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Ian Briggs » northern ireland

Gig review: Evan Christopher, North Down Museum, 30th May 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 31st May 2012 at 6:59 pm

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , | No comments

It is not often that world-class musicians visit Northern Ireland, so when the opportunity arose to see one of the very best clarinettists close to home, I couldn’t afford to miss out.

Evan Christopher

Evan Christopher

Direct from New Orleans, Evan Christopher played a concert in the North Down Museum in Bangor, where an audience of almost one hundred people turned out to see him.

In a previous blog post I wrote a review of his last visit to Northern Ireland in 2010, in what was a great gig at the Black Box in Belfast. This time he returned with the same group of stunning musicians: David Blenkhorn on guitar, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, and Sebastien Girardot on bass.

The playing was top class: beautiful interactions between the instruments, virtuosic playing from all the ensemble members and repertoire that was a mixture of slow, romantic songs (including one with Christopher singing vocals which was a nice interlude in the programme) contrasted with full-on, high-energy rhythms.

The solos were inventive in their style, but also full of that blues roots that screams New Orleans jazz. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that the performance did not follow the usual jazz format, in that the solos were mixed up and seemed to blend into one another seamlessly.

Christopher’s clarinet playing is sublime; a breathy, sultry low range lifts into a vibrant mid range and the clarity and ease with which he hits the very top notes is just amazing. As with all pro musicians, he has an incredible ability to make the most difficult things looks very easy, and this is true of the rest of the group: David Blenkhorn’s guitar playing is subtle when playing with the others, and yet he produces brilliantly crafted solos when needed.  Similarly the rhythm guitar playing of Dave Kelbie is so relaxed but provides that solid straight-ahead percussive ‘beat’ that drives the music forward, and is backed up by some fantastic bass playing from Sebastien Girardot who manages to create a rich, resonant sound and include some percussive slap-bass technique that gives  his solos a difference dimension.

It was another fantastic gig from this quartet and a great opportunity for people to hear this unique sound. I have embedded a YouTube video of the group below, which is well worth a listen. Check out this fabulous group if you ever get the chance.

 

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Film Review: The Story of Film – An Odyssey

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 17th April 2012 at 9:32 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , , | No comments

I’m just back from hearing Mark Cousins discuss his latest cinematic masterpiece “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” at the QFT in Belfast.

The last time I heard Cousins was at a screening of his last documentary film “The First Movie” which I wrote about here.  This was part of the Belfast Film Festival, at which Cousins also spoke at a discussion on censorship in film.  Having heard him previously, I was delighted to hear that he was appearing in Belfast again.

The evening started with a screening of a much-abridged version of the film (for it is not a TV series!).  This picked out some of the highlights of the 15-hour work and was followed by a wonderful discussion, with Cousins being questioned by fellow Belfast filmmaker Brian Henry Martin and members of the audience.

Isn’t it great to listen to someone talk so passionately about what they do?  This is exactly what we were treated to tonight, with Cousins speaking eloquently about content of his work, the difficulties and logistics of travelling the globe to film the movie, finding funding, and interviewing the directors, producers and actors who contributed to the footage.

Mark Cousins in discussion with Brian Henry Martin at the QFT

Mark Cousins in discussion with Brian Henry Martin at the QFT

He spoke about the great films that many of us won’t ever see: from Iran, Japan and Eastern Europe, and also touched on his interesting belief that every nation lacks belief in their own body of film; while we are quick to point out that most of what emerges from America is not high quality material, he says that many people from other countries say the same about their own national work.

On the subject of “The Story of Film…”, it was interesting to hear his response to criticism about his narration style (which I thought was great, and reflected the passion with which he created the film). It seems the less-than-favourable reaction was considerably less pronounced outside the UK. Sad that this should detract attention from the content of the film itself, containing over 1000 clips showing the history of innovation in cinema, which as Sukhdev Sandhu sums up perfectly in a comprehensive review in the Telegraph:

In a television landscape that fears international cinema or any movie deemed challenging or original, this selection deserves to be celebrated.

Ultimately the most enjoyable thing about hearing Mark Cousins talk about his work is his infectious enthusiasm about film. You get the impression that he could talk for days on the subject and not repeat himself.  It was great to see so many people turn out to hear and meet a brilliant local filmmaker.  A great evening, and the DVD box-set is on pre-order…

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Election Day approaches

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 5th May 2010 at 4:30 pm

Categories: Politics | Tags: , | No comments

So tomorrow is election day and here in the wonderful constituency of North Down we have a vast array of names to pick from.

It seems though that the incumbent, Sylvia Hermon (who was elected in 2005 as an Ulster Unionist but who has since left the party after disagreeing with their decision to form an electoral pact with the Conservatives) is the favourite to retain her seat as an independent.

However, I I have been unable to find out what a single one of here policies are. The leaflet that came through he door only mentioned her achievements in the past like it was some sort of hastily written CV. Her website also contains nothing to tell us what she stands for and she has made no appearanes on TV.

How can anyone vote for a candidate that seemingly has no policies? Even more pressing, how can that candidate be the favourite to win?

At least the Conservative and Unionist candidate gave us some policies and ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron paid a visit to us yesterday.

Dont get me wrong, I still haven’t made up my mind but we shall see if anything happens to sway my vote one way or the other in the next 24 hours.

— Posted from my iPhone

Location:Botanic Ave,Belfast,United Kingdom

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Film Review: The First Movie

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 4th May 2010 at 2:31 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , | No comments

This incredibly powerful documentary by Belfast director Mark Cousins had an experimental feel to it. He took some hand-held video cameras to a small village in Iraq and handed them out to some of the young children to let them film their lives.

What followed was full of brilliant imagery and emotional story telling from the children themselves, focusing on their surroundings and stories from their imaginations, which prompts Cousins to reflect on his own upbringing in Belfast.

The director said in a post-show Q&A session that he needed to prove his cinematography skills in order to secure funding, and the result is some of the very best cinematography I have ever seen – long panoramic shots, close images of wildlife, and one particular scene involving the children playing with balloons were stunningly good cinema.

The film ultimately tries to tell us how film can influence and change lives, and it was an emotional and incredibly inspirational piece of film that deserves wider distribution.

This was the final film we saw at the Belfast Film Festival and what a way to end. It has been a brilliant two weeks and we have seen some fantastic films and listened to some interesting discussions. Hopefully the success of this year’s festival will lead to an even bigger event next year. In the meantime, the QFT is showing some of the festival films again over the next month or two so I may update my blog in the future with some other reviews.

The First Movie (2009): 5/5

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Holiday Time

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 2nd April 2010 at 8:53 am

Categories: Holidays, Travel | Tags: , , , | No comments

Easter is here, and it is almost holiday time again.  A few days off will be nice and we’re hoping to explore some of the Northern Ireland countryside.

Speaking of which, we were up at the North Coast last weekend with a friend of ours who was over from England.  It doesn’t matter how many times we go there, it always impresses me.  The Giant’s Causeway is a treat (even when the weather is as ferocious as it was when we were there), and the coastal drive back home is brilliant, winding its way through valleys, over hills and alongside cliffs.

We also had a sneaky stop off at Bushmills distillery, where, needless to say, a bottle of ‘medicine’ was purchased…it was on offer!  The tour there is still good, and the guide was more informative than most – especially when he got asked stupid questions from some girls on the tour!

My surround sound system is now up and running – watched a film on it last night.  As is typical, it turned out not to be filmed in 5.1 surround sound so we had to make do with 2.1…but watched a few minutes of another film that is in 5.1 and the sound was incredible…glad we don’t have neighbours too close!

The Belfast Film Festival is looming too – we have got our festival passes, so we can go to as many films as we like.  Saves me narrowing down my list of films – there really is so much going on, it’ll be nice to head down after work and sit and watch something different each night.

So for this weekend, Ellen’s dad is over for Easter.  In store for us is a trip to the brilliant St George’s market to buy some food for a Sunday lunch, enjoy some music and maybe a bacon bap.  Then a lazy day in Belfast before heading to the airport.  I’m even getting a haircut!

Then I am off next week, and I have my birthday in the middle of it, so lots of fun.  In the meantime, back to work…

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