Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Songwriters & Poets Newsletter - extracts, March 2018

From time to time I have thought that I should include the content of the monthly newsletter I write to subscribers of the Songwriters & Poets nights in Downham Market in Norfolk. Maybe this is cheating, but just in case anyone else is interested, here are bits from the most recent one.

Last week I had my first experience of performing at the circus. I opened the evening for the monthly Psychedelic Circus evenings at Jurnet’s Bar in Norwich and it was a lot of fun. I was followed by a man from Bristol juggling hats. He has come to Norfolk to join the cast of the Foolhardy Circus this season. I missed seeing most of his act because I was packing my kit away, but what I saw was very clever although nothing like as scary as the act that followed him - a woman with a bull-whip and a very brave friend who held playing cards between his lips or through his legs for her to whip away! Being of a nervous disposition I moved further back. I love making music but I am constantly in awe of people who have musical and other skills including, as in this case, the brandishing of vicious weapons. Whether skills enable people to build their own homes, write books, give speeches, make beautiful or practical things, cook delicious food or fix something that is broken people truly are amazing. I took part in the Venice Carnival last month and I have been looking at some astonishing photographs taken by some really skilled photographers of the most extraordinary and beautiful hand-made costumes and masks that lit up the city for four days. I don’t have the vocabulary to explain why some photographs are so much better than others, but somehow they just are and something very special shines off the picture. I have now been to Venice a couple of times and have spent hours watching gondoliers working their boats with incredible accuracy and skill - it takes five years to train and qualify for a licence to “drive” a gondola. They manoeuvre their craft with delicacy and precision through the tightest of situations that would have me in a complete panic and not once have I ever seen two gondolas touch accidentally.  Last evening I watched a friend coaching a young girl on a new pony. I had to ask questions about how she knew what to look for in order to help the girl improve, because I could not see what she so obviously could see. I suppose that is what some people wonder about me when I am working with children on composing projects. Over many years of experience I hope I have enough of a feel for ways to help them get increased satisfaction from their music. While what I offer doesn’t feel special to me, and I always question my right to interfere in their creations, I hope that they feel better - rather than despondent - about their efforts when I’ve finished interfering. Smiles on faces sometimes reflect that, I suppose. I would guess too that it is all a matter of degree. I was complimented on my own boat-handling skills recently. To me it just seemed logical to take a manoeuvre slowly. It’s the only way I have a chance of not getting into trouble - something I have found all too easy in the past and undoubtedly shall again in the future. Last year another boater passed me after I had turned in a limited space and congratulated me for having managed it since it was something he would not have attempted, even in his smaller boat. It was nice (actually, very nice if I am honest) to be acknowledged, but somehow skills seem more special when they are possessed by someone else. If I see you and offer you a compliment for something you have done, it comes from a place of warmth. I feel genuinely amazed by what others can do, not because I didn’t expect them to achieve it, but because I feel joy, and often awe, at something I feel I would be unlikely to be able to accomplish myself. 

I have received an invitation to open the Spirit Of The Marsh in Lincolnshire in May. Actually, I chased it a little. It is a tiny festival (my favourite kind) put together by a group of friends and I spent a short time there as a punter a few years ago. It seemed appropriate that Marshlander should perform at Spirit of the Marsh and that will now happen. Fortunately I did not have to audition for the gig or, worse still, go up in competition against others for a spot. I realise this often happens behind closed doors as choices are made but this month I shared the disappointment of friends whose music was insufficiently acknowledged. It was supposed to be an open competition for a chance to perform at another festival. The criteria for success were published in advance and, apart from a final catch-all criterion, it seemed straightforward enough. What was disappointing was not that the friends didn’t get through to perform at the festival, but that the criteria for judging performance were mostly ignored in favour of the final one which amounted to whether or not the judges liked them sufficiently - the same decision that takes place with an autocratic promoter or by committee behind closed doors. This made a nonsense of criteria that claimed the decision would be made on the quality of the music, the composition, originality and crowd engagement. I have always struggled with the notion of competition, yet some people have said I am competitive. I disagree. I do not experience the feeling of being in competition with others but I am, though, very tough on myself and always want to do something better than I have done in the past. I think that is different.

In the coming month I am looking forward to being under the spotlight at Grange Farm Studio Hangout on Thursday evening. Singer/songwriter Neil Cousin has said once or twice that he feels that he wants to have a q&a when I perform. He may be there. This may be his chance. I am hoping to see some new people turn up for Songwriters & Poets night at The Crown in Downham on Friday. There have been hints in the postings! I am going into fanboy mode a couple of times this month when I get to see Maggie Bell and Dave Kelly perform in Peterborough and Jethro Tull in Cambridge. Although I’ve seen them all before I haven’t seen any of those people play for decades (I think Maggie Bell was in Stone The Crows last time I saw her and I haven’t seen Tull since 1970), so I am really looking forward to the performances. 

Other local events to look out for later in the year (which I’ll include now because tickets sell out quickly) include Folk In A Field at the beginning of July (I shall be working with Willowspin on the Saturday afternoon) and the Southburgh Festival at the end of July. I’ve reserved my tickets for that one and hope to catch up with an old friend, Chartwell Dutiro, whose photograph beams out as one of the headline acts, performing with his son Shorai, whom I haven’t seen since he was a little boy. I really look forward to seeing him perform with his father.

Nico Dobben continues to organise the splendid music nights at No8 - The Old Bookshop in Downham Market and John Preston runs the open mic nights at the Green Britain Centre variously known as the Collapsing Cabaret or the Apocalypse CafĂ©. It will probably have another name by the time of the next evening. Something I’ve rarely mentioned in the past is the fortnightly Wolf Folk Club at Wolferton Social Club. It is probably one of the longest running events in the local folk and acoustic calendar, yet seems a secret known only to the many who attend. 

As usual, don’t forget West Norfolk Radio. It’s best to check out their website for details. The format of their twice-monthly live music evenings on Sundays is often a mixture of recorded music, guest performers and floor spots.  You can go and be on the radio as performer or audience member.  I did my third guest spot recently. It is probably best though to check their diary, because the remaining weekly shows are recordings only. As mentioned they also keep an excellent diary on the website of other folk-related events around the East Anglia region, occasionally promote some high profile performers in concert and they broadcast from a number of festivals (including Ely Folk Festival and Folk On The Pier) around the region. It beats me how two people manage to do so much. 

Another excellent source of music is Norwich’s Future Radio specially with Richard Penguin’s “Acoustic and Eclectic Show” on Sunday afternoons, which often features the work of local musicians. The show is available live on air if you live in the Norwich area or otherwise online or occasionally via a podcast on Mixcloud. 

No comments:

Post a Comment