If recording,( at its best), in a studio is like creating a masterpiece in painting then performing is like making a wonderful meal that you invite people to share and delight in together….
These two aspects of being a songwriter are so very different in colour and feel and vibe. I am still very much, just “Becoming” in both of these aspects so these thoughts are just those of someone who is fairly new to all this.
In some ways performing is not that different from being a teacher- a less bossy, more expressive and shamanistic way of grabbing a group of peoples attention and asking them to experience something you want to share with them! With both, there is the element of “feeling” into the energy of the room and building a transparent connection with those around you so that you become part of a subtle sharing for that small period of time. Connectivity and inspiration are two of the qualities I aim for both in teaching and performing. I like it when my songs leave a quality of stillness from the audience at the end of each song. It means something more subtle is happening .
The kind of songs I write are never going to be the heavy bass, action packed kind that feel stadiums full of heaving people. My material shares something of the quiet reflective intimacy of the lute songs I grew up with. I think my songs suit smaller more intimate venues where that subtle connectivity from the performer to the audience can be easily fashioned. However, I am not saying I don’t think it would be possible to perform them somewhere larger but the songs would have to be treated quite differently if they were. I would imagine that using artistic photos/video and lighting would create an amplified artistic audience experience in a larger space. My song “Phoenix” has a small video with it on Youtube and a number of people have said to me that it works really well as a symbolic and archetypal hook to take the mind deeper into the content of the song. I could imagine something like this ….
Some of my ideas around performance have come from my family background. My dad wrote a book on performance (Performance by Anthony Rooley) in which he explores ideas around renaissance philosophy and performance. This is one of his areas of expertise. I think the main idea I take from him is that performance works best when the performer can put the ego to one side and allow their expertise, and something greater than themselves to flow through. I think performing- when it works well- can be quite shamanic – in that the performer becomes the energetic quality of the song and uses their body, voice and expressions to convey this.
This is all quite Ultimate and I think takes time to grow into and lets face it I have not actually been on my dad’s post grad performers programme that he has run, although I have joined in a workshop or two, I have just absorbed some of the lovely ideas. To begin with I was just happy when I finally didn’t need my lyrics any more- being poor at sequencing means it takes longer to get the order of verses etc right. Then, I was pleased when I felt that connectivity with the audience. Now, I engage eye to eye with people and feel into the energy more and love creating an energy of charged stillness. I feel music in my whole body and being naturally expressive I am unconsciously drawn to expressing the story of the song through gentle movement and facial expression. I would of course, like to perform more frequently- but doing so appears to be the biggest hurdle of my journey so far. The opportunities are more than scarce when living in a field in north east Scotland! So far, I have performed at a number of local festivals, put on a couple of my own concerts, sung numbers in others charity gigs, shared in a traditional ceildidgh setting and sung at folk clubs. Right now I am a bit stumped as I don’t have a guitarist/pianist.
In order to get more experience I joined a performance mastery workshop- where we still meet and share -once a month. The aim is to be utterly authentic in ones sharing, so this is a great vehicle for me who writes songs that have a deeper raison d’être.The feedback I get is very encouraging and touching. At Christmas I sang in a folk session in a pub , which was packed and created stillness throughout……quite a lovely moment. Performing can be quite simply a beautiful experience. I also like seeing which songs people connect to and why. I am fairly good at guessing now which ones will appeal to which people!
Sometimes people connect performing with being a bit of a diva….but I think it is rather that one is serving the audience- you are gifting them with something beautiful, healing, thought provoking or interesting- just like a lovely meal. I don’t think one needs to be a diva at all. My step mum, who is an amazing singer/performer , and has been my supporter through all of this is the most un diva like person you could imagine….in the best way too.
I would love to see a range of performers and styles of performance- something I have not done. I have seen lots of renaissance concerts and a couple of African gigs and a
Kate Rusby gig yet have never been to a normal stadium gig or music festival. I think it would be great to go to Womad or something like this. People find it a bit weird and hard to believe that I have not done so- just circumstances, rather than anything else. I think it would inform me in a wider way. Something to one day look forward to!
Next time I look at songwriting and creativity, a topic that I find endlessly fascinating . Where does creativity come from and how do we access it?