Fear is rising, the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, the lockdown real and present. Shops, pubs, clubs, cafes, parks, and restaurants closed. My ‘party central’ city centre, silent. Britain's so-called national characteristic, queuing, a life defining feature. We’ve seen Toilet roll shortage, £50 flour bags on ebay, madness, greed and desperation. Supermarkets, meat stripped, like Cuba, without the sunshine, and the music. Even in the deepest economic crisis, Cuba still has clubs, salsa, rumba, bars and live music, we’re a closed down, locked out nation. Kept in for being naughty, where’s the naughty step?
‘Apocalypse Now’ scene flashes, Martin Sheen’s Captain WIllard, tracking down a renegade Colonel Kutz, looking around, US army base, Cold Beer, Burgers, Bowling Alleys, Coke, observes something like, “The more they, (the Generals), try to make it more like home, the more they, (the troops) miss it, the more they lose the will to fight and survive”. That’s what live gigs on the web, and ever expanding playlists, really are, an attempt to create a past reality, a reminisce, it reminds us of what’s gone already, leaving me despondent and pessimistic for music’s future.
These thoughts are reinforced by a mate’s invitation to an on-line quiz, think pub quiz without beer, sure there’ll be questions, and sure we’ll be ‘Zoom’ed faces, and disinterred voices, people raising glasses - beer, and wine at home, but it’s not the same. Human contact, touch, absent, it’s not the same. The more I do it, the more the “real” thing’s missed and despondency leaches into the air. My air. The air I no longer share. I suppose that’s virtual reality, writ large, and you know it’s not ‘real’ but trying. Like ‘quorn’ is trying. Like virtual meat.
It’s the same with live gigs and performances streamed. Not seen too many at home, mainly Opera, and live theatre in Cinema streams. Sometimes the only way a world class live performance will be seen outside London, unless you can stretch to... Train-Hotel-Dinner-Theatre-Hotel-Train-Home. It’s like what though? Imagine you’ve had a muddy, lost-Boot Glastonbury one year, next year you’re on the sofa, the TV has the bands, the mud, that lost boot and beer. We all know there’s nothing like being there.
Gigs, especially small club solo performances are interaction, improvisation, audience repartee. Your laughter, banter, shared beers. Normal time, friends, new sounds, devotion, new tastes, yells, cheers, yeah laughs. House party, maybe, a synthetic substitute. YouTube posts and live streams congrats to those putting the hours and effort in, more than I’m willing or able to do. For me a reminder of what’s been lost, sacrificed to the current crisis. Drifting on a wave, new ‘normality’, not going out, streamed to your phone at home, usurping live music, nullifying real live experiences, remember, you can’t pause a real live gig for a coffee, a pee, a chat.
Like seeing live football, having only seen the same on TV, “where’s the replay”, “why’s the ball so far away”, “why was that a foul”. I fear something similar, we’ll forget the sound problems, the crush at bar, anticipation at gig’s start, the sweat, the foot shuffle for a better view, the calls, the reaction, interaction, buzz and closed semi- darkened experience. Seeing Julian Cope live his living room... Interesting once, but the whole show?? Not convinced. Anticipation, the build up, the ticket ordering, travelling. Music like all art really should involve some effort, commitment and sacrifice, that’s the presence, the struts, pouts, our reward. The mistakes, the dropped lines, chords and tambourines, all make a gig a great night out, as opposed to a pleasant night in, live stream and pause. Perhaps looking it another way, it is a metaphor for the current Virus lockdown – we are living our lives on hold, gigs are paused. Life a download, fibre cabled, search engine powered. That’s not rock and roll to me.
I suppose it’s a bit like, like, being used to real mashed potatoes and gravy and having to make do with ‘Smash’ it’s, it’s... It’s a poor substitute. I’d prefer Music Videos, nothing like live performance, with songs pseudo dramatically represented. Fantasy at a time when hope’s short-term dimmed, and a far from certain future for bands and live venues. For me I suppose it’s the romance of old Sepia photos, fading memories, Mott the Hoople sang about ‘Saturday Gigs’, Roundhouse and cheapo wine, busted seats and gigs up in Croydon. Memories from the 70s, Top of the Pops, and we “playing better than they do”. Yeah there’s an energy, a tension, a sense that anything can happen in the next hour on the stage.
But this streaming stuff, it’s the best we’ve got, 12 weeks? Maybe more. The recovery… Get gigs sorted? Getting BREXIT done will have been easie. Road crews to be rounded up, security staff sourced, bar staff stocking beer, the riggers, and the tour t-shirts. Like chasing down loo rolls, bands all want the same tour support. It’s gonna be a long slow crawl.
“Back to life, Back to reality”
But not normality, that’s for sure, what’s gone before, has gone, new normality will be different , venues closed, never to reopen. Bands, money lost never to be made up, but one thing that won’t change, the excitement, the anticipation, the beers, the cheers, sweeping sounds, and audience buzz. Sad days for me, senses of loss pervade, reminders of what’s been lost.
Talking of a new future, the losses for me, CDs, I fear for the future of CD’s and Vinyl. Music will never be the same, or rather it’ll never sound the same. Neil Young long time CD, Digital heretic, recording analogue–phile… I wonder, what’s he’s thinking? The FOUR independent music sellers up here in Toon, must be facing a distressing future, they can probably stand a few weeks of no trade, but what looks like a bleak winter trading, a disaster for them and me. Where am I going for music, not to Spotify, or Amazon music, so it’s gonna be charity and e-bay shopping, no anticipation in postman waiting.
The current crisis will probably change buying, and listening to music. Which, pubs and clubs, what will be open when lockdown releases, there will be tears, and losses, who knows. For us oldies, there’ll still be live gigs and who knows with returns so poor on downloads, perhaps live performances will be the only real income for bands, and there may be more gigs, and more great nights in bars, clubs, and theatres to come.
The old slogan “Keep music live” has never been more appropriate for me, and music’s future.
Sad times to come?