Low key adventures in live music

I realise that in starting a piece of writing with a digression is probably breaking some sort of literary commandment but I am struck, as I title this little passage of ramblings, by the homonymic relationship of low-key and Loki, the Norse trickster god. Low-key and Loki adventures, I imagine, couldn’t be more different…

Although this last week has been very much the former, there’s been evidence of the trickster spirit about this week. The weather, in particular, would seem to have been at the call of some mischievous spirit. Trickster mythology often features a balance, some good and some bad and that would certainly be perspective on the weekend’s gigs. Still, back to some sort of linear narrative…

On Wednesday I popped along to a local open mic evening to meet some friends. It’s one of those events that are sometimes packed, sometimes deserted to the point of eerie. This week was more along the mournfully tolling bell and tumbleweed lines until some of my friends turned up. An old pal of mine and seasoned performer extraordinaire kicked off the evening; I sang a little and then made way for Judy. She’s the younger sister of a good friend of mine and is possessed of a voice that could grace stages anywhere in the world. I’m not exaggerating, she’s terrific. As the evening went on we all ended up singing together, the line between audience and performer pretty fuzzy. It wasn’t an epiphany of an evening, just an extremely pleasant evening of making music with friends and being hugely impressed at the talent of people who I’m lucky to see day to day.

It would have been great to have a few more people there to share that with. As a performer, I always feel that I’d like a little bit of an audience, at least. Perhaps I need my ego massaging; perhaps it’s a need to communicate or to feel a part of something. I think that it’s to do with the latter – I really think that music is something that can be shared by a community. I don’t need a huge crowd screaming my name (there must be times when an adoring audience must superficially resemble a lynch mob) but I do enjoy performing a lot more when I feel that it’s entertaining people. I like a bit of banter with a small, appreciative crowd.

I know that I’ve written about this before but I found myself wondering why so many people would stay in of an evening to watch strangers perform on TV talent shows when they could go out and see people in their local communities, sing, dance, act, perform poetry and comedy, present, debate and do all manner of other things – and then meet and talk to those people, join in and get involved. Most of this stuff is going on in every town,free of charge. I know that if you go out to your local open mic there’s a risk of seeing nothing but a bug-eyed hippy poet, an old lady singing wobbly folk songs with a finger in her ear and two slightly stoned teenagers doing a fifteen minute version of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ and that if there are acts you hate on the TV you can turn over but let’s face it, most people don’t.They sit through the whole thing and then discuss how crap it was the next day at work.

I wonder if it’s the element of risk. We don’t want to be asked to sing along –well, feel free to politely decline. Or we don’t want to risk the performer seeing our expressions when we don’t like what they do? Or is it that we’re just bone idle? Or is it the ‘cool’ issue.


Anyway, give some thought to nipping out to see what’s on down the road. Almost everywhere that I’ve been out to see local musicians perform in their local it’s been a worthwhile and entertaining time.

And on to the weekend’s gigs. On Friday The Layers played at the Green Man festival; more details to follow shortly on the Layers’ blog when I’ve composed something appropriate. I feel honour-bound to mention here how delightful the gang running the Einstein’s Garden stage were – if you’re reading, then thank you, thank you and thrice thank you.

So we had fun, it was wet, we somehow avoided cholera and trench foot. I will expand on the band site, I promise.

There was something else that I picked up on,though, and it’s not just me, that draws me back to the cool issue, above.

Chatting to friends at the festival, we were struck that there were sizeable, enthusiastic crowds in front of stages where what was being performed was not, in our opinions , always that great, either in composition or execution. We can excuse the first on the grounds of taste and the second in that if you love the songs then you don’t notice the mistakes. But not all the time and not all that much.

Actually, it seems to me that people will go and see an act if they’re famous or if the media has held them up as ‘the next big thing’ regardless as to whether they’re that good or not. Some of them are, obviously. Some are really quite poor but still get a much bigger crowd, more money and more kudos than people who are superbly talented but not famous and, crucially, not cool – by some indefinable yardstick.

This quality, though, is simply a marketing invention. It’s like some magic potion that you can sprinkle on anything to make it desirable. Its secret cousin is ‘anti-cool’, formulated in the same laboratory but hushed up, a potion that can be splashed on to anything to make it stink like week-old kitbag.

Well death to cool (I would say that, not coo lnow, never have been , never will be) – don’t let them control you. Look around you and make up your own mind. And turn off the X factor while you still have one.

Which, in a manner of speaking, brings me on to gig three and a slightly different, if related, point.

The Tourettes played a cricket club barbecue on a day when there simply wasn’t cricket. In the absence of a match, the teams didn’t show up, in spite of the fact that the evening event was supposed to be a fund-raiser for their new pavilion. So we played to a small, friendly crowd.

It was a fun gig to play. We were a little bit over-relaxed in our approach to performance at times, a little improvisation here, a few ‘jazz’ moments while we laughed at ourselves mid-verse but the audience were smiling and asking for more and we felt connected.

The people in the bands that I’m privileged to play in and their loved ones and all the people that help and support us are dear friends to me. More than that, they are my family, my brothers and sisters. The best parts about playing with bands are not restricted to the performances at all. It’s the camaraderie of travelling to a gig, the planning,the rehearsals, the laughter that we share. My life would be so much the lesser without them.

It’s the same when you’re part of a sports team or a troupe of actors.

So I circle back to that first issue. More of us should go out, sing, play create. Make music, comedy, poetry, theatre. Talk about big ideas. Get out from in front of what’s being marketed at us and make our own entertainment – because as we do, the connections between us grow and enrich us.

This might seem like a trivial issue when the world can look as if it’s on the brink of collapse but I really don’t think that it is. I think that getting together to create is the most human thing that we do and that without it, what would we be saving the world for anyway?

So there you have it: the adventure starts here. If that isn’t worth singing about, I don’t know what is.

One thought on “Low key adventures in live music

  1. Well said, that man! Nothing beats the feeling of belonging in some creative process, and why more people don’t want to do this is beyond me.

    The issues of cool and risk definitely come into it. No risk of interaction with the telly. No real risk of exposing one’s inner soul if joining the crowd in singing along to a track at a big concert. But ask a small crowd of otherwise spirited folk to gather for a sing-song round a piano or a guitar, or volunteer a line of poetry and suddenly they feel naked and vulnerable, super-serious and desperately uncool, like it’s WWII again and your granny will be bringing in scones any minute. And yet the most random, impromptu jam sessions and individual don’t-give-a-damn-what-it-sounds-like participation frequently result in the most inspired creations, and can be such a laugh in the process… People need to loosen up a little, they are really missing out, and we the rest of the world are missing out on the potential results. Keep reminding us! x

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