Signs of life?

*Taps mic*. Hello, is this thing on…?

Breaking silence here as there are tantalising hints for those of us really missing live music that the audience-and-musicians-in-the-same-space thing is starting up again here and there.

As a very welcome a visit to St George’s last week confirmed, live gigs can do things you can’t get any other way. I tried to describe some of the reasons a while back here – but for now let’s just say it was enjoyable to be listening to musicians who, unlike on Zoom, could actually hear when we applauded.

The music – Three Cane Whale playing their new set, “303” (listen here) – was great, going further on their unique road which involves using acoustic instruments in a way that sounds both original and quintessentially English. Aside from that, the gig left mixed feelings. We didn’t get inside St George’s, or only to the bar, and sitting, socially distanced on the grass outside isn’t ideal. There was drizzle at 5.55 which miraculously cleared for the gig at 6.00. But I reckon the second set at 8 must have been getting chilly. And the players had to deal with the unscheduled collaboration of birds, motor bikes, sirens, what sounded like a bin lorry and, once, a helicopter. Noisier music than theirs may work better outdoors.

The new normal?

There are other chances to check that. Speakeasy Jazz in Portishead are running occasional weekend afternoon gigs (outside, but with an indoor space to retreat to in bad weather), with the next one on Sep 26th. The Jazz Defenders are doing two sets for Lakota, again in their garden, this coming Sunday (13th) (book a table for 6 here).

The window for outdoor gigs must be closing soon, though, so it’s good to see at least one venue that is offering jazz indoors – Nod Knowles has managed it once so far at the Widcombe Social Club’s lovely upstairs room in Bath. Knowing him, more are sure to follow.

But beyond that, it’s hard to see much prospect of seated, indoor jazz in the kind of venues we’re used to in Bristol. I’m not wedded to small pub rooms – some of the best gigs of my life have been at the Barbican. But they are mostly where we hear jazz in the city, and social distancing ain’t on.

The limitations are clear when you notice how a few venues elsewhere are getting on. There’s a fair bit coming up in London, but only in larger spaces with drastically reduced capacity. The Barbican itself is programming gigs with online streaming, and a live audience of 300 in a 1900 seat hall. Down the scale, the 100 seat Vortex is going to admit just 30 people. Do the math and the tiny venues that are the mainstay of jazz in Bristol aren’t going to work at all. The only one that might, I guess, is Future Inns, but they have a hotel to run so it feels unlikely they will want to bother with a return to their weekly gig.

None of this is news, really, just a bunch of reasons why that brief set at St George’s didn’t evoke exclusively good feelings. Sitting outside the finest hall in the city, with that brilliant Steinway waiting untouched, isn’t how I want to see my musical future. Ah well, back to Zoom/Facebook/youtube for new music for now, I guess. Won’t see you there, as that’s not how it works in this odd new world, but hope you’re finding some too.


1 Comment

  1. Check out jazz jams at the netham pavilion, auspiciously next to rhe covid-19 testing station in Redfield 4pm. Neil Smith David Mowat Dino Christodoulou Sol Ahmed are regulars.

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