Friday, 25 September 2015

From Punter to Promoter and Back Again – A Tale of Two Gigs

The Newest Venue in Camberwell
Citymapper has become my constant companion and friend since moving to London and never more so than on a gig night. Input the venue address and decide what time I want to arrive and instantly (sequences have been shortened!) I have a choice of routes. However on Sunday 6th September there was no need for Citymapper, and no need to travel, as the newest venue in Camberwell opened its doors to a carefully selected audience. Hattie Briggs, BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award Nominee, was headlining on its opening night. It is hard not to feel decadent as you have the luxury of listening to a fantastic up and coming artist from the comfort of your own sofa.

Friday 11th September and again there are sofas. This time, however, Citymapper comes into its own as I have to travel and find Venue 2 at 229 and the first London show of Rocky Dawuni. Rocky is a musician and humanitarian activist from Ghana, West Africa and was named one of Africa's Top 10 global stars by CNN!

In many ways the contrast between these two gigs couldn’t be greater!

Hattie Briggs…                                             
In the comfort my front room…   

...Rocky Dawuni
               in a trendy London basement 
venue complete with the 
friendliest bouncer who will
ever search your bag and 
take your bottle of water from you!

An audience sat in silent                              
concentration and listening to every          
word sung and note played…                      

the crowd dancing, 
dating and drinking.

A very calm, deliberate and poised
set, punctuated by the need to perfect
the guitar tuning but with no such
problem for her exquisite voice…                

energy, passion and charisma 
used to carry the tune 
at the times the voice failed to!

Support from a home-grown, amateur,
but ultimately fun group…                          

intense reggae disco 
before the artist!

By her own admission many
depressing songs, yet hauntingly
beautiful and sung with effortless

upbeat and motivational, 
delivered through driving rhythms.

Solo artist telling the stories behind
the songs, tales of sibling memories,
long lasting friendship and fear of the
music business…                                          

full band, little interaction 
with the audience between 
songs of epic continental 
proportions seeking to 
unite the whole human race!

The intimate performer, the girl
next door…                                                     

the dreadlocked showman.

The corporate musical ladder to stardom…
Yet there was so much that held them in common. The integrity of the music – can you get more polar opposites than English Folk Music and Afrobeat? Yet, each artist believes in their music as an agent of change that touches the heart of the listener and makes their outlook on life dive from the surface tension of the mundane to the depth of beauty. A shift that recognises that the basis of life is not the selfish, violent, and divided place of soap operas and news broadcasts. Rather it is a place where love not only lives in the space between individuals, but also binds communities together, banishes selfishness and dissolves violence.

For each, it is their music that is important not climbing the corporate musical ladder to stardom. Each song is carefully crafted, not to sell, but to touch the spirit of the listener.

Rocky talked about music bringing a community together and uniting people. Yet it will only unite people if we allow the music to be central. I hear people talking over the music at gigs because they are on a night out with mates - the night out is the event, the music is only the setting. Music becomes secondary in the background and unites no one but an existing group of friends! Background music is an oxymoron, a travesty and a sin. Yet so often we put music in the background, in the car, in the office and in the shop. I fall into the trap. I am currently listening to (sorry I should re-phrase that – in the background I have on) Cate Le Bon, while writing this blog…

…sorry I stopped writing and started listening properly! No wonder so much modern music is dreadful. The fat cat music exec knows we don’t really listen to it anymore. Yet, when we do we are rewarded with an intensity of experience that is not only legal but offers a fantastic high. And when we listen (really listen) en masse we are united in that experience.

Corbyn voting musos…
Hattie, during her living room tour, is bringing communities together. At our living room gig we met friends of friends. We became a community for the night and maybe even longer, as we allowed ourselves to listen carefully. At Rocky’s gig there were diverse elements in the audience, not just middle aged, middle class, white Guardian reading, Corbyn voting, musos who actually Rocked Against Racism in the 70’s. And they became one.

Each audience left both gigs feeling uplifted and alive in the knowledge that above all there is something greater than profit and loss, power and privilege, number 1 and Wembley Arena. Music, laid back and acoustic, or in your face and amplified, when played for the right reasons, and listened to intently, has the capacity to touch the soul in a way that record company execs do not understand and the many who constantly relegate music to the background miss out on.

Gigs: 19 & 20 of 50
Date of Gigs: Sun. 6th & Friday 11th September 2015

My Living Room, Camberwell
Venue 2, 229

That'll be an Ecumenical Matter
Hattie Briggs
Rocky Dawuni

Running total of artists seen 45

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A View from Outside the Club

You know what they say about musicians with enormous egos....
It’s an interesting experience to go to a gig on your own. When the band is playing it’s not very different from going with friends, but in between acts or that time before the lights dim, there is time in abundance to fill and no-one to fill it with!

I have been solo to quite a few gigs during this 'fifty fifty' challenge and it gets no easier. I find myself attempting to arrive with just enough time to get a drink before the first act; on the occasions when I have mistimed my arrival I have spent a lot of time urging people to text me so I can text back!

At tonight’s gig there seem to be only two other solo ‘giggers’ – I can spot them – but tonight the three of us are highlighted by the fact that everyone else seems to know one another. I get the distinct feeling that we are at a club of which we are not members. My solo gig mates do not seem phased by this and pass the time effortlessly. One has come prepared with a book and sits reading in dim light and his tour t-shirt while the other surfs the web on her phone. Meanwhile I sit self-consciously, willing the first act to start. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ is advice I’ve never really understood but today I understand it fully as William Nein takes to the stage. Suddenly I find myself longing for that self conscious waiting between acts. Anything is better than his cringe worthy performance. You know what they say about musicians with enormous egos? The same as about men with big feet - big… 

As William is setting up, someone walks in - obviously an important member of the club to which I do not belong - and he shouts across the whole venue ‘David, David, look who it is, look….’ David is not impressed. I’m not impressed either. I just want to hear him play, as opposed to trying to impress me and the rest of the audience that he knows the minor celebrity who has just entered. 

However egotistical he is, he is no liar... 
Finally, he is on stage, stood at the mic, and is ready to start. However there is no volume from his guitar. In hindsight I realize this is proof that there is a God and that she loves music. William just keeps strumming and sings over and over again ‘Its not me’. Well, quelle surprise! It turns out it is him, he just hasn’t plugged his guitar in properly. Most guitarists would instinctively check this first. But, hey what do I know? I’m just a paying punter waiting to be entertained. Maybe it is more important to recognize minor celebrities and let us know that you know them, than it is to set up properly!

During his first song the headline act walks in. A simple nod in her direction or a smile would suffice. The gushing ‘Oh Roxy, so glad you made it – it’s only my first song so you’ll hear the whole set’ is just plain embarrassing. Two or three songs in and he is playing the intro to the next song and telling us he wished his guitar strap was a bit shorter. ‘Well shorten it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry’! Even the audience members who have never picked up a guitar in their life know that you can adjust a guitar strap.

I’ve lost track of the number of songs now but before one of them he boasts ‘we haven’t really practiced this’. The song that follows is proof that however egotistical he is, he is no liar. He hasn’t practiced and it sounds dreadful.

He leaves the stage to whoops and cheers and even manages to sell a couple of T-shirts. Maybe if I was his mate I would think his antics quirky, goofy, maybe even funny. But I am not a member of this particular club, I am a paying member of the audience and I find his antics embarrassing, needy and, right now, I want my money back. 

A knife held to your throat... 
Roxy Rawson is next up on stage to play the first of two sets. She starts by thanking her two mates - William ‘the needy’ Nein and David Goo -  for playing tonight and she starts to explain how she knows them. The only problem is I don’t hear how her story ends as ‘the needy’ Nein is shouting from the audience. He has had his 25 mins of being the centre of attention, why can’t he not just shut the f**k up?

When ‘the needy one’ eventually does shut up and allows Roxy to play I remember why I am here. She has really talented, sensitive, musicians around her and musically is a million miles away from Nein with her interesting cleverly crafted songs. The percussion is fantastic - driving, in complex rhythms - the classical guitar beautiful and the bass sensitive. The musicians are carefully arranged on stage so they can see one another and work with and off each other. Roxy plays the violin, more often than not, like a guitar and she sings with a voice that never quite pierces but demands your attention like a knife held to your throat! 

We are only treated to a few songs as she is ill and has decided to split her set into two to save her voice. Even though it’s a short set she still has to deal with ‘the needy one’ heckling – shouting out songs that she refuses to play. She leaves the stage and promises to be back. As she does so she spots one of the other solo ‘giggers’ and greets her like a long lost friend! Only two of us then without membership of this particular musical club! 

What is he waiting for.... 
David Goo is sat on stage waiting for a very long time. He has the look of a man who has been told to sit and wait but has not been told what he is waiting for! As loud and brash as ‘the needy one’ was, David Goo is quiet and unassuming and I wonder what to expect.

He starts and he is witty, clever and talented. He takes us through the album he has just recorded with his latest project the ‘The 150 Friends Club’. His warmth on stage and intelligently written songs - not with casual cliché but honest reflection - make me feel one of the 150. He too is heckled by ‘the needy one’. Please can someone find this guy’s off switch. 

We are treated to more from Roxy. With each song she pushes her voice that bit further, making the songs increasingly intense. The evening should end on a real high - she and David Goo have rescued the gig. But then, and I really don’t understand why, she invites ‘the needy one’ to play with her as the final song of the evening. He is out of place amongst such musicians and rather than end on a high the evening peters out.

I wait to buy Roxy’s CD as she talks in depth to the other solo ‘gigger’. Turns out they too know each other! That leaves me as the sole outsider, and as I interrupt the discussion to pay for the CD there is a look of almost shock on her face which says ‘I don’t know you, yet you are buying a CD!’ 

He describes himself in terms of an ex... 
There was no sign of David Goo or his CD, so on the journey home I Google the artists I’ve seen tonight. I find The 150 Friends Club and order the CD. I also find ‘the needy one’s’ website and I am not surprised by what I find! In his ‘about’ section he describes himself in terms of an ex, and quotes a reference to himself from an interview she gave… 

"I had this boyfriend in college who was from Croyden, England. He has a record store out there. He knew that I liked the Pretenders, so when I shipped him off to England and sent his ass packing because I didn’t want him around anymore, he sent me a Pretenders record in the mail. It was a greatest hits compilation." - Meredith Graves, Perfect Pussy  

I totally understand, Meredith! Please just let me know how I too can send him packing. I don’t want him around at any gig I’m at (either performing or as an audience member!) What I don’t understand is why artists as intelligent as Roxy Rawson and David Goo are happy to have him around – but then I’m not a member of their club.

Gig: 18 of 50
Date of Gig: Sun. 30th August 2015

Green Note, Camden

William Nein
David Goo
Roxy Rawson

Running total of artists seen 42