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Posts Tagged ‘Itchy Fingers’

On Sunday evening I did one of my favourite things. I went to a little pub on the outskirts of York, and I played music to a small but very appreciative audience. They were the best kind of audience – the active listening variety – rarely found in most pubs these days, but this was no ordinary event – this was Vale Radio’s FAB Folk and Blues Club.

FAB gig1

The event is young, it started only a couple of months ago, as a result of the radio studio for Vale Radio being too small to accommodate a full band. At best, on a Monday night, the FAB Folk and Blues show might be able to fit a trio into the studio, but that was all. So the idea was born to have a night in a local pub, in the function room, where larger bands could be recorded live for the show.

It was to one such night I found myself invited, and it was marvellous. The pub in question, the Cottage Inn, has a large and acoustically beautiful function room that they kindly allow Vale Radio to have for no charge on a Sunday night. The audience, briefed on what to expect, are quiet, supportive and attentive. In short, it’s the ideal gig environment for folk/blues/country/singer-songwriter artists. In addition to the main attraction (this time it was Itchy Fingers, a 5 piece from Lincolnshire) a variety of local artists are invited to play acoustic short sets of 3-4 songs a piece. There’s also generally a raffle for the prize of a CD or two donated by the artists.

Here’s the thing. The audience was painfully, pitifully small. Will the night survive? This was the third time the event had run (it runs every other week) and yes, it might get bigger, but to survive, it needs to get bigger at a drastically increased pace. The room is free because the pub uses takings on the bar, but if there are fewer punters, there are less takings.

I have found myself pondering this more and more of late. Local live music is such a brilliant thing, so why does it struggle? I have some theories:

Firstly – and I am guilty of this too – musicians rarely go out to watch other musicians perform. We’ll watch people on at the same gig as us (although in some cases even that doesn’t happen, I have seen bands arrive in time for their slot, play and then leave) but rarely do we go out for an evening for someone else’s gig. It’s the old adage about how a carpenter never has shelves. It’s something I’m trying hard to remedy (I plan to be at the Flora Greysteel album launch later this month for example), but it needs to be part of every musician’s schedule. We learn so much from watching others perform. We see what works, what doesn’t work, what makes us respond as members of the audience. So it’s a win-win; supporting local events and musicians while also helping us to develop our own skills. If you are a musician who doesn’t go out to watch others perform, I highly urge you to fix this.

Secondly, people want to hear stuff they know. Pubs will pay an absolute premium for a band to come and do two hours of covers. Show me a pub that’ll pay anyone for two hours of original material and I’ll dig out my collection of rocking-horse poop for you. People coming out for a drink on a Friday or Saturday night tend to have their interests limited to: drinking, talking, trying to pull, singing along with the jukebox/band, more drinking. If this seems jaded, well, I’ve seen it night after night in pubs around York. Yes, there are audiences for good quality live acts doing originals, but there are bigger (and thus more lucrative) audiences for human jukeboxes.

Lastly, for many people, even people who are passionate about live music, sometimes the allure of a night in with Netflix, a duvet, and those famous brothers Ben and Jerry, is just too much to resist. Yes, you could go to see a live act perform, but it’s raining, you have your slippers on and look, the cat has gone to sleep on your knees, so you couldn’t possibly go anywhere just now.

Here’s the thing. Use it or lose it. Live music is good for the soul. It gives you something to talk about (that anecdote about the folk singer who treated us all to a 25 verse epic about a violinist and his sweetheart,and the subsequent death, calamity, fairy infestation, jealous violence, romance etc that went on until the venue owners flashed the lights and cut the power is still going strong in our household…). You may discover an artist whose work really speaks (sings) to you. Your support in turning up to that gig may be the spur that causes the artist to write their next album, or book their next gig. Because let’s face it, we write and perform for you.

This is our life blood. Help us keep live music alive.

Thanks for reading, I’d love your thoughts on this!

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