Tuesday 16 June 2015

The Mill Hill Music Festival - Day 4 - Rog T's Festival Diary - Shir at Mill Hill Synagogue

Shir perform at Mill Hill Synagogue
Day four of the Mill Hill Music Festival. I had a nice lie in, after a late night on Sunday. Although the festival takes over your life for a week, there is still a business to run and a family to feed. So the morning was spent attending to this business. I'm taking a wild guess that you are not that interested in the details of the quote I got for a new flat roof (if I am wrong drop me an email!). So after my obligatary lunchtime sauna and jacuzzi chill out session, the fun began. I turned up at the studio at 3pm. For me, today was one of the "biggies". For the festival, us committee members all have our own events that we take special ownership of. For Brian Peerless, this is the headline Jazz events (Brian is a Jazz promoter of note). Dan Bleich is the Opera Champion. He brought Opera to the festival and it has proven a massive success. Clare (my other half) is in the BBC Elstree concert band and so put her heart and soul into that gig. Joan Scannell is involved with the Salvation Army band as her sons play in it, so Joan did the donkey work for them.

 I tend to look after the more popular music events and sorted out the JJ & The Ukettes for the Adam and Eve, The Dhol Company for the Day of the Raj, Shir at the Mill Hill Synagogue, The Boss Bruce Springsteen show at the Golf club, and Joe Angel / The Misdemeanours at the Hammers. Of course all of the committee help at all events and with the planning, but we handle the liaison with artists and staging requirements as lead on these events. Generally the events I put on are locally based artists, who use Mill Hill Music Complex studios and I believe are good enough to take part in the festival. In general they are at more popular (for want of a better bucket to put them in) end of the music scale. Ivor Goldberg and Maurice Chernick of Shir have a long standing association with the studios. Ivor runs the Rock United music workshops for young people at the studios and has done for many years. Maurice has also been a studio customer for years. He was the first band I recorded, when we first set up a recording studio. His sons are both talented musicians and I've seen them grow up, coming down to play drums and rehearse with their bands. There is no greater gift a parent can give than a love of music to their children. So as you can imagine I consider both Ivor & Maurice to be top class guys all round.

The Klezmer aspect of the Mill Hill Music Festival has been present since the days before I was involved. It is always a popular and well supported event, but this was the first time we've actually held the event at the Synagogue. Local people will know the synagogue has recently been rebuilt and it is now a superb venue. The synangogue were very keen to become involved in the festival and we were very pleased to have them as well. I've done the sound for artists at every venue in Mill Hill (as well as other venues all over the country). It is fair to say that the Synagogue has the best acoustics of any. It has been designed to be a great venue. There is no nasty ring in the room and the environment is very comfortable.

So anyway, back to the day. At 3pm, I arrived at the studio and Stuart and Tom helped with the load up. Yesterday was the first day where we'd used PA4 - our biggest sound system. The hall is the largest we've done and so we needed a bit of welly! This is not because Shir play loudly, but it means we need headroom in the system. We also needed a lot of channels on the mixing desk. Anyone who has ever set up a 3KW PA with monitors will know that there is a lot of lugging to do. Getting the sound is often the easy bit! Fellow committee member Gerry Keane was on hand. Gerry was looking after the lights. I've known Gerry since I was 4. We attended FCHS and St Vincents school together, so it is fair to say we can work togther pretty well. For gigs like this, Gerry handles lighting and I handle sound, but we work together as a team and I think we do a fine job.

By 5pm, we'd shifted the PA around the corner and set up. Stuart is an excellent technician. He ran his own studios for years and is a professional musician. Ivor and the gang showed up. The sound check was relatively painless. The lighting was another matter. We bought some new equipment and it wasn't playing ball. Gerry had spent all day at home trying to sort the issues out (we'd used the gear at the Day of the Raj and had to use one bank of lights in auto mode). Gerry thought he had it in the bag after a days hard slog, but the system was not behaving. I felt really sorry for Gerry, checking cables, re-reading the manual. Just before the end of the sound check, he suddenly looked a bit happier. The polarity switch on the lighting desk had been switched incorrectly. If I was in the trenches, I'd want Gerry next to me. He is nothing if not dogged in his efforts to fix any problem.

The soundcheck finished at 6.55 and at 7pm on the dot, the doors opened. Ivor had considerately put together a playlist on his iPhone. A few last minute checks. The event received massive support. Over 180 people turned up and the hall was full. For me, one of the beauties of the festival is I get to see all manner of artists, in all manner of settings that I wouldn't normally see. I doubt I'd ever have given a second glance at a Klezmer night at the Mill Hill Synangogue, if I'd not been an organiser. As a musician and a music lover, I am open to new styles, but I'd probably have assumed that it "wasn't my thing".

At 7.30pm, fellow committee member Jenni took to the stage to welcome Shir. It is fair to say that Jenni was a tad nervous standing up in front of the massed crowds. She did a fine job though, and the band were up and ready to go.  Having seen Shir on  a few occasions, I also know what I'd have missed! They are brilliant musicians. Ivor is a top notch guitarist. Much of what he played had elements of the best of Spanish, Eastern European and even Latin styles. Maurice is a great clarinetist, Piotr Jordon on violin adds a true Eastern feel to the music. Poitr didn't appear with the band when they last played at the festival. He has certainly added a new dimension to the band. Steve on double bass and Ronen and drums add a solid and grooving rythm section. Ivor has an encylopedic knowledge of the Klezmer and Ladino music genres and his patter between numbers gives a great insight into the history of the music styles. In short, it was a great show and the audience went home happy.

Afterwards I spoke to Ivor. The band normally play at Barmitzvah's and weddings. As such they are a bit of a sideshow and they play a set appropriate to the event. Playing a concert where they are the focus means they can explore areass of the music that you wouldn't necessarily want the bride and groom to have the first dance to. The band clearly relished the chance to be in the spotlight, the main attraction. Unlike some gigs I've been to recently, the audience were also very respectful whilst thoroughly enjoying the show. There was no chit chat as the band played, but as soon as they were encouraged to join in on the choruses, they brought the house down! For a band, nothing could be better.

In short the evening couldn't have run smoother. The band sold a stack of CD's, the audience went home happy. What could possibly go wrong? Just as I was chatting to Ivor and curling up leads, the lights went off. I shouted for them to be put back on. They shouted back that they hadn't turned them off. It turned out that half of Mill Hill was experiencing a power cut! Have you ever tried to dismantle a PA system in the semi dark? Fortunately for us, there was emergency lighting in the hall. This is good enough to get a crowd out, but for breaking down a large PA, it was nightmare. Leads have to go into specific bags. When you can't see them, it is a tad more challenging. Even worse, Clare had gone off to get my dinner from the Chinese restaurant. No din dins for me! I'd been looking forward all night to a nice portion of Kung Po Chicken and a spring roll.

The show finished at 10pm and we were clear by 11pm. Back to the studio for a quick unload. Fifteen minutes later we were done. Carl and Tom at the Studio helped and I was on my way home. I knew that dinner was off the cards. I felt a bit sorry for myself. I walked in the door and Clare announced that dinner was in the oven. I opened it up and there was a nice big plate of chinese food. My good lady had dug out the Iceland equivalent and very tasty it was. If you've ever been involved with music, you'll know just how good a late night treat is after a long day.  By midnight I was in bed and I slept like a baby!

Just a final word about the festival so far. Thus far, over 800 people have attended festival events. We've had the best ever ticket sales and the best response. I've been running the #SaveLondonMusic campaign to protect live music venues and to ensure we have a live music scene. It is clear to me that there is a huge appetite for live music in Mill Hill. For us it is such a pleasure to see things going so well.

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