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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Why our house concert on 18th June was a success

I played a house concert recently (Saturday, 18th June, 2011) with my trio (me, Leigh Trowbridge [guitar/vocals] and Andee Price [double-bass/vocals]). It was a great evening, succeeding on many levels. It’s interesting to reflect on what the elements were that made it so.

House concerts are a small but significant part of our gigging round. We've played them in various parts of the country – and as far afield as Gothenburg. They are gigs in someone’s home, usually a fan or a friend. This one was in my girlfriend, Angelika's house. It's quite an undertaking so the suggestion to do it had to come from her and I had to make sure she knew what was involved. We talked long and hard before she decided she wanted to take it on. She likes having guests, and that's one of the elements that is required for a good house concert; a host/ess who likes the music who also likes entertaining. Angelika is a great hostess and most who came knew it and arrived expecting something special. (Most house concert guests are friends and acquaintances of the organiser, although we always get a few that come from our email list.)

It's important, too, that the people coming know that what is happening is a formal concert, not a party with music, otherwise their expectations will be thwarted resulting in disappointment on both sides of the footlights. Angelika decided that there would be an entry charge. Some host/esses prefer that there be a collection and I would always defer to them on this. Either way, audiences are usually generous at these events.

And, yes, there are footlights. The room must look as though a concert is about to happen. Years ago I promoted a concert for Tom Robinson (of 2, 4, 6, 8, Motorway and Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay fame). He arrived in our hall and, very pleasantly but assertively, set about rearranging the stage. He explained that he'd worked as a stage manager in a theatre and had learned how important the presentation of the performing area is if the audience is to respond to it in the right way.* This is true for any concert, including a house concert. It communicates, amongst other things, that the normal rules of concert-going apply, giving the music a chance and the audience the environment to best enjoy it. It creates an expectation, an air of 'something is happening' that primes the audience for the performance. Of course, the room must also be able to accommodate the desired audience-size.

Lastly, the band must treat the gig with as much professionalism as they would any other. The contract between the musicians and the audience is the same as if the gig were played in any large concert-hall. The preparation, the thought given to the set-list, the on-stage presentation, the interaction with the listeners, should all be exactly the same as in any other setting. The increased intimacy of the setting is great for any artist who loves interacting with their audience, but the 'sheen' of a properly prepared and polished performance should not be allowed to be compromised by a more relaxed attitude.

So: the right host/ess who knows what they're taking on, the right room properly prepared and presented, the right expectations created in the audience and a polished performance; the ingredients of a successful house concert.

We had a great night and the audience feedback, though many were not familiar with music such as mine or concerts such as the one they had just experienced, was that they thoroughly enjoyed the gig, found the songs intriguing and were pleased to have been part of the event. How fulfilling for us all. One audience member has subsequently offered to host her own house concert for us.

Try it, you might like it. If you'd like to have us play for you, we'd be happy. Let me know.

(Keep an eye on this blog – there'll be footage of this concert available soon.)

(*I learned another lesson from Tom that night. The gig was not a sell-out and he absolutely refused to start playing until the audience had all moved to the front of the room. Proximity between audience and performer and within the audience itself is important to create intimacy and atmosphere. I always do the same when faced with similar situations.)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Booking gigs proves I really mean it

When I worked in sales I came to understand that the part of the job that mattered most was not sales skill, product knowledge or 'positive thinking'. It was graft. That meant the part of the job that everyone disliked most: booking sales appointments. If you had lots of people to talk to you'd make sales. Talented sales people would make more, the not so talented ones would make fewer, but if you had people to see you'd make sales. If you didn't, you wouldn't.

Now I find that if I have gigs I'm a musician, if I don't, I'm just pretending. And guess what? Producing them is the bit that we all most dislike. It's a chore. It means contacting people and asking them to promote you; it means facing rejection; it means accepting that there are those out there who fail to see 'one's artistic value', 'one's unique contribution to the canon'.

Of course, there are 100 artists for every hour of stage time and it's a buyer's market. I promoted concerts myself for a while in the form of The Bromley Acoustic Music Club. Along with a group of friends in the early 2000's (mostly met through the club itself), I staged monthly concerts with guests that included Bert Jansch (the first gig), Ron Sexsmith, John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee, Iain Matthews, Boo Hewerdine and Davy Graham. What always surprised me was how easy it was to get these great players to play at my modest event. Often they'd offer words of encouragement, telling me how important it was that venues like mine continued to thrive. John Renbourn, memorably, seeing that the room was less than full, told me that I didn't need to pay him the full fee if it would put me out of pocket. He valued the existence of the gig in the long run more than making his money that night.

The point is that in the chain of factors that combines to make a music event happen (promoter, artist, venue, audience), it's not the artist that is in the shortest supply. On the contrary, good promoters are like hen's teeth and audiences aren't easily coaxed into parting with their money in the face of all the competing distractions available to them.

So, I have to keep making the phone calls if I want to call myself a musician. It's the bit I like the least – but it's the bit that proves that I am what I like to imagine myself to be. It's the bit that proves I really mean it.

Anyone got a gig?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Gig sought in Stuttgart area

In September I'm taking the trio to the Stuttgart area in Germany for a gig in the Phoenix Pub at Lauffen.

SUNDAY 25th September - THE PHOENIX - 8.00 p.m.
Trio with Andee & Leigh
Heiulbronner str. 38, 74348 Lauffen, Germany
Entry: tbc

Can anyone recommend a bar or club we could do a freebie-pass-the-hat-round gig on the Saturday night?

Any suggestions gratefully recieved.

07968 500 161

June Gigs

I'm playing two gigs this week:

WEDNESDAY 15th – THE MAN OF KENT – 8.30 p.m.
Trio with Leigh and Andee
The Man of Kent, 6-8 John Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1
Entry: free
The Man of Kent

SATURDAY 18th – HOUSE CONCERT – 6.30 p.m.
Trio with Leigh and Andee
South Woodford, London
Entry: £8.00
To attend, email info(at)simonhopper(dot)co(dot)uk

You know you'll be welcome. We've a bevy of new or rarely played songs for you - as well as numbers from the two most recent albums, The Beautiful and Cruel and Resolute Love.

The house concert is an early one followed by a house party! Come and join us!