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

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