September-October 2013

Don’t Fence Me In

By Linda Dewar

Dont Fence Me InOne of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been a performance of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus by a troupe from the Beijing Peoples Art Theatre from China. It’s the first time this company has attempted Shakespeare, and the reviews have been filled with high praise. Apparently, this is just one of many examples the Chinese government’s increasing interest in supporting the arts. And within China itself, there is a renewed interest in the traditional arts.

As I am writing this (August, 2013), a month-long festival of traditional theatre arts is taking place in Beijing. Major companies including the National Theatre of China are performing in venues across the city, offering both traditional and modern plays and operas.

Opening the festival is The Grand Mansion Gate, which tells the story of the Bai family over the course of 80 years ending in 1949 with the formation of the “new” China. Musicals, opera and dance were also presented throughout the month. "We will present three productions at the festival. All of them feature Chinese culture and traditions," said Li Xiaoxiang, Art Director of China Opera and Dance Drama Theater.

Given the size of the Chinese population in California, let’s hope we might see some of these productions being performed on local stages some day.

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In an emergency a jazz trumpeter was hired to do some solos with a symphony orchestra. Everything went fine through the first movement, when she had some really hair-raising solos, but in the second movement she started going improvising madly when she wasn't supposed to play at all. After the concert the conductor came round looking for an explanation. She said, "I looked in the score and it said ‘tacit’--so I took it!"

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Twenty years ago a small, independent company called Fence Records was formed – or rather, it formed itself – in the Scottish county of Fife. (OK, I know… Fifers call it a kingdom—whatever.) The founder of the label, Kenny Anderson, is probably better known by his “stage” name of King Creosote. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej8vMh28SJY

Known for its eclectic catalogue of acoustic, folk and electronic ambience music, it was the label that gave voice to bands like Barbarossa, Withered Hand and Pictish Trail.

Fence is still going strong, but in the past year or so there have been indications of change in the wind. Anderson has distanced himself from involvement and operations have more and more been shifted to the home of Pictish Trail’s Johnny Lynch on the Hebridean island of Eigg.

Communications from Lynch seem to imply that Fence is moving into a new era as a simple matter of change that comes with the passing of time, and that Kenny Anderson has “retired from involvement” in the label. Anderson’s comments on his web site sound a bit different, as he describes his “discomfort” with the direction Fence has taken.

Either way, it looks like change is inevitable. Anderson has moved on to concentrate on his own, newly formed Alter Ego Trading Company. He has said that Fence will be “re-launched” in January 2014 and will retain the traditional methods of production and values that it has always been known for. Meanwhile, Lynch says that he will be re-naming the old Fence and will continue to operate from Eigg on a permanent basis.

This could either be a smooth transition or a bungled, anger-driven disaster. Let’s hope for the sake of the music and the musicians that it’s accomplished without animosity and results in two separate labels that are equally as good as the original.

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What's the least-used sentence in the English language? "Isn't that the banjo player's Porsche?"

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Stuff that ought to be in every band’s contract:

* Because we really do know better than you, please, don't tell us what to do, play, wear, or bring.

* We want four (4) COMFORTABLE chairs; not folding metal chairs, not splintery ones, and not those cane chairs where the seat is about to fall through. Preferably padded. No, MUST be padded.

* We want to eat at a table. Is that too much to ask? We are not "the help" so please do not treat us that poorly!

* No song will be transposed down a half-step so your cousin Jeannie can sing it during your candle lighting ceremony.

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The story continues…It was a subject of considerable interest and some debate in this column a few months ago, and now it’s the subject of a new book entitled Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali. Author Andy Morgan is an expert on the music of the region, is also the manager of the Touareg group Tinariwen, and was the original organizer of Mali’s Festival in the Desert.

The book takes a close look at the effects of Mali’s recent occupation by Islamist extremists on culture and the arts. Because of Morgan’s direct involvement in Saharan music he is in a unique position not only to report and analyze recent events, but also to give proper consideration to those individuals who were most directly affected.

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Improvisation: the art of thinking and performing music simultaneously. - Grove Dictionary of Music (1954)

When you play music, when you are a musician, you have to realise that the great high of playing a wonderful piece with a full orchestra is temporary and so make the most of it at the time. - Skitch Henderson

An American now living in Scotland, Linda Dewar is a singer-songwriter and a player of various stringed and wind instruments. Besides being a solo performer, she is half of a duo with Scottish singer Douglas Craik, plays in an occasional ceilidh band, and is a founding member of the revue Simply Burns. Visit her website.

  

All Columns by Linda Dewar