Songs in the key of life

I got to do something I almost never get to do last night. I was fortunate enough to play in a 12 piece big band ( I’m not sure if 12 constitutes ‘big’ but fuck it). It was in a field in Kent with 11 people only 1 of whom I’d met before. We had free food and a free bar and for the most part the sun was shining. As I said I don’t get to play with this many musicians on a gig that often but when I do I absolutely love it. As a guitarist it’s a joy not to be told to cover: the brass parts, the backing vocals, piano parts, string lines whilst at the same time fending off some pissed bloke who wants to get up and play Wonderwall with us.

festivalgirl

I want to say how much fun it was and how much I enjoyed it. But that doesn’t do it justice. The truth is; it was pant wettingly, ball bouncingly, head bangin riot, arse shakingly good fun. It was like having your arse tickled with a feather. We grooved, we rocked, we jazzed and there was even a rap. Any mistakes were quickly picked up or were brushed under the rug, no one noticed because we were cooking. There were no egos and no prima donnas. We were all there for the collective good. Making the songs sound great and making sure everyone left happy and a little sad that it was over.

With 12 in the band it meant that we all had to work less. That’s right, LESS. I didn’t have to worry about anything other than the guitar parts, as there was a piano and 3 part horn section. I didn’t have to worry about filling out the space. I just concentrated on sitting in the groove. The same also applied to the piano player. With 4 vocalists I didn’t have to worry about backing vocals, plus the singers as individuals didn’t have to worry about their voices getting tired. With a percussionist along for the ride this freed the drummer up to sit back and hold the groove down, which he did impeccably. The icing on the proverbial cake…trombone, sax and trumpet. Sprinkling musical magic everywhere we went.

It was a beautiful evening. 12 people coming together, unrehearsed, for the common good. We had jazz musicians who had studied in some of London’s finest schools playing next to musicians who couldn’t read a lick of music and who referred to musical parts as ‘the bit that goes doo de dee da da bat bat bum’. We had players that had toured the world with big name artists trading licks with people who still practice with the remnants of their children’s breakfast on their unwashed tee shirt. We were of different backgrounds. We were of different sexual orientation. But we were there playing for the song, not the individual. It is a testament to what can be achieved when like minded, focused and dedicated¬† people come together with a single goal in mind. And it was fantastic.¬† It’s a shame large factions of the world don’t adopt these principles. We have psychotic sociopaths vying for power and control at the expense of the rest of us. Carving us up into fractions, continuously pointing out our differences and forcing us to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. As part of my daily recovery from addiction, I meditate. It’s not something I profess to doing well or daily for that matter. But when I do I try to picture myself sitting crossed legged on the Moon, looking back at the earth. Watching it spin so elegantly. Gazing at the vast oceans. Watching the thunder storms in South America, the deserts of North Africa and the seemingly invariable rain in the U.K. One thing I don’t see…Borders. Flags. Countries divided by religion or race. Cities divided by sports team. Towns divided by popular talent shows. Because those divisions only exist if we let them. We and we alone have the power to eradicate them. Does that mean we should be held accountable?

I often get tarnished with ‘Left wing dreamer’ brush. I have a belief that the world could be a better place if we all put our differences aside and worked together for the common good. The trouble is we all have a different opinion of what ‘Good’ is. It’s subjective. I get tired of writing it; us coming together. I want to find something less trite, something more inspiring….but when it boils down to it that phrase sums up what I’d like to see. Less murder, less poverty, less war, more education, more love. And that’s good

Maybe you think I am a dreamer. Maybe you think that we can’t come together. Maybe you think that our division runs too deep and we will forever be a race split. But it’s out there, it is possible, I’ve seen it. It happened to me last night.

 

Advertisements

DeValue of Value

What rotten luck!! Last week as I was putting down some new floor boards in my daughters bedroom I drilled into a gas pipe. The unmistakable smell and the dreaded HISSSSSSS. FUCK! SHIT! COCK IT!!! I ran downstairs to shut off the gas only to discover that I need a step ladder to reach the gas mains. WHERE’S THE EFFING STEPLADDER? As I was hurling items out of our cluttered cupboard in a desperate attempt to find the 2ft step ladder I had visions of my daughters room slowly filling with gas. Got it. I ran downstairs, shut the gas off, called a plumber then sat down and waited for my arse to contract.

 

g_live_music

The plumber arrived and fixed the problem, it took less than 20mins. For payment he was happy to receive a cup of tea. I also promised him I would advertise his services on my facebook page and on my twitter, a reach of some 600 people, I said that there could also be the prospect of future work and I’d give him a call if anything else comes up. We shook hands and I bid him a fond farewell.

Sound familiar? No it does not. Do you know why? Because there is not a plumber or tradesman on the planet that would work for a cup of tea. And why should they! It takes 18 months, a shit load of cash and hours and hours of on the job training to become a certified plumber. It takes 3-4 years to train to become a doctor and on average 7 years to earn a black belt in any given martial art. I have been playing guitar for 16 years and I’ve been playing professionally for the last 10 years. And yet I’m still asked to play for a free drink and ‘exposure’.

This is insulting. Degrading. And only serves to perpetuate the idea of the ‘Terminally short of cash’ musician. Because we love what we do, should we work for free? I say no. With the exception of Jam nights, open mics and maybe showcases.

When you see a band, even a really bad band, you are looking at collectively days, weeks, months and years of hard work. (If they’re REALLY bad you might only be looking at a few hours work) I’m willing to bet most people reading this tried playing an instrument but gave up. The main reason? it was too hard. Getting Fur Elise to sound less like a monkey playing one handed and more like it ought would quite literally consume you. Playing Wonderwall in it’s entirety without your ring and little finger screaming in pain would take longer than the 15mins promised to you by your guitar teacher. Nailing the drum pattern in Stevie Wonder’s Superstition would cause you to loose sleep. These songs are standard tunes. They’re easy. You ask any working musician and they can bust these tunes out at 4.00am with a hangover after attending a football riot.

In short, becoming a musician consumes your life. From the age 17 – 24 I had NO social life. I would come home from work stick on an album an play along to it. Even if it was wrong. I’d spend hours and hours learning 10 seconds of music. I’d spend days learning 1 song. And later in life I’d spend weeks and months learning 90mins of music. To an outsider this amount of work for it’s fruits must seem insane. But to musicians it’s what we have to do. It’s lucky we enjoy it.

So when I’m offered a gig that pays 1 pint of beer and ‘free advertising’ I respectfully decline. And when agents/venues/pubs/clubs scoff at the price of hiring me, or any other musician, for 90 mins I say only this:

What you’re paying for is loading into your venue that doesn’t provide suitable access. You’re paying for that parking ticket because your venue doesn’t have a car park. You’re paying for every callus, blister, sore throat, splinter, cut and bruise. You’re paying for the friends that abandoned us during our musical quest. You’re paying for every boy/girlfriend that ceremoniously dumped us because they thought it would be cool to date a musician. You’re paying for every single piece of equipment we’ve had to buy over the course of our career. But most of all you’re paying for the blood, sweat, tears, heart, soul and passion that goes into being a musician…The gig is free mate.