Thursday, 15 July 2010
Travis & Fripp in Gloucester
One knows one is getting old when one finds one’s self attending a gig in Gloucester alongside various sextogenarians at 7pm…
I could have started my blog like this, but then I thought, no – I refuse to give any of the ignorant sniggerers out there the pleasure. Thus…
One appreciates that quality musicians have found a way to both reach a more mature and higher quality audience, as well as the courage to experiment with exciting new venues, when one attends a concert such as Travis & Fripp in the Atrium of Gloucester College.
Actually, I could have written this about the Travis & Fripp gig I attended at Coventry Cathedral in May 2009.
New music, new audience.
The Coventry gig was the culmination of three or four previous gigs in small churches around the West(ish) Country and although I can’t say it took me by surprise, having been familiar with Fripp’s soundscapes for some time beforehand, it was A Big Event. I wasn’t expecting two guys to quite fill that space so completely and so appropriately. It took my breath away, particularly the final number of the second set, which reduced me to a blithering wreck.
Back to today, then (15th July 2010) and accompanied by two (yes, two) women and it was clear that this was a very different kind of gig. A hundred or so chairs set out in the Atrium of Gloucester College, a small stage and no colossal tapestries in sight…
That said, there were three fabulous paintings by PJ Crook and it turned out that today’s concert was by way of tribute for the unveiling of a new piece by the artist. It was also a charity event, organised by Crook and the College in aid of Crook's work with the National Star College.
(As an asides, my wife and I visited the Stanley Spencer museum in Cookham the other day and I was surprised how the similarity of the two artists’ styles had never struck me before. It was a treat for me as Lorraine loves Spencer and was equally thrilled by the work of Crook… Fripp she can take or leave…)
Now, I’m not sure whether it was my personal build-up to the show that made a difference (but I suspect it had something to do with it), but in contrast to the sunshine in Coventry, the perusal of the bombed out shell of the old cathedral, the talk by the bishop before the gig of the spirit of reconciliation, today’s pre-gig activity involved a grey, drizzling day, a shopping mall, a rather poor meal and a hunt through a confusing one-way system.
I was really looking forward to the players taking to the stage, but was feeling… well, normal. Within seconds, however, I was transported as wave upon building wave of shifting harmony engulfed me, washed me away, gently scrubbed the scars and entrails of normality from my being and left me feeling somewhat naked in the presence of beauty.
This show started, for me, in much the same way as the Coventry gig ended: in a powerful swirl of feelings tangled up in sounds that left me emotionally ragged. I was overwhelmed – utterly and delightfully.
The few seconds of applause that followed were needed by me to simply recompose myself. What followed from here was a personal and friendly journey through some delightful pieces – some seemed planned, others totally improvised, but after the emotional battering of the opening number, it was all thoroughly enjoyable.
The second piece was a quirky jazz, almost humorous, but solid in its direction. The third was Moonchild – starting with a clearer nod towards the original than the Coventry gig, but veering further away as harder rock elements entered the variations on the theme.
I think there were five pieces in all, but one stood out as it seemed that Fripp gave the nod to Travis to ‘just play something’. Travis seemed a little unsure, but eventually picked up the soprano sax and began a gentle, but complex series of runs of a ‘seventhy’ leaning.
The piece crawled, stood, stumbled, walked and then ran. It was such a delight to watch such a progression in what seemed to be total improvisation, but, despite the freeness it evoked, was perhaps the most ‘real’ music I have ever encountered.
After a mere 45 to 50 minutes, it was over. My other accomplice, Helena, who hadn’t seen Fripp since 1983 at the Hammersmith Palais nudged me and said ‘shout for more’. Even my wife said she wanted more… But I guess one of the cardinal rules of performance is ‘leave ‘em wanting more’. We certainly did.
Fripp was relaxed and smiling throughout, even giving his wife a wink during one of the numbers. The applause at the end was heartfelt and hearty.
It was a small meal, but an ultimately satisfying one. “I’m coming back tomorrow,” said Helena. Yes, that would be a good thing to do… But would it be the right thing?
Twice in a row, ten out of ten for Travis and Fripp. Open your minds, breath deeply and buy the albums here.