HAY FESTIVAL: The Bach teeth

Goldberg Variations / Ken Dodd
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The Independent Culture
"What a sizzling stir-fry of a festival it has been!" one man shouted to another across a stretch of grass. "Are you going to church today, or to Ken Dodd?"

At St Mary's, we have the Goldberg Variations, performed by the young Welsh virtuoso Iwan Llewelyn-Jones. By the end, the smile on the face of Swansea's philosophy of art professor, who had been sitting on the front pew, stretched from ear to ear. "We absolutely worship the Arts," he confided. His wife gave a faint smile of agreement. "Bach and Shakespeare, now they're the great ones..."

Iwan Llewelyn-Jones is a dapper, well-scrubbed young man in his twenties who dresses, uncharacteristically for a classical pianist, in a muted racing man's check, and wears black shoes that appear to have been buffed by his mother since the dawn of yesterday. His cheeks are shaved to the smoothness and purity of a babe in arms.

There is nothing quite so taxing or so frenzied as the Variations, and the whole of Llewelyn-Jones's body took up the challenge: his hands criss- crossed like a frenzy of murderous spiders; his shoulders hunched forward horribly; his face hung so close to the keyboard that he might have been staring down a microscope. Clearly, this was the most pernickety manual business imaginable - far more visually taxing than embroidery or carpet- weaving, for example. Everything was in his facial expressions, too: his mouth, pouting in a great "O" of surprise, moved up and down the keyboard as if it were vacuuming up the unseemly riot of notes. There were short, sharp winces of pain; rabbit twitches of the nostrils; and, always, that frenetic scurrying and scrambling of the fingers.

Up the hill and down into the big marquee in the valley, there is the Ken Dodd Laughter Show. Doddy is old now, and still emotionally ravaged by his battle with the Revenue, but the strutting and the puffing, the eye-boggling and the effortless ad-libbing, the blue jokes and the daft jokes - "I'm still two or three cushions short of a three-piece suite, madam" - with the famously well-insured teeth hanging with mock innocence over the bottom lip - go on and on for hour after hour. The woman sitting next to me waved the tickling stick she had bought from the High Street only that morning: "You look like a Hovis on two legs, madam," he shouted.

Michael Glover

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