I play in a punk band that has released four albums in the last five years. The first of these was a concept album, loosely concerned with the fictitious destruction of the world by alien invaders and humans’ failed attempts to repel the attacking force. The album concludes with a gratuitous song about skateboarding, but we got plenty of airplay out of that one. The second recent record is called Seduce and Destroy, and it features a cartoon lady on the album cover and lots of flames. The songs are about partying and rock. And the opening track is a drum solo. Our other albums are cool too. My best mate Steve’s second album came out this year, with me drumming on it. We’re also recording a stoner rock album at the moment – so far it’s taken four years, but we’re getting there – and I am about to embark on a short tour with a wonderful band playing ethereal cinematic pop. I am also engaged to play panto season in Chelmsford – five weeks of family fun! As well this, I teach at a famous music school and online for a world-class university. I teach people to play drums; I give lectures on popular music history, philosophy and history of music education; and I guide undergraduates through the process of researching and writing their dissertations. I published a book earlier this year, and am working on two or three more. I don’t have to be on tour all the time to promote my music. I play gigs on my terms. They’re never in massive venues, but universally people accept that the sound and experience of an awesome band is better in an intimate space anyway. I can play properly as well as hear what I’m doing.

Advertising my music on a grand scale is virtually impossible. Unless people see your name on TV, they generally assume you’re crap. And when they do see you on TV they often just assume that you’re brilliant. People in general seem to have no real way of judging quality, mistaking it too frequently for familiarity, spectacle or hype. I hope I know when I am being sold a pup. I hope I also know when I am in the presence of an incredible musician or band (Brighton Jazz club, 1994 – Jim Mullen with Gary Husband, Gene Caldarazzo with anyone at all; Wayne Krantz and Keith Carlock in Cardiff jazz club, 1997.) The thing about the best gigs I’ve ever been to (Allan Holdsworth, Jazz Café, Camden 2008; Martyn Joseph, every concert of his I’ve ever attended in a community centre or church hall; Atar Shafighian, Lauderdale House, 2012) is that the tickets have all cost me under £15 (Albert Lee, the Borderline 2006). At the O2 the sound is pretty much always appalling. Now, Christine Tobin at the Vortex in Dalston, 2007 – bugger me, that was insane! Gillian Glover at the Bullet Bar, also 2007 – sublime.

Real music, proper, actual good quality ART happens in the bars and pubs that people walk past on a Tuesday night ‘cause there’s a band on they’ve never heard of. Give me a Thursday at the Bedford in Balham or a Sunday afternoon gig at the Underworld over a UK tour in back of a bus, hardly sleeping and never eating properly. The way things are, I get to practise, hone my art and craft in my own time and for my own purposes; I get to write, I get to play in a dozen genres, a handful of bands, and to sleep in my own bed with my wonderful wife most nights of most weeks. When friends of friends come to see me play they are usually blown away by what they hear – ‘you should be famous!’ they say. ‘Why don’t you go on X-Factor?’ Even considering providing responses to these two exclamations tires me now. I can’t be bothered any more explaining to half-drunk acquaintances why they shouldn’t be surprised to find something they like outside of the Radio 1 play list. I would sooner donate all of my internal organs for research before I die, than prostitute myself in front of Simon Cowell or whoever follows him cackling through the firey gates of Hell (where I know they play Coldplay’s and One Direction’s albums all day and all night).

The world does not need to see “success” differently than it does. It’s okay for people to endure mediocrity – there’s a lot of it to go around, after all! Those people who seek a better experience will always find it. It might mean saving 90% on the price of a ticket, buying the CD from the band’s guitarist instead of streaming a less-dynamic MP3, and it will certainly mean that they get to hear the music as it was intended – not through a 500K rig in some arena on the outskirts of a city, but in a decent-sized room with a bar you can get a drink from for less than 6 quid. I don’t necessarily want you to come to my gigs. You might hate my music, and that’s fine – we all have different tastes, but I know it’s good. It’s not as good as I’d like it to be, and it never will be; but it’s real and it’s honest. How do you know if a band’s good or not? Because you saw it on MTV? Please… Because your mates told you? Not bad – but go check the music out for yourself. Because the 4 bands on at a random night at the 12-Bar in Denmark Street when you decided to pop in a pay the £6 cover charge sent shivers down your spine and changed your life; now you feel like you know something, you felt something. To my knowledge, the best pianist, possibly the best musician alive in the UK today is Keith Tippett. The day after the best concert I have EVER been to where he performed in a small wooden church in front of 150 people in the autumn of 1998, he said to a group of his students (of whom I feel incredibly fortunate to have been one), ‘there are two types of people in the world – people who were at that gig last night, and people who weren’t’. That, friends, is what music is about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: