I have to say that one of my happiest discoveries of recent years has been the Sofar collective, whose YouTube channel is filled with diverting performances from pretty much everywhere in the world, each one recorded in pleasant surroundings. You can easily spend an evening on their website, but it’s much better to spend one at one of their shows – I’ve now played three, and last night was my first experience of the Birmingham part of the franchise.
It was a gig I approached with some trepidation, for two reasons: the first was that I hadn’t played a full-length set for over six months, a half-deliberate album-recording decision combined with what are sometimes called “real life factors”. I felt rusty, I hadn’t played much outside a studio for ages, and I wasn’t sure I was going to perform well. The second reason was that I hadn’t gigged in Birmingham properly for years and years. I grew up in this fine city, but since relocating here I’ve struggled to reacquaint myself with the music scene, and this show was part of a renewed attempt to get out there and find the heart of the vibe.
It was a success! Sofar Birmingham is operated by the Cannon Street sisters, whose music I commend to you, and the venue they’d managed to get their hands on for this performance was a repurposed nineteenth-century Unitarian chapel in the middle of Digbeth. There were fairy lights everywhere – independent musicians love fairy lights, we’re like dragons with tacos in that respect – and an attentive and forgiving crowd of complete strangers, surely my favourite thing to work with. Alex Ohm opened the proceedings with a voice worthy of the space, and the headline act were a new group called Aztecs; the interval included an ad hoc sea shanty performance and the green room could have hangared a light aircraft. A capable and pleasant chap called Joe made recordings of the evening which I imagine will be available at some point. A well-drilled team of camera-operators with alarmingly sophisticated camera-holding apparatus took co-ordinated photos and videos of the whole thing, and I imagine some of that might also find its way to interested parties at some point.
I’ve always had a bit of trouble playing my kind of music in Birmingham, so it was fantastic to find a crowd receptive to my stuff, and really wonderful to be playing a show again. I don’t want to get schmaltzy (I do) but when i sat down on the floor next to my guitar case to get the thing out and tune up before the show, some weird muscle memory kicked in and I realised how much I’d missed doing this stuff. It was an important reminder – and I need reminding often – that it’s this stuff, rather than everything else, which is the “real life factor”. Back in studio for the new album next weekend.
I got to play ‘To Coincidence’ on the Catweazle stage last Thursday, in addition to reading ‘Hippo Calypso’ again. This tune is impossible to play solo, but I’ve discovered that the lyrics make a decent spoken piece! I wanted to read it because I’d just learned, several months after writing it, that it’s based on fact: when I came up with the piece, I was just having some fun with all the double letters in ‘Hippo of the Mississippi’, but it turns out that there was a genuine plan to make it happen in the 1900s. As you might expect, the fantastic people at This American Life have a short documentary on the subject for those in doubt.
After the break, I did a surprise collaboration with Sam Taplin. Normally, that phrase means that it was the audience which was surprised, but Sam politely gave me absolutely zero warning before inviting me on stage to play a song I hadn’t rehearsed for at least six months. We staggered our way through it. Unmissable moments!
Image stolen gratuitously from Hannah Bond
What a pleasure to be back at Catweazle again. I hosted a couple of times last month, but this time I was just there to soak up the ambiance and get myself a copy of the new issue of their handsome periodical, an altogether more relaxing prospect. Playing in front of them reminded me how much I’ve missed doing full-length shows, and one of the things I’m doing this weekend is bothering a few Birmingham/Oxford promoters about setting up some new gigs in the runup to my album launch (if you’re a venue, there’s my new bookings page to think of). I’ll be back in the studio soon, too!
Finally, some good news from two FaceOmeter allies: Matt Winkworth has won the Perfect Pitch prize, and will be developing a brand new musical – he’s a consummate musician and deserves it utterly. I also couldn’t be happier for MC Lars, who crowdfunded his fourth album in under a day. Still time to get involved with that!
There’s been a lot on lately. I won’t go into details on this blog, but let’s just say that moving house the day after a jetlagged return from a rushed visit to foreign lands was only the tip of the iceberg. And in all the chaos and confusion, it’s been pretty much three weeks since I touched my guitar, which has sat obediently in its case this whole time. Waiting.
One goes through these phases, and I always knew that not much would get done in February, music-wise. But tonight I finally got half an hour to sit down with the twang, and I’m actually almost glad I took the pause. It was cool to sit down and play some old songs of mine with a genuine feeling of rediscovery (“I wrote this! This is mine!”) and to play a few covers that I’d forgotten I knew the words to (“time, time, time”). It was doubly cool to do so in the still half-finished atrium of a new house, which I hope will be the heart of some really awesome new projects.
In short, it’s pleasuarable to be reminded that I’m still a musician, that I still know how my fingers work, and that my guitar is still the best guitar there is (fret buzz and all). The next few weeks are pretty jammed too, but I’m slowly warming up to start playing live again. Playing tonight, I realised that I was heading that way more out of habit than out of a genuine desire to do shows. But now my heart’s back in it. Though time is still scanty, there are shows to plan and an album to finish. The going will be slow over the next few weeks, but I feel like I have something to aim at again.
So, as my gig hiatus comes to an end – would you like me to play in your area? I’ve got a new bookings page especially for your needs! Check it out.