The small town of Yarm has a long history (it’s referred to in the Domesday Book) though it’s now notable for its Georgian High Street, voted the best in Britain a few years ago by BBC viewers. Those who live on Teesside rate it for its preponderance of bars which make it a popular venue for a night out, despite the cobbled streets that challenge anyone in heels.
I was there last weekend for the Yarm Gala, where stall holders and entertainers pitch up along the High Street in an annual event which aims to raise the profile of the Town’s permanent retailers.
When I arrived to watch my friend Jane’s choir performing, the preceding act, UK Rock Legends, was still in full flow; a rock band performing covers, and though I didn’t catch them performing any Nazareth, they were certainly Loud ‘n’ Proud. I was enjoying their set when I spotted a sticker on the keyboard player’s equipment that proclaimed “Keep Music Live”.
Back in my heyday, this was a regular message from the Musicians Union, who distributed similar stickers with the popular music press; Sounds, NME, Melody Maker etc. I think my Roland piano bore one for a while.
Anyone familiar with the Change Curve will recognise that the normal human reactions to any impending change include emotional responses like fear and anger. Back in the 1970’s and early 80’s the fear was that developing synthesiser and other digital music technology would take away musicians’ jobs. Whole string sections would be replaced by synths, drum machines would kill off the role of the percussionist, and so on. Recorded music wouldn’t require bands of talented individuals, as a single programmer could replace them all.
The fears seem to have been unfounded; the revolution in digital music has actually placed more importance on live performance as a means of earning a crust than record sales thanks to the ease of file sharing. There seems to be plenty of demand too, with towns and villages nationwide hosting festivals and concerts.
The technology has actually played a part in this. I’m not denigrating the band at all; they were all clearly fine musicians and a look at their website proves their pedigree, but the improved tools at their disposal enabled them to deliver performances that matched the original artists recording for quality. Back in the 1970’s it was often pot luck as to whether a live gig would live up to expectations, and if it did not sound quality was often to blame. Sound engineers, sat in at their desks in mid audience, were easy scapegoats.
Eventually the band played their last number and cleared the stage; all gone in 30 minutes in time for Jane and her choir. Plugging a laptop into the PA enabled them to perform to a professional accompaniment that most small vocal groups could never have hoped for in the past, but their arrangements and harmonies were the main element in their offering. Human ability trumping the technology. Six female voices were able to match the impact of their predecessors (though I could be biased!)
They were even better when singing a capella.