Review: The trombonist up to his slide in sewage

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Alan Tomlinson has a trombone to pick with Yorkshire Water
Alan Tomlinson has a trombone to pick with Yorkshire Water

Review: Up To The Hilt
Venue: Brawby

When the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson sat down to pen his celebrated lines about waking up in the morning and feeling like blowing his horn, it is unlikely that he envisaged a trombonist standing thigh-deep in sewage at 9.35am on a November day nearly 80 years later.

But the spirit of the blues moves in mysterious ways and, right now, the good citizens of Brawby have got it bad.

The great bluesman notoriously had issues with the devil. For the villagers, that evil presence manifests in the form of a neglected and decaying Yorkshire Water sewage treatment plant, and when the levee breaks it is raw sewage that causes them to weep and moan.

Some of them ask how it is that Yorkshire Water can pay out £158 million in dividends, and yet not provide a basic service for them.

They have finally lost patience with the company, and so it was that improvising trombonist Alan Tomlinson was asked to come to Brawby and blow his plaintive and surreal blues moan for the people.

This latest event from The Shed’s Simon Thackray draws on that venue’s long-established maverick musical spirit, but this time harnesses it to a specifically local issue.

This is protest music with a healthy dash of irreverent humour, and the performance was timed to coincide with a speech being made by Yorkshire Water’s CEO at the Water 2013 Conference in London.

This was certainly one of the strangest gigs I have ever attended, but it will live longer in the memory than most

I am sure that Alan Tomlinson would prefer not to spend his mornings partially submerged in sewage, but he was certainly the right man for the job.

The trombone, of course, already has the look of plumbing about it and he was able to coax plenty of suitably drainage-like sounds from it during a wide-ranging and entertaining 20-minute performance that ventured way beyond the instrument’s traditionally-perceived boundaries.

At one point, the dilapidated sewage plant began to gurgle ominously, making us wonder whether another eruption of sewage was about to happen or whether it was just trying to join in. Fortunately, it all subsided again shortly afterwards.

This was certainly one of the strangest gigs I have ever attended, but it will live longer in the memory than most conventional events, and therefore served to highlight its point most effectively.

The presence at the performance of BBC news cameras and a few other members of the Press can only help to draw further attention to the issue, and it may be that Yorkshire Water will now consider that the time has come to make peace. I

n the meantime this unusual campaign continues, with an exhibition of paintings made from discharges next on the list. More information can be found at The Sewer website.

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