Sigrid at Glastonbury 2019: new-minted intensity on show in confident set from Scandi pop sensation

For anyone who watched Scandi pop-sensation Sigrid’s set at Glastonbury on Saturday, having also see her set two years ago, it was a momentous moment – we were witnessing (well, I was from the comfort of the sofa, anyway…) a real coming-of-age set delivered by someone empowered now with a confidence in both her performing and her material, as well the commercial success of March’s release of her album, Sucker Punch.

From the moment she strode out onto the Other Stage to audience cheers to launch into the album’s title track, it was clear that Sigrid had a new intent, a new drive and an assurance which has grown since she performed on the Park Stage at the festival in 2017. That time, she was clearly having fun but also slightly in awe of the occasion; at one point, she shared with the audience that she had been talking to a BBC producer earlier in the day, who has said that the size of her home town was “Glastonbury multiplied with SIX!” This year, she was back with a vengeance, and a clear sense of self-belief.

Musically, too, her act has developed along new lines; her songs abounded in new catches, pushes and syncopations to material we’ve heard before, and new harmonic progressions in songs such as Plot Twist; her musical language is maturing at the same time as her stage presence.

Sharing the stories behind her song-writing, she let the audience know that her first single, 2017’s Don’t Kill My Vibe, was written in difficult circumstances, and the fact that she could sing a song about respect at Glastonbury was something special. She then launched into a fierce rendition of the song, with a new-minted intensity, exhorting the audience with fierce gestures to clap along and showing a masterfully defiant side. There was a new-found swagger to her material as well; ‘Don’t stay if you don’t mean it, ‘Cos you f~cked me up again / Just walk away, and we’ll just leave it / ‘Cos I won’t give my heart in vain.’

There were several shots during the gig of a young girl in the audience who was clearly having the absolute time of her life, veering between being utterly carried away by the music and other times so overcome by the occasion that she was in tears; she broke all our hearts, and reminded us exactly what the power of live music can be. Sigrid brought her set to an end with the cheerful melancholia of Don’t Feel Like Crying, although, along with that audience member, the rest of us certainly felt as though we did. If Saturday’s vivacious performance was anything to go by, it’s clear that Sigrid’s vibe is going to endure for a while to come.


Tip o’ the hat to alumna and former Music Scholar, Carina Evans, for permission to use the three main photos, taken at this year’s festival; Carina was there over the weekend amongst the festival-goers…

Sailing topographical oceans: the absorbing pleasures of the gatefold album

Ah, the beguiling Elysian fields of the gatefold-album. The grand vistas which floated into view at the marvellously magical moment of opening the twin record-sleeves for the first time. There’s something almost awe-inspiring, a religiosity about opening up a gatefold LP album for it to occupy a space wider than your own head. It’s something of an immersive experience, allowing you to explore the fascinating, intricate details of the album cover (particularly important with, for instance, Roger Dean’s artwork for Yes albums, and a feature of prog-rock). In fact, the wider vistas which the gatefold created were perhaps integral to the nature of the concept album, and the mystical synergy which allowed partnerships like Yes and Dean to craft a product where the outside mirrored, nay, even enhanced the inside.

The gatefold packaging of rock music, and of prog-rock in particular, demanded that you gave yourself over entirely to listening to an album, and the information often packed into the densely-loaded inner vistas which gatefold packaging offered turned the consumption of an album into a total immersion-type experience; you submitted yourself entirely to the sonic, visual and textual odyssey, surrendering the senses in an entirely legal (though not necessarily non-addictive) way. I remember one of the earliest gatefold LPs I ever bought, Never for Ever by Kate Bush, which features a plethora of animals, both real and mythical, bursting unstoppably from beneath the songstress’ skirt.

Bats, birds and butterflies adorned the inner covers, either hovering above them or seeming to burst through from the other side (I loved the implied three-dimensionality there), and there was now the chance (as always) of pressing your nose up against the lyrics to try and decipher their meaning. Was it THAT Delius about whom she was singing ?

Jazz, too, embraced the gatefold packaging; who can forget the back cover of Weather Report’s 8.30 featuring the band casually sitting around engaged in a whose-shoes-are-the-longest competition, clearly won by Jaco Pastorius in those impossible, never-ending, glowing-white winkle-pickers ?

Or the mysterious, hallucinatory, swirling panorama (perfectly mirroring the music) that appeared when you opened up Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and saw front and back covers side-by-side, turning into a single yin-and-yang image,  featuring what seemed to be a high priestess and acolyte engaged some sombre ritual on the left, mirrored by a couple standing in the surging surf beneath an ominously-looming sky on the right ?

Contrastingly, there was African Sun by pianist Dollar Brand, that offered the opportunity to sink into the front cover’s warm, orange glow.

Rather than simply printing the lyrics to the songs and the band line-up, prog-rock positively luxuriated in the creative possibilities afforded by gatefold’s inner and outer covers, and it was also a way for puzzled fans to really scrutinise the mytho-poetic lyrics, and really get to grips with all the references and the pastoral imagery of something like Nursery Cryme, from Genesis in its early years. Following the magnificent perspective of a impossibly-well manicured lawn hosting a malevolent-looking game of croquet, you flipped over to the inside of the sleeves to reveal what looked like a collection of postcards, complete with chintzy illustrations, each as though tucked into a presentation portfolio by its corners. The bearded figure emerging on a current of notes escaping from ‘The Musical Box;’ the mock-Victorian image for ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’ showed an innocent young girl standing by a towering weed. And now you could follow the words to ‘The Fountains of Salamacis.’

Or Foxtrot, Genesis’ next album release; you could follow the complicated narrative of ‘Supper’s Ready’ by perusing the lyrics, which unfolded against a (deliberately misleading) background of blue skies and fluffy clouds. And as prog-rock sank beneath the weight of its own over-inflated self-aggrandisement, heavy metal came in to occupy the void that it left behind.

(A shameful admission here; I also had the double-LP Livin’ Inside Your Love by George Benson (I know, I know…), which I bought when I discovered that he was the guitarist on Miles Davis’ Miles in the Sky, and rushed out to find something else by him (I should have done some more research first, shouldn’t I…); the LP’s soft-focus cover should have been a clue, hinting at the soft-focus music contained therein…sigh… )

Prince, too, saw the potential for gatefold’s symbolist evangelising,  in his Around the World In a Day (although the album, like Never For Ever was only one LP, rather than two); the cover is packed with references to the songs in a slightly trippy evocation of the mythical Paisley Park itself.

There’s a fascinating quote by (if memory serves) keyboardist Nick Mason (in Dark Side of the Moon: the making of a Pink Floyd Masterpiece by John Harris), who observes that the publicity opportunity afforded by the album’s presentation was missed; you could open the album out and have it leading across front and back covers in continuous fashion, an effect that he says would have looked spectacular in record shops, only no-one noticed the potential to display it so. (My copy is currently in the loft, and I only have the one so sadly can’t endeavour to create this phenomenon for myself to see the effect…)

Regrettably, cassettes and, later, CD reissues couldn’t offer the same escapism; it was impossible to immerse yourself in liner notes from a CD jewel-case that, when opened out, barely covered both your hands. The printed lyrics were tiny, and the amount of detail in those prog-rock, symbol-saturated album covers was lost at so small an incarnation. I bought Miles Davis’ fearsome jazz-rock album, Live-Evil, on CD years later, which endeavoured to recreate the mystique of the gatefold LP with an unfolding four-sides cardboard presentation style, but it wasn’t the same; it lacked the imperiousness of the LP’s sheer physical presence. And don’t even get me started on the (literally) unfolding, multi-level misery of Prince’s Emancipation on cassette…

I’ve necessarily limited this to a discussion of some of the albums I have, or used to have (there’s also somewhere in my loft Queen’s A Night At The Opera and, I think, Sheer Heart Attack, and Tippett’s impenetrable opera, The Knot Garden, plus Joni Mitchell’s eminently forgettable Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, in gatefold format); a full examination of the Gatefold Phenomenon would take years, and embrace such thorny issues as what was the FIRST gatefold release (do you include 78s that were released in this way ?) – Bing Crosby, Elvis, Bob Dylan ? – what was the most controversial (Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Black Sabbath’s self-titled album ?) – what about gatefold inner covers that just featured a nicely-pleasing photo of the band (Seargent Pepper ?) rather than going down the whole concept-art-tunnel ? Do you include albums that only had one LP rather than being a double LP release, the latter arguably a more justified reason to package with two sleeves ? You see what I mean…

These days, of course, streaming and digital platforms have all but rendered the physical presentation of an album obsolete, sacrificing (in my view) the ability to play whatever you want, whenever you want on your digital device for the sheer, tangible, pleasure of the impact of the album’s artwork. But vinyl is making a comeback – time for Gatefold Novices to get out there and experience the heady delights, that transcendent rapture, of unfolding a double LP on its first playing…

Summer Music Week: Saturday Gala concert

Congratulations to everyone involved in Saturday’s annual Music for a Summer’s Day Gala concert, the crowning event as part of Summer Music Week.

The University Chorus, Orchestra and Chamber Choir each gave a final, valedictory appearance in seasonal, summery music, whilst the members of the Limoncellos filled the foyer before the concert with stirring film tunes and pop music arrangements.

Assistant conductor Hannah Ost rehearsing the Chamber Choir ahead of the concert
The Limoncellos performing in the foyer ahead of the Gala concert

Final-year sopranos Helen Sotillo and Fleur Sumption brought a packed hall to tears with a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on the final occasion of their singing with the Music department in what has proved to be a memorable year for both ladies.

The incoming President of the Music Society, second-year Owen Kerry, provided some scene-stealing moments as he deftly wielded name-cards (and at one point a mobile phone for a couple of selfies…) as part of An Illustrated Guide to the History of the Symphony.

And final-year flautist Robert Loveless was handed the baton to conduct the traditional encore which brought the concert to a rousing conclusion.

Following the concert, audience, performers and guests spilled out into the marquee for the annual cream tea, for which the sun shone and blue skies bloomed overhead.

What becomes apparent at the end of the Gala concert is what a wonderful sense of community has been built up during the academic year by everyone involved in extra-curricular music-making at the University. It’s a real tribute to how committed everyone is, and how involved they have become, to see so many of those graduating so moved by the occasion of their final appearance; parents, friends and family all coming along to support throughout the series of events often remark on how much being a part of music at Kent has meant to the students involved throughout their time. There’s a lovely feeling of camaraderie throughout the entire week, as the various ensembles gather for a final musical hurrah before the academic year ends.

Our thanks to everyone who has been a part of the Music department across the year; undergraduate and post-graduate students, staff, members of the community and all the alumni who have returned at various points either to participate or to be part of the audience. To all those who are leaving this year: thanks for all your contribution – hail and farewell!

University Music Prizes 2019

One of the great pleasures of Summer Music Week is the opportunity publically both to recognise and to thank particular students for their outstanding contributions to music-making over the course of the academic year at the Music Prize ceremony. The annual presentation of prizes to worthy recipients takes place following the Music Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital, which showcases some of the talented students at the University each academic year.

The Canterbury Festival Music Prize, is awarded to a final-year student who has made an outstanding contribution to music at the University. This year, the prize was awarded jointly to flautist Robert Loveless and string-player Molly Richetta.

Flautist Robert Loveless

Robert was a final-year student reading Computer Science with a year in Industry, and has played flute and piccolo in the University Symphony Orchestra throughout his time at Kent and also played in the Concert Band and various flute ensembles. This year he was Principal Flautist in the Orchestra playing in all the major concerts, and was also the only student woodwind player in a recent performance of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – a fiendish flute part! Robert was a University Music Performance Scholar, studying with Rosemary Rathbone, and was Secretary of the student Music Society in his second year. He also sang bass in the University Chamber and Cecilian Choirs.

Multi-talented string-player, Molly Richetta

A final-year student reading Mathematics, Molly Richetta has been a Music Performance Scholar and studied with Floriane Peycelon. She is a highly accomplished player on both the violin and viola so for the past two years has moved between the two instruments, playing in the String Sinfonia and the University Symphony Orchestra – making her indispensable! She also played in a number of other ensembles and quartets this year and has a been in great demand from other local orchestras to play as a professional in their concerts – so has been an excellent ambassador for our music-making. Molly has just finished her year as Treasurer of the student Music Society. Both students received their prizes from the Director of the Canterbury Festival, Rosie Turner.

The Colyer-Fergusson Music Prize is awarded to a student who has made a major contribution to the organisation of music at the University, and this year’s winner was Tom Barton, a final-year student reading Politics and International Relations.

Tom Barton receiving his prize from the former Chair of the Colyer-Fergusson Trust, the Hon Jonathan Monckton

Tom played bass clarinet and saxophone in the University’s Concert Band and Big Band. He was one of the Assistants for these two groups, liaising with the conductor, Ian Swatman, helping to set-up rehearsals, and co-ordinating, circulating and collecting all the many sheets of music which go into the instrument folders. This prize particularly recognises Tom’s contribution to the smooth running of many of our major concerts. When not playing, he has volunteered to assist and steward at them, working quietly, politely and efficiently with the members of the public and Music Department staff and setting a great example to the other student stewards. Tom received his prize from the former Chair of the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, the Hon Jonathan Monckton.

The University of Kent Music Prize, which was presented by Professor John Craven, a former Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University, is awarded each to a returning student who has made a major contribution to music at the University this year. The prize was awarded jointly to Carmen Mackey, a second-year student studying Drama and Theatre, and to Leon Schoonderwoerd, in his second year of a PhD in Theoretical Physics. Carmen has had a very busy year as a singer. She was a member of the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and the Minerva Voices, and was the Sorceress in our semi-staged performance of Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas, in Colyer-Fergusson in February. She has been an extremely active member of the Musical Theatre Society and coached and performed in their recent successful production of Sondheim’s Company. Carmen was a Music Performance Scholar, studying with Juliet Schiemann.

This year, Leon Schoonderwoerd received a Music Performance Award to study clarinet with Ian Swatman. He was Co-Principal clarinettist in the University Symphony Orchestra, lead clarinettist in the Concert Band, and has formed a number of chamber ensembles. Leon also played timpani and percussion, performing in a number of concerts this year – including some very dramatic thunder in Dido and Aeneas… Both winners received their prizes from Professor Craven.

Professor John Craven presenting the prizes

Awarded to a student who has made a particularly special contribution to our music-making this year, the David Humphreys Music Prize was awarded jointly to Fleur Sumption (pictured below, left) and Helen Sotillo, both final-year students – and both sopranos!

Fleur Sumption and Helen Sotillo performing in Colyer-Fergusson Hall

Completing her postgraduate degree reading Law  (LLB Senior Status), Helen has sung in the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and the Minerva Voices. She has featured as soloist in many concerts, including the December Choral Concert and last term she was Dido in the performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, to great acclaim. This year Helen has also been a highly efficient manager of the University Chorus, keeping both the music and its members in check, and plays bassoon in the Concert Band. She has been a Music Performance Scholar, studying singing with Linda Hirst.

Fleur Sumption was a final-year reading History of Art, and similarly has sung in the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and the Minerva Voices. She has featured as soloist in many concerts, including the December Choral Concert and last term she was Belinda in the production of Dido and Aeneas. Fleur has also been one of the two vocalists in the University Big Band and when not singing plays alto saxophone. She has just completed her year as President of the student Music Society and as a Music Performance Scholar, studied singing with Juliet Schiemann. The two winners received their prizes from two of David Humphreys’ daughters, Josephine Humphreys and Belinda Howard, who were present at the ceremony.

First-year Elle Soo receiving her prize from Dame Anne Evans

The final prize, the University of Kent First-Year Music Prize, which is occasionally awarded to a student who has made a major contribution to music in their first year at Kent, was awarded to Elle Soo, in her first year of studying Social Anthropology.  At the start of each academic year we audition student vocalists for the University Big Band. Elle was only a few weeks into her time at Kent but immediately made a great impression and this year has starred along with Fleur in the Christmas Swing-along and the concert in March. She performed last Sunday with the Big Band in their annual very popular visit to the Deal Bandstand. She also featured in the  sell-out Summertime Swing event during Summer Music Week. Elle received her prize from Dame Anne Evans, patron of the University Music Scholarship Scheme and former international operatic soprano.

This year’s Music Prize Winners with Chair of the Music Prize Committe, Dr Dan Lloyd

The ceremony was presided over by Dr Dan Lloyd, Chair of the University Music Prize Committee and himself an orchestral instrumentalist. Our thanks to the invited guests, supporters, and prize-givers who attended the ceremony, and our congratulations to all the prize-winners.

Summer Music Week: Between Worlds premiere

Congratulations to all the performers involved in the mesmerising first performance of Between Worlds by composer / violinist Anna Phoebe, which took an entranced audience on a meditative odyssey on the penultimate day of Summer Music Week.

Drawing on research media from the School of Biosciences, Anna’s piece explores the intangible boundary between science and art in a collaborative piece for choir, strings, percussion, soloists and film-projections by artist Skyla Bridges. Conducted by Deputy Director of Music, Dan Harding, the University Chamber Choir and String Sinfonia, together with Anna herself on violin, pianist Jacob Downs, second-year postrgraduate Leon on percussion, and oboist Dan Lloyd (also Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences) unfurled Anna’s evocative piece against a tapestry of ambient electronic soundtracks and beneath Skyla Bridges’ wonderfully beautiful projections taken from research imagery by Dr Chris Toseland.

Between Worlds. Image: Dan Lloyd

The first half of the concert saw a conducter-less (for the most part) String Sinfonia in music by Britten, Reger, Purcell and Arvo Pärt’s lachrymaic Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, for which the strings were joined by conductor, Susan Wanless. Pärt’s haunting tribute to Britten closed the first half an set the atmosphere for the second.

Afterwards, performers, audience and guests mingled for a post-concert reception to celebrate the fruition of a project that has been in rehearsal since January. Read the programme from the event yourself here.

Main images: © Matt Wilson / University of Kent

Summer Music Week: Days Five and Six

The relentless pace of Summer Music Week continues; Wednesday saw a roof-raising gala concert from the University Concert Band and Big Band under the baton of Ian Swatman entertaining a packed house. Prior to the concert, the sax quartet played on the foyer-stage, led by Peter Cook.

Sax appeal: Peter Cook, Megan Daniel, Owen Kerry, David Curtiss

And yesterday saw a celebration of chamber music in A Musical Miscellany, ranging from a fiercely-modern duet for two violins by Prokofiev to the first movement of Borodin’s String Quartet no.2, lively woodwind music by Seiber, a fragile aria by Copland and the String Sinfonia in not-quite-Mozart…

l-r: Owen Kerry, Charlotte Read, Helen Sotillo, Leon Schoonderwoerd
Pianists Will Morgan and Kiyan Agadjani, with diligent page-turning from Jenny Pang
l-r: Florence Nightingale Obote, Zaneta Balesevic, Molly Richetta, Ken Macdonald
Soprano Alice Shires
The String Sinfonia, directed by Flo Peycelon

Plus post-performance selfies, of course…

Summer Music Week continues tonight with the premiere of Between Worlds by composer/violinist Anna Phoebe by the Chamber Choir and String Sinfonia, plus string music by Britten and Pärt.

Summer Music Week: Day Three and Four

Two further music-filled days as part of this year’s Summer Music Week; on Monday, the University Rock Choir, directed by alumni Jonathan Grosberg, had an enthusiastic audience clapping along to songs such as Don’t Stop Believin’  and Roar; the choir’s debut brought a standing ovation in Colyer-Fergusson Hall.

And Tuesday saw the annual Music Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital, which began in unique fashion this year with first-year Biosciences student and highland bagpiper Eloise Jack – her skiriling pipes were heard outside the hall before she entered on the balcony to instant applause.

Final-year Computer Science student, Robert Loveless, dazzled in a rhythmically vivacious Bossa Merengova by Mike Mower.

Four final-year violinists then delivered a pitch-perfect performance of Telemann’s second Concerto for Four Violins; Zaneta Balsevic (reading Music Performance), Florence Nightingale Obote (Biosciences), Molly Richetta (Mathematics) and Melody Brooks (Psychology).

The programme took a folksy turn in the form of two saxophone duets from two first-year Music Scholars, David Curtiss (reading Physics) and Megan Daniels (Law), in melodies from Bulgaria and Spain.

The concert drew to a close with final-year sopranos Fleur Sumption (History of Art) and Helen Sotillo (LLB Law Senior Status) in a lyrical rendition of the ‘Barcarolle’ from The Tales of Hoffmann.

A highly responsive audience greeted all the performers at the end for a collective bow – our thanks to all the players. The concert was followed by the awarding of this year’s Music Prizes, about which more anon…

Image: Millie Falla

There was Of Course time for selfies afterwards…

Our music festival continues tonight with the annual roof-raising extravaganza that is the valedictory concert from the University Concert Band and Big Band under the baton of Ian Swatman. Still plenty more to come…

Main photos: © Matt Wilson

Summer Music Week: Days One and Two

As temperatures soared and the weather became balmier, Summer Music Week launched over the weekend in the first two events of this year’s annual celebration of the musical year at Kent.

On Friday, the University Chamber Choir and Consort gave an electrifying concert in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, for which they were joined by composer and violinist Anna Phoebe in three evocative movements from Anna’s Between Worlds, an exploration of music and science that receives its full premiere later this week. Second-year student Hannah Ost led the choir in a piece in the first half as part of a wide-ranging programme that received huge applause from a packed crypt audience.

And yesterday, conductor Ian Swatman bravely headed out to the seaside with the University Big Band, to entertain a Sunday crowd at the Memorial Bandstand at Deal, including guest vocal appearances from final-year student Fleur Sumption and first-year Elle Soo. Sea, sunshine and swing – perfect conditions for a perfect day.

Well done to everyone involved; Day Three of Summer Music Week today features the University Rock Choir in action. Find out all that’s going on throughout the week here.