Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Temporary Pointless Signs and Other Musings...

London crowds are dry and it feels like home

So it's the weekend and the first music gig in London I've been to for a while. My brother dragged me along and he's a music buff so we get there early-ish to be close to the stage. The audience claps moderately for the warm-up act. A girl elbows her way through the crowd and parks herself next to the man standing in front of me, nearly knocking the beer glass of the woman to my left. The girl immediately starts doing an old-school Butterfly (et un... deux... trois... quatre... Don't watch this one at the office!), spilling some of her drink in the process, but she doesn't seem to notice. Meanwhile, as she thrusts back, she nearly knocks the glass of the woman to my side again... but the woman deftly moves her hand behind her, and stays squarely put; if she moves back, that space is going to be filled by wilder movements.

Butterfly-girl stops for a moment, looks around and then shouts loudly to the guy in front of me, "London crowds are dry!" He nods sagely. The warm-up act is singing a soulful number to a mid-paced backing track, halfway between a mid-nineties Mary J Blige and an early Ms Dynamite. Butterfly-girl attempts what looks like a Gully-creepa, drink still in hand, despite the confined space of a thickening crowd (Ik spreek geen Nederlands, but here are the Dutch instructions).

By the time the main act comes on, my legs are killing. It's a singer, an emcee and a DJ. We're made to repeat "We are one!" several times by the emcee and, just as I'm about to tire and comment on my brother's facebook wall (he's been texting furiously for the past hour), the singer floors me - and everyone else - with some captivating vocals. Her voice is... well... amazing, and even better than what I remember from the one or two tracks I have on my phone. I finally remember why my brother goes on about live music, why people stand for hours in stuffy rooms and risk getting their overpriced drinks knocked over. And even Gully-creepa stops for a second, adjusts her hat and settles into a subtler shoulder shake, although it's not long before she goes "Pon di river" all over the place, which makes the group of people next to her move their feet ever-so-slightly away, leaving a decent-sized space around her.

When the emcee takes to the mic again, our "We are one"s are much more enthusiastic. He spits a series of bars about the Earth, about war, about life. And I know where this is going. I know where this is going. I've been to too many hip-hop and poetry gigs... And yes, after a solid duet piece, almost their last of the evening, he takes out some time to school us on the rights and wrongs of Modern America. He tells us to google "chemtrails", and that every time he performs in the States and makes similar comments, his friends tell him to watch out. He talks more about war ("Why we fighting?"... Everybody say: "No more war!"). He tells us about the dangers of eating fruit without seeds ("And you wonder why our children are playing up!") and paying for bottled water. And some of the crowd begin to shuffle. And Gully-creepa has no music to slide to. And I can feel discomfort in the room...

I'll paraphase a section of his speech that catches my attention: "We're not here just to entertain. Because you can nod your head but if music doesn't change you, why we singing?"

And then I remember why I like going to poetry events, why I like being challenged, and sometimes feeling uncomfortable - and, on very rare occasions, disgusted - by a poet's performance (I'm rarely shockable, but anyone who was there at the event last night and heard the poem about necrophilia.... well, I kind of do have some limits). Sure, people go to be entertained, but also to share ideas and thoughts and to listen, if not to always agree with everything. Music-lovers, on the other hand, often need a beat to be kept sweet (am I right?).

A couple of people way off to my right walk out. He talks more about the Obama Nation and laments at how leaders are quick to take God and healthy eating off the agenda. And the shuffling crowd tenses up, and two more walk out as a voice from the back shouts out, "God don't exist, mate!"

There's a few claps behind me. The emcee dismisses him politely and continues; a few more people around me make a point of walking out and there's a huge gap around Gully-creepa, who takes the opportunity to push up close to the stage.

"Do you have the last track?" the singer asks.

The DJ shakes his head, and mouths something to the sound engineer at the back.

"We don't have it on our computer!" he shouts out into the crowd.

Computer says no. Silence.

"Well, thank you audience. See you again!" says the emcee.

They leave to the sound of our clapping and cheering, and it feels like some of the lost energy's come back into the room. With new, inflexible time slots for artists on stage, there's no more time for anything else, apparently. The DJ at the back hits it hard, playing some unrelated Nu-School R&B track with a heavy bassline and my brother mouths a "what was that about?" at me. And I think, there's something so London about the whole scenario, from the computer not working, to the light heckling and the uncomfortable silence. Yeah, this finally feels like home again.

Pedantry. Reverse pendantry and word reclamations.

One dodgy habit of mine when I'm procrastinating is literally reading through pages of people's comments, which often repeat themselves after the first page, anyway (unless there's a decent slanging match taking place).

One of the argument goes like this: if you're going to comment on an ex-footballer's figurative use of the word "literally", then you must literally have nothing better to do, blah blah blah. Then the counter-argument that there isn't actually a decent substitute for the word literally, and if we don't claim it back from the grasp of the "plebs", the meaning will be lost forever. Then the counter-counter-argument, which is that words are forever changing and two nearly-opposite definitions can sit side by side: "sanction", "bi-annual" etc. I've read too many of these to care anymore. In any case, one side is always patronising, the other usually snobbish. And it's only a matter of time before I literally lose the will to live.

The Name Game

But sometimes I think (IMHO) we can be too literal. I caught myself sneering last night when I passed a poster for Man on a Ledge, as I remember doing when I first saw an advert for Snakes on a Plane. And I hate dislike myself for it. If I can't get excited about it, why can't I at least be happy for this man high up on the ledge of this skyscraper acting as a decoy for some nearby heist? And even if I don't care for the plot, why can't I at least commend them for choosing this no-nonsense name which says everything you need to know about the film? There's a man. There's a ledge. And, presumably, he's on it for a significant amount of time during the course of the film. Why complicate things with a more imaginative title?

(Anyway, I have other things to worry about. Like the prospect of Moira Stewart hiding under the stairs, although, thankfully, it's a ground floor flat. And Woman Under the Stairs really is a lame title for a film, just in case you were wondering.)


  1. stop feeding her (Moira Stewart) then maybe she'll go away! great piece re sunday's gig.


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