Living in the North West with the music cities of Liverpool and Manchester on our doorstep it is easy to take live music for granted. It’s all around us – from casual street busking to major performances at either the Echo or MEN arenas. We also have the towns of Southport and Wigan with their own jazz festivals and distinctive music scene. No surprise then that such musical influence spawns a myriad of smaller live performances featuring mainly local musicians. Live music is alive and kicking it would seem.
But scratch beneath the surface and a different story emerges. Pubs and small venues, the traditional heart of the smaller live gig are under pressure. People are now staying at home seemingly content to drink cheap alcohol from the supermarket and watch television rather than take in live entertainment at their local. Grass roots live music is under threat.
So it was good news when a nearby council decided to host a number of outdoor gigs featuring local musicians. Step forward West Lancashire Borough Council who gamely organised a number of free weekend music events in Ormskirk’s Coronation Park. Last Saturday featured local band Trez Fez, a small friendly group who are well-known for their cheerily uplifting Gypsy Jazz music.
It was a splendid effort by the council, the only problem was that someone apparently forgot to promote the event.
As Trez Fez set up their instruments on the ornate bandstand in the centre of the Coronation Park it didn’t look too good. Five chairs were set out in front of bandstand and so far not one was occupied. Undaunted, Trez Fez started to play their bright and breezy music.
It was one of those occasions when your heart went out to the musicians as no doubt much time and effort had gone into preparing this performance. It must have been hugely dispiriting and taken quite a bit of courage to start playing to an empty expense of green grass. But play they did.
There was an almost defiant note in the music as it carried on the wind over Ormskirk town centre. Trez Fez were going to play and it didn’t matter that no one knew about their gig. The show would go on.
Slowly people started to realise something interesting and melodic was happening. Shoppers at the nearby Morrisons loaded their vehicles with shopping and instead of driving off looked curiously over the park railings. Likewise visitors to the Park Pool and the Two Saints shopping precinct paused a moment to listen. Some decided to put their day briefly on hold and made their way over into the park.
A man arrived with two children and said that he had heard the music from his home over half a mile away and walked to the park because he wanted to see who was playing.
Perhaps sensing that the tide was turning in their favour, Trez Fez seemed to redouble their efforts and launched confidently into the Gypsy Jazz classic – Minor Swing. The guitars knocked out a compelling rhythm, an energetic flute solo floats through the air and a violin evoked memories of Stephane Grappelli. This was proper live music in full flow. Superb.
Now people tapped their feet and clapped and gave the fine musicians good reason to carry on with their delightful set. Moods had been changed and spirits lifted. Once again the power of live music had worked its magic on the soul.
The day had been turned around and whilst the park wasn’t as full as it should have been at least a good many people had heard some of the performance. It is pity though that this pleasant and generous band had to work so hard for their applause. A brief perusal of the Trez Fez website tells us that their diary is full of charitable events, so was it too much to hope that in return they might get some decent promotion for their park gig?
The council had done so much right here and fallen at the last hurdle. The bandstand was well presented and the music was sublime – it’s just that no one knew about it. Perhaps West Lancs should take a look at its neighbouring Sefton Council and see just how much effort goes into marketing Southport. Banners adorn Victoria Park and other strategic points making it impossible to drive around Southport and not know what is going on.
As the Coronation Park is on the Ormskirk ring road it must be surely possible to have some banners or signs promoting events to the numerous vehicles that use this road each day.
As for us, Joe Public – we also need to perhaps realise that the continued threat of recession is slowly stifling local live music and we to have a part to play. There is great live music all around us but it may not be widely promoted. We may now have to put a bit of effort in ourselves to find this music and not expect everything to be laid out on a plate for us. Sometimes the best things in life take a little effort.
No matter how good a musician may be it is difficult to take the body blow of a poorly promoted or poorly attended event. Sooner or later they will reluctantly pack away their instrument for the last time and then we will all be a lot poorer.
So if you hear of a live music event or perhaps you see a small band preparing to play in your local park, give them a few moments of your time and enjoy what they have to offer. The chances are you won’t be disappointed and your day will be greatly improved. Please don’t take it for granted they will be there another time – because that might not be the case.
Whatever happens – don’t let apathy kill the music.