THE BLOG

The Last Of the Troubadours

05/02/2014 16:27 GMT | Updated 07/04/2014 10:59 BST

Steam shoots from the Gaggia towards the slow click of the ceiling fan. It's a Tuesday morning and the delivery vans have arrived, Frith Street suddenly filled with the crash and shout of drivers. Where we sit is quieter, amid the fruit machines, framed sepia photographs and the memories. The coffees are brought to us in the gloaming of the bar and music is on our minds. The making of it. Its madness and beauty.

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"The underground music scene is tremendously strong right now," says Darron J Connett as he stirs his coffee. Pensive in hounds-tooth check overcoat and black loafers, he's recently returned from a UK tour where he and his band, The Last of the Troubadours, provided support for The Rifles.

The Last of the Troubadours arrive in our midst from that very English tradition of live playing, blended with a lyricism that has been informed by everything that rock, pop, soul and folk has thrown into the mix. Possessing eclectic artistic tastes has ensured that Connett and cohorts have sustained their desire for advancement through art. England has made them. It's music as a lifeline, rather than an indulgence.

"We're in a golden age of self-sufficiency for bands who are going it alone and producing their own music," he says. "We will have been a band, among many others, who survived this age by using the internet to air our music. But the internet will be old hat in 12 to 15 years' time."

Musicians like The Last of the Troubadours forego financial security to pursue a life that demands a strict work ethic and no small amount of fervent prayer that their efforts will not go unheard. The band has gone the distance, its sound clipped and flinty, each song's melody steered by the voices of Connett and Joel Rogers. It's an arresting harmonisation that is pitched somewhere between Bowie, Costello and Simon Fowler.

"The music industry is thriving in the area of bubble gum pop," he says, "so right now it's an ageist business. If you're 20, you're too old. But I've been around since my teens and have enjoyed a good measure of underground success."

It's been a busy few months, and with the new year well under way, Connett is energised by the task at hand: the penetration of a music business that has grown as impervious as a rhino's hide.

As a singer-songwriter who won his first recording contract at the age of 17, Connett possesses an all too rare wisdom hard won after years of industry negotiation. "You can't pull the wool over the eyes of thinking individuals," he says. "The mainstream business today is devoid of musicianship, and mainstream songs aren't songs anymore. They're chants."

Chants, you see, can be taken up by the multitude, can fill an arena, can help simplify a complex world. And they're lucrative; it's a fact the major record labels have long understood. Pop chants feed the soft fascism that has grown out of the rubble of artistic reason, and as it spreads, the public acquiesces. It's the easy listening for our easy lives for which we have always yearned, so it would seem. But were it not for bands like The Last of the Troubadours, who still worship at the altar of the live venue, the public's belief in the music industry would have been lost long ago.

"Great musicianship is not something that interests major labels these days," says Connett. "Instead, they're looking for something they can package, brand and sell. They're looking for the sure shot. And if you're lucky enough to get signed by one, they'll only distribute and promote an album that you've recorded and produced yourself. They're not interested in doing the donkey work."

He tells me his 14-year-old son hates commercial music, which says a lot about how the mainstream, in failing to embrace youth culture, is being deserted by the people on which it claims it has come to depend.

"Music hasn't vanished, it's just moved to a different plain. I have heard some of the most beautiful songs performed by bands, but I'm saddened knowing that the masses will never get to hear them. I feel sorry for the bands. Some do disappear and give up because financial constraints dictate. Making a living from music is difficult."

Owning a stage is Connett's business. Like Mick Jagger before him, he belongs to a group of performers who deal in what Pete Townshend has called "sexual shamanism"; the hooking of an audience through the use of one's voice and physicality while being backed by a raw sound.

"Guitar bands have a long gestation period before coming through. And there are many, like The Last of the Troubadours, who are bubbling under at the moment. You can find them on the live circuit. And with the resurgence of vinyl in the last couple of years, it's clear that people can't be duped. This is indicative of enough people missing a product, its art work and the band behind it."

But what we all miss, whether we realise it or not, are the days when music was the soundtrack to our lives.

The Last of the Troubadours will be appearing at @ModFest2014 on 3-4 May

Follow Darron J Connett @djcmusic1

Photo by @GStavrouFoto