Saturday, 23 May 2015

Musical Chairs

I’d be watching in the wings if the venue had any!
I’m back on familiar ground. A venue I have visited before and a genre I always feel comfortable with. The Green Note is a fantastic little venue in Camden with a capacity of less than 100, a wonderful atmosphere and beer you actually want to drink!

If you haven’t been there yet you need to check the website and choose a gig and go – but go early and get a seat! I arrive with just enough time to make the decision about which beer to have (first!) and then find a place to stand. All the seats are taken and I end up watching from the wings (that is if the venue had wings!) with the headline band.

How refreshing to see the headline act sitting listening to the support act. They are as enthralled as the whole audience is. Hannah Sanders starts the gig with an a cappella song of such strength, beauty and purity that the room is stilled into silence.

She continues through a beautiful set bringing her own haunting interpretation to folk standards with subtle guitar accompaniment and captivating voice.

Musical Chairs
Part way through her set the pregnant lead singer of the The Willows enters and the man sat next to me, who obviously got the last stool, gallantly offers his seat, which she gladly accepts.

Hannah Sander’s set ends and I am offered a stool by The Willow’s violin player as she tunes, which I gladly accept, only to offer it to Hannah Sanders as she comes to watch the headline act, which she gladly accepts!

With the furniture finally arranged I’m left standing once again as the music starts!

At the child’s party, the winner is the one left seated when all others have no chairs. The winners at tonight’s gig are all of us lucky enough to have tickets, whether we are seated or stood. The Willow’s traditional folk sound is quite literally music to the ears - a delicate and delicious mix of individual brilliance and an understanding of how to be part of, not bigger than, the band.

Well-choreographed fight scene
As a band though they are bigger than the stage! As they change instruments between songs it appears a well-choreographed fight scene, as at first there is a parry from the guitar, adeptly avoided by the violin only to cause evasive action from the banjo! And those of us in the wings are not safe from the stray violin bow!

Add into the mix the natural chat in between the songs, which works so well in such an intimate venue, and in what appears to be no time at all we find ourselves at that awkward moment – the ‘last’ song. I know its is not the last song as I can clearly read the set list from my vantage point! The band explain they would normally play this song and leave only to be enticed back by rapturous applause but as the stage is so small they feel it would be embarrassing to try and leave the stage as it would take longer than even the most generous applause! They play the song and finish to rapturous applause staying for the encore. Only to be kept for a second, this time unplanned, encore by even more rapturous applause!

It is one of the great joys of live music – the unplanned encore. In my job, to present only part of my work and wait for affirmation and applause before I finished the job would be ludicrous. The set list that includes an encore is as big a cliché as they come in live music. What that means though is that on the rare occasions you are treated to an unplanned encore it is a special moment.

I will never forget the first time I saw Peter Gabriel back in 1980 at the Manchester Apollo - and leaving as the house lights came up after the encore only to hear from the stairs the first chord of ‘Here comes the flood’. I dived back into the arena to witness a beautiful spontaneous end to the gig!

Upward spiral of folk
It is a great night of folk and a tremendous concert. The proximity of band and audience allows no one to hide. The band can look into your eyes (and not just mine in the wings) and the band can feel the audience’s every breath. The result is that both band and audience have a part to play, and tonight both excelled. 

With each song you sense the upward spiral as the crowd feed on one well-crafted song after another and the band respond to each increase in level of appreciation and applause. The band become more energetic, the audience more animated. These are special evenings, moments of transcendence, spiritual experiences when music is released from capitalism, avarice and greed. Art, free to lift the collective spirit not the corporate’s share price or the individual’s wealth. Tonight does more for anyone’s well being than any wealth creation. Tonight goes beyond the material and touches the places in a person that resonates with life in all its fullness not richness.

And we are all better individuals for it….

Gig: 10 of 50
Date of Gig: Thurs. 21st May 2015

Green Note

Hannah Sanders
The Willows
Running total of artists seen 26

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Hart on the Sleeve Music

Doing your homework in her front room
It's my first time at the Barbican and I am following the painted yellow lines on the walkway to find the entrance to the venue! It’s my second gig in two days and both are at venues I haven’t been to before.  The Barbican seemed a surprising venue to house a Beth Hart gig, but what do I know I’d never been here before but to me it smacks of high-brow music rather than rowdy Californian blues.

As the roadie strums the guitars during the final sound-check, the distorted wall of sound appears an intruder within the Barbican concert hall! But the moment Beth Hart bounces on stage with a giggle and mischievous laugh declaring that she always get’s nervous playing London, the incongruous setting melts away and we are in her front room as she lets us into her life through her music.

There are not many artists who can play large venues and communicate so easily with the gathered crowd.  There are close on 2000 people in the hall but at every moment you think she is talking directly to you and the person next to you. Starting and finishing the set solo at her piano, the candles and carpets add to the sense of intimacy. However, it is the willingness of Hart to wear her feelings on her sleeve and let you into the raw and brutally honest thoughts of her creative mind that produces the real intimacy.

And that voice… the power and control that never deserts her is used to drive home the intensity of each carefully chosen lyric. At times you are unsure if it is the sheer depth of the lyric or the cry in her voice that pierces your heart! Whatever it is - it communicates with you.

And on the first day of the second week God created vinyl not the CD
I had done my homework and listened to the new album which was useful as most of it is played! I had been left a little disappointed with the recording if I am honest. It seemed (as I find with most CD’s now) overproduced to the point of removing the raw, rounding the edges and felling the timbre.

Live is a totally different story. The songs are raucous, edgy, and delivered with a punch that hits home. Whatever you do, don’t judge a book by its cover and an artist by their CD.

The evolution of the CD has a lot to answer for. It has killed album artwork (we will never again have classic, era defining, iconic covers.) It has destroyed the album itself (you could fit approximately 40 minutes of music on a vinyl album an amount of music you can listen to at one go – but now we have to fill up that disk with an extra 30 or 40 minutes of remix rubbish!) It has also desensitized a generation of live music listeners who want a concert just to be a reproduction of the sterile CD! (Don’t even start me on downloads…) But live music, unlike a CD, hasn’t had the energy edited out of the mix or the perfection put back in and isn’t shrink-wrapped for the mass market. It is called live music for a reason – it lives!

She plays piano with dirty fingernails
There is nothing sterile about this gig. Every song scratches beneath the surface of the sheen that most people believe is life – she plays with dirty fingernails!

Life isn’t polished and perfect, it is not dampened down and rerecorded till its absolutely right. It is lived on the edge with light and dark, with errors and brilliance. All are equal parts of what life is. It is in the dark and in the errors - which society may well judge as failure - that we find ourselves, and we find life.

And that is why this gig is such an experience because Beth Hart’s songs are about living – living on the edge with light and dark with errors and brilliance. This gig is full of life; there is an energy about Beth Hart that exudes from every note and emotion of her songs.

Spot the Beth Hart fan
The beauty of a Beth Hart gig comes in the songs that take us on a real journey into what it means to love with an intensity seldom found in mass-produced pop and with an honesty that resonates with your own heart. Her performance embraces the natural rhythm, the natural ebb and flow of our emotions, and is presented to us through the razor sharp focus of bi-polar experience.

Also a spontaneity that reflects life too: at one point a voice in the crowd shouts out for ‘Chocolate Jesus’. Hart responds immediately and starts the intro on her piano. One of her guitarists has to quickly unstrap the guitar he was to play for the song on the set-list and call his roadie to bring a different guitar. At the end of ‘Chocolate Jesus’ his roadie offers him another guitar, he shrugs and looks across to Hart to see what song she was going to suggest next. It’s another cover ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and the roadie leaves the stage to find the appropriate the guitar!

At most concerts the audience tends to be a very small cross-section of society and can be defined by one or two predominant factors! For example, the blues gigs I have blogged about before would have an audience defined as mainly middle aged balding males whose denim jackets used to fit before the onset of the real ale beer belly! The audience at this gig is varied in age, fashion, gender, and social background… there is no defining feature. Which to me speaks volumes – to spot the Beth Hart fan you can’t rely on stereotypes. Her audience is made up of those who know life isn’t one long laborious series of highs as suggested to us in our consumerist postmodern society but is lived as much in the valley as on the mountain tops.

Gig: 9 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 8th May 2015


Miles Graham
Beth Hart

Running total of artists seen 24

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A Different Kind of Gig

Going the extra email
This was always going to be a different kind of gig. There was a time when you were at a gig and you had no idea when the band would be on stage - those were the days of the mad dash from the bar to the stalls as the first chord was struck. Now all you need to do is look carefully behind the bar and you will see a timed running order publised for all to see. The time on stage of support bands and headliners and the curfew! 

However, a personal email a week before the gig to let me know that there was no support and that the gig would start at 7:45 precisely was going the extra mile!

If you have read other posts of this blog you will know that I have moaned about standing in the stalls behind tall people, and being squashed and bounced upon on more than one occassion! That this was going to be a different kind of gig was confirmed as I walked into the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall with its faux leather seats!

And when the concert started it was beyond doubt that this was a very different kind of gig indeed. The band took to the stage and no one raised their camera - in fact it took until the last song of the first set before any camera was raised - although I could not be sure if its owner was taking a photo or just trying to read a text!

As Meklit took the stage she confirmed that this was going to be a different kind of gig kicking off her shoes as if to say, “I'm home, the working day is over, now let's have some fun...”

And fun we had, Meklit lives and breathes her music. From the first note of the first song of the first half it was obvious; the music seeped through every sinew of her body as she danced. I could have watched her all night as every move and subtle gesture of hand, limb and body sang every note with such delight. 

A gig of two halves 
However, this was definitely a gig of two halves. The first set was good, if stuttering at times, only really taking off as Alfred 'Pee Wee' Ellis was invited to join the band for the last song.

After the big intro an old guy wandered on stage and took an age to reach the sax which up to that point had stood tantalisingly unplayed - I did wonder if Meklit should have introduced him before the previous song to allow time for him to take up his position! Pee Wee, one time James Brown's Saxophonist and arranger, may have ambled on but once the sax touched his lips and the song began, gone was the old man and in his place was a musician, rolling back the years as he found the vibe.

As we took our seats after the break it became clear that people around us hadn't returned despite the promise that Pee Wee would be back. Nick Hornby in his book ‘31 Songs’ argues that it was a liberating experience the first time he left a gig part way through, but much as I want to agree with a writer who loves football and music as much as I do, I can't agree that there is ever a time to leave a gig before it ends. 

Tonight was proof. Those who didn't return missed a wonderful second set. The first song with Pee Wee Ellis was full of energy and brilliance which continued right through to the encore.

The band were individually brilliant musicians, her bass player simply superb, the drummer a picture of concentration as he found rhythms only jazz drummers seem to know are there, and the trumpeter who seemed apologetic for her presence for most of the gig except for the wonderful solos! Meklit herself continued to entrance with her movement and voice as she took us on a voyage of musical highlights that kept returning to her Ethiopian jazz roots. 

Only two types of music 
This was a different kind of gig. Well a different kind of gig for me anyway, apart from recitals of jazz standards at Sunday lunch-time sessions in the local I have never been to a Jazz concert before.  This was not a different kind of gig for the majority of people there, they were quite at home and so was I by the end. Because there are only two types of music - Good and Bad! And this was good, this was fantastic, music and a great gig.

To open oneself up to different artists, different genres, different types of gigs, is to move out of your musical comfort zone and into a new experience that enhances your life and deepens your understanding of that thing you love - good music.

Life is too short not to go to a different kind of gig, music is too vast not to go to a different kind of gig and my music snobbery is too constrictive not to go to a different kind of gig!

It felt good to try something different on election night. A few hours later it became obvious that the electorate didn't want a different kind of government - it is going to be a long five years.

(Only 1 photo as I was too embarrased to take anymore as no one else was taking them!)

Gig: 8 of 50
Date of Gig: Thurs. 7th May 2015

Purcell Hall, South Bank Centre


Running total of artists seen 22

Monday, 4 May 2015

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some form a band...

Er… excuse me lads you do know we have a support act to fit on that stage….
The trick with Wille and the Bandits is to make sure you book a solo artist as the support! There may only be three members of the band but once their equipment is set up on stage you struggle to find a spot for another mic stand! Good job that Josh Healey was booked - a singer-songwriter, one man, one guitar, he just about fitted on the stage!

Booking Josh was a good move for another reason too  - his support set was quite simply beautiful. His natural rapport with the audience the perfect segway to his finely crafted acoustic songs, delivered with a purity and control of voice that defy his age.

It all about the sum of the parts….
In my last blog I was extolling the virtue of Dan Patlansky, and I would still urge everyone to catch him live, but tonight was different. Patlansky’s bassist and drummer, while essential to the gig, were only really on stage to showcase the great talent of Patlansky. Matt and Andy are no foil to Wille - they are an integral part of the sound that is Wille and the Bandits. The sound is fuller, more powerful, tonally richer and prone to greater light and dark than Patlansky’s.

The first time I saw this incredible band live I kept finding myself counting the band members on stage, because I just couldn’t believe that this wonderwall of blues-rock that was assaulting my ears was made by only three musicians. 

Watch Matt’s fingers moving quicker than most lead guitarists on his 6 string base, or Andy’s syncopation with one hand and a driving rhythm with the other and you realise this is no average rhythm section!

Add Wille’s husky blues voice, incredible slide guitar, and stunning songwriting and its is no surprise that Wille and the Bandits are far greater than the sum of their exceptional parts.

Mission from God
I’m back up in Cheshire, a flying visit, for another Malt’n’Music night. This is the second time that Wille and the Bandits have played in Moulton. The first was a brilliant night that quite simply blew the village away. It blew the band away too, they were keen to come back - maybe it had something to do with the Bandit Ale at the Lion!

I’ve always wanted an ale named after us’ quipped Wille. ‘It’s the pinnacle of a musician’s career, we can retire now.' Please don’t. There are millions of so-called music lovers who need to be saved from the over-produced mediocrity of commercial music. It’s a mission from God.

There was only one phase on people’s lips. ‘Better than the first’. Hard to believe, but they were tighter, more energetic and powerful than the first time (and Wille was ill). 

Malt’n’Music in every sense 
At previous Malt’n’Music gigs the audience have hung back like worshippers at church, congregating safely close to the exit! Tonight they were drawn forward, the sheer intensity of the music pulling people closer to its source. There was barely room for the Malt’n’Music team to find a path through the crowd to keep Wille plied with cough medicine for the soul (or whiskey to you and me!). The perfect cure for man-flu!

I could have talked all night...  
This truly was Malt’n’Music not just because Single Malt was soothing the vocal chords of the lead singer but once again the community turned out to support live music in the village. What people often don’t realise is that live music is a partnership, a relationship and a dialogue. Too many audiences demand to be entertained without giving anything to the event, to take and only give back once they feel gratified. The Malt’n’Music crowd had always been aware that bands feed off audiences just as much as audiences feed off bands. 

As the set progressed the atmosphere grew and deepened as band and audience, responding to each other, gave their all. The crowd were tremendous singing, dancing, cheering and having a wonderful time. Such a vibe from the audience can’t fail to ascend to the stage and as the band finished the last song, the simply sublime ‘Angel’, the smiles on their faces said it all – Once again we were blown away and once again so were they. No wonder in their latest tour email Wille and the Bandits declared ‘including a long awaited return to some of our favourite venues including:- The Malt 'n' Music Club

Even the vicar wants them to play louder…. 
So just how good are Wille and the Bandits? Go. Go and see them for yourself to find out just how good, but before you get the chance here are a couple of indications from the gig; 

1. As they returned to the stage for the encore Wille announced ‘this is for all the Dire Straits fans in the audience.’ People went wild - that’s how good they are. No-one normally admits to being a Dire Straits fan!

2. After the gig the local vicar, only a few years from retirement, was asked what he thought. ‘Not loud enough’ came his reply - that’s how good they are. Even the vicar wants them to play louder! (I told you they are on a mission from God!)

Life is too short
I had to head straight back down the M6 so was unable to stay for the legionary Malt’n’Music after show party. If last time was anything to go by the Lion would be full, the Bandit beer barrel empty, and the morning very early…

Was I shattered as I crawled into bed? Yes! Did I regret the feeling of being barely alive the next day at work? No! Would I do it again today? Without hesitation! Life is too short not to experience such evenings they are gifts from God.

Gig: 7 of 50
Date of Gig: Sat 2nd May 2015

Village Hall, Moulton

Josh Healey
Wille and the Bandits

Running total of artists seen 21