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Get up 5:30am and satnav my way north toward Birmingham for the largest UK arts festival.I pray it doesn't rain cos my rusty car roof leaks and I dont want my gear getting wet! Arrive at Chickenbone Johns' 1960's bohemian split level gaff nice n early.After a quick coffee we convoy into the city centre and set up the cigar box nation stall.It's another example of just why Chickenbone John is the Godfather of the UK cbg movement-with the stall emblazoned with cigarbox nation backdrops, his homemade cbg's and flyers.I set up my gear.Over the next 6 hours, we alternate doing short sets to the passing festival goers,selling cd's and handing out flyers for the 2nd UK CBG fest next month.
Its a long time since I played on the street and I'm reminded how different it is to playing to an indoor captive audience.I find it harder to build a relationship with the mercurial masses-they do stand and watch, but stop playing for more than 4 seconds and the crowd will soon dissipate as the river of people flows,naturally enough, along to the next stall.You have to be more aggressive in the way you interact, pulling them in and keeping them there.I see John working the crowds doing just that.I unfortunately do the opposite and give up trying to talk to them and simply resort to playing the tunes.I'm still harbouring secret doubts about my abilities-due largely to not having had the type of positive feedback that only comes from a live audience for a few months.Playing in amongst a line of stalls doesn't particularly assail my demons.After I overhear the nth person hissing Seasick steve to their partner I seriously consider having a shave.On the other hand, as John sagely points out-its really the only point of reference the public has to what they are witnessing on the stall.
Around 5 we break down the gear and dash across the city to load for the gig at the CBSO. (City of Birmingham Symphony orchestra)Damn-this place is one serious venue.We are directed through massive manned steel security gates.Not the usual parking down a dark alley behind the club.There are staff on hand to help in any way they can-its all very pro.Me and the Godfather load via the stagedoor, down a corridor lined with huge double bass cases-the effect is funereal, they stand like gleaming white Sarcophagus against the wall.We pass the Ancient Egyptian sentinals and enter the concert hall-holy smoke-the ceiling is like 3 stories high and its all polished wood floor.I throw down my grotty carpet and set up-it looks tiny but kinda cool-the addition of the cd flightcase left open toward the audience makes it look like a set-the final addition of a bottle of beer and I'm good to go-I like the way it looks and I'm learning fast about selling.The soundcheck is painless-the acoustics are the best I've experienced (but they would be given its home to an orchestra!) I dont even have monitors, yet I can hear everything.Fantastic.It might sound pretentious but I feel at home.
So I'm on at 6:15pm-opening act for an evening of blues.I think to myself "who the hells gonna turn up for a gig at this hour" but I'm wrong-the place fills-the Godfather grabs a radio mic and tells the crowd about next months festival and introduces me-I cross the expanse of polished wood and strap meself in. "its dead posh ere innit?" I say and they all laugh.I tell them I can always tell posh venues cos the toilets still have the plastic seat bit attached to the loo.More laughter.Launch into Jolene and it all goes gr8.Its so good to feel that ebb and flow between the audience and the performer-its like being psychic-you can feel what they're feeling, tell what they're thinking-gauge their level of enjoyment.This is what I like.Theres no bull-its immediate,its all out in the open.I tell them if 3 of them buy my cd I'll be able to get enough petrol to get home.Its over all too fast but the reaction is gr8 and a good number of people line up and buy the cd.It's exactly what I need and the doubt demons flee to bother someone else for a while.So thanks to Chickenbone John for providing me with the opportunity to get back in the driving seat.It felt good.Oh yes.