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A Celebration of David Bowie

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill - 14th December, 2016

Written By John Bownas

We bumped into John Bownas at the Celebration of David Bowie gig the other evening and thought it would be a good idea to get his take on the event itself, and also his first impressions of a gig at the De La Warr Pavilion.

He's expanded on that thought, but we think it's an opinion well worth reading.

So – in a night of firsts – what did I make of Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion, a Classical concert (specifically Philip Glasses re-imagining of two Bowie albums), and meeting some of the movers and shakers in the local arts and music scene?

Well, in reverse order, the simple fact of the matter is that Hastings and Bexhill’s cultural future seems in safe hands.

I’m not going to name names here, but suffice it to say that having just arrived ‘DFL’ and now finally met half-a-dozen of the people who, up until now, had largely just been Facebook profiles or e-mail addresses, the impression I walked away with was one of commitment, understanding, humour, and sanity.

If you ever wonder who is out there making the decisions that shape the local arts scene it’s a combination of talented artists beavering away at creating new and beautiful things, determined grass-roots promoters fixated on showcasing this talent, and some of the people I met tonight.

These are the people who quietly (or sometime loudly) get on with the business of creating the strategic visions that will allow those promoters and artists to thrive.

There are plans being hatched, and plots being schemed, and what underlies everything I heard discussed was a sense of pride in the independent nature of these twin towns.

A feeling that, unlike Brighton, we’re not just extended suburbs of London.

It takes a bit more effort to get down here.

But it’s worth it.

Brighton is, at one and the same time, both expensive and cheap.

Its prices are now easily on a par with those of London, but, as hipsters whizz up and down the Brighton mainline, its uniqueness has worn thin.

Perhaps the only real difference between London and its coastal cousin is the sea air.

Here, however, further along the coast in your balmy little East Sussex micro-climate, you’ve nurtured something a little bit more special.

Note how I say ‘your’ and ‘you’ve’. I’m way too recent a new kid on the block to have the gall to say ‘our’ or ‘we’ve’.

But what I’m not ashamed to say is that I believe I’ve had enough experience of what is on offer elsewhere to say hand-on-heart that what is going on down here is truly amazing.

And I think the people who are currently holding the reins seem to have the vision and the passion to put the area firmly on the cultural map.

Hull might have the honour of being the next ‘city of culture’ – but down in this ‘remote’ (thanks to the ineptitude of Southern Rail) corner of the south east we are about to become the first ‘music city’ that’s not a city…and very rightly so, because there’s more live music per capita in the venues around Hastings and Bexhill than I’ve seen pretty much anywhere else.

 

And so to my next ‘first’ – a world away from the sweaty mosh pits I’ve spent 25+ years bouncing around in – the world of classical music.

As I sat through the two-part drama of Philip Glasses ‘Heroes’ and ‘Low’ symphonies I couldn’t help but have my mind wander as I listened to the undoubtedly accomplished musicianship and took in the beautifully simple (but none the less effective) light show.

Forefront in my mental meanderings was the question of when does a ‘concept’ end, and a ‘tribute’ start?

Because, to my musically uneducated ear, technically speaking that is, I struggled to find much, if anything, of Bowie’s Heroes album in Glasses symphonic gesture.

And indeed, having checked more informed sources, I read that: “Rather than incorporating wholesale sections, Glass instead takes small fragments of ideas from a number of Bowie and Eno tracks and weaves them into the symphonic fabric.

For example, the Phrygian scale patterns and main melody of the second movement (‘Abdulmajid’) are taken from an instrumental track of the same name (which did not even appear on the original album).” (gramophone.co.uk/review)

Maybe this is why one couple (and it was only one!) left after the first ten minutes.

My guess is they had been expecting a Bowie tribute band – and that is most definitely NOT what this particular show is all about.

That said, for those who know Bowie’s ‘Low’ album well, far more of it has been used in a recognisable fashion in that part of Glasses work.

But did it really matter one way or the other? Put simply, no.

These twin symphonies stand on their own feet, regardless of how much or how little they have plundered from the source material. Indeed, it could well be argued that the more hidden Bowie’s original melodies and tunes are from the listener the more originally successful Glass is.

Am I a live Classical convert as a result of tonight?

Truth be told, probably not.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Classical music – I do, and I have big chunks of the greats tucked away on both vinyl and digital collections.

But for me I use this as mood music. Something to help me concentrate or relax depending on the situation.

I think I’m just not inherently ‘musical’ enough to fully appreciate the undoubted skills of the players in a live setting.

I think that those for whom live Classical performances work best are the people gifted with musical skills of their own.

Fortunately the world is blessed with many people who have that sort of talent, and as a result I think there will (thankfully) always be audiences waiting to be wowed by the spectacle of a full classical orchestra.

The world would undoubtedly be a poorer place without these shows.

And so, finally, to my first exploration of DLWP – De La Warr Pavilion to the uninitiated.

Essentially what we have here is a shiny little jewel of a venue. And if you live within an hour-or-so of the place and haven’t yet been – well shame on you.

If nothing else the quality and diversity of the shows staged here should say everything you need to know.

Plus the fact they regularly sell out of tickets.

The auditorium space is that perfect sort of size – big enough to feel imposing, but small enough to retain a sense of intimacy.

And the entrance is neutral enough to welcome any sort of crowd, from tonight’s older and perhaps sedate crew, to the more energetic young punters who would have graced recent shows by the likes of Slaves or Frank Turner.

If there was one criticism it would be the size of the bar – which I would imagine would become gridlocked at some gigs.

But, in its defence, the offering is good quality (I had a rather lovely local bottled IPA) and the prices are incredibly sensible in comparison to increasing numbers of venues in London.

I also found out after the 'gig' (sorry, concert?) that there's a large upstairs bar...so maybe all that's needed to reduce the queues downstairs is a big 'large bar upstairs' sign.

(All venue managers take note - it's often too easy to forget you have to look at your space through the eyes of a first time customer and not assume everything is obvious)

Acoustically the venue is spot on – and after all, when you are there to listen to music, what more could you ask for?

 

Thanks to Sarah Bowrey for allowing us to use her photo's.

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