By Mark Glenister
After what seems like a long hibernation, we start to wander out into the ‘normal’ world after weeks of lockdown, isolation and in some cases fear.
We are greeted by a world that looks like the one we abandoned all those weeks ago, but its not quite the same – like one of those puzzles where you have the same picture, but one of them has been slightly altered, and you have to look for the differences between the 2 pictures.
Some of the differences are obvious: people wearing face masks, queuing to get into shops, social distance signs wherever you walk. Pubs and restaurants have re-opened in most places now, but bookings are needed for both, and the days of just wandering into a pub and spending a few hours with friends are some way off just yet. That way of life may never return if you believe some of the many predictions being thrown around in the wake of an inept government who failed at every level to deal with this pandemic and are now blaming everyone but themselves for the 40,000 plus deaths.
Less obvious, but a key to the difference between Normal and New Normal, is within the music industry, and how bands and fans are having to adapt to life within lockdown and beyond. As music fans we have been starved of tours, seeing the usual group of friends at gigs, and missing that feeling of energy and connection that you get at gigs (well at most gigs anyway). I spoke with singer songwriter Tom McRae recently, and he said this about playing live and the connection between artist and performer:
“the reality of live music is that its sort of a magic trick, it helps if the person on the stage is good with something to say, but gigs work because 90% of the show is the audience, they bring that energy - its where your energy as a performer meets the energy of the audience somewhere halfway in the room, and it becomes this third thing that neither of you are in control of; that’s the amazing thing about live music and that is without drawing analogies to diseases, its infectious’, you stand next to someone who is singing, literally your heart beat will start to beat in time with theirs”
So, during lockdown, gigs and tours have been cancelled and music venues have closed. The closure of venues bought both artist and fans together, in a community based around ensuring that once live music can return, the venues will still be there to play in.
With a promise now of Government funding, it looks like this campaign has been successful. For a while it galvanised everyone, and the lack of tours or new music was forgotten about for a short time. However, as lockdown continued, music fans once again felt starved of their lifeblood, some bands released new songs, and in some cases albums. Other artists did streaming gigs, some in aid of charities and some just to be able to play music again, but with social distancing that became hard if the band didn’t all live together.
Now, as restrictions are slowly being lifted we have had a spate of artists announcing paid streaming gigs, Nick Cave doing a solo show at Ally Pally, IDLES doing 3 different live streams and LIFE have just announced a live gig experience like no other – All of this is great, but its not what the fans really want, and having spoken to a lot of artists over the past few months its not what they want either.
Recently the BBC had a ‘virtual’ Glastonbury weekend, showing entire sets of some of the greatest performs to grace those mythical stages, in some cases the sets have never been seen in their full length before. These performances are still available now and it was whilst watching the Stormzy set from last year, it dawned on me, that for the foreseeable future this is our new gig experience, this is the difference between the two pictures. There is no doubting that Stormzys’ set last year is possibly one of the most iconic and ground-breaking in the history of that famous festival. It was a powerful, emotional, raw and sometimes beautiful performance, that had the thousands in attendance mesmerised, and the viewing public at home stunned into silence. I sat it watched it again, yes it is still magnificent, but its not like being there, it doesn’t (no matter how good an HD TV or Laptop you have) have the same impact as being part of that sea of swaying fans.
Now I know the IDLES, Nick Cave and LIFE Streaming gigs will be good, and I will no doubt watch some of them if not all, because I want to support the bands I love, not because I feel this is the way forward. This cannot become the new normal, sterile gigs watched via your phone, tablet, laptop or TV, no connection, no sense of energy, no sweat, no aching limbs after stupidly going into the mosh pit.
Playing live is what the bands and fans crave the most, yes we will support these bands by buying merch or streaming the odd ‘live’ gig, but it does not, and will not make up for the proper live experience. It’s a facsimile of the real thing, speaking with Frank Turner earlier this month he gave his thoughts on streaming gigs;
“What lockdown and the whole livestreaming phenomenon has done has really very like precisely and scientifically isolated what’s good about gigs. I think livestreaming is great for the time being, it’s not a terrible replacement and blah blah blah, and even the minor sense of community with the comments coming through on the screen. But its not being in a fucking gig, James (From Crows) doesn’t crawl on your fucking head during a live stream, and I miss that . . . . We miss the crush, the gig, the buzz, the noise, the gathering, the sweat – now it may be a while before we are allowed to do that again, but the positive is that that’s become very very clear that it’s a very uncopiable experience”
Its spot on, a live gig is an uncopiable event and as Frank so rightly says as fans we miss the crush, the gig, the buzz, the noise, the gathering and the sweat. These are all reasons why music fans go to gigs night after night up and down the country, in 100 cap rooms at the back of pub to large arenas, the live experience is the ONLY experience, and this feeling is across all ages, I’ll let my fellow 51 year old Tom McRae have the last words on this;
“Even at 51 I want to be sweating down the front, I want to have my drink nudged over me, I want to feel that energy going through the room of people singing, laughing, falling quiet and that’s the beauty of live music which nothing else does”
If a band you love does a live stream, support it as it will bring in some much needed revenue, but don’t lose sight of why we all love live music!