Saturday 19th October, 2019
I went to St David’s Hall for the first time not long ago and whilst I was there I had a look at the upcoming programme of events and saw that Amanda Palmer was playing. It was on an evening I had no other gig planned (unusual at this time of the year) and so I took a chance and booked a ticket.
Then I realised the gap in my schedule had been left to meet up with friends who live in Weston Super Mare and thought oh well I’ll just spend a lot of time on trains that day. Then it transpired that there were rail replacement buses between Bristol and Cardiff so I would have less time with my friends. Then I discovered that Amanda Palmer’s show would be over 3 hours long and that the last ‘train’ was just before 11pm and coach not much later. All in all, it felt very much like I shouldn’t be going to this one!
I have heard of Amanda Palmer, through feminist twitter and sci fi twitter (she is married to Neil Gaimon) but had not heard her music. My reason for going was that I am trying this year to support more female musicians plus a huge dollop of curiosity. Some of the best gigs I’ve been to have been ones where I’ve not known the music beforehand; if you never try anything new you never find new things to love. I was hoping the shock of the new would shake me out of this gig funk I’ve found myself in.
Despite all of the ridiculous journeying, and arriving in Cardiff a lot earlier than I needed to, I was almost late into the gig itself. I had porridge for dinner as that was all this coeliac could find to grab quickly in a coffee shop near St David’s. I met up with a writer I had met at the Breakthrough festival earlier in the year, which was a nice surprise.
There was no support, and Amanda came out promptly at 7.45pm. She began at the back of the stalls, strumming her uke and singing without a mic, like a wandering minstrel of old. She incorporated straddling up onto the stage with beats in the song, adding humour and I thought I’m going to like this woman.
If you like Amanda Palmer, I get the impression, you really, really like her, the level of applause she got for simply being was remarkable. The following seemed quite devoted and if I am honest this was putting me off. Anything that is loved with such zeal and intensity runs the risk of messianicness. I find that dangerous and excluding. This is not Amanda’s fault, and I am sure that many of her fans are smashing people (quite possibly people like me from the fringes and edges of society). The problem with any group, even one made up of people rejected from other groups, is that they tend to be quite closed. I’ve never been part of a group, a gang, a tribe or a gathering, heck I’m not even part of a family anymore, I’m nervous of anything that involves a congregation for that reason. Especially ones that are unquestioning in their devotion. And yes I am aware of the hypocrisy which you could accuse me of at this point. I may be an enthusiast and a fan, but I am not a slavish follower of any band or artist. There are Starsailor songs I’m not all that keen on, I’m not a fan of James Walsh’s solo material, I don’t like the new Elbow album, Madonna has had some very dodgy moments. Artists are as human as the rest of us and not everything they do resonates.
Amanda is an incredible storyteller, full of wit, dark humour and strange twists. I imagine she is a superb writer (beyond lyrics I mean). The tales told between songs, interwoven and expanding the meaning of the music, were wonderful. They contained a level of truth, rawness and funny that engaged me. The songs, sadly, did that less so. Partly that was because I couldn’t always hear the lyrics clearly and partly because Amanda’s voice wasn’t one that worked for me. That is just a subjective opinion.
The lighting also did not help. I was sat right at the back of the tier above the stalls. Everything in darkness apart from Amanda at the piano in a spotlight was straining and quite difficult to focus on for that length of time. It wasn’t helped by the sound desk being in my line of sight and being lit bright enough to be seen from space. I know the sound person has to be able to see in order to work, but if they are in the eyeline of the audience could some sort of screening be deployed? The seats were small and uncomfortable and put me in a position where the nerve problems I have with my arm and hand were made worse.
St David’s was opened in 1979 and it shows. It is in huge need of modernisation (where were the lifts?) and refresh. The decor in parts reminded me of the working class clubs/pubs/halls we went to for parties as a child! Velour and concrete. Mmmmmm.
Amanda had been playing for one hour forty five minutes before we broke for the interval and despite all I’ve said above, that time had flown, she really is a terrific raconteur and the final song before the interval was as comic as it was tragic. A long, sprawling, journey through guilt, sadness and remorse, all I can say is At Least The Baby Didn’t Die.
I looked at the time we were due back in after the interval, 9.45pm and then at the times of the last transport home. Shit, I am never going to make the whole of this show I thought. I considered leaving there and then, hesitated and snuck back in and stood on the stairs watching the beginning of the second half. My seat was in the middle of a row and I wasn’t prepared to disturb people so I hung out of eyeline of the stewards and watched for a little while before leaving in the middle of a song (which I hate doing) to catch the rail replacement bus back home.
I am usually a weeper. I cry at the drop of a hat about almost anything and usually I don’t consider it a good gig unless I’ve had a little cry somewhere. Music is the key that unlocks and explains emotions to me and for me. Amanda Palmer deals in emotional things; abortion, terrorism, compassion, terminal illness, child abuse and the abusive way boys and men treat women and girls. All of which should have tugged at my tear ducts. Everyone else there seemed to be needing a tissue, I mean the merchandise included an Amanda Palmer hanky, it was that sort of a gig. Yet, my eyes remained dry. It even took me a while to laugh along with the bone dry humour. I am just not feeling anything of late. It isn’t a depression, that, for me, is an excess of negative emotion, and right now I’m feeling empty of all emotions. For someone who is used to living life with extremes of emotions in all directions, this mehness is very confusing (in an intellectually, removed confusion, not an emotional one).
I do know that, Amanda, it wasn’t you, its me. I admire your bravery and honesty and it is fucking fantastic to see and hear a woman being so candid about aspects of women’s lives that we bury. When you said that you had kept your first abortion secret, but not your second and that everyone had a story to share when you shared yours, that was powerful. It made me reflect that, although statistically I must know women who have had terminations, I don’t actually know any. I’ve not had one myself, I’ve never been in the position to make that choice. My one and only pregnancy was planned, wanted and there were no complications with it. If circumstances had been different I would have wanted all the options and choices available and I will always support any other woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Women should not be shamed into silence about their reproductive rights. And I will also think about that young girl and all the others like her.
Music, live music, has been my lifeline and without it I am a bit lost. This gig didn’t help me find my way back home. One will, soon, I hope.