Miles Kington: The night my musical taste buds were blown away

As the light dimmed, and the stars came out, and nobody in the audience was more than 20 feet away from the musicians, it was just wonderful
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The Independent Online

As you get older and more blasé, you tend to think that you will never again have your mind blown by a musical experience, will never go to a concert and come away thinking that you have just heard the sirens singing or the music of the spheres.

I half envy my son, who thinksthat everything he likes is as good as that. Actually, sometimes it is. About a year ago he took me to Bristol to hear the Mexican duo called Rodrigo y Gabriela, who play very exciting flamenco-based music, and they were truly amazing, though I fear I just don't have the stamina any more to stand in a club waiting for two or three hours for a group to come on.

Indeed, as we get older, we find magic events becoming so few that we become convinced we will never again encounter an evening of music which will blast our musical taste buds the way they used to when we were young and open to everything.

Well, I am here to tell you that it is not so, and that in the past month or so I have been to two musical events which flooded over my jaded, world-weary sea defences and left me gasping for air.

One was at Iford Manor, a house on the Somerset/Wiltshire border which is notable for its Italianate gardens. Several times a year they use the gardens as a setting for music, usually opera, and a week or two ago we went with some friends for a jazz evening.

Bring your own picnic, was the order of the day, and of course you spend the first little while spying on other people's accoutrements ("Good Lord. That party over there have brought their own table...That's nothing. That lot over there seem to have brought their butler...") but we gravitated as soon as possible to the small cloisters, inside which violinist Mike Piggott, guitarist Nils Solberg and bassist Peter Morgan were dispensing their brand of Hot Club music, gypsy jazz or whatever you like to call the Grappelli/Reinhardt tradition.

Now, I know that nothing much new is happening in that tradition, and that all the great men are dead, and even that it's all a bundle of tricks (as a fine Django-style guitarist moaned to me the other day), but I'm still a sucker for it all, and as the light dimmed, and the trio played, and the stars came out, and nobody in the audience was more than 20 feet from the musicians, it was just wonderful. As Piggott said: "Why didn't I know about this place? Why has it been kept a secret?" (Because it's not near London, is the answer, of course.)

The other concert which made me see stars was a solo recital by pianist Huw Warren at the Bath Festival. I first saw him when he was the pianist with the lovely quartet called Perfect Houseplants, and on one of their early CDs there is a slow tune written by him called "Still Hearing You", which I think is the single most ravishing melody I have ever heard in my life.

The latest CD by him, which I own, is called Hundreds of Things a Boy Can Make, a title taken from a jolly useful book from the 1950s. All the tunes are named after hobby ideas, and the one which bowled me over this time was called "How to Make a Shocking Coil", which I fear will never enter the top 20 under that name.

Huw Warren must like it too, as it was one of the pieces he elected to play in his concert. On the record he has violin, bass and drums to help him out; on stage in Bath's Assembly Rooms, it was just one man and a piano, but that's all you needed. At Iford, the setting provided half the magic. In the back hall of the Assembly Rooms there is no innate magic, and what kept the audience rapt for an hour was just the man's wonderful music which, if you had to try to describe it, would involve references to folksong, and Conlon Nancarrow, and maybe Keith Jarrett, but at the time you don't think of any of those things - you just lie back and let it wash over you.

Ah, it's fun being a cynic, but it's great being the opposite now and then.