Saturday, 31 July 2010

What, back already?

Yes, it's like this.

I set off early and started singing in Abergavenny. I must admit, I was euphoric after about two songs because money was showering in. One lady said, "Didn't I hear you on the radio?" Saw some people from Abertillery. So, I'd made probably about thirty-five pounds in a ccouple of hours. Saw a few people from Abertillery, so that was great.

Then, I decided to go to Brecon. Had to pay to park for a start. Only a pound but, still. Plus you had to put in the last three "digits" from your registration number. What they meant was "letters", I reckon. Very irritating.

There were quite a few people around but it was quite hard to tell where there was any concentration of people to speak of. Had two falsish starts - about four songs for a ccouplle of pounds. Then, I asked a local for advice and she directed me to the entrance to the indoor market.

The acoustics were really great in there - a wooden roof - but that didn't really translate into anything much. Had a great chat with a bloke who'd been to the Abertillery Blues Festival. Sand for about an hour for about five pounds.

Then, I decided to have lunch and that was £1.80 out of the five pounds kitty in Brecon. Then it started to rain really hard with more forecast. So, I was a bit discouraged and decided to come home at that point. Petrol money to be considered as well.

Is this viable, I asked myself? Made fifty pounds in Raglan this morning with lots of good chat with the locals and not much sense of the same people giving over and over again. Decided to start singing "Don't think twice, it's all right" and the sublime "last thing on my mind" by Tom Paxton.

I think I will have another go later in the summer.

Went to the Monmouth Festival in the evening. Got some brownie points with the kids by pointing out the lead singer of the Automatic in the crowd milling around. They were pretty good, I thought but they're not the same without Pennie - obviously. First became aware of them on the Adam Walton show long before Monster came out. Began to sing it at youth club and promised the kids they'd soon be familiar with that chorus!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Setting off soon?

I thought I'd have a go tomorrow.

Actually, I was all set to start off this morning but remembered a piano lesson. Plus, I hadn't packed or anything.

Incidentally, both the pupils I put in for exams got distinctions this time. Can't be bad.

On other fronts, it's a sad day for music.

We find out that Plastic Bertrand didn't sing on "Ca Plane pour Moi". Ah, but did he sing on "Sentimental moi?" We'll have to ask his producer, Lou Deprijck.

Also, the death of Ben Keith, Neil Young's steel guitar player. Great moment, this:
"Lookout Joe" from "Tonight's the Night", Chorus finishes, Neil says, "Take it, Ben." A tramshackle solo ensues. What an album that is.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Are you watching "Rev"?

Yes, I am, and I'm enjoying it.

And if I didn't know the meaning of the word "trope", I sure do now.

As I understand it, the word trope refers to a chunk of material that is just plonked down in a setting.

Tropes in "Rev" include:
* innocent vicar overwhelmed by the inner city
* vicar has a sidekick who is a homeless man and has interesting take on spiritual life
* needy parishioners predatory in their need
* vicar has all-powerful superior whom he has to manage as best he can
* vicar has to deal with more successful colleagues
* vicar has to remain true to himself
* vicar undercuts "vicar"

How could it be otherwise?

Interestingly (?) some time ago, I wrote a novel called "Playing at the Roxy" about a church meeting in a converted cinema in Bordeaux. Surprise, surprise, it contains all of these tropes.

It's available at Amazon if anyone is interested in reading a load of old tropes.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

And the latest?

Well, I didn't get onto the Music in Hospitals thing. As I suspected, they didn't like me talking to the imaginary inmates during my songs and thought I should have dressed in evening dress to play Dylan covers. Funny old world.

On the other hand, the busking continues to go well. Fifty pounds last Saturday morning, talking the total to about £500.

Also did an open mike with Rachel last week in the Ship in Raglan. Her usual guitarist wasn't about so I learned half a dozen of her songs and played them. Had a good time. There's another one tonight. Don't know if I can face another one so soon, though. Not when television has reached such a highly developed level of entertainment.

Reminds me: I Said to Charles Fountain after the Ship, "These open mikes are conclusive proof of evolution. At the age of fifty everyone has developed a distinctive style and repertoire and is now fossilised in that."

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Did you busk at the Royal Welsh Show?

Unfortunately not.

I made a strategic error.

When I was in Paris, I used to conduct a little choir and we wanted to sing outside a metro station. I suggested we contact the town hall or the police and ask permission but was told if we asked we'd be refused so just carry on anyway. You spend a lot of your time in France being ignored by the authorities so it's good to return the compliment. I remember writing assiduously month after month to the Mayor of Villejuif asking for a community hall to show a film and I never got a reply.

Anyway, I wrote to the organisers of the show talking about the parable of the talents project and the busking part of it and they somehow got the impression in spite of my lucid exposition of my request to busk around the site that I was offering to come and entertain the crowds. I think if I'd just slipped in with my guitar and sign everything would have been fine.

Had a nice day at Builth, as usual. Came back with a free energy saving device for the telly, a badge saying "I heart wind power" and the autograph of the actor who plays Hywel Llewelyn in Pobol y Cwm dedicated to the family. I shall prop it up by the TV each time the show comes on.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

How did the audition for Music in Hospitals go?

I really enjoyed it but I don't think I really fit in so I'm not expecting too much.

I arrived in Bristol with a couple of hours to spare and I was fortunate enough to find a parking space just round the corrner from the Victoria Halls where the audition was. Wandered up and down Park Street for a while.

A lady called Diane showed me into the warm up room and I had a chat with a lady harpist who was going on after me. Very nice Bosendorfer grand to warm up on.

What a nice surprise when I went in! "This is Bill", "Nice to meet you, Bill." "This is Lisa." "Nice to meet you."

"And this is Heather."
"Not Heather Jones?!"
"The singer?!"

At the end of the audition I said I was unfeignedly thrilled to have met her. After all, she was absolutely central to the early success of Meic Stephens (qv). She was very positive throughout the audition, too. She even said she'd heard of the busking tour when I talked about it. She also said she sings the kind of things I did when she goes into care homes but they tend to want things like, "Pack up your troubles."

They pointed out to me that they were expecting rather more forrmal dress than I had on collarless shirt, black linen trousers with my piano belt. I don't think they really liked my efforts to chat with them during the songs either and they thought I could have spoken up more. Still, there were only four of them, and they were only pretendding to be a hospital/care home audience.

Played the Entertainer. Piano was a bit dead, I thought. Then I sang Blowin in the Wind and You've got a friend.

I should hear about it in a couple of days but as I said, I don't really think I'm what they are looking for.

Still, I'm off to the Royal Welsh Show tomorrow to be on the Roy Noble show so I'll be able to recount my meeting with Heather Jones and explain that she quite fancies busking!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

It's all gone quiet again, hasn't it?

Yes, but I've been busy.

I've been working out my audition for Music in Hospitals.

Also. on Saturday, my usual busking day, I had to go to a funeral. I was glad to do that, of course.

I've also been writing a talk for the Roy Noble show on Wednesday from the Royal Welsh Show. Guess what it's about? Auditioning for Music in Hospitals, of course.

I did write to them asking if I could busk on the field but they somehow got the impression I was offering to provide entertainment and they declined my kind offer.

Oh well, must get used to being misunderstood when writing simple prose, I suppose.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

So you're a professional musician now?

I think that's a very interesting question.

Certainly, I could easily live on this kind of busking money if it wasn't going to the church. Then there's all the piano teaching and sundries.

But something has just happened to me that only happens to professional musicians and it's made me think.

There's a charity called "Music in Hospitals" that does what it says on the tin except it also works in care homes and so on. It exists to bring music of the highest quality into those settings. That's very creditable, I think.

A couple of friends, Catherine Handley and Huw Chidgey have been doing gigs for Music in Hospitals for some time so when Catherine put something about it on Facebook I thought I'd look into it and sent off for a form.

I filled it in thinking it was wasted effort because it says you need to be a professional musician and asks you to put down your qualifications and experience.

So, I put down that I could play grade 8 piano stuff and I mentioned about Frost at Midnight - and the songs on the radio and the busking tour and thought nothing of it.

And now I've got an audition. Now, by talking to Catherine Handley I've found out that it's entertainment first in this world and not by any means all classical although that's included. So I'm thinking at the moment about playing the Scott Joplin rag, The Entertainer and a couple of songs people can join in with like Blowin in the Wind and You've got a Friend.

Whether I get the gig or not, I'm quite chuffed to have been asked. In any case, I'm giving a talk on the Roy Noble programme from the Royal Welsh Show next week the day after the audition so I intend to use the experience to talk about how we need to find ways to make our faith and experience work together.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Don't you realise people will lose interest if you stay in Raglan?

It's alright.

I went to Abergavenny this morning to test the waters.

I had to pay some money into the bank so decided to have a go. There was a spot outside the former Chinese pharmacy so I set up camp there.

At first I was dismayed - there are lots more people than in Raglan, of course, but people find it natural to scurry past or even saunter by without acknowledging your presence at all. This has always seemed rude to me towards anyone - homeless, charity collectors, anybody.

Little by little, a trickle of coin (like that?). I sang a song with a lady who had a learning disability. "I want to see the Bright Lights Tonight." That was a nice moment - the kind of moment you'd like to come back in the last moments. Met a couple of people from Abertillery who go way back.

And, at the end of the hour, £23. That does include a five pounds gift from a well-meaning friend. Thanks! But still, £23.

It's time to do some sums. Petrol money. Lunch money. It's not all that clear that it's worth leaving Raglan.

What do you think?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Ever do open mikes?

Very occasionally.

Went to one last night in the Carpenter's Arms at Coed y Paen with Rachel and Sam. And do you know, I drove them all the way up there and Rachel didn't even buy me a drink.

There were quite a few people taking part. It was nice to see the couple who run Newport Folk Club again. They used to come up to the Star in Llansoy when Huw Chidgey and Catherine Handley were running the folk night. Those were good times. They did a version of "Cousin Jack" by Steve Knightley. A good open mike song.

In fact, it's quite a tease knowing what to sing at these events. We were discussing that in the car on the way home. It's got to be well known but not too well known.

The first song I did last night is probably the ideal song. You start, "Here I go, out to sea again . . ." People think, "Heard this before somewhere . . ." "Look at me standing, here on my own again . . . " Singer-songwriter pose. And then the dramatic A minor chord and the chorus, "No need to run and hide, it's a WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL LIFE." And people can join in.

Another song like that? "Look around you, how it will astound you . . ." "What is this song? It's driving me mad!" And the chorus comes in "Everybody's got to learn sometime . . . " "Oh yes, I remember that. I'm so much wiser now etc. etc." And that sets up another nagging quest in the audience to try to remember who sang it.

Rachel and Sam did "I bet that you look good on the dance floor." A little too populist perhaps? I countered with "Big Yellow Taxi". Is this kind of thing really playing the open mike game?

Best song of the evening? "Don't think twice, it's all right." By far the best song. I'm not talking about performances but material.

So, the search is on for something familiar but not too faamiliar. Upbeat but not mindless. How about "Baby, I don't care" by Transvision Vamp?

A closing thought: "Live at Sine" by Jeff Buckley is the ultimate demonstration of how to choose open mike songs. Every one a winner; every one transformed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Got any good busking stories?

This one is excellent, so thanks to Jan Sutton for sending it to me.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.

During that time approx. two thousand people went through the station, most
of them on their way to work.

After three minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing.
He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet
his schedule.

Four minutes later:

the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the
hat and, without stopping, continued to walk..

Six minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his
watch and started to walk again.

Ten minutes:

A three year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The
kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and
the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was
repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced
their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a
short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.
The man collected a total of $32.

One hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded,
nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest
musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever
written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua
Bell sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station
was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about
perception, taste and people's priorities.. The questions raised: in a
common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do
we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we
do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the
world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most
beautiful instruments ever made.... How many other things are we missing?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Colin - that's not a very good name for a rock star, is it?

Have you forgotten Colin Blunstone?

In 1970, I was just getting interested in music after my brother bought "Full House" by Fairport Convention (my copy has three out of four signatures of the members by now).

My cousin is ten years older than me and he was obviously interested in quality music. I used to go up to his house and borrow things to play on our Dansette.

The two records that made the biggest impact were "Court of the Crimson King" and "One Year" by Colin Blunstone. I used to put them on while playing Subbuteo with my friends. Play them over and over again.

Years later I got my own copy of "One Year" in Beanos in Croydon for 20p (no sleeve). It was hard to come by on CD for many years but it came through eventually. Those string arrangements by Chris Gunning! That evocation of young love! Smokey Day!

I somehow missed seeing Colin Blunstone for nearly all of his later career but about three years ago I was free on the night he played Beaufort ballroom with the Zombies. I was surprised by the power of what had always seemed such a fragile voice. And the string of hits! Too many exclamation marks.

"Say you don't mind"
"Misty Roses" etc.

Keith Airey on guitar! Rod Argent on keyboards! "Old and Wise"! I'm incoherent . . .

We took Catherine Handley our classical flautist friend with us. We were all so impressed we went up to Stratford the following night to hear them again.

Colin showcased his new album about a year later with a show in the Globe, Albany Road in Cardiff. "Any other way!" "The Ghost of you and me!"

If there's a better British male singer even now I'd be surprised.

Colin's a great name for a rock singer.