Monday, 12 October 2009

On The Outside Festival: Day Three...Marilyn Crispell, Rob Brown, Günter 'Baby' Sommer et al...

The final day of the festival proved to be the busiest, but the most rewarding of the three. The quality of the music remained high, the atmosphere among the musicians light and friendly, the audiences attentive and enthusiastic, and I'd even go as far as to say that I started to warm to Alan Tomlinson's idiosyncratic trombonery by the close of play. His duet with 'Baby' Sommer in the last set was in all honesty one of the festival's highlights - a theatrical display full of absurdist humour and ironies. Rasping trombone and marching band beats, it could almost have been an offshoot of the Zentrall Quartett.

Starting for us at 11AM, the pace of the day didn't really let up until midnight. We'd arranged to take Marilyn to see the coast - just like me she's a great fan of the sea, and Tynemouth was the destination. Louise postponed her shopping mission to come along and enjoy the morning, and to me this was really what 'artist liaison' should be about. OK, with such a large scale festival staffed by overworked and under appreciated volunteers it may be an unrealistic ambition, but showing visiting musicians something other than hotel rooms and concert halls is an enriching and rewarding thing. We walked for a couple of hours, including a trip along the pier in high winds, and Marilyn enjoyed it so much that on her recommendation Rudi Mahall and his partner took off on the Metro later that afternoon to see it for themselves.

It was back to the festival for 2PM, and highlights of the afternoon set included Marilyn's group with Chevillon and Taylor, and the established duo of Rob Brown and Daniel Levin. As the musicians worked their way through the matinee, a fiendish plot was being unhatched by Raymond MacDonald to divide the evening session up into twelve short groupings selected by the musicians. I say 'fiendish' because I was the person charged with having to round up the groupings and get them on stage one after the other. In the end it was a breeze, the musicians by and large needing no prompts to get up and play.

Following a breathtaking solo by Marilyn and an equally engaging duet with MacDonald, the artists' selections commenced. Turnover was rapid, and the audience had a chance to hear everybody at least once. Rob Brown did a nice duet with Günter and Marilyn, Bruno & Chad drew the biggest applause with a highly rhythmic workout, and I've already mentioned the pleasant surprise of Alan and Günther.

Crowds were consistently good throughout the festival, but with such an outstanding line-up it's disappointing that more didn't travel from Scotland or the South. Perhaps marketing needs to sharpen up and the web presence increase if there's a next time, because although crowds for this kind of music will never reach blockbuster levels there's still room to grow.

The biggest threat to the continuance of this festival is the need to secure ongoing funding. As the crowds dispersed just before 11PM, many will have been wondering if they'll get the chance to do it all again next year. Paul chooses to remain optimistic, and I don't blame him. If nothing can be done then he should be proud of the festivals that he did pull off against so many odds, but you can bet he'll be doing his damnedest to see that we're all back next year.

Our last act of the 2009 festival was to drop Günter back at the hotel and wish him a safe journey home. I never imagined I'd ever see him up close in the UK, and to get the opportunity to see and hear him play in so many contexts was unforgettable. A niche music this might be, but it has a place. Let's hope that one of those places is still Tyneside in 2010. As Herr Sommer remarked when we shook hands in front of the hotel, 'It's up to you!'. Words to live by, and if there's anything I can do to help, I will.

Fred Grand

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