REVIEW: Daryl Runswick 70th Birthday Concert at Cadogan Hall

Daryl Runswick welcomed onstage by The King’s Singers
for whom he has written over 100 arrangements

Daryl Runswick 70th Birthday Concert
(Cadogan Hall. 6 June 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Here is a Protean, London-based talent, a multi-instrumentalist widely described as a genius, a performer who has specialised in one-man shows, of whom a near-contemporary has said: “I have never met anyone with more innate, natural talent”, a musician who also specialises in presenting harmonised singing voices….

…but, for once, we are not writing about Jacob Collier. The focus here is Daryl Runswick. Here is a musician with nearly fifty years more on the clock than the Finchley Wunder, who – as Leah Williams recently discovered in her great interview HERE– was happily playing bass as a member of the Dankworth band and then, when he had to step aside to make way for the young Alec, simply switched to piano and keyboard in the band. A role in which he duly prospered. That degree of versatility is rare – and also wonderful.

Those similarities do go on bugging me (maybe some clever festival director will get them to work together one day….). Whereas Collier went off to MIT in Boston a couple of years ago to develop vocoder technology, Daryl Runswick was able to find a lower-tech solution for his vocal harmonising skills way back in 1970: The King’s Singers. His first arrangement for them was anigh-impossible vocal ensemble version of the Beatles Ob-La- Di – and he then went on to write another 100 arrangements for them, including a celebrated Rossini Barber of Seville, and, a more recent Rossini overture arrangement premiered last night, a helter-skelter version of the final section of William Tell. We were also treated to both Comedian Harmonists-style German and English pastoral last night. And who is the seventh King’s Singer? According to the group themselves, it can really only be Daryl Runswick.

The earlier part of the evening had presented many more aspects of Runswick’s astonishing compositional range. There was the premiere of an intricate piano concerto, which was entirely built around a single sequence of notes, but which gave the opportunity for not just the virtuosic pianist Aleksander Szram to shine, but also for all nine members of the ensemble to function as soloists.

There was another compositional avenue explored: “dot music.” Runswick, with pianist Tony Hymas, has developed a notational method in which all stems, rests and bar-lines are jettisoned, completely freeing up the musician in time. Maybe it is one of those paradoxes familiar to free improvisers: being granted complete freedom might be a form of total privation. Discuss.

Just as The King’s Singers at the end of the programme had shown that time spent learning Runswick’s music has been infinitely rewarding, so the eight-member London Voices with Ben Parry, did joyous justice to a Beatles medley of at least nine tunes, which they performed from memory with all kinds of beatboxing and advanced vocal techniques, and some light choreography too.

Tony Hymas (piano) and Daryl Runswick (omnibass) 

One remark in the programme captures the imagination with its wry ambiguity. Pianist John Taylor is quoted as having said to Runswick: “We miss you – no one played bass quite like you.” These days we miss JT, and can only conjecture as to what he might have meant by that typically perceptive remark. Runswick does have an astonishing ear, and when working with the fixed pitch of the piano – as he did with Tony Hymas in a tune called Precise last night  – he is able to give himself more deliberate pitch freedom than most bassists allow themselves (an exception might be Lars Danielsson, who has a similar sixth sense of where all those partial harmonics are.)

There was so much to enjoy in this very special celebration of a unique talent in British music.

Categories: miscellaneous

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