Monday, December 09, 2013
"...apart from that, we've had a lovely evening".
Sometime in the last century my friend Tony - recently returned to the wilds of Suffolk from out of That There London - mentioned that he was thinking of starting a Songwriters’ Night at a local pub and asked if I would come along to support the venture by performing, at least until it picked up enough momentum to sustain itself and we could stop playing our songs at each other. An unsuitable venue was procured in that it had the disadvantage of being the saloon bar of a local pub. This did at least mean that we weren’t going to be stuck away in a back room where no-one ventured and it also put the onus on the performers being good enough to entertain a live audience. It wasn’t exactly going to be a Friday Night Comedy Store bear pit, or as brutal as a late show at The Glasgow Empire, but you were definitely going to get some feedback on what the punters thought of your material nonetheless. Shev had also very cleverly negotiated a deal whereby performers, at least once they’d taken the stage for at least one number, got to drink for free (within reason, depending on the cognitive processes of whoever was behind the bar that evening, open mic nights being a notoriously under-desired shift among the bar keeping community).
It built very well, as it happens – we got some great buy-in from our hosts which made running the show a whole lot easier and when landlord Ady constructed an elaborate stage prop to coincide with Shev’s traditional set-closer Robert the Bunny one night it very nearly brought the house down. On any given evening there would be the usual suspects – a nervous singer-songwriter emboldened by her peers and channeling her parents’ collection of Joni Mitchell albums (this was pre-Kate Nash, so the accents tended to be more Saskatchewan via Topanga Canyon than Camden mockney in the main), a keyboard player embellishing his bedsit-logue with some jazzy motifs, a country band slumming it for the free booze, some guy who could afford a Gibson-Martin-Fender on which to frame his rudimentary barre chords with a spidery strum, and usually a bloke who’d brought his own tightly-bound sheaves of lyrics and was aggrieved to find that we didn’t have a music stand on which to mount it (we refused on principle). Okay, maybe it got a bit cliquey at times, but folk were generally respectful enough not to talk through the work in progress, a few people were encouraged in their endeavours and relationships and friendships were forged, many of which last to this day.
Statler and I went down to the latest incarnation of the evening last week with The Charming and Fragrant Helen Mulley, with whom we’d worked up a couple of things in the collaborative spirit of the olden times. Back then we used to write a song a month to the deadline of having something new to perform, this time round we’d tweaked a couple of things we already had lying around. The spirit of the occasion was quite similar to the feel of old, even if we’d picked the evening when the banks of the nearby River Orwell were forecast to burst and engulf the venue, and so attendance was a little chary. What the hell, that at least meant that we got two goes each and I even fulfilled a request from the floor (“…if I could do most of the requests I get I’d be in a circus”). It wasn’t until the end of the night when a rambling series of jazz chords presaged a heretical version of Sweet Home Alabama that attentions wandered and smartphones were consulted. One of my companions gestured toward the illuminated screen hidden below table level. “Nelson Mandela has died” it said.