I have played solo four times now and four times with James ( Lynch) drumming behind my acoustic guitar. What follows are some connected or disconnected thoughts on where I have played and how it has felt.
The first solo gig I did was a year ago in Bury. It was a bit like standing naked in front of a whole load of strangers. Scary, nerve racking, but pretty exciting. I played a number of songs that became the current album ‘ 6 miles east of here 5 miles north of nowhere’ a whole lot of very new material that was partially improvised lyrics and a Brilliant Corners song ‘ growing up absurd’ that I last played in 1987. Surprisingly I remembered all the lyrics and it sounded pretty good just with a voice and a guitar. I remember thinking after the gig that it is really hard to keep an audience fully engaged when playing on your own. You cant use volume and power. Got me thinking I should use my voice more, perhaps more singing less story telling. The set was a really diverse bunch of songs and I think that people either enjoy that kind of thing or are confused.
I did some more dates in Bristol in unannounced support slots and honed the set down . To what the critic at the back of Mothers Ruin bar told me was ‘Essentially alternative British folk with nods to Americana. Lyrically adult, eccentric but unexpectedly moving. My chocolate tears ran down my cheeks as eels moaned a melancholy wail. My little demons note that you are not playing the fool but rather the eye of Noddy Holder. Populist yet non conforming.’ I had never met this critic before. I had no idea the meaning of his words but he offered to buy me a drink so I figure he liked what he had heard.
Around about the fourth time I played I was thinking the songs would really benefit from some rhythmic mood enhancing skin tickling. ( drums not drugs) James and I started to rehearse in my garage and everything flowed . I practically wrote the second album in 2 weeks. I assume there will be a second album and the first one is not yet out! (At school I was often described as a boy in a hurry). Having drums behind me means I can improvise more lyrically and musically. Doing this live really does give an edge to the set and at times it does come crashing down. We played at The Local , Crouch End, London with Alex Highton and Oh Ruin. There was a bit of crashing that night. Strangely enough there was a table of people in front of me who had come to the gig as they thought I was the guitarist from the Prog rock band Yes!
My guitar ineptitude should have put a stop to such thoughts. I played that gig with my eyes shut for most of the set ( never done the eyes shut thing before, I find it quite off putting) because I couldn’t bear them so close, lie 2 foot away, and grinning at me all the time.
I have played three times in a local bar called ‘The Thunderbolt’ once a ‘Word of mouth’ poetry story telling evening, once where I did acoustic songs then went electric for the second set. No one shouted ‘Judas.’ But I was told my interpretation of an old Corners song called ‘Teenage’ was very Dylanesque. Only a few weeks back I supported my own band The Experimental pop band in the bar. It really was a very good night, the EPB played well, I got to jump around. The solo set was the best so far although James didn’t enjoy it. He had tooth ache and got freaked out playing in front of John Parish and Gerard from the Blue Aeroplanes.
Last week I did an impromptu live set in the guest bar at WOMAD. There were lots of people outside sunning themselves and some parents and their children inside watching me, watching them look a little uncomfortable with 5 year old kids singing along to a song about sexually transmitted diseases.
In short i am enjoying the unpredictability of solo gigs and the freedom of it. I always thought that Jonathan Richmans thing of not having a set list and playing what you felt like on the day as pretty cool. I can’t quite do that but when songs turn into improvised songs and it works it feels great. I hope to play more when the album is out. Next gig is in a small pub in Bradford On Avon where I will be testing out new songs and erm blues improvisation- that’s not as bad as it sounds! On the 21.09.10 I am playing at Bristol’s cube Cinema