Monday, 21 January 2013

This week, Aquatic Ape. Or, is a swimming pool anything like the music business?

   Welcome back Ladies and Gentlemen, to The Honest Music Blog. This week has seen myself temporarily left to my own devices - with Holly away on a no doubt thrill-a-minute trip to Oxford with her day job (that’s right folks, music ain’t paying no bills), I found myself adjusting to life without my partner in crime. And what did I do you ask? Did I trawl the internet making contacts and enquiries about gigs and venues? Did I sit down and work on my modal scales? Did I do anything musical worth mentioning on this blog about music? The answer is: No. I went swimming. Which did in turn lead me to ask myself - is a swimming pool anything like the music business? The answer is: Yes. Yes it is.

   Now bear with me here, because I thought this up while slowly paddling round the deep end. Imagine if you will, a swimming pool. This swimming pool is the music business. Its big, its potentially fatal and full of strange people. Upon arrival, you never really know what you’re going to find. It smells funny and is slightly confusing. It’s not really like anywhere else. Your response to all this? What is the first thing you do? You take off all your clothes. Now, I not saying that being part of the music business requires you to get naked. Maybe it would help, maybe it wouldn’t, but that’s by the by. My point is exposure - is changing into Speedos in front of a room full of people really that different to getting up on a stage and playing a song that you have written? Both open you up for potential criticism or possible admiration (in a weird way), but the fact remains that without this initial vulnerability, nothing would happen. You can’t swim without your Speedos and you can’t play music without people hearing it.

  Anyway, having braved the first stage, you find yourself with two options: sit on the side and watch everyone else having all the fun, or take the chance and chuck yourself in. You may as some people do, dip your toe in to test the water first. What do you always find? Its lukewarm. The water, like public reception, is never quite as hot as you’d hope for. Some people may be put off by this and pack it all in before even really starting. They go and sit next to the vending machine and read Heat magazine. Some people don’t even notice and dive in anyway.
   Now, assume you’ve got this far and find yourself in the water (music business). This is how my train of thought started - my approach to swimming is pretty much like my approach to music - I don’t take it too seriously, I change direction without warning and mostly wish I was a bit better at it than I actually am. I then wondered whether everyone’s swimming style was comparable to people’s musical style? In both instances you meet the same types of people. You have people like myself, changing strokes like I change instruments, going backwards and forwards and sideways, making big noises and little splashes. I’m the musical equivalent of an impressionable youth with a short attention span. There are those who hurl themselves in with an almighty crash and thunder down to the shallow end. These are your Rock’n’Rollers - noisy, hairy, short lived and really only in it for the women. There are those pairs who swim very slowly, holding long conversations between themselves - these are your folk musicians, using far too many words which are only really relevant to themselves and wondering why anyone else bothers to swim any differently. There are those who bring all the swimming paraphernalia - caps, goggles, nose plug, verruca socks - these are of course the prog musicians, never leaving home without far too much kit and taking an age before anything happens. Those who insist on fighting a losing battle with the water - groping their way along with pleading eyes and shocked faces because in truth they’re slowly drowning (those who want to be in it but just aren’t good enough to get by), those women, the pop stars, who enter the water with full make up and a salon styled hairdo are an example of style over substance, those kids who think its all such a laugh until one of them has a asthma attack (read drug overdose). What about the opera stars you ask? Overweight men involved in situations that require them to strain every sinew in effort while everyone else strains to understand what they’re doing? Look around you. Somewhere, there will be an overweight old man using a beach towel to strenuously floss his undercarriage, gleefully unaware that people around him are struggling to hide the horror on their faces. I could go on. And I will. Look at the Life Guards. These are your audience. Are they paying attention? You hope they are, but in truth, they’re not. Unless you do something crazy that is. Or you are so crap at swimming that they are forced to intervene. A musical audience would leave. A Life Guard would dump you on the side, cold and embarrassed. They’re really the same thing.

   On leaving the pool and returning to the changing room, I noticed a genius piece of scrawled graffiti. I once read that the novelist Stephen King writes down all the graffiti he sees, because he says that it is the closest, most concise insight into the human psyche as you can find. I hope for Phil D’s sake that this is not true - ‘Phil D has shitty wort nob’ it read. Poor Phil D. Although, this analogy once again serves to highlight the plight of another swimming pool/music business contender: The Groupie. Stay safe kids, stay safe. You don’t want your dirty laundry (or in Phil’s case, your STD) aired in front of strangers via shower room walls.

   Maybe I was onto something. Maybe a swimming pool is just like the music business. When I eventually left the bath house, I had less money than I went in with, a lingering doubt that I probably could of tried harder, and bad hair. Would you not be in exactly the same state if you gave up music right now? I know I would. And that’s why I’ll keep on trying. Music that is, not swimming. But probably swimming as well. But not simultaneously. That wouldn’t make any sense at all.




Sunday, 13 January 2013

Getting my head round the concept of fandom

Hi folks – Holly here, checking back in on the Honest Music Blog. I hope you all enjoyed Chris’ offering last week, I sure did. He doesn’t let me read these things until he has spent a lot of time poring over them, reading and re-reading, then when I finally get chance to see what he has come up with it always reminds me of how funny, dry and honest he is. Sometimes I think you forget appreciating something when it’s right there with you all the time, so to be reminded of it once in a while is very refreshing. Thanks Chris. You should be a blogger for a living (and still find time to gig with me, of course). 

This leads me nicely into the subject of this week’s blog. We had a rare January gig this week at the Last Drop Inn, York. When Winter is in full flow, I try really not to book too many gigs, partly because there’s often inclement weather conditions which make it difficult for audience or performers to travel there, or everyone’s just too cold, miserable and skint to come out of Christmas hibernation and you’re playing to nobody. However, happily this was not the case this Tuesday evening! We played a couple of 45 minute sets at the Drop, which is a long gig for us but is a good way to air some songs we play less frequently, in a relaxed atmosphere. Imagine our surprise then, when we turned up expecting a fairly quiet night and waiting for us to play were a couple who had travelled all the way from Rutland in the second week of January to come and watch us. Brilliant! 

Picture: Acoustic encore of Toes, 08 January 2013, Last Drop Inn York

Also in attendance were my friends Matt (birthday boy of the night) and Guy, several of their friends too, the two Irish chaps who work in York during the week and always come to see us if they can, two younger chaps in hoodies who correctly guessed the ‘Name The Artist’ game, our housemate James and of course my ever faithful Mum, along with a whole bunch of other people in the pub who had happened on the gig by accident – as well as the super excellent bar staff, who are always so welcoming to us. 

I am not trying to impress you here with how many people we managed to get to our gig. The point is that human beings are wonderfully surprising creatures. The way I approach gigs at our level is to just get there on time, play as best I can and perhaps introduce our music to a few new ears. I’m never expectant of anything coming from the show because I think if you do that, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. And after each one, I am pretty much instantly thinking of the next one, glowing or otherwise from the experience and thirsty for more. But the more gigs we have done, the more people have seen us and somehow felt a connection with us, enough of a connection to create enduring relationships (ideological or otherwise – I do like to chat). For the past few years, we have been gigging, writing, recording, playing everywhere we can, playing for free, playing for charity, emailing the world and his wife to ask for opportunities to perform or for radio airplay or suchlike. This kind of input from our side is not an instantly gratifying pursuit – often we don’t get replies or there aren’t hundreds of people queuing to buy CD’s at the end of a gig. HOWEVER – all that giving from our side is seemingly coming back to shake our hands further down the line. Just when you think that nobody cares, people actually will show up to support you. Those little seeds we have been planting do occasionally flower and have a habit of doing so just at the right time. 

Tuesday evening at the Last Drop was one of those vintage evenings, full of much laughter, lots of songs and, I assume, lovely beer (I was driving, boo hiss). We even got an encore from our gathered audience, my song Toes which we did completely acoustic as we had turned the PA off. There's a pic above of that. Thank you to everyone who was there this week. And really, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has, or ever has had, any interest in us whatsoever. I am sorry if I sometimes forget people’s names and I’m sorry if sometimes I forget where we have met before, but please know that I truly do appreciate having just a few moments of your brainspace and your heartspace, even once a year or less frequently. I hope that the effort that we put into what we do makes your day a bit better or makes you forget your troubles temporarily. I am going to continue to give whatever I can unconditionally to the world, not in the hope that it will pay off for us in the future, just in the hope of making some sort of positive change somewhere, for someone, at some time. But just this week, it has been really good to reflect on the impact that this positive change has had on the people at our gig – enough positive change to bring them to our show. Our fans. FANS!  :)

And as an extra thank you, here is a video of my version of Joni Mitchell’s gorgeous ‘A Case Of You’. It’s a favourite song of mine and a favourite for several people who were there on Tuesday.

Over and out for now,
H x

Sunday, 6 January 2013

‘So long Astoria, I’ve found a map to buried treasure.’

 So, here it is. It seems we’re back. Not that we went away physically, we just lost our virtual way somewhat. But since Holly has reignited The Honesty Blog fire, I’m here to stoke the flames.
  Or actually, I’m not. December and January find us with a self-imposed musical exile, partly because it’s cold, partly because there’s so much chocolate to get through and partly because everyone is skint. This is our time to be merry and jolly, not bellyache about the state of the musical nation. And so, my blog isn’t about music. It’s about Hollywood’s representation of kids in the Eighties.
  While spending the post Christmas Holidays in a sort of calorific stupor, shuffling around the house, gazing out windows and occasionally going into rooms and forgetting what I’d gone in for, I found myself with a kind of mental unrest. I found myself putting rather too much thought into the purchase of a pair of slippers. As much as I appreciate the new level and warmth and comfort engulfing my feet, the depth of thought going into this was leaving me a worrisome nagging in my brain. Is this what I have become?
  Whenever I don’t feel right, I’m a big believer in going with one’s instincts. You know sometimes you get a random craving for a particular foodstuff? I believe your body is in need of a particular thing found in that food, and your brain responds by telling you to eat that food. I’m not talking about constantly stuffing your face with cake and crisps, but say your body is in need of vitamin B6, you may suddenly find yourself wanting a tuna sandwich. You get the idea. I listened to my body and what did it want? 80’s kids films.
  I was born in 1985, so while missing out on most of the classics of the genre at the cinema, I was ideally placed to reap the bountiful supply of these films in the 50p section of the local video shop. They all made sense. I related completely to every aspect of them. Fast forward twenty something years later, and here I was finding myself watching them all over again. They soothed my mind. But why? They mostly follow a similar pattern. Kids (preferably in a gang) are faced with mild peril and respond with adventures. All adults are either evil or dullards, there’s an innocent love interest, and at some point they all ride bikes. Job done. But why was this putting my mind at ease? My best guess is that although as a child I never found pirate treasure, or hacked into military databases with my BBC school computer, or met aliens, I truly believed that I could. What I was missing was that sense of childish imagination. As adults we retain an imagination – imagine a pink elephant, right now. What you see in your mind is an image of an elephant and the colour pink. This is your boring, grown up, logical brain computing what a pink elephant might look like. As a child, your imagination took you so much further. It didn’t just stop at the elephant and the colour. The world seemed like a much more interesting place.
  This was highlighted be the scene in E.T where Elliot is explaining to said alien what the things in his bedroom are. ‘...this is Lando Calrissian, and this is Boba Fett,’ he says, holding up worn action figures, ‘and look, they can have wars you see, Pioww! Pioww!’ Can you imagine what that scene would be like today? Should the child be able to tear its attention from their inexplicable need for a mobile phone, it would be all Ipad this and Hi Def that. Would E.T care anymore, or would he still just want sweets and beer? Is there an app for that?  
   What I realised was that sometimes it’s far too easy to become bogged down in the world of adulthood and it can leave you exasperated.   It’s all pay this and plan that, drive here and work more. Health and Safety legislation forbids it. Your account is overdrawn by...

   Bizarrely, kids today act like little adults, and given that a lot of adults have developed into materialistic simpletons, I wonder if they will ever feel that liberating sense of adventure that used to seem just around every corner. Now everyone knows what is around every corner, because the internet tells them. There’s an app for it, so you can sit on your arse on work’s time and not have to find it for yourself.  

  And so my New Year’s Resolution is to live my life more like my Eighties self and retain a sense that however unlikely something may seem, it just might still be possible.  There is still pirate treasure out there, aliens do exist and while you may not ever have any closer friends than the ones you had when you were young, count yourself lucky that you were there to actually experience it all in the first place. There wasn’t an app for it.
  Now, I’m getting out of this horrible virtual reality and going to ride my B.M.X wildly through a building site.   

Until next time, party on dudes.