I did try to think of a witty title for this post in my usual vein. Really I did. But, nah. Nothing forthcoming.
For most musicians, New Year’s Eve is less a question of ‘have you got a gig?’ and more of ‘what’s your gig this year?’. Some of the booking agents have been sounding increasingly desperate on Facebook in the last few weeks, trying to fill gigs at two or three times the usual function rates.
I played out the old year and ushered in the new with Kindred Spirit duo, expanding to trio on some numbers with assistance from my talented and wonderful girlfriend Stevie. The interesting part of the experience for me was that we were at a restaurant – namely the Michelin-listed Fish in Sutton Courtenay – and our first set was during pre-meal drinks and dinner service. (By our second, people were lingering over dessert and coffee, drinks orders were starting to transfer from the floor staff to the bar, and dancing was becoming an acceptable idea.)
Now I have a moderate amount of background music experience. But I would place it firmly under two headings. One is chamber music – well, in a generous sense: acoustic string groups from a quartet downwards, playing fully scored instrumental pieces, even if that includes jazz, Latin and pop transcriptions. The other is acoustic instrumental jazz small groups.
So providing background music as an amplified duo with vocals on every number was a bit of a shift of gear. And it was certainly a shift from the bar gigs that have been the backbone of the Kindred Spirit duo diary for the last 9 months or so. From tending to turn up over hubbub and chatter, and do almost as many up-tempo numbers as possible to make an impression, we were turning down (and down again, after feedback from the nearest tables) and picking all the most mellow songs that we could remember we knew for the first hour. Since Elaine and I both use solid-body instruments (albeit with acoustic-like end result sounds) whenever we’re plugged in, and Elaine’s smaller speakers feed almost no sound backwards, I don’t think I have ever played a gig that was so quiet ‘on stage’ – there was very little for the monitor to overcome, and playing an acoustic violin would certainly have been louder.
None of this is a complaint (and I would rather have gigs that are very quiet on stage than the all too common ones which are very loud and involve a juggling act of using earplugs and then sometimes having to get myself turned up even louder in monitors so I can hear myself clearly afterwards!) – but it was an unusual experience and a learning one.
The second set, terminating with countdown and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, was somewhat a return to business as usual, at least concerning slightly more evident and sustained audience engagement (arguably background music doesn’t really have an audience unless you’re doing it wrong, although there are usually some people who would otherwise be staring into space and so are giving the music most of their attention) – the volume didn’t go up except in the monitor! We were sorry not to find time for a response to the request (inspired by Stevie’s sax playing) for some Latin jazz, but I was intrigued by one gentleman commenting on our having slanted the set towards 60s pop and inquiring whether that had been a decision based on demographic. We responded perfectly honestly that we hadn’t planned for a demographic, had simply turned up with a fairly well-distributed core set list and followed what got a good response! Largely proof of the enduring status of 60s guitar groups as common cultural currency …
January is usually a very quiet time for professional musicians, and I’m no real exception. However, Kindred Spirit (all five of us) and the Mill are hoping that four weeks will be long enough for any resolutions about spending more time at the gym / with the kids and less in the pub / at gigs to be quietly abandoned by the people of Plumstead and wider south-east London, as 28 January sees my first gig to take place entirely in 2017. Kindred Spirit already have one gig in the diary for February too.
The Filthy Spectacula won’t be out in public in January, but we will be busy trying out new songs and getting ourselves together for no less than three gigs next month (one of them a semi-private event doubling as a live video shoot), plus making our first 360 video. And the work of musically building up the Downtown Funk goes on, with booking enquiries already in discussion.
I nearly called this post (in tribute to ‘Steampunk Revolution’) ‘Out with the old, in with the old’, but actually I get the feeling 2017 is going to be anything but business as usual for me. The times they are still a-changing.