Classical fusions and reinterpretations: heading towards overkill?

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Classical overkill?

As the list of Classical reinterpretations events around Liverpool and the UK grows, Getintothis’ Chris Flack takes a look at originality in art and what constitutes overkill.


Not very long before the last run out for the Giants, I wondered if I should write a feature about their impending visit. I had some thoughts.

I wanted to explore the value of art, spending money on regional organisations and the validity of giving huge amounts of money to an international company to bring something to the city that’s been here more than once.

It crossed my mind that something that takes place over three days in half a dozen locations and has a narrative you’d need a map, a compass and a 4×4 to follow, might be a little unnecessary.

How do you wheel three kids, one of them in a pram, a couple of grandparents, one on a Zimmer frame, all that baggage, 8 water bottles and set of cameras around to follow that?

Can you do it on a bus?
Where does the 86 go exactly?
Is there a path through the Tunnel?

And more importantly, how does it make sense to the very people it seems to have been designed for? What happens when all they can see are peoples arses and phones in the air?

It never became a piece anywhere, but if anything it solidified my belief that money for arts is better spent on creatives here, that employ, educate and enthral people, here.

That’s not to say you should never work with international organisations, you should, you absolutely should, if it works and if it’s appropriate.

But when the Giants producers can collect more loyalty points in the Liverpool One Cafe Nero than I can, there’s an issue there, somewhere.

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While the last round of the Giants will have been the last for the crane-assisted puppets, and while the numbers of attendees were unquestionably phenomenal, I’m not sure my scepticism was all that ill-placed.

Though that opinion may well be enough to ruffle feathers and create the kind of debate that gets me blacklisted in every arts organisation from Perth to Plymouth.

As much as this might infuriate folks, I’m glad Royal De Luxe have killed off the puppets pilgrimage because it means any big events in the city in the coming years will have to involve a bit of imagination and perhaps if we’re lucky, a few more NW based arts organisations. And a narrative that isn’t geographically challenging.

Oddly, I find myself in this puppets situation again, only now it’s with the current love affair with classical reinterpretations. I apologise in advance, but If you don’t like it hit that big red X in the top right-hand corner now.

In the space of three months, we’re going to have the now annual Cream Classics at the Anglican Cathedral, a one-day Cream Classics Festival in Sefton Park and a Classical reinterpretation of Sister Sledge as a headliner at LIMF in the same place. One day later.

That’s rather a lot, and I can’t be the only one to shrug.

I’ve been involved in the Arts for while in a number of capacities.  One of the most defining moments of any year is reviewing the arts spend and budgets allocated to arts organisations across the country.  In Northern Ireland, one of the largest grants goes to the Ulster Orchestra.

LIMF 2019 Disco Classical with Sister Sledge to headline at Sefton Park

Every year we’re told they will spend heavily on community engagement and getting young people into classical and other forms of music.

Honestly, at this rate, I’m amazed they haven’t come up with a Sugarsweet Classical night, to relive those Arts College nights with Homer, Orbital and a cast of loved up thousands dancing their baggy trousers off. They may have, we’ve been here for six years now, who knows. There’s clearly money in it.

And it’s not just Liverpool either.

2019 sees the fourth consecutive year that Hacienda Classical will be appearing at the Royal Albert Hall, home of the Proms and more. And a quick glance on the internet shows that they’re touring this thing right across the UK; from Kent to Scarborough. It’s even showing up at the Sounds of The City Festival in Manchester in July.

The Sounds of the City? It’s akin to having a Herman’s Hermits or Freddie and the Dreamers revival in Manchester at the height of punk. It makes one wonder what Tony Wilson would have made of it all.

But surely there has to be a limit to it? There has to be a moment when the unwieldly marriage between classical and whatever other type of music you want to weld onto it becomes unworkable.

Maybe we’ll hit a point when people will get bored of it all or see it for what it is; the musical equivalent of a pro-celebrity golf tournament.

The Cream Classical events in Sefton Park will take place on the same stage and on the same PA as the LIMF event to share costs, split the difference and hopefully ensure that the events can survive unscathed.

I get that it’s a very clever use of resources and probably a blessing for both.  But I was amazed when LIMF announced the Sister Sledge Classics, given that the park will have had two nights of music that for all intents and purposes will sound pretty similar on a large scale.

That’s not to say I’m against other forms of music that aren’t often covered in these pages. Two of the finest things I think I’ve ever witnessed were Hannah Peel playing with a 30-piece brass band at the Northern Ireland Music Awards in the Ulster Hall and Ludovico Einaudi on a grand piano in the same room with a string quartet and a DJ dropping samples in as they went.

Both were remarkable.

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Perhaps the finest thing I’ve seen involving strings was the four tracks Edwyn Collins played at the Sound City Conference where there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at his recovery, ability and the sheer majesty of the thing they had created for the afternoon.

It was mind-boggling.  But three nights of classical reinterpretations has to be some kind of record. I add this now, both events will probably sell out, and I’ll look like as if I’ve got it totally wrong.

We can guarantee the fury and NIMBYism about the fence which will no doubt have to go up will be worse than last year, the complaints about the line up and ‘young people‘ drinking will be deafening and a little patronising and the screaming over litter from people who let their dogs shit everywhere will be as laughable as it was last year. But will the value of the art create a conversation?

On top of Cream Classics at the Anglican, the Cream Classical festival and the Disco Classical lets not forget that last years LIMF closed out with Hacienda Classical, we’ve had Garage Classics and if the rumours are true we’re being treated to an Erics Classics night as part of Sound City

That’s a lot of strings.

If you ever find yourself in an old park, the gardens of an old house or an old music hall somewhere, and you find someone walking around looking lost and confused, seemingly measuring the venue and taking pictures of steps, stages and windows, texting, scratching and hmming and hahing, don’t interrupt them.

The chances are that they are scouting out the venue for an event of some description.  It comes to us all.

Finding the right place to put on the right show is a time consuming, exhausting process. Finding the right room becomes something of a weight, you can’t walk into a park on a sunny afternoon without thinking about where you might put a stage, where the bar and the bogs would go, how you’d get a few thousand in and out safely.

Even if you don’t have an event to actually plan and plot.

The same thing applies to line ups. You pore over lists, ideas, concepts scribbled on napkins, every detail is written through a hundred times, every detail is then divided down to lists and lists within lists.

We know that the people who put on festivals in this city do all this and more, the PR, the sponsorships, the safety checks, the fundraising, the booking, the lists go on and on.

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But we have to question putting on three nights of the same type of show over three consecutive nights on one stage.  We know that some years are a little quieter than others, some years the list of bands or artists on tour is a little light and sometimes we return to the same thing, run it a little differently, see what sticks.

Sister Sledge, Cream, The Hacienda, and Erics are unquestionably worthy projects but surely there is more out there that can fill a park?

We don’t want any of them to fail, but can we start a conversation where we explore different things?  Can we maybe think about finding something that isn’t dragging the same thing out every year?  (We don’t need to replace the French Giants with Giants from somewhere else)

We’re not suggesting that we run the Lightning Seeds or Pele or The Farm every year or run a line up that is a mid 90’s male shoegazer-orientated mess like Hope & Glory, there are festivals out there that push the boundaries of what you can put on. Can we not challenge audiences, can we not introduce them to new artists and to new concepts?

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