So, just before Tramlines, we asked Emily Ireland (she of See Emily Play) to write about her experiences playing with an orchestra at the Library Theatre. Here’s her response, verbatim:
It’s very nice of you to ask me to write about my gig at Tramlines at the library theatre. I apologise for being more self-indulgent than I need to be. I’ve written about the good bits, nobody wants to hear about the boring, unhelpful or frustrating, but trust me it wasn’t plain sailing! The show itself was magical for me, I was very privileged to be surrounded by a team of splendid people and play to an incredible audience. So thank you to everyone who was a part of that gig, I’ll never forget it.
There is no experience more surreal than people clapping you for walking on stage. I mean, seriously? You’re clapping me for walking? I haven’t started playing yet, I might be rubbish. The people in question are the audience at the library theatre, filling the seats and blocking the aisles, they’ve just gone ballistic. It’s lovely, but terrifying.
No pressure then.
The months leading up to this moment have been brilliant and hellish in equal amounts, and an awful lot of hard work. On stage on the first night of Tramlines, I’m about to find out if it’s been worth it.
I had the idea on my way home from work, after dismissing several different gimmicks (capes, fire, strippers etc.) I landed upon an idea that actually seemed rather good and almost plausible.
‘Mum I’m going to have an orchestra.’
‘An orchestra, y’know, for tramlines,’
‘You don’t sound very convinced…’
‘No, it sounds good, I’m sure you’ll make it happen.’ The scepticism in her voice, thick enough to spread, put me off for about 27 seconds, then I emailed Peter Dyke.
Peter Dyke is the chairman of Sheffield Chamber Orchestra. He’s also the friendliest, nicest, most positive man I’ve ever met. He’s always smiling. Even at soundcheck , when I felt like crying, Peter Dyke was smiling. His reply was a grin typed out and sent via the internet, ‘This sounds great, come see us rehearse tomorrow!’ I’ve never seen such an enthusiastic email. The next day, wearing a pair of brogues and a woolly social awkwardness, I was met by more smiles. No surprise SCO sounded great, on stage I can faintly remember the excitement of seeing them play for the first time, but mostly I feel sick. Peter is sat at the other side of the stage with his viola. I don’t look at him, but I’m sure he’s smiling.
I catch Matthew Warren’s eye and hold up a hand, fingers crossed. I’ve known Matt for years, I can remember being 13 and at school and asking him what he was writing, and him holding up a scraggy bit of paper with a set of notes messily scrawled across it. They meant nothing to me, but Matt knew exactly what they sounded like, he could hear it all in his head. Matt is a genius. The bastard. Now he’s studying music at Durham, writing folk chants that involve drinking large quantities of wine to change the pitch of a glass during the performance. I love him because he’s very well spoken and proper, but then you spend an evening with him and discover his penchant for whiskey and women. He wrote the orchestrations for the gig. A week before rehearsals he came over for tea and played me his arrangements. It was like Christmas. They were so brilliant. Powerful, beautiful, and so clever in their simplicity, the parts merged seamlessly with Tom, Nick, Breeze and my own playing when rehearsals started. 17 of us squishing into a room at Yellow Arch and unknowingly causing a fire hazard proved surprisingly fun. Matt took charge which meant I could relax a little while he directed the instrumentalists on ‘slurs’ and ‘mezzo-forte’ and various other words I didn’t understand. This orchestra lot, they were pretty cool. They didn’t complain about Breezie’s thunderous drumming, or the fact they could barely hear themselves, or that rehearsals were in the red light district.
An hour before stage time we met outside and walked into the library together, security gave up on checking wristbands after the first 5 people or so. Dressed smartly in black we looked a bit like we were going to a funeral, however the mood was anything but sombre, everyone chatting excitedly, warming up their instruments, Breezie quietly corrupting Tom, Nick and Ian exchanging notes on their bass and cello playing respectively, me in a nervous haze. Then the band was setting up, then the orchestra were tuning up, then someone whispered to me that the library was over-capacity. I’m sat at the piano, people waiting, it’s time to begin.
I launch into ‘Fair Game’ and spend the next 3.5 minutes worrying if the audience can hear everyone. After a catastrophic sound check I’m praying the strings are audible. My worries are set aside by the near deafening roar of applause that erupts at the end of the song. Incredible, I feel a rush of dizzying elation, then relief, people are clapping, everything’s ok.
Breezie’s military-style intro into ‘Four Feet From The Door’ sounds magnificent despite the fact we’ve given him hot-rods and put him behind a device that resembles a bus stop. The orchestra on ‘A Loner Like Me’ sound glorious, the swooping of the strings, the thundering of the horns, the delicacy of the flutes. Wonderful. I look across to my brother, he’s deep in ‘the zone’, bent double over his guitar pedals. I flash a smile at Nick, who returns the gesture. ‘What To Do’ and ‘The First Time Someone Has Ever Broken My Heart’ flash by in a fleeting blur. Yet the crowd are still with us, I’m starting the next song before they’ve finished applauding the previous one. Then ‘The Train’ brings proceedings to a halt. I’m nervous again; I’ve spent so long imagining this song with a real cello I don’t want to ruin it. But Lindsey’s playing between the verses and choruses is perfect. It sounds just as I dreamt it would.
And then I’m announcing the final song. As I begin to thank the band, the orchestra, Matt, I feel a bit emotional. I know it’s just a gig, but it’s kind of become more than that, a challenge, a musical experiment, an experience in which I’ve met so many lovely new friends I don’t want it to be over. I want to do it again. ‘Miss Penelope’, our final song, is over too fast, as is the unexpected encore. My music has never been received so positively and I feel very honoured.
In the scale of triumphs I guess it was quite a small one, but as I sat watching Neil McSweeney, getting drunker and drunker, my smile getting wider and wider, I felt like the luckiest girl alive. ‘I just feel so happy’ I remember telling Matt, ‘me too.’ was his reply. And that night, for the first time in months, I slept like a log.
Words: Emily Ireland