Stay at home and enjoy The Human Jukebox online

Initial gig 25th March 2020

As soon as the Government advised people to stay away from restaurants and bars my work began to get cancelled and, by the time the time they announced that venues were being instructed to close, all of the regular engagements I had, had been taken out of my diary. With the “close” announcement the few spring/summer functions I had in my diary were also wiped out.

Over the last few years, I have been very lucky and seen plenty of work coming in. I have always known how much I love performing, however what I never realised was, was that for me performing is an emotional need rather than a just job that I love.

Within only a few days of my “empty diary period” commencing, I knew that I had to do something to scratch the not performing  itch that was severely irritated me.

On the telly I watched the beautiful and talented Italian entertainers delighting their neighbours by performing on their balconies, I could not copy them because I live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small private road and my house is in the corner (my windows and door are not overlooked).

I then saw on the news, a clip of Spanish police officers driving into a residential area with sirens howling and lights flashing, the officers jumped out of their cars and (instead of arresting people), one started to play an acoustic guitar and sing while the others danced. The local residents at their windows and doors were delighted. If only I lived in Spain, and I was a policeman and I had a police car everything would be fixed for me, but alack-and-alas I do not, I am not and, I don’t have one.

I then came up with a brain wave that would demonstrate my kindness, impress my mum and feed my performing habit. My mum lives very close by in sheltered accommodation, the flats are built around a gated court-yard, the flats have balconies, I thought I had found my stage. It’s lock-down so I have a captive audience of appreciative pensioners!

I called my mum and told her of my intention to approach the manager of the property to see if she would agree to an impromptu Rat-pack style performance one afternoon. I would sing for free. My mum listened to my idea, however, rather than the gleeful response that I had expected, she somewhat embarrassingly told me that she thought it was not such a good idea. Some of her neighbours would be incredibly delighted that I performed for them, not because they wanted to be entertained but  because then they could be highly critical and take great joy in being snide. So no performance for the pensioners.

I realised it was not just the performing I missed, but it was also the interaction with people, most of who are lovely. One of my residencies was a regular Wednesday night engagement performing in a City of London wine-bar. I performed (and it was there that I introduced) my Human Jukebox act, this is an act where the punters choose all the songs that I sing.

The wine bar is up a flight of stairs and tiny, the owner is wonderful woman (and a music lover), the manageress is magically magnificent,  the pay is OK , and my vocal folds are frequently and generously lubricated with Malbec. Wednesday nights were always a night that I looked forward to.  The gig was an early start so started with very few people in attendance, they were the same regular crowd, each with their own very, very individual characteristics and collectively just a delightful group of people (who always picked great songs for me to sing), I truly love them all.

As my Wednesday evening performances progressed, strangers passing below the window would hear the music then come and join us in the bar. By 8:30 the tempo of the music sped up in conjunction with the pace of the wine consumption, and the event often ended like a Saturday night party, with slightly over refreshed punters dancing and sining along (some danced good, and sang good some not so good).

So my idea (to save my sanity) was why not take my Human Jukebox on-line? With the help of my daughter I created an event on Facebook, we would invite people to logon, choose their songs and watch me perform them.
Initially my plan was to provide a slick rehearsed performance with PA, lights, backing tracks, microphones, effects boxes and all filmed by a good camera. As it turned out, the “slick thing” idea with lots of professional kit got thrown out. I decided (to the joy of my daughter) the act was to be just me sitting at my desk in front of my computer singing with nothing but my acoustic guitar.

Yesterday (during the day) I up-loaded a song list to Facebook so that when people logged on they could select their songs. I expected maybe ½ dozen people would actually logon and join my Wednesday night gathering, so I thought I would need to pad out the play list with songs of my own choosing. A couple of hours before the event my daughter called me and asked me if I had seen the requests that were on my Facebook page (I hadn’t) she told me that she thought I should look at them and reply to the comments. I logged on, and saw (what I thought was) all the requests (3 of them). I replied and went back to watching the telly. Within 10 minutes or so my daughter called again and asked me when I was going to reply to the comments/requests, I told her that I had. She then explained to me that the 3 comments I had seen, were just the comments that were displayed on the bottom of a long list. When I logged back on, I found there were dozens and dozens of comments/requests and they were not only on the event page but attached to photos, as private messages and even sent as e-mails.

My scheduled 1 hour slot now had enough requested material to fill over 3 hours.

At 8pm I went live, and from the “comment” column I could see that within minutes loads and loads and loads of people joined me, some I knew, many I didn’t. They made requests, they sent emojis, they said hi to one another, joked with one another,  chatted, they said nice things to me, and to one another.  Although I couldn’t see I have been told we also had lots of at home drinking, sining along and dancing. It was like being out working, my itch (for a while) has been scratched.

If you were a part of it last night thank you so very much for joining me. I know it was not a slick, rehearsed performance, I know that I need to learn how to control the technology, I know that I probably should explain better what the event is, and how to connect to it and next time things will be better ……
However what I know most of all is, that, 
you and people like you, make my life really, really good, fun, fulfilled, valuable and worthwhile.

I am going to reply to all your comments/messages/requests as soon as I can find them all. It’s a job I am looking forward to.

Please stay at home, keep your-self safe and join me again soon (I plan another on-line Human Jukebox performance newt week.  Gordon.

Ignorance is bliss! (but not to those close to it). I just found this month old blog that was sitting in the wait to publish box!

I have a theory about why some people request to sit at the table nearest the musician.

Most go there because they love the music, however I am starting to believe that some request that table because of a desire to be the centre of attention (they cant be behind the mic so the nearest table to it, is the next best thing).

Last week I was having a very nice evening performing in a very nice restaurant that attracts very nice people. There are a couple of tables very close to my mic stand, one was occupied by a couple with their son and his girlfriend, they appeared to be enjoying their food (and the music).

Half way through the first set a stout bald guy (50 something) with his brassy blonde 40 something year old partner made their entrance, he bellowed at the waitress  “you’re expecting us! table for 4 at the front please babs”. A few moments  later their similar aged companions arrived. The guy walked with a swagger that was very similar to Kathy Burke’s portrayal of Perry the teenager, when impersonating Liam Gallagher. The newcomers wife followed 4 steps behind.  Mr Swagger recognised the young (son and girlfriend) couple and proceeded announce to the restaurant that he was  astounded that they should be in the restaurant  without his prior knowledge.  After a great deal of loudly introducing everybody to everybody else Mr Swagger and his partner he took their seat with Mr Baldy Chav and Mrs Brassy Chav.

My expected role as entertainer, and his expected role (of being part of the audience) was now reversed.  I was simply fixated listening to the absolute fantastic conversation being broadcast from the newly self appointed restaurant entertainer. The highlight was an animated narration/address from Mr Bald.

“Jeeeez, we went to France last year on that Eurostar, you can drink all the way, there although it’s a bit pricey. When we got there we went to a Restauant that everybody says is the best restaurant in France”

Mr Swagger interjected at this point “what’s it called”,

My Bald replied “Can’t  remember, but it don’t matter does it? I think that Gordon Ramsey was a chef there once. Anyway LISTEN! On the menu they ad this wine list with a bot-all of plonk priced at 350 Euros, wot they didn’t know is that I am a bit of a wine expert and knew that another bot-all on the list priced at just 11 Euros was actually exactly the same wine just with a different label on the bot-all”

Mr Swagger again interjected “ow did you know that?”

Mr Bald “Because I used to be a member of a wine club didn’t I!” At this point he looked at his Blonde companion for affirmation, she gave it with a “yes ee did, there aint nofink ee don’t know about wine”

Mr Bald continued, “It was amazing cos I called the waiter over and asked im if ee knew that the two wines were identical, but the froggy git didn’t have a kin clue, the ponce tried to argue with me claiming  the two wines were different. What ee didn’t know that I ad actually been to the factory where the wine were made and I’d seen em putting on the different labels. We ad the 11 Euros bot-all and it was brill. Lovely wine it was, you need to look out for it in Lidl look it’s called Key-ant-ee”.

At this point,  a guy at a table 6 or 7 tables away could not curtail his laughter and I forgot the words to the song I was singing.

Very Frightening but surprisingly fulfilling.

In these blogs I do not usually name the venues I am writing about because the laugh/rant is at their expense. This blog strays from the norm.

Last night I was employed to perform my Human Jukebox act at Smoque at the Coney.  It is a favourite gig of mine as I am kept on my toes there. The crowd are much, much younger than my usual audience but surprisingly are really into the set I put together, they dance, they applaud and say nice things. The guv (this is another bit where I stray from convention and give a name) Gael, is a cool looking French guy who just oozes personality and professionalism,
So that’s the background!

30 minutes before I was due to leave for the gig I realised that I had a problem, I could feel there was something wrong with my voice, I knew it was not going to work properly. It was far too late for me to try to get a dep, the venue advertise (and the punters expect) music so I could not phone and cancel. I have a pre-prepared play list (in case of this happening just before a gig).
My emergency set list is made up of songs with the keys dropped, and includes a number of songs usually performed by growlers. Although Lee Marvin is not included, Jonny Cash and Tom Waits are.
Obviously I was not happy about having such a limited play list, however I knew that the crowd at Smoque are generous and accommodating so I hoped I would get by.

10 minutes into the set my voice went completely (F2 was too high for me to sing), I morphed the song I was singing (Ring of fire) into a guitar instrumental, as it ended I  faded in recorded music.

Quite a few of the crowd come over to ask what was wrong with my voice and what was going on. I explained and apologised to them, I then went to find  Gael (the guv) to apologise to him and tell him I was going home (I did not expect a fee, and I expected the possibility of a slagging off).

Instead of anger, Gael smiled and put me at ease. He said don’t worry it cant be helped, I could hear you were suffering so thanks for trying. I told him I would keep my recorded music playing until he could sort his house music out.

When I returned to the performance area a few of the young women who usually ask for Human Jukebox requests were by my mic and asked could I play some “Old school”. I told them I didn’t know what old school was, they said just put on something like “I wanna dance with somebody, Whitney”. I actually had that song on a “wedding break” play list so obliged. They young women started dancing and were joined by their friends on the dance floor. As the track progressed I was getting more and more requests.

Two hours later after the cheesiest wedding playlist ever I had run out of suitable songs. The crowd at Smoque had kept dancing all night!  I said my goodbyes.

The crowd at Smoque are amazing, beutiful, generous, nice  young people,  they forgave the appalling attempt of mine sing when  I had no voice, they persuaded me not to run away (when I realised I could not sing) they danced, they applauded and we had a party.

To put the cherry on the cake, Gael insisted on paying me.

Thank You Gael / all the Smoque clientele for being such nice people and a special thank-you to my son Lyndon (a DJ) who had previously given me so much “wedding break” music.

I will be back performing my Human Jukebox act (with a voice) at Smoque on the 7th December.

 

 

 

 

Honest, but tinged with a little envy and resentment.

Last nights acoustic gig was great fun, small venue, but really cool vibe with nice people, 70% (or more) were there for the music. No noisy drunks, nice compliments, good requests (I knew the songs) and free drinks sent over. I was performing on a platform very close to the bar which was being tended by a trendy, leather trousered good looking Johnnie Dep wannabe. At the end of the gig he put my beer on the bar and

I said “thanks, this is a great bar, did you enjoy the music?”

He replied “ it’s been too busy and I wasn’t listening”.

ME “ oh well never mind, hopefully if I come back you’ll not be so busy and can let me know what you think”

BARMAN. “ I did actually hear some of your set, but I am a professional trained musician. into jazz, funk and really far more progressive material so I switched off when I heard you”

ME. “Well that told me, are you in a band? I’ll look you up and have a listen” (I don’t really know why I said this, as I had no intention of doing so, I also don’t know why I wanted the barman to like me).

BARMAN. “Yes I have a band but I don’t think you would be into the jazz funk thing. Being honest with you I don’t know how you got the gig here tonight, you don’t have any equipment and they still booked you. I have been working here for years and she won’t give me a gig. I think the only reason they employed you is because you’re English”

ME. “ you’re probably right, and she has asked me to come back! Thanks for the beer”

Your curry tastes of toothpaste !

For some time I have had the privilege to work in a very wonderful Michlin starred Indian restaurant. Part of the deal is that I get a take-away meal at the end of the evening, I love (and have been to) India many times so have tasted authentic Indian cuisine, the food from this restaurant is much, much better than good.

The gig is always nice, the people appreciate the music, the tips are good and I have had plenty of spin off gigs (including my Wednesday night wine bar residency which was given to me by one of the restaurant’s customers).

So it’s not really accurate to say I work there as up until my last outing there every evening’s performance has been without incident and purely delightful.

I was about to start my first set when a group of 5 arrived, an elderly couple, with a middle aged east Asian middle woman and a couple of kids. The elderly man chose the table for his group and it was the table closest to me. As they sat the elderly man said, “I wish I had known there was music here tonight”. His wife relied  ” why have you forgotten your hearing aids again”  to which the elderly man looked directly at me and said “no I have my hearing aids but I should have brought ear-plugs he is going to be terrible”. I politely  smiled, he scowled then looked away.

As the evening progressed the women and the children appeared to enjoy the music (they were tapping their feet and singing along to some of the songs), the elderly guy had no reaction what so ever. When they finished they had to walk past me to get to the door and the Asian woman said to me “thank you so much for the music it was lovely” I replied “I am pleased you enjoyed it, I am here every Monday please come back”. The elderly man chipped in “well you weren’t as bad as I thought you were going to be, but the food here is rubbish, your curry tastes of toothpaste”.

I wonder if he really believed that in-between songs I was the chef?

I run nightclubs,,,, well I don’t actually run them.

I arrived at a local pub gig and I was a bit dubious because there were lots of kids running in and out of the garden (the door to the garden was right next to where I was to set up). Thankfully by the time I had set up the kids had either gone home or were sitting down with their families behaving nicely.
The punters made requests for songs that I knew and then applauded lots so I was very happy (although I am a confident singer I want lots of reassurance and praise. If accolades are not forthcoming on the way home I throw Aldi trollies into canals, and, when I get home I kick the cat (well I would if I had one)) anyway back to the story…..

Break-time arrived, a rather over refreshed man thrust his hand in my direction and introduced himself, I asked if he was enjoying the music. He told me that he had come especially to see me because “I run nightclubs, and I am going to book you” I asked which nightclubs, he replied not with nightclub names, but with a local street name. I said I didn’t know there was a nightclub in that street. He replied that it wasn’t really a nightclub but more of a social club located in a pub hall. It did not sound like The Hippodrome, so I asked for his number and said that I would “google” the club, if it looked suitable I would call him. He then told me “well I don’t actually run the club but if I tell the guv to book you, he will give you a gig”. I thought oh well that was a waste of 3 minutes of my break.

Before I could get away he continued. “You work at Assos, and I know the owner there he thinks you are the best singer in the Southeast” I told him that I have never sung in Assos so it wasn’t me, he told me “yes it is you, Assos in Eltham you are there every week, I’m coming to see you next week”. When the man said Eltham I knew that he meant Rixos. Rixos is a really nice restaurant where I used to work but have taken a break until the autumn. I told him that I used to sing there every Wednesday night but stopped working there a few weeks ago, they still have a singer there on Thursday nights so he should go then, he replied quite assertively “I know it’s Thursday night, and it’s you! I’ve seen you on the Rixos Facebook page, but when you are singing there you shave your head and use a different name”. The customer is always right so I said “OK, see you Thursday” and made my retreat.

Depreciated in Deptford.

Not too many years ago Deptford was a hive of musical activity. Although many of the pubs were really struggling and some were pretty run down, they recognised the need and benefit of hosting live entertainment. Those musicians just starting up could cut their teeth performing in the pubs for slightly lower fees while those established musicians could earn a good fee for a good performance. Some of the pubs would do a deal paying 10% of the till. However, a fixed fee or percentage of the till both types of gig were profitable and worthwhile.
Tonight I was in Deptford and in a very positive mood so thought I would get myself a solo Tuesday night slot. Most of the old pubs are no longer pubs but been converted into flats or boarded up, but a whole new type of establishment has opened, gentrification has brought investment that has allowed the renovation buildings/spaces and the opening of trendy bars. With the extra money so apparent I was so confident that it was going to be no trouble to secure my Tuesday night solo slot.
My M.O is that if I have not got an introduction to the venue, I volunteer to turn up on a quiet night, I will play an acoustic 20 minutes set. At any time if the manager does not like what he is hearing he can stop me and call it a day with no hard feelings, but if we get to the end of the 20 minutes and he likes what he is hearing he can pay me to continue or we can book another series of dates. This method of getting new venues works for me almost everytime.
Tonight was so different, the conversations went as expected with the mgt teams, all was agreeable and seemed good until we got to the part where at “if we get to the end of the 20 minutes and he likes what he is hearing he can pay me to continue”
At this point of the conversation each of the managers looked really surprised/shocked/horrified/mortified and told me that, if they like me performing they would allow me to continue to perform, but….. they could not pay me anything because “we don’t pay musicians we allow them to showcase their music”. One of the venues actually had 1 band setting up and another band waiting for the opportunity to “showcase”. I explained that I am dependent upon gigging to pay my bills to which one of them replied that if I brought 20 people with me he would give me a couple of drinks.
I still have warm memories of performing in Deptford, sadly they are going to remain just that ……memories.