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"Hush! A Shakespearean Celebration"

Review

 Last evening saw the follow up to the highly successful "Hush! A Spring Celebration" collaboration between "Hot Music Live Presents" and Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library.

On this occasion, as it was the 458th birthday of Warwickshire playwright and lyricist William Shakespeare (an early member of the still thriving Stratford arts scene), the theme was intensely Bardic & went under the banner "Hush! A Shakespearean Celebration"

 Once again, as all these events will be, the programme consisted of a mixture of artforms harmonising & complementing each other to create a celebration even greater than the sum of the constituent parts: which considering the virtuosity of the artists & their clear love of what they were doing is saying much.

 Therefore Emma Cooper & Taresh Solanki of Tell Tale Presents, whom many of you will have seen putting on their original plays in local venues from the RSC to community halls, staged three of their own interpretations of folk tales from around the world which inspired plays of Shakespeare (I'll not say which ones as hopefully you'll see them yourselves at some point & be invited to work that out for yourself).

 These were interspersed by Wes Finch and John Parker of The Mechanicals Band performing the settings of some of Shakespeare's poems & songs which they originally released (as the Rude Mechanicals) on their album ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear' in 2017.

 This then is a bare description of the basic parts: that the evening worked so well & was a true testament to the genius of the dedicatee also involves the interaction between them & the environment they performed in plus the details of the performances themselves.

 Firstly, the decision to alternate drama & music instead of having two distinct & separated sets integrated the parts into the whole very effectively, gave differing perspectives onto the work we all know so well & allowed ongoing reflection on this more holistic view of the arts.

 One cannot understate the role this beautifully proportioned & refurbished space offers performers either: all four palpably responded to environment & seemed to revel in it.

 For Tell Tale, a large part of their style is direct audience interaction & this was facilitated by the shape and area allowed them & by the willingness of those present to participate in the drama: breaking down barriers too often erected in theatre. The gift of a sprig of rosemary (for remembrance) to each person present was also a touch of subtlety & taste appreciated by us all.

 Wes & John too seemed inspired by the aesthetics of the room & proximity of the audience & took the decision to abandon microphones and pickups in favour of a wholly acoustic performance: a first for this material & something which seemed to please them so much that afterwards they were talking about developing the experiment.

 It has to be said that the songs they played work especially well in intimate settings (lord knows how the subtleties of the songs fared in the presumably raucous atmosphere at the Globe four hundred years ago) and the delicacies not just of hearing them so naturally in such a good acoustic space but also stripped back in arrangement (most also feature viola, violin & drums on the record).

 As a treat, they also added a few non-Shakespearean numbers from their repertoire (Edna St Vincent Millay's "Recuerdo", W B Yeats' "Meditation of an Old Fisherman" and a brace of Philip Larkin poems: "Horns of the Morning" and "The Trees") all of which I'm sure WS would have understood & approved of.

 So there you have it, a very inclusive, integrated & holistic evening where venue, performers, audience & material combine into something very special in honour of someone equally so. You could feel the magic in the air.

 If you fancy joining in such an evening, the next one will be "Hush! A Summer Celebration" at the Library on Saturday 18th June at 5 pm, featuring the music of Izzie Derry and other treats to be revealed.

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"Wes Finch: A Life in Music" by Russell Whitehead

Review

If you are an admirer of the visual artistry of Russell Whitehead or the musical artistry of Wes Finch, or indeed of both as I am, then I'm sure you'll be delighted by the release of the "Wes Finch: A Life In Music" film by the former.

Originally begun several months ago, Russell has brought his customary skill & taste to editing it into a work of art in its own right. If you are a Wes fan (why on earth would you not be?) then this is an illuminating set of insights into his career but also his creative processes & philosophies, set against examples of his work. For those interested in the wider aspects of what it means to be a musician in these times, especially one who is more focused on the craft and art of creating & performing music than "being in Bon Jovi", yet still needs to earn a living, then the film should be equally fascinating.

Based around a candid and articulate interview wherein Russell probes deep into Wes to extract the insights at the heart of the film, he manages to keep the approach fresh & contextualised through cuts to other footage (including performance) which he had shot of Wes and his associates over a period of about nine years, without breaking the thread of the core discussion. Overall, the film is as visually attractive as you'd expect from Russell.

Interestingly, he also mainly removes himself from the finished film, substituting his oral questions with captions so that the totality of the piece is about Wes & it is his voice we hear.

What is also very interesting is the tone of the whole film is very positive (there is laughter in the mix): this is all about a musician who has been plying his craft for long enough to become cynical under the challenges of the economics of trying to be an independent artist & the film was shot during a period when not only were things especially difficult for musicians but they'd been bad for twelve months with no clear route back towards even the status ante quo. Nevertheless Wes comes across as still enjoying what he does and very open to reflect upon where he has been & where he is going next.

It's a good blend of philosophy & finer practical details which could directly inspire artists to consider what he is doing and thinking himself: at the very least is a sense of "you are not alone" in such a world.

Having whetted your appetite (I hope), here's where you need to go to see & hear it:

https://www.facebook.com/russellwhiteheadphotography/videos/213855500821891

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Wes Finch on Stratford Bandstand

Review

I'm sorry to say that I'd never previously attended one of the summer Sunday afternoon concerts on the Bandstand in Stratford before but I'm glad that I managed to yesterday: perfect weather, a most beautiful setting, the space to distance safely & above all music to match the environment: Wes Finch accompanied by Ben Haines on drums.

I'd not seen either of them play live for eleven months (since their Kenilworth Arts Festival gig outdoors with Jools Street in the lineup that afternoon, during that brief & slight ease in circumstances) and I'm not that sure how much either of them have played live since: it could have been their first since then, but it was worth the wait.

The crowd (it was busy as you might imagine) which also drew HotMusicAl of this magazine, were entertained & indeed moved by the set which included some of my favourites of his more recent output such as "I've Got Your Back" and his Silver Wye song "The Getting Place" plus older crowd pleasers such as "Southern Cross" as well as, for the less initiated classy covers of material originally by the likes of Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac: not that any of the "play something we know" brigade were in evidence.

As ever, one of the delights of bandstand gigs was seeing very small children, probably accidentally experiencing their first gigs while out in the park, approaching the stage in wonder and dancing. Let's hope it instils lifelong loves of live music.

These gigs are I believe curated & organised by the team at Stratford Playhouse so hats off to them.  I understand that Shanade is due to play on September 5th and were it not for the Godiva Festival now taking place at the same time, that's one I'd like to see. In any event, I look forward to seeing more of these gigs in years to come.

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"Live 2020" (edited selection) by Wes Finch

Review

Very slightly more than twelve months ago I reported to you on Wes Finch's Leap Year gig: a special event to mark the four yearly occasion & to provide the opportunity to record a career spanning set featuring many musicians he has worked with (to refresh your memory, please see http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=12567)

Fairly shortly after that, circumstances hurled a giant spanner into the works of Wes' and everyone else's plans & so the release of that recording necessarily took longer than originally anticipated, though back in August I was privileged to be able to listen to (as indeed I had been privileged to attend the recording) the tracks being considered for the album & share my impressions with you (please turn to http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=12746 for this).

Things have progressed steadily if a little slowly since then with vinyl pressings & crowdfunding aspects needing arranging & although a release of some of the rehearsals for this gig came out in September (as noted in http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=12763) , it has taken until now for a formal release of the gig itself to take place.

Anticipating the vinyl release, Wes has taken advantage of Bandcamp Friday to unveil an "edited selection" of nine of the songs played last year: "Keep Fishing", "Jack To Do", "Air, Land & Sea", "Fully Grown", "Bowl of Stars", "Southern Cross", "Jackie's Stone", "The Pact" and 'Riverbed': most if not all of which will be very familiar to aficionados.

It must have been agonising to choose which tracks to include (any more would have necessitated a double album, the economics of which must be difficult especially in current times). As my August review hopefully made clear, there were no quality issues in recording (courtesy of Ian Whitehead) nor performance and I'm sure each song if put to a popular vote would have had its champion.

It was interesting in August, after four or five months without live music to be reminded of the evening. March brings further & more acute perspectives: now nearly a year since my most recent gig experience, the evening now possesses almost Proustian power & looms large in my memory of better times (and let's not forget the equally magical opening set by Ellie Gowers which preceded Wes').

To that end, I certainly stand by my thoughts of last August, magnified as they now are by the effects I just mentioned. However subjective my own memory & reaction to the evening may be, it is clear from my contemporary piece that the music was as sublime at the time as remembrance now suggests. Listening to these nine tracks confirms this.

You can't hear music this good being played with this much skill & crucially love and commitment right now alas: but I think we should all look very much forwards to being able to do so in the months ahead: I'm sure the participants and every other musician out there is aching to share their music with us: and I'm sure none of their skills will have left them in the interim (though I foresee a great deal of intense rehearsing ahead for sundered groups). In the meantime you can't beat an album this good to remind you of what we're missing.

 

To give full credit to all those who contributed to the album:

 

Engineered and recorded by Ian Whitehead
Mixed by Ian Whitehead with G Vaughan

Wes Finch (vocals & guitars)
Liz Crowley  (vocals)
Paul Hartry (vocals)
G Vaughan  (drums & vocals)
Ben Haines (drums)
Bradley Blackwell (bass)
John Parker (upright bass )
Jools Street (violin)
Matt Lakey (banjo)
Hugh Rashleigh (keyboards, trumpet & flugel horn)
John Lambdon (tuba )
James Hopkin (trumpet & flugel horn)
Evan Hopkin (trombone)

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Wes Finch Trio at Kenilworth Arts Festival

Review

Somewhat to my surprise, yesterday afternoon I found myself enjoying live music in the actual physical presence of the musicians creating it for the first time since March 14th. Billed as the Doc Brown Trio, Wes Finch's outlet for his covers work, it actually turned out to be an essentially originals set, which was appropriate given that the concert was part of the Kenilworth Arts Festival and took place  in the open air (with good potential for social distancing) in the town's Talisman Square. No doubt in different times, the same gig might have been hosted indoors, it was good to see it happen at all with the weather smiling on proceedings and very positive responses from the crowd who were also visiting the adjacent art fair. In fact, given the number of families & young children present who might not have attended an indoor, ticketed gig, it is arguable that the performance as it took place, was more effective in introducing a new audience to Wes' music. It was good too to see faces I'd not seen in the flesh for many months such as HotMusicAl himself & Wes' Mechanicals Band colleague Katrin Gilbert. It was good too to see Kenilworth Arts Festival engaging with local music now as in earlier days this had been less the case.

Playing with Wes were his Doc Brown/Mechanicals colleagues Jools Street and Ben Haines &  Liz Crowley joined them on vocals for some numbers.  Ironically all of these had also played at the penultimate live gig I'd attended back on February 29th.

What can one say about the music? It was pretty ideal for the company, the occasion & the weather & I hope it's not too fanciful to say that band & audience to some extent responded to a sense of partial liberation, albeit (at least as far as I go) with a sense of who is near you or approaching close to you that had not really been my experience at previous concerts. The setlist had a slight overlap with that for Wes' Leap Year gig (look out for the live album in the final stages of preparation) and seemed chosen for the mood: uplifting for the most part but with threads of reflection & blues. As I say, the band played with the professionalism you'd expect but the looseness of people with the shackles taken off for an afternoon at least. Maybe one should be grateful under the circumstances for any live music at all: however I'm not sure I'd have gone along myself for a merely token exercise so the quality of the performance, the material, the sense of being in company (good company at that) to enjoy music & the feeling that people are adapting & finding ways to play & hold modified Festivals despite all the current constraints, transcended the mere "gigness" of the occasion. It was a special moment. I wonder when the next one will be for me?

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Wes Finch's Leap Year Gig: Live Album

Review

Some six months ago, I wrote what to date is my penultimate live review for the magazine: concerning Wes Finch's Leap Year gig.
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"Streets of London" by Wes Finch

Review

Lord knows this lockdown life can seem like "Groundhog Day" when you are inside it.
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Wes Finch's Leap Year gig

Review

February 29th is an unusual date.
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Wes Finch supported by Stylusboy

Review

Another  emotionally rewarding night at the Magic Lantern, savouring two of the finest & most individual of the many great local performers & ...
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Wes Finch & Chris Tye live at the Magic Lantern

Review

Since I've promised myself & my readers to leave off describing gigs at the Magic Lantern as "magical" (however apt) I'm going to settle ...
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'Hope' Album, Local Musicians & The Stratford Link Project

News

Doug Armstrong tells me firmly that he's the not a musician.
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Wes Finch 2014

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