I've been hearing snippets of this beautiful piano and string music for what seems like forever: on movie soundtracks, on BBC promotional adverts, on TV drama shows.
And now, at last, I know what it is called.
Back in December, before the Christmas madness kicked in, I went to a series of gigs — and managed to record little souvenirs of each experience, either on my iPhone or my (relatively new) Sony Cybershot.
The first was the 'A Word in Your Ear' gig, curated and organised by founder and publisher of the now-defunct Word magazine, Dave Hepworth, at the Lexington pub in Islington on December 4.
There were several acts on the bill and it was held in a tiny, cramped, hot, sweaty, oven of a room filled with people of a certain middle-aged vintage — and I'm talking people a lot older than me. Most of them were there to see English journalist and radio DJ Danny Baker in conversation with Mr Hepworth, but once that was over the venue cleared out a lot — and then we had a great time watching Skinny Lister, a young English folk band that reminded me a lot of Weddings Parties Anything that I used to follow around a bit when I lived in Melbourne in the early 1990s.
I recorded them singing one song — the first time I'd ever used that facility on my iPhone — and despite standing right at the back (near the bar), I'm surprised by how well it turned out. Though you might beg to differ.
The next week, T and I head to north London (again) to see Squeeze at The Forum in Kentish Town. I wasn't that familiar with their back catalogue, probably because they were never as popular in Australia as they were in their native territory (in fact, in Oz the band was always known as "UK Squeeze"), but I did know a couple of their songs — namely Cool for Cats and Tempted.
I took along my Sony Cybershot and using the low-light setting, we got some terrific shots despite the fact we were tucked away off to the side.
It was actually a surprisingly enjoyable gig — most of the audience were in their 50s and well-behaved (listening to the music instead of gabbing to their friends and playing with their phones which everyone under the age of 35 seems to do at gigs nowadays). And the music — and sound — was slick and polished and professional.
And finally, on December 18, I went to see ABC with an English friend at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Once again, we were probably the youngest people in the audience. We had terrific seats in the Upper Circle that commanded an unobstructed view of the stage — and lead singer Martin Fry's gloriously shiny suit!
It was a really fun —and rather nostalgic — gig in which the band performed their 1982 album The Look of Love in its entirety to mark the 30th anniversary of its release. They were accompanied by the Southbank Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Anne Dudley, and the sound was just magical.
I filmed the title track on my iPhone not thinking it would capture the sound as well as it did — with hindsight I wished I'd swung my camera around to capture the people around me really getting into it. The song went down such a treat, they performed it twice!
When I was 19 I went through an Irish music phase — a spin-off from my U2 obsession — and bought Sinead O'Connor's debut album. I knew nothing about Sinead, other than she was a 20-year-old Irish woman with a shaved head. I'd read an article about her in Rolling Stone and thought she sounded interesting. But I hadn't heard any of her music and it was a gamble to even buy the CD. (Imagine that happening today; there's nothing you can't find — to see, hear or read about — on the internet.)
I still remember the shock of listening to The Lion and The Cobra for the first time. There was so much ANGER in it. But Sinead's unique voice was so arresting — smooth and gentle one minute, harsh and visceral the next — that it was hard not to be mesmirised by it.
To this day, that album remains one of my all-time favourites and it would certainly make my Desert Island Discs selection. The standout tracks, Troy and Jackie, still have the power to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Fast forward more than 20 years, and Sinead's just released her ninth studio album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?. Last night we saw her perform tracks from it at Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's Southbank as part of the Women of the World Festival.
It was a brilliant show — her voice is just stunning and full of contradictions: emotional and frail; powerful and rousing; ethereal and poignant. When she goes into full throttle it is hard to believe that the sound is coming from such a tiny woman.
And her set list was wonderful: lots of old songs — including the aforementioned Jackie, The Emperor's New Clothes and the song that made her a household name, Nothing Compares to U — as well as tunes from the new album.
While it's clear she's gone through periods of craziness and had many a WTF moment over the years, it is the music and the songwriting and the voice that she should be judged by. On that score, no one comes close.
This is a great cover of one of my favourite all-time songs. Nina Persson is the lead singer of Swedish pop group The Cardigans.
I discovered Irish musician Gavin Friday in 1993 when a penpal in the UK sent me a copy of his debut album Adam and Eve.
From then on, I used to order his albums on import and would wait months for them to be shipped direct from Ireland! I may possibly have been the only Australian following his career.
Of course, as soon as I moved to Gavin Friday's side of the world he stopped making records. But now, he's just relelased his first album in 16 years, and while hunting through YouTube for possible music videos, I stumbled upon this interview, broken up into 6 parts, conducted in Amsterdam. It covers all kinds of topics, from the new album -- Catholic -- to the death of his father. Total running time is around 36 minutes.
After 9 days of full-on Irish culture, including an evening in the presence of Christy Moore (at the Wexford Opera House) and the Kilfenora Ceili Band (at the National Concert Hall in Dublin), it was a nice change to experience a British music great: Peter Gabriel at the Hammersmith Apollo on Wednesday evening.
The two-hour show, which was filmed in 3D for a future DVD, comprised mainly songs from his own back catalogue -- San Jacinto, Digging in the Dirt, Don't Give Up, Biko -- as well as a handful of covers he recorded for last year's Scratch My Back album.
All the music was performed by the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra.
One of the highlights, for me, was Red Rain, one of my all-time favourite songs. I think I must have listened to this one a million times when I was 17!
Three of us have just been to see the Yangshou Impressions Light Show (also known as Impression, Liu Sanjie) which can only be described as a triumph of choreography, team-work and human creativity.
Directed by film director and cinematographer Zhang Yimou (who also directed the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics), it uses the limestone peaks as a natural backdrop and the entire performance is set on water. More than 600 locals, including fishermen and their cormorants, take part in the show.
I had no idea what to expect when I got there. Indeed, we didn't even know if we had seats for the 70-minute performance or whether we had to stand up. Not being able to understand Chinese was a slight problem, and the convoluted queuing system where we were herded up and corralled like sheep, on three separate occasions (first to be assigned a ticket guide, the second to get into the main gate, the third to enter the arena) was a little frustrating.
But once we got into the venue proper and discovered our seats were in the third row, it didn't seem so bad after all.
Of course we had no idea what the story unfolding before our eyes was all about (because of the language barrier), but the performance was undoubtedly eye-catching and spine-tingling all at the same time. The colours and the sounds were just stunning. That everything was done on water was even more impressive.
At one point a line of happy smiling girls dressed in national costume stood in front of us and belted out a high-pitched song that would have shattered crystal if any had been present. Talk about awesome lungs!
Some of the stage direction reminded me of the strong colours in Raise the Red Lantern, one of Zhang Yimou's films, and there were elements, such as the women with dresses adorned in electric lights, that would not have been out of place at a U2 concert.
As for crowd behaviour, it was pretty much impeccable. The Chinese don't seem to be particularly enthusiastic or demonstrative -- hardly anyone clapped or cheered -- but they did seem to enjoy the children whenever they took centre stage.
And getting out of the venue was nowhere near as complicated as getting in: we simply followed one of the Chinese chaps we shared a mini-bus with, met our Chinese driver at the designated meeting point and we were back in our hotel room within 20 minutes of the gig finishing. Try doing that at Wembley Stadium.