June 20th, 2005


Horses for courses

By the power of addedentry's amazing London ticket-fu, on Saturday night we found ourselves at the Royal Festival Hall for "Songs of Innocence", a concert put on as part of mini-festival Patti Smith's Meltdown.

To say that the list of those involved was stellar would undersell it. I could just list the artistes who participated and this would almost suffice as a review -- in alphabetical order: Tori Amos, Tim Booth, Billy Bragg, Eliza Carthy, Marianne Faithful, Kristin Hersh, Sinead O'Connor, Yoko Ono, Beth Orton, Miranda Richardson, Patti Smith, Tilda Swinton.

The theme for the evening was childhood/motherhood, with Blake's Songs of Innocence as a backdrop (quite literally, as Blake's glorious illustrations were projected onto a screen behind the stage for most of the evening) and perhaps some kind of framework. Smith explains the motivations and meaning behind the concert in a recent Guardian article, and some of this definitely came through in the performances; yes, at times the event as a whole seemed to be more a smorgasboard of singer-songwriters (predominantly, but not exclusively, female) than any kind of unified whole... but what's not to like about that? I'd feared -- uncharitably! -- that the event would be two hours of piano-led PMT, but there was no danger of the women involved allowing their (song-)cycles to synchronise as a result of performing on the same stage; the only thing they had in common was their individuality.

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I could go on. Flawed though it may have been in some ways (Sinead O'Connor's formless two-chord meanderings through the Psalms were desperately self-indulgent, and a sadly limited showcase for her amazing voice; Patti Smith should perhaps have thought twice about dragging her daughter on stage to play piano, particularly as said daughter looked awkward and embarrassed by the whole affair; Yoko Ono's solo number probably crossed the line between using voice as a percussive instrument and using voice as a weapon, though it was certainly interesting; the "Songs of Innocence" theme was a bit vague and didn't really gain much from the silent black-and-white home-video footage of small children that appeared on the backdrop at intervals throughout the evening) it was a phenomenal evening, both as a musical event and a conjunction of musical stars. I bought the programme on the way out, if only so that 30 years down the line my children might believe me when I said that I'd been there.