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Posted on Feb 17th, 2009
First Gig, Swedish Song-Writing Service, The Open Mind, Woody Allen


(Soundtrack: Dexter Gordon “Our Man In Paris”, The Shortwave Set “Replica Sun Machine”)
We did our first Shirley Lee gig on Saturday. It was at an extremely pleasant pub called The Wilmington Arms by Exmouth Market and actually very close to where we recorded “A Week Away” ten years ago. Boy were we nervous before we went on! Even though it is a small venue, it is the longest we have gone without playing live, plus they were all new songs (except one), and under a new name rather than Spearmint. As with the album, the live show is kind of Shirley Lee performed by Spearmint. We were all there, and Jeff did the driving – Adam even came along too.
Thankfully it went well and was thoroughly enjoyable. To me a good gig feels “true” to the spirit of what we are trying to do. This has nothing to do with how many bum notes are not played, or the audience reaction, or the size of the venue, or the number of people there, or how good the sound is, but is an indefinable something that happens on the night… or not… the reaction of the crowd can certainly help things along though.
We had had a rotten final practise before the gig. Experience tells me that at the last rehearsal before something important, songs can distort in your head and sound bad even when they are fine, so I tried to cut us some slack, but we didn’t really know the tunes well enough. The upside of that was that a couple of them came together properly for the first time as we played them live, particularly “The Last Song” and “Restless Soul” which is a new song that will probably appear on the next single.
It is a good venue with a nice vibe, and it was a pleasure to watch The Bitter Springs play after us – they are one of those bands who really should be a lot bigger than they are – so good live, and wonderful lyrics. We may play with them again this year.
A long running Spearmint joke is that I do not actually write songs. Instead I enrolled in a Swedish Mail-Order Song-Writing Service several years ago. They send me a batch each month which I dutifully take into the band. The joke goes each time that this latest batch isn’t up to the usual standard.
Sometimes writing songs is like that – you have no recollection or idea of where the thing came from. It may as well have been sent from Sweden. I have spent today finishing two new songs for a Spearmint EP which we are planning for September. We are rehearsing them tomorrow and recording them next week. So tomorrow, I will have that pleasure of playing them to the guys for the first time – me nervous and hoping for a great reaction, but of course met by the blank faces of people more concerned with figuring out exactly what parts they are going to be playing on them
You would have to be eagle-eyed indeed to spot from the trailers for the new Woody Allen film that is a Woody Allen film. I suppose this makes sense, as the launch of a new movie from Woody is not met with the anticipation it used to be and is probably more likely to put some off going to see it. The strategy seems to be working judging by the number in the cinema at the weekend. People are a bit funny about Woody Allen these days. I know some just do not like him and that is fair enough, but there seems a general unwillingness to welcome new work from him. McCartney gets the same reception – perhaps it is the lot of the genius who has the misfortune to still be around, and working. In the 70s Lennon couldn’t get arrested here (that’s because he was getting arrested in LA and New York), but a few years after he died suddenly everyone was back onto saying how much they loved him.
I accept that McCartney’s or Woody’s recent work is not as ground-breaking as some of their previous, but there are still good bits in there, which as a fan, I am grateful for. Shouldn’t we be celebrating these people and especially the fact that they are still around? Or least have open minds about their work?
Open-mindedness seem quite hard to come by. If you don’t have it you will miss out on a lot of music. Bridie’s got it. Simon in the band has got it – his openness and encouragement have kept me from giving up on many ideas. You wouldn’t expect people working in mainstream music to be open-minded, but I have found that the so-called Indie community is just as closed. Like they would hear a record which they like the sound of, then find out it is by Phil Collins and hence reject it. Listen, if Phil Collins or Robbie Williams makes a great record tomorrow then I will buy it, even though I can’t stand either of them. Why would I miss out? As a listener, the personality of the person making the record is irrelevant to the record itself. Most great records are made by complete arses anyway, you just don’t know it unless you are unlucky enough to meet them.
Having said all that, and to completely contradict myself, those individuals who have such extreme taste and personality that they only accept music which fits their a narrow groove and reject all else, are also crucial characters to have around in order to create something with real personality. Maybe you need a combination of blinkered extremism and enthusiastic open-mindedness in order to proceed as a group?
I grew up watching Woody Allen movies after seeing “Sleeper” at a film club at school with my friend Nick. As the years passed, Nick and I would meet up and see the latest at the cinema together. I associate the different films with me in different flats and cities… Anyway, here are 10 reasons to love Woody:
1 He is the world’s greatest living film-maker 2 No nudity or violence is shown in any of his films 3 He has truly independent ethics – all the movies are true to themselves; none are aimed at making money 4 He is the best writer of women’s movie roles in the last 50 years – nobody else even comes close! 5 His incredible work ethic – he makes a film each year (a bit like Mark E Smith’s output) 6 His unerring sense of casting 7 His films are re-watchable many times – they really are made that way 8 The wonderful use of music – he guides us through brilliant 20s, 30s and 40s Jazz 9 His steadfast avoidance of any “dumbing down” – he expects us to keep up, or learn as we go 10 While filming in the Hamptons he decided it would be nice to have a home out there, so he found a property, spent a year doing it up and getting the design just right. The morning after he spent his first night there, he rang the estate agent and instructed them to put the property back on the market. He explained that he could not sleep with the sound of waves rather than sirens, and that there was nothing to do out there after dinner.
Actually, that last one just paints him as odd. Here are 10 better reasons: 1 Stardust Memories 2 Everyone Says I Love You 3 The Purple Rose Of Cairo 4 Manhattan 5 Radio Days 6 Deconstructing Harry 7 Zelig 8 Annie Hall 9 Play It Again Sam 10 Celebrity
Just my opinion, obviously.

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