Last night I was sat at the bar after running a particularly spectacular, if a little under supported, alt-rock gig, nursing a whiskey and ginger wine which constituted more than half of my actual profit from the show and an interesting question was put to me. If you often have so little to show for what you do, why bother….. and it made me stop and think. Sometimes you are so absorbed in actually doing a thing, in my case putting gigs on and writing about local music that you don’t actually stop to think about why you do it in the first place.
Before I go any further with this, I just want to point out that I am only one half of the team that put the Songs of Praise shows on and although I am writing this from a personal perspective and don’t want to be seen as putting words into the mouth of my colleague Ed, I’m sure he would answer in a similar fashion. To many, music is just a bit of harmless entertainment, a band to dance too, and chance to have a sound track to your evening whilst you catch up with your mates and go about the all important task of showing each other the contents of your phone and that is fine if that is all you need from it, but for me it is much more. For me it is the soundtrack to my life, certain songs act as time machines to people and places, records themselves are familiar objects, some I even consider friends as they have provided solace within their contents or a cause for celebration, given me reason to think in different ways and on occasion changed my whole outlook on the world around me.
The fact that music has been such a big part of my life either playing it myself or listening to that made by others also means that I am always searching for the next thing that is going to stop me in my tracks. Why be content to only re-engage with the tried and tested when the future potential for new, exciting music is so massive, even more so in this post genre, experimental world we now find ourselves? After all we don’t stop meeting new people or going to new places, so why stop embracing new music?
So why put on live shows when the rewards are often so slight? Well, I guess that depends on how you view the rewards. If you see it only in terms of monetary gain, the bottom line of the balance sheet, then putting on live music often makes little sense and if that is the reason you are involved in promoting at a grassroots level then you are not only in the wrong game, you are in a totally different game from me. It might work if you stick with the core certainties of on-trend bands and those re-selling the past but why work within those limitations? So if it isn’t about money what is it about? Well, everything.
For example on Wednesday I worked with a solo artist who wrapped up stories about the people and places of the part of the world that we are both close too, songs about the land and it’s people, history, heritage, a sort of Wessex version of James Taylor and the conversations we had between the songs made us realise that we were kindred spirits. That is why.
Last night I saw three great bands work their hardest to entertain a small audience, creating unique sounds and filling a venue with energy, colour, sweet noise and potential along the way. That is why.
Before the weekend is out I will have also worked with a two piece retro rock band, re-inventing the songs of the past and re-packaging them for a modern audience and also an intriguing new outfit who blend heavy desert blues with stoner vibes, trippy psychedelia and classic rock brute force which I am getting excited about just describing. That is why.
For me music is as much about the idea and the people as it is the performance, all that creativity and visionary ideas being poured into words and sound and because of that music often still has the same effect on me as it did when I first heard those songs that formed part of my musical education. Okay some gigs won’t help you pay the bills; some won’t even pay for the next round but is that a reason not to put the gig on? If you are in it for money or ego then you will soon move on to other more lucrative pastures and that is probably for the best but why not try to create an event. Make a creative statement about the power of music whether you are witnessing a tsunami of joyful noise crashing through a haze of smoke and stage lights or you are connecting with the heartfelt observations of a guy with an acoustic guitar in the back room of a pub.
Music can be regarded as an industry if you like, if you want to chase non-existent record deals, worry about percentages and margins, Facebook likes and download royalties or you can get back to the heart of it and let the music weave its magic. I never thought that music would make me rich. I never even thought that it could give me a living, but it has done the latter and that has happen through not trying too hard to succeed and not forgetting what it is I love about music in the first place. And if people see me sat at the bar at the end of the night trying to squeeze a round of drinks out of the nights profit and wonder why you would go to all that effort for so little financial reward then the answer is simple.
Why bother? Because it is who I am.