No promotional band t-shirts in a Spittalfields cellar or a Camden bar’s backroom for me on last night. I even tracked down one of the many ties that I used to wear in a previous life before picking up my lovely companion for the evening, Marie, and heading off to share a musical evening with friends. We entered Paxton House’s ‘Picture Gallery’ where the grand piano sat in anticipation of being used to entertain the gathered audience. I later discovered that this is the largest picture gallery in any Scottish Country House which helps to explain the feeling of awe as I entered the room. I had other reasons to be impressed by the architecture as I recalled the time during the restoration of the house when the local building contractors had decided to train up their own painting and decorating apprentice to become skilled in restoration painting, rather than subcontract to a specialist firm; in this way they saw that they could have a valuable resource available locally. Sadly the firm is no more, but the young lady who was trained will still have the skills. Looking at the intricately detailed paintwork on the ceiling added to my overall appreciation of the evening.
Despite the setting, arcs of chairs focussing on the piano in such a setting, we were not gathered for a chamber music recital; the house had opened its doors to enable people to hear a couple of brilliantly talented singer songwriters, Annie Drury from Haworth in Yorkshire would bring the piano to life and Jason Kyrone from Edinburgh had brought his guitar along. They were also to be joined by two young female singers from Duns. A further idiosyncratic touch for the evening had been provided in the form of trail of coloured netting and ‘fairy’ lights falling from the rear of the piano onto the floor.
The musical enchantment was set in motion by Annie at the piano; despite having heard her before on video, the live performance was on a completely different level. I felt so privileged to be able to experience her mastery of the keys and the crystal clarity of her beautiful and distinctive voice. Added to that there is the obvious investment of emotion that shows in her face, as she works to ensure that listeners are fully engaged in the total experience resulting from the combination of instrument, voice and lyrics. After three original songs, Annie was joined by local girl Kirsty Ellison; Kirsty and Hannah Tennant then performed a duet before Annie returned to give a unique interpretation of Blink 182’s ‘I Miss You’, and it just worked perfectly. Until that moment I would never have imagined hearing such a song in such a setting.
Then it was over to Jason with his guitar and informative introductions to his songs. He clearly invests so much into the lyrical content of his songs and it added a lot to the evening to hear about the inspiration behind many of them. Jason has mastered the ability to turn desperate and challenging situations into songs that enthral and offer hope rather than cause the listener to become depressed.
After a relaxing interval spent enjoying chat and a glass of wine in a wonderful stable conversion it was soon time to return upstairs for the second half. The mesmerising music was perhaps the reason, but I was certainly struck by the same thing that Jason commented on when he first came up to follow Annie, “cut the silence with a knife” – in another co-incidence, just as I finished typing that quote, participants in today’s inaugural Grand Prix recognised a one minute’s silence for Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli, in memory of these two who were tragically killed during the last two weekends of international motorsport. Returning to the evening in Paxton House, it was a pleasure to be at an event where the audience were respectful enough to listen intently whilst the artists performed, instead of carrying on their conversations and treating the music as a background. Following a collaboration by Annie and Jason, they each performed a final solo encore number, and then sadly, it was all over.
Without a doubt, this was a very special evening in so many ways. Brilliant contemporary musicianship and song-writing in a classical setting; rapidly developing young musicians supporting young emerging talent by providing such a magical setting in which to perform; the opportunity to appreciate the skills of local artisans who helped the owners of the building to be able to showcase such a wonderful example of restoration; the ability to recognise the results of so much determined effort behind the scenes by Colleen and Phil as they have worked to support and encourage Annie and Jason and make the evening happen. All told, a gloruous fusion of so many different elements. I relish the opportunity to see the results of Phil’s filming.
I will not be giving up attendance at punk bands playing in dingy bars, but I will certainly do my best to attend any other concerts similar to this one as I simply love the glorious diversity offered by live music. I may still attend occasional large venue and arena events, but it is the smaller and more intimate venues that really excite and attract me.