What is live music for?

Isn’t music a strange thing? All human emotion can be portrayed through it, whether it be a couple of notes or a whole passage, sometimes subtly and sometimes with great force. We’re exposed to that range from a very early age: think about cartoons and animated movies. I find it quite strange that though our early exposure is mostly to the instruments found in an orchestra, whether singly or en masse, for the most part we “grow out of” liking “classical” music and instead largely turn to more modern or contemporary genres. Do we ever recapture the joys of when a piccolo was used to indicate that the mouse has appeared in a cartoon, or the tuba whenever Reggie Perrin’s mother in law (younger readers may need to look this up!) is mentioned?

Movies are often successful in large parts due to their soundtracks. Just think of Jaws, Star Wars, Titanic, Pulp Fiction etc – just the mention of those makes you think of the music (and am I the only one who starts whistling The Great Escape only to end up with Indiana Jones?) Soundtracks can change your perception of the movie, but also change you for life. Imagine my surprise when, having existed almost entirely on punk and goth for years, I watched The Blues Brothers and was compelled to go out and buy blues and soul by all the artists in the film. It’s still my favourite movie ever.

My own musical journey is, I think, quite odd. When I was growing up, the radio was rarely on, and my parents didn’t have a collection of records, cassettes or 8-track cartridges (it’s Google time again youngsters 😀). But nearly every week, I would eagerly sit down to watch Top of the Pops and, later, The Tube. I’ve no idea why music had the effect it did, but I’m very happy that was the case. I didn’t often listen to Radio 1, so I wasn’t really exposed to what the youth of the day was listening to – TotP hardly covered it, did it? One of my earliest memories is of seeing Chuck Berry perform (the soon to be banned) “My Ding-a-Ling” on TotP.  I got into trouble for singing “Crazy Horses” at school (I know, The Osmonds – what was I thinking? But saying that, I so want to cover that in a band some day!) and my first favourite band was The Sweet. Cue Eurovision and Abba came along – I was hooked. I won’t say much more, other than “Arrival” was the first album I ever owned (hopefully redemption can be found in the fact that the first record I ever bought was “Funky Gibbon” by The Goodies) and a few years later salvation appeared in shape of punk rock.

I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of The Clash – sacrilege to some, I know – and I’m not sure why. The lyrics were awesome, bass lines were brilliant, but there was just something I couldn’t quite get. In comparison, I thought the Sex Pistols were brash, but seemed to keep things on a more simple level. The whole movement was antiestablishment, in your face, and shocking, but if you listen to the music now? Straightforward rock with attitude, no messing about. I still love listening to the Pistols today.

Out of this new found music style, there was a new experience to be had – going to see live bands. And I have to say, that sealed music into me. Seeing people who were passionate about what they had to say, who enjoyed what they were doing, entertaining others and mixing with other people who were like me, fans – what’s not to like?  The first band I saw was the UK Subs at Carlisle Market Hall when I was 14, followed soon after at the same venue by Stiff Little Fingers, who promptly established themselves forever more as my favourite band ever.

At about the same age, the inevitable happened – I had to become a musician! So I bought a battered old 3 piece Premier drum kit from a friend for £40, hung a couple of metal biscuit tin lids from the ceiling cos I wanted more cymbals, and started trying to play. I joined a band, which rehearsed in my attic, every Saturday. I think it’s fair to say we weren’t that good, and the drummer was shocking! I could keep a beat, was a good timekeeper, but that was as far as it went.

I also bought a Kay’s catalogue Rickenbacker bass copy, with amp, from another friend, but couldn’t really get into it. In the space of 18 months I learned a couple of tunes – the UK Subs’ “Warhead” being the first of those and, incidentally, when I picked up bass again some 25 years later, was the first song I played: I still play it when warming up or sound checking.

Inevitably, the bass was sold, the drums were burned (after I well and truly trashed them while listening to The Who), and I restricted myself to watching from afar. Initially sticking with the music I knew and liked, then branching out into other genres, live music invaded my being. Whether it was pubs and clubs or theatres, open air events in the park etc, I’d go and watch just about anyone playing just about anything. Having seen Big Country at Ingliston, and Simple Minds at the SECC, I realised that I didn’t like big venues where you struggle to see the band unless you join the crush in the mosh pit. Years later, I saw Green Day at the Milton Keynes Bowl, and Muse at Wembley, and that just compounded that view. I just don’t get the same vibe or feeling from a big venue.

About ten years ago I picked up the bass again, and pretty quickly regretted having ditched it all those years ago. I made a point of trying to learn, or at least try, as many different styles as possible. I found that irrespective of what I was playing, all other thoughts, worries and doubts left me and there was just the music. That’s still the case today. I may struggle to play some pieces, I may worry about making mistakes or letting my band mates down in some way, but at the heart of it all, the music takes me and I can forget about the rest of the world, in a way that I’ve rarely experienced other than when out hillwalking. I now pay more attention when I go to see people play, to see what I can learn, what are good things to do and what are bad, which means I don’t relax quite as much as I used to at gigs, but I view it all as a positive learning experience from people who enjoy what they do.

If you’re in a pub, club, beer garden, whatever, and there’s a band playing, please make sure you applaud them after every song, and at least show some kind of appreciation. At the end of the day, those guys and gals up there have put in time and effort, and have had the courage to get up there and do something for our entertainment. They are worthy of our attention and encouragement.

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