Saturday, 19 January 2008

Celtic Connections 2008

Acrylics on board 30x40cm: Last night I went to see and hear Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers Band at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow's Merchant City. Now I have never heard him before but he was recommended by some of the people in my mandolin class so I got some tickets. This guy is reconned to be one of the very best mandolinists in the world coming from a Bluegrass background. There's no doubt he can play and so also could the individual members of his band. However, for much of the show their music was far too experimental for me - and for most people in the hall. Not what we expected or came to hear. It was at times discordant and excruciatingly painful. One guy at the back of the hall shouted out for some bluegrass, but CT was not for changing and carried on in the same vein. This reminded me of two things - firstly when Bob Dylan changed his style from acoustic to electric his folky following were horrified and gave him the bird, and secondly, is it not also a mark of any artists development that they seek to push the boundaries of their art, often leaving their following behind? Changes in style do not always mean improvement but you have to admire the courage of an artist to want (or is that need?) to develop their art beyond what is expected of them. A good contemporary example of this, I think, is the British artist Gwen Hardie who is probably most famous for her large scale paintings of the female figure, usually slightly out of focus, who in the 1990's after great acclaim changed to painting smaller, stick-like, figures. I found the 'new' style jarring and uncomfortable, which was probably the intention, and left me disappointed and saddened because it was not the style I had come to appreciate and love. Having not seen her work now for some time I have just Googled her name and I see that she has returned to her former style. So perhaps that's the way of it - an artist comes full-circle and returns to her roots? Is that an economic decision, or simply getting the experimental stage out of the system? I guess it will be the same for Chris Thile so I will watch with interest to see if he will return to his bluegrass roots. Happily for the audience last night he finished off his gig with some older stuff, including an excellent rendition of "Baby's in Black" written by the Beatles. We all need to develop and grow and find new means of expression but it's good to reprise where you came from even just to give your audience something to cling on to while they get accustomed to the new direction.

Perhaps what made it all the more difficult was because the support band, "The Bills" from Montreal, were so good playing an eclectic mix of French Canadian Folk, Tango accordian, Italian Tarantella, simple folk songs and a bit of Jazz. They were well appreciated and I spoke briefly to Marc Atkinson, their mandolin player asking if they knew of "Tillers Foley", another Canadian folk band which I saw a few years ago in Ullapool to which he replied "yes, they were very good friends". The small acrylic painting at the top of this piece is actually of Tillers Foley from sketches made during their gig.

1 comment:

Allan said...

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