Week Four – The Future

So, this week is Independent Venue Week. A week long celebration of the smaller, independent music venues that are so integral to keeping the music scene alive across the country. These places give new bands the chance to hone their skills and give us music fans a place to go that we can call our own. The people that own, run and work in these venues work tirelessly to keep these wonderful places afloat.

It would seem appropriate that I would go to one of these small venues this week. There are several in the vicinity of Southampton and there were several special events on the calendar. However, my calendar was also busy and so it turned out that I couldn’t make it to one of these venues this week.

I was sad not to be a part of such an important celebration and show of solidarity, but in a way, I went to an independent venue that’s doing its best to nurture the musicians of tomorrow in its actions every day: Cantell School.

The students and staff had been working hard for five months and this was show week. We were finally going to see the finished production of ‘Bugsy Malone’. I might be slightly biased as Cantell is my school and I will always be Cantell and proud – as the hash-tag goes – but it was a fantastic show brought to life by some very talented students.

You can see some of the photos from the show here: http://www.cantell.co.uk/bugsy-malone-2016/21847.html

All of the cast sang and put their best effort in. One student in particular sung like a West End star, with no microphone, words filled with emotion and brought the school hall to a standstill. It was magical.

I was also proud to see six students from the whole range of year groups providing the musical accompaniment. There were strings, woodwind, brass and drums. These guys worked so hard and had such a good time; it’s these early experiences of musical success that will drive them to continue, and who knows what they’ll achieve in the future. I asked one of my tutees how the show went on Wednesday, the second night, and she replied, “Good, and better than yesterday.”

We talk a lot about growth mindset, and what we can achieve with effort, and I was so proud to hear her say that. Her confidence was growing with every performance.

One of my favourite moments was at the start of the second half. The orchestra was starting up, but the young lad who played the drums wasn’t at his stool. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him hare it through the crowds, plonk himself on the seat and within about five seconds, begin the beat needed for the song. He looked a little flustered and his tie was askew, but he made it just in the nick of time and did it with that offhand yet poised aplomb that I see every week at The Joiners. These students are the future rock stars.

I don’t need a specific week to spur me on to visit an independent music venue. I go regularly to support my local (and not so local) independent music venues. But this week I had to forgo taking part in IVW to see some very special stars. I can’t remember the last time my chest swelled with pride when I went to see an Indie band or a blues singer. But that’s exactly what happened this week as I sat in my school hall surrounded by students who worked so earnestly and wholeheartedly to put on a great show.

I also can’t remember the last time I got splurged by a custard-pie gun at a gig. Maybe that’s what’s missing from live music venues. A bit of silly-string enhances any experience surely?


Week Three – Let It Be

So there’s these four guys. They play guitar and drums and they sing a bit. They’re enthusiastic enough, but time will tell if they can make anything of themselves.

You probably haven’t heard of them; they’re a little known pop combo with a few catchy songs. What was their name? Oh, I think it was The Beatles. Ring any bells?

…Fair enough, I didn’t get to see The Beatles for real, but Tuesday night at The Mayflower theatre in Southampton, I think I experienced something close enough.

To be honest, I’ve never really classed myself as a big Beatles fan. They’ve always just been there. My mum absolutely adores them, so I suppose in a way, as a teenager, I felt I couldn’t possibly love them as well. I had nothing against them, but there was no love there for me.

My beautiful cousin Rachel organised a family outing as a present. Rachel, Karen and myself braved the freezing winter weather to make our way to see the show “Let It Be” (on at The Mayflower theatre until Saturday 23rd January (https://www.mayflower.org.uk/Whats_on/LetItBe2016) . I turned up excited, as always, to see my lovely cousins and to have a nice night out. I knew that it was a celebration of Beatles music and that it’d been on at the West End, so I presumed it was going to be good.

It was very good.

It was like going back in a time machine to see the hits performed as they would’ve been throughout various points in the history of The Beatles. The music was accompanied by news reel, adverts, costumes and crowd shots all to encapsulate the atmosphere of the time.

And the music was fantastic. The guys playing the band were brilliant musicians and seemed to be having a blast with every note they played. I particularly loved the talent poured into ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Now, I know it sounds ridiculous to say because they are The Beatles, but they had some bloody good songs right?

And I’ve just realised that even though I didn’t think I loved The Beatles, in fact, their constant presence in my life means that their songs are linked to my memories and as such, I love the magic their music invokes for me.

Here’s just a selection of memories:

I want to hold your hand – The song my mum used to sing to her baby brother, my uncle. Although I wasn’t there to witness this, the song conjures wonderful images in my mind.

Yellow Submarine – Playing my yellow (obviously) cassette on my chunky, brown Fisher Price cassette player and singing along at the top of my voice to words I didn’t really understand.

Penny Lane – Finding a completely bashed up, dirtied, un-sleeved single of this and Strawberry Fields (which I wasn’t so keen on), at the car boot sale and coming home to clean it up and then play it one Sunday afternoon when I had just discovered records.

Twist and Shout – Singing and dancing with my cousins, brother, parents and aunty and uncle at various holiday clubhouses in Devon and Cornwall in our youth.

Hey Jude – The last song played at two of my best friends’ wedding reception. The song that seemed to go on forever and nobody wanted the song, or indeed the moment, to end.

But as always, the good moments have to come to an end. I certainly enjoyed the evening, and it seemed like everyone else who was up on their feet dancing did too. I, for one, was glad when we were encouraged to get up out of our seats. You can’t listen to music like that sat down. And as we were up the back in the cheap seats, and having no jewellery to rattle, we clapped along with ardent glee.


Week Two -Four Chords and the Truth

Well, I almost fell at the second hurdle this week.

My mission is to see some form of live music every week. This week, I was busy and as such it was a struggle to fit in a performance. But I had planned to make the journey up to Newbury on Friday to see the ever-wonderful Gaz Brookfield: http://www.gazbrookfield.com

I stumbled across Gaz several years ago supporting Frank Turner, so I knew he was going to be good. He’s a solo-acoustic guy (self-proclaimed via his latest album) and has a wide variety of songs on the whole spectrum of subjects. They range from the frivolous – an ode to a lost pub, a love letter to his touring van and a declaration of all that is good about maps – to the more sensitive – the strength drawn from the pain of bullying, the patronising statements made by the government and the ongoing darkness that hovers over all of us. (Sidebar – the slower version of ‘Black Dog Day’ he did was incredible: painfully true yet reassuring.)

Anyway, my point is that I had this planned. I had even convinced two friends to come along to the fantastic pub, The Monument, in Newbury. But as tends to happen, my plans fell through. For reasons beyond everyone’s control, my two companions couldn’t make it.

I had two choices: concede that it was a cold night anyway and not bother going, instead staying in the warm and having an early night, or going anyway on my own.

In the week that we lost David Bowie, I read a lot about the great man. Many people shared their barometer of the best course of action to take. When making a decision, they ask themselves: “What would David Bowie do?”

I asked myself this very question.

The answer I gave was that he would probably have imbibed a cocktail of drink and drugs and then proceeded to create and charm at will. Well, I didn’t think I was quite up to that, so instead, I opted for the second best option which was to drive up the A34 to Berkshire and treat myself to an orange juice. So that’s what I did.

And I was bloody glad that I did.

The Monument is a fantastic venue and is filled with lovely people. And no one cares if you’re on your own. I certainly didn’t. I was too busy listening to some fantastic music and singing along to some of my favourite songs.

And I uncovered a new, sparkling musical gem in the form of Nick Parker (metaphorically speaking if that’s OK Nick?) http://www.nick-parker.co.uk

This guy is touring with Gaz and has some some incredible, funny, poetic lyrics. And he has a new song that picks up the placard of protest against bad grammar. This is a good thing in the world.

So, as I was sat there on my own, I actually felt pretty damn happy that I’d braved the January cold and made the effort to come out to support Neil at The Monument, Nick and Gaz. This is what this whole mission is about. It’s about not sitting at home and actually getting to take part in the life that is happening every second of every day.

I think one of Gaz’s songs can get this sentiment across much better than I can. That’s the beauty of live music…


Week One – January Blues

The first week of January is always a tough one. What better way to get through it than by embracing the Blues wholeheartedly?

Not all blues are bad; sometimes the blues can be cathartic and uplifting and that was just what I was looking for on a bitterly cold Thursday night this week.

My Dad and I were planning on meeting up for the first time in the new year. I suggested that we headed to The Platform Tavern as they had a live show from an American Blues / Country / Roots / Jazz / Bloody good singer named Jim Almand.

I picked my Dad up and he had his blue suede shoes on, so I knew he was looking forward to our outing. I love The Platform Tavern. It’s a small, warm and cosy bolt hole in which to escape from the world. It’s an assault on the senses as you walk in; the lighting is low, candles and a fire are burning, music drifts through the air and everywhere you look there is stuff. There are pictures, posters and wall-hangings adorning every inch of spare wall and odds and ends are strategically placed to make the place feel like a lived-in, much-loved home. I think one of the reasons that I love it so much is that it takes me back to being in my Nan and Granddad’s living room. That’s not to say their house looked exactly like that, it’s more that The Platform recalls the atmosphere of their busy homestead.

If you haven’t been to The Platform, I suggest that you plan your visit now: http://www.platformtavern.com

When we arrived, it was quite busy and seats were limited. There were some spare ones sharing a table with two gents so we approached and asked if we may use the space. Of course the other patrons were more than happy to share the table; it’s that sort of pub.

We chatted and then Jim started playing. I knew immediately that this was the type of music both Dad and I would love. Jim’s deep, soulful, voice filled the air as he walked his fingers up and down that six-string like he was playing just for fun. Then the ‘Louisiana squeeze-box’, as Jim called it, came into play. Man, I love a harmonica and Jim had handfuls of theĀ things ready to switch up between songs. A harmonica can tear at the heartstrings that you didn’t even know you had.

Pretty soon Jim was joined by a buddy called Randy who played the mandolin like a demon. Together, they played for over two hours, running through a back catalogue of Jim’s own songs and covers of more familiar songs with a Blues / Americana twist. It was a fantastic evening of the highest quality music. They made everything look easy and they seemed to be having a ball the whole time. And I know we certainly were.

You should check out Jim here: http://www.jimalmand.com

Just before the end, another guy, a huge mountain of a man who’s a regular at The Platform and sings occasionally, joined them for some songs. He was given one of the many harmonicas and proceeded to accompany the guitar and mandolin with some of the finest, wailing harmonica I’ve heard in a long time. You could hear the emotion and the pain in every note. You would never guess that they had only just met.

I love the fact that this sort of thing happens at The Platform. You never know what music you’re going to get or who you’re going to see play there. But you do know that whoever it is that plays live music, they’re going to be a quality performer and you’ll leave in a better mood than when you arrived.

And isn’t that what we all need for the January Blues?