Of late, I have found that feelings of despair come more readily to what is left of my brain than at any previous time, insofar as I have a reliable memory of my past emotional states. Or, for that matter, my current one: I am after all a middle-aged, white British man and we are not renowned for being in regular touch with our emotions (it’s more a card-at-Christmas kind of relationship). I can’t help feeling that the current political situation, both local and more globally, is responsible for the addition of this undesirable new mental Lorenz attractor to my addled mind.
It is not for myself (or so I fondly imagine) that I have become fey and anile: I’ve had a good innings, have lived through some years that have been pretty good personally and can clock-off without too much to complain about lot-wise. No, it is for the young and the marginalised that I worry. Then again, I am almost pathologically risk-averse (with the exception of some very limited, low risk areas of my existence), so perhaps things will turn out alright (though I’m not betting on this outcome).
What spurred me to write this post was listening to the podcast of last Friday’s edition of The Verb and, in particular, to Selena Godden reading her poem Pessimism is for Lightweights. I decided it was time to celebrate small ways in which people are trying to divert the handcart, or tiny portions of its contents, away from its headlong rush to join Hades.
As this blog tends towards the local (which is a euphemistic way of noting its extreme me-centricity) in its concerns, my optimism will be similarly local in its foundation. Also, in common with much of this blog, it will focus on the cultural: I fear I have little useful to add nearer the bottom of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs (after reading what follows, you may later question whether I have much useful to add in proximity to its apex). I’ll limit myself to two local initiatives which are perhaps contrasting but I think share some of the same goals. I should also say, in the interests of full disclosure, that I have a very (almost homeopathically) modest degree of involvement with both.
I shall start with the Make It So season at NST City, where the studio and a degree of associated support has been handed over to local artists to stage either complete pieces or share works-in-progress. This is something that has been planned for quite a while, but has been delayed for a range of reasons: mostly building related. However, it has now landed in style and a whole clutch of shows have taken place over the last couple of weeks, with another small burst as March inevitable transmogrifies into April (or a cat: only time will tell). I’ve missed a couple, but still think I’ve managed to see 10 local artists or companies staging their work: work of an incredibly diverse nature. It has really brought home to me the huge range of creative talent the city and the surrounding county possess – and I can think of a whole stack of artists and companies that haven’t featured. It has also been great to see so many people visit NST City for the first time and have fun (or be harrowed): it is, in many ways, a building for everyone to enjoy and it is wonderful to see more of them doing so. This feels like a top-down initiative and very much the sort of thing that regional theatres should be doing. However, I hope that it provides the springboard for some or all of the artists involved to develop their work further and helps them to find an audience, funding and more. Through their Laboratory programme, NST should be in a position to provide further support into as people dive (look, I had to pay-off the springboard metaphor somehow) into the future.
One big challenge for any regionally-based artist is being able to make a living without moving to a bigger conurbation, with London being the obvious – if over-crowded and hideously expensive – centre of mass which draws so many artists away from where they gained their start. There is also the question of whether they can gain the exposure they need to other creatives in their, and related, fields to grow and develop while remaining in the soi-disant provinces.
This brings me to my second initiative which is very much bottom-up: SO: Music City. I think this started with one man, of a far more entrepreneurial bent than the author, observing the precarious situation of many of the city’s music venues and deciding to do something about it (and unlike me, didn’t just try and go out more often and drink more when out). He has gathered friends and interested and committed stakeholders around him and they have tried to do something about it. I think in many ways the scope of the project has grown, as it must, to supporting not just venues but also local artists and all the infrastructure and human capital that goes to making a city a successful home for as diverse a range of music as possible. All this work reaches its first massive milestone over the weekend of 23/24 March with the inaugural SO: Music City Festival: and there are also a whole bunch of associated activities in spaces across the city in the adjacent weeks.
Not only does the Festival offer a feast of local music for audiences like me but, and perhaps more importantly, it offers a whole series of events for artists, venues, educators and the myriad other folk without whom no city can have a vibrant music scene. These events will help people to network, share experiences, issues and solutions both within the local scene but also with experts from the wider musical world. It is also offering a chance for people who aren’t being represented, or fully represented, in the current scene to bring their voices and have them heard.
This is an amazing initiative and has, I know, taken a lot of time and work by a whole bunch of people to make it a reality. If you have the good fortune to be local to Southampton, do try and make it to at least some of the events: and, if you can, don’t just observe but be an active participant (for a start, it’ll be more fun!). If you are not local to Southampton, why not see if there is anything similar in your home town – and if not, why not start something? As a fan of live music, having a local scene is so important to me: it means I can see so much more music of greater diversity if I don’t have the time and cost of schlepping to London (or some other distant hub) every time I want to go to a gig.
This all makes me feel hopelessly inadequate but also optimistic about what people can achieve if we come together, rather than allowing ourselves to be divided or dispirited. I think I shall allow myself to be open to a little cautious optimism and attempt to become a little less of an emotional lightweight. For a start, I am incredibly lucky to know such an amazing bunch of people!
I shall continue with my primary project of trying to be kind, and probably continue to fail regularly (we can only hope that I start to fail better). Obviously I shall continue to support local culture, an activity which is not even remotely selfless: mostly by the rather basic process of turning up and buying a ticket and a pint or two and, occasionally, chucking a few bob to try and support a project I’d like to see happen. There are also exciting (to me) plans afoot to upgrade (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide to make it easier for me to maintain and, more importantly, more useful to anyone who uses it (and it would seem that people do): it may finally gain its freedom from GofaDM and stand on its own two feet (or a smidge under 0.61m in SI units). I don’t want lack of knowledge of something happening in the city to ever act as a barrier to people going to see something live: if I can help it!