Saturday, 30 May 2020

This (Green) Note's For You

In my local chippy (called 'Oh My Cod' if you were wondering) there is a poster for the local sportsball team. It encourages people to bring their kids to see a game "so they don't grow up thinking its just something you can experience on TV". I sometimes feel a similar warning should go up before the tsunami of the BBC's Glastonbury Festival coverage - 'this magic is not just here or arenas & stadiums, its in that little room down the road'.

The current predicament we find ourselves in is impacting all areas of life in ways we never imagined - many of the immovable objects in life, be they Wimbledon, the Cup Final, Glastonbury, Reading or the bloody summer will not occur in 2021. A great deal of effort and time has been devoted to the idea that the return of football is a key step in getting back to normal or the new normal because it fills a hole that is currently missing in the lives of the nation.

Well I would suggest that, like most things, its a financial decision but it does tap into passion which people have and football is no different to other pursuits that give you a feeling of togetherness, a shared belief and thrill in seeing skill and talent before your eyes and the crescendo of excitement. So that hole that you sports fans are feeling - I am having the same ache for live music.

Since a change within my working situation - more cash, better work life balance - I have found I am far more able to attend live music in the evenings in weekends where I haven't for some time. So discovering new venues and artists recently has been severely curtailed which I freely admit isn't the worst effect of the outbreak. But you'll have to indulge me in this seemingly blinkered world view for a moment as its key to something much bigger

One of the venues I have come to think of as a special piece of London recently is Green Note in Camden which is very much one of those aforementioned small rooms where magic happens. I hate to use the words "warm and cosy" but that is very much the vibe of the place. The venue's intimate nature tends to attract an audience who, and I know this is slightly alien for regular gig goers, listen respectfully and in silence when the acts are onstage. OK there are exceptions and we'll come to that later.

I have a stack of tickets to gigs that have been postponed or cancelled over the past couple of months - many delayed til this time next year as far forward as August. I have events in October than I seriously doubt will go ahead unless a vaccine becomes available extremely soon. Even being in a concert environment may be difficult to deal with psychologically for those of us who have followed the government advice.

When places like cafes and restaurants are allowed to slowly reopen, music venues will follow but it won't be Wembley Arena - it will be places like The Lexington, Union Chapel, Green Note, downstairs folk nights like at The Harrison, across the river at the Half Moon, Putney - its the grass roots of the industry that will signal a new era but will those venues still be there for when it does?

Recent months have forced artists and venues to find new ways to reach their audience, earn a few quid and keep the wolf from the door. By way of demonstration - here are a couple of my favourites -

Steve Nieve's Immobile Tour kicked off fairly quickly after the lockdown was announced and his tour with Elvis Costello was curtailed at Hammersmith Apollo (on Friday 13th - spooky!) in London. His daily piano improvisations filmed from Paris by his wife Muriel with vocal support from stepson Antoine have featured guest appearances by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford. Naturally Elvis himself does a regular Sunday night visit from Vancouver for longer sessions than the usual 30 minutes. Being such an accomplished musician the songlist covers more than just Steve's work as an Attraction or Imposter.

Daisy Chute has really thrown herself into gig streaming and appears to be doing something online most nights of the week, either solo or part of the Heard Collective, the all female music project she operates with Cerian. The streams are always relaxed and chatty, lots on interaction with those watching and each other from their respective isolation pods. Lots of original material, covers and collaborations with requests in advance. They really do raise spirits at a time when that's a vital public service.  

Now this is where come back to the Green Note who have set up regular 'Virtually Green Note' nights every Wednesday and Friday night with artists from across the globe - many who have played there in the past aka The Before Times. The old reliable "in the round" setup produces a warm and supportive atmosphere between the artists. An added feature is the post show hang out on zoom where audience and players mingle to discuss the current unpleasantness and their music. All this is free but the recommended £10 for a ticket is small price for a good solid evening of entertainment.

Those streams can give a little flavour of the vibe of Green Note but its not enough. Michele & Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers hold regular nights at the venue with surprise bills which in the past have included Luke Haines, Ren Harvieu, Charlie Dore, Kathryn Williams, Neill MacColl, Josienne Clarke, David McAlmont & Bernard Butler to name just a tiny few. One night late last year - an Indian Summer Sunday evening in the capital - was a little different than usual. You know that feeling you have when someone walks in a room that they will be exiting it before long - got that when this group arrived with a significantly older and drunker bloke in tow. He was being fairly passively aggressive with those around him and it was soon clear he had no idea why he was in the venue.

He generally remained quiet until the 2nd act, Louis Brennan, began a song with rhetorical questions which this fella decided to start answering. There then followed a discussion which led to the fella and his party leaving but not before a few choice c-bombs and words about Brexit. Despite the amusement this caused its the sort of thing that could really sour a night but this is why I love going to the Green Note.

There appeared to develop a shared feeling between musicians and audience that this would not be the takeaway from the night for any of us. The evening ended with about a dozen people on that tiny stage with at least 2 keyboard players playing off to one side and a percussionist or two sitting in front of the stage. They performed 'La Freeway' by Guy Clark, a song I was unfamiliar with before that night, and turned this wistful loner song into an anthem of togetherness and shared experience. It really was an incredible moment and a feeling that you just won't get at the O2.

Venues like the Green Note are in danger of disappearing due to the simple financial aspects of lockdown life - no gigs, no income, no rent etc. So support them how you can, support artists and make it possible for one day soon us to be sitting in our favourite local venue - maybe mask on, drinking through a straw - and getting a little of that live magic back.

Green Note Crowdfunder -


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