Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A bonus at the Barbican

The other weekend I made another foray to London, this time for a concert by the great Brazilian singer/songwriter and founder member of the Tropicalia movement, Caetano Veloso. Mrs Voltarol and I were both looking forward to it. We had in fact heard  about the concert when we were in Brazil back in January, when I had received email notification from the Barbican of this forthcoming event. This had produced a flurry of email exchanges with my daughter in London, who promptly secured four tickets (the fourth being for her husband).

Caetano has been recording since the sixties, and although I first became aware of him in about 1992 I have albums of his that span his whole recording career. Like his contemporary, Gilberto Gil, he is a musician who is not content to rest on his laurels, and is constantly experimenting with new approaches and sounds. His latest two albums are a case in point.

On ‘Cê’ (2006) and ‘zii e zie’ (2009) he has been working with a trio of much younger rock musicians, who are now known as ‘banda Cê’. They are Pedro Sá - guitar and backing vocals, Ricardo Dias Gomes - electric bass, Rhodes piano and backing vocals, and Marcelo Callado - drums and backing vocals. Theirs is a very spare and rocky sound which instinct says would clash horribly with the comparative delicacy of Caetano’s voice and the subtlety of his compositions and guitar accompaniments, and yet I find the results on disc extremely pleasing. The quality of the production (by Catetano’s son, Moreno Veloso and Pedro Sá) is such that far from clashing, the contrasting elements enhance the songs. 

So far, so good, you might think – the line up for the concert was that of the last two albums and the material was drawn mostly from the most recent of these. The Barbican is a good venue and Caetano is something of a perfectionist as far as sound is concerned, but for me the whole thing just didn’t work. The band was far too loud and to my mind completely destroyed any possibility of achieving the subtlety of balance of the albums. Caetano’s voice was in good form and the musicians never played a bum note but it didn’t gel. The disparities that made for interesting contrasts on disc just made for irritating clashes in the live performance.

I have to admit that most of the audience were happy with the results but they seemed, by and large to be a comparatively young crowd: certainly the manners of many of them left a lot to be desired. For some reason the Barbican staff let in late-comers as and when they arrived, regardless of whether the band was in mid performance or not - and there were a great many late comers. There was a constant stream of them throughout the first 40 minutes or so of the performance. It also seemed perfectly acceptable for members of the audience to get up and go to the bar and back throughout the proceedings, and on one occasion somebody in the row in front of us decided to get up, walk along the row to where her friend sat, and then engage in a loud and spirited conversation with said friend. This of course required her to shout to be heard over the band. She got quite indignant when my daughter requested her, in no uncertain terms, to SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN!

We were none of us happy bunnies when we left the Barbican that night. This had been Mrs Voltarol and my third Caetano concert, my daughter’s fourth and her husband’s first, and for us old hands it had been a disappointment. My son-in-law was not too unhappy with the gig but then he was under the impression that he had just seen Gilberto Gil! (He does not quite share the rest of the family’s enthusiasm for Brazilian music).

So what’s all this about a bonus then? Well, the following afternoon we were all back at the Barbican again to see a performance in the foyer by a unit called Future Band. My 10 year old granddaughter is a part of this group and this is the third time we have seen them perform at the Barbican – once on the main stage, once in The Pit and now this time on the free stage. “OK – I get it”, I hear you cry. “Proud grandparent syndrome if ever I saw it”. And, yes I would be lying if I did not admit to a certain amount of pride, but I have never been one to blind myself to the musical truth for the sake of family loyalty - music is far to important to me for that! But this was a very compelling performance by an incredibly talented and exciting group of youngsters. Who are Future Band? Here’s what it says on the programme –

“Future Band is a creative ensemble made up of 25-30 young musicians from across London. The musical identity of the group reflects the personality and creative voice of every band member, as well as taking inspiration from artists such as Danilo Perez and West African musicians such as Kaw Secca and Outhouse Ruhabi. After a hugely successful performance at the Barbican Centre in July 2009, this year we have been working with musicians from Beit Al-Musica school in Israel, exploring jazz and free improvisation with members of London’s Loop Collective and taken part in an internet link-up with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra project Orchkids among others.

Recently they explored the world of the Gamelan with a visit to LSO Discovery at St Lukes and working with guest musician Aris Daryono, the results of which you will see in today’s performance.
Leaders: Natasha Zielazinski and Detta Danford. Guest leader: Aris Daryono”

The 20 minute performance was absolutely riveting. The young musicians showed such total commitment to the music, and despite the fact that the audience included a high percentage of doting parents I detected no ‘showboating’ at all. The important thing was the music and the group – there was a definite sense of gestalt about it which was a joy to hear and behold. All credit then to the Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning Department for having the vision, and to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama people who have brought this about.

Imagine my dismay then to learn afterwards when talking to Natasha and Detta, that there is a strong probability that funding is to withdrawn from this and similar projects. What an incredibly short-sighted act this would be. Future Band is nurturing and encouraging talent that would not normally get such opportunities and it would be a great shame for those young people to loose this encouragement and tuition. But it’ll be a far, far, greater loss for us all if we are deprived of the potential fruits of this hotbed of incredible talent. You haven’t heard the last of this!

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