Tag Archives: acoustic

Nils Frahm, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 26th October 2014

Nils Frahm (piano, synthesizers, electronics)

Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street

Now, this gig was something of a really cool departure from the previously experienced performances as Nils Frahms’ music is of an instrumental nature, combining classical and electronic music. He is noted for his unorthodox use of piano, because he mixes grand piano and upright piano with a Roland Juno 60 synthesizer, a Rhodes electric piano, a drum machine and Moog Taurus bass pedals, and he doesn’t use any kind of loop or pre-recorded playback.

I am very familiar with and quite partial to Nils’ work, so was delighted to have the opportunity to catch one of his live performances, of which I had read much about, at what has become my second home, Epic Studios in Norwich.

nilsfrahmepic2610140003acopyrightTo give a little background, Nils Frahm is a 32 year old German musician, composer and producer, presently based in Berlin. And take it from me, he is annoyingly talented, as he ably demonstrated during this concert. He has a very relaxing, self-effacing demeanour, quietly spoken and of gentle but funny humour, also demonstrated during this concert. Alongside his solo work, he has also collaborated with performers such as Anne Müller, Ólafur Arnalds and F.S. Blumm.

So to the performance. There was no support act, no great fanfare prior to his entrance onto the gear-laden stage. Nils walks onto the stage dressed in striped t-shirt, rolled up jeans and trainers. You kind of get the notion that this wasn’t going to be your usual concert/recital. He picks up a mic and introduces himself and his gear (some of which apparently is almost “kaput”), then proceeds to start the evening with a piece called “Says”, possibly the most spell-binding music I’ve ever heard performed live, a weird fusion of electronics with electric piano and a gentle arpeggiated synth texture. You almost want to think that the music is too quiet, and I was very conscious of using my camera lest I break the spell that Frahm had quickly and masterfully cast. But it isn’t too quiet, it’s just right and any louder would not have been right. The repetitive arpeggiations of the Juno 6 synthesizer are quite hypnotic and Nils’ simple Rhodes melodies add to this seductive atmosphere. A gentle crescendo builds, Nils’ subtle abuses of the tape-based echo unit create a near dissonant far-away place, but nothing takes over or dominates before it all starts falling back into nothing. Nils Frahm has got us right where he wants us.

nilsfrahmepic2610140007acopyrightFrom here on, we are exposed to his more techno side (amazing), we get a piece that was written after he had fallen out of bed and broken a finger, so went onto write a piece of music for nine fingers (amazing), and we even get a piece called “For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More” whereupon Nils starts to bash, brush and scrape the insides of the grand piano with a pair of toilet brushes (amazing – starting to really dislike him now). Virtuoso piano pieces follow dreamy, ambient, chillout, beat-driven pieces follow piano textured, near tone poems. The broad range of moods and styles creates a truly morphic performance, each piece easily blending into the next, segued with Nils’ brief but quirky narratives. The music goes from dark to euphoric, from thoughtful to demanding, from vague and almost atonal to grand and melodic. As a musician, I feel music as much as I hear it, and on several occasions throughout the performance I found myself riding crests of immense waves, then moved to the point of tears, such was the emotive scale, scope  and beauty of what I was listening to and experiencing. For a part of the concert, I stood with one of the owners of the venue, and she was as drawn in  and mesmerised as the rest of us.

nilsfrahmepic2610140008acopyrightAnd what of presentation and performance? Well, one man with a couple of pianos and several bits of gear can’t be that interesting. Ordinarily, that would be true, but again, Nils Frahm knows how to create the scene, paint the picture and visualise the music, and he does this like he does with most other things I have seen on this night, subtly, delicately and skilfully. A few white floods, occasionally dipped to conjure up the ambience of warmth, lighting that was as sparse as the music, yet equal in it’s beauty. Often swathed in nothing more than dry ice and white light, Nils Frahm played as a neo-classical virtuoso, his concentration completely unbreakable as he breathed each and every moment of this performance, and an intensity that you feel could snap at any given moment. This concert wasn’t just music, it was performance art and the rapturous applause that exploded at the end was a testament to this young man’s uncompromising talent.

Whatever way I put it, whatever way I express it, the basic premise will always come back to the fact that, quite simply, Nils Frahm is a must-see.



Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Nils Frahm

Hazel O’Connor, Open, Norwich, Norfolk, 8th August 2014

Hazel O'Connor live at Open, Norwich 8/8/2014

Hazel O’Connor live at Open, Norwich

Hazel O’Connor (vocals)
Clare Hurst (saxophone, vocals)
Sarah Fisher (piano, vocals)

Tensheds (support)

Bank Plain,

An evening that turned out to be an unexpected delight.

Open, is a relatively new Norwich live music venue, housed in the former regional headquarters of Barclays Bank and comprises two live music spaces, a recording studio, dance studio and media lab. This evenings’ performance was held in the smaller and more intimate “Club Room”, which proved the perfect space for Hazel O’Connor’s set. For it’s size, the sound is very good and visibility of the small main stage is, by and large, quite good from most parts of the room.


Tensheds, Open, Norwich

This most excellent evening of acoustic music kicked off with a genuinely excellent set from one-man-band, Matt Millership, aka Tensheds, interestingly describing himself as “a piano bashing, guitar swinging husky voiced hobo freewheelin’ around the U.K.” – nice. Without fanfare, Tensheds (legend has it that the name came about after hearing a bloke in a pub bragging about the number of sheds he owned) took to the stage, resplendent in velvet jacket and grey woollen Trilby hat blasting off with a boogie number. “Jeepers!!!” thought I, totally didn’t expect that – but you know what, it worked, it was great and it was the perfect start to his set. The set that followed was an amazing showcase of this man’s talent from his rich husky voice to his intricate piano playing and buskeresque piano/voice/harmonica tracks, all carried along with intelligent and clever lyrical depth and sincerity.  The Tensheds set was a carefully blended recipe of blues, boogie, a bit of soul and in places, a little something of a nod to Bob Dylan, and for some that’s not a bad thing. Without doubt, it set the bar for the evening and it really didn’t take long for the audience to be won over. I hope to see Tensheds live again one day, and if you get the chance, so should you. A great choice for a support.

So, once Tensheds had finished wooing us with his unarguable talent, it was time for the lady we had come to see, Hazel O’Connor. A little bit background on Hazel here before I continue. Hazel is probably best remembered for her fantastic performance in the 1980 film, “Breaking Glass” which also starred Phil Daniels (“Scum”, “Quadrophenia” and “Eastenders”) and Jonathan Pryce (“Miss Saigon”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”), and for the soundtrack album from the film which went (deservedly so) platinum and peaked at number 5 in the U.K. album charts, and proving to be the most commercially successful aspect of her career. Hazel has continued recording and has a very healthy 19 album  catalogue to her name, the latest being the 2014 release “Here She Comes”, which the current tour is promoting.

And so the time came for the main act. Joining Hazel on stage are two incredible musicians who have worked with her for the last few years, Clare Hurst (Bellestars, Communards, David Bowie) on sax  and Sarah Fisher (Eurythmics) on keyboards.

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I was immediately surprised by the fact that we were to watch a three-piece and not a band as I had expected. However, from the moment they started, I knew this was going to be quite something and ultimately, the three-piece set up more than worked in my view. The set was a perfect mix of Hazel’s newer material and the anticipated “Breaking Glass” tracks, but this wasn’t an evening of nostalgia. No sir, gone are the post-punk snarling attitudes and fierce coiffure we’re talking little black dress and red head-scarf, all presented with a gloriously jazz/blues ambience and Hazel’s all-encompassing stage presence.

And so to the performance. As mentioned before, the set comprised material from Hazel’s newer work and the iconic “Breaking Glass” songs, the latter of which had been deftly re-worked for the piano/sax/voice set up. Hazel, Sarah and Clare have been working together for roughly 6 years and it’s very obvious from the standard of the performance. Throughout, Hazel is both chatty and engaging, relating anecdotes from her 30 plus years in the music business including her preferred modes of travel (he doesn’t do planes, but she does do boats and loves her home, perfectly presented in the song “Going Home”), a heart-warming moment regarding the passing of her mother (the associated song, “I Give You My Sunshine”, was simply beautiful), the sexism that’s still rife in the music scene (the song “Don’t You Call Me Darling” was simply great) and of course plenty of tales surrounding the “Breaking Glass” songs.

hazel98140016acopyrightAnd talking of the “Breaking Glass” songs, they were very well represented by really clever and involving re-workings of “Decadent Days”, “Black Man”, “Who Calls The Tune”, “Shape of Things To Come” and of course the two that really took Hazel to the top, the apocalyptic “Eighth Day” and the one that we all wanted to hear, “Will You?”. I was hugely curious as to how “Eighth Day” could possibly be performed with just piano and sax, bearing in mind it’s epic stance on the album and in the film. “Eighth Day” done in jazz-style, surely not. Oh my, I simply could not have been happier with what I heard – it was fantastic and still had that certain something that the original version had, and even that quieter, slowed down section when machine just got upset, a problem man had not foreseen as yet, which has me on the edge of my chair every time I listen it at home, gave me that same sense of awe, the camera was lowered, as was my jaw, and yes, I was on the edge of some virtual, imaginary, unseen chair before Hazel, Sarah and Clare burst into the final chorus. A-mazing. Then there was the performance of “Will You?” where we all sang along, marvelled at Clare Hurst’s gut -wrenching sax solo and then roared with appreciative applause. The intimacy of the venue was lost for a moment as collective cheering and clapping of the assembled crowd brought the place down.

The encore was blinding. The trio played their take on the Snow Patrol song “Chasing Cars” – it was moving, beautiful and musical perfection, for me, one of the highlights of the set, far superior to the original. After this was a sing-a-long. Yes, you read that right, a sing-a-long. The lovely Sarah Fisher took the mic to teach us the words and melody to the chorus of a really fun and up-beat little something called “Still breathing”. A fantastic end to a fantastic evening of music.

Throughout the entire performance, Hazel’s voice was nothing short of powerful, Sarah Fisher and Clare Hurst played with precision, perfection and total professionalism throughout. When you see your favoured artists so many years after they were truly at their peak (in commercial terms of course), it can be a bit hit and miss, we’ve all seen them, the ones we all think, “oh dear” – let me tell you now that Hazel O’Connor most definitely NOT one them. I would go as far as to say that her voice is better now than it was 30 years ago and her stage-craft should be looked at by many younger performers on the circuit today.

I like this more intimate style of venue and I liked the fact that Hazel was out amongst the audience within minutes of coming off stage. I was fortunate enough to get a little time with her, during which time she employed my back as to sign autographs(!!!) and found her to be one of the most pleasant and engaging artists I have ever met, no sign of ego at all and she’s fun, a lot of fun with a big laugh. If she’s playing near you, go. You won’t be disappointed.

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Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Hazel O’Connor