A Review of Neil March and Friends, Thursday 5th September, 2019, at the Ivy House, Nunhead, London SE15. Curated by https://demarararecords
(from L to R (Twitter Handles) #Sergina Sergio, @DILARApiano, @NeilMarch, Hollie Findlay @MusicFindlay, Jon Read @Brassjon, @MissSatinBeige, #ElodieChousmerHowelles, Luke Moore @LukeMooreMusic)
I “collided” into Neil March on Twitter a couple of years ago. With a Doctorate in Music, he’s a well-established composer, recording artist and label owner in his own right, and he’s one of those musicians you just know you’re going to get along with, who you’re going to end up being thankful to for having entered and influenced your life.
I say collided, as last Thursday, 5thSept was the first time we’d actually met. But we’d had a number of conversations via Twitter over time, some quite heated, you might even call them rows! Kicking off in the Twittersphere! So it was almost as though I was meeting someone I’d known for years! But such is the trademark of people like Neil. I know him well enough now to know that he’s going to blush when he reads that I had a very similar experience when I met, and began working for, the wonderful composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, back in 2003. Artists like Neil and Gian-Carlo are a breed apart, and as such are extremely rare and valuable human beings. They grace your life with a strong sense of empathy and insight. And they are not in the least insecure — about their own talents, nor about the ability they can see in your life, which they manage to ignite and enthuse without ever really being obvious about it. That’s why I know to write this here, because such people are rarely acknowledged for their contribution to humanity.
Neil works alongside artist-turned-broadcaster Tom Robinson, as one of the team of hardworking moderators, who diligently listen to the 100s of music submissions that arrive every week at the BBC’s flagship initiative for new, undiscovered talent, “BBC Introducing” which, together with his BBC 6Music show’s “Mixtape,” and his own initiative “Fresh on the Net” enables Robinson — with the help of Neil and his colleagues — to showcase artists yet to secure management or a recording contract. It impressed me that the BBC had prioritised, in this day and age, a platform by which unknown artists, who demonstrated real potential, could cut through the “noise” and allow themselves to be heard by experienced and respected musicians, who knew what to listen out for.
Once upon a time, there was not quite so much noise, as alas there is today. Record companies would only sign bands that had passed at least some degree of natural filtration, musical “natural selection,” if you like. Back then, in order to achieve any kind of meaningful level of distribution, you absolutely needed the support (not to mention the contract) of a record label. From pressing vinyl, to press-ganging Editors into adding a particular song or artist to that week’s playlist, the record label was the magic wand that could make all those disparate elements come together, to ensure an artist’ success. To attempt anything without a label behind you, was basically unthinkable.
And, as for the rest of the population, those who weren’t engaged in musical Darwinism, they were — thankfully — pretty much ‘mute.’
These days… Things have changed!
Today, all you need to get your music out there… is an internet connection. There is no filtration whatsoever. It just flows, like untreated sewage, out into the ether.
“Wonderful,” you might think. “The industry’s at last become egalitarian — it’s not just a case of those with the most money who can have a chance at succeeding. The playing field is now level, the grip the labels had on the music scene has been loosened, and surely now those with a natural talent can more easily rise to the top.”
Well… yes… And then again, no….
Yes, thanks to Neil, Tom and the team at 6Music, a couple of years ago when I started releasing original material, my single had reached Tom and Neil within 24 hours. Which is wonderful: egalitarian, and all the rest of it.
However, the general public — those others that I mentioned earlier — who had up until this point been largely silent, suddenly began to leap upon the internet, with an impetuous new-found sense of “freedom of expression.” Booting up and going online, they began to “express” themselves — as long and as loudly as they liked, with not the slightest concern for the quality or artistic value of what they were doing. And this Pandora’s Box has gone on to spawn a plethora of talent shows, that continue to disperse their spores chokingly around the globe. Things will never be the same again.
Today, the Net plays host to a whole spectrum of “noise,” from unintelligible foul-mouthed rappers and Freestylers, to those teenage girls clutching a fluorescent pink hairbrush and caterwauling along to their favourite Mariah Carey power-ballad, blissfully oblivious to the fact they’re no nearer the correct notes than Mariah herself would have been, without the aid of software and a safety net.
And this noise… Is incessant… Insensitive… And is not about to go away any time soon…
If Shirley Bassey was the epitome of the Dolce Vita era, Trevor Horn the inventor of “80s Music,” then alas the era of Trump, Brexit and Boris is accompanied by a sound track that is a cacophony of unsanctioned, unfiltered “performances” that are as fascinating as they are horrid. If you’re going to be a rapper, the somewhat delicate musician in me suggests, be one whose lyrics you can actually understand. Otherwise, what is the point? It’s all just noise. And what’s more irritating, it’s noise the rest of us, who might feel we have something not insignificant to offer musically, have to hack our way through, to get a nanosecond of meaningful attention from someone placed within the industry who might be able to make things happen.
Now, what’s all this got to do with “Neil March and Friends” @ “Vanishing Point, at the Ivy House in Nunhead, last Thursday, you might ask?
Well — I can tell you:
from the moment I walked through the door, and caught the last few minutes of the astonishingly talented Hollie Findlay’s sound-check (more on her later), I suddenly felt it! I’d been missing something — something I hadn’t even realised I’d been missing: good quality, LIVE MUSIC!
It was a moment when one of the things that make life as colourful as it can be pops up, and points out how bereft I’d allowed my life to become of such pleasures.
We’ve surrounded ourselves with ‘convenience,’ of all sorts. We no longer have to stagger round supermarkets, we simply order online. We don’t have to go to the effort of wrapping Christmas presents (as though that was ever actually a “chore??!”) we simply order online, and Amazon will wrap them for us. We no longer buy CDs, or books. Without thinking it through, we’ve discarded the sensation of reading the sleeve notes while listening to a new album, or the feel of the paper, as we turn the page of a new book, or for that matter, the emotional “feel” of the typeset the author, editor and publisher settled upon. They’re all gone, because we order online.
How… wonderfully…. convenient…
And we don’t realise what it is we actually lose in this trade-off, until it’s too late. For example, the software I’m using to write this article, in addition to helping to facilitate my swift completion of this piece, is also ensuring future generations won’t even be able to recognise an apostrophe, let alone use one properly.
So maybe “convenience” has a ‘sell-by’ date…? Makes you think…!
Certainly last Thursday, “convenience” got left behind, and the evening was all the more enjoyable and satisfying as a result.
I had to organise myself, get tickets, find the right train, bus, and direction. Thankfully, my Chinese flatmate is a wizard with Googlemaps (so the Web DOES have some saving graces) and manoeuvred me along with the confidence of a London Cabbie. Quite remarkable, but that’s because he’s from the generation that was born holding an iPhone. Being a “Class of ‘85” vintage, I’m often seen going round in circles swearing profusely at “Silly Siri!”
I cannot emphasise enough the importance that we all get out sometimes, and go and see an event like Neil’s monthly “Vanishing Point.” It is honey for the soul, for anyone who gives a damn about the quality of the music they consume.
First of all, it’s a great venue. I’m not quite sure what it might have been originally. Part of it looks like a church that someone’s stuck a pub in front of. The décor, as you can see from these pics, is warm and bright, the staff relaxed and welcoming.
The stage — I thought — reminded me of those great Music Hall Years. A time when Community was a concept that was sacred to all who felt part of one. “Community” — is that becoming another part of life we’re losing without even being aware of it, in our obsessive pursuit of convenience…?
The musical lineup was worth probably 4 or 5 times the £6 I paid for each of my tickets. These artists are quality performers, without a shadow of a doubt. The complete lineup were, in order of appearance, Hollie Findlay, sultry Latin influenced and cello-wielding Satin Beige (substituting Blu:M who were on the original bill) and finally Neil’s own band, Environmental Sound Foundation.
They were joined by a couple of really outstanding guests, Jon Read on Flügelhorn, and Luke Moore — who played literally juggling between a guitar and a cello! I’ve never seen anything quite like that! In addition, two excellent Viola players, Sergina Sergio (playing with ESF), and Elodie Chousmer Howelles (who accompanied Satin Beige). And to top it all off, the sound quality, overseeen by the talented Hugh Aynsley, was first-class.
It’s entirely understandable that artists this good, should want to hang out with an artist of Neil’s calibre. And their combined artistic willingness, the camaraderie, shone out from the stage, reminding me that however good technology might become, it will never give me what last Thursday gave me.
A quick last word on each set: Hollie is a bit like a young Adele. Her songs have an innocent poignancy to them. She’s only 16, but she can “see.” And she can write about what she “sees.” Already she has a busy nationwide concert schedule. She is an absolute star of the future, mark my words. You can quantify it in terms of X-Factor if you like, but then in Hollie’s case, I’d add the Y and Z as well, for good measure!
She was followed by the sultry and seductive Satin Beige. Singing while playing the coolest “Jazz-Funk” cello to Luke Moore’s beautifully-poised guitar, and Elodie’s confident Viola, it was the perfect contrast to Hollie’s opening set. The songs were mature — this girl had been around and seen soem things, and again she had the ability to capture life’s moments for us in song.
When she and Luke swapped instruments — mid-song, neither missing a single note (and Luke even finding time to finetune a string AND move the mic!) their virtuosity was breath-taking. Each looked as though their instrument was simply an extension of their being. It was a wonderful performance.
Neil mixed up the sequence with a fabulous instrumental, featuring sounds NASA had recorded from Jupiter’s Moon! A million miles away from what Holst might have imagined for his “Planets’ Suite,” it reminded me a little of Delia Derbyshire, while his music seemed to doff its cap in the direction of the Pet Shop Boys.
And then finally, Environmental Sound Foundation, Neil’s own ensemble, took the stage, joined for three tracks by Jon Read, whose credits have included The Specials. And ESF could have held their own comfortably at Glastonbury. Harking back to my earlier condemnation of “Rappers I can’t follow” Dilara’s lyrics lie at the sharp end of life, her raw and powerful voice, with its surprisingly large range (for such a petite girl!) able to scour your soul, leaving you raw and tingling afterwards. I was grateful for her excellent diction, as what she had to say, I subscribed to wholeheartedly. Neil underpinned her captivating performance with a beguiling, subtle and sophisticated acoustic/electronic keyboard accompaniment, with some beautifully subtle Viola from Sergina. A tour de force from the one-time electro outfit now breaking and resetting the rules regarding electro genres. Read’s plangent Flügelhorn wound round the duo like a soft velvet ribbon. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was improvising on the spot, or knew the tracks, his performance effortless, his phrasing exquisite, yet with a spontaneity that wanted you to believe he’s just made what he was playing up on te spot. It was a spell-binding climax to a spectacular evening’s music.
If you really value “live music,” then come along to Neil’s events, each 1st Thursday of the month. If you suddenly realise, reading this review, that you too might have traded in a little more fro your life than you bargained for, in the assumption that’s what everyone else was doing, then come along next time. If you know your pink fluorescent hairbrushed version of “I Can’t Live” was a mistake, and that you should never have uploaded it in the first place, come along to Neil’s night. And even if you’re the rapper, who’s always left with the feeling no one in your audience quite understood a word you’ve said, come along to Neil’s Night!
The next “Vanishing Point” is October 3rd. A superb lineup on offer. Tickets are available online, go to www.demarararecords.comfor more info.
Look forward to seeing you there!