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Best of 2018: Music



I SAW three-piece Serbian band Igralom by accident on a visit to the Bulgarian capital Sofia a few months ago, when they were supporting all-action outfit New Zealand outfit The Cavemen on what was billed as a punk night.

Although the headliners justified the punk tag, it would be a stretch to place Igralom in the same field. The publicity material for their second album Pogrena Poznanstva, which they were showcasing on the night, described them as playing “psychedelic-trans-blues” and, as far as labels go, that seemed to do a better job

Somewhat avant garde, their music at times brought to mind the funk-tinged new wave of Gang of Four, a feel that owed much to the jangly, dissonant electric guitar of Mladen Marjanovic, grating away on top of Dimitrije Simovic’s soulful bass riffs and vocals.

Simovic drove the band forward, while at first Marjanovic’s guitar was as annoying as a a fly buzzing around your face. But, gradually, the combination of the two gained in appeal and you came to understand their oppositional creativity, held together via the mediation of Marko Tomovic’s drums and percussion.

In the three years since their formation, Igralom’s live adventures have mainly been confined to eastern Europe. Hopefully, they will make it to Britain some time soon and a new audience will be able to appreciate their craft.   

The line-up at Cornbury Festival in Great Tew this year was uninspiring and it was a relief to find PP Arnold and Mavis Staples, two artists from the old school, generating some excitement on the second stage.

Arnold treated us to an autobiographical set with an upbeat, amusing and sometimes touching personal commentary that took us from her early days as an Ikette — she sang on River Deep, Mountain High — through to her second hit single Angel of the Morning and on to her signature tune The First Cut is the Deepest, by which time she had the crowd eating out of her hand.

Staples too gave an object lesson in how to hold an audience. Eight years older than Arnold — 79, as opposed to 71 — she was, if anything, the livelier of the two, and her gravel-voiced, blues-tinged gospel edge provided a more socially conscious perspective than Arnold's straighter take on soul.

Delivering a series of inspired treatments of Staple Singers classics, from Respect Yourself and Freedom Highway to the gloriously extended finale I’ll Take You There, she demonstrated quite astonishing levels of energy and inspiration

As a recording artist I can take or leave Seth Lakeman but as a live musician he’s irresistible. His gig at Islington Assembly Hall in London was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh and  I hadn’t been prepared for just how good he might be.

At times in the studio Lakeman sounds almost transatlantic, sometimes a bit too slick. But on stage his wild Dartmoor roots are clear to behold and his songs are all the better for it. Many that sound pretty good on an album gain extra patina in the live setting, raising them to something else entirely.

Two of the most emotional moments of the night were solos — Silver Threads, with Lakeman plucking at his violin, and Portrait of My Wife, unaccompanied while the crowd expertly sang the poignant chorus.

In the hands of many, both numbers might have killed the raucous mood, but Lakeman was able to to increase the emotional intensity through his interpretations.

And surely there’s no better fiddle player in the British Isles. He’s a raucous, modern credit to the English folk tradition.  


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