Tag Archives: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz

BRANDIS-ING LIFESTYLE CHOICES

Sandy Evans

Sandy Evans performs at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues

REVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2016

There is a political dimension to the performance of live music that often goes unmentioned. Yet it was present at this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, whether in frequent black-humoured mentions of “lifestyle choices” (the products of which apparently we were hearing onstage) or in passing comments that did not reflect well on Attorney-General and former arts minister George Brandis, who is widely blamed for funding cuts to the arts.

It was also obvious in the program, which featured fewer international artists, and in what appeared from observation to be fewer bums on seats — both a result of this renowned and much-loved music festival having to significantly tighten the purse strings. Let’s hope — and work towards — that situation improving in the years to come. This annual gathering of jazz and blues musicians has a proud history.

It was apposite, in this context, that multi-instrumentalist Adam Simmons included, in a set by the trio Origami in St Patrick’s Hall, three pieces from The Usefulness of Art, an album inspired by Rodin that reflects on what artistic experience and participation can offer society — acceptance, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith — “at a time when fear governs politics rather than vision and principles, at a time when we cannot offer our hand to those in need, at a time when support for music education is diminishing”.

Mind you, those wise sentiments come from a musician who plays in his socks, which are often red.

And these layabouts who have chosen to fiddle with their instruments on stage rather than doing a real job are almost certainly commos. For instance, flamboyant pianist Barney McAll tore up a picture of Donald Trump live on stage in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre during a performance by his band ASIO (Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit).

And the program devised by the festival’s prominent and no doubt left-wing artistic director (or creative director as he is known this year) Adrian Jackson is clearly leading a gender-based assault on the world of jazz, displaying as the line-up did “the strength and diversity of female jazz and blues artists, whether as vocalists, instrumentalists, bandleaders and composers”.

But I digress. Wasn’t this review supposed to be about music?

There is no single feature that makes any session of live music work for an audience, and no audience that is entirely of one mind. Yet many times an audience will feel and go with the vibe, delighting in whatever works collectively — be it virtuosic playing, full-on hard bop, intricacy and subtlety, or various forms of complexity. That is hardly an exhaustive list.

On Friday night Paul Grabowsky and Monash Art Ensemble joined Daniel and David Wilfred from Arnhem Land in a performance of Nyilipidgi that some found challenging. It was not my first experience of this work, which probably helped, and I thought it allowed two musical traditions — modern jazz and Indigenous ceremony — to cohere powerfully and emotively. The Wilfred brothers were expressive in their movements, although they did not dance as in a previous performance I’d seen.

The Long Way Around, Ronan Guilfoyle’s trio from Ireland, displayed understanding as well as propulsion and intensity in what was a fairly restrained outing.

And to close the evening, award-winning Chilean expatriate saxophonist Melissa Aldana formed Crash Trio with countryman Pablo Menares on bass and Colin Stranahan (US) on drums in a concert that never seemed to move or excite. Aldana displayed fluidity and technical expertise, but on this occasion lacked that indefinable ability to make us captives to her talent.

I made it to a dozen concerts on Saturday, but for too many of those I did not hear all of each gig because of overlapping concerts. Pianist Andrea Keller — whose contributions to this festival were a highlight — joined Eugene Ball on trumpet and Tamara Murphy on bass for Transients IV, one of Keller’s trios inspired by and in memory of the late Allan Browne. There was so much magnetism and space in the originals they played that I did not want to leave.

It was also a treat to hear expatriate trombonist Shannon Barnett and her fellow band member from Germany Stefan Karl Schmid on saxophone perform with Monash University Big Band, assuredly demonstrating under the direction of Jordan Murray that there are many young, talented “lifestyle choice” enthusiasts out there.

It often doesn’t work to hear half a concert, but festival programs make that hard to avoid. In Holy Trinity Cathedral at noon on Saturday, however, Luke Howard on piano along with Jonathan Zion on bass and Danny Farrugia on drums were superb advocates for their album The Electric Night Descends. This intricate, layered and beautiful music swelled and receded in the lofty space, its mesmeric quality staying with me long afterwards, despite my early departure from the set.

This uplifting mood was built upon in Celebrating Bernie McGann, Sandy Evans on tenor sax and Andrew Robson on alto joining Warwick Alder on trumpet, Brendan Clarke on bass and Andrew Dickeson on drums in a tribute to the inspirational musician who died in 2013. Evans said some of McGann’s compositions were “the best of all time” before the quartet performed her commissioned four-part suite, Loose, Long, Taste, Groove. We heard sprightly and sharp trumpet, a marvellous maelstrom of sound, twanging resonance and splendid horns mingling. Evans played with heart, soul, presence, spirit, feeling — call it what you will — and Robson sent alto notes darting as he ducked and weaved behind the music stand. It was indeed a celebration.

At 2.30pm the Luke Howard Trio members emerged from their telephone box clad in the colours of saxophonist Anton Delecca’s quartet and the transformation worked. I heard only the first half, but the versatility of these players exemplified the fact that they don’t get to take on a lifestyle choice without hard work. And it pays … well, not in big bucks maybe, but in the music that emerges.

Pianist Tal Cohen was unable to return from the US for a duet performance with saxophonist Jamie Oehlers, but Paul Grabowsky stepped into the breach. These two know each other so well. During their exquisite rendition of Armistice I vividly recalled the soft pastel hues of Afghan sunsets, and Oehlers’ work in The Dreaming was air-filled subtlety as the duo explored simple patterns. But the high point of this outing for me was a fully improvised piece that recalled their engrossing Lost and Found album. It’s a wonderful device to go unscripted — a tiny element of suspense demands our attention as we wonder where will they take the piece, who’s changing the mood or tempo or dynamics, and how will they know when to end it.

Jazz critic for a Murdoch publication John McBeath has described the Joseph O’Connor Trio as “an important new Australian talent” and he’s not wrong. O’Connor says the trio’s first album Praxis is inspired by his “study of dissonant counterpoint” and “combine a spacious, non-tonal harmonic palette with an intricate rhythmic sensibility”. I’d express it more simply by saying that it is not necessary to understand fully the complexity or intricacy of the structures this band explores to find it absorbing and engrossing. It really is worth an attentive listen and deeply satisfying.

The evening session on Saturday brought two festival highlights, the first being Ronan Guilfoyle’s eight-part suite A Shy-Going Boy, which set out to explore duality, complexity and ambiguity in the life of his grandfather, Joseph Guilfoyle, who was a volunteer in the 1916 Rising in Ireland. Voice recordings were a powerful adjunct to this carefully crafted set of pieces that, for instance, changed from jaunty and bright to sombre lament within A Dog With Two Tails. Ronan was joined by son Chris on guitar, Matt Jacobson on drums and Australians Scott Tinkler on trumpet, Jamie Oehlers on sax and Andrea Keller on piano. It was a challenging and sobering work of a similar ilk to Lloyd Swanton’s Ambon, but not on the same scale.

Shannon Barnett

Shannon Barnett

The audience in St Pat’s Hall at 9.15pm heard Shannon Barnett in her element, joined by her German group of Stefan Karl Schmid, David Helm on bass and Fabian Arends on drums, playing her compositions. This was a special outing for Barnett’s many fans and a musical treat, full of warmth and depth in the air-cushioned horns that seem to call for the epithet “resplendent” as they flow upwards and outwards from the stage. I loved the timbres and the finesse and restraint of the drums, as well as the traditional jazz feel of Hope Solo. Barnett’s characteristic humour showed through. An error in the festival app led me to miss this quartet’s second outing next day, which was a great pity.

The Wangaratta debut by bassist Tamara Murphy’s Spirograph Studies took quite a different approach that eschewed solos in favour of a group ethos as band members took a more textural and developmental approach to each piece. I did not catch the whole performance, but found it hard to resist the desire for more variation or more movement towards a destination. This is a group to watch.

Melissa Aldana

Melissa Aldana steps up her intensity.

Before a visit to the Blues Marquee to hear Geoff Achison I heard the opening piece of Melissa Aldana’s Crash Trio. It was New Points and Aldana continued to deliver fluidity in her long solos, but seemed to have stepped up the level of intensity compared with her previous night’s outing.
The last thing you need on a Sunday morning is Confrontations, but that’s what Joseph O’Connor’s trio with Scott Tinkler on trumpet delivered in spades. This five-piece suite was written as his PBS Young Elder of Jazz commission. It was utterly compelling in WPAC Hall, but not at all as I had imagined or as the title suggested. It’s not my place to infringe on an artist’s naming rights, but surely interactions, intersections, juxtaposings or congruities may have fitted just as well. There were deep raspings and higher register explorations from Tinkler, and fragmented, percussive piano onslaughts from O’Connor. But there were exquisite eddies and currents in there too, along with quite beautiful and gentle interventions as paths criss-crossed and patterns formed and dissolved. The tension-filled Blocks ended a great outing.

Ronan Guilfoyle is not only an accomplished composer for diverse ensembles and bass guitarist, he is evidently well versed in a wide range of musical traditions. When his trio performed in WPAC Hall the first three pieces drew on New Orleans funk, a reggae groove and North African gnawa rhythms. At times I found the drums too strong for intricate and well executed guitar work by Chris Guilfoyle, but the final piece I heard, Not Too Chabby, built to a stirring finale that was, well, you guessed it, not too shabby at all.

At 1pm in WPAC Theatre I caught the opening three pieces by a stirring sextet led by saxophonist Kellie Santin, who returned to Melbourne some time ago after 11 years in London. This was a swinging band that obviously enjoyed what they were doing — it is a lifestyle choice after all — and they were tight and lively. As they played Save Your Love For Me, Street Life and Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, it was obvious that Santin had wooed and won quite a few audiences in her career and this outing was going to be polished and professional.

I left for something completely different. Adam Simmons on soprano sax and Nick Tsiavos on contrabass were playing Sixteen Allelulias at Holy Trinity. Indulge me here as I wax lyrical, albeit perhaps not as much as this duo.

As I listened to this constantly liminal exchange between two artists of sound, I remarked on their understanding, their exquisite timing, the deliberateness of their interventions and the contrast in their instrumentation — deeply resonant bass, air-filled saxophone notes. Their periods of unison were broken by slight extensions or delays. The bass notes deepen, the sax holds back. They exchange a look, then Simmons bounces in, but never overplays. They are a study in empathy and in listening (it is part of many lifestyle choices, after all). Sax notes seem to be exquisitely laid upon the bass notes, or poured on to them. The result is iridescent.

Past tense returns: It was almost big clash time, and crunch time. I wanted to hear Sandy Evans Trio with Bobby Singh on tabla, as well as Barney McAll’s ASIO. The resultant switch was jarring to say the least.

At 2.30pm in WPAC Hall Evans launched into an amazingly intense and rhythmically compelling solos over a drone, before Singh began on tablas. They played a Sri Lankan tune and then Robben Island from their album Kapture, a tribute to anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 26 years. I wanted to hear more. Much more.

But at 3pm I was next door ready — but utterly unprepared — for McAll’s ASIO. There were four men in Hi Vis vests ready to create chaos for their leader, but often seemingly wondering what he would require of them next. McAll held up signs with assorted instructions (“Make bird calls”?), tore up a picture of Donald Trump and talked wildly of parking tickets paid, needing milk and finding a 7-Eleven. He also distorted his voice in a most effective fashion via his synthesiser.

As usual with this creative performer, amid all this absolute and utter craziness there were sobering moments, as when he referred to a piece written about people “who appear to have everything, but don’t”. And McAll said judging the National Jazz Awards was “one of the hardest things I’ve had to do” — and we believed him.

Speaking of those awards, Adam Simmons mentioned just before the final judging that he had entered three times and had no success. So, as he said, there was hope for those who missed out.

National Jazz Awards winner for 2016 Mike Rivett

National Jazz Awards winner for 2016 Mike Rivett

The results were as follows: 1st Mike Rivett (Cairns), 2nd Troy Roberts (Perth) and 3rd Jeremy Rose (Sydney). Congratulations to those three and all who made the final 10 who performed in heats during the festival.

Anyone still reading at this point deserves a national jazz reader award. Sorry, no prizes.

At 7pm Melbourne Jazz Cooperative’s Martin Jackson introduced Andrea Keller’s Transients I, featuring Julien Wilson on tenor and bass clarinet, and Sam Anning on double bass. This began with Allan Browne’s Cyclosporin and ended with Hand Me Downs. In between we heard wonderful compositions by Keller and Anning. Keller’s tribute to the late John Taylor, a pianist and mentor, entitled Grateful, Hopeful, Joyful, was breathtakingly beautiful — Julien Wilson take a bow here. (But remember, there’s no money in it, because it’s a lifestyle choice.)

And I thought it would all be over after the 9pm outing by the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Quintet, which included Angela Davis’s moving Hymn For the Lonely and Keller’s tribute to John Taylor. Zoe Hauptmann on bass had met drummer Sonja Horbelt that morning. Surely this was a fitting way to end a festival in which many women musicians put their lifestyle choices on the line.

James Morrison

What a line-up: Olivia Chindamo, Troy Roberts , Matt Jodrell, James Morrison, Patrick Danao, Harry Morrison.

But it was not to be. The Morrison clan had other plans.

That’s James Morrison (on trumpet, trombone, piano and — at the Pinsent Hotel later on double bass), William Morrison on guitar and the amazingly speedy and dextrous Harry Morrison on bass. They gathered Troy Roberts (tenor), Carl Mackay (alto), Matt Jodrell (trumpet and piano), Patrick Danao (drums) and Olivia Chindamo (vocal gymnastics) in an all-out extravaganza that wowed an absolutely packed WPAC Theatre.

That’s a whole lot of people in that audience that went away with a smile on their faces because of lifestyle choices.

Down at the Pinsent Hotel were a few more of those layabouts on stage who had no real jobs. But what happens at the Pinsent stays at the Pinsent.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note to self: Write something soon about the festival app that was far from accurate or complete. And add some images.

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WHAT WANGARATTA’S DISHING UP

Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann will be celebrated at Wangaratta this year.

PREVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, October 28-30, 2016

It’s a little late for a preview of a festival that opens this week, but it seems wrong not to take a look into the crystal ball and consider the delights of this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, which opens for the 27th time on Friday.

Adrian Jackson, creative director and for many years the linchpin of this pre-Cup Day long weekend feast of music, has said an “after the fact” theme is “the strength and diversity of female jazz and blues artists, whether as vocalists, instrumentalists, bandleaders and composers”. They were not chosen to fit any such label or description, but “included on merit”. As AJ says, that’s the way it should be.

Rather than begin with international artists — who Jackson acknowledges are not so well known as in some past years — I’ve decided to run through the gigs that I plan to catch (more jazz than blues, I expect). After all, a look through the long list of concerts on offer (and planning to avoid the inevitable clashes) is like poring over the menu at a really great restaurant on a special occasion — you can’t order every dish, but anticipating the dishes on offer is half the fun.

The first item on the agenda for any serious festival patron is to download the app for iPhone or Android. It was a huge success last year and will make planning your musical meal so much easier.

I will miss not being able to turn up to the Wangaratta library for one of Miram Zolin’s late afternoon book launches on Friday, because they’ve offered a great chance to catch up with friends — musicians and festival regulars.

But at 7.30pm I reckon on catching a few minutes of Irish trio The Long Way Round (featuring Ronan Guilfoyle bass, Chris Guilfoyle guitar and Matthew Jacobson drums) in St Patricks Hall.

Daniel Wilfred

Daniel Wilfred

Then, in WPAC Theatre at 8pm, Monash Art Ensemble, directed by Paul Grabowsky AO, will join Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred (voice, didjeridu, clapsticks, dance) and David Yipinni Wilfred (didjeridu, dance) to present Nyilipidgi. Expect drama, strong rhythms, and considerable impact.

At 10.30pm we’ll hear expatriate Chilean Melissa Aldana, now living in New York, on tenor sax, which is appropriate as the National Jazz Awards this year will feature saxophonists. The first female instrumentalist and the first South American to win the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, Aldana will join countryman Pablo Menares (bass) and Cuban drummer Kush Abadey to deliver originals and standards, performing as Crash Trio. Thom Jurek (Allmusic) describes their music as “fresh, sophisticated, invigorating modern jazz”.

Monique diMattina will be at the Pinsent Hotel until midnight.

That’s surely enough to get the juices flowing for the days and nights ahead.

Tough choices abound on Saturday, but Andrea Keller’s Transients IV — one of her trios inspired by the philosophy and legacy of Allan Browne — takes the WPAC Hall stage at 10.30am, featuring Eugene Ball on trumpet, Keller on piano and Tamara Murphy on double bass.

Shannon Barnett

Shannon Barnett with her quartet at Wangaratta in 2013.

At 11am I’ll have to slip into WPAC Theatre to welcome our expatriate trombonist Shannon Barnett back from Cologne, Germany and hear her regular quartet members Stefan Karl Schmid saxophone/clarinet, David Helm bass and Fabian Arends drums along with Monash University Big Band. It will be a treat to hear what Europe has gained and we’ve lost.

Lunch at noon? Forget that. Music from The Electric Night Descends is sure to be featured in Holy Trinity Cathedral from noon when Luke Howard on piano joins Jonathan Zion bass and Daniel Farrugia drums. Ronan Guilfoyle’s trio is in St Pat’s Hall from 12.30pm, but I’ll be hoping to catch them on Sunday.

I will not be missing Celebrating Bernie McGann in WPAC Theatre at 1pm, when Warwick Alder, Brendan Clarke and Andrew Dickeson — Bernie’s quartet during the last period of his life — share the stage with Sandy Evans and Andrew Robson on saxes. Along with McGann’s music, this concert will feature a suite — Long, Loose, Taste, Groove — in which Evans pays tribute to her long-time collaborator and friend.

Hard to know which way to turn at this point, but I’m aiming to catch a little Anton Delecca Quartet in WPAC Hall at 2.30pm before slipping into WPAC Theatre at 3pm to hear Jamie Oehlers and Tal Cohen play pieces from Innocent Dreamer, their new album of originals and standards.

The inimitable, virtuosic and thoroughly charismatic Barney McAll playing solo is an appealing prospect in the cathedral at 4pm, but in WPAC Hall at 4.30pm Joseph O’Connor’s Trio will join Scott Tinkler and I’m hoping there may be a few Confrontations — no promises, because I really don’t know what they plan to play.

I expect to eat a little at this point to keep my strength up for the evening ahead.

At 8.30pm I am keen to hear Ronan Guilfoyle’s eight-part suite entitled A Shy-Going Boy, which explores the life and times of his grandfather, Irish revolutionary Joe Guilfoyle. I’m predicting this WPAC Theatre concert to be a festival highlight.

As soon as that finishes I’ll be off to St Pat’s Hall at 10pm-ish to soak up the Shannon Barnett Quartet. But wait, that clashes with Tamara Murphy’s Spirograph Studies in WPAC Hall.

And Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio begin at 10.30pm in WPAC Theatre and on the blues stage Geoff Achison & the Soul Diggers are an old favourite of mine.

There are delicious morsels on the menu and my belly is way too large as it is. Clashes! They are inevitable. And I have no hair left to pull out.

Time for bed.

Sunday may begin for me at 10.30am in WPAC Hall to hear Joseph O’Connor Trio (this time there will be Confrontations, a suite of six compositions that embody conflict and multiplicity in improvisation, composed with the support of PBS radio’s Young Elder of Jazz commission) followed by more from Shannon Barnett’s quartet at 11am in WPAC Theatre.

At 12.30pm in WPAC Hall I’ll be keen to hear Ronan Guilfoyle Trio, no doubt finding it hard to tear myself away at 1pm to hear the crooning and wailing reeds of Melbourne saxophonist Kellie Santin, who spent 11 years in London before returning in 2013. Santin will be joined by Christian Barbieri guitar, Phil Turcio keyboards, Marty Holoubek bass, Salvador Persico percussion and Darryn Farrugia drums.

But I hear the sound of clashing concerts again. In Holy Trinity at 1.30pm Adam Simmons and Nick Tsiavos ought not to be missed as they explore a collection of Sixteen Alleluias via soprano sax and acoustic bass.

And — clash, clash, clash go the festival cymbals — at 2.30pm in WPAC Hall tabla player Bobby Singh joins the great Sandy Evans and her trio of bass player Brett Hirst and drummer Toby Hall in a concert featuring excerpts from their acclaimed album Kapture, a tribute to Ahmed Kathrada, a South African anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 26 years.

But — clash, clash — at 3pm in WPAC Theatre I have the chance to make up for missing Barney McAll & ASIO — featuring fellow-past winners of the National Jazz Awards, Julien Wilson (saxophone), Stephen Magnusson (guitar) and Sam Anning (bass), and an exciting young talent on drums, Dom Stitt — in a Melbourne International Jazz Festival outing at Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse.

Where to go? What to hear? Like any excellent menu, there are too many items from which to choose, all of them bound to be deeply satisfying. It’s a luxury to have such choices, but it’s also a pain in the …

At 4pm Origami, which is Adam Simmons on alto sax and bass clarinet, Howard Cairns on double bass and concertina, and Hugh Harvey on drums, will be definitely worth a visit (if only to see what colour socks Adam is wearing).

But I reckon there is only one option at 5pm, and that’s the finals of the National Jazz Awards in WPAC Theatre — a chance to hear the three finalists do battle with their saxophones. Gerry Koster will be in conversation with one of the festival musicians while the judges deliberate — worth staying to hear.

Time for some sustenance, then Andrea Keller presents Transients I with Sam Anning on double bass and Julien Wilson on bass clarinet and tenor sax at 8pm in WPAC Hall.

In WPAC Theatre at 8.30pm jazz vocalist and composer Chris McNulty — returning from 28 years in New York City and in 2013 winner of an Australian Bell Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album for The Song That Sings You Here — will preside over a chamber ensemble and jazz quintet for Eternal.

McNulty will be a huge drawcard, but I may slip out into WPAC Hall at 9pm to hear a bunch of other women — Sandy Evans, Angela Davis, Andrea Keller, Zoe Hauptmann and Sonja Horbelt — performing as the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Quintet.

From 10.30pm the undoubtedly crowded WPAC Theatre will hear Australia’s best-known jazz musician, consummate entertainer James Morrison along with sons William (guitar) and Harry (bass), plus Patrick Danao on drums.

In the Pinsent Hotel, Dixie Jack should still be firing until almost midnight, followed by the traditional jam session into the wee hours.

Will I still be firing? Hope so. You never know what might happen at a late-night jam session.

ROGER MITCHELL

Suite for a shy revolutionary

Ronan Guilfoyle

Ronan Guilfoyle                                  Image supplied

“In music you are allowed more elbow room to find your own way to whatever you interpret the music to be. So I think that’s a kind of interesting wrinkle in music, that because of its abstract nature it actually allows the listener to participate maybe a bit more with their own creativity and their own spontaneity … “

INTERVIEW

Ronan Guilfoyle talks about his suite, A Shy-Going Boy, to be presented at this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues

Irish acoustic bass guitarist Ronan Guilfoyle recalls his grandfather as a softly spoken, witty man, but Lt.-Col. Joseph Guilfoyle was also a revolutionary — a volunteer at age 17 in the 1916 Rising against British rule in Ireland.

As a member of Michael Collins’s group the Squad during the War of Independence, Joe took part in the killing of British magistrate Alan Bell, who was ordered off a tram in Ballsbridge in March 1920 and shot dead in the street.

Ronan has explored that ambiguity in an eight-part suite that will be performed on Saturday, October 29 as part of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. He will be joined by his son, Chris Guilfoyle, on guitar, Matthew Jacobson on drums and three Australian musicians, Jamie Oehlers on saxophone, Scott Tinkler on trumpet and Andrea Keller on piano.

Ronan chose A Shy-Going Boy as the suite’s title because Joe Guilfoyle described himself thus in a radio broadcast.

“It’s how he describes himself and I’ve never heard that expression before or since,” Ronan says in his recorded response to Ausjazz questions.

“He said, ‘I was always a shy-going boy’ and he talks about being shy in joining the volunteers. It really struck me that the idea of a shy boy volunteering to take part in an armed revolution was an interesting one and it was such an unusual phrase I thought it was perfect for the title.”

Ronan is no stranger to creating music related to family members, having composed a suite for string quartet and guitar trio, which John Abercrombie played on, for his father, who died when he was 17.

“The idea of going through my father’s biography was a very interesting experience for me and the same with my grandfather. I was less familiar with my grandfather, but I learnt more that I didn’t know about him or his life in researching the piece, so as a composer I really had wrestle with how to represent some of those things that I discovered.”

On the juxtaposition between “the quiet old man that I knew and the revolutionary who took part in assassinations”, Ronan says he learned “just how much duality and complexity there is in these situations”.

“On the one hand you have a young man, 17 years of age, who goes off to join the 1916 Rising and in this talk he gives, he talks about going to confession the night before the Rising. So him and his brother, these are two people in their late teens going off to confession because they know there’s a good chance they will be killed the next day.

“It’s extraordinary to think of that now, it seems such a long way from my experience for sure and I’m sure most teenagers in the world — the idea of knowing that you could be killed the next day and yet off you go and do it. It’s an extraordinary act of courage on their part and also belief. So you really have to admire that, or I do, the belief in it and the willingness to risk their lives for what they believed in.

“On the other hand, what he was involved with — taking a guy off a tram and shooting him in cold blood up against the railings — is, there’s no way around it, you’re shooting somebody dead, you’re murdering somebody, or assassinating them … a huge amount depends on your point of view,” Ronan says.

“What I found is that you can look at things from more than one point of view and I tried to reflect that in the music. It is quite ambiguous at times or it goes from dark to light and light to dark, sometimes within the one piece. So I did try to represent that kind of ambiguity in the music.”

Ronan says Joe Guilfoyle had an extraordinary life and took part in historical and hair-raising events. He was arrested by a British officer and found to have a letter in his pocket from a very well known associate of revolutionary leader Michael Collins.

“He was taken out to a golf course at 4 o’clock in the morning and had a gun put up to his head and the officer told him that he needed to understand that he, the officer, had been given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the course of his investigations and there would be no repercussions for anything he did. So basically he was telling him, ‘I can kill you right here and nothing’s gonna happen. So now I’m gonna ask you some questions’.

“Joe didn’t answer the questions and he was brought back to the cell. This story is actually told by another person in the war archives, not by Joe Guilfoyle, but by a guy who was with him, who tells the story about him being brought back from the golf course in the dead of night and being, and I quote, ‘None the worse for his adventure’, which is an extraordinary expression to use for a guy who’s just been forced to his knees and had a gun put to his head.”

Ronan says Joe was also in London as a bodyguard when Collins was negotiating the treaty that partitioned Ireland with Lloyd George, “which is extraordinary … if you think of the repercussions of what that treaty represented with the partition of Ireland and the bloodshed that flowed from that over the course of the years”.

And the shy-going boy was also in military intelligence during the second world war, which was known as “The Emergency” in Ireland, with the job of keeping an eye on the German members of visiting delegations, because the country was neutral.

“I was very young when he died, and I wish now that I had been able to question him about some of these things,” Ronan says. “To be honest I didn’t even know about them at that time.”

At last year’s Wangaratta Jazz Festival we heard two concerts that explored aspects of war — Lloyd Swanton’s monumental Ambon about his uncle as a prisoner of war, and Hope In My Pocket about letters soldiers sent home from war.

One piece entitled in the suite by Ronan Guilfoyle, A Dog With Two Tails, is a response to his grandfather marching proudly with a gun, which is an instrument of death. The composer acknowledges that music is a good vehicle to express the contradictions and contrasts of bitter conflict.

“I think it is, it’s very powerful,” Ronan says. “Unless you use lyrics, instrumental music is quite abstract and you can read many different things into it. Stravinsky famously said, ‘music is incapable of expressing anything other than itself’. In other words, the music just “is” and all of the interpretations of what it means are just placed on the music by us as we listen.

“Having said that, I think that the use of music in films and TV and all of that since the invention of the visual medium does show just how powerful music can be as an instigator of atmosphere and also emotion and all of those things.

“As to whether you can write a piece and it says this is such and such, doing such and such, and everyone will understand that just by hearing the music, I don’t think that is the case, but you can certainly express contradictions and contrasts in music very easily and very effectively I think.”

Asked what an audience can take away from a suite such as A Shy-Going Boy, when compared with a film that has dialogue to help convey its messages, Ronan it can’t be that explicit in music.

“A film like Michael Collins or The Wind that Shakes the Barley about the civil war, these are really great films, [that] show the issues that were going on at that time. I wouldn’t say my music, or anyone else’s for that matter, could be as explicit in conveying the events as a film or a book.

“Having said that, music can have a power and can allow the listener to have their own experience in a way that is maybe not as easy as when something is being told to you explicitly or you are being guided in a very specific direction.

“In music you are allowed more elbow room to find your own way to whatever you interpret the music to be. So I think that’s a kind of interesting wrinkle in music that because of its abstract nature — on the one hand it can’t be as explicit as a film, but on the other hand, it actually allows the listener to participate maybe a bit more with their own creativity and their own spontaneity than maybe the explicitness of the film would allow them to do.”

Ronan Guilfoyle says his view of the Rising changed as a result of his research for A Shy-Going Boy.

“Absolutely, totally changed. Not that I think it was an irredeemably bad thing, thinking, as a kid, that it was a glorious revolution. It was an extraordinary event and I really learnt a lot about it. I buried myself in research.

“The ambiguity of it all was what I learnt about it. I mean the first man to be shot in the Rising was an Irish-speaking father of six, an unarmed policeman, who was shot dead by the volunteers because he wouldn’t open the gate to Dublin castle. So there was an idea that they were fighting the British, but there were an awful lot of Irish people killed by Irish people in this conflict,” Ronan says.

“And in the same week that the Rising went on, I think over 600 Irishmen were killed on the Western Front in that same week, fighting in the British army. And there were more than 20,000 Irish people in the British army at that time, fighting for England, or for Britain.

“So on the one hand the army that they were attacking in Dublin was comprised of a very big contingent of Irish soldiers, and the revolutionaries were considered to be really traitorous, especially by people whose husbands were in the army, because their husbands were fighting and sending home money to keep them alive and these guys were attacking the institution that was helping to keep those fellows alive, so it was very ambiguous.
“And of course more civilians were killed in the revolution than either volunteers or British soldiers, so I really did learn there was a huge amount of ambiguity about this and it was a very complex event … as are all of these events, of course, nothing is ever very simple.”

Ronan has used an excerpt from a talk given by Joe Guilfoyle to open the suite.

“The piece opens with my grandfather talking about his time in the Rising. People in the audience will hear him speak. It was recorded about 1960. It’s funny, he keeps it very light and you don’t really get a sense of the danger and the horror there must have been as well. He was very funny as a person and he’s very funny on this as well. He tells very funny stories about his experiences as a young man in the volunteers.

“And then I’ve got an actor to read some of his memoirs … he wrote about 12 pages of his memoirs, didn’t finish them, so I got an actor to read and record those and also to read the story of him being taken out to the golf club.

“And there’s a little bit from [Irish nationalist] Padraig Pearse where he’s saying that a nation that has lost its taste for blood has lost its manhood, I mean, real hair-raising stuff from the man, as I said, who was considered a saint when I was a kid. But this stuff sounds really like zealotry. He says we might shoot the wrong people, but there’s a price we have to pay or they have to pay. So I used some of that and it weaves in and out of the music.”

Ronan has sent the charts for A Shy-Going Boy in advance, but will have two rehearsals with Jamie Oehlers, Scott Tinkler and Andrea Keller once in Australia.

“There’s a lot of written music in it and a lot of improvisation. It’s probably evenly balanced, but it’s definitely going to take some work for us to put it together. Myself and Chris and Matt have played this many times and that helps a lot I think. And the other three are such great musicians, I’ve worked with all of them in different contexts before, so I’m very confident that we’ll give a good performance.”

Ronan is hoping A Shy-Going Boy can be recorded next year.

“It’s difficult to get funding these days, especially as recordings don’t sell anything any more, but for me personally it’s a nice thing to document.”

ROGER MITCHELL

(My thanks to Ronan Guilfoyle for so comprehensively answering my questions at short notice.)