Monday, 10 December 2012

I used to be METAL

My mate at school, Chris Warne, once gave me a tape of a really exciting band. This was way back in 87 or 88. The band was Guns n' Roses, the album of course was Appetite for Destruction. GNR became a gateway band, and it wasn't long before I was into the Mighty Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer. Then things got really heavy, and I got into death metal. I went to uni, joined a thrashy/death band and never looked back.

We went on the compulsory ill-fated tours, we got signed, our label went bust, we travelled hundreds of miles to play to two people, we played in Europe where the punters turned out in droves and knew the words to our songs (we didn't do it twice though...).

And it slowly fizzled out. We used to laugh at the guys who cut their hair, or those who joined acid jazz bands. After a few years I joined a more numetal type band and we had a lot of fun and a bit of interest from the press. Then came the day, the fateful day. I started working with Mary Hopkin on her archive albums. Nothing brings you up short like hearing beautifully played and recorded folk music. I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I was walking around, voluntarily singing folk tunes.

There's the scene in More Bad News where Den ribs Vim for singing "Mary Hopkins" songs. Oh how we laughed. Oh how we thought metal and folk could never mix.

Oh how I laughed at the guys who cut their hair and joined and joined acid jazz bands.

Oh how I cut my hair. Oh how I stopped listening to metal.

At the same time we employed Gerwyn as an engineer, and he came along with a huge knowledge of acoustic acts. He was insidious. He'd leave CDs around. He'd leave track suggestions. He was intent on turning me to the light side. This was compounded by recording bass for Jessica Lee Morgan on her album.

And so, I did my first gig in NYC this week, at the world famous Arlene’s Grocery. It was a lot of fun. I’ve seen Jess do a couple of gigs here, and we’ve seen friends' gigs – Jamie Hartman at Rockwood, Mike MacAllister in the Alphabet Lounge. We’ve been around music most of the trip, as you’d expect. One thing that has really struck me is the professionalism with which these things happen. I’m talking about the way that the clubs actually run the nights. You have to have something under your belt before they’ll even consider you. As a rule, the sound guys are solid and they are both approachable and knowledgeable, which is a shock when you consider some of the stuff we’ve all had to put up with in the past.

Then there’s the professionalism of the bands – because the venues demand you have some kind of heritage, it seems to ensure the bands are good and do their thing. I think it’s a really exciting scene here, you have these very hip places in Manhattan, and a really vibrant scene for songwriters over in Brooklyn, and they’re all put through - if you’ll pardon the pomposity - some kind of peer review.

And finally, there’s the professionalism of the punters. Yep. That’s what I said. Generally, people turn up at the right time, and they are attentive. They join in when they’re told to. They tend to be quiet when it’s necessary – like if Jess is playing “Your Girl”. But they also know to actually put their hands in their pockets and part with some hard-earned. It feels like there is a mutual expectation between the performer, the punter and the venue. The venues will only put on good bands, or bands that can pull a crowd. The punters will only turn up if the band is good, thus the band has to be good.

The punters are what makes it. I hope that we’re going to go that way in the UK with appreciative and attentive audiences backing great musicians, and perhaps even, you know, paying them for playing. Because it makes it a lot easier to keep schlepping your gear around when you know that someone’s going to put some money your way.

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He goes around singing "Shamarack" a little too often.

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