September 27th, 2008

English Music

Hopping from channel to channel last night, I settled on a film of Jacqueline du Pre playing the Elgar cello concerto. I could see at once it was special, with that clarity and intensity you only get in black and white. Du Pre was very young, very exposed- and I felt like a voyeur. Mostly when you watch musicians at work they seem well aware of their audience,  playing up to them, gifting them with little touches of drama and melodrama- but Du Pre was in a trance, like a pythoness above a vent, breathing in the tainted smoke, giving out prophecy. I've heard the Elgar many times, but I've never felt before just what an uneasy, neurotic, feverish piece it is. Du Pre, alone on her sad height, seemed to embody it.

Afterwards- same channel- we were whisked over to the Cambridge festival where the super-group The Imagined Village were playing English folk. The line-up included Billy Bragg, both Carthys, bhangra drummer Johnny Kalsi, world-fusion group Transglobal Underground  and other top musicians from a range of traditions to the number of fourteen.  They're trad, they're multicultural, they're exploring what it means to be English in the early 21st century and they tear up the stage. I love 'em.