Tuesday 30 December 2014


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

When it comes to putting on Christmas shows you would be hard pushed to top Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band with their Carols and Capers.

Maddy Prior of both Steeleye Span and The Carnival Band
With the Carnival Band playing instruments which are not only unusual but have been specially made - some from old drawings, and playing music - some of which is hundreds of years old, you have a good show on its own.
But throw in the unmistakable voice and presence of Maddy Prior and a choir with at least 50 voices and you have a festive display which is both, rich, diverse and impressive.
When she was not singing or taking a back seat to the Carnival Band, Prior swished around the stage in flowing skirts to the music expressively.
There were tunes straight out of the middle ages, traditional carols such as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and not so traditional such as A Boy Was Born In Bethlehem. All in all it was a night of great music and spectacle which goes a long way to keep the musical traditions of the UK alive.
The Carnival Band kicked off proceedings with All You That Are Good Fellows which included a tune called The Honeysuckle.
It was during these tunes that Ms Prior swished onto the stage and showed off some of her dancing skills before launching into a traditional rendition of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Straight away you got the sound of why Prior is one of the most respected singers on the folk circuit with the depth and vibrancy of her voice.
This was followed by the beautifully played A Boy Was Born In Bethlehem concluding with La Rosette with Prior's voice filling the hall with her rich distinct lyrics.
The music from the Carnival Band has that authentic feel about it and they were able to recreate as sound which was as it has been for centuries.
Maddy with The Carnival Band
Adopting a softer tone she sang the beautiful lullaby which can be traced back to the 1400s but is better know as The Coventry Carol which prior sang with a haunting lilt to her rendition. The CB's backing and harmonies added a wonderful texture to the song.
The CB, which is made up of Andy Watts, Giles Lewin, Jub Davis, Steno Vitale and Steve Banks, is a fascinating group in their own right but there is definitely a magic which happens when they team up with Prior.
Not only do they give you a festive show like no other but they also give you at least some of the history and tradition behind the songs and tunes.
The range and styles of music they can produce and blend is just fascinating. There was, for example, Shepherds Rejoice which brought together the original words from this side of the Atlantic and the more contemporary music score from the other side of the pond.
Prior, had taken a back seat for this rendition but was soon back at the mic for two pieces one of which was written by Banks to a traditional story of a robin and the second, was the better known Angel Gabriel which had the feel of Gregorian chant but with Prior's sharp voice rising over the top to fill the ornately decorated Town Hall with a majestic sound.
On a night of festive culture such as this, it was inevitable some poetry would be used and Banks set a Wordsworth creation to his own music called Minstrels with Prior singing in a style which was a cross between operatic and music hall.
Medieval pipes
The music then moved on to the continent for some French carols and which can be traced back to 17th and 18th centuries and was played on bagpipes by Watts which looked like they came straight off a Medieval tapestry.
The rest of the band soon filled out the sound until you felt you were in a full blown carnival or in the great of hall of some king amid the overwhelming festivities.
They went into the interval with Truth Sent From Above and the Shepherds Arise and just with their voices they produced a heavenly sound and even among all the strong men's voices you could still hear Prior's distinct tones.
When they opened the second half the stage was filled with at least 50 choristers and they lifted the entire hall with a wall of sound fit for a king of old and thrown in was Prior swishing around like the elegant lady of the manor, to produce a fantastic spectacle. Prior and the band stood aside for the choir to then sing Mortals Awake to a tune called the Nativity which most will know as Oh For A Thousand Tongues.
This was followed by a song from Isaac Watts called the Cradle Song which was again set to an American tune. This started with the male voices followed by the females it sounded like something from a film and wouldn't have been out of place in epics such as Cold Mountain and Lord of the Rings. The choir's voices were blended just perfectly.
It wouldn't really be a festive show without a wassail and so Prior duly obliged with a tune which had a faint Bavarian oompah feel about it, and with Prior's voice joining the choir they produced a magnificently festive sound.
The choir then left the stage and they spent a few minutes decorating it, and each other, with tinsel and brought out the tree.
Things then took a slightly surreal turn as the band wearing animal masks for the Round of the Animals, which was exactly what it said on the tin, with a plethora of farmyard impersonations thrown in for good measure. Prior brought a little decorum back with two more French renditions before the band went into jazz mode based on a tune from Mark Antoine Charpentier and sounded not too dissimilar to God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and of course there was a fair bit of musical ad-libbing.
Adoration of the Magi
As the concert wound down they pulled out an incredible version of I Saw Three Ships with everything thrown in but the kitchen sink. Prior then let her lungs off the leash with their New Orleans version of In Excelsis Deo and even threw in some swishing around the stage.
If you ever want your money's worth of festivities and something different, moving, thoughtful, exciting and on occasion a little off the wall then you cannot miss Carols & Capers from Ms Prior and the Carnival band. It's one of the reasons you are sorry Christmas only comes around once a year.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

No comments:

Post a Comment