Last week, on my way in to playing my customary Wednesday night in the Cobblestone, I noticed this flyer up on the door advertising that The North Strand Klezmer Band were to be playing there in two days’ time on the Friday.
On seeing the flyer, I noodged kvetch and said
- “Ooooooh, let’s go to that!”
In his usual efforts to exemplify good serfness, kvetch took note of all the relevant details for later perusal.
Now, I must emphasise here that I don’t often want to go to other people’s gigs. Most of my musical colleagues are surprised at how seldom I attend live music performances other than the ones I play in. It would take a whole other blog post to go into my reasons for hardly ever going to live music events other than my own, so I’ll leave that topic for another time. I think it’s enough for now just to say that despite my usual issues, I was so extra bonus interested in this that I wanted to go to it.
Recently, I’ve been suffering from some kind of upper respiratory ailment.
- (some of the less-neurotic cognoscenti might call it “a cold”)
Of course, those things always feel more uncomfortable than they are painful, and maybe “suffering” might not quite describe it accurately for some people, but I’ve been feeling fairly miserable with it, and so, I say I’ve been suffering, so there.
- Oyyyy, the sufferingggggg.
Ok, enough with the suffering.
Thursday night I’d slept really badly. Kvetch had got home late and hadn’t slept much either by the time he had to go to work the next day. I dozed on and off during Friday, but kvetch hadn’t had much rest, and he weighed in after work at 7, feeling all weary and worn out from a long and stressful week.
Anyhow, the point of all this is that neither of us had any energy nor felt much like going out, but I knew this would be a good night and an event worth going to. So I noodged and prodded kvetch through the coffee-and-dinner-making proceedings, and managed to get us both out of the house at a timely 21:35.
- This was a mere 35 minutes after the support act was due to start. :)
Fortunately, the Cobblestone is a convenient minute-and-a-half’s stagger from our place, so it didn’t take us long to get there.
And, as I had suspected, in the tradition of live music all over Ireland, the music hadn’t got anywhere near starting yet, so we were in plenty of time.
In the minute and a half or so it took us to get to the Cobblestone, it started to drizzle, and then rain on us pretty heavily.
- Shock Newsflash: RAIN IN DUBLIN.
As we rounded the corner, I saw what looked like a large crowd congregated outside the venue, and I thought, wow, are there that many klezmer fans in Dublin?? I turned to kvetch.
- “Do you think that’s the queue?”
“Oh god I hope not.”
Fortunately, it turned out only partly to be the queue, and partly people who’d been inside already having come out to have a smoke before the performance started. Still, the venue was fairly stuffed full of people and it wasn’t long before a sign proclaiming “FULL” in green marker was stuck up on the door.
- In traditional Irish fashion, the sign was put “on display” on a door which had been left open for some ventilation, and as a result, the sign was only visible through a glass pane from the inside of the venue.
I wasn’t about to dispute the issue, since the conditions inside were just a tad on the moistly warm side of things. The evening air was humid, and I was glad the door was open even though it wasn’t helping much. The venue was crowded in its stuffed-full-of-peopleness, and the air had that damp and sultry way about it that makes all the escaped bits of my hair curl up. Even the bits of hair that were stuck to me were curling up in a whoosh like those baby hedgehogs do.
Where was I? Oh yes, the gig.
On paying the modest €10 entry fee, our hands were stamped with the image of a cheerful smiley face. A most auspicious start to the evening, I thought. :)
There were only the smallest number of seats available, and they’d clearly all been nabbed well before our arrival. But one of the things about Cobblestone’s is that it’s actually two venues, the “Back Room” where the gig was, and the front bar where I usually go. Kvetch, having offered to find me a seat from next door, went off in search of one and returned with the report that he was unable to find a tall bar stool, but could bring me a short stool.
I accepted the offer of a short stool with gratitude and a smile. :)
After sitting on this short stool for a wee while, and admiring the wooden panelling at the front of the bar, people’s knees, and the general leg and footwear populace as a whole, I felt a poke on my shoulder, and turned around to see the door entry guy offering me a tall bar stool.
I indulged myself with some arse plantage on the stool, and thanked him most sincerely. And he said something like, well you can’t see anything from down there!
- (well, yeah, I know I couldn’t, but I didn’t expect anybody to care)
(actually, I could see legs, but that was kind of beside the point)
Anyhow, it was amazing of him to sacrifice his seat for me, and I was really glad of it, even though we were right down at the far end of the bar and couldn’t see much anyhow.
This same especially considerate door guy gave us the useful tip of moving the stool right down near the front of the bar during the break whilst most of the people were out for a smoke or visiting the pee-atorium, so we did get to see a whole lot more during the last set.
- (as the upcoming pictures will demonstrate)
So I personally put in a big fat yay!! for generous considerate door guy. :D
So, the applaud and the yay having been directed towards the appropriate target, let’s move swiftly on to the review, shall we? :)
During the time leading up to around 22:30, a man had been standing on the stage with a violin all by himself. His name turned out to be Aland Assiri.
A little background about Aland I found on the web:
- “Aland was born in Kurdistan in 1980. He studied music at the Institute of Fine Arts and was a violinist with the Kurdistan Orchestra for two years. He was a founder member of a successful chamber music ensemble “Shabang” which means Dawn. After this he came to Ireland and sought asylum. Since then he has, amongst many musical activities, completed the Blas International Summer School for Irish Traditional Music & Dance at the University of Limerick (June-July 2005), been a member of the Doras Luimní/Impact Theatre cross-cultural music project “Coffee and Cream” and has completed the Irish Composition Summer School at NUI Maynooth (July 2007).“
Aland Assiri – All By Himself On The Stage
Aland first made an announcement about the tardiness of the headline act being due to their delay at a previous gig elsewhere that day. He apologised for the delay of the other band, and then proceeded to entertain us with some solo violin. I listened with interest.
Once he started to play, there were several things about Aland’s performance which grabbed my notice:
- Aland Assiri is technically a very capable player with an excellent ear.
- The sound from the PA was unfortunately far too bassy and was significantly distorting the amplified violin sound right through from treble to bass.
- Notwithstanding any issues with the PA, and his personal excellence as a player, Aland’s acoustic violin had a very poor amplified sound.
- Aland sounded badly in need of a dedicated electric violin for performing in amplified settings.
- Aland didn’t appear to be very experienced with engaging and (more importantly) keeping an audience’s focus when playing entirely alone.
Aland’s technical ability was one of the first things I noticed. In the places where one would normally expect Irish-trained fiddlists to make mistakes and/or be out of tune, all of that just entirely failed to materialise. I kept expecting bad technique and out of tune disasters, but they never happened, not once throughout his entire performance. Sadly for most Irish-trained musicians, I was quite impressed by this.
I don’t know who the sound engineer was, or even if there was one. There was a sound desk with a light and a pair of headphones, but I never saw the headphones wrapped round anybody’s actual head in actual use or anything.
Unfortunately, the basics of acoustic physics, electricity, electronics, and sound engineering are usually omitted from the educational curriculum of the violinist-in-training. As useful as I have found all of the music theory, ear training, ensemble training and violin technique I learnt, I really, really could have done with a whole lot more of those science topics I listed above. Knowing those would have saved me a whole lot of time and expense and frustration. Based on the poor amplified sound of Aland Assiri’s instrument, I’m guessing he wasn’t taught much about those science topics either.
One of the biggest difficulties I’ve encountered as a gigging fiddlist (in addition to not being taught those vital science topics I mentioned above), is that almost every professional (and pretty much every single amateur) sound engineer lacks the understanding that a violin is not a guitar, and that the violin actually has very specialist and different sound requirements to a guitar.
Anyhow, for whatever reason, the sound, unfortunately, was quite dreadful.
(which is admittedly a difficult and tricky thing to do).
One thing about the violin as an instrument in solo performance, is that even amplified, it can sound very thin and sparse when played solo with no rhythmical, melodic, or harmonic accompaniment. In my experience, it takes a great deal of special understanding, care, and skill for a solo violinist to be able to successfully engage (and, more importantly, to persistently keep) an audience’s focus. Mostly, I have found that the solo violin can very easily be largely ignorable in performance, and I think that this is why it is so popular as an accompaniment to meals in restaurants.
(I have done many ignorable, forgettable, and tedious gigs in restaurants)
Unfortunately, Aland seemed to lack the experience necessary to successfully project the rhythms sufficiently to consistently engage and keep engaging the whole crowd’s focus in the venue. But he’s only 28, and I’m guessing that up til now he has probably had limited experience in playing popular music entirely solo. So I hope that a musician of his evident talent will eventually develop the skills necessary to improve his performance in this area. Being able to engage and keep the engagement of an audience whilst playing solo violin is a difficult skill, but a most handy one to have.
I shall be interested to see if this element of Aland’s performance improves over time. :)
I’d be very interested to hear Aland playing behind a decent sound system with a capable and sensitive sound engineer at the helm.
I’d be very interested to hear Aland playing a decent dedicated electric violin.
- (if you’re reading this, Aland, please feel free to have a look at my post and comments detailing what I learnt from researching electric violins)
And I’d be very much interested to hear Aland playing again in company with other capable, talented, and musically stylish klezmorim (or whomever).
Overall, I enjoyed Aland’s performance tremendously, and I’ll be looking out to see when he’s performing next.
Having finished doing a tough solo gig in a hot, sweaty, long and narrow venue, Aland Assiri left the stage to warm applause to allow the headline act to set up. The headline act, formerly trading as The North Strand Klezmer Band are now apparently operating under their new name, The North Strand Contra Band.
Having dragged kvetch (and myself) out to this thing when neither of us really felt like moving much more than an inch or two in either direction, I was really looking forward to what I hoped would liven us up a good bit.
Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
Now, I think I could legitimately be allowed some skepticism regarding the abilities of some very probably non-Jewish Irish musicians to play klezmer music convincingly and appropriately. I mean, klezmer as a genre hasn’t exactly been gripping the nation as the latest, hottest trend since black became the new black. And the band members hardly have the most Jewish names I’ve ever come across:
- Peter Sheridan (percussion)
- Daniel Page (clarinet)
- Luke Page (piano accordion)
- Jack McMahon (alto saxophone)
- Martin Gruet (double bass)
- Stephan Daly (guitar)
- Colm O’Hara (trombone)
Ok, maybe Martin Gruet could be a Jewish name. And ok, sure, they could all possibly have Jewish mothers (god help them if they have). But how likely is that?!
Anyhow, the whole point turned out to be moot, because they played klezmer like proper professional Jewish neurotics, and within the first few moments of them starting, I knew we were going to have a fabulous night. :)
Now, unlike Aland, these players sounded less obviously technically able, at least as a group. It was difficult for me to tell how good each was individually, because the sound had not improved at all (what with the sound desk remaining unattended). But the rhythms and overall performance had what Aland’s unfortunately lacked –
- It was hot!! :)
They had the whole venue (including myself, kvetch, generous door guy, and the bar staff) dancing right from the start, and the dancing didn’t stop until they did. The North Strand Klezmer Band sold the shit out of every number they performed.
This was a reminder to me, and confirmed my opinion that it almost (not quite, but almost) doesn’t matter what is being performed, as long as it is being well sold by the performer. If you’ve ever heard Shane McGowan or Ruby Wax sing, you’ll know that a person does not have to be able to sing in order to successfully sell a performance. I was reminded yet again that performing is an entirely different and separate skill to playing an instrument.
Now, I can unequivocally confirm that the musicians comprising the North Strand Klezmer Band can sing and play to an excellent standard. The point I’m trying to emphasise here is that, aside from technical musical ability (which they have), their ability, skill, and flair for selling a performance is, without doubt, exceptional.
Another very interesting thing about their performance was that they threw in some unexpected bits and pieces from classical works, performed in their same rocking klezmer style. I recognised Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and I thought I heard some Saint-Saëns as well (possibly one of the movements from Carnival of the Animals).
- I can tell you, it was a real treat for me, to hear them mixing and matching like that. :)
They rocked my socks off the whole night.
- (ok, so I started out with no socks anyhow, but still, if I’d had any socks on, they’ve been rocked off, I swear)
I’d go to see them again, and bring all my friends, no question. The only thing I’m wondering about is whether I’ll be able to find them again, because they did make an announcement about changing their name to The North Strand Contra Band. I’d be interested to hear more about why they think the new name is better than the old.
I unequivocally recommend the North Strand Klezmer/Contra Band to anybody looking for a lively, rocking, dancing, bopping night out with loads of chutzpah.
- (kvetch seconds that)
I’ll let the band speak for themselves, and leave you with some pictures I took of them at the gig, as well as a couple of youtube clips.
Earworthy Video Clipness
The first clip was recorded at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in 2006.
The second is a clip from that Cobblestone gig on 25th July which I’ve been blethering on about all this time. :p
- As you can easily hear, even allowing for the poor quality of the video recording, the sound is really atrocious in the second clip, especially when compared with the sound of their performance in the first clip in the Gaiety.
It is a real credit to the band that the poor sound did not kill their vibrancy and fabulous delivery. We had such a good night regardless of the sound, I can’t imagine how much more we’d’ve enjoyed ourselves if the sound had been up to the standard of the performance.
At the Gaiety Theatre, 2006
At the Cobblestone, 25 July, 2008
See you at their next gig! :)