Monday, 26 April 2010

Oh to be in England !

The great Volcanic Ash Scare has now receded, gone the way of Bird Flu, the Millennium Bug and the many other scare stories intended to increase sales of something or other. Gone too, at least for the moment, seems to be the good weather, which was such a consolation after such an unforgiving, harsh winter. But what I will remember this April for, apart from my mum’s 90th birthday party, is Saturday April 17th, when Bury St Edmunds filled up with Morris Dancers. Apparently there were over 600 of them from all over the country. The town was invaded by strangely costumed men and women, with dancing taking place in almost any space available, including the Cattle Market, the Traverse and the Abbey Gardens. All day long there was a wonderful atmosphere in the town, music and laughter to accompany the dancing. There were accordions, melodions, banjos, drums and fiddles. No doubt there were others that I missed.

The idea was for the nation's Morris sides to gather in one place once a year to celebrate their exemption from the lamentable licensing laws that have proved to be such a blight on live music in this country. I note with regret this does not appear to be an election issue, which is a shame, but it has done so much to damage life in our towns and villages, as well as big cities, and has completely altered the policing agenda of most forces, that I'm sure it will be revised sooner rather than later.
Morris and Molly dancing has origins that are lost in the impenetrable mists – or myths –of time. I watched one particularly macabre dance with two hooded characters who ended up with nooses around their necks. Swan Lake it was not! Resonant with folk-lore and timeless stories, Morris is an endlessly fascinating well for the soul to draw on. A new book by one Cole Moreton even suggests Morris Dancing will take the place of religion in English culture in years to come. It’s certainly welcome back in Bury St Edmunds whenever they want!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Some New CDs

We’ve just received the list of new releases for May from Naxos, and it looks like a much more interesting selection of music than they have managed of late.
Pride of place will no doubt go to the latest in the series of Shostakovich Symphonies from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vasily Petrenko. This time it’s the dramatic and intense Symphony No 8, Come to think of it, you could describe a lot of Shostakovich like that.

The critical acclaim that greeted Symphonies 5, 9 & 11 from Petrenko and the Liverpool Phil means this is a must-hear recording. Anyway, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Liverpool Phil, as my Auntie Joyce played in it for years, and it was the first orchestra I ever heard live.

Another release that won’t escape the attention of the critics will be Marin Allsop’s reading of Dvorak 7 and 8, following on from her superb offering of the New World last year. She was one of Leonard Bernstein’s most successful pupils, and to my way of thinking, she learned what needed to be learned, and managed to avoid some of the excesses of the master. Perhaps you don’t agree, but it’ll be interesting to see if she can come up with a fresh take on both these symphonies. They are recordings of live performances with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The disc I’ll be dipping into first, as long as it actually does arrive on time, will be Arthur Bliss’s Meditations on a Theme by John Blow, and his Metamorphic Variations, both completely new to me. The Meditations is apparently a kind of tribute to the generation cut down in the first world war, including the composer’s own brother. I’m hoping these pieces will turn out to be another of the unexpected treasures that Naxos produces from time to time. I’m still enjoying the Aviv Quartet’s amazing recording of Erwin Schulhoff’s two quartets that came out last month.

The last of my pick of the new discs is of music by Erno von Dohnanyi. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t let the name put you off – this is great, tuneful, ravishing orchestral music with a twinkle in its eye ! Listen to the Variations, and you’ll see why that word sprang to mind! I promise you’ll enjoy back if not completely delighted!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Word of Mouth

Every so often the muse of comedy – Thalia herself - passes over Risbygate Street and scatters her magic dust upon us mortals. In fact I think she likes it around here, because she does pop in on a regular basis.

Imagine the scene – a busy Saturday in a well known music shop in East Anglia. A trumpet player decides to try out the latest gizmo from a leading manufacturer. It promises to improve his tone.

Sadly, this does not appear to be the effect. Having tried an admittedly entry-level instrument without the benefit of the gizmo, we fitted it, stood back and listened for the result,.

The customer was even less impressed than I was. “That’ s S*** ! Absolute C*@p Bl**dy Useless !!!”

Having got thus far into his peroration of profanities, he then noticed the presence of two young lads with their father, and, to his credit, immediately apologised for his use of bad language in front of the children.

“Oh don’t worry” replied the father, “they’re used to it”

“Oh” said the customer, “have you got one of these as well?”

Friday, 2 April 2010

Out of the Fridge

Suddenly we’re busy again! It’s as if the snow at Christmas sent our customers into hibernation, and although the snow’s long gone (fingers crossed!) they’ve stayed indoors, in the warm until the clocks have gone forward again. Yesterday customers were out in force – Yippee!- and we had a bumper day, which made a refreshing change. It has been very quiet.
The big internet sites have not been immune from the retail freeze – apparently even the mighty Amazon’s sales are down for the first time ever, according to one of our suppliers. Our own website is performing quietly in the background, providing a little extra business from around the country. I’m actually very pleased with it – there’s a gi-normous database of printed music and CDs which is kept up to date by a small workforce of gnomes (small workforce=pun, see?) in the middle of the Highlands of Scotland. They have been snowed in for most of the winter, which has been really good, as they haven’t had anything to distract them from keeping the website bang up-to-date. It’s now so good we are using it as the main reference catalogue in the shop. Saves us using a competitor’s site, which was a bit embarrassing!
Let’s hope we’ve seen the last of this hard winter by now. Here in Suffolk we’re still picking our way around the potholes in the road. Apparently the council are leaving the biggest ones so they can sell off the fishing rights later in the year.