Saturday, 28 November 2015

How I long for a leader who is like a jewel...

Beery boys of Brighton... 
Rule Number 1 for new gig-goers:
Always get there in time for the support act.

You wouldn’t turn up at a friend’s house just in time for the main course when they have invited you for dinner, so why miss the support act? It is just plain rude and not very good manners! 

Rule Number 2 for new gig-goers:
Be prepared! The starter is seldom the best course of the meal.

That is to say, the support might not be very good! 

Holly Macve is the support act for tonight’s gig at the Hammersmith Apollo. The pre-gig research seems to suggest we are in for a treat as the website reads, “BELLA UNION have recently signed the exciting talent of Holly Macve. Boss Simon Raymonde, “little is known of Holly other than she is a 20 year old from Yorkshire who appeared out of nowhere in Brighton late last year. I had a tip-off to go to a basement bar where she was playing. In a room full of beery boys chatting across all the music beforehand, the minute Holly opened her mouth the room fell silent. Hers is a rare gift.

She wanders on stage whispers a greeting and plays her guitar and manages to play all her songs without once engaging the audience. I can only assume that I am too sober and too old to appreciate her gift, unlike the ‘beery boys of Brighton’! Yet no one seems to be under her spell. The applause is polite but the volume of chatter during the songs is louder. Maybe the venue is too big for her style of songs, maybe standing solo on the stage at the Hammersmith Apollo overawes her, or maybe they just see things differently through the bottom of a beer bottle in Brighton!

There is no doubt she has a fantastic voice but the songs all merge into one. There appears no light and shade within any one of her compositions, or in fact between them – although her dress does make up for this! There is no acknowledgement of the fact that we, the audience, are here. How is my experience so different to Bella Union Boss Simon Raymonde’s? It’s a conundrum! What I do know is that she would have been booed off at the gigs I went to in my teenage years! Perhaps the jury is out on Holly Macve but the proof is that today’s gig goers are a more generous lot than 35 years ago! 

From Birmingham to Reykjavik for a coffee... 
As she finishes her last song the audience are generous in their applause and as the stage is set for John Grant I look around and see the venue is filling up. There is all the usual pre-gig chatter yet a midlands accent sounds out of place; I tune into the conversation as the Brummie explains he comes to gigs in London from time to time. As he is listing the London venues he’s been to I marvel at what lengths people will travel to listen to music they love! As I tune back into his conversation I hear he was in Reykjavik last year and found the cafe on the album cover of John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts. Perhaps Birmingham to London isn’t really that far for a gig, when you are prepared to travel from Birmingham to Reykjavik for a coffee! That is true dedication!

Just as Raymonde got a tip-off to go and listen to Holly Macve I was blissfully unaware of John Grant until earlier this year when a friend tipped me off and sent me ‘Caramel’. I fell in love with the song in an instant. The beautiful depth, tenderness, longing and loving in the lyric, tune and accompaniment is a wonder and just gets deeper every time I listen to it.

The concert is a big event with every number a big number - sweeping ballads, psychedelic pop and pseudo rap – nothing Grant does is understated except his dress! In this respect he is the exact opposite to Holly Macve. The only light and shade in her set was in her dress, the only understatement in Grant is his clothing!

The depth of human inhumanity...
There are great anthems of love, songs of derision, choruses of challenge underpinned, and sometimes totally overridden by, a musical score of such intensity that it’s almost possible to hear the lack of natural light – that Grant finds so conducive to writing and the reason for him choosing to reside in Iceland – in every chord.

A review in the Financial Times (is it just me - but why are the FT reviewing gigs?) mused, John Grant has the perfect voice for imparting bad news. In a previous life he could have recorded the four-minute warning of a nuclear attack, telling the nation in warm, deep tones that it was about to be destroyed. Panic would not have ensued. His show at the Hammersmith Apollo opened with a recording of New Testament verses about love, recited in both English and Icelandic: the Colorado-raised Grant now lives in Reykjavik. The passage is often read at funerals; tonight it preceded a song about Grant’s discovery that he is HIV positive, 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure'”.

Now I know one or two clergy and I have been to one or two funerals in my time, and a quick straw poll found that no one had ever heard 1 Corinthians 13 read at a funeral. What do journalists know? The FT should stick to finances and not music or religion.

Yet within 24 hours of Grant’s gig, the news of the murders in Paris starts to flash up on my phone. The plight of those at the Bataclan concert venue strikes a minor chord in my heart in particular, and the easy FT journalists’ description of Grant’s voice seems hollow, misplaced and misjudged. This is gig 34 of the target of 50 I have set myself for this year and I have never once thought I might be in any kind of danger.

How can music - which unites people in a shared chorus, an explosion of applause, an experience of spirituality in lifting of the soul above the mundane, the sinful and the plain evil - become the backdrop for such shared pain, explosions of hatred and an experience of coldblooded violence? You could argue that shopping or travelling on a tube should not mean an encounter with such violence either and I whole-heartedly agree, but because music is God-given and brings people together in a way that shopping and tube travel doesn’t it seems to highlight for me the depth of human inhumanity.

Grant’s voice would not have kept panic at bay had it happened a day earlier and this side of the channel, at the Hammersmith Apollo, London. I should be writing about how I waited and waited for Grant to play Caramel with excited anticipation that grew and grew as I was swept through the highs (and occasional lows) of his set. Instead, I just keep thinking what would I have done, what would my response have been, if it had happened a night earlier in London at the gig I was at. Or would my only response be that I was paralyzed with fear as things became so rough (to misquote Grant)? 

A video-gamer rapidly hitting the fire button in blind hope...
The public response is fairly inevitable. Our leaders state the ‘War on Terror’ goes on. They called the First World War the war to end all wars – it didn’t work. The War on Terror has not worked either. For 14 years our foreign policy has failed to bring peace. Instead it has fueled radicalization and the world has become increasingly unstable. Yet our leaders seem incapable of changing their tune. They constantly repeat the ‘War on Terror’ mantra like a video-gamer rapidly hitting the fire button in blind hope they will kill all of the Zombies on their screen.

It appears there is no strategy to defeat this new wave of terrorism. Selling arms to unscrupulous leaders spectacularly backfired. Invading countries ended in failure. Hunting down and killing a figurehead had no effect. Flying drones and bombing suspected camps only fuels the fire. Not even orange jumpsuits and torture have helped. So instead, turn the anger at terrorist events into patriotism with lots of jingoism and at least your people are with you even if you have no idea what you are doing.

In this brave new world the people will call for retribution and revenge, the press will create villains and headlines to match: ‘TERMINATED’. People will talk of not trusting ‘them’ - tarring so, so many God-fearing, peace-loving generous human beings with the same brush as a few irreligious, murderous people. Add in a healthy dose of Social Media rife with rumor, reporting uncovered plots (the dangers of men in burka’s), advice on how to stay safe (reportedly from a friend of a friend’s relative who is in the police) and you can neatly hide the fact that you don’t know how to win this war on terror that you started in the first place.

The FT reviewer informed us that 1 Corinthians 13 is often heard at funerals. Closer to the truth is that it is often read at weddings. However, it can easily be argued that it has much to do with weddings as it has to do with funerals! The Ancient Greeks had many more words for ‘Love’ than we English have. The Love written about in 1 Corinthians 13 is not ‘Eros’ the love of lovers, or even ‘Philial’ the love between friends and equals. It is ‘Agape’ the love of God for humanity. God’s love for humanity is seen supremely in the life of God’s Son Jesus. A love that kneels at the feet of his friends and engages enemies in conversation. It is a love that gives of its self that others might know life, by turning the other cheek in forgiveness, and accepting that the world can (and will) change.

I believe in this love...
The passage we are talking about starts Grant’s new album and his show tonight. It talks of a love that is patient and kind, that keeps no record of wrong, that is not happy with wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. A love that does not insist on its own way. A love that is not irritable or resentful but rather believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

I have struggled to understand why Grant chose to use these words at the beginning of the album and the set but the reason surely lies in what follows. The title track of the album includes the heart felt lyric: ‘And there are children who have cancer and so all bets are off’. Such a line written by a man who has just discovered he is HIV+ is a statement of a love that does not insist on things its own way but bears all things. A love, that even in its own pain, seeks to kneel at the feet of those who also suffer and serve them. This is a love that never ends.

It is this love that we need in our response to terror. A love not insistent that we are right. A love that seeks truth not stereotype. A love that while enduring all things still hopes all things. A love that seeks a different way, not just perpetuating the spiral of violence. A love that crosses cultural boundaries and challenges those stereotypes built on ancient mistrust and hatred.

Oh for a leader strong enough to stand in this valley of difficult love and not on the easy soapbox mountaintop of retribution and revenge.

Finally Grant plays Caramel and I hear live the song that speaks of real love out of every note, chord, word and phrase. I believe in this love. And post Bataclan how I long for a leader who is like a jewel and who grounds us in love, who heals the darkest of years, revealing themselves in tenderness and grace, and who with their arms constructs for us the safest place… 

Gig: 34 of 50
Date of Gig: Thurs. 12th November 2015

Hammersmith Apollo

John Grant
Holly Macve

Running total of artists seen 71

Monday, 16 November 2015

Sex and a bit of protest thrown in

Like that scene from Spinal Tap...
A few blogs back and I was eulogizing about The Borderline and the joys of heading into a basement to listen to music. Tonight I’m once again heading down into the depths of a building. This time I’m at the Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green although I’m turning too many corners for me to be confident of ever reaching the venue. It’s just like that scene from Spinal Tap, except on this occasion it’s the audience member who is lost and not the band! I chant ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and beat out a drum rhythm on the heating ducts until I finally turn a corner and open a door and am relieved to find myself in a cozy venue with an audience standing around the sides of the room just like we did as teenagers at the school disco in the early 1980’s. 

Sophie Morgan is support tonight and announces her presence on stage with a geography lesson. ‘I’m from Widnes. It’s a town between Liverpool and Manchester,’ and then a thank you for turning out to see her, ‘I thought it would just be me and my Dad’. I look around and decide the age demographic is such that 89% of the males in the room could be her dad! To be certain of who he is I will have to try and discern the look of pride from among the looks of guilty pleasure!

Her set consists of all but one self-penned song performed from behind her keyboard. She is young. She needs more maturity. The Piano arrangement is adding nothing to the song, as each runs into the next in my mind. It is a real lesson, not in geography, but in how significant a part of the art of songwriting the arrangement is. Even changing the voices on the keyboard for different songs would help tonight!

Also, please stop saying ‘thank you’ as the last chord of each song is struck! We can usually tell when the song is finished. And please don't introduce every song. It is OK to make the audience work out what the song is about, even better let us decide what it says to each one of us. As Martyn Joseph was pointed out: Songs are like children. You give birth to them, bring them up and then let them go and find their own way in the world. One day people will talk to you about them and you will wonder if it is your offspring they are talking about because they have interacted with others in a way you do not recognize.

Mutton and Lamb I think they are called... 
As her set finishes, Sophie’s dad reveals himself to help pack up the keyboard and the crowd begins to swell for the headline act. There is no room left on the edge of the room so the dance floor fills. This gig is part of ‘The London Folk and Roots Festival’ and the audience is exactly what I would expect at such a festival - beards, sweaters, man-bags and ill-fitting jeans! Then a couple enter, looking quite out of place, Mutton and Lamb I think they are called as I hear my neighbours mention their names! They behave in a very un-folk like way as they head straight for the empty stage and take a selfie, complete with the peace sign that I am sure will be adorning Facebook before I reach home!

However, perhaps False Lights only have themselves to blame, as this is the band whose blurb states they owe as much to Radiohead as to Fairport Convention! With that sort of self-penned bio perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this couple are here and that they spend the whole of the gig watching through their iPad screens as they video each song!

As the band sets up, the guitar-father of folk rock Richard Thompson is the chosen music of the sound engineer. Radiohead, Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson - False Lights have a lot to live up to! I have to say, in their sound, they are more Fairport than Radiohead but that is not a criticism; it is very much a compliment as the gig is fantastic. This is exactly what electric folk played by a six-piece band should sound like. Driving drum and bass, understated guitar riffs, piercing fiddle, droning melodeon, close harmonies and catchy tunes telling stories of love, death, betrayal, sex and a bit of protest thrown in for good measure!

There is a sense that this is a folk supergroup, the brainchild of Jim Moray and Sam Carter, both bright young stars of the British folk scene. Unlike certain other supergroups however, this one really works, taking traditional songs and making them sound like they were written this morning. Sam Carter looks more like a 50’s rockabilly than 21st century folkster, in his tight white tee-shirt, slight quiff, blue jeans and Gibson semi-acoustic, but he sounds like a great folk singer. 

Loud and proud in the folk tradition...
Too soon the set is over and of course we demand more. The band gather in the midst of the audience and sing the gospel inspired ‘How Can I keep from Singing’ and we can’t. Steve Knightley of Show of Hands often jokes as he encourages people to join in with a chorus, ‘this is your worst folk nightmare – audience participation!’ Yet without embarrassment the crowd joins in. Suddenly this isn’t a rock gig with peace sign selfies but the best open mike night. No amplification, pure acoustics, voices and a sensitive audience joining in. 

It is becoming commonplace for such an acoustic encore, and in danger of being overdone. Show of Hands, Jon Gomm, and Duke Special to name but a handful of those acts which I have seen do such a thing at the end of their gig. Yet tonight it really works and does not feel contrived or a gimmick. The band climb back on stage and finish with ‘The Charlesworth Hornpipe’ and the lively dance even has the feet tapping of those still enjoying the safety of the sides of the room. The rest of the audience are dancing and we all leave with smiles on our faces and a Charlesworth spring in our step. 

Their debut album is called ‘Salvormeaning “one who salvages from ships or their cargo”. They say it seems appropriate for the process of writing the album. It also seems appropriate, because what is salvaged in False Lights is the fine tradition of British Folk Rock, the tradition that sticks a finger in the ear not to tune the voice but to stop them bleeding! False Lights play loud and proud in the folk tradition but they have produced songs for the 21st century and in that sense their blub is right - they owe as much to Radiohead as they do to Fairport.

Gig: 33 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 30th October 2015

Selbright Arms, Bethnal Green
False Lights
Sophie Morgan

Running total of artists seen 69

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Need a new guitar, John?

I told you this life isn’t viable...
John Bramwell has played two great sets and given us real value for money and he apologizes for not playing any new stuff!

Go to my website and you can have it for free,’ he beams as he starts the next song. But I can see his mind working and he stops, and decides to let us in on his secret…‘In fact I got into a lot of trouble for doing that from my lawyer. He said I can’t just give it away. He said everyone else would go crazy.’ The crowd cheer at one of the few music mavericks still around. He continues, ‘I told him I’ve only made £3k in the last fifteen years – I’ll give away what I want.’ More cheers… ‘Sod it, I’m just going play gigs from now on. This is great.’ The crowd love it and he finally launches into the song.

As he finishes he starts to tune the guitar while chatting to the audience. It is taking a while and he is heckled…‘You need a new guitar John.’ Quick as a flash he retorts, ‘it’s not even mine, it’s the support act’s. I told you this life isn’t viable.

The dangers of drink...
Bramwell elicits a faithful following. The crowd is full of real devotees who sing along with every word of every song. Maybe they are not in time or in tune but they know them all, just as the crowd at the Whiskey Sessions in Manchester did in Sept 2014 as I Am Kloot played. He is held up as one of the greatest song writers of his generation and he is playing a small venue in Chester! What a great place to see him! It is intimate, just perfect for an artist who without showing off is an exquisite showman. He is so at ease as he chats with the audience, the natural comic, and switches effortlessly from witty banter to soulful song and back again.

That was crap,’ he tells those singing along and laughs, ‘you really interpreted that song so well….’ – it is a song about the dangers of drink - ‘you sounded awful. I should have recorded you for the album.

In the mix his vocals are pushed high up to the front, drowning out his subtle guitar. It is a statement that says the lyrics are of prime importance - ‘I am a wordsmith.’ As he reinterprets I am Kloot songs for himself as a solo artist, I get the sense that these are works in progress and will always be, as he uses the live performance to tease out even more meaning and poignancy. At times he refers to a set list, but unlike other artists who use one to lead them through the gig from start to finish, Bramwell uses it as most of us use a shopping list in a supermarket. He ticks off songs that he has taken from the shelf and played, and checks from time to time to see what he has still to find, but the order the items fall into the trolley bears no resemblance to the order on the list!

He also responds to requests from the audience. On one occasion, after a long and tortuous tuning of his guitar, whilst all the time telling tales, a request is heard. He immediately puts down the tuned guitar and picks up a nylon string acoustic. He starts the song then dissolves into laughter as he realizes that he has spent so long tuning one guitar only to abandon it for the song he is now playing! 

A collective sigh of relief...
This is close to a perfect gig for me, spoiled only by some elements of the audience. I have complained before of always ending up stood behind the tall man,  and tonight it seems is not going to be an exception. Just as Bramwell takes to the stage a very tall man and his average height partner start to move forward. I’m stood with my Malt‘n’Music mate against the wall, the venue is hot and my jacket is on the floor also against the wall. The tall guy announces in a very loud and proud voice, ‘don’t worry I’m not going to stand in front of you.’ There is a collective sigh of relief from us mortals of average height and then he forces his way in between us, quite literally pushing me out of his way and standing all over my jacket! I know it’s a long way down from his great height and it must be difficult for him to be self-aware enough to know I am there, but I am eventually forced to move. On the plus side, I do think the prints from his massive size 13 shoes are an addition to the overall aesthetic of my jacket – thank you!

If only he was the biggest, as well as tallest, pain in the audience tonight. When an audience comes together it is a lottery, but generally in my experience the more dedicated and devoted they are to the artist the less distracted they will be. So tonight I had assumed it would be an audience who would be rowdy during Bramwell’s talky bits but who would listen during the songs. But no, there are a couple of blokes who talk incessantly. Telford’s Warehouse is a venue designed in such way as to allow those who want to talk to stay in the bar area, and allow those of us who want to listen to do just that.

However, these two clowns are right there in the middle and talking over everything. It’s not that they are not fans - they clearly recognize each song during the first bar of the intro - but for some reason they feel it is OK to talk loudly during each song. One bar in and I hear, ‘this is my favorite song!’ I foolishly think that maybe we will be allowed to listen to it then,  but no! ‘It’s got a great brass line in it… it comes…Ba, ba, ba, baa.’ Now, this is not I am Kloot. This is John Bramwell playing songs acoustically. He doesn’t even own the guitar he is playing. It should be obvious that he is not going to have a brass section hidden away just for this song.  So enjoy his brass-less rendition tonight and allow us to as well! But no. And even after the appalling impersonation of a brass section the conversation continues. Just when I think they will shut up as they have exhausted all ways humanly possible to inform their fellow human beings that they adore this piece of music, and I finally think we will all be allowed to listen in peace, one of them enquires of his neighbour ‘How’s the beer? 

You also can’t choose all your fellow audience members...
At the beginning of the month I was listening to Danny Schmidt play ‘Stained Glass’ - currently my favorite song. I am quite sure that while he was singing it, the last thing on my mind was to ask my neighbour about the quality of the alcoholic beverage she was drinking! They say you can’t choose your family only your friends. Unfortunately you also can’t choose all your fellow audience members! 

Bramwell finishes the evening with no pretence of an encore. He has played for a long time, shared what he wants to share, and played what he wants to play off his 'shopping' set list! Its time to call it a night with one last sing-a-long. On the way home I chat with my friend about the gig. The things Bramwell said and did, the songs he played, and the way he played them. So often I travel home from a gig alone and have no one to relive it with, so it’s a joy to be able to share thoughts with someone else tonight. But I have just one burning question on my mind, and just before we reach our destination, only then, does it feel like the right and proper time to enquire about the quality of beverage he had earlier….

Gig: 32 of 50
Date of Gig: Thurs. 29th October 2015

Telford's Warehouse, Chester

John Bramwell
Dave Fidler

Running total of artists seen 67

Friday, 13 November 2015

I have a list and a dream: One day roots music will follow real ale

A good list is always hard to beat...
The World Cup wall chart is a childhood delight I still enjoy today! It helps you keep track of how early England exit. The wisdom of cup competitions is that you never remember the beaten semi-finalists – with a wall chart you have far more chance! I was asked recently how many gigs had I been too in my life and how many artists I had ever seen live. I have no idea but resolved to trawl through my CD collection to create some kind of list – I needed a wall chart!  

I am keeping a list for my fifty fifty challenge. Each gig, when it is booked, is added to a numbered list so I know exactly how I am doing in this self-set challenge. As each blog is published, the gig is noted on the list as ‘blogged’. This has proved invaluable, as I have been able to track my progress. As people have enquired how I’m doing I’ve been able to tell them. I quickly fire off the number of gigs I have been too and also those that I have booked thus far. At different points in the year people have either looked worried or impressed with my progress and as I get nearer the end of the 12 months, people are genuinely believing that I will actually make 50 (gigs that is not my Birthday!).

I have had to make decisions about who to see and resist the urge to go mad and buy tickets all at once to ensure I succeed. The list has not only been very satisfying, as a good list is always hard to beat, but useful to keep me on track. Just as family and friends are beginning to believe that I will fulfil my challenge so I am feeling confident as I currently have the list that stands at 44.  So far I have been to 33 and 30 have been blogged about (you see I told you I could quickly fire off a number!).

So amidst all this planning it was wonderful to stumble upon an unlisted gig. With a week off work I headed to visit a friend who lives in Devon. I had just done 3 gigs in a week and I had a couple booked for the end of this week off, so this was a time to write some of the outstanding blogs, playing catch up before I got too far behind and started mixing up gigs as they merged into one in my memory! 

Lost in a lazy Sunday afternoon...
As we headed out on a sunny autumn Sunday afternoon we found a pub, The Teigh House, just outside Exeter. We actually stopped to see if they were showing the rugby semi-final! We walked in and to our delight saw five or six musicians setting up for a jam. We turned our backs on the rugby ordered a couple of pints of local real ale and sat at the bar to enjoy this unplanned gig.

As they were tuning, and it took a while as there were quite a few strings between them, the bartender told us it’s a monthly event. Finally, with all the strings in tune the jam began. This was music at its most democratic. Each musician took it in turns to choose a song and each member of the group got a chance for a solo verse in every song. Rather confusingly they chose each new song clockwise round the group but the solo verse travelled anti-clockwise!

There was not an ego amongst them, as they all seemed to enjoy playing music for the beauty of what is created when people get together and play variations of the same tune in the same key. After each song there was applause from those of us lost in a lazy Sunday afternoon of real ale and real music. The applause however did not seem important for our entertainers, as they discussed the next song, how it goes, and how it always gets mixed up with that other one – you know – oh what is it called… 

With the said guitar we were invited to share with them in their food...
After they had all chosen a song, the sandwiches appeared and the music stopped and my friend, who just happened to have his guitar in the car, asked if anyone could join in? They were delighted and as he reappeared with the said guitar we were invited to share with them in their food.

The second half started and again they democratically asked each in turn for a song suggestion including, my friend, the new-comer, who, it has to be said, was not treated as such, but only as the latest member of the jam. 

I can’t say I knew any of the songs but I loved the afternoon and heard some beautiful music. After the second round was complete there was a short break and conversations were had and instruments swapped - to be admired and played. Stories were also swapped of playing, of local music shops and local luthiers. As the third round began it was hard to imagine a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon and as my friend took a break, yours truly even picked up the guitar to join in. I didn’t know these people; they could have been teachers, insurance brokers, nurses, unemployed, retired, I had no idea, and they knew nothing about me. But the moment I joined in a song with them, it didn’t matter. We were making music together.

As the afternoon - now the early evening - came to an end, we realised we had totally forgotten about the rugby. Australia had won, but unlike our afternoon that was fairly predictable! As we finished another couple of pints of real ale it struck me that there is hope for grass roots music.

Years ago it wasn’t possible to find a pint of real ale anywhere. The only choice was between various mass produced beers from various large breweries. Today, in pubs up and down the country, you can’t move for real ale and craft beers. The general public has come to realise that gaseous, mediocre, tame mass produced beers are a far cry from carefully and caringly produced ale. One day the same will happen with music. The mass produced crap of the charts will be seen for what it is and real, grass roots music will be appreciated. A day when real music played by teachers, insurance brokers, nurses, unemployed, retired folk, and holiday makers is valued and loved as much, if not more than, the chart-topping music played by music industry puppets.

Speed down the country lane with stereo blaring...
Every other gig I have been too on my list I can relive a little by listening to the CD or download. Not today. And that matters not one jot! This afternoon has not been about being able to relive the moment. It was simply about the moment. The moment of music bringing people together, the moment in time when nothing else matters, the moment of a simple and pure delight in music. However, one day I’ll hear a bluegrass tune that was played today and I’ll instantly be back in that Devonshire pub that many people don’t even notice as they speed down the country lane with stereo blaring, and I’ll be reminded of real music and real ale, community and companionship, harmony and hope, solos and socialising. But what I won’t remember are the loosing semi-finalists – now where is that wall chart!

Gig: 31 of 50
Date of Gig: Sun. 25th October 2015

The Teigh House, Devon

Local People (plus a couple of holiday makers!)

Running total of artists seen 65

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The problem with an unbeatable superlative

Words are overused more quickly...
It is a football cliché, when the manager in the post-match interview says ‘I couldn’t have asked for more. The lads gave 110%’. We know what he is trying to say, but the simple truth is you can’t give more than 100%!

In our world of constant communication, we have a problem. We seem to have used up our language! More accurately perhaps, we have used up the number of superlatives we have at our fingertips. I have a lot of sympathy for the world, as I am finding it hard to keep describing the experiences that I am having at these gigs without falling back on the same old, tired words. It’s not that this generation is better, more creative, or more expert than any other and therefore, more deserving of the superlatives. It’s simply that we have so many ways to communicate in our social media generation that words are overused more quickly. 

As well as that, we also seem to be on a constant quest to have to find the ultimate performer in their field. No longer are we happy with a good performer, they have to be greatest. No longer are we content to see the second or third best, we have to see the best and tell the world in overused superlatives that we have! 

So to expand our language we have inverted the meaning of words to cunningly invent a whole new set of positive adjectives. Bad started to mean good, sick started mean ‘well good init’, wicked started to mean well you get the picture… And somewhere in amongst all this inverting to reinvent language the term ‘shit hot’ was coined.

As Jon Gomm takes to the sage at the Jazz Café in Camden he thanks the support act Matt Stevens and informed us that he is a ‘shit hot’ musician. I am certain that Gomm wasn’t listening to Stevens’ set, because if he had been he wouldn’t have described him as ‘shit hot’. His set, relying so heavily on his loop pedal, was beset with tuning and timing issues. I had been looking forward to hearing Matt Stevens. As the man who inspired Malt‘n’Music (see other blogs for an explanation of Malt‘n’Music) he has taken on the status of a legend within a certain circle of my friends. There we go again, falling into the superlative trap – he’s not really a legend, more infamous!  I’m sure it just wasn’t Stevens’ night. He is a great musician but tonight it just wasn’t happening for him.

To give Stevens’ his due he was fun, and carried on trying to entertain despite the setbacks and broken strings. The  crowd did respond, but he's wasn't ‘shit hot’. At best his set could be described as ‘luke warm shit’ and that is a horrible thought, as well as being far from a superlative!

Quite literally he demands that we listen...
Jon Gomm on the other hand is so good he was shit burnt to a frazzle! No loop pedal, all the sounds and rhythms made on each beat, hammer on, pull off, stretch, strum, pick, bend and retune! If you have never seen Jon Gomm then check out Youtube and watch in awe as you see a true master of guitar playing. He is the sort of guitarist that makes me want to give up and perhaps that the ultimate ‘superlative’ to give him. He makes me recognise that the sound I get out of my guitar is only a fraction of what is possible!

He is the sort of artist that demands that the audience listen to him. Quite literally he demands that we listen. Tonight, as on other nights, I see him tell off a section of the audience who are talking during his songs. It takes me back to being disciplined in the Headmaster's Office at school as I am stood in the section that he singles out for the reprimand. What he couldn’t know is that we are under attack! In the space of a couple of songs two mobiles come crashing from the balcony as people are straining to get their camera closer to the stage and capture the action. ‘Honest Sir! We are only helping people find their SIM cards and batteries that have explored over the floor!’

The rant has the desired effect as everyone maintains a respectful silence as he plays the rest of the set. We remain silent even as he tunes between each song. One heckler during his incessant tuning inquires as to which tuning he uses. He responds quickly, pointing out that he uses different tuning for each song and then added a little advice, ‘if there are any guitarists out there’ (as if the venue isn’t full of us) ‘a word of advice - don't use different tuning – it’s too much hassle!

Even as a drink spills over the balcony onto my head...
The easy banter this evening is totally different from the last time I saw him when he seemed far more on edge. As he chats to the audience tonight he talks openly and honestly about being bi-polar. The respect for him as an artist has been palpable at every Jon Gomm gig I have been to as people recognize he is a rare talent. Tonight there is an extra sense of this admiration as people become more aware of the whole person behind the songs. Not that they are always the easiest songs to listen too, but they are always amazing to behold performed live.

As is becoming common at gigs now-a-days he finishes with a totally acoustic song: Gloria. It is hard to hear in this size of venue, but as one the audience strains to hear the woeful tale of first love across teenage cultures. Not one of us dare risk the wrath of the headmaster and talk! Even as a drink spills over the balcony onto my head I simply silently sidestep the drips and continue to enjoy his closing song.

Adverts for companies like Stub Hub show images of gigs which are meant to evoke the impression of having the time of our lives. The once in the lifetime gig. The image that defines our gig going forever. It might be to state the bleedin’ obvious, but there is only one ‘once in a lifetime’ gig – the clue is in the description! It is the same problem as the overuse of the superlative – we are sold the fallacy that our next gig will be the best; it will be that once in a lifetime gig. Until, of course, the next one. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to pay to see rubbish but not every gig is going to be the one. That doesn’t mean however that a gig that falls short of the greatest gig of my life could not still be a wonderful experience.

So was this the best gig I've ever been too? Was this the best Jon Gomm gig I've ever seen? I’m not even going to answer those questions!

He didn’t give 110%...
No, it doesn't compare with first time I saw him for the sheer amazement of not quite believing what I was seeing or hearing. It was not as intimate as the gig in the cellar of the Dry Bar in Manchester (or was it Night and Day?) with nine other people. However, the venue is far better than the last place I saw him, and he himself is in a far better place than the last time I saw him.

The simple truth is that it is a great gig. He is a shit hot musician, and I leave having experienced a supreme talent. No, he didn’t give 110%, but he gave us his all, and quite rightly, many superlatives will be used to describe him.

So I leave on a high and on the journey home resolve once again to sell my guitars…

Gig: 30 of 50
Date of Gigs: Wed. 21st October 2015

The Jazz Cafe, Camden

Matt Stevens
Jon Gomm

Running total of artists seen 64