If you believe in the theory of Parallel Universes (and you would be in good company, Stephen Hawkin Steve Weinberg and many other eminent scientists do) then, somewhere, there is a world where the glorious singer, the guitarist whose fingers pluck pictures from the air, the songwriter who can carve a poem on your heart and many other talented and inspired people all live comfortable and fulfilled lives, enjoying the approbation of a discerning public and creating new works with the support of a hierarchy of good managers, record companies with deep pockets and an enthusiasm for new directions and inspiration and critics whose reviews concern themselves with teasing the nuances and artistry from their performances.
Clearly this is not the world we live in.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n our world TV executives drive past small venues bristling with talented and unusual performers to consort with record producers and managers who would rather make a boy / girl band out of papier mache, left over loo roll tubes, old washing up bottles and sticky backed plastic, give the finished product a liberal dose of shiny synthetic sheen and a karaoke backing track before thrusting them before the public in some vacuous talent show to be lapped up eagerly by the gullible couch potatoes, who may have seen the ads for the aforementioned talented and unusual performers, but would not go to the venues because they were afraid they would not know any of the songs they sing.
If you spend a lot of time behind a desk (mixing desk that is) you will have seen a lot of performers. It does wonders for your perception of music. I have seen acts many people would never have got to see in the normal run of things because the music industry machine has tried to package all musical styles into neatly digestible chunks that can be fed harmlessly to their pet consumers.
From Trip Hop to Post Punk, from Nu Metal to Shoegaze, from Acid Country to Thrash Acoustic Ethnic Banjolalee Swing (OK I made the last two up but they make as much sense as the others). All terms that can be easily put onto an act or product in order to get the right demographic to buy it (the ‘If you bought this , you’ll like this’ syndrome) and all terms that can be used as lexicographical bricks by critics eager to find smug and clever ways to put them down. I bet no songwriter ever sits down and decides he is going to form a band that fits into a category.
He or she may be into one or more of those genres themselves but the crazy thing I have found about songwriting is that it takes on a life of its own – at least it does if you let it and, as Springsteen once wrote ‘Mamma, that’s where the fun is’.*
[pullquote_left]I have seen acts many people would never have got to see in the normal run of things because the music industry machine has tried to package all musical styles into neatly digestible chunks that can be fed harmlessly to their pet consumers[/pullquote_left]
It often seems unfair when you step back and look at it. The performer who spends ages honing his or her particular craft gets overlooked in favour of the bubble headed bimbo on X Factor and may start to wonder if it is all worth it. I suppose that is part of the test.
Do you want to make the music that rings in your head or do you want to be famous? Very often this is the decision that has to be made and it seems, in our Parallel Universe at least, that is so often the latter choice. I have stood behind the mixing desk at a gigs and watched a stirring performance from a support act, playing to a handful of people and then seen a leaden clichéd ‘phone it in’ set from the main act to a packed and cheering hall.
Now any band can have an off night in the same way that any band might have a flash of inspired brilliance. The wonderful thing about live music is precisely that chance. You go along to see the show and you wait for that flash or the train crash to happen.
That is why I would rather be at a gig seeing a band than sitting at home listening to an album or watching them on YouTube. You have to take the off nights as being part of the way of things. This, in a way, is why I cannot really watch cover bands or, even worse, tribute acts. Most of these bands consist of very good musicians who have spend a long time rehearsing the songs to try to get them exactly right – just like the original – and a voice in my head just keeps saying ‘why?’
If I wanted to hear ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’, ‘Whisky in the Jar’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Smoke On The Water ‘ or the like I would put the album on (if I had it, and if I didn’t I probably wouldn’t want to hear it anyway). I want bands to surprise me, to come on stage with the words ‘How about this then? You haven’t heard this before’ flashing in neon on their foreheads. People say to me that many of the people in the audience were too young to have seen Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd or Genesis or Thin Lizzie and I can only respond by saying that they are not seeing them now either. They are seeing a bunch of robots reproducing their music and, in some cases, stage show.
The good thing, these days, is that I find I can talk to some people, less than half my age, about music and they know the old bands as well as the new ones. The Internet has made all of this accessible at the same time as it has stolen away much of the income.
By all means use some of the musical giants of the 60s and 70s as a launching point, as a peak to stand on, to take wing from, to soar up further. That is, after all, what they did. Don’t use it as something to copy note for note, flash bomb for flash bomb.
* Blinded By The Light.