Week sixteen – House Band

Not every live music experience needs to be in a concert auditorium or a pub venue. This week, I was treated to performances from two very special musicians in a suburban living room.

My dear friend Sophie (once my sworn nemesis – I think I was intimidated by everyone at the age of three) has always been musically talented. She played the violin at school, but on this occasion, after her resurging interest in the piano, I was treated to her twinkling the ivories.

A beautiful, inherited piano now resides in her family living room. Sophie is reminding herself of tunes that she used to play as well as bringing her repertoire more up to date with Rhianna sheet music. The most important thing about the piano is the link between past, present and future. As we talked and she played, Sophie talked with love and admiration about her mum who had the magical ability to play by ear. This is a fantastic skill that most of us can only dream of. She also told me how she’d been trying to teach her seven-year-old daughter Lydia, my God-daughter, how to play. Who knows where her skills will grow to in the future.

The musical genes obviously run in their family as her eleven-year-old son Samuel now took up the musical podium, albeit begrudgingly – he’s not yet reached the confidence to be proud of his skills. He’s been learning guitar at school and along with practising some riffs at home, is now able to play a good tune for everyone’s enjoyment.

I smiled along like a Cheshire cat and clapped enthusiastically like the embarrassing grown up I am as he finished each song. For the little boy I’d seen grow to a young person, to now be playing the music that he likes was a real treat – and a shock that he’s grown up so fast!

I was almost relieved when he started to accompany his mum on the piano with armpit trumpets. Maybe he’s still got some childhood to enjoy. I certainly enjoyed the whole musical ensemble: piano, guitar, armpits and laughter combined.


Week fifteen -Food & Music

Happy belated Record Store Day to everyone!

This week’s post is actually about two of my most favourite things (if I was at all musically-minded, I could rework the Sound of Music classic right about there). Food is good. Music is good. Together, we have a magical, beautiful combination.

Record Store Day, which happened yesterday, is a fun day and a special occasion where musicians release special editions of vinyl for our listening pleasure. It’s also a great opportunity to see live music, especially music that you wouldn’t necessarily choose to go see off your own back.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before Saturday, came Friday. And Friday means Free Music Fridays at The Alex in Southampton. This week’s offerings were a few musicians including Patrick Craig http://www.pcraiguk.com, and Tim OT who I’ve seen play a few times. Special mention to Tim for being the first ‘doubler’ for this year’s Live Music Mission – three and he’ll get a badge. http://www.timot1.bandcamp.com

Tim’s music is an inspiring mix of heart-break, politics and the intensity of life. It’s well worth a listen and he’s definitely worth going to see live. One of my new favourite songs is “Let It Rain” (don’t get confused with the David Duchovny version – who knew?!)

Anyway, you might be wondering when the food side of things is entering this story. Well, I convinced my dear, impressionable friend Jemma to come join me in my quest for live music. I met her from work and she needed food. As The Alex wasn’t serving food, we grabbed a burrito to go and headed back to the corner to enjoy the music. It was actually a really lovely way to hangout Jemma and spend a Friday evening. The band on at that time were performing their own version of “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound gang. Random, I know.

Have you experienced Burrito & Bad Touch? Free Music Fridays definitely bring the unexpected.

Saturday brought another dish to the menu. Record Store Day was all about Pie & Vinyl.

Pie & Vinyl is a record cafe in Southsea. It’s one of my favourite places, not least because they serve cordial out of tea-pots. http://www.pieandvinyl.co.uk

If you haven’t been, you should visit at your nearest opportunity.

Pie & Vinyl were running a market and music celebration down the closed off Castle Road. I dragged my brother down the M27 on the promise of music, pies and cakes (always cakes at a market) to head to the musical mecca.

We browsed the racks of records, we stuffed delicious pies in our faces and stood in the rain to watch random bands play. It was pretty damn fun. We were short on time but we managed to see a few bands. My favourite was a band I’d never heard of before this weekend.

Emptifish. Ring any bells? Me neither. Apparently they started in the 80s as a punk, surf band.

I first clocked one of them carrying the equipment to the stage through the crowd between bands. He was sharply dressed in a black suit, black sunglasses, had a 50s quiff and the fag hanging from the side of his lip never seemed to move despite his physical exertions. He was cool personified (kids, don’t smoke, it’s not cool).

They played some energetic, punk songs with great riffs and the sunglasses stayed on in spite of the onslaught of rain. Yet their demeanour stayed cool and unmoved, even when they did their ZZ Top style synchronised leg dips. I’d never heard of them, but I’d wager they have some influence on the new bands of today; I definitely was reminded of watching Slaves.

With Record Store Day done, I hope that it’s not another year before people make another trip to Pie & Vinyl. I know I’ll be back for my tipple of choice soon. And I know that I’ll be back to The Alex for some more music and food on their Free Music Fridays.

There is no excuse not to get out and support the musicians who travel around the country trying to make a living and flogging their CDs every day of the year. Patrick Craig has a money-box tin with a mouth for the slot saying “Feed me money, get a CD” (was that right? I think you have to say it with a certain rhythm – I forget, I was drunk on burrito and cordial).

Music is for life, not just for Record Store Day.

Week fourteen – Underneath Auspicious Stars

Music is wonderful. Music is magical. Music has that unique ability to stir your heart and uplift you in ways that nothing else comes close to.

However, this emotional manipulation is is a double edged sword. Music can also drive a red-hot poker of pain through that same heart and transport you to times, memories and people that, for whatever reason, bring hidden emotions bubbling to the surface. How certain songs, riffs or even a single note can be so inextricably linked to these emotions is a mystery. Sometimes I have to ban myself from listening to certain music for my own good. And I know that I’m not alone.

This week has released the whole spectrum of musical emotions.

Unbelievably, Friday marked a year since we lost our dear friend Nick. Nick was a muso through and through. And it seems that wherever he hangs out now, he’s still looking after our musical enjoyment. On Friday, some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever seen were playing at a local pub. I’ve spoken about Willie Austen and Paul Stenton before, so I won’t go on about them too much again. Suffice it to say, they give you a god damn good night out, and a better version of ‘Hotel California’, you’d be lucky to find anywhere. (They bloody played it!)

Check them out here: http://www.willieausten.com

and here:

As we listened to this on Friday, we reminisced about Nick, how he had to sit on his hands during the guitar solo and how the fates conspired to bring us together for this occasion on this day. I’m pretty sure Nick was there, quietly air-guitarring away in the corner. Although he probably turned up half an hour later than the rest of us. But I’ll let him off this time.

Saturday brought a new day and a new hope. I was headed up to the big smoke to see a guy I’d heard of last year, JD McPherson. http://www.jdmcpherson.com

This guy’s music had me, hook, line and sinker the first time I heard “Let the Good Times Roll”. I heard it on the radio. That very moment, I remember so clearly. It was like a lightening bolt of discovery. I thought it must’ve been an old song, so I looked it up and then was surprised to find it wasn’t.

I love it when that sort of thing happens. You’re introduced to music through one song and then that one song opens up to a whole world of Rock n Roll goodness as you fall deeper down the rabbit hole. I searched out the rest of his music and loved it.

You MUST listen to at least this one song. Don’t just skip past the link; I promise you it’ll be worth it.


But when I saw him and his amazing band play live, I was taken to a whole new level. Man alive, that’s how you do it. They gave the Electric Ballroom in Camden a master-class in Rock n Roll. From the first note of “Bossy”, it was like I was under a musical spell. I couldn’t stop dancing (apologies to those around me that I probably knocked into, but hey, it was rammed and you couldn’t not dance, right?).

That’s the beauty of live music. That inherent need to share emotions of the moment through the music. For that moment in time, all you need to do is dance or sing along to the double bass (yes, I did that).

I might not have been in the mood to “Let the Good Times Roll” at the start of the weekend, and to be honest, the mood has long since dissipated, but for the duration of that show, I felt the boost of that positive energy.

As he sings, “I drift away, underneath auspicious stars,” you’ve got to believe that the universe has plans and ways. There must be a positive future for us all. Something good is out there, despite us not always being able to see it.

Week thirteen -Listening rather than watching

Sometimes the phrase ‘going to see’ live music is rather misleading. It always troubles me when I say I’m going to ‘see’ a band. Realistically, I’m not actually that bothered what sight reaches my eyes (unless I can travel back in time and appreciate the aesthetic pleasures of 1980s Bruce Springsteen’s arms). Gratuitous picture alert:

In fact, the majority of the shows I go to, I’m not able to see the acts anyway, such is the curse of being slight in stature. Nonetheless, I have grown to be quite adept at peeking through moving gaps in a crowd to catch flashes of a guitar or a brief glimpse of a haircut. I’m quite happy with that; it’s all about the atmosphere and music, man. If I want to watch an act in perfect vision, I can pull up YouTube in the comfort of my own home. Live music is all about the bits that you don’t ‘see’.

This week I didn’t go somewhere with a massive crowd that I had to peek through, but my vision was impaired just as much. A Saturday night at The Platform Tavern in Southampton is always a good place for live music. http://www.platformtavern.com

Saturday evening, my friend Jemma and I wandered in on a random whim. The place was busy and we snuck through to the bar area to order our blackcurrant cordials (yes, that’s how we roll at the weekend). We had no idea who the band playing were, nor did it matter. We knew that we could be assured of some quality music, no matter who was playing.

We found ourselves two tiny stools to perch on set back from the stage. We could hear the wail of the blues harmonica accompanying the requisite guitars, drums and gravelly voice. All was good in the world.

Despite our positioning towards the performance area, we couldn’t see any of the musicians. Occasionally the dancing woman in front would lean towards her partner and I’d catch a glimpse of a blazer-clad body behind the mic stand. But it really didn’t matter. We chatted, we sung along, we tapped our toes. It was familiar, warm and comforting, much like the Platform in general. The ethnic d├ęcor, the red walls, the glowing candles all combine to give me a feeling of being in a warm cocoon. With drink. And blues music.

By the time we swapped our stools for the recently vacated red Chesterfield sofa, the music and atmosphere was starting to hypnotise us. We sunk deeper into the upholstery and could see even less of the musicians. But still, the familiar blues and rock riffs kept coming.

Sometimes, it really doesn’t matter if you can see the music, only that you hear it.

So, this week, I didn’t actually see any music (only when the band passed us on the way to the bar during the break), but I heard some bloody good songs being played by some very talented musicians in a place that has atmosphere seeping out of the walls.

Who did you ‘see’ this week?