In common with most people (or so I assume), my life is divided into separate spheres of activity. Whilst I am common to all of these spheres – crouching spider-like at the centre of the multi-dimensional Venn diagram of my life – the other people who populate its many spheres have little reason (or opportunity) to meet or interact with each other. My work colleagues are on the other side of the Irish Sea and so would never (knowingly) meet my family and they, in turn, live at some remove from Southampton and so are unlikely to meet my local friends. Even within Southampton, there is relatively little contact between my exercise, musical and theatrical friends. This is not as a result of some sort of strict cordon sanitaire I enforce between these groups to enable me to live a range of totally inconsistent lives – as frankly, I’m not willing to put that much effort into maintaining a collection of separate vizards behind which I hide my true nature (no, I put all my skill at concealment into sustaining a single mask that none should ever discover the horrors that lie beneath) – but just the nature of engaging with somewhat separate communities of people. There is some leakage of information between these communities via my tireless work attempting to make social media a fun place to be, but this has been limited.
On the Saturday just gone (or has it…? Perhaps I should leave a philosophical discussion of block time for another occasion: I used to think of it is comforting, but now feel it is more horrifying) two of my many local worlds came together at a glorious celebration of the city’s extraordinary musical strength. For the first time, the new NST City theatre staged a music gig – and hosted it in style! This meant that friends from the city’s music, spoken word, gallery and theatre scenes were all present in the same building at the same time: the risk of them sharing stories about the author was worryingly high. I could attempt some damage control, but mostly had to rely on the consistency of the image of myself I share with the world. I think I got away with it… though I have come realise that the presence of my name on the donor wall is noticed rather more often than I’d anticipated.
I had not originally planned to attend the gig. The headliners, Band of Skulls, while locally sourced were unknown to me and I had concerns about the theatre parking its metaphorical tank on the lawns of the existing local music venues: many of which are in a financially delicate situation (in common with most arts venues). I do still have some worries on this account but hope NST staging gigs (which will always be somewhat infrequent events) can help to bring new audiences to other music venues in the city while also bringing new audiences to the theatre. However, the main driver of my ticket purchase was the joint discovery that my friend’s band was opening for the Band of Skulls – who are much less frightening that their name might suggest – and people I know via Playlist, the Tuba Libres and the local music scene more generally were all involved in the orchestra who would be accompanying the headliners. Who could I refuse? (That question will be explored in a later post about earlier events: real life has left me with quite a backlog of content for GofaDM, you have been warned!). As it transpired, I also knew the people in charge of the sound, recording and filming – and quite a sizeable chunk of the audience.
The gig was amazing: I feel it will be seen as a seminal event in the city’s musical history. NST City makes for a very comfy space for a music gig and the sound and acoustic were really good. The folks at the theatre also did a really good job of hosting their first gig.
It was a source of real joy to me that the first musicians to take to the stage in this new venue were all friends. Kitty O’Neal and her band offered the space a glorious baptism of sound with familiar favourites and new tunes from their forthcoming album. It feels like a long wait until its release in June, but I suspect the time will flash by…
After a short break, Band of Skulls and their orchestral accompaniment in the form of the Space Between Collective – all drawn from local musical talent – took to the stage: behind them historic film of Southampton and its liners played. Unlike many of the audience, I didn’t know the band but really enjoyed their music which built from a relatively stripped-back start to a seriously rocking finish. The orchestral accompaniment – unique to this one gig – gave their music a sense of scale and grandeur quite different from that granted by mere amplification. As well as their own music, the set also included settings of locally relevant hymns and folk tunes. All of this gave the gig I wonderfully site-specific feel – it literally couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. By the time the bass player returned to the stage for the encore, wrapped in an enormous white sousaphone playing the opening bars of When the Saints Come Marching In, the whole audience was on its feet and joining in. I was reminded of the opening celebration of Studio 144 (which includes NST City) when one felt that a significant chunk of the city was coming together in celebration of the city and what a great place it can be. Chatting and eavesdropping in the bar after the concert, I certainly had the impression that everyone had a really good time and I over-heard several suggestions that this should be an annual event: a sentiment with which I would heartily agree!
I’d arrived at the gig at 19:30 just as it started to rain and the sky was first riven by lightning. I started to think about leaving at 23:00, at which stage it was still hammering down with rain and the city was illuminated by almost continuous lightning. According to the lad manning the front desk it had been doing this the whole time, which I could believe given that Above Bar Street was less street and more surging river by this stage. This did cause the romantic in me to imagine we audience members as the circle of the light defending something precious as the massed forces of the dark assailed our last redoubt: or that might be because I’m currently re-reading the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. Luckily, the assault finally weakened around 23:30 and I could walk home in the relative dry, leading to me believe the Old Ones were victorious on this occasion!
NST City has its next gig on 11 May: I can’t imagine this can quite reach the emotional intensity of its first but I have high hopes for it and shall be there. Hopefully, I will not need any of the four things of power crafted for the light – though I do rather fancy a trip to Cadair Idris and could fetch the “tomb of every hope” while I’m there…