St Georges, Bristol
The hall was two thirds full last night, which means that roughly enough people to fill a third of St. Georges missed out on a plum demonstration of the glorious and unmistakable power of one enormously talented voice, one mesmerising saxophone player and one skilled and fearless player of a honeyed Steinway.
Anyone who’s heard the combined magic of the members of Quercus will know that few singers can inhabit a song like June Tabor, and boy was she on form last night. She has the uncanny ability to sing the words as if they were springing directly from the writer’s pen; there’s no artistry finer than a singer’s complete immersion in the soul of a song, taking it straight to the listener’s heart. June, undoubtedly still at the very top of her game, has had decades of experience and is fully in control of the evening; she knows how the set must unfold, and helps us along with witty asides and gentle teasings reflecting upon the circumstances of the origins of each number. The audience are uncannily silent throughout each song; in fact, June remarked upon how they felt, from the stage, that the audience’s desire to listen was, in her words, “palpable” and that this fact made their pleasure in their own performance all the greater.
We were treated to a full selection of the songs spread across the two CDs that they’ve released as a band to date, with a smattering of other songs going back as far as the first album of hers that I ever owned – her album with Martin Simpson called A Cut Above, released almost 40 years ago. From that album she sang for us the sublime “Unicorns”, written by Bill Caddick, who passed away only last November. I urge you to look his work up and invest; June has great taste. June’s inter-song introductions always have a sparkle about them, and she often precedes a song with a spoken poem. This is as things should be; the artist investing a great deal of their time researching and understanding the material they present, and bringing another element of originality to the proceedings by combining spoken words and sung songs in a way that the author’s of each could not have anticipated.
I’m not particularly well versed in the works of many modern jazz practitioners, like Iain Ballamy (sax) and Huw Warren (piano) who make up the other two parts of Quercus. Both have great back catalogues in their own right that will reward anyone’s further investigation – I’m dipping in now as a result of last night’s performance. What I do know is outstanding playing when I hear it, and these two are really special together. We were treated to an instrumental interlude in both halves of the evening’s performance; Iain and Huw were let loose on pieces of their own choosing that did not require a voice. First we were given a Thelonius Monk number, and after the interval they gifted us a lovely – but tricky! – Charlie Parker tune, and the interplay and adventurous exploration was wonderful; nothing overstated or ostentatious, just perfectly judged wanderings that made me close my eyes to really listen and try to avoid missing a single note – and no unecessary notes turned up, all were perfectly judged to play their part.
An exquisite evening.
St. Georges, what can I say? Folkies. Teachers. BBC staff. Grauniad readers? Mostly, but not completely, closer to June’s age than her shoe size. You get the drift. Most importantly, for a gig like this, every last one of those present was there to hear the music and not to be seen listening to the music while texting, chatting, watching youTube or scratching their arse or otherwise being a selfish twat.
It made me think..
Sod the internet, a night like this transports me further than the furthest reaches of FarceBerk.