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Live From Old York: Mark Lockheart, King Courgette, La Mer Trio & YO1 Festival

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Constant instrument-swapping ensued, with quick-witted banter covering the transitions. Around halfway through the gig, the band's banjo man and upright bassist swapped roles at their respective stage-ends. Harmony vocals rang out from most of the band's keening throats. National steel guitar was swapped for fiddle, mandolin or guitar for accordion, the tunes switched from blues to bluegrass. The night was diced up into three sets, so the event turned into quite a marathon given that local troubadour David Ward Maclean had already opened with a 45 minute solo voice-and-guitar sequence. It's testament to the energetic Courgette entertainment abilities that this was sustained with admirable gusto, the final sequence upped into a foot-clacking party, led by ace percussionist Zucchini Bill Hickling. Not satisfied with his washboard, triangle, tambourine and suitcase bass drum, he shunned all these to simply hoof on a board, using sand-spillage for added percussive scrape to his metal soles. King Courgette amply succeeded in mashing a mulch of wildly diverse Americana strains, sometimes with authentic verve, and at others, ridiculously and deliberately faked. The intimate Friargate 100-seater theatre provided an ideal environment for whipping up the capacity mini-throng.

La Mer Trio
York Unitarian Chapel
May 3, 2014

La Mer Trio featured Renate Sokolovska (flute), Maja Wegrzynowska (viola) and Hannah Stone (harp), making up perhaps the ultimate sensitive chamber music combination. This was to be an evening of delicately spatial pieces, all of them short in duration. The London trio began playing together in 2010, their very nature rooted in the demands of Claude Debussy's 1915 "Sonata For Flute, Viola And Harp." Toru Takemitsu's "And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind" opened, leading into a solo harp piece by Salvatore Sciarrino, made up of minute, high note scribblings, blooming out into shimmering flourishes, alternating and returning, then concluding with gentle middle-string palm-slaps. Composer Michael Parkin was in attendance for this gig, his "Courting Rites Of Cranes" starting with Sokolovska vocalizing into her alto flute. Wegrzynowska plucked her viola, fast-stroked into a solo spell, then all three players coincided with shades of Indian classical music, although perhaps a Japanese feel was intended by the composer. After two solo harp shorties, it was prime time for Debussy's "Syrinx" for solo flute. Hipster-types might be more familiar with the subsequent "Density 21.5," which had Edgard Varèse paying homage to this work. Timothy Raymond was also present, for the premiere of his "Memorae," which was fortunate to be accompanied by actual birdsong outside the chapel, sensitive to its liquid, linear passage. In a moment, it became suddenly fragmented into shards, riddled with overblowing and bow-dragging. The concluding "Between Earth And Sea" was the most starkly dramatic work of the evening, composed by Sally Beamish. Ultimately, this concert possessed a dark sensitivity, dominated by somber and elemental moods.

YO1 Festival
The Knavesmire
May 4, 2014

This was the third YO1 Festival, a smaller one-day cousin to its larger relatives. Its multi-stage, multi-tent nature was a compacted version of what's expected from a larger-scale weekender. Even though the eight stages were relatively close to each other, noise spillage wasn't so much of a problem, due to a sensible approach to general volume levels. Loud enough inside, but not so much that this interfered with surrounding tents. Besides major hip hop headliners De La Soul, the main thrust of the fest was to feature all the various facets of the York music scene, with leading venues or promoters hosting stages and programming the day's line-up. Interestingly, some of the city's more alternative joints were prominent here, notably the Bison coffee shop and the Irie Vibes reggae sound system. It soon became apparent that these two tent-spaces were the most hospitable surroundings, rather than the larger mainstream house and techno spaces.

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