Sunday, 25 May 2014

Diva! Sarah-Ann Cromwell spells it out

Brutal competition, monastic lifestyles, getting nekkid on stage - Opera's not what it used to be...
Sarah-Ann tearing it up at MAC last month    
There's been an interesting ruckus this past week. Critics focused on the size of an Irish singer making her Glyndebourne debut; singers hit back, hard. The central issue is that a singer is a singer, first and last, and appearances are secondary. A further issue is old-school sexism. 

But then again, Opera is also all about the show. It's hard to buy the idea of a willowy Rhine Maiden, or a dashing athletic Siegfried hero, when the person singing tops 20 stone. 

I talked with Sarah-Ann Cromwell this week. She was furious at the critics. Cromwell is building twin careers: Opera... and comedy cabaret. She tried comedy out at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival to rave reviews, following up with a sellout at MAC in Birmingham, which was a total hoot. And by all accounts she played a stormer at Birmingham Pride 2014. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Pebble Mill 20 years ago

Twenty years ago,  I started working at BBC Pebble Mill. It was an extraordinary place. By no means perfect, it had something we don't have any more: a huge mix of talent.

 The old place. From Robin Vanag's flickr    
Landing at the BBC's then Birmingham base after twenty-plus years in commercial radio. I couldn't believe my eyes: unheard-of skills, facilities, staffing and space. 

Space? Oh yes, there was space. Pebble Mill had lush, extensive, landscaped gardens, perfect to lounge in on summer lunchtimes, and a canteen, a clubhouse and a bar. There were tennis courts beyond the clubhouse. The place boasted an on-site medical facility in case you went sick. You could enjoy subsidised aromatherapy and yoga sessions. There were dressing rooms for the TV people, and showers if you wanted to go for a run in nearby Cannon Hill Park. And hundreds of people of all shapes, sizes and skillsets worked there.

It could not have presented a bigger contrast to the world of commercial radio. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Layla, Surinder and Sharnita: Shaanti is back all month long.

Eastern Electronic logo/artwork    
A few days ago, I heard a hugely enjoyable radio interview. The guest was old and seriously articulate, and he reeled out appealing chat and interesting folk-oriented music. I wanted to hear more - quite unusual for me with today's risk-averse radio. It turns out I'd heard Seth Lakeman's dad, telling stories and playing songs. Ah, that explains it. 

A gentle reminder of what radio can still do: make you sit up, smile, and enjoy something new and different. Sadly, that's not what we generally get. And that leads me to the musicians in today's post, part of Shaanti Eastern Electronic Festival, running in Birmingham this month. One is starting out, the other is hugely involved in projects around the world. Both are at the top of their game, and both are from the West Midlands. Boy, are they ever inspiring. Boy, do they ever deserve airplay.... and do they get it? 

I'll give you one guess.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Crowd Out: The people running the biggest Birmingham choir ever

I've decided to participate in a HUGE event: Crowd Out. It's a new piece from New York composer David Lang. I will be one of a thousand voices singing and declaiming my head off. 

It's a world première. It's twenty groups of fifty people singing and shouting and giving out, arranged across four levels in Millennium point in Birmingham. It's insane, it's demanding, it's an adventure. It's going to happen in June this year. 

It's free to watch. Anyone can join in, including you. But you've got to do some rehearsing. 

I'm going to post closer to the date with something detailed about the process and the involvement. How are the rehearsals going to work? In the meantime I've got two of the people involved who are building all this: Simon Halsey and Clare Edwards. They both run choirs.