GYPSY PUNK

NIGEL KENNEDY
Perth Concert Hall

Friday 1 February 2019

Nigel Kennedy made classical music cool again for a brief moment in 1989 when his album of Vivaldi bangers (the most illustrious composer from the 1600s Baroque period) went to #3 in the UK pop charts. Looking back at 1989 it’s all about The Stone Roses, Reagan getting that wall sorted and Nigel Kennedy. Dressing like a gypsy punk and talking like a cockney dandy, the record went on to sell over 4 million copies worldwide, in the process turning the virtuoso into the most famous Violinist since Paganini in the early 1800’s.

Put it this way, Andre Rieu, another famous contemporary violinist - albeit one most often heard between lunch and afternoon nap in suburban retirement villages – is like a Hyundai i30 parked next to Kennedy’s 1968 GT Mustang. What I’m saying is he spawned a generation of fans that stuck with him through jazz odysseys (always a chore), folk music hoedown phases, Jewish tangos, Polish drinking music and even being invited onto stages with Prince, The Who and countless others. If Prince – one of the most rightfully arrogant artists to have ever lived - invites this guy on stage to play with him, you know he’s good.    His supreme command of the instrument combined with his effervescent charisma makes him one of the most extraordinary musicians of the past 100 years. Right, If you’re still lost you better read on…

The Perth Concert Hall feels a bit like you’re rolling in a soup on days over 32 degrees – so I was pleased at my foresight allowing me to down a couple of pints before I settled into the swampy setting. Then comes a hush as the lights dim down. “Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi!” comes the cry from backstage! There’s laughter from the audience as Kennedy and his band tell jokes and laugh like hyenas. Gradually, each one of them emerges before Kennedy comes on clad in his uniform Aston Villa soccer club shirt, what appears to be half a kimono gown and fluoro runners. Not many cats can get away with this shit.

After he addresses the crowd with praise and humour (he’s quite the MC, interacting with the audience with no ego but pure joy and appreciation) he introduces the band and knocks fists with them like a rapper. Now this lot could have been pulled out of the local TAB at 11am by the looks of them. Rotund, sickly physiques with red cheeks and receding hairlines. It was obvious they were a gang; thick as thieves who all enjoyed getting sloshed together as often as playing together. But not a sniff had yet been inhaled. Their professionalism was manifest. And then it began…

Kennedy undertakes a solo rendition of Bach’s Sonata in G Minor, plus the Adagio and Fuga for 40 minutes – including a 10 minute improvisation. I remember thinking, as I got carried off in the sheer emotion he was conjuring; “this makes Jay Z seem like a musical invalid”. Then we had an hour of Kennedy and the band playing his own compositions. They were inventive and inspired, morphing from effect-pedal aided alt-rock soundscapes to jazz-flavoured jigs with impressionist melodies interspersed with intricate rhythms. He even got on the piano at one stage, but on any instrument the physicality and focus with which he plays left the audience entranced.

You’ve never seen fingers move so quick and violently, to then be soothed to a whisper quiet serenity of sensitivity.  My only criticism is that all these genius players (they all soloed extensively) regularly sacrificed melody for rhythm. I had to change my thought pattern though, as the magnificence of their ability to traverse such rhythmic difficulties, while maintaining perfect pitch, required one to view them of scientists of music. In the same league as the laws of Physics, the laws of music – as in the laws of melody, how certain notes and phrases can work but others cant – were pushed to the their earthly limits.

For a well earned breather, these completely un-puffed out lads then headed for intermission as Kennedy ordered us get a round in. As we clamoured to the bar it felt a tad like wading through a Shaun of the Dead scene (yes, that’s a bit harsh, there were actually a healthy number of younger people and even a few lucky kids). Yet out on exterior of the lower floor alfresco it was great to be able to take in the fresh air and talk drink in hand without a bouncer in sight. It felt satisfyingly civilised. We were a long way from Amps.

The second half of the night was devoted to seminal early twentieth-century American composer, Gershwin. You’ll likely have heard his biggest hit –‘They Cant Take That Away From Me’. Kennedy palpably loves this music, and his band are devoted to the bliss and passion it exudes. Pop jazz built for dance halls and hotel lounges when the world was simple.  Actual songs too, with a familiar structure as we might appreciate in today’s popular music.  It might remind the casual onlooker of the soundtrack or score music to the classic Hollywood blockbusters of the Golden Age. Kennedy was simply majestic! It was by now the end of night where we witnessed something that takes over 100,000 hours of toil to be able to do. I was impressed, but more than anything, I genuinely appreciated it.

The audience rose in standing ovation. Like audio marathon runners we were totally worn out. Kennedy, like a kid before Christmas, was on cloud nine.

Well there you have it. If you still cant work out what I’m on about there’s no hope for you. The rest of you: Jump onto Spotify/YouTube in 3, 2, 1….

Leave a reply