Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, August 10, 2007

Not the Edinburgh Festival - Part Two

Victoria Week in Ballater usually features an appearance by one of the ensembles from the Aberdeen Youth Festival. This year it was the turn of Gary Straker's Steel Pan School Orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago. who are without doubt the best steel band I've ever seen. The first half of their concert was good, with a mix of Caribbean music, Mozart, Lennon and McCartney and some Scots tunes, ending with a version of Scotland The Brave that segued into a furious jam. All from memory, and all directed by Gary Straker by means of the odd wave of the hand and a lot of body language. But the second half was simply jaw-dropping. It seemed to be more of the same (and none the worse for that) until we got to Take Five (Paul Desmond's old hit for the Dave Brubeck Quartet). Gary Straker's arrangement was a little wayward in some ways, but allowed for some tremendous jazz soloing from almost every member of the band. Bear in mind that these are kids ranging in age from nine to twenty-one: they were improvising as well as jazzmen three times their age. And just when we thought they'd peaked, they did a stunning arrangement of the Hallelujah chorus (and not by any means a dumbed-down version). Truly extraordinary.

An aside: this is the 35th year of the Aberdeen International Youth Festival. The first one back in 1973 featured my wife Hilary playing her clarinet for Sir Alexander Gibson in Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin among other things. My wife, the living fossil, so to speak.

Moving swiftly on....

The centrepiece of Victoria Week is the Ballater Highland games which always take place on the Thursday. We all went, and had a good time. It must have been a bit less crowded than sometimes because even arriving at midday we got decent seats with a great view of all the field events, the dancing, the Tug-O-War, some of the piping competitions and the Tilt The Bucket. The latter involves paired contestants, one pushing a wheelbarrow in which the other wields a long pole. The idea is to get the pole through a small hole in a board, the penalty for missing which is a soaking from a bucket attached thereto. The Tug-O-War was genuinely close for once (Elgin beat Cornhill by one point after almost thirty pulls from five teams); the open heavy hammer competition (all these things have local and open sections) was abridged because the handle came off the hammer; and the whole spectacle was splendid. The Highland dancng competitions are always fun to watch, trying to predict which ones will get prizes, looking for familiar faces from previous years, and comparing costumes. For the uninitiated, Highland dancing in these contests consists of Highland Fling, Sword Dance and Seann Triubhas (also Reel of Tulloch for the adults), danced in the kilt; Sailors' Hornpipe, danced in sailor costume; and Irish Jig, danced in a green/red/white dress with bare legs and frilly knickers (the latter dance involves much shaking of the fists and flashing of the frillies). Oh, and boys dance them too, though they wear tartan trousers for Seann Triubhas and sport a shillelagh rather than Ann Summers gear for the Irish Jig. Actually, once you're out of the very young age groups, the boys are usually among the best contestants, probably because unless you're really good and really dedicated you'll have got fed up with having the crap beaten out of you by your classmates.

As there's no special changing area, one sees much morphing of costumes taking places in the stands around the arena, to say nothing of people warming up in odd combinations (sports bra and kilt braces, anyone?) One of the competitors in the women's half mile race was wearing running strip and tartan dancing socks, thus demonstrating a degree of multi-tasking exceeded only by the young lady near our seat who went from pipe band outfit to dancing kilt and back again with great aplomb. And no, no salacious pictures: all done with great decorum. Though I have to say that as we were leaving one of the adults was beginning to change out of her Irish Jig gear into her day clothes, and begin the process by dropping the frilly knickers round her ankles while she dealt with some fastening or other. The resulting pose reminded me very much of the deathless work of Art Frahm (but without the celery, obv.).