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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

My friend Ilka is from Berlin, the bit formerly known as East Berlin. When the wall came down she was a teenager but unlike her classmates she didn’t rush through the rubble to take her first steps in the shimmering West. She waited. “I didn’t want to be on camera, on the news, pretending I’d never seen an orange before.” Now when opportunities present themselves to see new places there’s no hesitation as she travels to the world’s most inaccessible spots to take her beautiful photos of the planet’s shyest and rarest flora and fauna. She emailed me recently from somewhere in rural Japan.

“My mobile does not seem to be working here. I would like to ask you for your time on April 8, 2016. In the evening to be precise. I want to take you somewhere as a surprise… Would you have time?”

How exciting! We met in London on the appointed date and hopped on the Tube. I had absolutely no idea where we were going. But while we were travelling there, Ilka said “I hope there’s an interval, I’ve brought this,” motioning to the bottle of Bollinger in her bag. “I hope you like this evening, Elizabeth,” she said, “you were the first one I thought of – though you might not.” But already it held the promise of a top night out.

We walked over the Millennium Bridge – London glinting at its best on this clear Spring evening – as the possibilities of our destination narrowed to the beautifully candlelit and intimate surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. A semicircle of stringed instruments sat waiting on stage.

The place was packed. A couple of blokes strode out. I had no idea who they were. The shorter one with longish white hair I knew wasn’t Neil Young – he spoke with an English regional accent for a start. And the tall one probably wasn’t Roger Waters. Who were they? They were obviously famous. Then they let loose with fine voices and beautiful harmonies and brilliant musicianship and funny and thought-provoking stories and talked about people and places that I knew Ian Anderson (ed) would know. And the audience knew the words to every song.

The first half whizzed by. I waved to Joe Boyd sitting shadowed by candlelight in the gallery above the stage. He waved back. Then he got up to play the accordeon. The man who looked like Roger Waters said thank you to Max Clifford and I wondered what he was doing there. How had he got out? But it wasn’t Max, it was Matt. And he was playing accordeon, not Joe.

The interval came with the Bollinger. I said to Ilka, truthfully, “This is great, thank you, I must text my editor,” reluctant to reveal my ignorance of a band I must surely have known. “He’ll be surprised I’m here.” “Elizabeth,” said Ilka-from-Berlin, “do you know who you’re seeing?” “Er no, actually.” “Show Of Hands,” she said. “They sell out the Albert Hall.”

“Show Of Hands?”, said Ian Anderson the next day. “The next biggest thing to Bellowhead on the folk festival circuit. They sell out the Albert Hall.”

They were great. It was a brilliant evening. I’d never have gone if I hadn’t been taken as a surprise. Sometimes walls tumble down most unexpectedly.

Elizabeth Kinder


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