Thursday 2nd February 2012
The Railway Arms, Alton GU34 2RB
Vic's Buskers open-mic hosted by Vic Cracknell
"Highlighting My Deficiencies"
Well talking of guitar players (previous performance) at The Railway Arms we were treated to what even I can recognise as exceptional playing in the feature set by Ady Johnson. Strangely though, inspite of his skill I felt unmoved by the performance. I admired the technique, the singing, the presence etc but for me there was something missing. I don't think this is a criticism of him but just an acknowledgment of that taste / chemistry thing again. You know, it's the same with Elvis Costello: I can see the cleverness but I don't "feel it" apart from perhaps Alison. Actually indeed, all the performances last night by The Budgie Smugglers, Iain Cooper, Melvin Hiscock (who, by the way, is the author of the famous Build Your Own Guitar books) were enjoyable but left me unmoved. It maybe because I've become familiar with their music.
However what did do it for me last night was Vernon's Friends. Not only do I think this is to do with liking their (very) original songs, their playing and interplay between guitar and keyboards, but also I think there's something quite compelling about Guy and Em on stage. This possibly is due to their apparent "Guy put-upon / Em in-charge" amusing demeanour but also, I think, their attitude. The majority of performers (and I'm probably the most guilty) want to impress whereas I think Em and Guy have the confidence just to enjoy themselves. I guess it goes back to that Eddie Izzard clip I keep referring to.
So, how did I try to impress last night? One of the nice things about The Railway Arms is that you're in a dedicated room for the open-mic so you're not competing with the normal punters who want to just have a quiet drink and chat. The people in that room are either there to perform or listen. As such I thought I'd start with Silent Valley, a song I don't play often these days as it's fairly slow, down beat and intense etc and I'm getting the impression people in "normal pub" environments want something different.
In addition, rightly or wrongly I'm trying to make each performance unique so that it doesn't feel like (for both me and the audience) I'm just going through the motions. I attempt to do this by trying to say something new about the songs or the actual evening etc. During the earlier acts of the evening I remembered I'd actually bought the print of Silent Valley in Alton and so I introduced the song along those lines. In hindsight perhaps a bit lame and I'm not sure it made an impression; my performance seemed okay, the audience attentive but also perhaps a little nonplussed.
For You've Got The Magic Back, I thought I'd use the "hot" news that U.S. President Barack Obama had apparently been seeking Finding Joe (details here). Again a bit of a nonplussed reaction, in fact there was a sense of losing the audience. I'm concluding that I need to give up on "the following your bliss" angle, it really does seem to be failing to resonate with people.
So two songs down and I thought the performances were okay, workmanlike even, but I really didn't feel I was making a connection with the audience or indeed even my songs. I started waffling on about my performances last year and how perhaps I'm more confident now and that for each performance I'm trying to make them unique. This resulted in a bit of sniggering at the front from Em of Vernon's Friends: "Where are you going with this Andrew?" A bit of good humoured banter followed as I felt I was justified in suggesting that there was an element of "pot calling the kettle black" going on. Perhaps this was the connection I needed with the audience as after the lamest introduction of my whole set (i.e. England is really cold at the moment, so it seemed appropriate to play Cold Heart) I got the best reaction (and even compliments) although I don't think I played or sang Cold Heart particularly well.
So, who can say how these things are going to go? Seemingly I'm the last person you should ask. Although perhaps that little bit of banter with Em was the key? Just that little fine barely seen bit of fusewire provided the connection between me and the audience and allowed the energy to flow instead of being stuck behind what sometimes feels like an imaginary invisible veil made of lead. I've noticed those comedians on TV usually pick on someone in the audience fairly early on, maybe that's what that's all about.
I suppose I'm giving the game away expressing these thoughts about performance, highlighting my deficiencies as it were. But I guess there's a chance others might find it interesting (the stuff about performance, not my deficiencies!) In fact I reckon that would've been the best introduction for my set: having seen Ady play, I could've looked over to him in stern mock irritation (I used to be a teacher, I'm pretty good at that look) and complimented him on his playing and then sarcastically thanked him for highlighting my deficiencies as a guitarist. It might have got a laugh at least. If only I could think a bit faster than two days after the event.
Finally, I just want to thank Vic for publicly referring to this blog / website in very positive terms. The stats seem to suggest I'm doing something right here but it's always nice to hear when people tell me - thanks Vic!
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