Twelfth Day

The Globe, Newcastle

4 June 2021

Eight months since I last went to a concert. Coincidentally, that was also at The Globe, back in October when we thought things were going back to "normal". I didn't think that would be my last concert for another eight months. And right up to almost the last minute I was expecting some kind of sudden reversal, because that's how things are now. But here we are. Back at The Globe, and still sanitising hands and wearing masks, and ... and actually, all that is fine, it's an annoyance but like eight months ago The Globe staff are all sensible and professional about everything and the inconveniences are not noticeable, and certainly worth it to hear live music again.

I didn't expect my first concert of the new era to be Twelfth Day, a band I've only seen once before, nine years ago. Though I've followed all their album releases since then, circumstances have never lined up to let me see them live again. So it feels surreal that I'm seeing them at such an unlikely time as this.

So an unexpected concert, but a very welcome one. Because no matter how good Twelfth Day are on record, it's no substitute for hearing them live. And it's their first live gig in over a year, so I'm sure they are just as happy as I am to be here. If they are disappointed at the small audience turn out, they don't give any hint of it. There are only six people in the audience, which is absolutely criminal as even with social distancing the venue can hold more and Twelfth Day deserve many more, but times are strange and people are cautious I guess, and I hope many more were listening from home over the simultaneous live video stream.

But I'm just waffling about the circumstances, and really I should be waffling about the music. Which, with this duo's music, is surprisingly hard to do ...

I'm not sure how to describe Twelfth Day's music to someone who hasn't heard it. They are a violin and harp duo, and they start the evening with a fairly conventional instrumental piece, and while they are obviously superb musicians and it's a very pretty tune, you don't get much sense from it of why this band should stand out from the crowd. You might think you are in for an evening of jolly folk tunes such as a hundred other bands might play.

Then they hit you with a song that's all driving percussive rhythms (yes, you can do percussion on strings) and two startling soprano voices, and a jazz violin solo with the harp playing something completely different underneath it at a billion notes a second ... and even when you know the music it still surprises you all over again. (And sometimes surprises them too, as Esther admits to an "unplanned improvisation" in the middle of one song. I think she means "mistake", but Catriona picks it up and goes along with it so flawlessly that you would never know if they weren't laughing at each other and then owned up to it at the end.)

So that's Twelfth Day. Their music never does what you expect, songs go off in weird rhythmic and harmonic directions, it's always surprising, always unconventional, they don't really sound like anybody else I know, but they always sound beautiful.

I'm not sure how the band felt playing to a live audience after all this time, how they weren't completely overwhelmed by it. I spent the whole evening just trying not to cry. But if I don't see another concert for the next eight months again, then I'm happy that the memory I will be left with is of this one. Best concert I have ever seen.