Friday, 30 October 2015

Where Moulton Leeds London Follows!

Northern chip-on-the-shoulder attitude...
For years, living in the North West, I believed that the North - South divide was between the South of the country and the North or more specifically between London and Manchester (insert whichever Northern City is your home!). There are those who will openly admit to, and those who thinly veil it, a real southern bias – thinking that there is nothing of any worth north of Watford. Conversely in the North the easy stance to take is that the South has it all and gets given more! Yet such an over-simplification whether it be a London-centric view or northern chip-on-the-shoulder attitude doesn’t do justice to the vast resources and culture around the UK. (In any case, since moving to London I have discovered that the real North- South divide is between North and South London – it is all about which side of the river you live on!) 

When it comes to music there is a vibrant scene outside London. True, in the capital you are likely to be spoiled for choice on any one given night. Many times in the last year I have missed an act I wanted to see simply because I had tickets for another gig the same evening. But music outside the capital is alive and well and flourishing. Gigs number 28 (Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies) and 29 (Wille and the Bandits) prove this. Both these bands I first saw outside London. In fact, I saw them both in the small Cheshire village I lived in for 5 years before moving here. Yes, the perceived wisdom is that if you want to get signed you have to play London, but if you care more about music than your ego then there is a fantastic music scene elsewhere – even in small old Cheshire salt mining villages!  All that glitters is not the pavement lined with gold disks in London!

Wille and the Bandits recorded their first albums in London but compare them to their last studio album – well, they don’t compare. ‘Grow’ captures the energy, depth and dynamics of the band far more effectively than the earlier ones. It comes far closer to the magnificent live sound of this trio, truly capturing the essence of Wille and the Bandits. Yet it was recorded in Cornwall.

Both these bands have played Moulton Village Hall twice in their careers and all four occasions have been simply wonderful evenings. The atmosphere has been uplifting, the music marvellous, the community spirit second to none. Yet that was in a small village where the majority of the audience knew each other, or at the very least recognised each other from the local or the queue at the checkout in the Co-op. So it is with a little apprehension that I approach these gigs in the capital – will they, can they, live up to the Moulton gigs?

A wonderful hotchpotch of décor...
First up is Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies playing a local charity gig in a South of the river venue, near Croydon. It’s Friday night and it has been a busy week at work. I’m late home. I have no ticket (it’s pay what you want on the door to support the cancer charity) and if I’m honest I am thinking I might just stay in. What stops me is that I know Harry and Christophe from promoting their Moulton gigs and supporting them, and the last time they were in London I was working so couldn’t get to the the show. I decide I will drag myself out…

The Brook in Wallington is such a small venue that if there is a queue at the bar you won’t get through the door! The venue itself is tiny, smaller than the Village Hall at Moulton and is a wonderful hotchpotch of décor complete with deckchairs on the wall! The event is a birthday party for a regular at The Brook and from what I can gather for the last few years the birthday girl and her husband have promoted a gig night on her birthday to raise money for charities.

I am very much an outsider but the night is brilliant. A couple of support acts and then Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies who are in great form. Harry with his natural joy at sharing the songs and Christophe’s quiet but infectious personality raise the party atmosphere and have everyone singing along in English, Spanish and French!

Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies sing unfashionable songs about banning the bomb, cycling in Spain, pirates and beard snoods! As unfashionable as they may be they are beautifully crafted with soulful tunes, honest lyrics and striking arrangements. It may have been a long week, I may have been shattered but this gig lifts the weight of the week from my shoulders and produces a smile on my face – the perfect tonic after some tough days.

Shared experience of strangers...
This gig does what all good gigs do and brings the audience together. At the start of their set the audience is separated into groups, and in my case individuals; distinct sub-sections of the whole who are chatting and laughing at the exclusion of others. There are barriers - invisible but nevertheless real - between each group. As the gig progresses these barriers dissolve. At first, people turn their attention to the band, and then they start to join with those around them in singing the chorus or imitating an eighties drum machine sound (just go and see Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies and you will understand!) Gradually, the distinct groups become one audience. I find I am no longer on my own, the stranger in the corner.  I am part of the whole. Part of the audience who are experiencing what live music can really do when it is not in the strictly seated stadium that make promoters so much money. I will never see these people again, or if I do I won’t recognise them, but we have been brought together and shared an experience that none of us will forget.

No, this wasn’t the best gig I have ever been to, but it is exactly what I need tonight and everything a gig should be: the shared experience of strangers finding delight in beauty that lifts them above the mundane.

And it’s back to work the next day; a long and difficult conference, on a Saturday too! As the day progresses the heights of last night’s joy are disappearing fast and I am dragged back to earth, to the worries of the job, the work that needs to be done…

At least I have Wille and the Bandits to look forward too. I have already blogged about Wille and the Bandits (see fifftyfiffty blog: Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some form a band...) and I am not going to say much about them except GO AND SEE THEM! They are three exceptional musicians who together prove the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And if I tell you how great the individual parts are then you can imagine just how magnificent the whole actually is…

Snippets of stories about seeing the band before...
This time I am North of the river at The Borderline. I love The Borderline. It is dedicated to music. There is something about heading down the stairs that sets the blood pumping in expectation! As you turn the corner at the bottom and enter the venue you are reminded of years gone by, bands who have played here before and the thousands of people who have walked the same steps as you in expectation and anticipation of a night to remember. Muso’s come and claim their floor space early for the gigs. Every gig I have been to here fills me with the sense that these are people in the know, live music lovers. No-one is simply here with their mates on a Saturday night out. They are here to hear live music at its best. There is the usual pre-gig chatter but it is a focused chatter. I hear snippets of stories about seeing the band before, rumours of new albums, what the band have and haven’t played on the tour so far. The gig is central to the evening not the backdrop for a night out.

You can tell the calibre of an audience by the way they respond to the support act. Carry on talking or shut up and listen! Tonight the support act is Frankie Forman and the audience shut up and listen. Frankie admits that she puts together a band for each gig she plays and unfortunately it shows as they are not tight enough for her tonight.

As Wille and the Bandits populate the stage to go though the final set up I fear Wille will never finish as so many people come and greet him. This is a public gig but it also seems like it is dominated by family and friends. Testimony to the love and warmth of the band, making friends as they have travelled up and down the country spreading their gospel of blues rock.

Thank the musical gods...
The performance is everything I would expect from them, and the audience - as they did last night for Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies - respond by joining as one to enjoy, celebrate and revel in live music. There is dancing (including some of the Dad kind!) and there is much nodding of the head in time to the driving rhythms. Appreciation of a master class in blues.

This may have been London, a place in the UK where anonymity comes easy, but both Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies and Wille and the Bandits have brought people together. Neither have built their following with large advances from music companies. Instead they have learnt their trade through playing the likes of Moulton and now bring that finely honed craft to London or wherever they play. Proving again that a great gig is not about seeing the artist of the moment perform their hit. It is much more about artists bringing their craft and uniting audiences in the moment of the performance. As Wille and the Bandits leave the stage I simply turn to my neighbour and nod and we both know what is contained in that simple nod - the knowledge that tonight has been a wonderful gig and the sort we want to experience more of.

Both these gigs have lifted my soul. I thank the musical gods for bands like Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies and Wille and the Bandits. For doing what they love. For recognising that, we, the audience, the money paying people, are the important ones. And for understanding that the value of a gig is not just measured in CD sales, email sign ups or Record Company interest but in seeing audiences brought together and enjoying what can only be described as a shared spiritual experience.

And heading to work tomorrow is made all the easier…

Gigs: 28 & 29 of 50
Date of Gigs: Fri. 16th & Sat 17th October 2015

The Brook, Wallington,
The Borderline

Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies

Chloe Ray 
Luke Soemore
Wille and the Bandits
Frankie Forman

Running total of artists seen 62

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Nativity Plays and Nervous Parents

Expectant pride but with that fearful niggling...
Those of you who are parents will know exactly what it is like, sitting on ridiculously small chairs in the school hall with the stale smell of school dinners still lingering, waiting for the Christmas Concert having spent weeks rehearsing your child’s two short lines time and time again! You sit in expectant pride but with that fearful niggling that yours will be the child who clams up, forgets the lines half way through, or worst still, the one who falls over and takes half a row of their class mates with them!

I am feeling like that tonight. I’m back at Shepherd’s Bush Empire for the second night in a row and it is not my children who are performing. Yet I sit here just like that nervous and worried parent. Two out of the three acts tonight I have seen playing at earlier stages in their career, and here they are tonight live on stage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

I first saw Dan Owen support Wille and the Bandits in the upper room of a pub in Southwark with a handful people in the audience. His great blues voice and his wild legs instantly struck me as he stomped his way through the upbeat songs. I saw him again headlining a gig at the Lexington (blogged in this fiftyfifty series: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad) and loved every minute of his set. Tonight he is opening for Rae Morris who I first heard play as a teenager at an Open Mic night in the back room of a Lancashire pub.

As his wild leg stomps...
Dan Owen starts conservatively with his feet firmly planted on the stage! Don’t get me wrong, he writes a great song and he sounds great but he seems to be holding back. Maybe it is conscious or maybe it is unconscious but I just want him to let go and show everyone his true character. Having said that he is getting a great reception and the crowd are fully on his side. He has just produced an EP which he hands out to the crowd at the front, loving the fact that he finally has a CD and loving the fact that the crowd genuinely seem to want to be the first to own a copy, he seems to relax further into the gig. As he finishes his short set with Little Red Rooster this young blues man captivates the crowd as his wild leg stomps the stomp box. The crowd roar with appreciation and as a proud parent I believe that it will not be long before he is headlining at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire himself!

Five or six years ago I was introducing Rae Morris as one of the singers at an Open Mic night I occasionally MC’d. Garstang Unplugged at the Kenlis Arms, complete with its signature cat-pee aroma (see fiftyfifty blog: Keep My Seat Warm - I'm On My Way!), is a fantastic night on the last Wednesday of each month. It is a place where great musicians congregate, a place where everyone is welcomed and listened to and a place that has showcased some great young talent. At any Open Mic night there is always an over-abundance of guitars, yet it wasn’t that Rae sat behind a keyboard that set her apart. It wasn’t even that hair, her big wild hair. No, it was purely and simply her song writing and performance.

It feels over produced...
It has been wonderful to see her gain recognition and acclamation, although one of the more surreal experiences on moving down to the capital was seeing all the portrait posters for her debut album adorning tube stations!

So, here I am with a ticket for her first headline gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I know I have no reason to, but I feel very proud and have to exercise immense self-control not to tell everyone around me that I have introduced her onto stage on more than one occasion! The pride is tinged with a little reservation however, as when I first listened to her album I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It feels over produced, the songs are barely recognisable from the edgy dynamic songs I heard during her performances at Garstang, songs that owe as much to her personality as to her song-writing. Having said that each time I have listened to the album it has grown on me.

Her performance grows on me tonight too and by the time she plays ‘Under the Shadows’ as her penultimate song I am thoroughly enjoying the show along with everyone else in the auditorium. With a couple more albums her live set will become stronger, and I also believe that as she matures into the music business she will stamp more of her personality onto her songs and albums and they will be much the better for it. Just as Dan Owen relaxed into his set and showed us his true personality which the crowd loved, so if Rae allows her personality to come to the fore (and if the producers of her next album allow her personality to shine through the songs) we will love her even more.

Rae’s piano playing was always such a feature of her sets at Garstang but tonight she is at her best when she moves from behind the keyboard with mic in hand and we see her front her band. It’s not that I want her to stop playing but she seems to find it easier to communicate with the audience (and the audience with her) when she is not behind the barrier that is her keyboard and the gig is lifted at these points.

Like ordering a Veggie Delite sandwich at Subway...
I left as any proud parent leaves the Nativity play when their offspring has repeated all their lines and not been the one who caused the laughter or (worse still) was the focus of the pity! I left too, knowing that there is far more to come from both Dan and Rae. They are young artists and I hope and pray that the music business doesn’t just chew them up and spit them out, but that they are allowed to fulfil their potential and embed their personalities into their music.

I also left as the proud dad who had seen his kids outshine the rest of their classmates (admit it parents we feel that pride!). Second on the bill - the filling in the sandwich - tonight was Roo Panes. Mediocre. It was like ordering a Veggie Delite sandwich at Subway – you get a great choice of tasty bread but the fact remains that the filling isn’t a delight at all, it’s just a mediocre salad!

Gig: 27 of 50
Date of Gig: Thurs. 8th October 2015

Shepherd's Bush Empire

Dan Owen
Roo Panes
Rae Morris

Running total of artists seen 57

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Eric Idle of Genesis?

Running tirelessly headlong from one new high to another...
It is said that Eric Idle is the one of all the python boys who has never quite let Monty Python go. Co-writing ‘Spamalot’ is just one example of him (supposedly) harking back to yesteryear. If this is the case then perhaps we can call Steve Hackett the Eric Idle of Genesis! I’ve seen Peter Gabriel many times and he has never played a Genesis song. Admittedly I’ve never seen Mike Rutherford or Tony Banks outside of a Genesis gig and I would never go and see Phil Collins even if you paid me more than he was earning. Steve Hackett on the other hand has always slipped a Genesis song or two into his set. Recently he has been doing even more than that – his last tour was even entitled ‘Revisiting Genesis’ - and at tonight’s gig he promises a second half of the ‘G thing’!

Yet, is it a simple yearning for times past? On his Genesis Revisited II Album he talks about now having the musical technology to make the sounds he had envisaged back in the ‘70’s and so part of the rationale for the album was updating the songs. The tour that accompanied the album was proof that as much as he wanted to revisit these songs, so did the many others who flocked to see the shows. Perhaps Eric Idle and Steve Hackett both recognize that in this post-modern world, running tirelessly headlong from one new high to another, the paying public sometimes crave an evening of the familiar! Or perhaps Idle and Hackett are simply proud of what they did and want to keep sharing it!

It is not that Hackett hasn’t produced an impressive solo back-catalogue. He has been prolific in his writing, performing and recording over the years since he left Genesis. Tonight is a mixture of the two - the old and the new – recognizing that it is 40 years since his first solo album, recorded when he was still a member of Genesis, and that 40 years on he is still writing and recording.

Slide as gracefully from one pose to another...
I have seen Hackett many times, the first in 1980. I have seen him with full band, with his brother John and Roger King as a classical trio as well as the aforementioned full Genesis Revisited concert. Tonight I’m disappointed with the mix and the first half also highlights a weakness in Hackett’s performance - the vocals. Perhaps it is because he is not the strongest vocalist in the world that his songs are best in their instrumental sections! He has an ability to write the heaviest of riffs that wouldn’t be out of place at a Heavy Metal concert, and yet in the same song incorporate an ethereal flute solo! However, too often the vocal sections let the songs down. It’s not that I am not enjoying the first half, it is just that I have seen better sets from him than this one.

I do not know Steve Hackett, but I always get the sense that he is a reluctant star! Often, although not tonight, I have seen him hide behind ‘70’s US Police TV Show sunglasses. He seems ill at ease with acknowledging the audience and rarely speaks to us. As he plays each song, between his parts, he painstakingly checks his pedals, making sure his lead is not under his feet. In getting his left hand into the right position it feels as if he barely notices us. Just occasionally, as he holds a note, does he glance up and offer a smile at the front row.

He is the least likely looking guitar hero. From his clothing to his stance, and from his smile to his wave nothing seems natural for him. So many guitarists slide as gracefully from one pose to another as they do from one note to another, but not Mr Hackett! This apparent awkwardness on stage sometimes makes it seem that he has not one musical note in his bones, which of course, could not be further from the truth!

Constantly changing time signature...
And strangely enough many in the audience seem exactly the same! As they mouth every word their bodies move in an ungainly and constantly changing time signature that even Genesis in their heyday wouldn’t have attempted! Their fashion sense and hairstyles seem rooted in the past, and above the stench of old age sweat and alcohol is a cocktail of BO and halitosis! But they love him. I love him. The person next to me loves him. Even the hanger-on’s love him because he is who he is, and he plays what he wants, and despite what he looks like he is a fantastic musician!

The first half ends with a standing ovation and during the interval the air is heavy, not just from the BO and halitosis, but with the expectation of some obscure ‘G thing’ stuff!

As one, the crowd love the second half. Can anyone who grew up listening to Genesis not love the chance to hear ‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’, ‘Firth of Fifth’, ‘The Musical Box’ ‘Cinema Show’ and (the obscure one) ‘Can-utility and the Coastliners’!

As with the first half, the second is given a standing ovation. Hackett has never been at the forefront of musical fashion. Those of us who have admitted to being Genesis fans have had to put up with a lot of stick over the years. But we know what we like and we like what we know, and after tonight’s show its safe to say Hackett knows what we like. Long may he continue to make the music he wants, because it is the music we want too.

Gig: 26 of 50
Date of Gig: Wed. 7th October 2015

Shepherd's Bush Empire

Steve Hackett

Running total of artists seen 54

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Keep My Seat Warm - I'm On My Way!

I also hate being early...
I once knew of a Methodist Minister who was habitually late. He became known as ‘The Late Revd Harry Walkley’. Traditionally at the end of Church meetings the Benediction is said: it became the standing joke the moment ‘the late Revd Harry Walkley’ walked into a meeting, late, for someone to pretend the meeting was ending by announcing the Benediction! 

There are those people, it seems, who are incapable of being on time and conversely, those for whom lateness is a cardinal sin. I live happily somewhere between the two. I hate being late and I also hate being early. I like to arrive on time.  However, with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin I am in danger of getting the same reputation as the Late Revd Harry. For some reason, and I’m not sure quite why, the last two times I have seen them I have been late. Tonight, is no exception. I arrive part way through the first half and am greeted by ushers who will not let me in until there is applause. I end up waiting impatiently in the foyer.

It’s a good job they are one of the best duos around on the music scene at the moment. I hate to think how long I will have to wait if it wasn’t for the crowd enthusiastically eruptting into applause after each song! But I agitatedly pace around till finally I’m let in. On the previous two occasions, I’ve been let in, found a seat, settled down and just got comfortable only to hear Hannah announce the last song in the set… so frustrating, knowing that I had missed a wonderful series of songs.

Mud-drenched Brecon field...
Tonight I’m late to the King’s Place, a venue I haven’t been to before, just behind Kings Cross Station.  It’s a modern, chic, shiny wooden arts centre, clearly designed for all the modern, chic, shiny, middle class, middle aged Folksters who obviously feel at home being in such close proximity to the Guardian HQ! Oh, how far Folk music has come in the last few years, but I’m not sure its gentrification is conducive to the overall experience. I’ve seen Phillip and Hannah at their local Exmouth Festival, sitting on the grass drinking cheap beer in the sun of Manor Park, in the mud-drenched Brecon fields of the Green Man Festival, in the back room of the Kenlis Arms in Garstang with its signature cat-pee aroma, and all seemed the be the right sort of place to hear this delightful duo! It’s all a little too shiny and sanitised tonight to add anything to the atmosphere of the gig. (Plus in those other places I wouldn’t have been kept outside until they finished a song!)

Tonight is a night out with friends. I have the tickets, but whilst they were on time, I am not! Fortunately a phone call and the promise that I had the order number meant they could get in to witness the whole of the first half. Unfortunately unreserved seating means that by the time I finally get there we cannot sit together!

Atmospheric and ethereal, traditional folk with a trance vibe...
However, at the break it is worth the tension of having been on a diverted bus to see the joy in their faces as they start talking about the first half.  Over our interval drinks, disbelief turns to amazement in their faces as they describe seeing and hearing beatbox harmonica for the first time. Discovering brilliant new music is a very special thing. Sharing that with others is equally, if not more, special. I have already forgotten the fact I missed most of the first half because it is such a blessing to see the enjoyment and enthusiasm of my companions.

As I take my place in the auditorium for the second half I sit back totally relaxed and enjoy a sublime set. There is a natural musical chemistry between Phillip and Hannah and with each album their song writing is getting stronger. Hannah’s beautiful haunting folk voice is perfectly complemented by Phillip’s virtuoso dobro, harmonica and guitar. This gig is one of a series of launch gigs for their new album.  In ‘Watershed’ the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Duo of the Year have produced a classic, which they showcase with energy and brilliance alongside their staple live tracks.

The encore is their wonderful interpretation of ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn’. That seems to sum up everything about them as a duo: atmospheric and ethereal, traditional folk with a trance vibe that you can dance too and a musicianship that excels to produce an unforgettable climax to an evening of pure class.

Meeting up with my friends after the second half and they have bought the new album to give to other friends who ‘would have loved it tonight’! Sharing great music is infectious.  It’s been another great evening with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin and my only regret is that I missed the first half! I will try harder next time and may even live with being early so I can savour a complete evening of their music – but if you go and see them and there is an empty seat next to you – keep it warm I’m on my way….

(Photos from their gig at Exmouth Festval May 2011)

Gig: 25 of 50
Date of Gig: Friday 2nd October 2015

King's Place

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Running total of artists seen 53

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sustained Class

With apologies to a great songwriter...
On the first day of October Danny Schmidt took to the stage
Thank God that a troubadour still lives in this day and age
Crafting songs as a prophet for arts sake and not just money
One solitary finger stuck up to the record company

The intimate setting is the award winning Green Note
Who with a sustained class of gig won London’s best venue vote

Where all that glitters is not gold but lasting music alchemy
Two more defiant fingers held to the music industry

By eight o’clock the venue’s full and there’s standing room only
Again I’m watching from the wings yet I am far from lonely 
As strangers we stand too close together in expectation
And when Danny takes the stage – we’re joined in acclamation

We all came for different reasons but all reasons to rejoice
One was his guitar playing and another was his voice
And another was to hear the true depth of Danny’s songs
To find where our love, hope, despair and anger belongs

It’s a double blessing tonight – as its buy one get one free!
With harmony, with humour by Danny’s side is Carrie
There’s deep love, joy and musical grace and a mutual respect
Uniting them and audience till we all combine and connect

From the first chords that are struck to the last notes that are bent
Dramas played out through stained glass windows smashed during lent
Fairy tales, protest songs and odes to love reach out to us
All of our lives reflected through his musical genius

Every song seems to melt and blur all of our lifelines
As his word’s deep insight shine a bright light upon our times
His words are blood-stained and red and they're teardrops and blue
The silence we need not fill - all the love that we never knew

Then the venue fell to silence, it was more than just fear
As the sincerity of sound slid its tongue across our ears
And shivering from exposure like babies born again
In every phrase of song was all the joy and pain of man . . . 

There was every fearful smile, there was every joyful tear
There was each and every choice that leads from every there to here
There was every cozy stranger and every awkward friend
And there was every perfect night that’s left initials in the sand
There was every day that filled so full the weeks would float away
And there was all those days spent wondering what to do with all those days
There was every lie that ever saved the truth from being shamed
And every secret you could ever trust a friend to hide away
There was the fortune of discovering a new face you might adore
And the thrill of coming home to find her clothes upon the floor
And the prideful immortality of children in the home
That the storm can’t grind the mountain down, it can only shift the stones
And there was everything your mouth says that your lips don’t understand
And every shape inside your head you can’t carve with your hands
And every slice of song revealed another slice of life
Emblazoned imperfections in a perfect stream of light
It all flooded through the music like rapids made of fire
And then God rode through on sunshine as the music took us higher
Even higher. 

As the thunder drum and guitar settled back into their place 
The music of the evening filled the tiny silent space 
And some folks prayed in reverence some folk drank their beer 
As all the shades and chaos in the songs became a mirror

Gig: 24 of 50
Date of Gig: Thursday 1st October 2015

Green Note

Danny Schmidt & Carrie Elkin

Running total of artists seen 52

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Afterglow of Greatness

White mist seeps across the seats...
After the resounding success of opening a venue in Camberwell I have taken the next step in music promotion and put together my very own mini festival! The Southbank Centre is hired, the acts booked and my name changed to David Eavis! In reality (as if you need clarification!) I’ve bought tickets for three gigs in five days at the Southbank Centre. In today's ‘me culture’ I feel I can justify the claim that this amounts to my very own personal festival! Oh the irony!

Even more ironic (or is that iconic?) is the true Glastonbury weather which arrives in time for the first gig! Definately not the perpetual sunshine I would have chosen for my own festival. Rather today it raineth all day! I am soaked through just running from the bus to the Purcell Room and in serious danger of steaming as I sit through the gig slowly drying off! At first, I think that the rest of the audience is also slowing drying off, so thick is the atmosphere in the auditorium. As the white mist seeps across the seats and out the doors however, I soon realise that Shlomo has actually filled the Purcell Room with dry ice - enough to hide any embarrassing steaming issues I may have! Or maybe it is just a vain attempt to disguise the fact that his effects and loop station are set up on the ubiquitous, but ultimately not very Rock ‘n’ Roll, Gopak table!

I have seen Shlomo at a couple of festivals and must admit I am wondering how I will cope with a full evening of beatbox in the incongruous surroundings of the Purcell Room! I fear Shlomo has similar concerns about the venue as he remarks sarcastically ‘I love Drum ’n’ Bass in a seated theatre!

But forget the length of the set and the surroundings. This is a fantastic evening. Once I've stopped asking ‘How do you do that?’ I am able to sit back and enjoy Shlomo. Shlomo the storyteller, Shlomo the stand-up comedian and Shlomo the songwriter. Each persona involving us in his looped creations which become the soundtrack to the insightful story of his career.

When joined on stage by the Vocal Orchestra I see another side to this great artist – Shlomo the conductor. But, he is more than a conductor. He is conductor and composer. His orchestra have no score and follow him as he carefully shapes the music and conjures up a new sound, a new beat and a new feel with simple instructions to each member. The totally improvised ‘Dirty Corduroy Knickers’ was uttley brilliant and the musical highlight of the whole evening. 

We are a married couple... 
During the interval, in the drinks queue, I strike up a conversation with my neighbour. It starts as just a passing comment really…
Not sure how they do that but its amazing!
We then spend the entire interval in animated conversation wrestling with questions like, 
Is this craft or art?’ and
Why are we listening to someone impersonate percussion when we could be listening to the real thing?
We offer some commentary too...
'But what they are doing is amazing?’ countered by
Yes it’s a great skill – but I'm not quite sure what the point of it is...' 
Anyone listening would think we are a married couple! 

I would like to point out that many people at this very moment are next door in the Royal Festival Hall listening to Nigel Kennedy playing Hendrix! Were does that fit into the argument about the real thing I wonder!?

I can't answer that now, but I do need an answer to the niggling question which has troubled me all interval, ‘Will I get bored in the second half?' I need not have worried. As I sit through a wonderful post-interval set by Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra the answer is a resounding NO!

Which is unusual because I don’t normally take no for an answer and with that contrived link we move into the second day of my Southbank Festival…

Before this gig I would have said to you that I grew up listening to Tom Robinson and that that was as close to Punk as I got in those days! Songs like Grey Cortina, 2-4-6-8 Motorway and Don’t take No for an Answer were the musical backdrop to my youth. Tonight he drives into his first set - a ‘best of compilation' for the faithful – with ‘Summer of ‘79'. As his classic songs from the 70’s wash over me, nearly 40 years later, I realise how different the culture was back in my ‘Life On Mars’ teenage Manchester days. I realise too that I didn’t just listen to Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson shaped my whole outlook on life and inspired my first faltering footsteps into politics. He, of course, began to shape my understanding of sexual politics too. This guy has a lot to answer for, and a lot I want to thank him for. 

24-caret stick of consumerism... 
As the set continues through Martin, Glad to be Gay and War Baby, the music is rebuilding the feelings of that time. Not only do I want to sing along, but I want to be back on those CND marches and attending the Rock Against Racism gigs in Alexander Park. I have tried to wax-lyrical about the spirituality of music in many of these blogs but I have not touched on music as an agent to social change.

Song after song, lyric after lyric, Robinson’s first set reminds me how powerful a protest song can be and how few protest songs and singers there are in today's individualistic society. We have been enticed and beaten into not caring for others, with the 24-caret stick of consumerism dangling in front of us. As Nick Harper wryly observes introducing his Comedy Western tune 'The Magnificent G7' - on his Double Life album: “This is a quieter song I wrote ‘cause I thought that there was plenty of wealth in the world and enough to go round for everybody… but now that I’ve got my DVD player I see things slightly differently

In the years that I have been listening to Tom Robinson I have owned TRB Vinyl, taped his music onto Cassette, bought his CD’s and now listen to him on an MP3 player. Each of the formats has successively become more individualistic. His vinyl I listened to on an old record player at a volume that inadvertantly shared it with three houses down the street. On cassette I enjoyed the experience of portable music for the first time with my pride and joy, a Sony Walkman (although it is debatable how portable it was – carrying those extra cassettes was never that easy!) On CD, for a while, the experience was again a shared one, but then with the advent of the MP3 player I am once more head-phoned and cocooned in my own world. As music has become more individualistic (to the point that is now possible to pick and choose the album tracks you want to download and those you don’t and to create your own compilation albums with playlists) so too has the content of songs become less of a challenge to the world and more of a comforter for the individual soul. In reality of course it is unfair to blame the format of the music. It is the politics of greed that has infected society since 1979 which is the real culprit here! 

He's lost his voice... 
The first set has broken the apathetic spell of the past 35 years and I am eagerly anticipating new songs in the second set. I look forward to protest songs for this generation to rise up to. Songs to challenge the tax dodging, bonus paying, climate destroying, union bashing, Islamophobic, sanctioning, scum-mongering, xenophobic, NHS dismantling, lying elite.

But no - he’s lost his voice! 

I’m devastated. 

We are several songs into the new material but there is no anger and no twenty-first century protest song.

But then the 65-year-old Robinson suddenly changes up a gear and we discover that he has not lost his voice or his righteous anger after all. Song after song, he lays into, first, Rebekah Brooks, then Banker’s Bonuses and then bomber pilots justifying their actions through their Christian Faith and so much more that is wrong with our money-grabbing, war-mongering, generation.

After the last song the audience, with TRB fists raised, cheer for more with hope reawakened and fire in our bellies. His music has touched our souls and stirred our hearts and we will stand with him to demand a different world.

So, just one night of my Southbank Festival left and to conclude it is the mighty Richard Thompson. One year older than Tom Robinson, he still rocks and delivers a stunning set. It is quite simply a wonderful finale. I am not quite sure how I have managed never to catch him in concert before but I haven’t. So I’ll admit to being a very excited festival goer - if just a little apprehensive that it will be an anti-climax. I need not have worried, The evening is wonderful. 

Guitar and gravel-lined voice... 
Keeping it in the family, The Rails open the show with a beautiful set of exquisite acoustic guitar, heart-breaking harmonies, and fabulous folk tunes telling tales and love and loss. 

Richard Thompson opens his set with The Rails playing ‘That’s Enough’ and I’m taken back to Tom Robinson’s set as the protest song rings out…

Then his drummer and bass player join him on stage and they power into ‘All Buttoned Up’ with the signature Thompson guitar and gravel-lined voice. Song after song his effortless guitar playing strikes you but then you become aware of the prowess of the musicians he has chosen to play with him. Lou Reed once famously said, “You can’t beat 2 guitars, bass and drums." Well Lou you can, and I’ve seen and heard it done! Thompson’s Electric Trio, 1 guitar, bass and drums, are individually so brilliant that they each demand your attention. However, the moment you offer it they drag you back to listen to the overall sound they are creating as a trio. 

As the band leave after ‘Hard on Me', Thompson is handed his acoustic guitar and we are treated to ‘Meet on the Ledge'. In this, and as he rides straight into '1952 Vincent Black Lightening', we are reminded that Thompson isn’t just a great guitarist but one of the best song-writers this country has produced. 

The band re-joins him on stage and they are straight back into the groove of ‘Beatnik Walking’ and power through the rest of a brilliant set. As they return for the first encore an audience member shouts out a request. Thompson doesn’t quite hear and asks for the request to be repeated.

Hey Joe'.
He just nods, thinks for the slightest of moments and then launches straight in…

After the third song of the second encore the band finally leave the stage, the house lights are on and a number of the audience remain in their seats. They are saviouring the moment, the afterglow of greatness, the radiance of splendour, and know that they have experienced one of the greats of the British music scene. 

Nowadays bands come and go, the next great band whither as quickly as they bloom. Thompson has weathered critical rejection and record company ambivalence. He has been seen as a cultural irrelevance and a musical monolith. But through all of that he has grown and continues to inspire and impress in a way that all the Johnny-come-latelies can only dream off as they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. 

After all, as we all know - to misquote a sporting idiom - Fame is temporary. Class, on the other hand, is permanent, and tonight was pure class.

Gigs: 21, 22 & 23 of 50
Date of Gigs: Wednesday 16th, Friday 18th & Sunday 20th September 2015

Purcell Room
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Royal Festival Hall

Vocal Orchestra
Kitten Pyramid
Tom Robinson
The Rails
Richard Thompson

Running total of artists seen 51