Not an entirely obvious combination but it pretty much sums up yesterday for me.
First came the Bombay Sapphire Glasshouse, which has been in Exchange Gardens behind Liverpool Street for the last few weeks - yesterday was the last day so I was keen to catch it. This is a travelling exhibition of (a) the things they put into Bombay Sapphire and (b) the results of their annual competition for glassworking artists to design a martini glass, with various other glass exhibits into the bargain. Fascinating half hour or so, wandering round and looking at the designs dotted around the greenhouse, with the help of one of the best Cosmoplitans I ever remember having (not that I'm in the habit of remembering Cosmopolitans, I should admit). Had the place pretty much to myself as well, in the mid-afternoon.
Despite having a tad more gin later on with people from a certain lawyers board (if I start on gin it is important I stay on gin, else everything goes Horribly Wrong) I managed to avoid both being seriously drunk and, more significantly, seriously depressed when I turned up at the Barbican in the evening for Natacha Atlas and Mercan Dede. I booked this as part of a fit of ordering Barbican tickets a while ago (a fit so great that my Barbican Membership more than paid for itself with the discounts it gave in that order alone): I've been trying to force myself back into the habit of going to random things. I live near enough the Barbican now that I can walk home if needs be and alongside the major concerts and plays there's always a load of reasonably priced obscure things.
This was one of them: the opening of the second year of the Barbican's Ramadan Nights festival (timed to coincide with Eid al-Fitr). I originally booked the cheapest seats in the balcony and assumed when they rang me up to say I'd been moved to the Circle for free that tickets weren't selling well. That may have been so at the time but in the event the night was sold out, balcony included. I call that a Result.
More to the point, I've seen loads of fabulous concerts at the Barbican over the years, across pretty much the whole range of music. I have never, ever, seen a packed out Barbican Hall on its feet (and on the chairs) dancing to, err, whatever you call a cross of traditional Sufi music -instantly recognisable to anyone who's watched the dervishes whirl in Istanbul, or wherever else they whirl (with two semazin - whirlers -, female ones somewhat surprisingly, who kept going for 20 minutes straight, and a muezzin flown in from Istanbul) and electronica. Utterly phenomenal. (Particularly when the lights were cut, and all you could see was the luminous strips round the foot of the semazin's skirts.) That was Mercan Dede, the second act, an Istanbulite who lives in Canada, basically a DJ backed by oud, kanun, clarinet and drums.
Before him we had the equally stunning Natacha Atlas (once of Transglobal Underground, some of whom still work with her) doing Arab-Western acoustic-fusion (she's half-Moroccan Sephardic Jewish (I hadn't realised the Jewish part until I looked her up right now, though I did notice a dash of klezmer in the mix: she made occasional political comments which made clear her sympathies lay with the Lebanese in the recent war), brought up in England) backed by a ten-piece band: those two together in the Hall went on until well past 11 and then there was DAM, Palestinian rappers, in the foyer for those who wanted. One of the best random 10 quids I ever spent: both acts very recommended to anyone who thinks they might like that kind of thing.
Odd mixture of an audience: lots of youngish people of middle-eastern extraction (not many of Bangladeshi/Pakistani origin so far as I could see), lots of beardie world music types and a fair sprinking of people who just go to things at the Barbican randomly. I leave it to others to decide which of the latter two fits me better...
All in all a better Friday than I'd have had doing dull old Werk.