Monday, 5 October 2009

The Devil You Know

Thursday 6th August. Macclesfield Tennis Club.
I’m not certain how what began as a casual invite to play in a charity golf event morphed its way into a solo concert; although, I’m not sure why I said that - I do know how it happened. In fact no morphing took place, it was something that just got added on.

And I still got to play golf, which took place at a particularly good course in Cheshire called Tytherington; it’s a fairly long course; and it was a very long day.

My friend, James, was the organiser of this event; he’s a member of Macclesfield tennis club, and the object of the day was to raise few quid, - one, for the club, and two, for the East Cheshire Hospice.
James originall asked me to play two sets, but I knew a whole evening of performing was going to be asking too much - not just of the performer (me), but of an audience that would be looking for a ‘certain kind’ of entertainment at such an occasion, so I suggested one short set of around 40 minutes, and James agreed to that.

I’ll describe the golf first: pretty steady - as is quite usual these days, but with a couple of complete disasters - as is quite usual these days. If I could only stop the disasters from happening! If it wasn’t for those errant two or three holes in just about every round I play I could be hitting in the 70s - albeit the high 70s. But they do say it’s all about staying in your ‘comfort zone’, and never have I found a comfort zone to be so uncomfortable - still, it is a familiar discomfort, which I guess is what it’s all about; I think it’s called the Devil you know.

If you’ve ever played a little golf you may have discovered that there’s so much about it that tells you about ‘you’, it’s an illustration of how you deal with - life’s challenges and hazards; your ability to think on your feet; to plan, and to stay focused when all doesn’t go according to plan. It’s a conduit, as in - a channel through which your hopes, frustrations, and whatever else you might be harbouring in the deepest recesses of ‘the self’ will be externalised; it’s a mirror that will bring you face to face with your fear - when ‘in truth’ there’s absolutely nothing whatsoever to be all that fearful of.

We may, of course, go through our lives with some level of realisation that certain fears, certain obstacles, are within us; the difference, when it comes to the game of golf, is the way in which one has to continue the desired and considered physical actions–the timing, the tempo, the composure–at the very same time as those often negative psychological influences have a greater or lesser bearing on that process.

Sure, there are a multitude of other areas in life that the same can be said for - performing music is one that instantly springs to mind. But the paradox with golf is so strong, so apparent - possibly because of its outwardly benign persona.

Certainly, if you don’t want to show the world your true colours, it’s best to stay away from the game.

Nicol & Cool
Thursday 13th August. The Cropredy Festival.
Very different from the average festival, this one, certainly when it comes to the age factor. It’s a club, a big one, a large collection of people who–separately–shared an experience once-upon-a-time, one that can now be re-lived, re-captured, reminisced over, and commemorated ‘collectively’ in this regular anniversary of folk music; that’s folk music in its broadest sense. I say broadest despite a personal feeling that although the festival attempts to, and does a good job of, presenting a very broad spectrum of music, one that extends toward genres that ‘typically’ speaking, would have a thread–tenuous to say the least–connecting them to the ‘common’ perception of ‘folk’, my suspicion is that a great many of the attenders would be more than happy with having nothing other than their small handful of favourite way-back-when artists performing here. Much of it is about what’s comfortable.
That’s not intended as an overly negative comment; it’s natural I think that we should reach for those familiar heroes. But in recent years I have reflected so much on the subject of what music actually is, and how it’s possible, or indeed not possible, to evaluate it on the basis of impartial merit.
There is indeed good argument to state that there’s no such thing as ‘impartial merit’ - that ‘skill’, musically speaking, in many peoples eyes certainly does not necessarily constitute ‘good’. This is why so much that’s seen as just ‘brilliant’ out there in the mainstream, would undoubtedly be described by the musically literate as nothing less than remedial.
What is seen as ‘good’ is what ‘connects’, and what ‘connects’ is what has emotional relevance to its listener.

Also, there is the always ‘jazz clap’ scenario - that which is collectively agreed upon as good, whether it sends a shiver down your back or not. It’s a self-induced shiver - induced because the listener has a preconception and expectation that gives cause to a manufactured euphoria, one which corresponds with an abstract, magical notion of how good a particular artist is purported to be.

My own desire to play music came at a time when I was inspired by something I saw within it as ‘absolute’. It was my way, at the time, of finding and expressing truth. Rather simplistic, maybe, but enough to motivate me in a very single-minded way.

Since that time my considerations and observations have become far from single-minded; the result being that the ‘absolute’ has been largely displaced by the ‘subjective’. If I were to put this into more simple language, it’s that I have appreciated more and more the ‘individual take’ that everyone seems to have on all things, music being just one of them.
At some point (or various points) in that observational journey one is bound to experience some disappointment and cynicism, a consequence of when such a majestic view has a little reality beaten into it. But ultimately it is the only way you can go; as a creative musician, or indeed as anyone who feels they have something to say, there is nothing more important than saying it - this is how to stay sane; and whenever ‘what you say’ strikes a chord in the heart of another, it is a ‘by-product’, and one from which you can take great satisfaction.

Just a few thoughts there to pass the time of day; but enough of that for the time being, we’re at a festival. And going back to the point made earlier, the subject of age, it was hard to ignore the significant number of younger faces here. I imagine these are the people who grew up with music echoing through their respective households that fell outside of the mainstream - the music, that is, not the households - although I expect some would see the two as inseparable.

The festival seems to be more popular than ever, and for a first day, a Thursday, the speed at which the field became more and more congested was striking; all this despite these difficult economic times - or maybe because of it?

Phil and I were officially due on stage at 6:30 p.m. It was tight before hand getting things set up - it very often is, and usually because of other acts exceeding their allotted time. But 6:30 it was when we launched into our opener - Sunny Afternoon, the Ray Davies song; and that’s exactly what it was - a sunny afternoon.

After the show, and the forty five minute signing session–they’re quite exhausting these signing sessions–Phil went straight back home to Lancashire to get himself ready for his week to come at the Edinburgh Festival, while Carol and I just hung out for while, with friend Laura Grace - probably until around 10 p.m., then we headed back to the hotel in Banbury. We made an early start the following morning back to Preston.

A great feature for me every time I’m here is the vegetarian Indian food. There’s something about post-show time, and something about the little things you look forward to - it might be the glass of wine or beer; arriving back at the hotel, and turning the television on maybe. One of my favourites has always been the twelve o’clock news on Radio Four as I drive back home. Here at Cropredy it’s about getting a pint of beer, and a mountain of that Indian food on a paper plate.

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