India Electric Co – The Rondo Theater, Bath

Friday 16th February.

I discovered India Electric Co as part of 40 gigs, I saw them last June in a folk club and immediately loved them. This was their first headline tour and they bought Jack Cookson along as support. This was the first time I’ve been to Bath for a gig, which seems ridiculous as its only 13 miles away from Bristol on an excellent train line. The Rondo theater is more known for plays and comedy it seems, and if I was a Bath resident I’m sure I would venture there again as it was a lovely space. The staff were friendly and welcoming and joined the audience for the gig, Seb did a great job on the sound too.

This was the third time I’d seen Jack Cookson, he does a cracking job as a support act. He has a natural and easy charm. He is crowdfunding his latest project, give him some money if you can. We cannot allow music to become the preserve of those with wealth, we have to support artists by buying gig tickets and CD’s/records. Jack is a really talented singer songwriter, help him to keep making a living doing what he loves. I’m not usually a fan of the harmonica, but Jack is good enough to make me listen to him play them and he can really play. I think I liked his final song the most, it was certainly the most heartfelt and that I like.

India Electric Co made their entrance through the crowd, playing acoustic, like proper folk troubadours. They then played a brilliant set, songs from the most recent EP’s as well as earlier albums. For all the self-deprecating chat and polite Englishness, they are very, very good. Joe can play so many instruments it’s almost dizzying. It shouldn’t be allowed that one person can be so good on the keys, guitar, violin, accordion and also be so nice. You get the feeling you could give him almost anything to play and he’d make lovely noises come out of it. This paired with Cole’s emotionally charged vocals and you have wonderful music. Please don’t ever stop playing  Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, you do it so well, better than the Boss does himself. Lyrically the inspiration comes from poetry and ancient folk songs, but the delivery is modern and with real heart. No matter how much modesty and piss ripping Cole may come out with, watching him feel the song as he sings them is powerful. Parachutes again found me with moist eyes. It’s the standout track of theirs, the one I’ve played over and over since last June. It was delivered last night with real passion and meaning. It was fabulous to hear Joe playing keys on it this time. Tingley I was.

One of the things I have come to really love about folk music is its sense of history, that India Electric Co can take tunes from 350 years ago and pair them with poetry of the same time and turn it into something modern. That music somehow manages to connect us, literally, with the past. Not just with each other in the present moment that we are hearing it, but with generations of others who have played and sung these same songs. I find that very moving.

They finished, as they had begun, among us in the audience. This is music made by people who want to share. My kind of music, and my kind of musicians. The kind I bake chocolate cherry cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing for. They ate two each, so I think they liked them.

Last time I saw India Electric Co I had no idea what to expect and had a lovely surprise. Last night I was, I’ll admit, slightly nervous, that I would have to politely pretend I’d enjoyed it, that was far from the case. Although I’d hate for you to tell them that, if Joe or Cole or Jack ask they were alright but nothing special ok? 😉

Gigs are about so much more than the sounds made on stage, they are about the mood and atmosphere of the place, the people you are with, the performers on stage and how all those things intersect. They are about us, as an audience, being receptive, going in with open ears and open hearts. If 40 gigs taught me anything it was to be unafraid of being open. Performers get up on stage because they want you to listen, I write this blog because I want you to read my words. We want to connect. Our world and our politics seem hell bent on the opposite, so let’s draw together. Go out whenever you can and see a band live. Go without preconceptions, don’t get drunk and chat, just listen. With openness and love. See where it takes you. It has taken me to the most magical places. Odd little theaters in Bath among them.

 

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Willy Mason – The Cube, Bristol

Saturday 10th February.

I discovered Willy Mason at Glastonbury 2005, when he headlined the John Peel tent on the final night. He was the best act I saw that weekend and I’ve been a fan ever since.

When this intimate tour was announced, with pre-sale to the mailing list,  it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. I’ve only been to The Cube once before, for a really moving and odd art installation comedy thing and then the space felt small and claustrophobic. I’ve been hesitant about going back, despite my neighbour, who volunteers there, urging me to do so. It’s also not in the best part of town to be be on your own, late at night. But for Willy I was prepared to venture in. I’m glad I did.

Yes, The Cube is odd. You go down into it, then back up once inside and it can feel quite bunker like, but I timed my arrival better and so wasn’t trapped inside the bar or on the stairs waiting to get into the theatre. The performance space itself is lovely, all wooden walls and tiered velvet seats so that the view is brilliant from everywhere.

Support was from Nina Violet, who is also in Willy’s band. She has a beautiful voice with amazing range and control. I would have bought her CD at the end of the gig, but she was sold out, which gives you an idea of how much the rest of the audience loved her too.

She came back out, with the other 2 band members, a bass player come trumpeter (how brilliant a combo is that?) and clarinet/saxophonist player Emma (who can fix her instrument with a rizla, a handy skill) and Willy himself. My initial response was blimey he has aged (well I hasten to add) then I caught myself thinking, of course he has, its been about 9 years since you last saw him. He was a boy then, with a man’s voice, an old head on young shoulders. I guess he always will be, to an extent,  with the world weary warmth he carries in his songs.

That glorious voice, deep, rich, full of humanity and love, singing about the world as seen by a sensitive and deep thinker. Willy isn’t the most prolific producer, or tourer, but you get quality over quantity with him. He is worth seeking out. Those of us who know his music really love him, his following is loyal. Everyone in there knew all the old songs and some had travelled a fair way to be there. Almost everyone was on time and respectful throughout, no talking and barely anyone taking photographs. If you know and love Willy’s music, well, you take it seriously it seems. Which isn’t to say the mood was somber, far from it, it was like a lovely cardigan, gentle and warming. Willy is charming and charismatic in an understated way, endearing and sweet. He’s an amazing songwriter and singer and plays a pretty mean blues country guitar. He played for over 90 minutes and the encore became almost as long as the main set, I think he played 6 extra songs before leaving the stage. We had to help him with the words a few times, there were songs added that weren’t on the setlist and he clearly was enjoying himself up there. Given that he has already played a matinée show that afternoon, that commitment and the quality of his voice, was outstanding. This is a man who relishes playing for an appreciative audience (hence the tiny venue) and shares his soul through his music.

Oxygen will remain his signature song (“now have I forgotten anything else” he joshed) and with just him on guitar leading us along it was glorious. He was a very young man when he wrote it, but it is one of those songs that become more powerful with age. Restless Fugitive was another standout track, So Long and a rousing version of Where The Humans Eat in the encore (not on the set list and introduced to the band as “well this will be interesting” so perhaps not even rehearsed!) but pretty much every song was superb.

I hope it isn’t another 9 years before I get to see Willy Mason perform live. He is a special talent.

Mogwai – Colston Hall, Bristol

Saturday 3rd February.

I came to Mogwai late, only last year, thanks to  Mary Anne Hobbs (yes, her again) and have been in love with them ever since I first heard Coolverine. This was a gig I’d been looking forward to for months, and both Tom and Claire had independently bought me a ticket for it, that’s how much those close to me knew I wanted to go!

Due to the ongoing nerve pain/damage in my arm and shoulder I knew that getting down the front wasn’t going to be an option, so we plumped for second row seats instead. I could just about see above the crowd when standing, or perched half seated on my upturned seat. Being all in a row also allowed me, Tom, Claire, Jacqui and Monty to share in the gig together, which was pretty special all of its own.

There was excellent support from Out Lines, another Glasgow collective, who do a nice line in beautiful melancholia. I’m not at all sure what the squeeze box/sideways accordion is actually called, but the drone sounds emanating from it were great. I would recommend listening to them and seeing them live if you can.

Mogwai. Oh, what can I say? From the opening notes to the very end I was enraptured. This was a visceral, enveloping gig that shook me in just about every way. It was so loud! The loudest gig I’ve ever been to. The bass didn’t just rumble, it shook and thundered through you like nothing I’ve experienced before. Claire and I both kept shouting yes as it got more intense, “its making the underwing of my bra vibrate” she declared!

The lighting and sound designers of this show deserve such credit, they threw everything they could at us and made it such an overwhelming and incredible experience. It was an assault on all your senses at once, physically and emotionally. I was moved over and over. There was such joy in the intensity of the sound, such visceral thrill in the sheer power of the volume. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried at least twice, just with the overwhelming nature of it all. It was superb. I’ve no idea what tracks they played, just that they all sounded amazing. The standout came 2 tracks before the encore, that started out quieter and then built and built and built until it kicked so fucking hard that it made me jump. It was awesome.Brilliant. Magnificent. I loved every single second of this gig.

Quite simply it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

 

Daylight Music – Union Chapel, London

Saturday February 3rd. Tiny Leaves and Bennett Wilson Poole.

We were in London anyway and had open return train tickets so I suggested to Tom that we headed to Union Chapel to catch the Daylight Music gig. For one reason and another we ended up being a bit late and missing the first act and came in towards the end of Tiny Leaves. Which is such a shame, because what I heard of them I liked very much indeed. Listening to them now I am even more gutted that we missed most of them. Gorgeous sounds, all instrumental and lush.

The final act were Bennett Wilson Poole playing a mixture of acoustic and 12 string Rickenbacker with vocals. As enthusiastic and full of harmony as they were, they weren’t for me. It was too blokey and slightly in crowd for me.

Union Chapel was every bit as beautiful and beguiling as the first time I visited in November and I will definitely pay Daylight Music another visit when I can. What a magnificent idea, great music in relaxed surroundings, with tea and cake, for the price of a donation! If you are in or around London of a Saturday lunchtime during their season, go. Whoever is playing, the experience is worthwhile, I promise.

Nadine Shah – The Roundhouse, London

Friday 2nd February.

I have been suffering with a trapped nerve/impingement in my neck, causing pain and numbness through my right shoulder, arm and fingers for a few weeks. I was a little bit nervous of making the trip up to London for this gig. All those extra people jostling about and the bumpiness of the train!  The gig tickets, the hotel and the train tickets were all pre booked and paid for so there was no real choice but to go and hope for the best.

Despite having lived in London for the majority of my life I had never been to the Roundhouse before. Nadine Shah is an artist Tom and I both really like, so when he offered to get us tickets I could hardly say no. She has one of those unique and memorable voices, it would have been churlish to not hear her live.

We were late and missed the support act, which is a shame as the guy sat next to us described them as “jazz. weird jazz” which sounds like the sort of thing I would have really liked!

Tom had somehow managed to book us front row seats, so we had a superb view of the stage. I must find out more about the Roundhouse’s history, and go there again. The staff, including security (which was quite full on) were friendly (in London!) and the space itself was smashing. It was quite theatrical feeling, black drapes and in the round, with full tiered seating. You could be sat anywhere and have a great view I’d have thought.

Nadine opened with 3 songs from her latest album, Holiday Destination and her voice is even more powerful live. Backed by a group of excellent musicians, the sound was superb. The passion in her performance so evident and the emotion was written all over her face. She is a proper performer, giving her all whilst retaining total control of both her voice and the stage. This was a masterclass in politically powerful pop. There really isn’t enough of that about anymore and the reminders to continue to care in the face of a hostile world coming from the stage were heartfelt. As Nadine acknowledged, she was  performing in an echo chamber, but the call to amplify the voices of love against those of hate is always needed.

The final song, Mother Fighter, an impassioned and brilliant song, which was delivered with commitment and real soul, was the standout song of the night for me. I was reminded of a conversation I’d been having with my 11 year old son about Trump and the politics of hate, that the only way we win is with love. Is to shine light into the darkness and keep it shining, however bleak things seem.

Nadine Shah is an artist full of humanity and warmth, her talent and music one of those lights. Keep it shining.

 

 

40 gigs – the future

A year ago today I went to the first gig of my 40th year celebrations. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I had no idea where any of this would lead.

The band were C Duncan, I’d never heard of them, but my friends had and they took me as birthday gift. I loved the band. I wound up seeing them support Elbow at gig 6 and asking Chris if I could have a photo pass on their May tour. He readily agreed and I spent the night of  my birthday at another C Duncan gig, taking pictures! That was just one highlight in an amazing year of highlights.

Yesterday Lauren Laverne played a C Duncan track as part of my memory tape as she interviewed me on BBC6 Music about this whole experience. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted that a year ago. Nor had the confidence to write in, to speak live on radio, or to share this story with so many.

Then I was lacking confidence and was coming to terms with losing my Mum and having 2 major surgeries and surviving sepsis in a short space of time. Now I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I have met some wonderful people, been shown incredible kindness and feel more comfortable in my own skin. Losing a parent, especially your Mother, young, is hard. It will remain so. I will never stop loving or missing her. Being open and honest about that grief has helped me, and in turn helped others too. We aren’t alone, even when we think we are.

Major surgery once is scary, twice in 8 months, when complications from the 1st one left you battling sepsis, pretty terrifying. I survived. Many don’t. Without the work of Sepsis UK, the medics at the hospital thinking sepsis and taking swift action, I wouldn’t be here now. I remain deeply grateful to the NHS staff who saved my life.

That gratitude is extended to everyone who made 40 gigs possible. Every friend, colleague and stranger who bought me a gig ticket, donated or guest listed me. Collectively you made my dreams come true, my heart soar, and gave my life renewed energy and purpose. Dozens of you. Thank you so, so much. To all the bands and artists, your creativity, your dedication, your ability to connect though music, has been my inspiration. I met many of the artists and most of them loved this idea and were really happy to be part of it. To those of you who took the time to listen to me, sign tickets and in some cases give me a hug (I’m looking at you,  Guy Garvey) your humanity and warmth made this.

On the 1st February 2017 I went to a gig on a boat (Thekla, I love you) to see a band I didn’t know. I had planned to see 39 other gigs before the 31st January 2018. By the end of 2017 I had been to 51 gigs, travelled to 8 Cities, visited 30 different venues (mostly independents), cemented friendships, made new ones and fallen in love.

Today marks the start of a new gig year. I am seeing Nadine Shah at the Roundhouse in London tomorrow, Mogwai in Bristol on Saturday. February will also bring gigs from Willy Mason, India Electric Co and Nils Frahm. March sees me travel to Birmingham and Manchester to see Elbow with John Grant twice, Solomon Grey, venture to the Bristol Jazz Festival to see Arun Ghosh, Evelyn Glennie, Ghostpoet and Lee Konitz as well as a classical concert at the beautiful St George’s Hall. April is more classical music, Public Service Broadcasting and Joan as Policewoman. I’ll be celebrating my birthday in May with Max Richter and Ex Eye and a few weeks later there is Ezra Furman. So I am not stopping.

Music, live music, is everything.

 

 

 

40+11

The Bootleg Beatles. Colston Hall, Bristol.

Sort of explains itself, main hall of my beloved and most visited venue of this year.

I can’t usually get out to Tuesday night gigs, so when the unexpected opportunity came up to go out tonight, I went searching for a gig. I found this one, with only one seat left in the back corner of the stalls. It was meant to be I thought and purchased the ticket. I’ve never seen a tribute band before. The Spiceish Girls doesn’t count. I saw them by mistake. I was drunk. And if you are gonna see a tribute band, you might as well start with the best. The Beatles were one of the greatest bands of all time. They changed the face of rock n roll with seminal album after seminal album.

This would be my last gig of 2017 and I wanted to see it out in style. The best band, the alleged best tribute band, the last gig of the year. Would expectations be too high, or exceeded?

I couldn’t help myself, I was excited about this gig. It was an impulse purchase at the last minute and it felt a bit wild and decadent to be heading out, near Christmas, on my own. The atmosphere in the Hall was already bristling, the crowd full of young and old alike, many clearly multi generational trips were being taken to this gig. The seats next to me were filled by two young Beatles fans, early 20’s at most, and their energy was fantastic. Being right at the back of the stalls meant I could see over the rest of the audience and feed off their excitement too.

There was no support and the fake Fab Four came on promptly at 7.30pm for a whistle-stop tour of the early years. They put on a damn good show, video and light shows building the picture of the era. They began, at the beginning, all mop top and I Wanna Hold Your Hand and it was ace. Then we were in Shea Stadium for a few numbers before, amazingly, ending up in St Peppers. The costumes were spot on, and the addition of the strings and brass section added to the visceral thrill of hearing music played live, knowing the original artists had never toured this particular record. A Day In The Life is such a perfect song that it feels impossible to follow. Smartly they didn’t, as this was were we broke for the interval. St Peppers did show the flaws, it probably is impossible to actually play fully live and make it sound exactly like the record. Its far too complex and multi layered, but this was a damn fine attempt.

For all the jokes about Ringo being a shite drummer, he shone tonight, a drummers job, with the bassist, is to hold the thing together, and he did that so well. It might not be the most complex or showy drumming, but it sits there, keeping time and allowing the others to show off. Which they did. John, possibly the weakest fake Beatle (although how you would capture Lennon’s charisma and legend now I don’t really know), Paul nailed the chirpy everybloke personality perfectly and George, who despite looking more like Dave Grohl, was probably the closest to the real thing of the four.  They peppered the chat with a mixture of actual Beatles one liners and more modern references, tongue firmly in cheek throughout.

Some numbers had the oldies up and dancing, jiving and twisting for all they were worth. With their Grandkids too! That was joyous to see. And also sad, for Twist & Shout bought back memories of my Mum teaching me to dance when I was a kid “pretend you are stubbing a fag out with your foot, Ems” was her twist lesson. It made me think about how much she would have loved this gig. How she would have been up and dancing, with a huge smile on her face, how we used to love to dance together. How I wish she was still here, with me, and able to enjoy an experience like this together. Grief is such a tricksy, mercurial bastard like that. You can be having a wonderful time, and then get broadsworded by tears. Even years after the death.

That is also the amazing thing about music. How it just unlocks emotions when you least expect. I could see a young man a few rows in front being comforted during Penny Lane, his Dad rubbing his back as he heaved sobs.

After the interval we got the later years, which I hadn’t realised to be my favourite era Beatles, but clearly is. Get Back was fucking incredible. I was grooving like a good un to that. It was amazing. I found the Ballard of John & Yoko to be really poignant, the line “gonna crucify me” given Lennon’s assignation struck me. Here Comes The Sun was so beautiful, and if you can’t smile while singing Hey Jude in a room full of people then you have no soul. The encore was “a cover of that Elbow song that’s on the John Lewis ad” and it was stunning. I was in tears.  I’ve never had a reaction like that to the Beatles records, you have to hear music live for it to really connect. And with a band long since defunct and only half alive, that’s not usually possible. It becomes so with a Tribute Band, especially one like this, so faithful to both the music and the spirit of the original.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the world of tribute bands, the Bootleg Beatles can certainly play, and there was an honesty to what they were doing that I liked.  It wasn’t the Beatles, but no-one ever could be. It was enjoyable and emotional, everything I want in a gig.

At the start of 2017 I did not think I would have gone to so many gigs. 51. 51. That is utter madness. Sheer recklessness. It has proved the making of me in so many ways, though.

Thank you Bootleg Beatles, I loved tonight. Gig 40+11. I still can’t believe that I have done this. It has been the most amazing and incredible musical adventure. It has been so full of love. All You Need Is Love after all.

40+10

Ella Fitzgerald Centenary Concert with Claire Martin & The BBC Big Band. St George’s Hall, Bristol.

One of the finest jazz singers being commemorated by a Big Band Orchestra at the best sounding venue in the City. Yes please.

I booked this ticket way back in the summer, thinking that giving myself something to look forward to in the dark winter months was a god idea. Which it was. And that a Big Band and a big voice would probably serve to lift winter blues. Which they sort of did.

I love St George’s, it has amazing acoustics and great volunteers. It’s not the most comfortable and the pricing can be a touch erratic but with great sound and atmosphere it is usually worth it.

I had been looking forward to this gig, as something to make me smile, for a while. Sadly I was feeling quite wonky going in. I gave thought to sitting this gig out altogether to be honest. Then I remembered why I’ve been to so many gigs. Because in music I have a place. And I fit. Not perfectly, but enough. Besides this was gig 50. A point so far ahead of original goal, significant enough a number, to merit dragging myself out.

I had booked a stalls seat, at the front but with restricted view. Makes no difference in St George’s where you sit, the sound is amazing throughout, although I did lose some of the ambience in not being able to see most of the band. There were a lot of them, mind, about 18 I think, plus conductor and guest singer.

They played a range of swing, big band standards and arrangements with and without Claire singing. Most of the band got to show off with a solo at some point, which is completely justified when you have a bunch of musicians this talented, would be a waste not to show them off. Highlights for me were Honeysuckle Rose and Sing, Sing, Sing, both of which were in the second half. I wasn’t fully engaged with a lot of this gig, and that’s me, rather than the band. Somehow it felt too slick, ever so slightly too polished. The track I really loved was the one described as “a bit wilder.” I guess I’ve gotten into, and seen, some pretty avant guard stuff this year, which made these standard tunes seem tame. Which, in their time, they were not. They just seem it to my ears now. And as much as Claire has an amazing, smoky, husky, jazz voice, I just didn’t feel it.

Jazz is black classical music. It is Nina. And Ella. And Duke. It isn’t polite, white middle class British people clapping gently in a former Church. Or maybe it is and I’m wrong about this too. All I know is I felt as out of place with this music, in this place, tonight, as I have with everything else around me lately.

The aim had been a winter warmer. It wasn’t. Maybe I’m too cold.

40+10 didn’t quite work but hey you can’t win them all.

 

40+9

Songhoy Blues. The Anson Rooms, Bristol.

Mali’s most famous band. Venue I’ve never been too, that’s part of Bristol University Students’ Union.

6 Music play Songhoy Blues all the time, that’s where I had heard of them. Everyone I know who has seen them live has said how great they were so way back in July I booked this ticket, hoping that it would be near the end of the 40 gigs challenge. Then I went to a lot more gigs and this became gig 49. I’ve never been to the Anson Rooms before. What a smashing venue. Great sound, lighting and space. I’d love to photograph there, the press pit is about a mile wide! The staff were helpful and friendly, the vibe was good and the ceiling was high. A big, open space that felt welcoming. I’ll happily go back.

I was sharing this gig with Janine, who has been my most frequent gig companion this year. Its so fab to have a friend with music taste as eclectic as mine to share gigs with. We were both really excited about this gig, and had been looking forward to it for some time. We arrived in time for most of the support act, who’s name I didn’t catch. He was a great blues guitarist is about all I can tell you. We secured a front row spot at the end of his set and waited with excitement for Songhoy Blues to come on.

From the moment Songhoy Blues came on I was smiling, and the smile did not leave my face until after they left the stage. This was such joy bringing and life affirming music. It was superb. I was struck by their youth and vitality. Vibrant, energetic and so much fun to watch play. Usually there are times at a gig when I want to close my eyes and absorb it all, but I couldn’t tonight. There was just too much to see on the stage. The gurning and grinning drummer, the lost in the moment guitarist, the cool as funk bass player and the frantic dancing of the singer. They were having so much fun up there on that stage that you couldn’t help but get swept up in it.

I was dancing, I was smiling and I was feeling so much love and energy from the band and crowd. This was a winter warmer of a gig. It was funky. It was loud. It was groovy. It was downright down and dirty in places. The bass and the drum vibrated my chest and the guitar left me in awe. Imagine if The Funk Brothers had gotten together with James Brown and Jimmy Hendrix to form a supergroup, but they had been raised in Africa and you might be approaching what Songhoy Blues play. Its funk, rock, blues with soul and ska, all backed with African rhythms. They are amazing.

Standout tracks would have to include their most well known, Bamako, Mali Nord and the track they made with Iggy Pop, Sahara, although to be honest they were all fabulous. There was a song dedicated to refugees, another One Colour about bringing us together. I don’t speak French, the language of the lyrics, but I speak bass and guitar and drums. We were united tonight by music. Music binds and draws us close. Through music we make friends. We sustain ourselves and each other. So much of 40 gigs was and is about exactly that. To have it made musical flesh tonight was special.

Janine and I had been talking about a top 10 gig list before tonight. This was a top 10 gig. It was within a few tracks. It was so joyous and happy and life affirming. On a dull, cold, winters night we were warmed physically and mentally by the music.

Thank you Songhoy Blues, this was a special gig. One I will treasure.

49 gigs. 9 more than target but 1 my heart will remember.

 

40+8

Winter Mountain. The Canteen, Bristol.

Band who I discovered as gig 13 of 40 gigs. Venue that’s a bar/restaurant/puts on free live music that I’ve not been to for ages, in a part of town I rarely venture to.

Winter Mountain were the not at all unlucky 13th gig of this whole thing, I picked them because I liked their name. By the end of the gig I firmly liked their music too. So I was excited about seeing them again. When I saw that the tour included a stop at Bristol, albeit in a very different venue to last time I knew I would have to be there.

The last time I was at The Canteen was for an evening of music upstairs where we were laying on the floor on giant cushions, about 7 years ago. Stokes Croft is not my part of town. I find it edgy and unwelcoming. I feel so utterly out of place there that I just don’t venture anywhere near it. The Canteen itself is a bar/restaurant/live venue/pilates & adult ballet class venue/home of Bristol Bike Project/about 85 other things.  It is far too confusing for my brain to work with all its possibilities and the signs are so poor (and its so badly lit) that I cannot orient myself within its space.

Stupidly I was early and as I walked in to try to work out what the fuck was happening I bumped into about 5 people (somehow, all my fault despite not having eyes in the back of my head and when my apologies fell on deaf ears I felt tears prick). I felt the panic starting to rise and I walked out. It took me half an hour of walking down a quiet side street to feel calm enough to go back in.

I outline all this to show how much the music means to me. I dislike crowds. I find low ceilings, lots of conflicting noises, low light and environments I don’t know really hard to deal with. So for me to go anywhere like that for music, to put myself through layers of discomfort, shows you what it means. It is also some sort of attempt to ask you all to be a little kinder to people. You don’t know what’s going on inside them. They might be freaking out silently. If someone bumps you accidentaly, perhaps they have trouble orientiating themselves in space. Smile, say “hey, that’s ok” instead of being aggro with them. Accessibility is about a lot more than having a wheelchair ramp.

Once my gig friend, Janine was there and some friendly folk offered us space at their table I felt a lot happier. I was also relieved to see Joe and the rest of the band bringing in their instruments and setting up. Phew, I wasn’t in the wrong place on the wrong day!

We were lucky and some people sat at a table at the front left about halfway through the first song, so I was able to move right to the front and get the sounds of the music in my ears loud enough to drown out the background chatting. This was a huge bonus as I love Joe’s voice, its warm and comfortable like a favourite blanket. They played my favourite tracks in the first half, Open Heart and Stronger When You Hold Me. Open Heart has become a sort of anthem for me over 40 gigs, living life in an open and loving way has been such a part of this year. It has been my only human response to all the tragedy and discord around us. Politically things have been the worst of times and I don’t mean to diminish this in any way, just to say that the only way I feel I have been able to react and respond to the hatrid I have seen around me is with love. To draw together with kindness. And I have been met with so much love and kindness in return, strangers have become friends and I have allowed myself to be open to wonderful possibilities.

The first time I saw Winter Mountain I was still closed and a bit lost. So the themes of I Swear I  Flew resonated in a different way than they did tonight. This was also a very different type of gig. In a crowded and noisy bar with punters not paying attention to the band. Which is a real shame, cos they can play and deserve to be heard. It must be frustrating as a musician putting your heart and soul into your music to have it ignored in such an obvious way. All I can say to that is that I really enjoyed hearing a band I like play live again and that whoever wasn’t paying attention are the ones missing out. Missing out on open and honest music, tinged with folk, blues and country influences, talking about universal themes of love and lost possibilities.

Lucky Ones is a song about Joe’s little sister, and as a little sister recently reunited with her estranged big brother (partly through music) I can only say thank you. There really aren’t a lot of songs about sisters and this is a beaut.

I put myself through the discomfort of crowds and noise for music I love because music has given me everything. It continued to give to me tonight, and I am sure it will whenever I next get to see Winter Mountain.

Thank you Joe and the rest of the band. Thank you Janine for going to yet another gig with me, you have been the most frequent companion on this journey!

40+8 done. Another 4 gigs await before the end of my gig year.