In 2008 a promoter friend hooked me up with a journalist for the Times who was writing a piece on the open mic scene. I was keen – anything to get my name in print.
Soon I was face to face with Gabrielle Starkey at the Hard Rock Cafe, she clicked the dictophone and off we went – my first proper interview. I started venting.
First up was the importance of stages that were open to all, not based on merit but on balls – if you had the guts to put your name down, you could play three songs to the room, no questions asked. You could invite no one to the first time you’ve played your first song after your first guitar lesson. You’d still get a slot, it would cost you nothing, and people would clap you.
Outcasts played next to no-hopers, hobbyists next to dreamers. And in amongst the regular Joes was always someone who made you cough up your pint. Someone with so much raw talent the walls tingled. Magic, and you were amongst the first to hear it.
This was free music performance school, like getting your education at the local library. With each gig under your belt you grew a little taller, you met more cohorts and co-conspiritors and cheered each other on like a support group.
I learned some big lessons in those years, like the time I realised that music need not be a competition. One night I was trying to work out who was the most talented person in the room. Was it me? I tried picturing my two favourite bands at the time, Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, both turning up to play a slot. Who was the most talented?
Well who gives a shit man?! Just shut up, listen and be moved. Thus Lesson One was learned: “There is enough space in the room for more than one talent” – a lesson that has served me very well over the years.
When the article was published Gabrielle was kind enough to toss me a juicy bone by saying I was “on the verge of making it”. A most useful quote when followed by ‘The Times’ in bold font. It adorned all my flyers and promo for some time, until I realised that being on the verge of making it for 2 years didn’t look so great.
Little did I know but she was going through an extremely difficult time when we had met, and soon quit her job and moved back to her hometown of Stratford, where she’s been ever since.
Fast forward 3 years and an email lands in my inbox – she’d spotted I was doing a gig and wanted to come along with a few friends. I was really keen to see her again.
Stratford is an intruiging place to visit. Enough ancient houses to feel authentic, enough tourist traps to make it feel kinda not. But such a lovely town with such lovely people.
Al on sound spent an age fine-tuning the PA, and blasting us off the stage with it during soundcheck, but boy did it sing during the gig. It was a joy to play and I loved it. The presence of Gabrielle, some other old close friends, and a great crowd made the night feel rather special in the end.
We spoke after the gig about how seeing me play again had been very emotional for her, representing a bridge to what had been a painful time for her. Her emotion made me suddenly emotional too, plus it was a bridge to my old life too, and a strong reminder of how far I’ve come. A proper moment!
But now was the time to build new associations – after all the people we once were don’t really exist any more. So perhaps Lesson Two is: Be Patient. Making good music is a long lifetimes journey, if you’re lucky enough to get one.
Postcard not sent to: Rob and Niki
Next Postcard Going To: Millie
Free T-Shirt goes to: Hayley
Thanks to: Al, Robinson – excellent as always, Cox’s Yard, Gabrielle and friends, Laura, Bizi, Patrick and friends, Hayley, Millie, everyone who came was just great thank you.