Last night Nelson and I played the Glasgow West End BeanScene, lurgies having attacked Mary and Lyns. Although the place was pretty full, we performed to splendid indifference from the audience. In fact, of course, they were not an audience – they were people out to meet their friends in a cafe and have a chat. Only a couple of songs drew a smatter of applause, which I interpreted more as a gesture of compassion than appreciation.
So how does one respond to indifference?
I could see various strands of responding and reacting (a response being conscious and chosen, a reaction being involuntary) going on as we ploughed through each song.
My first reaction was the inner voice saying ‘they’re not paying attention – get their attention’. The standard responses in such a situation are to talk to the audience in a friendly and humorous way; to make eye contact, especially with anyone who does look interested; and generally to be outgoing. This is good performance practice regardless of how well it’s going. It had little success. The reactive inner voice, now a bit alarmed, says ‘play something they might know’. This I would class as a 50/50 motivation – 50% kindness to the audience, as it can be a relief to hear a song you know in the midst of a set of stuff you’ve never heard before, but 50% the panic of the attention-seeker – ‘try something else to make them like me!’. My response was to play my unorthodox loop-based version of the Beatles She Said – not the best cover for such a young audience, and not well chosen because it’s so damn difficult to control the volume of the foot-pedal on which the looping depends. Not a success, but I don’t know what cover would have been appropriate.
Tell Tale Songs
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From there to the end of the first set, the panic need to be liked, the feeling of hurt and resentment (‘why don’t they show me some appreciation?’) and the sense of doubt (‘I’m crap.’) gradually died down to be replaced by ‘let’s just enjoy playing’. We had a short break during which I realised the nature of the evening was not a concert but simply a social meeting place with music in the background, and my job was not really to attract or dominate their attention. For the second half, I gave my attention to the act of performance and to the songs themselves, searching as always for new nuances, new ways to deliver lines, new timing etc, and listening to Nelson playing at my side. In other circumstances that concentration may have enhanced the performance to the degree that people were drawn in; in this occasion it didn’t, but it doesn’t matter. The fact is I was performing these songs with care and attention, which is my job. We finished the set, greeted the ‘audience’, thanked the staff for the food and drink and cleared off quickly.
These observations will probably be commonplace to seasoned pub singers – it shows the difference in expectation when you’ve spent a lot of time playing open mics and concert-style places like the Listening Room. For pubs and cafes where people have not come to see you, or to hear original material, you need to provide something more than lyric-based material – it’s not appropriate to expect them to give the same level of attention to words. You need textures, rhythms and variety, and you probably need to mix familiar and unfamiliar material. In the end I’m glad we went, and I enjoyed being back in Glasgow and talking to Nelson – and I learned a bit about performance.
Next performance will be different – at Thursday’s Full Moon I’m doing a set of more experimental guitar synth electronica (with vocals), as well as a set with theG.co.uk, which is always fun.