Thursday, 28 June 2007

Gig-a-Blog™ (LBO, Richmond)

Due to the exciting, up-to-the-minute, frenetic, always-on world that I inhabit, ahem, yes indeed, I started writing this actually at the gig, just before the nonexistent curtain went, metaphorically, up on the second half of the concert. I used a portable computing device. My word.

On Sunday 10th June the Leeds Baroque Orchestra was in Richmond - the proper original one in Yorkshire, none of your namby-pamby southern nonsense - doing a gig at the utterly exquisite and delightful Georgian Theatre Royal. Its theme was Water Music and it featured various wet, or at least damp, works by Telemann, Vivaldi, Lalande and Handel. The oldest of my extensive team of daughters was playing the Viola of Baroqueness in this rather fine amateur original instruments band.

Yup that's what I said. Amazing, innit? When Ah were a lad (takes out pipe) there were only about nine people doing old instruments in the whole country and now you can hear an amateur group - a good amateur group - just like that. Cool.

I travelled up to Leeds on Saturday afternoon and met B just after they’d finished rehearsing, having walked up from the station while pausing every ten paces to give thanks for my new wheelie bag thing which is just so much easier than struggling and swearing one’s way around with the Bundu Bashers bag (which has now developed a coy and rather embarrassing squeak so it forever sounds as if it has just been goosed). The rehearsal venue is the Clothworkers Hall, of (and/or next to?) the Leeds University music department which moved into an interesting new building four years ago. Sadly I did not get to see inside (the train times didn’t really work – I would have had to be there much earlier) but it looked good. Another time perhaps.

We then went off and had a nice curry with some of the orchestra – a very pleasant group of people. I think there were about nine of us in all. Akmal's Tandoori Bistro is in Hyde Park, a couple of minutes from the university – a nice, peaceful setting and good food. The restaurant seems to have a building programme on to add some more space, and indeed the orchestra were saying it was wise to eat early: although it was quiet enough while we were there, it would be heaving later on.

After that we set off for Richmond, or rather for the very fine Elmfield House B&B about six miles south of Richmond. The drive up the A1 was uninspiring but once we got off the main roads, it was a very different story with an interesting road and pretty little villages.

Elmfield House is lovely! After a difficult period of trying to find a hotel or B&B that was nice, accessible and affordable, B ended up where we should have started, and asked for advice from the Tourist Information Centre in Richmond. I actually knew this from my touring opera days but had forgotten - TIC staff are usually wonderfully knowledgeable, and nice with it: they are often (but not always) middle-aged ladies of a motherly disposition and this is often exactly who I'd want to talk to! Anyway, they'd recommended to B that she try Elmfield House and they were not wrong.

It's a nice house, down a little lane. It's got lovely people, good access, comfy rooms with good facilities and an absolutely charming dog. B had the first room on the ground floor and I was almost vertically above her on the first floor. Once we'd sorted ourselves out a bit we went and sat outside on the lawn and watched it get darker.

We'd already met Astra when she welcomed us and now we met Ian and their very nice dog Ozzie. He's a black alsatian who was going to be a police dog, but failed because he was too unaggressive. Ah bless. He looks like Daisy's worst nightmare (he's quite a non-small dog too) but is actually a real sweetie. I was also quite impressed with the nice little bottles of Merlot which were supplied on a help-yourself, honesty-book basis in the dining room. By this time I was feeling - without a huge lot of justification - as if I'd had rather a long day so the whole garden/sunset/chat/wine/dog thing was all really rather welcome and pleasant.

When it got too dark and chilly outside, we moved to the massive conservatory and sat there for a while with hot drinks. By the time we knocked off and went to bed I was so relaxed you could have folded me up and posted me under my door. Elmfield House is a place I'd be very happy to stay in again: I'd go straight back there another time.

Sunday morning kicked off bright and early(ish) with a delicious cooked breakfast. Despite this excellent start we left a little later than was wise, then encountered navigational trouble in Richmond: the GPS did not have a perfectly accurate position for the theatre and the one-way system pretty much defeated me. Indeed I don't think the GPS was quite current on the road system, which probably didn't help. I felt really quite baffled by how difficult it was to get around in the town centre - though of course that is to an extent the point - they don't really want me driving round in the market square, thanks all the same. But blimey.

I remember an amusing piece that Alan Coren or someone wrote many years ago about some French town where he reckoned the Syndicat d'Initiative had constructed a traffic system such that tourists were guaranteed to get funnelled in only one direction, doomed to end up driving round and round the same small loop in some obscure area, gradually losing hope as they realize there's no way out. Yup, you're way ahead of me, that's how it was starting to feel. I could still not give you a coherent answer to a question such as: "how, pray, does one drive from alley-near-theatre-front to alley-near-theatre-back, a distance of some fifty yards as the knackered, jaded, moth-eaten crow flies?" although a few years of counselling might help. I mean, I seemed to mostly accomplish this by going via Darlington or somewhere. Tsk. Deploy the phase-shift booth, engineering chief, I will drive these roads no longer: bzzzt!

Anyway: we got there a bit late, which was suboptimal for various reasons, but eventually B was on stage and playing and I was - well, all over the place, frankly. Thanks to the magical powers of the camera and my being semi-officially sanctioned to take photos I was allowed, nay encouraged, to wander all over the front of house. I'd have got better photos (and of course looked cooler) with the monster digital SLR which I would one day like, but it was fun

Later, they laid on a tour for the LBO Friends who had turned up so I tagged along. It was led by a nice and entertaining man, an ex-Stage Manager from the theatre, and was more than worth the modest three quid they ask for. It was a very comprehensive tour with lots of interesting information - a highly pleasant way to spend a half-hour.

The theatre is really, really gorgeous. It's minute - I think it only seats a couple of hundred. Certainly, many rows in the pit (=stalls, essentially) had only five seats across, and I had a very strong feeling that from my box (of which more later) I could almost reach across and shake hands with my neighbours on the opposite side. About half the floor plan is stage - they told us this as if it's unusual so I guess it's the small size of the theatre that makes it so. It was certainly very noticeable what a small site it's on, and to what lengths they'd gone in order to use the greatest possible space for the theatre itself at the expense of all the ancillary stuff. On the tour we saw the amazingly cramped original stairs and the tiny box office, cunningly positioned so that no-one escaped the eagle eye of the proprietor's wife.

Obviously this has all come home to roost a bit in latter years when you're required to treat your audience a bit better, observe safety and access rules, and all that stuff. A few years ago they took the bull by the horns and built a brilliant new extension next door. This provides the whole lot - lift, loos, access, cafe and bar - and does so in an excellent and most sympathetic way. From the front it's about the same size and shape as the original theatre, but it is not an attempt to copy it - it's clear that it is a modern building. It's just that the materials and proportions complement the theatre without trying to steal its show. I guess that William Morris would have approved. It's also rather good to be in one of the bars, pleasant rooms with big windows overlooking the street. Very nice indeed, clever project, well done those people. At the same time the theatre itself had a substantial refurbishment, and looks very well on it.

When the rehearsal was over we zoomed off to find lunch. Acting on instinct I opted for the market-place but this wasn't a wildly good idea. Don't go here looking for Sunday lunch with a vegetarian wheelchair-user: you are not in for a happy experience. Combine the slopes and cobbles with the fact that in many places it's a roast dinner or nothing and you have an excellent stress recipe. We were almost settled into one hopeful-seeming place when the waitresses suddenly told us they had stopped serving, only about one hour earlier than their sign outside claimed: nice.

We did in the end find an almost-accessible pub and B had the roast-with-no-roast option, though she did at least get a rather good Yorkshire pudding. The pub also boasted a nice and apparently resident dog, which I always feel is a Good Thing. So it was a perfectly pleasant lunchtime in the end despite the somewhat elongated process by which we reached it.

Afterwards I realized that a little research or local knowledge would have done the trick just as it did with the B&B. Heading for the market place, probably the oldest part of the town, was a mistake. Turning the other way along the alley would have brought us to a slightly younger and flatter area with broader streets and bigger buildings. Even the small bit of it nearest to the theatre boasted a couple of semiposh chain restaurants like Café Rouge or whatever, which under the circumstances would have been pretty gosh-darned perfect. I somehow don't think they make you eat Sunday roast. (Though nor do they have nice doggies for you to chat to.) Oh well, and ho hum: you live and learn.

Having lunched we returned to the theatre, a manoeuvre which led me, via a nice coffee in one of the aforementioned bars, to my seat in the box where I began writing this. A "box" sounds perhaps rather grand, if you think of the Royal Albert Hall, and room for you, your friends, and a bit of space to serve food and drink: this isn't quite like that. It has room only for two chairs, and even that is a terrible, budget-airline squeeze. If the nice bloke next to me had been taller or less co-operative I'd have been in real difficulties. Really the only thing that makes it a box is a little waist-height partition between pairs of seats: in every other respect it's a row of chairs on a very narrow shelf. Turning your seat to face the stage is compulsory: otherwise there's no leg room at all and you literally couldn't even sit down. Behind and a touch above the boxes is a very narrow walkway by the wall, with bench seats along it, so that when everyone is seated, the row behind pretty much have their knees in your ears. Getting the audience in and out requires a good deal of co-operation and common sense. I hate to think what would happen if someone shouted fire, let alone the far more potent eek, a mouse! It's extraordinary. Were Georgian people really so much smaller?

Although it's all a bit squashed in, none of this detracted from my enjoyment of a really terrific concert. With the theatre being so tiny there's an incredible intimacy between orchestra and audience: it was like a chamber music gig. The orchestra played very well and the balance was great. Naturally I was seriously locked into Proud Parent Mode for most of the time, but I was also pleased to see and hear the trumpets and horns for the Handel. Yes indeedy doody. All good stuff. I did wonder about going and schmoozing the trumpets and doing the secret handshake an ting but thought better of it as it can kind of have Sad Old F*rt implications. They were in a hurry to leave (another gig, or just the journey - or the pub?) but I did glean that the first player was using a Webb.

Afterwards we made a fairly leisurely departure and chugged off with vaguely southwestern intent. Heading for Manchester, neither of us was desperate to take the M62 so a combination of B's flying fingers and the GPS found us an alternative, along a rather gorgeous A-road with nice moors, valleys and all that scenic bit: most satisfactory. The Micra is such fun to drive and this road was a gift.

On arrival in the City Of Mighty Rains we were greeted by B's nice friend Alex who is a PGCE stringy-type person and who'd been cat-sitting while we were swanning around up North. The said cats performed an elaborate dance of welcome in many acts, involving (from the younger two) much blasting round the room on full throttle. It's quite impressive (and possibly alarming) having your hair parted by a furry projectile doing Mach 1, especially if its final approach takes place below your radar. Stealthmog.

The other important features of the evening were Dr Who and takeaway pizza, a truly excellent combination. The Dr Who episode, Blink, though somewhat light on the Doctor himself, was nevertheless a particularly good one, with some fine behind-sofa moments. (Weeping Angel statues are not to be trusted, it turns out.) Seriously enjoyable.

And that's pretty much it. In the morning I got the train back to Euston - not too early, cost being a factor, as well as the desire for a civilized time of rising: the early trains must be only for those travelling on serious expenses! I went straight to work and was there around lunchtime. It seemed odd to sit at my desk and think through how far I'd been and what I'd done since leaving on Friday. So, this was a pretty busy weekend but rather a good one.


Anonymous said...

Astra from Elmfield House here.

What a lovely write up and we are so glad that you had such a memorable stay with us. There is so much detail and humour in your blog - complimentary comments aside it was a delight to read.
We do remember you and your visit to the area - it would be a joy to welcome you back if you find yourself in the area again.

And as it is that time of year now Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

Strawberryyog said...

Hi Astra: thank you so much for your lovely comments. I remember with great enthusiasm our stay at Elmfield House and, yes, I'd be delighted to visit again one day when I'm lucky enough to be back in your gorgeous area. That was a very, very fine weekend!

Thanks again, and Season's Greetings to you and yours too,