Week twenty five – The Young and the Old

I may be a little biased, but Cantell School is an amazing place. I have been lucky enough to work there for a good few years now and it always has something new to offer. We have fantastic staff and even more incredible students. This week was our first ‘Live Music Week’ organised by music teacher extraordinaire Beth Halls and her team. It gave an opportunity for students (and staff) to showcase their musical talents during assemblies, lunch time and in a musical showcase.

It was good to see so many people getting involved in performing. It was, to an extent, even better to see so many people getting involved in enjoying the live music on offer. I can’t ever remember anything like that happening at school when I was a student, so I think our current students are part of a very exciting time.

Like I said, there was great participation. Unfortunately, I was keeping the table-tennis area safe for most of the lunch times, so I didn’t get to see many of the performers. But I could hear a lot of them through the open doors to the hall (and I may have stuck my head in for a sneaky look now and then) and I was pleased to see so many students piling into the hall, crowding around the performance area to see and hear what was happening and to generally be part of the live music experience. Whether they loved it, hated it or took it in their teenage nonchalance, they were part of a movement. And next time we have ‘Live Music Week’, or next time they have the opportunity to go to a show, or next time they have the incline to pick up an instrument, who knows what’ll happen.

For some reason, I’m still not sure why myself, I took the five Year 11 boys I work with down to the music room. They are spending the majority of their time learning English, preparing them for college. They all love music and are keen to talk about music from their countries, so I thought we’d have a practical lesson to let off a little steam. I don’t know if you’ve let five 16-year-old boys play whatever instruments they like in a school music room before, but it gets LOUD. They played everything they could get their hands on. They played everything as loudly as it could go. They played everything over each other. It was chaotic.

A beautiful, enthusiastic chaos. There was no worry that something sounded bad. There was no worry that they didn’t know how to play it. They just gave it a go. Some of them were good at some instruments (I’m sure I heard some notes strung together on the piano and they gave the guitars a good strumming) but generally when they were all playing together, it was a lot of noise.

I didn’t know if I should include this on my Live Music Mission blog, but then I realised that this is the essence of what I was searching for when I started back in January. These guys are the future musicians and the future citizens of the world. I wasn’t watching them like they were putting on a show, but they were having a ball playing their own music.

One of the best moments I saw was when one of the Brazilian boys, who had been showing off his drumming on a broken snare drum (he wasn’t happy with the quality), started teaching an Afghan boy how to play the beat he was playing. The teacher doesn’t speak much English at the moment, but he made himself understood and the student listened and watched as intently as I’ve ever seen him. Two students, from different continents, working together and helping each other. I couldn’t have been prouder of my students and my school.

Friday night, I had a musical experience with a very different life circumstance. My dad is retiring from work at the age of 70 – maybe I shouldn’t tell you that? So he was having a leaving do. We had a few drinks (and a cake – horse shaped) in a pub and then made our way to The Brook to watch the Ultimate Eagles (http://www.ultimateeagles.com/). Dad is a big fan of the Eagles and so was looking forward to seeing this tribute band for the first time (we were all newbies).

In our group, my brother and I were the youngest by a considerable margin. And I’m slightly ashamed to say, but my knowledge of The Eagles isn’t as expansive as maybe it should be, especially considering my dad’s love for them. Nonetheless, I knew many of the songs – in fact, more than I thought I would thanks in no small part to my Radio Two listenership.

In contrast, the others in our party, my dad’s friends and past colleagues, absolutely loved it. I mean, I appreciated the musical craftsmanship in every song, but my dad and co lit up at the start of (almost) every song. They sang, they danced and they clapped along. It’s been a while since I saw my dad singing his heart, apart form in the car, but he did that here. I don’t know if it was the occasion, the drinks or the band, or a combination of everything, but he had a bloody good time.

I looked across the line of people I was with at one point, and once again, my heart swelled. They were, like my students earlier in the day, lost in the music. My dad (he won’t mind me saying this – I hope) wasn’t clapping along in time and none of our group were particularly singing along in tune, but by God, we were all giving it some welly.

Hats off to the Ultimate Eagles for inspiring that in us. I feel we would all be happier if we let ourselves do that sometimes. We all had the enthusiasm of youth at one point. On the verge of his retirement, Dad definitely channelled his Friday night. I think live music has the power to inspire that in all of us.

Week twenty four – Viva Live Music

Drums, drums, drums.

This week, I had a drum heavy day. Which is no bad thing.

Saturday lunchtime, I found a spot along West End High Street to watch the carnival procession. It started with a brass band warming up just across the street from us. Then we were treated to YMCA in brass. It is quite the spectacle.

Then the ever-wonderful Batala Portsmouth http://www.batalaportsmouth.com led the way for the following brightly coloured floats, children carrying sandcastle buckets and adults dressed in many frills and feathers (the theme was Rio carnival – did you guess?).

There’s not much more I can say about Batala. I  Batala.

I was particularly excited for my Dad and my brother James to see them. I’ve been banging on about them for long enough (excuse the pun), and I’d finally dragged them along to experience the music.

Later that evening, my father-daughter bonding continued to a trip to The Brook. Dad is a massive Santana fan and so he got a ticket to see Viva Santana for his birthday. On arrival, it was clear that our drumming for the day was not yet over.

Excuse my novice musical technicalities, but there were at least three types of drum on stage.

  1. A ‘normal’ drum kit. All the usual skins and cymbals in place.
  2. A trio of Latin, hand drums (I believe they’re called congas).
  3. A contraption that was at standing height, made up of two snare drums (I think – to the untrained eye), more cymbals, tambourines laid around and a shitload of cowbells. MORE COWBELL.

Pretty soon, the band came out and took their places at the assembled orchestra. Because an orchestra is a fair comment. There was so much going on and so many sounds being made, you could’ve been mistaken to think that there were many more than just the six people on stage.

Viva Santana are an excellent tribute band and a fantastic band in their own right. Check them out here. http://www.vivasantana.com

They played on and went through the back catalogue of Santana. It was also interesting to see a smattering of magpieing from other sources. There were nods to Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones and even The Black Eyed Peas.

Viva Santana are clearly very talented musicians. I loved the cacophony of drum sounds that took me back to Latin America. It’s not quite the same when you’re dancing in Swaythling, Southampton, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. And the magic of live music is that for a few minutes, it can transport you to wherever you imagine in your mind.

We all need that in our lives. Viva Santana. Viva live music.

Week twenty three – Saw the Duke

Cast your mind back a few weeks to when I missed out on seeing a band called Shoot the Duke (https://www.facebook.com/shoottheduke/) by a mere harmonica’s chord. Just half a Johnny Cash cover was enough to sell me on them and so I resolved to try to see them play in full at the next available opportunity.

Friday evening, they were due to play at The Hobbit, a place I once loved, but have not had the opportunity to visit of late. I seized the chance and gathered a band of willing (ish) participants to come join me.

Before the live music started, we played a game of pool (turns out Jemma and I are both equally “skilled”). The first support act was a guy called Aaron Pearce. He had a very lovely voice, but man alive, his music was on the more sombre end of the musical spectrum. One song was good, two were bearable, but by the time he had completed a whole set of the same style, my Friday evening tiredness was kicking in. Oh yes, remember, it was FRIDAY EVENING. Probably not the best showcase for such music – try a rainy Sunday afternoon in a coffee shop.

Anyway, we were soon in a more upbeat mood when Daniel Eagle (https://www.facebook.com/Daniel.Eagle.Solo.Music/?fref=ts) came on. I’ve seen this guy before at various shows and he has a really powerful voice and great skill for song-writing; his songs tell engaging stories and have something interesting to say – just what I like in the music I listen to. Daniel seems to have a penchant for covers, many of which aren’t your usual supply of Ed Sheeran. He does a great version of ‘Three little birds’ – my abiding memory of Victorious Festival last year was singing along with that in the rain. This time we were treated to him being joined by a young lady with a fantastic voice to cover Estelle’s ‘American Boy’. Amazing.

I was very happy that they’d finished that before the fire alarm went off.

Yes, the fire alarm went off.

Obviously, no one moved to start with – music is more important right? But then common sense prevailed and we trooped outside to muster as required.

It was at this point that I started to think I was indeed destined to forever bypass Shoot the Duke. I refer you again to Week twenty when I was too late to see them. And now the show was stopped before we even got to performance time.

Stood out on the Bevois Valley pavement, with the summer rain beginning to fall, I was about to shake my fists angrily at the sky when I was saved. The strains of harmonica reached my ears, closely followed by the sound of strumming guitar and then the sound of palm on wood. The band were playing an impromptu song underneath the advertising hoarding on the corner of the road. The mustered Hobbit clientèle gathered around and we encouraged the musicians. Well, most of us encouraged. There were the odd dickheads causing issues. Where do these guys come from?

We embraced the random situation and, in true DIY spirit, made the most of it. I couldn’t hear very well, and I couldn’t see anything, but we had a little dance on the rainy pavement. Live music at its most unexpected.

I don’t want to get too hippy-like here as I was very much relieved when we were allowed to re-enter the drinking establishment. Once everyone was back in, Shoot the Duke took their rightful place on the stage, with equipment plugged in and microphones, and so I managed to see them play, finally.

And it was indeed worth waiting for. They are a great band with a very distinct sound. There weren’t many of us left to watch, but the band still put on a good show. It’s impossible not to stomp your foot in time with the music and get wrapped up in the heart-beat of the bluesy energy of the songs. The singer has a painful, raw earnestness to his words and the harmonica only adds to that. I started singing along to the country-style plucking of the duelling guitars which can only be a good thing.

Now we’ve got over our initial teething issues and the universe seems happy to let me watch them now, I think I shall have to get my dancing shoes on again for the next show. Fire alarm permitting.

Week twenty two – Springsteen

So this week was the week I’d been looking forward to for a very long time. Way before I booked my ticket on a whim back in February (if I had to go on my own, I would’ve).

I feel like there’s not much to say about Bruce Springsteen that not already been said. He is a giant in the world of music; he’s not called The Boss for nothing. And I have loved his music for a long time. His live shows are legendary for his showmanship, the musical prowess displayed by the band and the immense back catalogue of songs to choose from. But it was time I experienced it all for myself.

Friday morning, I was ridiculously nervous. My previous night’s sleep had been as interrupted as a child’s slumber on Christmas Eve. Thankfully, my lovely aunty and uncle (big up to Andy and Dave) had allowed me to tag along with their gang, so I didn’t have to go on my own. It was lovely to travel as part of a team up on the motorway. We kept the Starburst flowing, picked our way around the travel hotspots and shared a mostly Bruce-based conversation.

As we arrived at the stadium, my stomach was doing flip-flops and I had a goofy smile plastered over my face. My aunty and uncle’s friend took me under their wing and we headed into the stadium to find a spot. This was not too difficult despite the large crowd – not unsurprisingly, the demographic of Bruce Springsteen fans seems to be pleasingly un-dickhead like. We found a good spot and settled in ready for the appearance of Bruce and The E Street Band.

I could go for hours talking about the hours he played for, but I’ll settle for my top three moments.

  1. First song – “For You” – I didn’t know this song (I know, not a true fan, blah blah blah, but he has A LOT of songs). He walked out on stage in that image we’re all familiar with. I was literally just staring at him, in almost disbelief that I was finally watching him perform. He sat down at the piano and played this song. I, along with most of the 38,000 crowd, couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I could literally listen to this man sing any song and be captivated. Magic.
  2. Working on the Highway – I told the others I was with this story, so apologies to them for the repetition, but it’s true. In my youth, when I took over ownership of the house turntable (I lugged it upstairs to attach to my stereo in my room) my record collection was limited. I had the Grease soundtrack, The Sound of Music soundtrack, a Motown medley album and some Barry Manilow LPs from my mum (still proud of those – love Manilow). One Sunday we went to the carboot sale, as we often did and I saw the “Born in the USA” record. I recognised the cover so I bought it. When I got home, I listened to it over and over again – especially “Working on the Highway”. There was something about the speed of the lyrics and the blue-collar theme that I loved, and I still love. And to see it live and do my well-honed line-dance style shimmy to it was amazing. I was very happy.
  3. Dancing in the Dark – I bloody love this song so much. I always loved it, but it took on a new meaning for me in recent years. I sang every god-damn word to to this and I danced my heart out. As did everyone else around me. Bruce has that power. It was incredible.
  4. Alright, I know I said top three, but I’ve changed my mind – I can’t contain it to three. Four is Thunder Road. Thunder Road is one of the best songs ever. I know that, you know that- everyone knows that. On Friday night, he ended the three and a half hour set with it. A stripped back, acoustic version. Just Bruce, a harmonica and his talking guitar. It was beautiful. Just as those first heart-breaking strains of harmonica tore through the newly dark sky, the big screen camera cut to a tall, balding, bearded man in his fifties in the pit. This man silently wiped away a single tear from his eye. We all feel that man, we all feel it.

What a song, what a night, what a man.