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Louis de Bernières - 9th August 2005 Fringe Music (Nick Scott).

The modest yet intimate setting of Valvona & Crolla was filled to capacity for last night's performance by Louis de Bernières and The Antonius Players, and was the ideal setting for this refreshingly informal, yet well-structured programme of music and poetry.

Supported by The Antonius Players (unfortunately, one of the female trio was unable to appear at last night's performance), de Bernières was host to an extremely pleasurable and entertaining mix of music and verse. I suspect that the practicalities of performing with one musician short necessitated some changes, which perhaps accounted for the fact that no printed programme was available. This presented little problem for the talented ensemble, as their current repertoire encompasses a wide variety of programmes ranging from the poetry and music of the Renaissance period to that of France and Britain. Other presentations include similar formats honouring the themes of 'Freedom', 'Autumn' and poetry and music from 'Past to Present'. And it is from this wealth of material that last night's programme was compiled.

With one artiste short, members of the audience were invited to 'contribute' by playing some of the many percussion instruments, which added to the informal element of the evening. Thus, with the emphasis firmly on informality, humour and impromptu observations scattered along the way, plus an unassuming and endearing de Bernières at the helm, the evening proved to be an enjoyable and congenial experience.

Better known as a novelist (author of the award winning Captain Corelli's Mandolin), de Bernières also proved his worth as a musician and poet. Extremely versatile (playing mandolin, guitar, banjo, clarinet as well as singing) his technical ability musically, was not so polished as Ms Antonius-Jones and Ms Gandy - but this mattered little. In fact, he occasionally referred to this by aiming some of the humour at himself - such as observing that by having one string of his mandolin out of tune, he would be able to play the music correctly!

The evening began with some rhythmic and lively Medieval music followed by the first of de Bernières' own poems (about a horse) entitled 'Nobby', which was inspired by his time spent in south west London. The humour was heightened by his use of the local vernacular. Also in a humorous vein was 'Stavros' - a poem about the proprietor of a taverna in Corfu whom de Bernières met whilst on holiday. Here, he paints a highly amusing 'picture' of the character. 'Belfast 1998' and a love-poem, 'Without You' provided a complete contrast. Other verse included works by Rupert Brooke, Mary, Queen of Scots and sixteenth century poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The music was just as varied as the spoken element of the programme. The talented Ms Antonius-Jones and Ms Gandy delighted the audience with some well-crafted and striking flute duets; and joined by de Bernières on guitar, the trio performed an 'Allemande' from the group's Renaissance presentation. Moving to the keyboard, Ms Antonius-Jones accompanied de Bernieries (mandolin) in Variations on Greensleeves. Livelier (and humorous) input was provided by two traditional melodies - Mary, Young and Fair and Drowsy Maggie, with clarinettist de Bernieries sporting a Scottish 'Jimmy-hat'! Vocal items were not neglected - such as de Bernieries' rendition of Barbara Allen for which he accompanied himself on the guitar; and the final item in the programme - the rousing, sing-along, foot-tapping traditional air, Whiskey in the jar.

All in all, a unique and entertaining amalgam of music and verse – simply to be enjoyed!

Rating: UNMISSABLE

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