It’s good to care about something. Having live music and club nights back is something I’ll not take for granted ever again.
The news doesn’t make for pleasant reading. New COVID variants abound. The government lies – no shit. COP26 hasn’t halted the climate crisis. And yet, as 2021 draws to a close, those final days of increasingly limited daylight playing out, many will look back positively on the year. I’ve got mixed feelings, for sure.
For one, right now I’m recovering from putting on a gig in Glasgow with the Lost Map Label. The best show I’ve ever been involved in putting on, I think. My band Savage Mansion played its first hometown show in two years. Herbert Powell (one of my favourite bands, who have finally released some recorded music ( the excellent album Here In My Scheme, Here It Ends) played their first gig of any kind in five years. Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, a six-strong choir delivering rousing incantations, swapping instruments, roaming the stage and the entire venue, were unlike any group I’ve seen live for sometime. There were stripped back sets from Sulka and Happy Spendy, both adhering to that cornerstone of pop music – writing great songs.
Four days have passed and I’m a wreck, still. There was drink involved, of course. But there’s something else going on. I’m talking to Johnny (Pictish Trail) Lynch, Lost Map’s ringleader, over breakfast. ‘The trouble with gigs post-pandemic’, he says, ‘is that every one of them feels like a celebration, so it’s tricky not to get caught up in that spirit.’
A forgotten feeling
The week leading up to the show I didn’t sleep well at all, waking up at the oddly specific time of 3.30am, wide awake, every night, trying a few remedies with no success. The wheel was spinning all the time. On a practical level the show, at Mono, was a sell out – so no concerns about paying the acts, venue or any other expenses. It only occurred to me on the morning of the show that it was nerves. I haven’t been nervous about playing a show in years. It’s healthy sometimes. It tends to mean something matters. It’s a feeling I’d forgotten.
The truth is, for some of us, nothing matters more. Remove what little ‘music business’ remains from the equation entirely and it still matters, is vital. There were a few things I missed during the various lockdowns (the cinema over the TV, a pint of Guinness over a can) but the one that really mattered was live music, or events centered around music of any kind.. My first gig back was for work – Jane Blanchard at The Hug and Pint – and in the last few months I’ve done dozens of those shifts. As I punter I went to Roisin Murphy, Mogwai, Little Simz, watching in a dream state, wowed by the production, noise, sheer force of personality, talent.
What Saturday brought, on top of that, was a real coming together of a community. Faces you used to see on a monthly basis back in a room together, some friends, most strangers, but a broad church of people living a shared experience. I had a similar, vicarious, feeling watching different groups of friends post Instagram stories from Optimo back in August, or when the Lost Map squad went to Green Man festival later that month, reporting back gleefully.
In a long-winded way I think I’m trying to explain that the serotonin boost of playing, and then being part of that celebratory atmosphere, has taken more out of me than I expected and left me emotionally drained. Sometimes I wish I could snap into a more rational existence, but it’s not me and it won’t happen. It’s good to care about something. Whatever way the world changes in the next few years, I hope the infrastructure that makes all of these events possible remains strong. I hope there are ways to make touring environmentally sustainable and free of restrictive red tape. I hope everybody involved, musicians, engineers, production, can be paid fairly. I’m not talking rich, I’m talking enough to get by.
paying so little to the vast majority of artists, whilst making a select few very rich
The antithesis to the community-based good feeling is Spotify, which is almost completely unavoidable (and full disclosure, I’m using that very service right now) in the modern world. This is the season of Spotify Wrapped, which gives listeners the chance to have their listening habits ranked and broken down, and gives artists the chance to see how many millions, or billions of streams they have. Or how big they are in Paraguay. It’s addictive. Turns out, statistically anyway, I was one of the biggest Eddie Chacon fans on the planet in 2021. That’s one half of Charles and Eddie, who made a beautifully stripped back solo record with producer John Carroll Kirby last year, plaintively sung above a blanket of soft, fragile synth lines.
It’s fun, if you’re a geek, which I am. The other side is knowing that this platform – a great interface, an amazing research tool – is paying so little to the vast majority of artists, whilst making a select few very rich. Consider: 38-year-old founder Daniel Ek is rich beyond anything I can comprehend, and has a habit of investing in ethically dubious areas, most recently a quite frightening sounding AI defence technology, a move which directly caused a few musicians (with the power and agency to do so) to quit the platform.
I have no solutions to offer right now, other than to try and preserve what’s important to myself and my peers and my community, and to think about how to do that. It’s easy to feel hopelessness about it and ask whether as an individual I have any power at all. I’ve done my best to buy music directly from artists, labels and record shops this year, though money is tight and I have a finite amount of space for more records and CDs. It’ll take a bigger infrastructural shake up. I’m sceptical that the people who could make it happen would allow it.
For now, I’m looking forward to a quiet winter, when I’ll try and get away from the screen and stop reading the news for a bit. Those mixed feelings about 2021 will be processed, but having live music and club nights back is something I’ll not take for granted ever again. All going well, Pictish Trail and us will be going back out on (a twice rescheduled) tour in March and April, supporting new album releases. Following that, Herbert Powell will join us for a few more shows. I hate to think how I’m going to feel when that’s all over. A crash always follows, but what choice do we have? This is who we are. On to the next thing.