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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Blessed Return of Misery - Lets Hope it gets Funny

Last night was a guilty pleasure - a night of musical extravagance amid a sea of austerity. And that austerity - like an algal bloom - has spread, even unto Large Mansions. As a writer, I sigh a sigh of relief - the misery has returned, I can write again! Of misery, more later.  But starting in order, the music of last night warrrants some description because the final howl of feedback that sounded like a transitional fossil's dying last utterance and which ended the show was a particularly apt noise to signal this new era. Cutting back further, last night was an extravagance because I havent paid more than about five English pounds to see a musical performance for about ten years. In fact the last time I paid more than this was about 2001 when I went to see Billy Bragg in a club in Halifax, NS. Which may or may not be ironic because I dont really like Billy Bragg's music very much (although based on some personal experience, the man is very personable and nice) and because during the 1980's  I used to see him about five times per year for nothing as we had 'music biz' pals in common. Which brings us back to now -  I approached last night in somewhat of a similar frame of mind,  because last night's act was a double bill combining the talents of Mick Chapman, legendary guitarist and songwriter and Thurston Moore, legendary guitarist and songwriter. I wasnt really sure if I liked Mike Chapman's music or not. I knew I liked Thurston Moore's stuff but I was paying ten pounds for a gig where I might not like at least half of it.

Travel me if you will to the inaccurately named Triangle pub on Halifax Nova, Scotia, sometime in 2000. I have heard, quite by accident, an artist guitar playeron the radio who is playing this particular pub. I call my friend Grasshopper, a fellow guitarist. "You have to come and see this guy" I say "He's incredible. He does, like, this roots fnger picking stuff and he's probably one of the best at this I have ever beard if the track I've just heard is anything to go by". Grasshopper agrees and we ghost off the the Triangle (not the Sidhe Na Gael - but that's another story) , grab a seat near the front and sit down expectantly,  eagerly, like two dogs left outside a shop. Shortly, the guitarist comes on and he definitely looks the part - wind swept hair, girlish fingers, perhaps a glint of madness in the eye, ethnic-y waistcoat, granddad shirt. He picks his guitar up like someone who is not embarrased to be on stage - YOU will be impressed. And we are, as sounds begin glissading from his guitar, notes falling over notes, circular themes living and dying, quickly, slowly, loud and soft. He is quite frankly brilliant, one of the best finger picking guitarists I have ever heard and this is in an area of the world that has produced more than its fair share of great folk musicians, and said as someone who has seen a reasonable amount of music. Then, after about six songs, a lady sitting near the stage gets up, possibly to go to the bar. She stumbles as she gets up and gently bumps into the small stage, ruffling the microphone stand. The guitarist stops mid-flow, glares at her and delivers a string of invective, calling her a drunk, and an idiot and tells her to "F*** Off". The effect is immediate. Grasshopper and I look at eachother, finish our drinks and leave.

The reason this is relevant is because while the immediate effect was our departure, the longer term effect is that I now have no idea what the name of this idiot guitarist is. His behaviour was such that I didnt seek out his music after the gig, didnt scour "What's On" lists so I could see him again. I just forgot his name as quickly as possible. Being a good musician, a liked musician, someone who interprets our emotions through the transference of frequencies requires, for me,  more than technical ability. You dont have to be a nice guy or smiley - you can be a bit of an asshole or angry or challenging  - but one thing you cannot be is petty, and irrelevantly so. All of which provides a contrast with last night's entertainment. I walk in half way through Mike Chapman's first song but dont even reach the bar. In the fifteen foot between entering the room and the bar, the guitarist does something so astonishing, so beautiful,  that I stop, thoughts of drink forgotten. His song ends, I shake my head to clear it, and I set out for the bar again, but then he starts plaing again and I am transfixed for the second time. It takes me four songs to get to the bar and by the time I get there I need whisky. This man is brilliant. And also very, very funny. And nice. And relevant. I had done my due diligence and checked out You tube etc. but his is the type of music that just does not work unless experienced live, similarly to  classical music. But experienced live, it is something powerful, lyrical, effortlessly complicated and unsophisticated. I'[m not a reviewer, but Thurston Moore follows, and although hardly a technician in the same vein as  Mr Chapman, is still a virtuoso. He is also very funny and warm, telling stories of second hand clothes shopping, meeting Inspiral Carpets on the motorway and wondering where they got their name from and riffing on Jarvis Cocker's initials (JC). 

As I mentioned at the start, austerity has bitten, and bitten hard at Large Mansions. Once again, by dint of planning and executing a bold career move, I have succeeded in turning a relatively successful financial enterprise - the good ship Red Haired Boffin - into a black hole of costs and expenses. In my defence, I have not overspent, gone wild on a new bike seat, bought expensive clothes or showered all my friend (singular deliberate) in Hull with expensive presents. Rather, supporting work (carpentry, project management) has dried up completely now and costs continue. I have also spectacularly failed to obtain even a 'sou' in grant or other financial support for my research despite applying to everyone I can think of. This is perhaps the most puzzling thing, because the people who cannot fund my research  have often described the work as "important' and "interesting". The net result is that after a financial summit meeting last weekend, we have taken urgent and important action to reverse our deficit. I was thinking a lot about this prior to going last night, even considering trading in my ticket but I'm glad I didnt. At the end of last night's gig, Moore and Chapman joined together for ten minutes or so of spontaneously improvised feedback. Nothing original but both musicians are very good at this, so the noise they produced was - as I mentioned right at the start - primal, angry, familiar: the type of sound that would accompany a new evolutionary leap. Or would signal the start of austerity.

NOTE : the above reference to the feedback contains an allusion to the idea that evolution is
a) a progress of some type
b) occurs in fits and starts

I would like to point out that this is purely a literary (or unliterary) device. And as for punctuated equilibrium, dont even get me started.

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