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Fiddle Trek

Norwich Baroque

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When I started lessons with Fiddle Guru, I knew that he was a baroque specialist as well as playing in a ceilidh band, but I didn't know about Norwich Baroque.

John has always been a fan of baroque music. I have always liked it too, but wasn't deeply into it. However, as John had started playing Bach on his piano, I looked around for some baroque music locally, and we found that a group called Norwich Baroque was putting on a concert as part of the Wymondham Music Festival. John looked into the group, and we were surprised to see Fiddle Guru's face in the photo line-up. A day or two later, we realised that he was in fact the director.

We weren't able to buy tickets in advance for the Wymondham concert, which featured the famous baroque trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, so we turned up early to buy tickets on the door. Although it was a summer evening in June, we knew from experience that old churches are cold, so we turned up in winter coats and were pleased to find others in the queue wearing the same. As we queued, I overheard a conversation behind me - a woman who'd put Crispian Steele-Perkins up overnight was telling her friend what a lovely man he was. We've now seen him twice in concerts and listened to an interview with him, and he is indeed a lovely man. In this concert he did his famous rendition of Handel's water music on a length of hosepipe, as part of his commentary on the development of the trumpet. He is so entertaining & a great trumpeter too.

I don't know what it is, but when I see Fiddle Guru performing in public, I feel very shy. I don't want him to feel that I am claiming an acquaintance in public and my usual reaction, on seeing him in the distance at the interval, is to dive to the loo.

Mind you, I am always diving to the loo anyway. Which brings me to the other thing wrong with old churches - they rarely have enough loos, and I spend a lot of time in the first half planning how I'm going to beat the queue to the Ladies' in the interval. At Wymondham, you have to leave the church and go to a toilet located in 'the old schoolhouse'. They keep saying that they're going to build loos inside, but they haven't done it yet.

Anyway, at Wymondham, we got good seats three rows from the front, but I kept hiding behind a man's big head/ big man's head in front of me, so the Guru was surprised at our next lesson when I complimented him on Norwich Baroque's performance.

Norwich Baroque is a lovely ensemble, because it is small & comprises people of all ages, and the group seem to be friends among themselves. It goes without saying that they're great instrumentalists - John Crockatt, the 'second in command' is a fabulous violinist, for example. The Guru introduces items in a lively, jokey way but the person who is the real spirit of the group is a lady called Jane who plays on the second row of the ensemble, usually. She is devoted to everyone, audience as well as players, and does all she can to make our experience a good one. One sign of what a caring person she is is that she is a regular at the Norwich Greyhound Kennels, seeing that the dogs have a happy life - another is that she organises an overnight sponsored bike ride every summer to raise money for Mind and other good causes. She also has a superb sense of humour.

Jane runs the Facebook page and is very enterprising. One of my favourite Norwich Baroque concerts was 'a tour round Baroque Britain', with a commentary by the music historian Simon Heighes. They were playing the music (Purcell?) for Dryden's adaptation for The Tempest, and on the Facebook page a day or two before, Jane had been appealing for a wind machine. The idea had apparently come to her after a rehearsal when the musicians were in the pub. I had a lesson with The Guru the day after the appeal, and he predicted that Jane would get one, as she was a fantastic organiser. And so she did. It was the first time I'd heard a wind machine - Simon Heighes operated it as the band played - and it made us all laugh. Particularly when we were all in the Ladies in the interval, and the cisterns were making the same sound!

John and I are now Friends of Norwich Baroque, which means we get a free programme and a copy of the little magazine, Bar Lines, that Jane edits. It's always a great read, featuring the Guru's exploits with a photo of him about to go 'wild-swimming' on a Devonbeach, wearing only a woolly hat & a strategically-placed bit of seaweed; or there are interviews with the visiting guests; or an alphabetical series on baroque composers; or an account of Eric, a local instrument maker, who made Fiddle Guru a baroque viola which he played for me at a lesson. Think Mellowness in Spades!

Memorable concerts we've been to include one at Attleborough, where a bat came out during the finale to perform some ornamental flying - the church at Aylsham which had one loo, so John & I used the one in the pub in the market place. (The ensemble trooped outside the church at the interval to get to their 'dressing room' and the Guru, as usual, was barefooted & it was fun to see him picking his way over the gravel path...!)

This January, we went to a concert at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich Market Square. It's beautiful, but with such a high roof that it is very cold. The musicians were freezing, in their professional clothes, and it was noticeable that their music only really gelled after the interval, when they'd warmed up. Also, it was on a Sunday, and when I asked about the loos, an usher told me that there were none, & that I'd have to use one in the nearby shopping precinct, but that shut at eight, so at the interval I'd have to sneak into MacDonald's. I didn't do that, but it did make the concert very uncomfortable. Afterwards I emailed Jane about it, and she was mortified, because she *never* organises concerts with no loos for the audience & there are in fact loos downstairs at St Peter Mancroft, so I'd been misinformed. She posted an apology on FB with a photo of an antiquated cistern, and we all enjoyed ourselves hugely posting lavatory jokes.

My favourite of the NB concerts we've been to was The Messiah, at Norwich Cathedral in December 2013. It was my first Messiah, and we had good seats very near the front close to the candle-lit 'stage'. The choir and Norwich Baroque performed wonderfully. The next December, we went again, but this time were sitting much further back, as the Cathedral had 'nabbed' the best seats which weren't available to us, and the experience, though good, was a little anticlimactic, which was no more than I'd expected.

In September of 2014 we had a chance to see Emma Kirkby at Norwich Cathedral, singing with Michael Chance. We had seats near the front, and it was a good job we did, as EK's voice seemed not very strong. But she and Michael Chance were well worth listening to, and John & I were really moved by listening for the first time to Vivaldi's Stabat Mater.

Norwich Baroque plays the Big Baroque works every so often, but their concerts often centre on British composers such as Boyce, Mudge, Avison and Arne. Jane has a fascination with Mudge, and last year one of Mudge's descendants made contact on Facebook. I am not sure whether Jane's love is greatest for Mudge's music or for his name - it's amazing how many jokes one can make about Mudge, with a little imudgination.

The main outlet for Norwich Baroque tickets is the music shop in Norwich called Prelude Records, so for the past three years we've gone up in early January and ordered our tickets for the entire year for the Norwich Baroque concerts that we want to go to. This usually runs to getting on for two hundred pounds, but gives us something to look forward to over the year. You can't usually book your seat, though, as church pews are difficult to number, so we have to get there early - earlier and earlier these days. For a 7.30 start, we have to be there when the doors open at 6.45, because by 7.00 the best seats have gone, and by 7.10, they've almost all gone.

Needless to say, we never go to Prelude Records without coming away with 2 or 3 CDs we'd never even thought about. But that makes the journey home very pleasant.

Norwich Baroque has earned itself loyal fans in Norfolk, and the Guru has his own personal following, judging by the claps and cheers that greet his jokes or follow his solos.

Norwich Baroque = the most fun you can have with your clothes on. In fact, come to think of it, they're even better than going to the public swimming baths - or skinny-dipping off a Devon beach!
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Updated Jun-01-2016 at 19:37 by Ingélou



  1. Ingélou's Avatar
    Reviews of some of the Norwich Baroque concerts that we've been to can be read here:
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  2. Ingélou's Avatar

    Norwich Baroque's Facebook Page.