Spent last night at a jazz gig in a local restaurant and it reminded me yet again how live music reaches parts of one that recorded music just doesn’t hit. The band were great musicians but also funny and clearly having as great a time as we were.
While they were playing I started thinking about the other live gigs I’ve been too and they all made me smile. My first was actually a pantomime in which Cliff Richard was appearing. My long suffering grandfather took me and my sister and also a roll of cotton wool which he stuffed in his ears for the musical interludes, leaving the excess hanging down to protest at the loudness of the music. But it had a weird Christmassy feel to it as well.
Then as a young teenager I went with some schoolfriends to see the Four Tops. Magical evening, full of style and yes we did stand on the seats and sing and scream.
During my year abroad in France, I was introduced to the revolutionary singer Francois Beranger, whose hard left politics perfectly suited the times, even if the evening did leave your ears ringing. We knew all the words to all the songs and sang them defiantly, each song dedicated to yet another oppressed group in a different part of the world. I still find myself singing his songs sometimes. Just googled him and discovered that he died some years ago and would be eighty now. How is that possible?
Living in Paris meant lots of gigs; we had to leave Ian Dury’s evening for fear of hearing loss but Elton John was in his extravagant phase and an extraordinary live performer.
Van Morrison, Bob Dylan both thrilled, the Gypsy Kings were marvellous at the Albert Hall. I was in a wheelchair with a broken leg and got in for free, with my mother as a carer. We were practically on the stage with a nurse in attendance throughout the performance.
Some years ago I took Mum to hear one of her favourite singers, Juliette Greco. She came on stage, her voice no longer as strong as it was but we didn’t care. Just to be in her presence while she performed her magic was enough. She loved us as much as we loved her.
The Nice jazz festival was always a favourite, the big names but also the old men and women on crutches or barely able to walk. But put an instrument in their hands and they were transformed, as were the audience, to a different time and place which pulled the heartstrings. Listen to this sax and understand how painful life can be. But we still carry on, because we have the music.
Musicals too – Mamma Mia, Motown had us singing and dancing in the aisles.
And then there were the ones that got away – Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Mahalia Jackson. You can see their live performances on youtube and get a flavour, but you don’t have the same connection.
Last night I realised too that the live musicians need us as much as we need them; the music is the bond that makes us all feel alive.