I’d only gone to see my mate’s band, who were very good, as ever.
But the headliners…dear God, they were awful.
Halfway through the band before them, a folk trio with perfect harmonies that we all enjoyed, one of my mates from the band said “the headliners are honestly the worst band you could ever hope to see.”
Well, I was intrigued. That was enough. If he’d said nothing about them, I probably wouldn’t have stayed. I was about ready to go home. (It was a school night, after all)
But then on they came, the Bon Jovi of folk.
If Mumford & Sons were a Levellers tribute act AND vice versa, and played all together, at the same time, they’d sound a bit like this lot, but probably not quite as bad. That’s how sickeningly horrible it was. Have you seen the film A Mighty Wind? They were like a contemporary British version of The New Main Street Singers – but without the satire, of course. They were that fucking terrible.
They would probably use this lot at Guantanamo Bay to drive inmates to insanity, if they’d ever heard of them. It would be way worse than the death metal or white noise they actually torture people with.
Listening to them on purpose could only be regarded as an act of self-harm.
It produced a visceral reaction in me. I shook with anger and laughter at the same time. What a strange feeling it was. Really quite uncomfortable. And yet strangely invigorating…
I immediately remembered two stories from when I was a teenager:
A friend of mine used to buy NME regularly. One free CD that came free with an issue of the hype-happy weekly featured a song by The Cardigans, which made my mate so angry he pulled the disc out and threw it across the room and then stamped no it to make sure it was smashed to pieces. He’s quite a mild-mannered bloke, really.
Another friend who had loved Nirvana’s first album (Bleach) bought their trillion-selling overnight-success-inducing follow-up (Never Mind). Putting on the vinyl back at home, he was so disgusted he shouted “This is bloody pop music!” and promptly smashed the disc up.
Classic stuff. (He is also a gentlemanly chap, which I think emphasises the power of music to provoke strong feeling.)
These reactions seemed funny and extreme at the time, but standing there, looking at this band, these….these…..well, people, who are probably alright and probably no more or less flawed than me, and are just a band playing a gig and not trying to hurt anyone – I understood the stories above, and related to them in a new, profound way.
(We mostly don’t mean to hurt others. We still fucking do, of course.)
Music provokes a powerful visceral reaction – as it bloody well should.
This performance, or what I saw of it (I lasted about four songs – a frankly heroic effort on my part) was one of my personal bests in terms of this reaction. I could tell you a few others, drop a few names, but to be fair, none would come close to this shower.
Mostly because I was there, they were right in front of me – not miles away, in front of a crowd that loved them, immune from my angry disapproval. Not on the radio, where I would merely tut and moan to anyone within earshot about their interminable shitness.
They were there, in the same (relatively small) room, probably able to gauge my reaction to some degree…although, given the unmitigated horror they blithely – gleefully, even – inflicted on me/us, perhaps not.
There were riots at the opening of some operas (including Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring in 1913), early Rock ‘n’ Roll gigs caused disturbances and Punk gigs were famous for reckless abandon. To imagine that this lot could inspire that depth of feeling is a stretch, and yet….it really made me feel like breaking things.
I have not felt so alive for quite some time.
Because it matters.
If art didn’t matter, then why did the Pinochet regime go after Victor Jara, and so many Chilean writers, singers and performers when they took power in the 1973 coup?
Why did the USSR persecute Solzhenitsyn? Why did the Nazis attack what they called “Degenerate art”?
Because Art Matters. Music matters. As I wrote in a poem, for this very blog, in 2013:
We’re tolerant these days,
But not civilised.
At some operas in days gone by,
There was rioting.
And now Robbie Williams
Gets up to sing,
And no one even thinks
To throw a warm bottle of piss
And I think that makes us less civilised
Than we were before.
We’re not even more tolerant
Than we used to be –
Just more passive, apathetic,
And now I’m pissing in a bottle,
On my way to see The Black Eyes Peas.
And I had been forgetting that.
This has energised me: I should, and will, spend way more time writing music. In the full knowledge that someone might find it utterly abhorrent. Of course, it’s usually positive things that inspire, but negative things work as well. I’m grateful to this shower for inspiring me to write – and write better.
And, mostly, to not worry about what anyone else thinks about it.