Friday, 26 March 2010

A Mind of Their Own

What makes a genuine artist? What is it that makes me feel that someone is worth following? I think at least part of the answer lies in the following examples.

Example 1 – The recent BRIT award ceremony contained several live performances by artists either nominated for, or winners of, some gong or other. Amongst the chosen ones this year was Cheryl Cole, TV personality, member of Girls Aloud, WAG and now solo artist. She presented us with a highly choreographed routine backed by a pre-recorded tape over which she attempted to lip-synch. Admittedly this was a TV performance, not a live gig but you get the feeling that the two would not differ significantly.

Example 2 – In the late 1960s, ‘Shout’ merchant and diminutive singer, Lulu, was given her own prime time TV show. In a show that was broadcast in 1969 her guest was a certain Jimi Hendrix with his Experience. The Jimi Hendrix Experience played live in the studio and caused the TV producer to have the proverbial kittens by stopping the scheduled run-through of ‘Hey Joe’ in mid-flow and starting up an improvised version of The Cream’s ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ which then over-ran its allotted time slot.

I’m very much afraid that in this day and age, the ‘show’ is very much the be-all and end-all of music and that means cutting out all the things that do not fit a highly regulated, physically demanding performance, like…ooh…real singing and improvisation. Those lucky artists that have been chosen by their backers to be heavily promoted are completely in the palms of their paymasters and have no real say in the matter.

Or do they? Example 2 shows what can happen when the artist takes control. Admittedly, Jimi’s act of mischievous defiance took place over 40 years ago when the control of artists was much looser than today, but it can happen. In the same BRIT ceremony as example 1, Lady Gaga ditched her originally planned ‘hits’ act at the last minute and instead, played a low key, one-woman performance of two lesser known songs, one of which was completely reworked for piano and voice. The audience was a bit stunned to say the least. But it was unexpected and fascinating. Unlike Cheryl Cole.

And I think this is what draws me to certain acts. It is the ones that say, ‘This is what I do. If you like it, fine. If not, tough!’ There is nothing worse than an artist that panders to their audience. Actually there is; it is an artist that panders to their audience because their management tells them to.


Adrian said...

Seems like a good point for me to quote Joni Mitchell... oh, I've done that already!


viva la revolucion!!

and pass the pie, please...

musicobsessive said...

Adrian - ...and I remember it well! That's why I was/am a big Joni fan.

Alan said...

The clip is on YouTube and it is good that this is one tape the BBC did not wipe. Nice comment from Jimi towards the end of the clip to say "We're being put off the air". I am sure there is also a quick reference to the guitar lick from The Beatles' DayTripper in the Hey Joe part.

I guess that Jimi knew who the audience were for Lulu's middle of the road Saturday night show and was pretty confident that not many of them would be going out to buy his records or see him live.

I wonder whether this would happen today or whether the delay from action to broadcast used in modern technology would give the producers more control.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Alan - You're right. Jimi was having a bit of fun knowing it wasn't harming his fan base. But the problem today seems to be that too many audiences expect live performances to mimic the studio recording. In the old days you expected anything but. Where has interpretation and improvisation gone?