Saturday, 28 May 2016

Leaning on a Lampost with a Slight Sexist Nod to Bygone Days

Magicked away on a wave of happiness...
The last gig before Christmas and I’m back at Green Note. I still haven’t learnt my lesson to get there in time to get a seat, so I stand at the back; at least I’m close to the bar (humbug)!

We are gathering for Sarah Spade and the Noisy Boys and an evening of ukulele music. The humble uke has enjoyed a massive growth in popularity recently. Ukulele groups have popped up across the country and self respecting guitar players who would never have been seen with anything less than 6 strings are now proudly standing on stage with their miniature, but mighty, ukes! It is almost as if the diminutive dynamo of the string world has finally shaken off the ‘Formby’ shackle and come into its own. It is not that the Ukulele influence hasn’t been heard – George Harrison has always championed the instrument – it’s just not been seen.  In 1999 Harrison explained,

Everyone should have and play the ‘uke’ its so simple to carry with you and it’s one instrument you can’t play and not laugh!

The ukulele is the happiest of all instruments and even in Pete Seeger’s great story-song Abiyoyo it is the lowly ukulele that causes the giant to smile and lie down so that the magician can magic him away and save the village!

And magicked away on a wave of happiness is exactly what happens to us tonight. It is an infectious sound that can’t help but make the audience smile, as sounds from the 30’s right through to the present day are strummed by Sarah Spade and wonderfully accompanied by the Noisy Boys on bass and percussion. With the joyous sound ringing in my ears I don’t care that I’m standing not sitting. I’m not the slightest bit bothered someone has stood in front of me so I am straining my neck to see the stage, or that I can’t reach my glass I placed on the bar due to the crowd!

What would the bright and brilliant uke make of a Joy Division song...
Sarah Spade looks like she has stepped right out of the 30’s in her red dress, pearls and Hawaiian flower in her hair. Her publicity is straight out the 30’s too: “Beautiful Voice. Beautiful FaceD.J. Rob Da Bank (Radio One)! OK obviously the quote is present day but the attitude is pure 30’s. Am I the only one who is insulted by such a quote? Am I really only going to go to the gig if what I see is as beautiful as what I hear? Am I so shallow? Is D.J. Rob Da Bank (Radio One) so shallow? And why, oh why, does Sarah Spade need to put such a quote on her publicity? Would D.J. Rob Da Bank (Radio One) say that about a bloke playing ukulele?

In any event, she lets the music speak for itself with a mixture of original and cover versions, traditional ukulele songs (including Leaning on a Lampost) and songs I never dreamt I would hear on the uke! Delivered with the lovely, light touch demanded by the instrument, but also with the balanced backing of the Noisy Boys who prove that beauty is no necessity for music talent!  There is an infectious fun feel to each song, aided by the antics of the Noisy Boys, which seeps out from the stage into the audience. Standing at the back I see the waves of musical melody wash over the gathered crowd, people engulfed in their fun-filled foam, giggling as they surface for air.

The interval is soon with us and as the crowd dissipate to queue for the toilets. I manage to revive my drink and finish it, and decide to check out the CDs. The percussionist is sat close by, relaxing during the interval, and he starts up a conversation;

“Do you play an instrument?”
“Yes – a little!”
“Yes and the Uke”
“Oh! That accent’s not from round here…”
“Yeah, I used to live in the northwest”
“Last place was Cheshire”
“Oh Joy Division. They were from there weren’t they?”
“You know one of my biggest regrets was never seeing Joy Division…”

And so the conversation dissolves into an appreciation of Joy Division! And immediately a challenge crosses my mind. What would the bright and brilliant uke make of a Joy Division song, and would it make you smile?!

Set against the hype, and the false, forced jollity of a commercial Christmas...
As I make my way back to my spot in the corner at the back of the venue I am still trying to get my head round the fact that I ended up talk about Joy Division with a member of a ukulele singer’s backing band! Chalk and cheese, light and dark, now and then – but I guess it proves the old saying, ‘there are only two types of music: good and bad. It’s a simple saying and a simple truth, but one that we learn too late in life I fear. The irony is that although in 1979 I knew who Joy Division were, I didn’t ‘allow myself’ to like them because they were not the type of music I was into. That is why it is such a big regret that I didn’t ever see them live - simply because I wasn’t sufficiently open to the possibility that I could like them. I had a closed mind when it came to music and a musical closed mind is a cardinal sin. How apt the album title: Unknown Pleasures. It’s an album I still listen to, and love, to this day but which remained unknown to me back then.

Having said that, 35 years ago I would never have believed that I would ever go to a ukulele concert, yet alone so enjoy playing the instrument. At least I have now learnt to be open minded when it comes to music (even if an open musical mind can sometimes let you down – I kept my mind open to the possibility that Genesis would produce a good album after Gabriel left!)

Back to Sarah Spade, and the second half is every bit as good as the first. The fun continues, and some of the crowd even find space to dance. This is as far away from a Joy Division gig as I imagine that it is possible to get! I doubt that in 35 years time I’ll be talking to someone who tells me that their greatest regret is not seeing Sarah Spade live but tonight has been an uplifting occasion of great musicianship. Set against the hype, and the false, forced jollity of a commercial Christmas it has been a genuinely happy Christmas gig! Even the very unsubtle innuendo in her obligatory Christmas song raises a genuine smile.

Now home and onto the internet - there has to be a ukulele tab for a Joy Division song…

Gig: 41 of 50
Date of Gig: Sat. 19th December 2015

Green Note

Sarah Spade and the Noisy Boys

Running total of artists seen 87

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