I’ve taken part in several ECM festivals over the years but none as friendly, inspirational and simply joyous as the Triskel ECM Weekend in Cork. From start to finish the ECM community was infused with an Irish generosity of spirit which touched us all.
The weekend began with Amores Pasados (rather poignantly, exactly a year since Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and I recorded the album with Manfred Eicher at Rainbow Studios in Oslo). Triskel Christchurch is a lovely venue and we’d probably have done an acoustic set if ours had been the only event, but since Arve Henriksen, Food and Quercus would be using PA later we decided to give ourselves a bit of a boost. Soundman Dara got it absolutely right – very discreet and with a little extra for the lutes. We tried Jake Heringman’s new arrangements of Peter Warlock’s The Bayly and Corpus Christi (the latter featuring Anna on fiddle), part of our evolving repertoire of early 20th century song. As usual, we enjoyed ourselves hugely.
The next day there was a showing of Sounds and Silence, the ECM ‘road movie’ and essential viewing for its key insights into the work of Manfred Eicher. This was followed later by a couple of fringe events: an introduction to Ergodos Records (Triskel has its own record shop) and a concert by composer/performers Seán Mac Erlaine, Linda Buckley, Michelle O’Rourke and the two founders of Ergodos Garrett Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly. It was an inspired idea to put the young and dynamic record company/performing ensemble alongside the ECM events (and great to hear some Dowland too). Then in the evening came the double bill of Arve Henriksen and Food (Ian Ballamy and Thomas Strønen). I’ve admired Ian Ballamy’s sax playing for ages and it was great to hear him live (and his sitting in at the festival club afterwards was awesome). Strønen’s playing was as detailed and impressive as ever, but the evening really came alive when Arve Henriksen joined them for the first time in many years. Arve is famous for making his trumpet sound like a flute (and for being Mr Anna Maria Friman, of course) but he’s much, much more than that. His trumpet playing is exquisite (and having brought up a trumpet player myself I know a little about it) but his singing is revelatory. His voice often negotiates with the trumpet or uses invented language, but the final piece morphed into All I want is a Fried Egg Sandwich (don’t try and Google it…). This was so unexpected and surreal that we sat there literally open mouthed (desperate for fried egg too, obviously). It was absolutely stunning.
The next day we had a Banter panel session, where Jim Carroll of the Irish Times interrogated composer Linda Buckley, Ergodos record label director Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, Triskel’s artistic director Tony Sheehan and me about ‘the cultural connections which ensue when someone decides to act on their vision’. The IT had run a very perceptive piece by Cormac Larkin about Manfred Eicher a few days earlier, and the discussion ranged widely over the cultural reach and vision of Manfred, the state of the record making and music listening communities, and the future of recording and performing in an age of diminishing public funding and fragmented artistic endeavour. I tried to make a point (still rather half-formed in my head) that recording and live performance are essentially the same thing, especially as Manfred Eicher’s recordings are a kind of hyper-live process which capture a moment of creation which then defines what the music is. I’d got into a bit of trouble with Cormac Larkin in the bar the night before when stumbling my way through this idea, comparing the academic view of ‘great music’ residing in the score, as opposed to its performance. I shouldn’t have used the vacuous term ‘great music’ – and I’ll have more to say about this when I get going on my next book in the new year.
The final concert was Qercus (Ian Ballamy, Huw Warren and June Tabor). Huw Warren must be one of the most lyrical pianists around and his playing was the most delicate and subtle imaginable. Ian Ballamy was in full lyrical flow too, and they both supported June Tabor like family members. June herself showed us what real singing is about – how it’s a direct line to the emotional side of the brain (as Meredith Monk once put it). Bob Dylan’s Don’t think Twice It’s Alright was one of the most moving performances I’ve heard for a long time. Butterworth’s The Lads in their Hundreds similarly. No ‘classical’ singer could possibly have found such pathos in a hundred years of singing lessons. The spoken encomium at the end was followed by Huw Warren’s barely audible start to Teares, his elegiac Dowland tribute. It was heart-stopping.
Organising any sort of festival takes a huge amount of hard work over a long period of time. Dedicating it to that unique and visionary enterprise that is so much more than a record company takes a very special kind of application and patience that few people are capable of. Thank you Tony Sheehan – you absolutely nailed it. Thanks too, to the rest of the team, especially Robert and Tina who made our stay both problem-free and a lot of fun. It was a wonderful way to end the first year of our Amores Pasados adventure – what a year it’s been.