slow blog — David Bedford’s “Star’s End”

It’s a pleasure to hear David Bedford’s “Star’s End” again, for the first time since I left blighty. Despite its release as one of the very first Virgin records, despite Bedford’s association with rock musicians such as Mike Oldfield, this is a down the line modernist orchestral outing.

Well, almost. It’s orchestra plus electric guitar. Against an orchestra, you realise an electric guitar is not such an expressive instrument. Furthermore, I don’t think the guitar is mixed in as well as it might have been, it only seems to have very loud, loud, and rather loud. Where it joins in quiet passages, where it supports, it dominates. I suspect this simply reflects 1974 recording technology, rather than any problem with the score. I’d like to hear a modern recording of the piece. Whatever, it’s not a significant issue.

This piece was apparently originally going to be called “The Heat–Death of the Universe”, but Virgin didn’t like the name. Bedford has a fascinating with astronomy, something which, to some extent, I share. A death of a star, though, is quite different from the projected Heat Death of the universe. A star goes bang in rather a big way, the heat death will just be things fading … fading away … f d i g … f a … .

The music doesn’t offer solos to any particular instrument, apart from the electric guitar, no doubt because it scores the decline of everything. But this isn’t to say the colour is monotone, not at all. The soundscape is rich and varied, delicious in places. It’s just that nothing hogs the hedge.

It’s a longer orchestral piece, filling both sides of an album. The piece is full of glissando, and, despite being so common, they never bore. All the same, I feel it drags in a couple of places. That could be my over–familiarity with the recording, having first heard it in 1975, and many times over the decades since then. It’s no major problem.

But what the piece is, though, despite the title, despite the theme of ending; what this piece is, is incredibly playful. The orchestra is grinning half the time, playing little tricks on themselves and on the guitar. It feels to me like adult mirth playing childhood games; the fun is there, but the serious aspects of life remain behind the games. It’s a grown up piece, a piece with a lot of love, despite the impending end of life. As such, it’s a piece that’s full of life, and it’s a piece that is of life. At least, that’s how it has me feel, I could, as always, be talking thorough bollocks :-)

As far as modernist orchestral pieces go, it’s a good introduction for people who want to explore one of the richest and most challenging forms of music. Provided explorers can allow the harmonies and styles to carry them along, rather than letting the differences to the popular norm scare them, I suspect this piece will be a good welcoming to the full modernist form. And there’s Oldfield’s immensely strong, perfectly placed, short sharp solo, riding near the end, as a reward for those who travel the whole road.

Yup, I like it, I’ve liked it when I first heard it, I keep coming back to it.

David Bedford: Star’s End
Chris Cutler, Mike Oldfield, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Virgin CDV2020