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‘Goal by Garrincha’

Club Inégales

It’s hardly surprising, I suppose, that music in praise of football and footballers tends to concentrate on South Americans — I’m thinking of Jorge Ben’s “Filho Maravilha” and “Ponte de Lança Africano” and Manu Chao’s great song in celebration of Diego Maradona, “La Vida Tombola”. Alexander Hawkins’s “Unequal Baobabs (Goal by Garrincha)” is something different on the same subject.

The piece was given its debut in London last night as part of Expect the Unexpected, a two-night affair in which 25 composers were each invited to submit a one-page score to be performed, without rehearsal,  by the band of Club Inégales, led by Peter Wiegold. Part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the second night in this basement bar off Euston Road featured pieces by Alice Zawadzki, Orphy Robinson, Mark Sanders, Matthew Bourne, Pat Thomas and others, interpreted by a 13-piece ensemble of improvising musicians — an expanded version of Wiegold’s regular band, Notes Inégales.

I had a particular interest in Hawkins’s piece since its existence is the indirect result of a conversation we had a couple of years ago, on the subject of football, during which I recommended a book by the Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano called Football in Sun and Shadow, published in an English translation 20 years ago. Galeano’s brief chapters include one called “Goal by Garrincha”, in which he described the effect of a particularly dramatic strike by the great Brazilian winger during a World Cup warm-up match against Fiorentina in 1958.

Hawkins’s score consists of eight “cells” of note sequences, with written instructions such as “Proceed at own rate; no need to synchronise” and “Any cell may be transposed into any octave”. Galeano’s words were read by Zawadzki, who was also playing violin and singing in the group, and by Notes Inégales’ regular percussionist, Simon Limbrick. The piece began with a drone on G and ended after about 20 minutes with all the instruments sustaining their highest possible pitch, at minimal volume. “Hold this final drone for as long as we dare,” Hawkins instructed, “and even then a little longer.”

I meant to ask the composer if he’d also read Ruy Castro’s classic biography of Garrincha, where the author describes the other Brazilian players’ reaction to the goal — in which the player dribbled past the entire Fiorentina side before making a fool of the goalkeeper as he scored. Garrincha’s team mates refused to celebrate with him and were bitterly critical afterwards, complaining that any attempt to repeat such an individualistic feat during the World Cup itself would risk damaging their chances of winning the trophy (which they did, of course).

Football and jazz: both are completely dependent on improvisation, individual and collective, on players with a sense of adventure and possibility but also with a sensitivity to the potential of their colleagues. The two hours of music I was able to hear last night, featuring pieces by Robinson, Sanders, Zawadzki and Helen Pappaioannou as well as Hawkins’s contribution, was full of those qualities. I particularly enjoyed the playing of Hyelim Kim on the taegum (a Korean bamboo flute), Jackie Shave on violin, Ben Markland on bass guitar, Torbjörn Hultmark on trumpet and Chris Starkey, whose interventions on an orange plastic-bodied Airline electric guitar were often startling and always stimulating.

The moods ranged from the refined beauty of Zawadzki’s “In an Old Theatre” through a strange almost-irony in Sanders’ variations on “What a Wonderful World” to the broad humour of Robinson’s piece, whose changes of direction were indicated by the composer via commands displayed on his iPad, the last of which instructed the musicians to blame each other. For once, post-match recriminations were not confined to the dressing room.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Matthew Wright #

    Interesting stuff Richard – didn’t Billy Jenkins, Steve Noble and others do something at the Vortex a few years back; World Cup games on screen, in the fashion of silent movie acccompaniment?
    Garrincha always played second fiddle to the younger Pele but was a wonderful player in his own right, but don’t forget Leo Cuypers’ dedication to the great Dutch player in his Johnny Rep Suite.

    November 20, 2017
  2. Kevin Mitchell #

    On an entirely flippant note, Garrincha holds a place in the hearts of myself and a few other Spurs fans for the incident during the 1962 World Cup when Jimmy Greaves nabbed an invading dog that had held up play. It pissed all over his shirt and Garrincha later adopted the dog. To this day, our little group of Greaves admirers celebrate our loyalty to Spurs with the Garrincha’s Dog Cup.

    Trust all well. Much enjoying your blog.


    On 20 November 2017 at 12:18, wrote:

    > Richard Williams posted: ” It’s hardly surprising, I suppose, that music > in praise of football and footballers tends to concentrate on South > Americans — I’m thinking of Jorge Ben’s “Filho Maravilha” and “Ponte de > Lança Africano” and Manu Chao’s great song in celebration of Diego” >

    November 20, 2017
    • Was the dog incident during the England v Brazil match played at Everton´s ground, which is about two miles away from where I´m writing this?

      November 20, 2017
      • Phil Shaw #

        England have played Brazil in Los Angeles, Paris, Washington DC, Shizuoka, Guadalajara and in Chile (the Greaves/dog match) – not to mention Wembley and Rio – but not, as far as I’m aware, at Goodison. I saw Brazil get kicked off the park there by Portugal in 1966….maybe that’s what you’re thinking of?

        November 20, 2017
  3. Peter Brown #

    Richard, that’s one of your best reviews. I particularly like the last sentence, utterly dry in the best Williams fashion. I’m currently living in the Basque country. I went last night to an excellent match between Athletico Bilbao and Villereal, a 1-1 draw, in Athletico’s elegant new stadium. They have a fast young striker called Williams, in whom Liverpool are interested, I’m told. He ran past half the opposition last night. Despite his name he is, like the rest of them team, a Basque. It’s so great to see a team playing so well without having spent a fortune. They also have a perfectly singable and rather well produced hymn (as they call it round here).

    November 20, 2017
  4. I meant to add a note explaining the ‘Baobabs’ bit of the title, since it also has a literary aspect. I have a series of ‘Baobabs’ pieces (‘Imperfect Baobabs’, ‘Unknown Baobabs’ etc.) which all use this additive structure: Cell A, Cell A+B, A+B+C, and so on. When I wrote the first piece in the series, I visualised it – a melody which starts at a common root, and gradually becomes more and more diffuse, rhythmically and harmonically – as akin to one of those trees, whose branches grow out from a common trunk, but in turn drop subsidiary roots into the ground as they grow outwards. [In this connection, the idea of something beginning simply and becoming gradually but completely logically more and more convoluted, seemed to be a nice analogy to a Garrincha dribble.] Of course, in calling the piece ‘Baobabs’, I’d got the wrong tree; I was thinking of something more like a mangrove, but by that time, the name had stuck, and I liked it. The literary aspect: as someone one of whose favourite books ever is ‘The Little Prince’, I really should have recalled what Baobabs look like (!

    November 20, 2017
  5. Paul Tickell #

    Alas, that Gil Scott-Heron never left us with any football music – given that his father played for Celtic. It is not quite the same thing but in the early 1990s there’s the Michael Nyman composition ‘The Final Score’, a paean to QPR and the incomparable Stan Bowles who possessed some of Garrincha’s ‘outlaw’ qualities. I saw Stan many times in his Carlisle United days… Galeano is a great writer. I hope Obama read OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA which Hugo Chavez presented him with with when they met.

    November 20, 2017
  6. saverio pechini #

    The Wedding Present ‘ s George Best and Ossessione ’70 sung by Mina spring to mind.

    November 20, 2017
  7. Paul Crowe #

    Well, I’ve missed the performance but must follow up on two books mentioned.

    November 21, 2017

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