Facing the crowds in their hundreds at an open air performance. Glasto next?
Have a listen to ‘Reality Checkpoint’ here – it’s our song about the history of Parker’s Piece. It was commissioned for Cycle of Songs, led by Helen Weinstein for the Cambridge bit of the Tour de France 2014.
Here’s a snippet from the open air performance on Parker’s Piece too
…from @Camologist – kindly tweeting & posting from the audience – also see @Camologist’s panorama pic here. Andrea asked us to wear colourful shoes. Mine were red – as modelled by Puffles here. Did any of the audience spot our collective’s eclectic footwear?
The view from the stage before the hosts brought the crowds in is as below.
Fortunately the clouds lifted as we progressed. The crowds also gathered once we got going – noticeably filling up even though getting people to sing along was a bit of a tough sell. People weren’t as drunk/stoned for our gig as they were when Dreadzone came on for what was a stomping set. But to whoever was smoking a jo or three near the stage between 4-5pm, we noticed it on the stage! I managed to film Dreadzone’s first few tracks.
Again, not the greatest footage on my part, but as a live act Dreadzone were superb. The first track of theirs I got hold of was on the first indie compilation album from 1995 – it was Captain Dread. It was followed up by the more well known Little Britain which really was a song for its time in the run up to the 1997 general election (irrespective of what followed politically). In 1996 Dreadzone were a support act to Oasis at their giant Knebworth concert – playing to over a quarter of a million people over that weekend. (My brother went, but I chickened out – but sort of made up for it the following year seeing Oasis at Earls Court).
So thanks to the Dowsing Sound Collective, I’ve featured on a video produced by Basement Jaxx and been part of a support act to a group that played to 250,000 people when I was a teenager. If someone said in 1999 that in the distant future I’d do the above…exactly.
Life…it’s about experiences – collective experiences
And also giving as well as getting. It’s one of those ‘If only I had known this and had lived by this when I was younger’ moments. Mental health problems and my lack of courage (the latter being my biggest personal character failing) amongst other things robbed me of what should have been some of the best years of my life – aged 15-22. Ever since then I’ve been trying, perhaps too hard at times, to make up for them. Yet to really enjoy those experiences, more often than not in my case there’s been more than an element of hard work over a long period of time, doing things that make me feel nervous/uncomfortable and…just a little bit of good luck? That plus picking a challenge, focussing on it and persisting with it in the face of any set backs, however big.
Being exposed and vulnerable in front of hundreds of people
I wasn’t intending to stand at the front on stage. My intention was to stand at the back, safe in the collective security of everyone else and taking in what is an awesome experience of being in the middle of a choir singing loud and proud. With many of our tenors being bigger, taller, older and wiser than I am, we had to be in sort-of-height order, which put me towards the front end. Hence I was *****Eeeeek!***** when I found myself standing at the front in full view. There was nowhere to hide.
I also wasn’t as confident with all of the songs as I would like to have been. (I only joined the collective in March 2014). I have a habit of being ‘easily led’ when it comes to singing in a group. I’m not disciplined enough at holding my own line – whether being pulled by altos on one side or basses on the other. What sort of came through (especially when I look back at some of the footage) was years of ballroom dancing kicking in: the body language of ‘confidence’. If you don’t show nerves, the audience won’t know.
Not being able to hear yourself sing – overcoming that challenge
I’ve never sung in an amplified outdoor performance before – certainly not on a stage and to that scale. This means the sound of your collective voices doesn’t bounce back. Combined with amplified instruments, you don’t get nearly as much of a sense of how ‘together’ you are with everyone else. Hence singing outdoors on a large stage to a large audience is actually a much more difficult skill than telly gives the impression of. With that in mind, I can sort of see where & why Jemini went wrong in Eurovision in 2003.
One thing I found compared to the Basement Jaxx recording we did at the Cambridge Union (see this short clip) was that I had to listen much more with my eyes. That meant looking around to see what Andrea our musical director was telling us (communicating with eyes back at us) as well as whether I was keeping time with the other tenors. At the same time, I kept on glancing up at the audience (while trying to keep track of the music score) not only to project my voice outwards but also for audience reaction. Smiles and people moving to the rhythm seemed like good signs as we were singing.
“Was it worth it? (& would you do it again?)”
Heyell-yeah! But only with a group of people as supportive & patient as the Dowsing Sound Collective have been with me. And anyone who knows me knows what an ‘intense’ personality I can be at times – with the energy of a power station but the attention span of a dragon fairy on sucrose. Hence having a critical mass of people who are about half a generation older than me being a calming influence.
“You’ve come a long long way, baby”
Said a long lost friend many moons ago after a past mental health crisis – sort of paraphrasing Praise You by Fatboy Slim. As I head into my fourth year of blogging regularly, I’m coming back to early blogposts of 2011/12 which sort of plot past years of ‘angst’ and ‘past dreams unfulfilled for all time’. The final two paragraphs from On music – a personal journey for me are particularly striking. Not least because at the time I had no idea of the collective’s existence, let alone what Andrea was & still is doing in breaking down the narrow mindsets of some of the musical establishment.
For us as a musical collective, I think we’re at an exciting and challenging time – not least because of plans to expand into Brighton, Norwich, York and London. In Cambridge though, the collective seems to be tapping into something far wider than music.
“Hang on – isn’t this a bit ‘Gareth Malone’?”
The Dowsing Sound Collective got there first :-)
Part of it you could say is a response to the economic, political and even national sporting climate – it’s glum for a lot of us, irrespective of party. Another part of it is a change of mindset on the back of rapidly changing communications technologies & the spread of ideas & information through many different forms. For example, it’s one thing to read a positive review in a newspaper about a performance. It’s quite another to view the reactions of people as they come out of an event.
Music plus people plus digital media to connect, motivate and inspire.
We’re just getting started…