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Hannah Peel/Tubular Brass

28 January, 2018 (17:07) | Music | By: Ian Burdon

Hannah Peel

I only had tickets for one Celtic Connections event this year, Hannah Peel and Tubular Brass at Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket.

I knew Tubular Brass from when it was released; the idea of working Mike Oldfield’s classic for an expanded brass ensemble struck me at first as a novelty; then I heard it.

It’s based partly on the original album and partly on David Bedford’s orchestral arrangement, but scored for the strengths and dynamics of brass instruments. It works brilliantly, and is obviously a labour of love by Sandy Smith.

It was entertaining to look around the audience to see so many of us of a certain age, who remember Tubular Bells from schooldays. At least four of us still had the hair to show for it 🙂 It is a strange piece of music (I remember our chemistry teacher disparaging it in class). One of the odd things is that part two (or side two) hangs together better as a piece of music, but it is the first part that contains most of the memorable themes and riffs. I need to listen to the original again.

The concert opened with Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, composed for synths and brass band by Hannah Peel. I have the CD and was looking forward to hearing the suite live. It didn’t disappoint.

I’m old enough not to be frightened by the notion of a concept album, and as concepts go this is a beauty: an elderly woman in Barnsley dreams of flying to the stars, and the seven pieces reflect aspects of the journey. It ends, in The Planet of Passed Souls, with a recording of Peel’s grandfather as a boy soprano in Manchester in 1927. I really enjoyed the performance.

Tubular Brass

I’ve seen a number of things online where Peel is referenced with Delia Derbyshire, and this kind of irritates me, not because Peel isn’t good, but because I think it’s a lazy reference point (woman, electronica: let’s reference Delia.) Delia’s principle influence was Musique Concrete, coupled with her own compositional skills and mathematical gifts. At least until White Noise with Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus, she worked with manipulation of tape rather than early synths.

I love Delia’s work, but feel Peel deserves better than a lazy comparator given the impressive body of work of her own she is building. It struck me during Deep Space Cluster, for example, that Phillip Glass’s music for Koyaanisqatsi would be a better reference point.

This was the first time I’d been at The Old Fruitmarket and sat down–both shows I’d seen there previously were all-standing. The Old Fruitmarket is long and tall with a PA at one end. I asked the soundman where the sweet spot was, and found myself pretty much in the centre of the hall as opposed to standing at the front. This was fine for Tubular Brass, because the sound of a brass ensemble is a sui generis thing. During Hannah Peel’s performance, though, I missed some of the immersion I get from listening to the CD on headphones, and I think it was because some of the dynamic range was lost in the venue. I noted during Andromeda M31 that it could have done with a couple of monster bass cabinets to really drive the deeper synth tones, or even some element of surround sound, difficult as that might be to achieve. This isn’t to find fault with the performance, just the way the acoustics work in that particular room.

All that aside, a grand night out, and I look forward to them coming round again.