Sunday, 21 December 2014

What did you do last night? Why live music is important

I decided to dig out my old band scrapbook, first started in 1979 to track the rise to fame and international stardom of my band the False Dots. There are dozens of old newspaper clippings friom the late 1970's and early 1980's detailing our trip to nowhere, via various London clubs, Sweden, Finland and Belgium. At some point in the very early days in 1980, I left a comment in the book

"What a joke, nine line ups and one gig. An exercise in obnoxiousness, lousy music and general suburban decay!"

It rather made me laugh. Maybe Brian Coleman had secretly gotten access to my scrapbook (not that I knew he existed in 1980). That has always been the pattern of the False Dots. Over the years we've had 37 different recorded members. The nationalities are quite interesting, British, Irish, Welsh, Nigerian/Jewish, Jamaican, Portuguese, Sudanese, New Zealand, Swiss and Slovakian. Strangely after my rather disgruntled comment in 1980, things improved. The gigs are now numbered in the hundreds. This has been a quiet year, with only one, last night at the Midland Hotel in Hendon, wiith our "Heritage" line up from 1985 (as best we can make it as both bass players from that particular year have sadly passed away).

Our first venture into the local press was on Thurs Jan 8th 1981.We'd done a gig at the Harwood Hall in Mill Hill in December, an Xmas gig.  It had been relatively successful and we got the press down to cover it. I'd asked for other local bands to get in touch, which they did in large numbers. We ended up putting on two more, one of which is immortalised in this video (from the days when bands didn't make videos) by The Vektors, a band from Edgware School (now the London Academy).

You'll notice a large Mill Hill CND banner behind the band as they blast out "Sound of the Suburbs". This series of gigs were the first I ever organised. In truth the band could hardly play and I had't got a clue about promoting gigs. I just hired Harwood Hall for a tenner, got a couple of mates to do the door and invited a few bands to come down and play. We didn't even have a proper PA, we simply used what we had and shared gear. I've always been keen on the idea of using music to promote good causes, so we worked with local groups such as CND and Friends of the Earth to give the gigs some sort of reason and theme.

Whilst music has always been the number one thing in my life, I've always been keenly aware of how you can use it to raise peoples awareness of issues and also as a fundraising tool for good causes. Since I started writing this blog, I have become far more aware of the way the mind of the political class works. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that many people who get involved in politics are simply rather strange people who think they are a bit brighter than the rest of us and have a God given right to tell us what to do. I have the opposite view. I think no one has a right to impose their will on another human being. Laws should be passed because there is a consensus that people think a particular behaviour is abhorrent or it can be shown to be detrimental to the good of society.

In my experience, when you play music, it breaks down barriers. From what I've seen of the political classes, this is the last thing they want to happen. They quite like things just the way they are. Great Britain leads the world in the field of music. Our musicians and song writers are the most inventive and inspiring, our music scene is the most innovative. You would think that a government which had a brain would recognise this fact and do everything they could to protect the industry. Sadly you'd be wrong. Live music is under attack. Is this just because the powers that be are so stuck in their ivory towers that they don't know that big artists start as players on a local circuit? Or is it because they don't like the fact that music lets people like me reach an audience? When people get together they talk. When they talk, they exchange ideas. When they exchange ideas they get better ideas.

I've come to realise that  Social media is not the same. When we meet, we talk and exchange ideas. On social media we simply shout at each other with fingers in our ears. Last night I helped organise a gig at the Midland Hotel in Hendon. 35 years after that first Xmas gig at the Harwood Hall, we are still here. I caught up with many friends old and new. We finished our set with a song I wrote in 1981, at the time of the Falklands War. Allen Ashley, who sings with me (Allen is a well known author and poet to boot) always says the song is more about the first world war. Over the years dozens of people have asked me what it is about and why I wrote it.

Action Shock

Distant Hearts, will scream tonight 
They know their loved one, is going to die
A red stain on a battlefield, a drained body with a soul to yeild

Life, Mines not for sale
Death an unmarked grave

Spend your life on a piece of land
But you are far cheaper do yu understand
Bullets cost money people cost food
Thats the theory so what are you

Life Mines not for Sale
Death an unmarked Grave

 One time fun time come on son,
Forget "Peace man" and grab a gun
Annihalate another man, 
It's easy son, you know you can

Life Mines not for Sale
Death an unmarked Grave

Distant hearts, wont scream tonight 
Face to face, you and I
One of us will not survive
Please not me I love my life

Life, mines not for sale
Death an unmarked grave
Its my life, you just can't fail
tts my death, I'm not your Slave

It is a song that always makes an impression. It is hard to ignore. It has a catchy riff and a strong Chorus. It is just a song, but it does make people think. All over the UK there are people playing music, writing songs, saying things to an audience. We go, we play music, we chat to friends. Some of us write songs about love, some of write songs about injustice, some of us just write instrumental tracks. I've done all in my time.  People don't go to gigs for lectures, they go to have fun and listen to music. We as musicians write songs because we want to convey an emotion. Those of us who acheive commercial success connect with millions of people, but those of us like me who play to a hundred or so people have a smaller audience, but I believe our role is just as important to the UK music scene.. The reason is because without a healthy local music scene, the vine will wither. At present the music industry seems happy to take the easy path, They simply want people regurgitating other peoples songs, seeking the lowest common denominator, stifling creativity. The X Factor mindset says that you can short circuit the whole thing by going on a talent show.

I believe that this rotten stage in the cycle is coming to an end. Last night the pub was packed and there was some excellent music played. You may wonder why I bother reproducing the lyrics of a song you've probably never heard that was written 33 years ago?  The reason is because I want tyou to know I am passionate about my music and it is not something I just do simpy because there is nothing on telly. Every song I've written I've put a bit of my heart and soul in.

When I write songs, I try and tell a story and convey an emotion. When I play live, I try and connect with the audience. I think I do most of the time. I love playing live and it seems to me that the audience generally enjoy it as well. But it goes deeper, I also enjoy playing with other bands and seeing and listening to what other musicians are doing as well.

All in all, what I am trying to say, is that we should treasure our local music scene, support our venues, watch our friends when they play and ensure that we make sure that we protect this gem at the heart of our cultural heritage. 

Lets all work together to make 2015 a great year for live music. This can only happen if we all work together as a community of music makers. Here are five ways you can make it happen. Please share on your timeline.
1. Go to a local live gig featuring musicians you dont know. Spend money at the bar. Venues need support.
2. Set yourself a new years resolution to see a band you love but you've not seen live in 2015.
3. Support your local music festivals. Go to the gigs and tell your friends.
4. If you see a great artist or band, make sure you mention it on Facebook.
5.If you have friends who play in a band, go and watch them play and get a few friends to go to make a proper night out of it.

If we all commit to do this, then 2015 could be the start of a new golden age of live music. Venues are struggling everywhere. Use it or lose it!

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