Before continuing, we are delving deep into the archives of history today. We are gathered here to pay tribute to the work of celebrated composer Delia Derbyshire, in the realm of Manchester’s Band On The Wall, to indulge in some cross genre fusion. I am lucky enough to be attending the international symposium to mark the first official Delia Derbyshire Day, where, along with Heather Bird, I will be giving the world premiere of a major new work which takes influence from the work of Delia Derbyshire: ‘The Consequences Of Falling’, for Trumpet & Double Bass by Ailis Ni Riain.
Just to get you in the mood, have a listen to Delia Derbyshire’s iconic ‘Doctor Who’ theme. She took material by Ron Grainer and turned it into something special. Apparently Grainer asked her, on hearing it for the first time, “… Did I really write that?” Delia relied, “… Well, most of it.”
I was looking forward to this gig, so much. Band On The Wall has such a rich history. Formerly the George & Dragon pub, the venue became known as Band On The Wall because of a stage built high on the wall for the musicians to play in the late 1930s. This, largely pictorial blog, may seem a little self indulgent and the majority of photos seem to include me, but never mind that. Hopefully you can revel, along with me, in the great sense of occasion this event conjured up.
I’ve pilfered the next few paragraphs of history directly from the BOTW website. I hope they don’t mind. In the 1970s the pub was revamped and officially renamed Band On The Wall to open as a Jazz and blues venue in the early days. Entertainment included a mixture of established names and up-and coming local and national musicians seen today, and included No Mystery, Norman Beaker, Gags and piano player Joe Palin.
The Punk explosion happened in the late 1970s. Mondays soon became known as New Manchester Review nights providing a focus and support for a local political and music magazine of the time. Bands who played under this title included John Cooper Clarke, The Passage, A Certain Ratio, Joy Division (who played the night they first got a syn-drum) The Fall, Buzzcocks, John the Postman and The Distractions. Mark E Smith of The Fall was a strong supporter of the Monday night venture. Big In Japan played on Monday 13 February 1978 and whilst the name is not so well known they included future well-known musicians Jayne Casey (of Cream nightclub, Liverpool), Ian Brodie of The Lightning Seeds, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bill Drummond, manager of the Teardrop Explodes and later a member of KLF.
Iam not worthy!
1982 saw a brief shut-down and re-opening due to a buy-out by the Northern Branch of the Jazz Centre Society. There was also some internal redevelopment work. The saloon bar was now altered to a wooden raised platform making use of a job-lot of tables and seating apparently from an old Burger King restaurant in Northenden!
1982 also saw the first use of the Dizzy Gillespie logo, real ale installed and a regularly printed programme of events was put out. The re-opening gig was from The Distractions. Other performers that year included Alexis Korner, John Peel, Kevin Coyne, Melvyn Poore, ‘solo tuba and tapes’, Don Weller, P.M.T. and Electra Complex ‘ part of the Women in Entertainment night, The Fall ‘ three nights on the 3, 4, 5 May with Icelandic support band Purkur Pillnikk (featuring a young Bjork on vocals), Southern Death Cult – who ended up as stadium rock band The Cult, Albertos y los Trios Paranois, Gordon Giltrap, Nico – three nights on 6,7,8 September, Michael Nyman, Slim Gaillard, Lol Coxhill, Steve Lacey and Keith Tippett, Jimmy Witherspoon and Prince Far-I.
In 1987 the balcony was installed, and in 1991 founder of the new Band on the Wall Steve Morris died after a long illness.
This decade saw a greater concentration on quality jazz performers at the Band on the Wall. There was also an increasing emphasis on bringing out new young talent through the Well North of London showcases and a growing programme of Inner City Music workshops and outreach work.
Anyway, That’s as far as the BOTW website archive section goes up to now. But, I’m sure you get the picture! The venue reopened in 2009, after a makeover costing a few million quid and now I was due to finally have a go on stage. Arriving at Piccadilly Station and heading in the direction of my old school, Chetham’s School of Music, I happened across an international food market. I had a bit of time to kill before attending Delia Derbyshire Day so I sampled a few different nibbles before heading down Oldham Street and turning left at Swan Street.
Ah, there it was. The Band On The Wall. A rather unremarkable area to look at but this place is so steeped in history, that it seems to seep onto the pavement outside. Our soundcheck wasn’t until 6pm, but there was a Delia Derbyshire symposium taking place from 3pm until then. There was a bit of a queue outside, as we arrived. I was glad we had purchased advanced tickets for the afternoon, because everyone queuing was turned away. Complete sell out! Wow! The evening concert, too…
We went inside, moseyed on up to the very busy little bar, in the lounge/meeting area. Well, sadly we were a few minutes late for the screening of ‘The Delian Mode.’ This is a wonderful, multi-award winning film all about Delia Derbyshire and her contribution to the world at large. Kara Blake created and made the film, and was here in person, not only to show her film, talk about it, take part in the question and answer session as one of the panel of experts, but was also going to provide pictures, projections etc as a backdrop to the evening performances of the three commissioned world premieres of new music to celebrate Delia Derbyshire.
The afternoon session flew by. As already stated, Kara Blake took questions after her film ‘The Delian Mode’. One very interesting question from a member of the audience was ‘Why Delia?’ By this, he meant why was Delia Derbyshire always singled out for attention above all the other ‘assistants/composers’ in the famous BBC Radiophonics workshop? Another lady asked ‘Did she have to fight to rise above prejudice against women?’ ‘What attracted you to make a film about Delia Derbyshire?’ What became apparent, was what a remarkable woman DD was. She was a true pioneer amongst women composers, but not only that, of electronic music, sound effects, techo music and music technology.
Next on was a distinguished panel of experts, chaired by local music & arts journalist Cath Aubergine. Kara Blake stayed on, of course, and was joined by David Butler, the Guardian of the Delia Derbyshire archive and Senior Lecturer in Screen Studies at the University of Manchester. I was very interested to see composer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop Archivist Mark Ayres take his place. The remaining panelist, Teresa Winter had been taken sick and her place was taken by a lecturer from Manchester University. I couldn’t catch his name, but he was most interesting anyway. I was fascinated by the discussion. Apparently, because of the BBC relationship with the creative unions, the members of the Radiophonics Workshop were not allowed to be known as composers, for fear of putting ‘live’ musicians etc out of work. They were known as ‘assistants’ and indeed it was never even to be admitted that they created music! I didn’t realise that Delia Derbyshire had written stuff outside the workshop, never mind theatre commissions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, commercials, Rock Festivals, and ‘pop’ bands. What an amazing lady…
Click on the links below to get the low down on the Delia Darlings
Next on was a presentation by our three Delia Darlings, as they are officially known, talking about the fruits of their labour. These three had organised everything and raised the funding from the Arts Council of England, The Performing Rights Society and The Arts Council of Quebec for the event to actually take place. This part of the discussion was for the three soloists to tell the packed auditorium in what way they had drawn influence from Delia Derbyshire for use in their three compositions that would receive their world premieres in the evening. Caro C talked about Delia’s influence on electronica and I was fascinated to hear Naomi Kashiwagi talk about the influences she had drawn for ‘The Blues’, her Gramophonica commission.
These two ladies were very interesting and no less important, but I have to cut here to Ailis Ni Riain. She was the reason that Heather Bird (double bass) and me (trumpet), were here in the first place, so her revelations were relevant to this major new work for solo trumpet and solo double bass. We had the honour of giving the world premiere of this international award winning composer’s latest world premiere, and here was Ailis to talk all about what influences she had drawn from Delia Derbyshire’s music. I felt quite humbled to think this was about my latest solo project. I was all ears as Ailis, who is a most articulate person, talked about how two works by Delia had influenced my piece. The first was a piece called ‘Falling’ from a five movement suite called ‘The Dreams.’ This music appears to continually fall, with no end, with interviews of people speaking about their dreams superimposed over the top.
The second piece, ‘Pot Au Feu’, was even more interesting to learn about. Ailis had taken two major themes and some rhythms from this one, as a tribute to the ‘Godmother of electronic music.’ It was fascinating to hear what had influenced Ailis’ highly original piece. According to Raymond Blanc, pot au feu is a beef stew which is the ‘quintessence of French family life’ and adorns every dining table. Listen to this…
I also learned, from the afternoon the Delia appears to have composed and recorded the first ever techno dance record. One could even hear influences that would be drawn by Kraftwerk and Orbital from this pioneering music.
Right, then, the audience was ‘turfed’ out to allow the performers to set up for the evening. I suppose I’d better say something about the piece. Regular readers will know that I have already performed two world premieres for Ailis Ni Riain, ‘In Sleep’ with Ensemble 10.10 and ‘Treasured’, a huge spectacular last year, in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
Anyway, the piece is for two instrumentalists; solo trumpet and solo double bass. You might wonder about that, and no, it is not an everyday coupling in the classical field. There are three performers tonight, all playing music as tribute to a woman who was a pioneer in electronic music. Two of the performers will be performing electronic music, but Ailis, being contemporary classical and always different anyhow, has written an original piece influenced by electronic music but played on two acoustic instruments.
The work is in four distinct movements and is a chops-crushing fifteen minute orgy of rhythm and melodic material that takes the two soloists through the whole gamut of technique and stamina. There is a wealth of thematic material to chew on and the piece is a real hard challenge for ensemble, too; lots of rhythmic interweaving between the two soloists etc. We have rehearsed long and hard, but we are still finding new ideas and possibilities all the time. It is a genuine foot tapper too. Ni Riain is a remarkable composer. I have never heard two similar pieces of music by her. It would be nigh on impossible for all but the most die hard fans of her music to tell if any random five works of hers were in fact by her, as all of her work is so different!
So we gathered on stage for our ‘sound check’. There is always a power struggle for about ten minutes at these things. The lighting must be addressed, the guy making the film must be appeased, the sound man must be battled with, space on stage must be fought for and we have to get our own act ready for performance. Anyway we got there and retired downstairs to the dressing room for a while.
So, I assumed my manner of pretending that I am calm, and in control of my nerves etc and proceeded to get ready, until I realised that I had left my concert clothes at home! Now it was the turn of others to calm me. ‘Never mind that, Brendan; underpants are all the rage on stage this year.’ Caro C, who was trying to take a nap, brought the panic to a close by saying, ‘…Well, you’ll just have to jeans it then, won’t you.’ Yes, I suppose I would.
Ailis’s piece was the first segment of the evening, after a fine display from DJ Tukatz. We got our call to go to the stage for the performance to begin, Heather in a black concert dress and me in jeans, boots and a ‘cowboy’ shirt! On we went, tuned, waited for hush from the enthusiastic crowd and started. There isn’t much opportunity to stop and think in this piece as the action is non stop and the notes speed by thick and fast, but I was enjoying this and especially the interplay written in the fourth movement, for me to duck and dive into Heather’s particularly funky bass line. We got to the end, stood still to hold the audience’s attention and then relaxed. The applause would seem to indicate that they really liked it. Sometimes, you’re never sure what to make of the audiences reaction with contemporary music. Actually, they were very attentive throughout and very appreciative at the end. The many complimentary things said in the bar area by enthusiastic listeners afterwards was also very pleasing.
Incidentally, the BOTW bar does an iteresting selection of cocktails etc They have, ‘Muddy Waters’, the ‘Fizzy Gillespie’ and an appetisingly named ‘Jinni Hendricks!’
Heather looked just as emotionally and physically shattered as I was, at the end. Well, that went alright! Now to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Next up was the grammophonica exponent Naomi Kashiwagi. I was a little late re-entering the auditorium for Naomi’s turn, after packing all our gear up etc. I did catch the end though, and was particularly taken by the atmospheric sounds she conjured up in ‘The Blues’. The projections above her were also interesting as they showed her hands in action while she was at work.
Caro C was next on. Caro tells me she normally performs with ‘hardware’ such as drum machines etc but in the spirit of the occasion she was using a laptop for the first time. Her electronica sounds were mesmerising and were particularly effective with the projections of Delia Derbyshire’s images played on the big screen as she performed the music. I was left wanting to experiment with this genre and have even started talking to Caro about equipment etc necessary to participate in this medium. Watch this space!
I would have to say that the evening was a resounding success. The audience left the venue buzzing. Their ears still ringing from DJ Tukatz’s very own mix of the Dr Who Theme. If anyone out there wants to experience the performances for the first time or indeed to hear them again, check out our tour of UK Northern Cities…