In one of my last blogs I talked about my experience with Jake Bugg - when I interviewed him last year Bugg told me that he had recorded samples of his number one selling album on an iPhone. This is because the magic was in that one special moment - where the emotion was real at the time that he came up with the music. It came shooting straight from his soul and into the iPhone. That one moment was captured forever and made it's way into the ears of millions of people all over the world.
This week it feels relevant to revisit the concept of raw live talent capturing the hearts of millions with zero production budget after the occurrence of Damon Albarn singing Parklife with his fans in an East End pub. By having 'real' fun and connecting with his fans in the most basic scenario - resulted in much bigger engagement. It is amazing that the simplicity of a piano and a knees-up in a local boozer can light up the public's interest and get picked up by most of the UK's national press. Damon Albarn participated in a knees-up version of Parklife in a pub with an act called The Gents. The Gents make it their life's mission to put a smile on the pub dweller's face by taking a piano to a pub and play and sing cover versions of well known pop songs in their cock-er-nee style. The consequence of which is that they get the whole pub singing along with them. I've seen them in action many times - they literally get the whole pub or venue singing to every song, and give out kazoos to those who may have had a few too many 'sherbets' and can't sing or won't sing. They put a smile on all visible faces. Last week Damon Albarn finished performing at his own gig following the launch of his first solo album Everyday Robots and decided to join in the fun by singing a version of Parklife with these two naughty scamps. In this special case - their performance was filmed on an iPhone and the footage, as you would imagine, ended up on YouTube. For the 48 hours following the event it quickly became news on most mainstream press platforms. Damon also talked about it in his interview on The One Show the next day.
Albarn or no Albarn - this type of fun is priceless and so very rare nowadays when very few pubs have a piano in, and those type of East End local pubs which did have pianos in are no longer alive. When I lived on the Isle of Dogs, East London, most of the locals' pubs that used to have pianos as part of the furniture and singing as a regular occurrence have now been turned into modern horrible looking flats. It was a completely soulless existence. It's unbelievably sad that so many of these pubs cannot afford to exist, and the singing around a piano pub culture is diminishing and becoming nearly extinct. Thank God for The Gents for breathing life back into this way of life, and Damon Albarn for supporting it. The Gents perform in pubs all over the East End of London - so if you want to take a step back in time and enjoy your pub experience the traditional way - check out their Facebook page for gig dates here.
If you want to check out the video of Damon singing in the pub - check it out here.
I caught up with Kristian, one half of The Gents who said...
"I would actually say that there's a bit of a reemergence of live music in smaller venues recently, like at the Great Exhibition near where I live in East Dulwich, but there's still not as much around as there used to be, certainly not the old-geezer-in-a-corner or dodgy-band-rocking-out-on-a-Tuesday-night variety.
We play at festivals, weddings, corporate functions...all sorts, but our home is a proper old boozer, surrounded by half-cut punters all singing along to Don't Stop Me Now or On A Ragga Tip! It's great to be in a pub with a decent Joanna to play on. You get everyone crowded around, strangers all singing together - it's bloody good for the soul I tell ya! Every pub should have a decent piano and encourage people to play it."
Well done to Waterloo station for plonking a load of pianos in their train stations which have prompted amazing things like this happening (see video below). It just demonstrates that if the instruments are there to be used - they will be played spontaneously, and the music magically brings people together (apart from the Asian guy in the glasses)...
Of course it goes without saying that there is incredible technology that can be bought at such low prices these days - making the recorded and live music industry far more accessible for artists than it used to be BUT there is something to be said for the ability to have live music - even with no electricity and technology involved so that impromptu music moments can arise as much as possible. We do of course rely on the iPhone to record these moments in time - and make them reach the whole world if we want them to. In this lifetime - we have the best of both worlds thanks to people like The Gents - good sirs.