Practice Makes Passable

One of the features of the coming year for Sputnik’s Birmingham Hub is going to be our ongoing but closer relationship with Impact.

Impact is run by Oasis Church Birmingham and is dedicated to promoting Birmingham’s vibrant music scene. It’s essentially local church-as-live music promoter, and it has functioned so far by organising regular live music events since about 2011.

I remember going along to an early Impact and enjoying it, but leaving scratching my head a little. There was good music and a good atmosphere, but where was the mini gospel talk? The ‘Alpha plug’? The invite to church? It took me some time to understand that Impact has a very simple goal – they want to serve artists in the Birmingham live music community.  They pay them, provide them with a crowd at a mid-week gig and treat them well.

I thank Ben Kyte and Adrian Hurst for introducing me to what I found to be a new paradigm regarding the church’s engagement with the arts, and it’s a pleasure to be able to link in more with these guys this year.

You see, their servant heart and hard work is paying off. Last year, the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), a key Birmingham arts venue, approached Impact to team up regarding their live music provision. After a month of low-key gigs, the first proper Impact/MAC event, featuring Boat To Row and Midsummer, was a rousing success.

A couple of years ago Ben from Impact asked me if some of our guys who performed at SputnikLive (our termly café live music and poetry event) wanted to play at Impact. He wanted to give over a whole evening to showcasing Sputnik. However, I had to turn him down. The simple reason was because we (the SputnikLive band) weren’t ready for such a jump.

It wasn’t an issue of skill. It was more an issue of the time we were able to give to preparing for live performances.

At our café gigs, a few of us formed a resident band. We managed a maximum of two solid rehearsals for any one SputnikLive jam- usually it was a couple of hours hastily rushing through a few songs.

Myself (Barrowclough), Ticking Boxes (Andy Gordon), Joanna Karselis (Jo Cogle), Li Ann (Leanne Salt), Mantis (Alex Martin) and ThinkTank (Rod Masih and Colin Wallace) would play individual sets and also jam. We produced some flashes of greatness (most notably our round-the-table mash up) but it was like a fun yet scruffy dress rehearsal.

This worked fine at a café gig. However, on a decent, respected local music stage, this doesn’t wash. To stand up in a local music scene, you have to practice regularly and develop a measure of tightness and cohesion as a unit. In my case, my preparation for live solo shows are usually done on car journeys, rapping over beats, trying desperately to nail my lyrics. This sort of ethos can produce a level of competence, but it is unlikely to blow people’s minds, as a well orchestrated, carefully thought through live show can (and should) do.

The first resident band for Impact’s tenure at the MAC has been the excellent Midsummer, most of whom are based at Oasis church in Birmingham. They don’t just gig, they actually practice. The rumour is, weekly!

I hope there are loads of people, reading this and rolling their eyes. Of course, they practice and gig regularly. That’s what bands do. However, in my experience, in church circles, this is not what bands do. Worship bands do it (we’ll come back to that next time). But as for musicians pushing things outside of their churches and looking to get involved in their local music scenes, the vast majority I would know are either solo artists who put far more attention into their songwriting than their live shows, or are loose collectives like our SputnikLive gang.

I think that a few of us need to take it up a notch. If you’re serious about seeing whether your music can sink or swim outside the church, the first step is to test the waters. Obviously, play the open mic nights, get the support solo gigs, keep writing songs. However, there is an important second step – regular practice and gigging. Whether you’re a solo artist or in a band this is vital.

There will always be some who simply like messing around and producing moments of spontaneous transcendence, banging on a table in a local café. Just don’t fool yourself that these ramshackle collaborations will propel you into the live music stratosphere. That takes hard graft.

(To zoom straight to the sequel to this post, click here)

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