Sunday, 30 August 2015

Happiness is a Warm Pun - My Tribute to a Beatles Tribute!

The rest they say is history…
The Beatles are so much part of everyday music history and we credit them with changing the face of popular music that we forget that it’s a simple pun that gave them their name. This blog is a homage to that forgotten pun, as I become a musical pundit, not necessarily as an expert but simply because I can say I punned it! If you expect the puns to get better don’t read on this is a long and winding road. I know I should let it be but with a little help from my friends we can work it out and if we let them into our hearts we can make them better… (I told you it wouldn’t get any better!!)

Well, it was gig 17, you know what I mean and I’m watching The Fab Beatles! My excuse? I’m on holiday in Devon, it’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is struggling to shine and it’s free!

So it’s confession time – lighters in the air anyone else who has seen a tribute band! I will admit I have seen a couple before. The Bootleg Beatles, who were just a night out in the student union back in my under-grad days at Hull (at this point you would be forgiven for thinking I am a massive Beatles fan as two out of three of the tribute bands I’ve seen are Beatles tributes, but I’m not nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah) and The Musical Box.

The Musical Box, a Genesis tribute act, were a much more conscious decision than either of the two Beatles tribute act gigs I’ve been to! My excuse was that I never had the opportunity to see Genesis in the best era of their career, the Gabriel era. So a tribute band was the only way I would ever be able to experience a little of what it must have been like to see Gabriel in his ‘slipperman’ outfit pushing back the boundaries of what would become known as multi-media. However, as interesting as it was for an avid Genesis fan too young to have experienced Gabriel, it was not a wonderful gig, just a simple reenactment with some other guy playing the role of my hero.

Let sleeping acts lie…
So tribute band - yes or no? Despite my confessions, on the whole, I would say no! If it was 20 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play and the band has long since split then you should probably let sleeping acts lie!

Unlike classical music, live performance of popular music has become firmly wedded to the composers and that has built in a life span when it comes to performance. If the original band splits, so the chance to see the songs performed live is, generally, lost. It is this marriage and ultimate divorce that has spawned the tribute band – people want to get back to where they once belonged before the bird had flown or simply experience what they had missed! So if I kind of get a tribute act of a band that no longer tour, I certainly can’t understand tribute acts for artists who are still performing!

You’re back again – no no no not a second time…
However, the tribute band is now under treat as yesterday’s bands have realised there is money to be made in their own nostalgia, and so the tribute band is being replaced by the reunion tour! Yesterday, all those bands seemed so far away, now it looks as if they’re here to stay, Oh they believe in yesterday. Tribute band or reunion tour I still can’t help feeling that a band and its live performance are always of its time. If I missed it because I was too young, not hip enough, or too broke to see them I can’t recapture that now!

When going to a gig I will always aim to catch the support act. On the one hand I want to discover new music, and on the other I want to brag about seeing them before they were famous! Whilst albums can be enjoyed and rediscovered 30 years on, the thrill of catching a band live at the height or - even better - just before the height, of their fame and power is very much part of the experience and however good the tribute act or reunion tour may be nothing can recapture, replace or relive the first time round because little darling, its seems like years since they’re been here. I am much more jealous of a colleague who saw Led Zeppelin live in Birmingham with a handful of people before they were famous than my friend who got tickets to the 2007 reunion gig!

I can hear them this time…
Yet, I’m still at this gig. Not because it’s a Beatles tribute act, but simply because it’s a free performance on a Sunday afternoon at a local theatre in an English seaside holiday town. I’m not even a daytripper I’m here all week - thank you very much! What a fabulous initiative by The Exmouth Pavilion the place is full and its proper family entertainment. Yes, there is a grandmother who had seen The Beatles in their heyday and there are children young enough to be Paul or Ringo’s great-grandchildren but everyone is having a great time. People are singing along, dancing (there is something in the way they move) and so the band is not allowed to leave the stage until they have exhausted their Beatles repertoire. This is Devon at its best, this is English summer holiday at it best – you don’t need a settled climate to have holiday fun!

Asked if there is any difference from the original, the lady who was there in the 60’s replies with a grin, ‘yes I can hear them this time!’ The Beatles’ grandchildren’s generation don’t care - baby they don’t care, if the suits, boots and hairstyles are authentic or if the Hofner Bass is a copy or real this is live music and they are loving it.

Those of us caught somewhere in between are happy to be entertained. The band are as tight as the mop top wigs they wear and they are playing songs we know all the words to. They have made a real effort to look the part and it’s all adding up to a lovely Sunday afternoon. No, I wouldn’t want every gig to be like this but it’s a gig that’s guaranteed to raise a smile, so may I introduce to you the act you’ve know for all these years….

Gig: 17 of 50
Date of Gig: Sun. 23rd August 2015

Exmouth Pavilion

The Fab Beatles

Running total of artists seen 39

Friday, 7 August 2015

Oh (Punch) Brother, Where Art Thou?

I instinctively know if a gig is good or not. I don’t wrestle with the good points and bad points to decide. I normally just know! However, this gig is throwing up more questions than answers!

So many questions it feels like I'm sitting an exam…

RFH Exam Board
You have two hours to answer all the questions.
Please show all your working out.
Turn over your papers once the headline act takes to the stage.
Please put pens down after the encore.

Q1: Philosophy 101: If this gig was a philosophical question what would that question be?

A1: When does virtuoso become mundane?

A great song is not necessarily a collection of sublime solos. It can be a well-crafted simple set of chords married to a deep and poetic lyric played well within the ability of each musician. Songs should be allowed to speak for themselves. In this gig however, it felt as if each and every song was little more than a fusion of five fabulously talented musicians showing off!

Q2: Mathematics: Express the gig as a mathematical conundrum.

Q. 26.5 strings are played by 50 fingers for two hours what is the speed?
A. 150 miles an hour

However, the best solos are not necessarily the fastest. It is harder to control a motorbike at walking pace than at 70 miles an hour (I couldn't say for speeds above the speed limit - honest!) there is more to a great lick than speed. In what is not played, in the pure clean note held for an incredible length of time, in the sweet slow serenade of the solo - it is in these things the listener finds excitement and amazement too.

Q3: Media Studies: If this gig was a film, what film would it be, and why?

A3: Oh (Punch) Brother, Where Art Thou?

Not just because of the pun, but because they are ‘The Men of Constant Solos’!

Q4: Politics: If this gig were an electoral voting system would it be First Past the Post or Proportional Representation? Explain your conclusion.

A:4 Proportional Representation!

Every band member does not need to shine in every song! This is democracy gone too far! The result of giving every musician a crack of the whip each time round is that the songs become formulaic. Giving everyone a solo works in some songs - the final song of the night was a brilliant tour de force and an inspired way to finish. However, the brilliance was dulled by the fact that it mirrored every other song!

Q5: Philosophy 201 “A gig is an essentially existential experience.” Discuss

A5: “Hello Band, let me introduce myself - I’m the audience and I paid good money for these rather comfortable seats…”

At times I felt superfluous to the gig, and it takes more than faux flattery between songs to make a crowd feel part of a performance. By definition, a gig is a chance for musicians to play in front of an audience. There were times tonight when I was convinced that we could have all walked out and the band would have played on, and the first they would have been aware we had abandoned them would have been when there was no applause!

Q6: Sociology: “A gathered crowd at a gig becomes one.” Discuss

A6: False

If I have to sit through at least 4 solos in each song, please, fellow audience members, don’t applaud every solo, especially when it means I miss the start of the next one.

Q7: Musicology: How would you classify The Punch Brothers’ music?

A7:  Eclectic

American bluejazz, modern grass, barber pop, rock ’n’ shop, country roll classical chamber music!

Q8: Performance Studies:  “A gig is to music what an exhibition is to art.” Discuss

A8: I am convinced that the faithful audience would lynch me if they knew what I was thinking. The Punch Brothers can do no wrong in their ears but I feel like I’m standing looking at a painting in an exhibition and listening to the people next to me talk about the wonderful expression in the artists portrayal of skies, when all I can see are cartoon clouds which I’d expect to see on a seven year old’s drawing. It is like staring at a work by Ravilious when all you want to see is a John Martyn!  I can see it is art but I can see no reason for the fanatical dedication of the audience.

I put my pen down and I’m not sure if I’ve passed the exam. I envisage lots of red lines through my stumbling, meandering attempts at answers!

Rachel Sermanni supported tonight and shone. Not through her music, which I felt rather stumbled than flowed in her performance, but through her ease at being on stage and being one with the audience. She walked on, guitar in one hand and mandolin in the other, and said hello down the mic. Then she looked around, obviously having lost something, and asked if we had seen her drop a plectrum! Then, with grace and poise and no hint of embarrassment, she retraced her steps into the wings searching for the lost plectrum, all to great applause and appreciation from the audience!!

In-between her set and The Punch Brothers I was treated to a ride in the Singing Lift in the Festival Hall! As we descended so did the notes of the musical accompaniment and as we ascended so did the music. It is a wonderful musical lift and as I went up and down in it I reflected that perhaps that is why I go to live music - to get that metaphorical musical lift. And in the end, I guess that is what I was missing from the headline act; The Punch Brothers are undoubtedly brilliant musicians, writing finely crafted songs, but they failed to connect with me through their formulaic approach to showcasing their talent live. 

Gig: 16 of 50
Date of Gig: Sat. 1st August 2015

Royal Festival Hall

Rachel Sermanni
The Punch Brothers

Running total of artists seen 38