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Friday, November 02, 2012

Bands are like tree surgeons


I don't want to manage any bands but there are times when I wouldn't mind being a coach. Last night was one of those times. I was a guest at the Mercury Music Prize show at the Roundhouse. Twelve acts did one song each, which gives you a rare chance to compare and contrast.

Most of the bands took to the stage with the slightly self-important air of tree surgeons about to perform a delicate operation from which you'd be best advised to stand well clear. They further resemble tree surgeons in the way they appear to be preoccupied with important matters while hoping against hope that you're admiring them. When you consider how far technology has advanced in the last thirty years it's remarkable that musicians still look so burdened by the increasing amount of kit they take on stage with them and distracted by the fear that it might go wrong. This is of course even worse when it's a TV taping.

Does this self-consciousness matter? Only if you think the musician should be reaching out to the audience rather than operating a machine. The folk singer Sam Lee clearly does. When he began his number he looked directly into the audience and defied them to look away. In doing this he proved it was possible to establish some kind of relationship, even with an industry crowd.

I once went on a public speaking course taught by an actor. He was full of all kinds of drama school tricks, the sort that make normal people roll their eyes and blush. At one stage he said, before a performance I like to go on stage and cast my net over the audience. Here he mimed flinging a Biblical fishing net over the front stalls. I find it helps me project myself into the room, he added. To conquer the space.

We all sniggered, of course. Nonetheless, whenever I'm about to talk to a room full of people, I fling that net. Only in my head, of course. Something similar makes athletes believe in the power of visualisation. I wonder if any member of any band has ever thought about their performance in those terms.