Archive for the ‘Concerts’ Category

Because I am married to a fairly tolerant man, when Bear saw me feeling a little overwhelmed earlier this year he suggested that we go down to London for the day and see a show. This apparently is a big sacrifice for a lot of guys and bears alike.Before the offer could be retracted, I pounced and planned a full day.

We stopped first at the British Library to see one of their new exhibits on the A to Z of detective fiction.

New free exhibit at the British Library: A - Z Murder in the Library

New free exhibit at the British Library: A – Z Murder in the Library

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Handwritten manuscript page from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"

Handwritten manuscript page from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short story “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”

Signed photo with the cast of the televised adaptation of the Inspector Morse series.

Signed photo with the cast of the televised adaptation of the Inspector Morse series.

We hopped the Picadilly tube line down to the British Museum to spend some time in the Enlightenment Gallery and the Sutton Hoo exhibit, which I like to see whenever we go. They’re building a new gallery for those items and it should be ready next year so it’ll be nice to see them in their new home as well.

But first we had to stop for a coffee at the Starbucks across from the museum, which is where I had waited with Bear’s brother and my sister-in-law two years ago while Bear was making his way to meet us. A lot fewer tourists in February!

Bear in the Starbucks across from the British Museum

Bear in the Starbucks across from the British Museum

They have these cute little guide/docents who hang out in various areas with some objects that you’re allowed to handle and they’ll give you a walk through which is always fun.

Cuneiform tablet (2500 BCE)

Cuneiform tablet (2500 BCE)

The inscription was meant to be read by the gods and not men, so it was laid on the inside and the inscription wasn't exposed.

The inscription was meant to be read by the gods and not men, so it was laid on the inside and the inscription wasn’t exposed.

There were other objects I got to examine including a hand axe which was over 30,000 year sold and found somewhere in Suffolk, a small cosmetics pot travel-sized for the Egyptian afterlife, a ceramic tile from Iran/Persian empire, and a little one-handled jar from Italy that poured olive oil.

Over in the Sutton Hoo room, we found another hands on exhibit and learned about purse clasps and then walked around the regular exhibits.

Horse teeth that have been shaped into gaming pieces.

Horse teeth that have been shaped into gaming pieces.

At the moment,a number of objects are grouped in Room 2 while their rooms are being renovated, including the oldest object in the entire museum which is another hand axe found in Olduvai Gorge, site of many of the finds by the Leakey family (Louis, Mary and Richard).

Olduvai hand axe

Olduvai hand axe

Our main objective though, I admit, was to have lunch at the Great Court Restaurant on the third floor which did not disappoint.

roasted vegetable polenta

Roasted vegetable polenta

(my choice was the polenta)

(my choice was the polenta)

Moroccan spice chicken with chickpea stew in spicy red sauce

Moroccan spice chicken with chickpea stew in spicy red sauce

Bear's choice

Bear’s choice, his once a week chicken treat (fish only the rest of the time)

We managed to share the roasted artichokes without an actual fight

We managed to share the roasted artichokes without an actual fight

While there, we heard the party at the next table debating if they should get the mixed vegetable polenta, so I felt compelled to speak up and say that mine was excellent. We ended up having a really, really nice time talking to them (Mary Barnsdale and Eileen Cohen) and found that they had connections to writing and software as well and were over on a combination of business and vacation. I can’t even remember specifically what we talked about except all my favorite things, like books, travel, technical writing, food, museums, the exhibits, and on and on.

I don’t know why it seems like I keep meeting the nicest people that I feel like I could be friends with and then having to tell them good bye — it kind of reminds me of meeting Janet, Deb and Bella and everyone at Java Mama up in Dillard. I don’t think I ever told them, but when I left at the end of my writing week there when I met them and the rest of their regular cast of characters, I sat out in my car and cried for more than a minute because I knew somehow that I could’ve been very happy there on the mountain, but this was just one strand of life that I was only going to get a glimpse of, but I was still very blessed to have gotten to. (I get greedy like that, wanting to have everything last forever.) Best of luck and safe travels to you, Mary and Eileen!

We broke down and went for dessert, an apple-plum crumble with warm cream, that was guaranteed to send me into a sugar coma within an hour except I was so excited about going to the show that I wasn’t too worried.

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Fortunately the Lyceum is hard to miss so when we got off the tube we just cast around a little bit and headed towards the giant gold-orange banners.

(taken from web, not my photo)

(taken from web, not my photo)

Seating arrangements are more important than you think when you’re married to someone as tall as Bear, and also one who is so attuned to his personal comfort. I had found that the Lyceum has some limited boxes available in the balcony area where you can sit with your own chair and move about at will and the price is even better than some of the regular seats. You do sacrifice a little visibility, but not all that much and the tradeoff would be well worth it.

Regular seating

Regular seating

Box seat!

Box seat!

No photos of the show itself out of respect to the requests for no photography, but here’s a link to a performance of the opening number as done for the Tony Awards a few years ago and you can see the reason that the show’s designer/director/big kahuna Julie Taymor made such a sharp impact.

After the show we ran over to find one of the three local Chipotles so Bear could have some real Mexican food because, as we have covered elsewhere, Mexican chain restaurants in England are sadly, woefully, off base in their menu offerings.  Note, if you’re looking for the one on St. Martin’s Lane, be aware that the street numberings are off from what you would expect. It’ll be at 58 on the left side of the road and 89 directly opposite on the right. Excuse me?

Chipotle Bear

Chipotle Bear

For the final stop of the day, we went a few stops further on the Picadilly Line to Harrod’s where John’s family had very generously given us some gift cards for Christmas. Harrod’s being the experience that it is, you sort of have to go there and not just order online, so go we did.

Hard to miss Harrod's

Hard to miss Harrod’s

First stop–women’s shoes where Bear said, “I’ve always heard of Jimmy Choo–oh, that looks pretty!” Three seconds later when he turned the shoe over and looked at the price tag he bleated, “625 pounds…do you get both shoes for that? Here, let’s try Prada instead…”

After poking around the Barbour jackets and riding the Egyptian escalator up and down many times, I found some things I wanted (I’ll spare the world the pictures, it was in what used to be called the foundations department) and then ran down to the Food Hall before it closed to pick up some snacks, particularly some really nice French cheese (a round of Camembert and some Tomme de Chevre).

Up and down, up and down...

Up and down, up and down…

We couldn’t have timed it better taking the tube back to King’s Cross and we arrived about 10 minutes before a train back to St. Neots (although admittedly they have several an hour). It’s still pretty mindboggling to live so close to one of the major cities in world history and to be able to be there and back so quickly. Despite the whirlwind day though, the best part was coming home to Juliet.

A (part) Turkish Van on a Turkish rug, waiting faithfully for us to come home.

A (part) Turkish Van on a Turkish rug, waiting faithfully for us to come home.

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With last minute preparations to go back to America for a week at Christmas, I fell really behind in getting ready for anything we had planned here in the UK so we crammed what felt like 72 hours into 24 right as I departed.

I had been sick off and on since the trip to the Philippines in mid-November and I got a lot worse as it yo-yo’d which led to unfortunate exchanges such as:

Bear: Keep your pestilence riddled desiccated husk of a body on your side of the bed.

Me: I think I would feel better if we could cuddle.

Bear: Armslength, armslength, sputum Munker!

I had turned the corner in time to go to the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Thursday although going to a showing that used the new 48 fps technology nearly made me sick all over again. what a dreadful, dreadful decision for the overall tone of the film. Seems it’s much clearer and you don’t get blur as you pan and scan, but it didn’t fit the mood of the script and the material, it looked like a really cheap Mexican soap opera, and I know what I’m talking about because my Russian professors liked to make us watch Russian dubbed episodes of The Rich Also Cry and Simply Maria.

So for Saturday, I made plans to dash up to Huntingdon to see The Hobbit again, this time at the normal 24 fps rate which was a vastly improved experience for me, although I was so exhausted at this point form being sick and packing that I fell asleep for nearly an hour (but since the movie is nearly 3 hours, I didn’t feel like I missed that much). It was embarrassing though, but the nap really helped and the last thing I wanted to do was fall asleep in the middle of the Mediaeval Baebes concert that night at the cathedral.

MediaevalBaebesTicket

We parked in a new spot in Peterborough at the train station long stay parking which is about a half mile hike to the city center, which really isn’t that bad, and all the other parking garages seemed to close at 7 p.m. on a Saturday. That’s just ridiculous. We got a really late lunch and then my mission was to find Christmas presents at the historic Christmas fair at the cathedral. Naturally, I mostly found things that I wanted, so that didn’t exactly work but it certainly was fun.

The nicest surprise was that about nine Moroccan vendors set up in the square and had some really nice rugs, woodwork, leather goods, tea sets and ceramics which I am unreasonably attracted to, but bear limited me to one Christmas present for myself, which was probably for the best.

Cathedral Square in Peterborough

Cathedral Square in Peterborough

The entrance to the fair on the cathedral grounds

The entrance to the fair on the cathedral grounds

We had a really nice chat with women of the vendors at the fair and Bear bought himself some hot mulled wine and even got some for a jewelry vendor who looked like she was freezing. We bought some presents from her as well and she explained that the portable card reader machine was borrowed from her brother in law who ran a home brewery so it was possible that our bank statement might come up something like “East Anglian Brewery” and not to worry.
Hawks and falcons were on site with handlers in costume

Hawks and falcons were on site with handlers in costume

Blacksmiths and woodworkers

Blacksmiths and woodworkers

They had some fire breathers also doing exhibitions, Brother Ignitious and Brother Infernous, who were funny and entertaining although my photos didn’t come out very well since it was pitch dark by then and there was lots of fire breathing and fire swords and even a fire whip of some kind.

Bear was really freezing by now and started hanging around the open fires going and the roasted chestnuts area. He calmly informed the vendors that if he caught on fire, to just toss him in the grass and roll him around, which was when I knew it was time to get him indoors.

There is a Starbucks in Peterborough which is probably one of the oddest Starbucks I’ve ever seen, architecturally speaking, which is surely because it used to be a Lloyd’s bank back in the early 1900s. Who cares, they had a hot chocolate for him and he could sit and play a video game while I ran back to more stores.

After I got Bear’s advice on some Christmas presents from the Moroccan vendors, including a tagine for myself, he got the idea to schlep them all back to the car which, as mentioned, was about half a mile away.
My good friend Shannon gave me a real cooking tagine which is back in America, but I've wanted a presentation tagine for years now, so it seemed like the right time to jump on a deal. (Of course, I'm not cooking anything right now that can't go in the microwave, but you can't have everything)

My good friend Shannon gave me a real cooking tagine which is back in America, but I’ve wanted a presentation tagine for years now, so it seemed like the right time to jump on a deal. (Of course, I’m not cooking anything right now that can’t go in the microwave, but you can’t have everything)

All well and good, but it was kind of cold and Bear was walking at a break neck pace which I couldn’t exactly match, so I came lumping behind carrying some of the presents which we stowed in the trunk, then lumped back in the dark and the cold and sprinkle.
Nightfall in Cathedral Square

Nightfall in Cathedral Square

We got back to the cathedral just in time to line up for the doors to open at 7 for the Mediaeval Baebes concert that I’d been looking forward to for two months. In line, the people behind us made an joke about how the concert wasn’t really something that you turned out for on purpose — it was more that it was Christmas and oh what a nice idea (although I think it would be a great idea at any time of year). At that, Bear blurted something like “I thought they were opening for AC/DC” which made everyone laugh really hard. We staked good seats, and then Bear wandered around the cathedral, putting his paws by the boilers and warming up.
Stage setup in Peterborough Cathedral

Stage setup in Peterborough Cathedral

I hadn’t been familiar with much of their work before we moved to England so I had gotten some of the albums and researched what songs they had performed at their Christmas cathedral tour the year before, then made a playlist and listened to a few each day to get familiar, which is probably a wise policy with medieval music and lyrics in Latin, Middle English and God knows what.
(taken from the Internet at a different show a few years ago)

(taken from the Internet at a different show a few years ago)

The concert (which was started by a nice little prayer from one of the cathedral’s representatives) was a lot of fun, a good mix of their slower work with plenty of up tempo numbers, like “I Sing of a Maiden”. Bear even edged out into the far aisle to get some video from a distance:
In particular, they did a nice, slow, anguished rendition of “She Moved Through the Fair” which Bear recognized from the Loreena McKennitt version. (One time I tried to explain the lyrics to him, the story of a young man whose beloved parts ways with him at a fair, saying that she’ll see him soon for their wedding, but the implication is that she’s murdered after that, and the next time he sees her is in a dream where she appears and tells him it will not be long until their wedding day. I got about halfway through when he blanched and said he didn’t want to know because then he would just think about me dying. He’s nothing if not reliable.)
The set list with the mysterious ceramic goblet (who knows what they really had in there to sip on)

The set list with the mysterious ceramic goblet (who knows what they really had in there to sip on)

There was a very funny, human moment as they started a song “Phantom” off the new album The Huntress which (if I understood correctly) had something to do with an exorcism. Katherine Blake, the lead singer for that number, started to cough, hacked a little, and they had to stop and start over. There was a little chuckling as they acknowledged that sometimes the demon possessed them all, but it seemed to happen more often with Katherine.
Some of the more exotic instruments that made an appearance

Some of the more exotic instruments that made an appearance

Also, while they didn’t do “Gaudete”, one of my favorite Christmas numbers, they did sing “Love Me Broughte” which to me is a simply wonderful song lyrically and the translation of the Middle English lyrics is below:

Love delivered me
and love created me
to be your companion, mankind

Love sustained me
and love guided me
and love abandoned me here

Love killed me
and love dragged me
and love laid me on the bier

Love is my peace,
and for love I chose,
to redeem mankind at great cost.

So you should fear nothing,
for I have looked for you
both day and night,
in order to be your haven;
I have done well,
for I have won you in battle.

They were all very nice after the concert and were happy to meet everyone and sign anything and chat, which hopefully was as much fun for them as it was for us. I got a poster signed and a signed copy of Mirabilis as a Christmas present and a copy of Devotion for myself. (Bear had been very happy to learn that he would be allowed to “see and meet the Baebes” and he was able to carry and juggle everything as we went down the line, meeting everyone.)

Signed copy of Devotion

Signed copy of Devotion

Afterwards we walked back through the lights and the cathedral square to the train station, filled with honest to God Christmas spirit and humming a little mediaeval tune. I was leaving in the morning for Heathrow to fly back to company headquarters for a week, but this was the perfect way to start off the Christmas week.
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Stage One of Bear’s Birthday Bash was to attend a Loreena McKennitt concert from the Celtic Footprints Tour at the Barbican Center in London. I had first heard LM’s music back in 199 when a friend sent me a copy of The Book of Secrets and it was love at first listen. I was working on a book about Robin Hood at the time and it made great working background. I kept picking up other albums, following the spectrum of her work as it made (to me) a perfect blend of traditional Celtic with world music influence, going eastward to the Celtic roots in western Asia and the silk road.

There was a gap in time between 1998 and 2006, following the death of her fiancé, when she wasn’t releasing any studio albums or appearing live very often so I kept replaying everything I had until I wore grooves in the CDs. Along the way, I discovered that LM was from Morden, Manitoba, a town I had actually been to for a week or two in 1987 although this was a few years after she had moved east to the Ontario, Montreal area, and  having been to Manitoba, I can understand why. Ironically, that same summer, my family spent a week in a cabin on the shore of Georgian Bay not too far from the place where her fiancée Ron Rees, drowned in a boating accident along with his brother, Rick and their friend, Greg Cook. I’ve been around that water and while it seems fairly calm, the wind can kick up and the water can be very cold even in the summer—hypothermia isn’t that many minutes away. I don’t believe it’s ever been explicitly stated, but the piece “Penelope’s Song” seems to be very much about someone who has lost their beloved and is pledged to wait faithfully.

Now that the time has come
Soon gone is the day
There upon some distant shore
You’ll hear me say

Long as the day in the summer time
Deep as the wine dark sea
I’ll keep your heart with mine.
Till you come to me

All of that to say that even apart from just really, really liking her music, I’ve unintentionally followed small parts of her life history as well. My parents are just lucky I didn’t know about her back in the 80s or I would have taken up the accordion probably instead of guitar and I don’t think anyone would have wanted that. (If we’d been lucky, maybe it would’ve been the harp.)

Over ten years ago, when I first met Bear, he had just bought a copy of The Book of Secrets also, so that was one of the huge votes in his Plus column and we’re a proud two copy family. I had gotten to see LM on her first real public tour of the States in nearly a decade back in 2007 but Bear couldn’t go. It was at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and I tagged along with Amanda DeWees and her mom. It was a perfect evening given that the musical theme was heavy on the eastern influences in McKennitt’s music and the Fox Theater is just perfect for that, decorated as a palace out of the Arabian nights.


The thing I walked away with that night was just how amazing her band is, if you can even call them that. It’s an ensemble of eight+ extremely talented musicians in their own right and they just happen to like her, as she puts it. Well, like her they must because they were all back for this tour and just as tight as ever.

I had gotten the tickets back in December before we even immigrated so the anticipation had been building up for several months. I even dutifully paid the congestion charge in advance and secured parking at the Barbican in their garage which is definitely the way to go. We got there early and had time to walk over to see St. Paul’s Cathedral before hand which is about 5 minutes away. It was just at the beginning of Maundy Thursday services so it was packed and we couldn’t stay long but it was beautiful and I’d love to go back. Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite services and one of my fondest memories of living in Athens, Georgia was going to the service at University Church and sitting at the tables in the main room in the manner of the Last Supper, listening to Dan Orme give the service.

Roman City Wall

On the way back, we walked along the stretch of the old Roman city wall that had been exposed by some of the bombing during the London blitz. When we got back to the Barbican, we explored outside in the terraced garden area where they have apartments overlooking the gardens and water.

Really wonder how much the rent is here.

When we got back into the Barbican itself, we walked all around the public library and there was some confusion as we tried to locate things, essential little things like the bathroom. The Barbican is the largest performing arts complex in all of Europe and was not in fact designed by M.C. Escher although that would be a very good guess.

Sure, it looks like the stairs are going down. That's what they want you to think.

We showed up a little early for our dinner reservations at the Lounge, a tapas restaurant inside the Barbican itself where we ate ridiculously well and for not very much all things considered, which was the perfect solution dinner and a show.

Birthday Bear

We went with feta stuffed chillies and a bowl of olives for appetizer, then I had pan seared scallops (approximately $12 for two scallops — must ask Dad to mail some from Florida) and Bear had chicken satay, plus bread with a mojito for Bear. We finished off with treacle tart and lemon curd and vanilla clotted cream ice cream which was unbelievably tasty and an Americano for me.


We had just enough time to pick up the tickets from the box office and find our seats. Bear had been asking about them and I told him truthfully that they were in the center. As in, they were aligned perfectly for the stage, not too far off to the side. What I had neglected to mention was that they were on the very last row. I mean, our backs were to the wall. In case of a fire, we would’ve been the first ones out—safety first! However as the hall is fairly small and only holds about 1,500 (and every one of them showed up) this was still really great seating. All in all, the average Loreena McKennitt concertgoer is not the wild, unruly type but lots of academic-ish people in their 30s and up, wearing comfortable clothes with a Celtic/Middle Eastern theme.

Why, yes, I own all her albums and two copies of The Book of Secrets, why do you ask?

Then came a moment that took me back to a time in college when a friend mentioned that she had been out for a walk and seen a guy coming towards her who was, for lack of a gentler word, really ugly. She tried not to make eye contact because he was coming directly at her. She made it past him though and turned to see that there had been someone behind her and that this woman had been headed towards him just as intently, and according to my friend they were a perfectly matched set. Isn’t it beautiful, she said, when two ugly people find each other? As awful as that sounds, it was very funny too and it made me glad that we can hope to find a place where we all fit and belong. The reason this popped into my mind at the concert is that there was a couple exactly like that a few rows in front of me and I didn’t take a picture out of respect but never have I seen two more awkward people who perfectly belonged together and looked so blissfully happy,

The set list for  the show is as follows, although I confess that there were some instrumental tunes that I didn’t know quite well enough to confidently identify and I was trying to write in the dark.

  • Two instrumental pieces without LM on stage yet
  • Bonny Portmore
  • Star of the County Down
  • The Highwayman
  • As I Roved Out (funky, bluesy underbeat to it)
  • Immigration Tunes (originally a piece she wrote as part of a one woman show she had worked on in the 1980s but abandoned)
  • Sally Gardens (remarks on how Yeats had been in love with Maud Gonne and possibly written this about her and how she had been an unusual, striking woman who dressed in black and traveled with monkeys, “Not so unlike this tour”)
  • Musician introduction
  • LM offered apologies to the left side front for the bad line of sight. She leaned over from the piano bench to wave at them and assured them that she was thinking of them even though she couldn’t see them. Overall LM’s mood seemed very light and excited to be performing and back in London.

Intermission

  • Wind that Shakes the Barley
  • Raglan Road
  • The Old Ways
  • Santiago (featuring extensive interplay between fiddle and clarinet)

Following Hugh Marsh’s frenzied finish to the song, LM remarked dryly “We’re still collecting for Hugh’s fiddle lessons.”

  • The Stolen Child (reflections on her own childhood in Manitoba in the outdoors and what childhood is like for many children now)
  • The Lady of Shalott (greeted with advance clapping)
  • Mummer’s Dance
  • All Soul’s Night
  • Never-ending Road
  • Beltane Fire Dance (entire hall was clapping along)
  • The Parting Glass (and if you didn’t know that was going to be the last song, you really weren’t listening to the album)

All in all, two encores (the song order got a little jumbled in my note taking) and a third for a curtain call. After the second encore, she asked lightly “Don’t you people have homes?” and I really think many of us would have camped out for another hour if she would have kept playing.

While I do really love her take on the traditional Celtic pieces, I confess that my favorites will probably always be the more Middle Eastern arrangements and the larger band pieces like “Santiago” and “All Soul’s Night”, so it was wonderful to see those included even though this tour’s emphasis is on the new (old) material and sparser arrangements with harp, piano, cello and fiddle. (The live version of “The Bonny Swans” takes on a really nice edge all its own.)

Bear gave it two huge paws up and we wandered out, happy little travelers to have shared a stop along the way with our favorite musical tour guides. According to the ‘net, her next stop is Paris and that’s exactly where we were headed also, leaving for the ferry directly from the concert. Great minds think alike. Godspeed until next time, Ms. McKennitt. We wish you all the peace, joy and happiness you have brought to us.

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