs listened to.  LVP pride themselves on having all original music for our pantomimes and we are extraordinarily lucky to have Steve Webber there to write that original music, quite apart from enough talented musicians in the group to then play the music in the shows (apologies to anyone offended by the split infinitive).  Listening to the first drafts, as it were, of the songs is interesting, because a pantomime song has to be more than just musical, it has to match the mood, the lyrics and the ability of the singers, so we're trying to tick all those different boxes as we listen.

But music also featured when we went to 229 The Venue in London on Sunday evening, in support of our friend Judy Dyble, original lead-singer of Fairport Convention, who was rather anxious about her first solo live performance in she-didn't-say how long.  It was an evening promoted by a record label that featured three other bands, all presumably with the same label.  I can't really comment on the first band, as we arrived while they were performing their last number, but it sounded tuneful enough just before it ended.  And then the next band set up.  I say 'band' because they were billed as such, but it was two guys with guitars and an awful lot of electronic gizmos, and during their set, one of them appeared to spend more time fiddling with the knobs on one of his gizmos than he did pressing the strings of his guitar.  With so much gadgetry to monitor, perhaps it was not surprising that they made no eye contact with the audience, but it felt very strange.  According to the notes put out by the record label, they were creating a soundscape, but to me it would have made better film music with the players in a studio somewhere.  The two performances after them did a much better job of engaging with the audience, whatever one's opinion of the music might have been.  Heck, the band I was in at university did a better job of engaging with the audience and we didn't have sound and lighting technicians to keep us on the straight and narrow!

All of which made me wonder about the nature of performance, not least because I will reading at the end of November at a poetry evening in Oxford (part of the the Poet's House group on 25th November, 5pm, includes cake!). Does the quality of what is being performed matter as much as the quality of the performance itself?  I have a suspicion that there is some real rubbish out there being received with great acclaim largely because of its superb delivery.  And when we go along to these performances, be they music, poetry or performance, to what extent are we influenced by the skill of the performers rather than the sublimity of their material?

Oh, and Judy Dyble was sublime in both material and performance skills. :-)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Beyond these four walls...

There is a risk sometimes that working mostly from home might lead gently into a domestic rut.  Although I go to school two days a week, the other five still contain that blissful combination of central heating and a fridge, so I have to make an effort occasionally to break away from the village and its easy access to highly-calorific food and visit the outside world.  So successful was this effort last weekend that I went out not once but twice!

On Saturday, I attended a wonderful poetry dayschool with the amazing Jenny Lewis.  The focus for this dayschool was myth and magic, and as a starting point, we looked at a poem by David Harsent, 'The hare as witch animal'. You can find a recording of Harsent reading it, and the text, here.  Some of those attending found the poem distasteful, but I think the language used in wonderful and the concepts within it more supernatural than gross.  Better still, the discussion of myth and fairy-tale that we had, combined with thinking about Harsent's poem, triggered the first drafts for four poems; considering that I've had a bit of a dry spell poetry-wise since August, this was particularly gratifying.

And then on Sunday, it was back to Oxford again, this time to the Hogacre Common Harvest Festival.  The weather was perfect, especially for October, and there was a strong community feeling to the event.  We have events here in the village with a similar feel, but although we have our sports and social club with licesnsed bar and hall available for rent, the outdoor space next to it is the playing field, rather than a lightly overgrown field, and we don't, to my knowledge, have bee hives.  During the time we were there, two different bands played, there was a stall selling vegetables and we got the chance to watch someone pole-lathing.  A couple of brave people had a go at operating the machinery themselves but as with so many of these older skills, it's harder than it looks.

In the meantime, I've been tagged for the Next Big Thing meme. In theory, the deadline is tomorrow; I wonder how serious that is?