A well-deserved standing ovation [click thumbnail, right] greeted the conclusion of the first of the two special "Atom Heart Mother" nights being held in Chelsea's Cadogan Hall, in the heart of London. An audience which included musicians Phil Manzanera, Chester Kamen, and Harry Waters clearly enjoyed the mix of music, wordplay, and improvisation crafted by Ron Geesin.
Being the opening event in the two-week Chelsea Festival, there was a real mix of attendees - some of which were clearly none the wiser as to why there was a cow in the foyer of the venue, nor why there were so many people wearing furry "cow print" hats! They were soon to get an appreciation of the reason behind the cow...
The hall itself is an ornate, yet modern affair, small and cosy. Perfect, in fact, for the performance. After an introduction by the festival's Artistic Director, Stewart Collins, the brass ensemble opened the show with a piece recently written by Ron, which had many hints of AHM within. Ron then took the stage, playing an improvised piano piece, read some poems and shared some of his aphorisms.
Fight or Flight, a duet with cellist Caroline Dale followed, with Ron playing a mean banjo with Eastern tuning alongside Caroline's delicate strings. After another banjo song - an improvised "Conversation Piece with a Banjo", which in turn seemed to delight and surprise the crowd, he showcased his skills with the marimba, leading to a wonderful piece with the 30-odd person choir orating alongside the sound of a slowed-down blackbird.
Ron's sense of fun, mischief, and talent on whatever instrument he picked up was a joy to see, although it was clear that some in the audience had no idea what they were going to experience. A great showman, modest, warm and very down-to-earth.
The second half saw a slightly rearranged stage, and a huge projection screen, where "Atom 'Art Mother - the story" was unveiled through a series of pictures of the original score of "Pink Floyd - 'Epic'", along with a sequence of the work in Abbey Road Studios recording the piece, all narrated with good humour by Ron.
And then, the highlight of the evening: the 27-minute performance of AHM by the Italian four-piece Mun Floyd, the ten-piece brass section, the massed ranks of the Canticum choir, the conductor Mark Forkgen, Caroline Dale on Cello, and Ron Geesin on piano.
Spine-tingling stuff, it was a joy to hear such a full performance of the piece, which was last played by Pink Floyd live back in May 1972. With some slightly tweaked parts - an extended "Funky Dung" with Caroline Dale letting loose on her instrument, and a wonderful interplay between a member of the choir and the guitarist Federico Maremmi, the piece really came to life again in a triumphant way.
An additional change was an altered (in certain places) guitar part, suggested to Maremmi by David Gilmour who worked through it with the Italian guitarist. One presumes that David, who is guesting on the second show (Sunday night), will also be using this revised guitar part. Oh, and Ron Geesin didn't forget the background voice from the original recording, improvising the "Silence in the studio" line himself on stage!
With a much welcomed reprise of the thrilling finale of the piece, the evening was brought to an end. A wonderful achievement by Ron, and the rest of the performers, each of whom did a great job. Now, can this be topped in the second of the two shows?
[Picture credits - above, Brain Damage, below, Zack from Pink-Floyd.it]
CONCERT REVIEW by BD CONTRIBUTOR, Michael Mason
Personally, before a gig I like to go to a pub with a blasting jukebox, sticky carpet and barstaff that look like vampires. No such luck in the viscinity of Cadogan Hall. Having paid four quid for half a shandy (I'm just so hardcore these days) I decided to wander a little further afield and found a little pub that was a little more to my tastes (though the Hooray-Henry stag-do that was in progress was less entertaining than a jukebox would have been. Or a kick in the testicles). Maybe it was the lack of special guests but there were very few Floydies in evidence. Should be a different matter this evening.
The Hall itself is a magnificent building and a perfect venue for one of the oddest shows I've ever attended. Geesin is a natural with an audience. Unassuming and barking-mad in equal measures, he treated the congregation to a quite fantastic performance of unorthodox virtuosity, crashing discordant brass and unabashed silliness.
The show commenced with The Royal College Of Music Brass Ensemble performing a strange 8-minute stop-start piece specifically written for the festival and conducted by Mark Forkgen. The multitude of random stabs and lack of any cohesive structure didn't prevent the performers from executing the piece with perfection, as you'd expect from musicians of this caliber. Geesin himself then took to the stage and, after briefly introducing himself, performed another untitled piece on the beautiful resident Steinway Grand Piano. Frenetic and engaging, it was reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov had he provided the soundtrack for a Keystone Cops chase scene.
Next, Geesin recited some thought-provoking aphorisms including the highly-relevant "Composers: Serious composers are those entirely lacking in humour" and "Religion is simply philosophy in a state of panic."
Putting spoken frivolity aside briefly he then welcomes Caroline Dale onstage to perform a duet entitled 'Fight or Flight' with Geesin playing an 'Eastern'-tuned banjo. Caroline Dale is, quite simply, exquisite. Elegant, sexy and profoundly talented, her mesmeric technique and movement combines well with Geesin's thoughtful and thought-provoking dirge. It's a highlight of an already very interesting evening. Staying with his favourite instrument, he then performs 'Conversation Piece With Banjo' solo. As the title suggests it consists of Geesin arguing in gobbledygook with his instrument and is as mental a performance as you're ever likely to witness. 200 years ago he would have been frog-marched from the stage in restraints, but it fits perfectly into tonight's repertoire.
The first half closes with Geesin playing solo bass marimba before being joined by The Canticum Chorus who conclude the piece, 'Blue Blackbird', in his absence. He returns to the stage to explain that the vocal arrangement represents the wind flowing beneath and around the bird, whose pitch-reduced strains are played over the small PA during the piece. It works very well and is well received by the throng who then take a 20-minute break to collect their senses before the much-anticipated performance of Atom Heart Mother Suite.
The second half commences with Geesin recounting the history of the epic piece with a slideshow of period photographs and scans of the original score. Much of the tale is printed in the program (well worth a fiver by the way) as is a scan of the original newspaper article that provided the piece with it's title. After 15 minutes of rhetoric the whole cast assemble to perform a 30-minute version of Geesin's most famous work. Mun Floyd do an admirable job of filling the most famous of shoes and a couple of nervous mistakes on behalf of the rhythm section only serve to make the recital more true to the spirit of the original. Forkgen holds the assembled together well, and Mun Floyd are clearly having the time of their lives (so far). It's a stunning performance which raises the audience to it's feet in admiration and sheer pleasure.
I think it's a very good thing that there were no surprise guests this evening as their presence would have overshadowed what was deservedly Geesin's night. The avuncular oldish man provided The Chelsea Festival with the best publicity they could have wished for and the crowd were thoroughly entertained from start to finish. It's a good thing I didn't find the pub I was hoping for. The charm and refinement of the area are a good set-up for the show, which should be approached with caution by anyone expecting a full-on Floyd extravaganza.