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.

Week twenty one -Happy festival!

Festival season – the time you can see more live music in one afternoon than you have the chance to for the whole of the winter months. Super-short jean shorts, tie-dye and face-glitter cannisters come out of hibernation. I might not partake in any of these accessories, but I am certainly excited to see the music at a festival.

My festival pre-cursor this week was a return trip to The Grapes to see Joe Wilkinson again playing his beautiful covers and own songs. Jemma and I took our usual seats and we were joined by two other friends (who knew?!). Joe was on his usual flying visit to the UK and the long journey didn’t seem to do him any harm; it was a fantastic set as always.

And then Saturday came. Common People. The second year of this Southampton festival run by the same people as Bestival, and you can tell. It’s beautiful. The decorations look like a colour and shape explosion (in a good way). Even me, as cynical as I am, love seeing the coloured flags flying high in the wind and the sight of a helter skelter lit up is always a thing of joy.

Anyway, onto the serious business of music. I can’t possibly talk in depth about all the acts I saw over the weekend (I like to get my money’s worth). So here’s a whistle-stop tour (in no particular order):

  • The Sea Slugs – An Afrobeat local band. Lots of loud shirts and funky music. A good start to the festival especially as they sated my appetite for sax and cowbell. MORE COWBELL!
  • Vicki Musselwhite – Only caught the end of her, but loved the strong powerful voice. Saw her before solo so it was nice to see her with a band.
  • Lady Leshurr – Very late (traffic – classic). Fantastic energy and fast lyrics. Great to see so many young girls looking to her as a role model and knowing all the words.
  • New Desert Blues – Always love the dark atmospheric music from this band.
  • Sean McGowan – Local hero and stand-up mush. Loved the crowd singing along to the home-town show. Sean always gives it his all and we love him for it. Glad to see he stopped mid-song to tell the idiots having a fight at the back of the tent to sling their hook.
  • Primal Scream – Was quite a way back so the music didn’t have so much impact – ‘Country Girl’ took me back more than ten years to festivals with my band.
  • Mercy – A local musical collective from Southampton supported by the SoCo Music Project. Some of the boys from my school were performing. I was so proud I whooped a lot. They were amazing (but I may be a little biased).
  • Chas & Dave – classic songs and got everyone happy on a Sunday afternoon. Good work.
  • The Cuban Brothers – Classic mayhem and funky dancing (on and off stage – albeit a little less head-spinny our end). It was good to see them again, especially as a friend I was with had never seen them before and had no idea what to expect. Nakedness ensued.
  • Katy B – Watched her as a wing-man. Only knew a few songs but got to bust a few drum n bass moves.
  • Pretty Vicious – Loud and riotous. The mosh pit consisted of teenagers, but they were having the time of their lives.
  • Various artists at The People’s Front Room – An interestingly decorated living room tent (the kitch sofas and chairs literally match those in my mum’s front room) with random performances throughout the days. Saw some jazz, improv, covers and other jams. A warm, welcoming oasis that I kept being pulled back to.

Saturday evening, I eschewed the lure of Craig David and instead headed for the Uncommon Stage. There I got to see Lonely the Brave for the third time. Every time I see them, I love them a little bit more. They are a most intense band. Their music swells and gives you an unsettled feeling in that you feel that there is something bigger. They are what I call a ‘mean something’ band. I love any type of music as long as it means something. You can tell that as they perform their songs they mean every word of what they sing. Even the other musicians in the band sing along despite being nowhere near a microphone. They love what they do and you can feel it in the music.

Watch this and search your memory to find a performer with more fervour.

I particularly liked the way the lead guitarist handled the excited drunken calls from the crowd. We had come to see them, but some people felt compelled to show how they felt about Mr David on the main stage. “Fuck Craig David” the calls keep coming, their hilarity diminishing on repeat. On the third or fourth segway filled with these calls, the lead guitarist dead-panned “I wish I could,” and then struck out into the next song. A class act all round.

The act I saw more than any other this weekend was the Portsmouth Batala band. If you haven’t seen this band, it needs to be on your to-do list immediately. They are a Afro Brazilian Samba Reggae band. And they are incredible. You can watch this video, but it really doesn’t do it justice; you have to experience them live. The energy they have and the excitement they bring to the crowd is palpable.

I find it impossible to watch them without dancing, and seeing as dancing is one of my favourite things in the world, I am very happy whenever they play. I saw them last year at Common People and the experience blew my tiny little mind. Once again, this year their performance was incredible. Especially as the day wore on, the crowds loved their music. People were dancing and feeding off the energy. I love the fact that just some drums can build together to make such a wall of sound. I end up singing the bom-bom of the beat – don’t judge.  But it’s not just because they’re loud (and man, they are loud – especially if you get stood next to the heps), but the beat of the music. It’s like a heart beat that pulses through you. Then there’s the up and down of the rhythm. It eases off and builds until the drums kick in again; it’s like a defibrilator to the chest. I honestly think they should be prescribed on the NHS.

So, you many have gathered, I’m kind of a fan of Batala. Slightly. This may be their first appearance in this blog, but it certainly won’t be the last. Go see them and then we can compare notes.

Week twenty – Midweek Magic

I trust my brother. We have the same music tastes (mostly). When he asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to go see Louis Berry (https://www.facebook.com/louisberry/?fref=ts) at Joiners, I said yes immediately. At that point, I had only heard one of his songs on the Huw Stephens radio show but that was enough. If James liked him and Huw Stephens liked him, I was sure I’d be happy.

So I walked into Joiners on Tuesday night, only having heard one of Louis Berry’s songs.

James and his girlfriend Nat were waiting at the bar for me (with my traditional blackcurrant cordial at the ready). I was late. I had to walk a dog that doesn’t care if I’m on a time schedule – he has a poo only when he feels like it. Damn dog.

James thrust the blackcurrant cordial at me and told me to get into the other room to see the support band. Apparently I’d love them. Which I did. before I saw them, I could hear the aching strains of my beloved harmonica. The harmonica was accompanying a Johnny Cash cover. It was sung in a handsomely husky tone. Once I could see the band, I was treated to a man playing a box. This is one of my favourite things in a band – close to the joy a harmonica brings. The band were called Shoot the Duke (https://www.facebook.com/shoottheduke/)  and despite only hearing half a song, I was sold. (Sidebar – they played again two days later at The Frog and Frigate, but I only found out too late when I was otherwise indisposed – thwarted again! Someone doesn’t want me to see my new favourite band.)

After that tease of music, we finally got to see Louis Berry and his band. Now I’m not just saying this because Louis looks like a very scary man (I wouldn’t want to have an argument with him), but I bloody love this band! Possibly in not the same way as the woman dancing / heckling / propositioning him from the dance floor beneath him. But I love them nonetheless.

From the first note, they set out their stall of frenetic, dirty beat blues, rock n roll. It was impossible to stand still. There was a lot of dancing going on in front of the stage and it was good to see that it wasn’t just pushing / shoving / moshing, but actual dancing. I managed to bust some moves, but my dance space was confined by a wall of people. Who doesn’t love a Tuesday night shimmy?

I was particularly impressed with the band’s bassist. Sure, he wielded that bass like a blues wand, but it was his stage presence that most impressed. It’s traditional for the bassist to be the moodiest band member, but this guy was taking the bass-pout to a whole other level. I doff my hat to you sir.

In spite of only having heard one song before, I enjoyed every live minute they played. Their music is right up my street: big, brash, bluesy anthems you can dance to. A song called ‘Restless’ that started a little slower was absolutely beautiful. It built up into the chorus like a rousing wall of music.

This midweek trip to my favourite place (Joiners – http://www.joinerslive.co.uk) has brought me two of my new favourite live acts. I’m rapidly running out of room on the dream festival line-up in my head. I can’t wait to see Louis Berry and Shoot the Duke again.



Week nineteen -Spring is in the air

A thought popped into my head earlier in the year that this whole challenge will probably get easier as the warmer weather arrives: more festivals, more random performances and my friends generally come out of hibernation.

And it is looking so. But despite not going to any outdoor shows this week, a random performance came my way unexpectedly.

On arrival in assembly Tuesday morning, a group of five Year 7 girls stood up in front of everyone to sing a beautiful version of “Falling Slowly” from “Once”. This is one of my favourite films, musicals and songs, so I was very happy. The girls looked incredibly nervous to start but eased into it. And credit to the rest of the House Group at school who watched with great respect and quiet. They were singing to promote Live Music Week at school in a few weeks. I hope that their performance has inspired other students to showcase their musical talents.

A little later this week, I saw two performances very different to that assembly act. My brother James, his friend Mike and I headed to Lennon’s to see Spring King. I’d heard a lot about them and knew some of the songs I’d heard on the radio and was very excited to see them live.

Unfortunately, we missed the first support act (as I’ve said before, always go see support acts if you can – you never know when you might find your next favourite band) but the second one was a treat. They were called Get Inuit. (https://www.facebook.com/GetInuit) I’d heard them before on the radio and seen their name on various festival line ups. I remembered them because of their name – who doesn’t love a play on words? Painfully under-represented in the music industry I feel.

Get Inuit turned out to be good at music as well as puns. Fun, chirpy songs that you could tap along to – just what you want in a support band. I also liked the cut of the lead singer’s jib. He spoke to the crowd in a way that I always want lead singers to do. No overly pretentious, self-important drama. He introduced a new song and then added the aside that to most of us, they’re all new anyway. THAT IS THE EXACT COMMENT THAT IS IN MY INTERNAL MONOLOGUE IN THESE SITUATIONS. Thank God someone speaks the truth.

They were a little odd. But I liked them. They sounded like a band you’d see playing at The Bronze or The Bait Shop (*turn of the millennium pop culture klaxon alert ). And that’s no bad thing.

Then Spring King came on. (https://www.facebook.com/springkingmusic/?fref=ts)

They are very loud and very energetic. I hadn’t realised that the lead singer was also the drummer so I spent most of the first song stretching on tiptoes to see where the lead singer was. Yes, I’m short, but usually I can see something of the singer – I knew something was different.

Their songs are incredibly catchy and they look like they’re having a ball – a feeling that’s mirrored by the crowd. A tall, bald man in front of me didn’t stop po-going. I admire his stamina. We all go hot and sweaty, we all sang along and we all had bloody good time.

Spring King are a fantastic live act. That is what this whole challenge is about. I knew of them but only really knew two of their songs. But seeing them live gives you a different, enhanced experience. My favourite – Rectifier – was immense. A brutal, angsty anthem that had everyone dancing (or po-going). But all the songs were performed with such verve that I felt like I knew them all, just like most of the people jumping around at the front seemed to. That’s the power of the small, sweaty club night.

Spring is definitely here. I hope that the good weather brings more music opportunities, and I also hope it brings me back to see Spring King again, maybe at a festival over the summer. Roll on the sunshine and bass lines.

Week eighteen – Name That Tune

Southampton City Centre.

A hazy, sunny Sunday morning.

The heat of the day is increasing with every passing moment.

Everyone is milling about with the excitement of the burgeoning Spring opportunities.

What could make a day like this better?

Why, a brass band of course!

For some reason, a brass band made up of a whole variety of people, old and young, were entertaining the shoppers in the precinct. It’s not usually my music of choice, but on this occasion, it was a blissfully cheerful treat.

The upbeat tempo, the twirling sticks, the shiny brass. Maybe I was drunk on the rare sunshine, or maybe it was just too early for me to fully comprehend what was going on, but I did a little shimmy dance and starting singing along to the brass band version of ‘Rhythm of the Night’. Yes, really.

Although I can’t take any credit for working out what songs they were playing. I thought brass bands played generic brass band songs. Turns out, I was wrong. This brass band played a whole catalogue of modern, pop songs. There was Coldplay, Maroon Five (still shit in brass band form) and even the Frozen soundtrack. Like I said though, I could vaguely recognise the tune, but I couldn’t work out what the actual song was.

This led me to discover that my friend Sophie (previously seen in Week Sixteen) has the much underrated superpower of being able to recognise a song at ten paces. It really is uncanny. A few drums, a few brass instruments and a pair of cymbals and she’s singing along. Whilst I was straining to catch hold of a melody, she was getting ready to join in the chorus.

I know who I want to be paired with when we get invited to appear on ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’. Phil Jupitus will be mightily impressed.

This whole surreal Sunday morning experience goes to show that live music, in whatever form, seriously improves your day, your mood and your life in general. The little girl at the front with the cymbals was complaining during a brief break about the heat, but I’m sure along with the rest of the band, she brought a smile to many people walking through the precinct.

I’m not so sure that the people in the shops directly next to the performance area were quite so happy when they’d been treated to ‘Wipeout’ in brass form for the fourth time. But I suppose you can’t please everyone.


Week seventeen – Looper

Last October, my friend Jemma booked someone to play guitar at her birthday party. He’d been recommended by a friend of hers, but I’d never heard of him.

He turned out to be a very talented young man by the name of Joe Wilkinson. Joe has a great voice, plays the guitar (both strings and body) to great effect and has a particular talent for using the loop pedal. He played mostly covers at the party and entertained everyone. It always sounded like more than just a guy and a guitar because he looped various guitar parts and vocals to build up and create a rich, wall of sound for the songs. Many of the covers were versions of well-loved (and some hated, on my part) songs that now sounded like completely new entities.

I was a very happy party-goer.

Later in the year, Jemma had heard that Joe was playing somewhere else in Southampton, so we headed along to check out his music again – mostly for Jemma’s benefit as all the excitement and cake of her party had left her with a mild case of selective amnesia. Again, he worked that loop pedal like a musical magician. He also dealt with a random drunk guy dancing provocatively in front of him and trying to grab the spare mic like a karaoke night.

It’s worth mentioning here that Joe seems like the nicest, politest musician you might ever meet. He’s clearly been brought up with good manners and speaks very gently with respect. Therefore, he dealt with his newest super-fan much more graciously than I would expect anyone to. Joe even indulged this man’s requests by playing a snippet of “I’ve Got a Brand New Combine-harvester” to keep the drunk locals happy.

This week, Jemma and I made our way to The Grapes for a random music treat. It was our third time to hear Joe Wilkinson, and I enjoyed it very much. We had to wait for the footabll to finish, but it was definitely worth the wait. Check out his music here:

One of my particular favourites is his version of “Dakota” by the Stereophonics. I loved that song so much when it came out and this version is possibly even better; it has a real urgency and the build up of sound courtesy of the loop pedal is beautiful. Joint favourite would have to be his version of “Layla” that’s interspersed with a whole variety of other songs. As Jemma and I said: who doesn’t love a mash-up?

Oh man, I’ve even forgotten his version of “No Diggity”. Just go see him yourself to see them all in action. Check out where he’s playing on Facebook:


Joe also plays a lot of his own music. It’s atmospheric, guitar-based songs with raspy, earnest vocals. I could’ve listened to him all night. Jemma and I settled ourselves into comfy chairs, had enough Salt n Vinegar crisps to keep up going and soaked up the fantastic music. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

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.