Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Would you pay for it?

This is a question that is often asked by people in relation to art in general, and more often than not, in relation to music. Quite why people should ask that is possibly a more interesting question. Maybe it's something to do with the commercialisation of a large number of aspects of our life, including art.

Anyhoo, recently Mr Norman Lamont (yes, the same of "The Wright Brothers" fame), posted on his blog to the effect that he had a thin crowd at one of his "Waveforms" gigs. To those of you who don't know, they consist of instrumental pieces that are played on a guitar, and looped to build layers of sound, with effects added. They're also semi-improvised.

Jim "Hairy Legs" Igoe commented to the effect that he was sorry he'd missed the gig, but that he'd be willing to pay to hear a performance in future. That set me thinking: would I be willing to pay for the same? I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't be. But why?

After pondering it for a while, I had a few realisations. I've listened to Norm's waveforms in two different (free) venues, The Beanscene and St John's Church, at the west end. When I say "listened" in this sense, I mean they provided pleasant background music, and didn't occupy the whole of your attention. Which is perfectly fine, especially in those venues. The vast echo of St John's in particular gave them an epic quality.

But, to cut to the chase, what I really like about Norm's playing is his ability to connect with an audience, to beautifully turn a witty line in one of his songs, the banter with the crowd, the unique way he sings, the whole general emoting. None of that is present in Waveforms with what is, essentially, a guy fiddling with his loop pedals, pleasant and well-executed though that may be. Hell, I could probably do something interesting myself on a loop station and guitar. But there's no way I could do what Norman does when he plays his "normal" set live, as that is unique. And that's why I wouldn't pay for Waveforms, but why I have paid for his live performances and CD's.

But, as I said at the beginning, that doesn't mean that they didn't work in context; they did, and in a way that a more traditional "live" performance may have jarred somewhat.

1 comment:

  1. I'm honoured that you turn your attention to me to launch your new blog. I've missed your little observations on your old blog, and in person since we shelved The Brothers.
    So what are we saying here? That you've seen enough of WaveForms to know you wouldn't pay to see them, and that you prefer Norman to do what you think he does best.

    First, WaveForms. I can't envisage any circumstances in which I would or could charge money for what can be a fairly challenging listen. I interpreted Jim's remark as a gesture of friendship rather than a commercial offer. I do this music because it's what excites me, and puts me 'on the spot': I can't be sure it'll always provide anything for an audience and an audience would always have to put in more attentive effort than they would normally want to. So a minority interest, tentatively offered, then. No argument there. And no performance, just 'a guy fiddling with his loop pedals' - perhaps that should be my marketing strapline(cf Tommy MacKay, reviewed as 'a bloke with a guitar').
    Your main point is, essentially, 'why don't you do what you're good at?', which was the gist of my blog post. My response is that either of the following would have me out plugging for NL gigs: (a) a feeling that I had new songs with something to say or (b) a large audience full of love and enthusiasm for my old songs, demanding gigs.

    (a) is patently not there. I feel I have nothing to say and feel ambivalent about the effort I spend recording songs from a time when I did have something to say. Sure I enjoy performing for its own sake, but ...

    (b) ... the audience is small and almost entirely made up of the species 'supportive fellow songwriters'. To build a wider audience is something I have to admit, after years of effort, I just don't know how to do. And given that I have at least three musical sidelines that float my boat - WaveForms, Bespoke and playing bass for friends, none of this is songwriting - I wonder whether it's actually needed in the world? Never say never - there is still the germ of an idea awaiting the right time and personnel. But not now.

    You've made some very kind and generous remarks here about what I can do, and I'm grateful. And when there's the opportunity for you to pay for a live performance or CD I'll gladly accept your readies! You've made me think about something that's been buzzing away in shadows so thanks for that. I look forward to hearing what you're going to do post-Flowers and post-Brothers. I know whatever it is, it'll have wit, integrity and quality.