Monday, June 23, 2014

"...and Lady Mondegreen"

For many, many years folk have disagreed with each other about when music finally went wrong. When skiffle first came out of the coffee bars, electrified itself and started hanging out in smoky clubs and beat-group cellars there were furious letters to The Jazz, Ragtime and Blue Note Gazette fulminating against the beatniks’ employment of massive fifteen watt electric amplifiers and wanton use of the spurious bongo*. Some say (to paraphrase Douglas Adams) that coming in out of the fields was a bad idea in the first place - indeed Samuel Pepys makes reference in his diary for September the 2nd 1666 to ‘…an unholy rackette caused bye the minstrelry of severalle unkempt youths who did so sully the middle eight of ‘Merry Down, Dilly Down, Alle the Longe Daye’ with their raucous assaulte upon thee mandoline that I was barelye able to sit through the succeeding version of ‘Wonderwalle’ without recourse to blockinge of mine ears. At climaxe of thee performance, during ‘My Lady Thy Displayeth the Attributes of Ye Vixen’ saide youths perforce did set their lutes aflayme!’ Pepys did not return to an open session ever again, and the fate of the Pudding Lane Folk, Jazz and Blues Club remains unclear.
There is a whiff of irony that these days the largest celebrations of the people’s music are once again held in the rolling fields and meadows where our forebears once sang lustily of feasting and wenching whilst gazing enviously at the Manor House to whose plumped and primped luxuriance they could only aspire. Or Download, as it is known these days and so it was with a pleasingly retrogressive air that I pitched up at a local coffee house (one of the ones that apparently paid its corporation tax, according to the charming barista of whom I enquired) in the company of the Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley, with whom I was to perform a handful of songs at an acoustic showcase night** before we both pitched in with Tony Shevlin, event curator and Master of Ceremonies on a few things from his current Songs from The Last Chance Saloon album.

It was interesting to hang out and watch a few other performers, which I do shamefully infrequently these days, to see which way the wind is blowin’ in terms of what’s hot in the singer-songwriter scene. A few years ago you couldn’t move for be-capo’d scallies in John Lennon caps, then there was a wave of gamine faux-Cockneys slipstreaming Kate Nash. Last time I looked it was all echo pedals and loops and I was wondering whether there would be a number of Sheeran-lites in ginger wigs beat boxing and interspersing their plaintive choruses with some of that rapping that they have now. You’ve seen them, down the town hall, the rappers..? As it happened, there weren’t, but the current thing seems to be tapping out a rhythm on your guitar’s body. There’s a lot of it. It was two songs in before I stopped going to answer the door. “Do I have to do that?” I asked Helen. “No, you don’t” she reassured me. “In fact, I’d much rather you didn’t. If you ask me it’s this season’s Cajon”.

Helen and I were introduced as Songs from The Blue House which, strictly speaking, we and they were, although as she did her part I was rather left to fill in the space formerly occupied by two guitars, a fiddle, some keyboards, a banjo, a bit of pedal steel and a bass. Oh, and the other three vocalists. In the circumstances I thought I did rather well. Certainly well enough that we sold a couple of the CDs I’d stuffed into my bag before leaving the house. (Note to SftBH ‘Too’ purchasers – Ophelia goes D – G – D – A in that instrumental section, not D – A – D – D – A – G – G – D as performed on the evening. Ahem).

Next up, TJS and The Chancers took to the cleared floor area in front of the disabled toilet, whereupon Helen stepped up again to add some ethereal flute to Heart and The High Moral Ground, we did a couple more and then finished up with the album’s closer, Run Until We Drop – a gorgeous big-screen chunk of Americana with a Sam Shepard script just waiting to burst out of it. Hel’s sister Moj was taking photos – “Did you get one of us?” I asked. “There’s one of you at the end” she replied “I’ll send it to you”. There seemed to some confusion about one of the lyrics. “I’m afraid” she continued “I will, from now on, always think of that song you did earlier about having expensive tastes as ‘Champagne Tits on a Lemonade Pay’”.       



**Apparently there are a series of arcane but weapons-grade conditions which delineate the Acoustic Showcase from the Open Mic and, furthermore, from the Come All Ye. I’m not sure where the boundaries lie, but you don’t seem to get paid for any of them.   

No comments: