Thursday, 8 March 2012

Temporary Friend

I hauled myself out to a live gig one dull Tuesday evening. It had been too long and I was beginning to fear for the consequences: losing touch with what’s hot and falling into constant replay mode while waiting at home for some old dinosaurs to re-form for their latest farewell tour. Tuesdays are normally reserved for less famous - even experimental - musicians so it’s a chance to see a rising star if you’re lucky. I was kind of lucky.

The advertised band was not on my radar so, before committing, I conjured them up on the internet. They sounded - and looked - interesting: they comprised a variable and eclectic bunch of instrument-swappers headed by a woman with a sweet voice and no name that I could discover. Their sound was contemporary but folksy.They called themselves by a title which is, technically, a sentence and which gives no indication of their individual identities. This is not good practice for advancing one’s career: imagine a conversation “Hi. I’m Dave Blenkinsop, you know, former bass-man with Suddenly It’s Over”. “Oh yeah, I remember them”. Musicians, like artists, can be slow to adopt the principles of self-publicity. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was  an exception: it was effective branding for Jimi, less so for the other two blokes.

The venue was sparsely populated so I easily found a seat, at a table, in a prime position. Another chap moved over to let me in and we fell into conversation. He was a Dutchman, working over here for a couple of weeks, condemned by his employer to stay at a hotel near the airport from which he had escaped for the evening. As the performance began he pulled a large bag from under his seat, extracted a serious-looking camera and set off to find advantageous shooting positions. I didn’t see him again until the interval.

The performers hit some musical highlights but had a ramshackle stage presence, mumbling incomprehensible banter amongst themselves while swapping instruments in between every song. This distraction and their naive disdain for showmanship began to grate on me - despite the very reasonable cost of entry. 

I met up with the Dutchman again at the interval when, glad of each other’s company, we had a beer together and probed the standard repertoire of conversational topics. We became temporary friends; indeed, I wondered as we stood together at the bar - he with his camera, me with my notebook - whether we might be mistaken for gentlemen of the press; if we were, no-one mentioned it

The second part of the performance was no less shambolic than the first but the talent and the sincerity of the performers gradually won me over so that by the end I had developed a warm feeling for the whole show. I met my temporary friend back at the bar where he confided that the performers were too casual, scruffy and introvert to be photogenic and that he preferred jazz because of the way the lights reflected off the brass instruments.

The artists, as is customary, set up a table in the bar for the display and sale of their merchandise although, true to form, they left it too late to catch most of the audience who had already drifted off. Which left me and my temporary friend sitting there, outnumbered and feeling somewhat obliged. It was difficult to ignore the implicit plea for us to buy, or at least say, something. My temporary friend chose to buy his way out, while I finished my beer (Dutch courage?) and approached the female singer to enquire after her name. I was surprised to discover that her diction off-stage was perfectly fine and we exchanged awkward pleasantries until someone distracted her attention by putting a plate of curry in front of her.

Thus we made a respectable escape. “Come back on Thursday” I said “there’s a good jazz band on”. But I’m ashamed to say I didn’t turn up. Still, it was only a temporary friendship.

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