What do you think of when I say acoustic?
Do you think of sound that is produced acoustically? Music which is unprocessed by digital or electronic means? And instruments with little or no amplification?
Or do you think about the physical fact of sound, the waves and vibrations in and around gases, liquids and solids, wrapping sound around all those lucky enough to have a sense of hearing?
I guess it depends on the context; or your preference for art over science, imagination over mechanics. Either way, ‘acoustic’ is a word brimming with feeling and resonance. And I don’t think I’d quite identified why until I was at a gig in Liverpool last weekend.
Acoustic, to me, means something raw, a musical or theatrical experience which comes to me unfiltered and unedited... directly from the heart and soul of the artist creating in that moment. Acoustic events are exposed and real (like the wood of a violin), rich with humanity and vulnerability, an opportunity for artistic communication like few other mediums. Acoustic music is the equivalent, in drama, of a new play performed in a black box, with little set and few technical effects. It matters less whether it is improvised or scripted, what counts is that it is fresh, truthful (to the voice of the artist), accessible and intimate. Acoustic encounters pull down the walls between us, drawing an audience close to the performer, heightening our sense that everyone present is sharing something very much in the here and now, tasting and feeling something that can only happen once. Acoustic performances are often a journey of discovery for artist and audience, allowing maximum use of spontaneity and imagination, and they operate on the heart, mind and spirit as much as on the ears. And when the artists performing are of a high calibre, such as they were in Liverpool last weekend, it is a real privilege to be a part of it.
I’ve gone to hundreds of acoustic events over the years. I was even General Manager of an arts centre in Sydney which hosted in our Sound Lounge on a Thursday evening a popular Singer-Songwriter series, geared toward the launch of avant-garde, new CDs. But somehow I’d forgotten the power and sincerity of a small or medium-sized room filled only by lightly amplified, naked sounds. I guess London is so big that I’m often going to ‘big stuff’... big concerts, shows, productions, gigs... even grand opera where the sound is acoustic but where I’m so far away at the back of the stalls (in the cheap seats) that I’m divorced somewhat from the birth and discovery of those sounds.
So it was immensely gratifying to stumble upon The Leaf in Bold Street on Friday night, 5th August, where Graham Holland from Liverpool Acoustic and a warm and intensely interesting artist by the name of Roxanne de Bastion were hosting a celebration of ‘50 Years of Revolver’, the iconic Beatles release. Sadly I missed the first half, where a line-up of talented local artists were invited by Roxanne to interpret and present a personal rendition of the fourteen tracks from the much-loved studio album. However the friends I joined in Liverpool (for another birthday celebration) waxed lyrical about the eclectic success of it. Then I was present for the second half, to enjoy each artist doing their own material. Singer-songwriter after singer-songwriter returned to the stage to do their thing (the thing they were born to do) in the best possible way - authentically, organically, committed to the idiosyncratic style and narrative that is theirs, that is possible only for them and which is therefore all the more special and engaging. I was delighted to discover this bubbling hive of musical expression and, typical of Liverpudlians, we were made to feel wonderfully welcome.
After a joyous evening – during which I felt a primal drive to prolong the musical discovery, the celebration, the intimacy – I wondered if I had paid more attention to the words, the nuance of movement and rhythm, because I was physically close to the stage? Or if I was tuned in on all senses simply because the performer’s naked courage and artistry demanded note by note, chord by chord, that I respect their vulnerability as much as their strength. I can only tell you the audience was eating out of their hands. “You had me at hello” comes to mind. And with such a dynamic, such particularly strong vibrations of sound and passion, it was destined to be a great night.
So I’ve come back to London and I’m booking more acoustic gigs. Tonight I’m off to the Green Note in Camden to see an Aussie singer-songwriter, Anne McCue. In the coming week, Wednesday 17th August, I’ve got a group of friends lined up to see one of the artists from Liverpool, in a gig at The Workshop on Old Street, London. Thom Morecroft is a small guy with a massive talent, a cheeky wit and a big future. Do yourself a favour and get along. With a bit of luck he’ll perform Daisy from his EP Hand Me Down.
I’m calling my weekend up north ‘a Liverpool Tune-Up’, because in more ways than one it honed my focus and left me satisfied. It’s not the first or last time I’ll tell you the down-to-earth warmth and openness of northerners is compelling.
So thankyou Liverpool Acoustic, Roxanne de Bastion (you are amazing), Richard de Bastion (who made me cry, in a good way), Thom Morecroft (who made me laugh), FABIA (just wow), Eleanor Nelly, Alan O’Hare, She Drew The Gun, The Southbound Attic Band with Derek King, and Joe Symes and The Loving Kind.
I could go on and on. But, in essence, your brand of acoustic really rocks!