01) High Fives 2019 – Thanksgiving Day

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Happy Thanks Giving Messages

It occasionally happens that the beginning of this annual High Fives feature coincides with Thanksgiving and this year is one of those occasions. So why not start this celebration of 2019 highlights with an appreciation of some of the things (and people) that enrich our musical lives and enhance the gigs that we go to. In no particular order, here are some of the things that Allan is giving thanks for in 2019:

 

The old London venues – By that, I mean not necessarily old in real time, but the venues I’ve been visiting for a few years now; the ones where I know the bar staff (and quite often the security team). The ones that I enjoy visiting because I know the artists are treated with respect and the audience listens rather than talking about their bad experience on the Tube (Green Note, take a bow). And the bigger venues where it’s loud and the stage lighting’s dynamic; the venues that have been around for years. We’ve lost a few recently, but we’ve still got the Empire in The Bush, Dingwall’s, The Forum and The Roundhouse for the old-school big gig experience.

 

The new London venues – First of all, the venues that are new to me. In nearly ten years of covering live music in London venues, I’d never visited The Electric Ballroom until a few weeks ago and it’s an absolute treasure of a venue. Great sound, great lights and, even with a full house, you can still get around the venue; and let’s not forget the wonderful staff.

We’ve all heard about venues closing, particularly in Soho but it’s not such big news when new venues open their doors. The Camden Chapel, an intimate 40-capacity space in the London Irish Centre opened this year and we also saw the first event at the Cocoa Vaults in Covent Garden. And Madame Jojo’s is due to re-open in 2020. That has to be something to celebrate.

The Volunteers– I know, sometimes it feels like everyone doing anything on the live music scene at the moment is volunteering. There isn’t a huge amount of money about and there are a lot of people in line for a small piece of it; but we also have venues and events that are run almost entirely by teams of volunteers. In London, The Roundhouse, The Union Chapel and Islington Assembly Hall (and probably many more) rely on teams of volunteers across a range of technical disciplines to run highly professional operations. Outside London, there are numerous local festivals run by enthusiastic and talented volunteers; one example, Leek Blues and Americana Festival in Staffordshire, runs over six days in October and is dependent on a small army of volunteers. It’s a huge success and brings significant numbers of visitors to the town; it’s also great fun.

The Sound Engineers – A good one is like an additional band member. In most small venues they are responsible for creating a great sound for the audience and mixing the onstage sound for the band. A good one will bring out all of the subtle nuances of your songs, while a bad one will leave you tearing your hair out. It’s fairly traditional in smaller venues these days (the ones where people actually listen to music) for the sound engineer to be introduced to the audience as part of the round-up of band members towards the end of the set. And that’s the only kind of feedback that they want to hear.

 

The Audiences – I’m very lucky; most of the gigs I’ve been to this year have been attended by audiences that really wanted to be there. No corporate hospitality, no huge support-band guestlist, just people who want to see and hear great live music. From the awed silence of The Camden Chapel and Green Note to a night at The Forum packed with eighties Polish punks (it’s a long story), I’ve mingled with thousands of people made the effort to come out to hear music in the way it should be heard. Just keep on doing it.