Another day, another trip to Howard Assembly Room. I didn’t realise just how much I had missed my visits to this beautiful venue until last night’s concert by David Brewis. I found it very touching that this feeling seemed to be reciprocated by the amazing people who work there. Every one of them said how pleased they were to see me back, a sentiment I have found at the other venues I frequent, but here it seemed so sincere and covered everyone, the doorman, the box office staff who gave me my ticket, the front of house manager, the sound and lighting guys with whom I always exchange a few words as I pass their control desks, and the PR chap who invites me to the gigs and was there filming the event for a live streaming. By the time I got to my seat on both occasions I was close to tears. Thank you all very much.
As with last night’s performers, Submotion is a band with whom I am unfamiliar but I was seated next to an ardent fan so got a rundown of their background. Before I was in a position to either agree or disagree with their assessment we were treated to a set by the support, Matthew Bourne.
Mr Bourne is a man of few words, letting his piano virtuosity do the talking. There is no doubt that he is a brilliant pianist but I struggled to understand his performance. It is a shame really as I am listening to a couple of his recordings whilst writing this and they seem totally different to those we were presented with on stage.
I couldn’t work out whether he was doing an improvised set as his hands would hover over the keyboard for a few seconds but, instead on dropping them vertically onto the ivories, he would make a sideways shift and hit a different part of the instrument. Speaking of hitting the piano he even struck the wooden piece at the end of the keys as well as hitting the fascia of it. He also leaned over the front and plucked the strings direct. I was obviously not on my own in being confused by his work as, because of the long periods of silence in some of the works, he had to more or less signal to the audience when he had reached the end of each piece.
His presentation was also somewhat eccentric with his head rocking back and forth so much that I feared that he would hit his head on the lid. He also seemed close to tears whilst playing, but for diametrically opposed reasons to mine, the angst was almost tangible. I don’t want to be too disparaging of this set, as I am quite enjoying the music of his to which I am listening at the moment. FYI You Would Say That and You’d Never Ask. https://matthewbourne.bandcamp.com/album/afterglow-2
After Mr Bourne’s swift exit from the stage following his final piece, it was time for the interval and my neighbour’s anticipation of what was to come.
I looked up the details of the band before I began writing this article and found that the number of members varies depending on the source. On the night they were a five-piece who were performing with a string quartet, seems to be a thing at the moment, The Prism String Ensemble. They are said to be ‘influenced by dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub’, Submotion that is, not the string quartet.
Taz Modi, keyboards
The tour is to promote the release of their Unplugged Vol ii which features new arrangements of previous tracks so I am not sure how typical this is compared to the originals but the performance was superb regardless.
The lilting voice of Ruby Wood was a heartbreaker during the slower pieces but when augmented by the trumpet and flugelhorn of Bobby Beddoe on some tracks the atmosphere changed dramatically.
Ms Wood also provided the introductions to the songs and regaled the audience with a few anecdotes, which was a nice change, as several of the artists I have seen recently seem to be from the Roy Orbison School of Performing Arts which teaches that you get on, play your music and get off.
Chris Hargreaves on bass guitar was excellent and his string contribution to the proceedings was in stark contrast to that of the quartet. The combination worked superbly well.
Danny Templeman on percussion was unique in my concert-going experience in that he didn’t have a conventional drum. There was a small electronic gizmo to substitute, bongos and a couple of cymbals but most of his work was done on a variety of instruments which were shaken, rattled or beaten with the hand. The effect was stunning.
Chris Hargreaves, Bass Guitar and Danny Templeman, Percussion.
The chap who tunes the beautiful Steinway piano at Howard Assembly Room must have had a shock when he turned in for work on Monday only to find that not one, but two pianists had been plucking the strings of his beloved instrument, one was even more extreme in the playing of the innards! Regardless of the method of producing the music, it was wonderful.
Finally we come to The Prism String Ensemble whose playing not only enhanced the overall effect when all the musicians were playing as a nonet, but added a contrast when given an opportunity to perform on their own.
The Prism String Ensemble.
By the end of the show I could see why my neighbour had such a high regard for this band, a taste which I am beginning to acquire myself.
Should you be darn sarf in the next few days then you could do worse than snaffle a ticket for one, or both, of their remaining shows in this one-off tour. https://www.songkick.com/artists/2598761-submotion-orchestra/calendar
For a taste of their new album go to https://submotionorchestra.bandcamp.com/album/unplugged-vol-ii
For information and tickets to other events coming to Howard Assembly Room please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/
Featured Image provided by Howard Assembly Room. Photographs by Stan Graham