29 August 2014

Return to the Voice at Battersea Arts Centre was reassuringly haunting

The Battersea Arts Centre is my sort of place, I just wish that it was a little closer. The main hall is host to a wickedly diverse range of shows, I've not been to a "normal" play there yet, and the lovely building also has a welcoming bar area that is the ideal place to go before a show. This time I had a beer and a burger both of which hit the required spots.

I was there to see Return to the Voice, which I had forgotten was a concert. What attracted me to it was the promise of a work inspired by ancient Gaelic and Scottish music, including laments for death and love, psalms and songs of exile. It helped that the group behind it were called Song of the Goat Theatre and they came from Poland.

Every show I've seen at Battersea has been different and so has the seating arrangement. This time it was surprisingly standard with normal chairs laid in slightly curved rows on the flat hall floor facing the raised stage. No racked theatre seating for this one. I managed to grab a decent chair in about the fourth row just to the right of centre.

The show opened with a solo song presented from the platform built at the front of the stage. They were joined musically by a solo musician playing something like a Uilleann pipe, i.e. a small single pipe fed from a bag inflated with bellows.

Then the other singers. I did not count them very carefully but I think that there were ten of them, five men and five women. They sang a series of short ballads, mostly a cappella, in a language that I did not recognise, not that that mattered. What did matter was the mood of the music and that was as lyrical and haunting as I had hoped it would be. I am not at all familiar with modern Gaelic music so the only near comparison I can give is Enya.

There were a succession of songs, each I would guess at around the standard album track length of four minutes. There was a lot of group singing, some more soloists and the pipes made a reappearance too. There was even some movement but nothing like enough to be called dancing, it was more a readjustment of the pieces on the stage as the music changed.

It was well off my usual beaten track musically but I enjoyed it immensely none-the-less. Perhaps it was my Irish heritage reminding me that it was there.

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