Sunday 23 December 2012


Live Review

Carols & Capers

TownHall, Birmingham

If there was one show that could have lifted your spirits and put you in the right mood for Christmas then Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band was it, with an eclectic mix of traditional carols and musical styles that were an absolute delight.

Celebrating their 25th year Maddy and The Carnival used almost every instrument you could think of and some you probably couldn’t, from medieval recorders to Belgian-style bagpipes recreated from old paintings.
After the introduction from The Carnival, Maddy opened with the wonderful Il Dulci Jubilo, a gentle carol with her soft voice accentuated by the recorders deep rich tones. This was followed by A Coventry Carol which started off with just Maddy and a single acoustic guitar but the song was soon filled out complimented by the male voices of the Carnival members.
The Carnival was here to have fun and their enthusiasm soon spilled over into the almost packed hall. The audience lapped up a trilogy of bird songs about an owl, a thrush, a crow, a crane and a resurrected roast chicken.
This opened with the playful use of the bassoon with Maddy even throwing in some Morris dancing before moving on to the thrush, based on a poem by Thomas Hardy which was more of a lament with the growling sound of the double bass and then finally on to a lighter jig sound for the last part which gave Maddy a chance to express her vocal range.
The recorder was used to mimic the sound of birdsong and this was underpinned by Glen Lewin offering some wonderful fiddle playing and the versatile Andy Watts, this time on clarinet, introducing a jazz style note to proceedings.
Maddy then took a backseat as The Carnival played Romanian dances from their Around the World album which again brought in some fantastic fiddle playing reminiscent of Yiddish music which then slumbered into a dance macabre before lightening up and building to a racing crescendo. This was followed by the haunting Snow In The Street, a medieval-style song which started off a Capella and was based on the music of Vaughan Williams then in complete contrast, to finish the half, the group went out on, of all things, the Pearl & Dean theme.
The full Carnival Choir was brought on for the second half and provided a wealth of voices which added a new dimension to the already wondrous sound of the musicians. Their rendition of Sing, Sing All The Earth filled the entire hall with a rich sound that washed over the audience with a warm glow.
Maddy and The Carnival threw in traditional and moving carols, songs in Latin from the 13th century mixed with a Latin cha cha cha beat; decorated the stage with tinsel; gave a wassailing song; a mini panto and even had a dig at the madness of “elf 'an safety” with a comic ditty, which you can see on Youtube.
They carried on with their own interpretations of well-known carols which didn't deviate too much from the traditional on songs such as In The Bleak Midwinter,
Now in full flight, the musicians pulled out another Vaughan Williams inspiration with the drinking song Back And Side Go Bare which had real guts and an undercurrent which sounded like Egyptian Reggae and a feel of being close to getting out of control like a lot of Bellowhead's music.
There was a New Orleans/Cajun style of Gloria In Excelsis Deo before we went through the almost obligatory encore ritual which produced one of the highlights of the night when they pulled out all the stops with the fantastic M.Charpentier's Christmas Swing which included a toe-tappingly wonderful version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. This gave way to a spiritual from the choir alone and finished with Maddy singing Three Ships to which the fiddle playing brought a distinct Gaelic strand.
The music and singing of Maddy and The Carnival was so infectious that even the devil himself would have been looking forward to the Nativity by the end of the set.

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