I think this year has been kind of momentous for me in terms of my relationship with music and gigs. This year I stopped enjoying being on stage and I stopped playing shows but I watched a lot of bands I really enjoyed. Here are some small summaries of some good bands I saw and why I liked them.
Slum of Legs – The George Tavern
At the beginning of the year I was trying to do a solo project called furore which I feel kind of happy and kind of stressed about. I asked if I could play on this bill at The George Tavern for Night of the Triffids which was Slum of Legs, Soda Fountain Rag and Garden Centre. I don’t usually ask to be on bills and it made me feel very pushy and rude. But I am glad I was there because Slum of Legs, as always, played an unbelievable set. Every member of slum of legs is so in tune with the power they create, so enthralled by it that the audience has no choice but to be enthralled too. Tamsin stood on a table and I remember feeling completely amazed that these people could write such amazing songs AND perform them so well.
Pale Kids – West Hill Hall
This was a fun show. To begin with it was quite stressful because my newest band Top Knot opened the show and I had the experience I’ve been having all year where despite playing music in front of mostly nice DIY people for over 10 years I still find it very scary and can’t do it without making mistakes and feeling bad about the mistakes. Top Knot was all about that not mattering and it was super super fun but at this gig it was actually really scary opening the show and we all felt really nervous and weird. After we finished though we had a great time and Pale Kids were truly amazing. Their songs make me feel lots of things about being frustrated and sad but in kind of a fun melodic way which I think is a special and important niche. After the show we went to the pub and I was really hammered and it was a nice time.
Shirley Collins in a church in Lewes
This was extremely special. We saw that it was happening as part of lewes folk festival kind of accidentally and bought tickets. When we got there it was very crowded with lots of fun lewes folk festival types and we were all crammed into pews in an extremely intimate and uncomfortable fashion. But Shirley’s performance with just Ian Kearey accompanying her was so spellbinding that I didn’t care. She sings so perfectly, with such a grand and humble manner. Everything I’ve learnt about being a musician through DIY is cool – like doing what you want and not caring if its wrong is a magical code to live by. But I love dipping into the folk world where there is a combination of everyone being part of it but also a commitment to following rules and ideals – that songs work a certain way and should be sung a certain way. I find it very interesting. Anyway this gig was so powerful. Her album lodestar is really truly magical I recommend it.
Jenny Hval – Doune the Rabbit Hole
This festival was very stressful and the last live show I did this year, with my band Towel. It turns out I don’t really like camping or hippies or being cold/wet. But the line up was very very good. And Jenny Hval’s set was so inspiring. Her costumes got lost on the plane to Scotland but that kind of made it better. She was wearing a big Scandinavian style jumper and her dancer was just wearing all black. Jenny sang in the most understated, provoking way moving around the stage and audience gently, while her dancer bounced around her, again understated but full of joy. I can’t really explain how special it was. Sorry.
Jealous Girlfriend – someone’s garden
Oh wow. It seems like my whole year was special. This show was in someone’s back garden in the summertime. Eilidh played the most perfect set as the light was fading. They are such a talented and inspiring songwriter, funny and sad and angry all at the same time. At the end of the set Eilidh played the Breakfast Muff song R U A Feminist and I cried.
Torrey Pines – Duke of Yorks Cinema
I felt really sad when I came to this show and I can’t remember why. Lots of my friends were there but I went and hid in the balcony seats and I cried when the music started because it was so beautiful. But then I stopped crying because it was such an engrossing, magical film I stopped thinking about why I was sad or whatever and felt transported by the colours and story and the live soundtrack which was just perfect, especially the bit with Whitney Houston. Jimmy drove us home in the van because Clyde and the band were all staying with us and on the way he played Lucinda Williams and that made me feel even better.
The Softies – The Albert
Oh my. This was breathtaking. The Softies write such delicate, minimal songs with just the perfect amount of harmony in and watching them play together again after a long break was an honour. I loved every laugh and every mistake. I loved hearing them talk about how they met and what the songs were about. They are both such luminous people I am very glad I got to spend some time with them and Jon this year. But especially I love finding people (and I know so many) to look up to and aspire to, who make music and take breaks and come back and show you what it means to have a lifetime with music in it.
Days Fade, Nights Grow – Latest Music Bar
Another extremely special experience. I have known Camille for maybe 4 years?? They used to come to shows in Bristol and started staying over at my house and being my friend and I just remember that whole time being very exciting. I feel completely in awe of Camille and the creativity they possess and the authority they are demanding to express that creativity. Days Fade, Nights Grow is one of the most satisfying solo projects I’ve ever witnessed – seeing someone alone on stage be so confident and shout so loudly and be so sure of what they are doing and saying. Its thrilling and everyone should go watch them.
I don’t know if I have any conclusions to draw from my year. I know that not playing shows has really helped me in numerous ways. I feel less stressed and I have more time to think about things like my family and my cats. But I do feel like a large part of my social life has disappeared. Even though I feel less anxious and more able to talk to people at shows now I also feel that when I do talk to people, my connection to them is much less real. When you are in a band with someone, or you share a bill with someone, you have this very real, very reliable reason to be around them. By not playing shows any more I feel like I’ve lost a lot of those connections and I feel unsure how to bring them back or make new ones. But I am hoping that that is something I can work out in time. I feel very grateful for all the music I get to see and I value creativity so much. I am also grateful to myself for letting myself stop, for releasing the pressure I’ve put on myself for over a decade to be creative and I am excited by all the time that frees up to enjoy other peoples’ creativity. And I am excited for the creativity that will follow.