Here's a little-known fact about a little-known person: I was nearly in a boyband once. In the days before torture was televised, back when auditioning young hopefuls for a male vocal group was a dignified, poetic process held in the function rooms of anonymous hotels, I got very close to being in BBMak.
So as the tumbleweed passes by, let me say this: those three fine young men who beat me to the mic ended up with a period of moderate to ample to fair success. I think I've sold five copies of a song in my lifetime. Those dudes sold a million copies of their first album, so yeah.
And perhaps it's a blessing I missed out, because the band name was based on their initials (Burns, Barry, McNally) so let's look at what our name might have been: BMW, BBWoo, WooMB...it doesn't spell HIT, frankly. And while this may read like sour grapes, I had only gone to the audition to keep my friend company (also neither B, B nor Mak) so I was discomfited when my hurriedly prepared a capella song earned me a recall to a dance audition. Apparently a ginger nerd vogueing to Here Comes the Hotstepper doesn't in fact set teenage girls hearts aflutter. The original band name was going to be Dead Fit, but I guess since I was neither dead nor fit, I was out.
Around the same time, my friends were convinced I should apply to Stars in their Eyes as a Gary Barlow impersonator. Readers d'un certain âge in the UK will remember the Saturday night talent show where members of the gen pub would take to the stage in honour of their musical idols. Popular were the Bobby Darins and Shirley Basseys, less so the younger acts. I recall one girl saying "Tonight, Matthew, I am...Nelly Furtado", and the audience visibly did that 'huh?' face, en masse. "Is that an anagram of something?", they were thinking. (And yes, it is. It is an anagram of Flaunt Yodler and Done Artfully). I can't look into a camera without getting convulsive giggles, so it's a good thing I never tried out. I think I'd have made A Million Love Songs seem like high campery, which wouldn't have been my intention, natch.
So let the world rejoice that the albatross of fame soared right past me and aikido-rolled onto the doorstep of Mr Barlow instead. Whilst I don't know the chap, he seems to be someone I'd trust to organise my daughter's wedding. And sing at it. And probably write the introit. And hopefully the guest list. Musicians are not generally known for mountaineering, nor for royal bureaucracy, but GB (what patriotic initials!) handled both with aplomb in recent years, serving the nation a celebrity quest up Kilimanjaro and an open-air Diamond Jubilee fest.
He's not the first musician, of course, to mobilise people beyond the three noble pop pursuits of singing, dancing and buying. Band Aid, USA for Africa, and the great line of Comic and Sports Relief singles for example, have shown that music can prompt way more than singing, dancing and buying. It can apparently trigger people into giving, questioning, learning, and actually caring.
I think this is because we care about music already. We sing to, dance with and buy music because it matters to us. It matters usually because of how it makes us feel, but also who it connects us with, what tribes it creates. That interconnection both within us and between us is irresistible, I suspect increasingly, because just as more of life is becoming virtual, music can't not remain real. Sound is, essentially, this: movement in a body, creating movement in air, creating movement in another body. Music is impossible without real movement. It's no surprise that we say we've been touched by someone when we hear their music. Because we actually have.
Music therapists like talking about this. We know how powerful a connection music can generate, and in our work we too know how often music takes us beyond singing and dancing. Nordoff Robbins music therapists often wonder at how people living with severe mental health problems for example can mobilise to attend a band practice in another part of town, when on other days it is a huge struggle to push back the bed covers. In those circumstances music acts as a transformer; it transforms breakfast, bus routes, train maps, doorsteps and handshakes into para-musical things.
I love the para-musical parts of life, our movements, our sounds and our loves. It's a kind of revelation when you realise that you drive as much by the timing of other vehicles as by your own spatial judgement; that you communicate way more by the pitch of your voice than the language content; and that the actual reason you allowed yourself to fall for that guy was because secretly he owned that Take That album too.
Gary Barlow will perform at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of Nordoff Robbins on 22 April 2014. For tickets visit www.royalalberthall.com.