Mr Gig by Nige Tassell

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Mr Gig by Nige Tassell

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Category: Entertainment
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A music lover and family man, 40-something going on 20, decides to reconnect with his youth and rediscover the passion of his youth.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 270 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Short Books
ISBN: 9781780721613

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Born too late to remember the 60s and early 70s, music lover and journalist Nige Tassell, who has written for The Guardian, New Statesman and others, lived the life for some years as punter, reviewer, roadie, DJ and promoter. Then he married and became a father, and the most important gig (if the one with the least comfortable seats) was the kids’ primary school nativity play ten days before Christmas. Around 2010 the midlife crisis hit with a vengeance, and the urge to hit the road in search of what live music was all about these days came upon him. That does not just require private transport capable of taking roads the length and breadth of the land in its stride (and the car passed the test - just), it also requires a certain amount of courage.

You may be familiar with the ‘In Search of England’ book genre. H.V. Morton began the tradition years ago, and Bill Bryson and others have taken up the mantle more recently. This book, I suppose, is a music nutter’s equivalent of Morton and Bryson.

Living in Somerset, our intrepid enthusiast realises that there’s only one place to start, and it’s almost on his doorstep. So he goes to the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, and sees Gorillaz on stage plus various other acts, despite a sea of camera phones which together obscure the view every time a new act comes on to start their set. He also talks to the man responsible, farmer turned entrepreneur Michael Eavis, who has done such a sterling PR job in reversing initial public hostility to the event that even Prince Charles has dropped by to put in an appearance.

Next he goes to the 80s Rewind Festival at Henley-on-Thames, where he talks to Carol Decker of T’Pau and members of Heaven 17. From them he learns with some surprise that they and other contemporary pop heroes still play these shows partly because even singles and albums that sold in their thousands during the decade earned them precious little after the record industry middlemen had all taken their cut, and recording costs had been paid off – a process which generally took years. The money, he learns, is in performing live on the nostalgia circuit, not selling discs, unless you are one of the fortunate few.

Having seen The Pixies, Big Audio Dynamite, and The Wedding Present in his youth, he does so again twenty years on, and is agreeably surprised to have a good time second time around. The Smiths Indeed, a tribute band to Morrissey & Co, overcome his reservations and put on a thoroughly enjoyable show. Next on the itinerary are a festival at Thetford Forest, with Keane headlining, the Bloodstock Metal Festival at Catton Hall, Derbyshire, and an arena performance at Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, by Elbow, the last of which confirms his reservations about soulless huge shows for mass consumption. Small is beautiful, and a more intimate gig at the Live Lounge, Durham by the wonderfully titled Half Man Half Biscuit restores his faith in the whole enterprise. HMHB, you may recall, were once regulars on the John Peel show with their uniquely eccentric song titles such as He Who Would Valium Take, 99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd, and Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show. You will not hear those covered by anybody on The X Factor.

A return to his old alma mater, Essex University, where he was entertainments officer twenty years earlier, proves a sad experience. Eliza Doolittle is playing there during freshers’ week, and that is the full extent of the whole term’s bookings. It is a sad contrast, he notes, with his heyday when they could boast having Steel Pulse, The Proclaimers, Roy Harper, The Bootleg Beatles and others within a few weeks. But it improves again when he visits the folk club at the Red Lion, Kings Heath, Birmingham, and ends up talking to Martin Carthy, a veteran of the British folk scene, who tells him that the genre has been thriving for years because it is largely kept going by volunteers for the sheer love of it.

It happens to many of us. While we are growing up (and I come from the generation whose childhood coincided with the era when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were the joint towering forces), pop/rock music is one of our passions. Then real life gets in the way a little too much, other interests demand our attention – but the music is there. There’s a need to reconnect with that passion which has gone backstage, to take an analogy, but never completely disappeared.

Nige Tassell has been there, done that and back again. As he returns home, he reflects that while he may get angry over extortionate booking fees, over-talkative audiences and more, he’s found the commitment of people he’s met very heartwarming, as well as cheered by his adventures en route and above all some great performances. Most encouraging of all, he reflects on the spirit of independence still alive in the world of live music, perhaps even stronger as a response to the domination of faceless corporations and ruthless sponsors who have turned it into big business. Above all, he puts it across with that right blend of enthusiasm just this side of sheer lunacy and self-deprecation, and the result is an irresistible read.

For further readiong we can recommend:

Totally Wired: Post-punk Interviews and Overviews by Simon Reynolds
The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss by Nick Coleman

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