60143892_2839638536062648_1394331329868333056_oWe all see those articles about the fate of music venues, about how they are closing down at a speed normally only reserved for Brexit related U-turns, how they are under-supported and under threat from gentrification. As someone who has spent more than 35 years watching live music in such places, it is sad, the music world is changing and perhaps not for the better. Progress and technology are of course the way forward but you have to be aware of the cost, the more aesthetic qualities and more emotive factors that get lost along the way. I’m sure that I will recall the first time I played my older brothers old rock vinyl or first saw The Icicle Works live, for the rest of my life, I expect that the feeling of excitement at downloading Wilco’s All Lives, You Say? single lasted slightly less time than it did perform the action.

What does annoy me is when certain local venues use the same stick to beat the audience. Yes I agree that the whole “use it or lose it” slogan is relevant to even the smallest venues but when your sole contribution to the advancement of creativity is a solo act singing ABBA tunes to a laptop which provides the other 3/4 of the vocals and a 6 piece band…then perhaps their demise can’t come soon enough. In those circumstances, “use it or lose it” seems to be a one way street as far as the furtherance of music, art, creativity and the like is concerned and could easily be replaced by the slogan “help me pay my mortgage.”

It also got me thinking about where the real grassroots lies, where the seeds are being planted that will help ensure a healthy future for the art form which has pretty much defined my life. Not the bit that paid most of the bills, but the point is that things are not always about money. Value and price are not the same thing. Two things happened this week that sort of summed up how things work best at this critical grassroots level.

Firstly m’colleague, Ed Dyer, put a show together at Level III (pictured) which not only brought together a couple of bands who have already provided moments in Songs of Praise’s long and mercurial career. Better still it is on or around Kieran Moore’s birthday. For those of you who don’t know the man, K-dog (he’ll love that) is the man behind Sheer Music and for many of us original promoters the benchmark by which gig arranging should be measured. The fact that this show is seen as a party for a “rival” promoter shows you just how collaborative things can be. A bunch of great acts, the usual suspects…I mean punters and all the right people in the same room at the same time. How great is that?

The other thing that popped up on the radar and made me realise that there is hope for the future was a song…a cover version of one cool artist celebrating the work of another. Hardly radical but it did remind me of a time when I had more energy for making things happen. Between myself and Ed, Songs of Praise had its own little promotional sub-sections, one of mine was a Wednesday acoustic session at The Roaring Donkey in Old Town. Through knowing Gaz Brookfield, I got to know many of the artists that he toured with and so was soon filling the place with the likes of “Gentleman” Nick Parker, Joe McCorriston, John Allen, Jake Martin, Neil Morris and the two chaps in question Ben Sydes (B-Sydes) and Dan O’Dell…aka Heartwork.

As is the way, the impoverished musician and the promotor on a miniscule budget tend to become good friends very quickly, the artists stay at your house normally just happy for a comfortable place to sleep, a shower and a decent breakfast before heading off to play first on a bill of 5 acts at the Flop House in Newport Pagnell and sleeping on the kitchen floor of student digs that make The Young Ones house look palatial. As you sit there over brekkie listening to tour banter, wit and wisdom and knob gags (yes, Neil Morris, that is aimed at you) you forget just how talented a bunch you get to hang about with and that this is where the grassroots really is rather than a jukebox cover band playing nearly passable versions of Mr Brightside to middle age mums in a social club. It’s why original gigs, even if it is a guy strumming a guitar in the corner of a cafe are both so important and so rewarding.

And so just as a reminder to myself that the future isn’t as bleak as I might think when I look out of my window, I’ll leave you with Dan covering Ben and doing a brilliant job of it to. To everyone mentioned in this gentle rant…I’ll see you soon guys.

(please check out any and all of the links in the article, what’s the worst that can happen?)

 

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