A review of Symphony under the Spire starring Marianne Faithfull, that took place on Saturday, June 11th at this year’s Salisbury Festival.
Some of you may remember her debut: the sweet-voiced, ex-convent schoolgirl with long blonde hair and doe-eyes singing about little birds. Or perhaps you recall her as the leather-clad star of Girl on a Motorcycle, or as Mick Jagger's one-time girlfriend, or even for allegedly performing a certain lewd act with a Mars Bar! In short: as a child of the ‘60s.
Many performers of that era disappeared into obscurity; some fell by the wayside in despair; some went on to join tribute bands. But others, instead of clinging to past glories, evolved and indeed have become household names [yet they tend to get referred to, somewhat erroneously, as rock 'dinosaurs' – mainly, I suspect, by jealous contemporaries who think it unseemly that persons of pensionable age are still strumming guitars!]
At the end of the sixties, Marianne did fall by the wayside into the grim nightmare of heroin addiction but, unlike many, she picked herself up and re-emerged in 1979 with the startling album Broken English as a raspy-voiced chantress of bleak lyrics. Further albums were to follow and she has since collaborated with the likes of P. J. Harvey and Damon Albarn and so become known to a new generation.
I came to Symphony under the Spire, at the end of the Salisbury Festival, with little idea what to expect; especially as the Sarum Orchestra and Festival Chorus were on the bill! I wasn't sure either what sort of a following Marianne attracted nowadays: festival junkies? Middle-age groupies? So I headed for the Cathedral Close, soon after evensong, and joined the throng of ticket-holders carrying their picnic hampers and folding chairs. [It was a bring-you-own chair affair.] Many had taken the precaution of adding umbrellas - mindful of the clouds that had by now sealed off a clear June sky.
I looked around and saw people of all ages, perhaps mainly 40s and 50s, and many family groups. Some elaborate picnics were laid out; champagne corks popped. No doubt many in the crowd would have come along whatever the event, just to savour the atmosphere in such a wonderful setting. And for those who hadn't already eaten, or who hadn't brought enough in with them, a barbeque and drinks were provided. The disadvantage of these bring-a-bottle type concerts, however, is that you do get people to-ing and fro-ing to the loos or to the drinks table. And young children become increasingly fidgety. The advantage is that you can move about [and many of us, as the evening progressed, had moved in closer to the stage.]
Shortly after 7.30, chorus and orchestra settled themselves onto the stage followed by Marianne's band and finally, dressed in black suit and cream silk shirt, came the lady herself. A slight hiatus as a forgotten script was hurriedly handed in to her, and then: a sudden loud bang. [This might possibly explain why the chorus of some three dozen voices at the back of the stage never really came over very clearly.] Marianne remained unfazed, smiled and shrugged 'Oh well. Nothing we can do about it now!'
The repertoire included both old and new works. The warmest reception was for that old favourite As Tears Go By - which the young Marianne used to sing with cherubic voice and which the mature Marianne sings as though a noose were tightening about her neck. Her voice may not be to everyone's taste but there is no denying its raw emotive power. Its a 'been there, done that and survived' sort of voice; one whose owner has, in the words of the Pink Floyd song, been 'sunk without hope in a haze of good dope and cheap wine'
This concert had been specially commissioned by the Festival and was the first time Marianne had worked with an orchestra. She wasn’t afraid to stop and restart when, on one occasion, band and orchestra were slightly out of synch. And, with a nod to Salisbury, Boulevard of Broken Dreams was amended to include mention of an 'old cathedral town' [yes, I know it should have been cathedral city but poetic licence demanded otherwise!]
By 10.00 o'clock, after a rousing rendition of Ruby Tuesday, the stage emptied. But we were not to be denied an encore. Eventually Marianne and her band returned and launched into one final number - her classic Broken English which, when you come to think about it, rather neatly describes her vocal style!
The threatening clouds couldn’t have dampened the evening if they'd tried and I'm sure the Festival organisers will be happy with what proved to be a great evening's entertainment.
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