John Foxx : Cathedral Oceans III
18th June 2008
This was to have been presented in the gardens of Durham Castle, but after days of beautiful weather, this was to be the day when the heaven’s opened and rain put paid to the original plan.
The concert was re-arranged to be indoors in the “Great Hall”, with a later start time of 9.30pm. I arrived 10 minutes before the start time and took my seat at the front.
Looking around, the room was large and full of character. Oak panelling around the walls, on which were countless portraits of the great and good who had served or were linked to Durham University, the Castle or the Cathedral, each portrait surrounded by huge ornate frames.
The room was reminiscent of some of the rooms we see in the Harry Potter films, and we could easily have been in Hogwarts. Two large projection screens had been erected at the front of the room, and another projector was aiming at a large wall space, free of portraits. In the corner was placed John’s keyboard, sequencer, and other electronic gadgets, ready for the man himself.
The evening grew darker, and the planned start time came and went as more and more people filled up the space. Finally, at around 10pm, John took to the stage, dressed smartly in black. He announced that Cathedral Oceans III had developed over 3 years, and was always evolving, and this performance was the piece still “in progress”. He also commented on the venue being an ideal place for the piece to be presented. With that said, he hoped we enjoyed it.
As the projection screens filled with images of John’s artwork, the opening strings sound of “Oceanic” filled the air, and I watched as John controlled and played this soothing introduction to the piece. The images, typically trademark images from John, of faces captures in statues, but overlaid with elements of nature morphed and changed from screen to screen. The large wall space soaked up the images, almost appearing to become like one huge changing stained glass window. John’s live vocal’s blended into the treated vocal background with ease, creating a very balanced and rounded sound, which seemed to gently pull the listener into this wonderful aural vortex of sound. Through “Garden’s Overgrown” and “Spiral Overture”, the audience were spellbound by this wonderful joint fusion of sound and vision.
For such an intimate venue, the sound balance and quality was very impressive and made full use of stereo channels, ensuring that the audience appreciated the full range of technical musicianship the pieces offered, especially through “The Shadow of a Woman’s Hand” and “Radial Harmonics”.
As the concert went on, I sometimes just closed my eyes, just for a few seconds, to enjoy John’s performance even more intimately and during “Fog Structures” it felt that we, as an audience were totally submerged into the cocoon of utter beauty and tranquillity that John had created for us. Even time itself seemed to have no meaning as John played “Eternity Sunrise” with any thoughts about where you were, what kind of a day you’d had, and all your worries and concerns seemed to just fade away.
As John played one of my real favourite pieces from the Cathedral Oceans III, “Harmonia Mundi”, emotions were stirred as the piece develops in power and emotion, with John’s live vocals uplifting our musical souls.
The pictures caught my attention again, during “City of Endless Stairways” and “In Rising Light” as some of them played on the screens for the 2nd or 3rd time. I thought I’d seen them before, but now, I was seeing in more detail, and seeing things that I’d missed the first time around, sometimes quite profound detail that altered your overall perception of the image. Another tribute to the talents of John Foxx.
Finally John started to play the other real favourite of mine “Metanym”, which is a beautiful emotional charged uplifting piece of music that never fails to move me, and is the track most often put on repeat when I play the CD. As the last chords faded, there was stunned silence for a few seconds as we realised that it was all over. Then rapturous applause broke out as John left the stage with a wave. All over too soon. I think the audience could have listened to Cathedral Oceans I, II & III and would have still wanted more!
I managed to grab a few words with John before I left the venue. As a fan since Metamatic days, I’d never had the pleasure of actually meeting him until this night. We shook hands as I thanked him for a wonderful performance, and how much I had admired him and his work for all these years. John, a very unassuming, softly spoken man, said that he was always a little worried about how shows like this were going to be received, as he was well know for all of the electronic rock music, so he was always pleased to know that it was being enjoyed, and thanked me for coming along. I told him that I’d travelled from Newcastle upon Tyne, and he commented that I hadn’t needed to travel very far this time, in reference to the journey to Manchester that I’d undertaken to see him perform Metamatic!
Then I left him talking to the many others who were keen to chat to the legend that is John Foxx, as I made my way back home in the rain.
Mark Oakley, June 2008