Do you know how many live music gigs there are in London every week? Over 16,000!
We recently returned from a two month trip to the UK. When we travel we rarely have a finely tuned itinerary, preferring to hire a car and just head in the general direction of somewhere. We did however spend ‘planned’ time in London (we saw YES in concert at the Royal Albert Hall) and Edinburgh, the most beguiling of cities. But our go-with-the-flow style of travel also got us to Glasgow, Derry, Sligo and Dublin. Fascinating places that were always able to present something unexpected.
In all locales across the UK I noticed something that aroused my nostalgia for the good ol’ days. Everywhere we went we saw people walking down streets, getting off buses, catching trains carrying guitars or other musical instruments. Not just one or two people, but lots of them, at anytime of the day. Male, female, young, old, diverse ethnicities: all these people were going some place, not just meandering about but going to gigs or rehearsals, or coming from them. It made me realise how important music still was to these people. It was still something to do, or to talk about, and to follow. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Ireland. The Irish cherish their music (traditional and modern) the way that Australians cherish their football.
I saw Irish bands play a folk tune, then a Thin Lizzy tune, then let loose with Whiskey in the Jar, followed by a Rory Gallagher tune. And the packed audiences in these little pubs and back-street haunts were loving every bit of it! It was an honour and privilege to be able to perform with some of these passionate musicians while we travelled around. It also made me realise how complacent Australia has become about its own music scene.
Music isn’t just music. It isn’t just mathematical noise. It is very much like the true ‘talking in tongues’. It’s a way of communicating across cultures, beliefs and indeed languages. I like to think that I could walk into a bar anywhere in the world and pick up a guitar and make friends. I think most musicians could do the same, simply because music (and art) communicates on a deeper more fundamental frequency.
Back in Edinburgh… narrow cobbled streets of the Old City channelled us through the Grassmarket and Cow Gate, along Whiskey Row, past the dingy, gated exteriors of the underground vaults plastered with gig posters… under ivy-covered, old brick arches and up stone steps branching off the Royal Mile adorned with more gig posters… leading us to live performances at the Jazz Bar and all kinds of places. Hundreds of them – mostly current. Posters of colour, imagination, with wondrous names. Scraps of paper that made you think ‘Wow! I want to check that out!’
It was obvious that musicians in the UK hadn’t become totally reliant on the Internet. They carried the fiercest of pride in their craft. They were still operating on the streets and out and about every night, not at home with feet up watching a flat screen.
I find it sad that we sometimes forget the magic of sharing music with total strangers, whether we are performing or listening. Music can be confronting. There are positive and negative emotions and we need to be able to express them. However all emotions are valid. This is why art is so important. Through art we can express safely things that we can’t or aren’t allowed to, in words alone.
Music still tears down the borders, defies discrimination, it’s a cross cultural handshake, and egalitarian welcome mat wherever you find yourself in the world.