So, how about some challenges successfully risen to?
At university I had a real problem with the word ‘however’ littering my essays. Sometimes in the first drafts there would be two in the same sentence. The problem with trying to counterbalance a rather negative post about failing to overcome challenges is the other challenges are still caused by bad stuff happening …
So, about three weeks ago the String Project’s excellent female lead singer and pianist Harry (Angharad) got rushed into hospital with unknown causes of flu-like symptoms, extreme fatigue and then seizures. She turned out to have a partially ruptured cyst in her brain. (To cut out the unnecessary suspense and because it’s kind of a separate story, or at least another plot, she was successfully operated on a few days later, has been discharged from hospital and is now recuperating quite satisfactorily at home.)
This meant losing her for the Bristol leg of our gig exchange with Eko Collective, a well-paid and important gig at the Cherwell Boathouse earlier this week, and possibly more. Which is unfortunate given a lot of recently-written material had been at least partly written around Angharad’s singing, and some very successful covers revived or undertaken with her doing lead vox as well. There inevitably followed a flurry of shuffling parts around and digging older items of the back catalogue, initially to enable us to do the 40-minute set in Bristol with the available people. This we managed, and while we would all rather have had Harry, I think it went well. Particular credit to Jo Rubery for learning her first lead vocal with the group and one of Ben’s more technical piano parts in under two weeks flat!
However, the bigger mountain to climb followed when several inconvenient truths were brought back to our attention concerning the Cherwell Boathouse gig, namely:
- It was ten days after the Bristol gig, leaving little time to prepare.
- We were expected to provide two hours of music in total.
- Harry was (is) still unavailable.
- Jo was going to be in the process of leaving the country, to teach English in Cambodia.
- Our other lead vocalist (and synth / electronics / occasional guitar man) Justin was going to be out of the country.
There’s nothing like pressure to bring on creativity though. We did hire a dep pianist for the job, who conveniently turned out to sing and play blues guitar as well (thanks Dan Clark, you were awesome!). But the rest of the band also contrived to pull lots of material out of the cupboard. Ben finished scoring a new collaboration with Pieman (who also stole the show with a short solo set), trawled out a published string quartet arrangement with a cello line that could be moved to double bass, and put together some folk sets with harmony viola lines that Wulf, Pieman on stripped-down kit and me on guitar backed up. I rereworked my string quartet arrangement of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba to be playable with double bass instead of cello and persuaded Pieman to beatbox on it. We learnt some straight arrangements / bits of light classical, and jammed together passable versions (with Dan on keys) of a couple of jazz standards. I led most of the group through a rough-and-ready but enthusiastic version of St James Infirmary Blues.
The surprising result of this (and the audience taking well over the scheduled half hour to help themselves to buffet food) was we actually had substantial repertoire to spare – as well as the real possibility of building / maintaining an accessible but stylish and distinctive ‘function’ repertoire for a less creative but better-paid strand of gigs that might make it easier for the band to at least break even.
Come back to future posts for orchestral soul-noir, the benefits of a good conductor and Filthy stretching …