Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Worst Gig Ever...

It's completely true that whenever musicians get together, conversations often begin, 'I did this gig once...' followed by a tale excerpted from the many mishaps that have occurred whilst on the road. I have to say that it's all delivered with relish – somehow, it's generally acknowledged that these personal disasters just increase your general ability to cope. A kind of 'If it doesn't kill you, it's making you stronger' philosophy.

Well, I've had some experiences on the road that I wouldn't care to repeat in any great hurry. The worst were definitely way back in the mists of time when I was still working in a semi-pro dance band. I won't mention the name of the group just in case you were in the audience one night and are still bearing a grudge...

Anyway, we arrived at a venue one night and asked if there was somewhere we could change. We were trying hard, you see, and actually took different clothes to change in to for our time on stage. In my case – and remember please that this was the 1970s – my stage apparel consisted of white Levi jeans (which might have even been flared) and some sort of groovy T-shirt with, ahem, cowboy boots. Yes, I know: I have since sought help.

In any case, the manager of the 'joint' directed us to the gents' toilet as a place we could use as a dressing room. I think a couple of us went to get ready while I went to set up my gear. When my bandmates came out they warned me to be careful when I went in to change because the floor was 'very wet'. Now I won't go into detail about what the exact composition of the liquid on the floor was, but I'm thinking that your imagination can probably do a fine job.

So I had to change into these tight jeans (look, I was going through my Jeff Beck period, ok?) and boots whilst standing on a toilet so I didn't accidentally transfer any of the floor's 'wetness' to my clothes. I believe I drove home still wearing the white Levi's that night, not wishing to repeat the experience of the high wire balancing act I'd had to endure earlier.

So what exactly did I learn from this experience? Well, the next time we played that venue, I left the cowboy boots at home and took a pair of wellies instead...

Friday, 18 December 2009

Number One Or Number Two?

I should think that just about everyone who gives a damn knows about the controversy surrounding this year's Crizmuz number one: will it be Joe McElderry or Rage Against The Machine? The pro-RATM campaigners on Facebook want to make a stand against the predictability of another of 'Simon Cowell's X Factor karaoke puppets' taking the slot, but is it a point that's actually worth making?

Before the dreaded X Factor came along Crizmuz number ones were always a mix of saccharine-laden sentimental hogwash or ludicrous kiddie songs and I don't think anyone took them at all seriously apart from the record companies who were, as usual, thankful just to see their profits soar. Then, when Cowell took over, the whole thing became organised like a military operation – the X Factor final is always positioned just before Crizmuz and, after three months of intense TV exposure, the winner is generally a dead cert to take the top slot. It's sheer marketing genius; let's face it, with that kind of exposure, just about anything could be number one – and Simon Cowell says that the Facebook crowd are being 'cynical'? I would have said that it's more 'mischievous' than anything else and if the Facebook anarchists are successful then it might prove that not everyone likes being manipulated. But it will be a short-lived victory – the whole thing is set to be even larger next time around; for 2010 I hear that Cowell has his eyes on an internet campaign with an X Factor final in a stadium somewhere...

So even if this year's battle is successful, I don't think it's a winnable war, in the long term, to be honest...

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Boyle Effect

I have to say that I greeted the news that Susan Boyle's CD has set records for mega-sales on both sides of the Atlantic with a broad smile. Why? Well, people who know me well would fight each other to be the first to tell you that I'm not at all optimistic, generally speaking; but I think that this phenomenon might just send a very important message out to record companies and music moguls alike...

The message would read something like this... You can create boy bands, girl bands and airbrushed teen divas (of both sexes) all you like, but every so often the public is going to come face-to-face with raw talent and find that it's actually superior to your short-term media sensations in almost every respect.

If it is indeed true that the public gets the music industry that it deserves then surely Susan's success – not only as a performer but as a fully saleable entity – has got to represent some kind of turning point? I've said before how I miss the innocence of the 1960s and early 1970s where anybody could get into a band as long as they had the required talent to play their instrument to an acceptable level. It didn't matter what you looked like or even how many years you had on the clock – if you were good, you were in!

When I interviewed Eric Clapton for Guitarist magazine back in 1994 I asked him what it was like to be a musician in rock's formative years and he told me: "Well, anybody that had any idea of how to play any instrument could just about hold their own because there was no competition - there was no one around. There were only a handful of bands, and anyone that could play Sam and Dave was OK. When I started out, Stax and Motown were in the clubs and anyone who could play those songs, any drummer who could play that feel, or anyone who could approach that, was a master."

Doesn't that sound like a healthier music scene to you? The only filters were talent and dedication rather than the whims of music industry tzars with their eyes set on another get rich quick gambit.

Realistically, I don't expect the industry to change overmuch – but if Ms Boyle's success makes them think a bit it will be enough for me.