Man about Eastbourne first saw Nigel Kennedy, that most idiosyncratic of English violinists, at the Barbican Centre 30th August, 1984 playing and directing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the City of London Sinfonia (I’ve just found the programme). He was small of stature and I remember him wearing a very oversized jacket. Whether this was an early precursor of David Byrne’s Big Suit or a misjudged wardrobe moment I couldn’t say. The other memorable thing was his brilliant playing and his very different take on what was then a somewhat hackneyed classic. Well, 35 years on here he was in Bexhill with a small group of hand-picked string players (‘cello, double bass, and two guitars).
Regular readers will know that MAE likes to take sustenance before a concert, and that Bexhill is blessed with many good eateries. In search of something out of the ordinary he consulted Tripadvisor and was intrigued to find Sobremasa, a relatively new Latin American restaurant that was ranked the third best in town. We got there at 6 p.m. and several tables were already occupied. It is a relatively small place, simply decorated, with square wooden tables and abstract metallic designs on the walls. The bar features a gold sun design. The two waitresses were friendly and helpful. Mrs. MAE chose King Prawn Ceviche which also included avocado, tamarind and ginger. It was very appetising with lots of lime juice and fresh coriander. I began with Mushroom Tostada which looked very colourful and was an assembly of shitake mushrooms, pomegranate, and refried beans on a small maize pancake. Good flavours but a little soggy in texture. As a main course Mrs. M had beef fajitas (something of a favourite with her) which were pronounced excellent. A very generous portion of very tender steak with peppers flamed in tequila, with four dips and flour tortillas. My main course was a Brazilian dish Xinxim, said to be Pele’s favourite dish, a sort of mild creamy peanut and lemon flavoured chicken curry. More adventurous diners can sample bison, pithon, alpaca and crocodile. We didn’t have time or room to try the very tempting sounding desserts. A limited choice of wines are offered (from Latin America of course). The house wines by the glass were both from Chile under the Luna Azul brand. The Sauvignon was crisp and fresh, and the Merlot soft, fruity and medium bodied. If you are going to be in the area and fancy something different, please go to the restaurant website to read a fascinating and unusual menu. (****)
We strolled the short distance to the De La Warr Pavilion where a capacity audience had gathered to hear Nigel Kennedy (or “Kennedy” as he once decided to call himself). The concert was arranged under the auspices of the Rye Jazz Festival (which takes place in August) so we were expecting some jazz influences, and we weren’t disappointed. However after a late start Kennedy and his band appeared with our designer-stubbled star dressed in trainers, track suit bottoms and a large somewhat deconstructed leather coat. Following a long, rather charming, but rambling introduction to the band the great man began with a Bach violin sonata solo beautifully and traditionally played, as if to say, contrary to my appearance I can still compete as a classical virtuoso. If you had been just listening, only the occasional foot stamp might suggest this was not a fine BBC lunchtime concert recording from Wigmore Hall. He dedicated his performance of the piece to one of his two great mentors, Yehudi Menuhin. Then there was a quantum leap into a piece by his ”second favourite composer”, one Nigel Kennedy. Entitled The Magician of Lublin, after the book by Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer set in the Jewish communities of eastern Poland in the 1870 (which I confess I haven’t read), the piece focuses over five movements on several of the main characters. It uses a wide range of musical styles (possibly too wide) including classical, electric rock, jazz and klezmer. Impressive performances and it does make one want to read the book, but overall it was too long. They finished the first half with some Gershwin as a taster for part two: “How long has this been going on” which included quotes from Old Man River. I supposed its title might have been a comment on the previous piece.
After the interval they came on wearing Aston Villa’s claret and blue shirts. Kennedy is a long term fan of the Birmingham club who were in a Championship play-off final two days later against Derby County with the winners returning to the Premiership. Your man is a Derby supporter and he was contemplating a heckle, but Kennedy made a gracious comment about both sides. lf the Bach was a tribute to Menuhin, then the second half was in honour of another of his mentors Stephan Grappelli, with whom he played during his days as a pupil at the Menuhin School. And, with two outstanding guitarists, Rolf Bussalb and Howard Alden in the band, there were moments when we might have been listening to Django and the Hot Club. But the first number “They can’t take that away from me” began with the multi-talented Kennedy on piano accompanying ‘cellist Beata Urbanek. Then Kennedy’s lilting jazz violin was to the fore in a medley from Porgy and Bess which segued effortlessly into “The Man I Love”. They finished the Gershwin set with “Oh Lady be good” which he remembered playing with Grappelli. As an encore we were given Polish film composer Krzysztof Komeda’s touching moja ballada (my ballad) and well deserved standing ovation followed. For all his mockney joshing and fist bumping Kennedy is still a major talent who, despite his classical roots has a tremendous facility for communicating jazz. (*****)