It's funny how you build an affinity for certain places and people or even music. It must have been about seven or eight years ago when I started to explore the live music scene. I was working in a routine day job and tended to have days off during the week which were quiet so I started looking for live music. As I found out very quickly, there's not much to explore music-wise living in the Cotswold countryside so I started to go down to Oxford where there was a bit more going on. I spent some time going around and figuring out the best venues and stumbled across a few things by trial and error and recommendation. It was during that time I started to go regularly to open mic nights and small gigs to watch local artists as well as touring musicians. At times it was a bit hit and miss. Some people were just starting out and having a go whilst others were more seasoned in their experience and were used to entertaining an audience. Some people did it just for fun in front of their friends whilst others had more serious ambitions. Not everyone is out to get signed or have a career but a few have the talent and now and again you can see the potential in them even if they're not quite ready. I've seen lots of different people and some of the same and it made me think about how artists develop over time. I'd had these thoughts in my mind for a while, which got me thinking.
I often think about these things in the moments between moments when I'm listening to music, doing something active outside or driving in my car. I recently went to Nikki Loy's album launch for her latest creation in Oxford. It had been a while since I'd seen her and whilst I'd watched her perform enough times before to know what's she's like, this was different, She had recorded a new album and put a new band together which I'd not yet seen. It was a Thursday night in October and it was just starting to feel like we were getting well and truly into autumn. The nights were drawing in and the venue was out of town which meant that everybody had made the effort to consciously go there. Beth Thornton did the warm-up which was great. It was in a live recording studio with a small stage and room for people to gather around. A grand piano had been pushed to one side to make room, there were some chairs and tables near the front with standing room behind and a bar in an adjacent room at the back. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed with enough people to fill the space without it being crowded. I like these kind of gigs because everyone is there for the music which means that the audience is attentive and expectant. Nikki and her band got on stage and you could tell from the start that musically she had stepped-up. Nikki had also been on tour supporting Shane Filan (formerly of Westlife) in various venues around the UK and you could see she was warmed-up and ready for the show. Most of the time I had seen her play before she was a solo artist so it was good to hear the depth of sound that the range of instruments brought as a full band. In addition to Nikki and her acoustic guitar there was an electric guitar, bass, cello, drums, keyboard and backing singer. She had done a good job of putting the band together. It was a good performance and by the end of the night Nikki was signing albums for people.
Musicians are quite entrepreneurial by nature, especially when they're unsigned. With little or no budget they usually have to market and manage themselves as well as write, record and perform and try to build a fan base. There are so many musicians and so many gigs and festivals it can be hard to see the wood for the trees which makes it a tough environment to be in with a lot of competition between artists and a wide variety of music and events to choose from. When you get to a certain level everyone wants to get signed and there's a lot of talent but realistically not everyone will. It's the musicians that keep going and keep improving that give themselves the best chance of success. Obviously you've got to have the raw talent but you've also got to keep developing. To give you another example, I met Rhys Lewis quite a few years ago and he's since been signed to Decca and has recently released his debut EP called Waking Up Without You. It's a contemporary bluesy track with a raw edge to it and captures his distinctive vocals. He started in the same way, doing open mics and gigs in Oxford and then London, and developed over time. I remember my first impression was that he had a good voice with a distinctive tone and he could write songs. He consistently performed well too.
I've been to gigs in different places in search of new music and it's the live shows where you get a real feel for what an artist is like. It's the musicians that hone their craft and keep moving forward that put themselves in the best position. It's the ones that keep putting themselves out there and making every performance the best performance that will be in pole position and ready for launch given the opportunity.
Video: Under the Lightning by Nikki Loy
Music is food for the soul.
Stephen is a former Assistant Event Producer who has worked on the production of major live events. He created MusicIsFoodForTheSoul.com to focus on the essence of music. His interests include sport, music, design, leadership, innovative and socially responsible businesses and writing poetry and lyrics. Follow @WoodsStephen