Free Music?

No, for once I’m not talking about free-improvisation.  But rather this story that’s appeared online today that some professional musicians are being asked to play for free as part of the Olympics this summer.  Obviously this is quite a worrying state of affairs if it’s true, not least because of the fact that Arts Council money is being used for the Cultural Olympiad, and the Arts Council make a point of paying people properly for the work that they’re doing.

I’ve often been of the mindset that there is a time and a place to play for free, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I never did that (that’s a separate blog post I think…).  But there is a big difference between trying out new material in a pub in Manchester to friends and playing at the world’s biggest sporting event.

I’m sure there’s more to be revealed, not least a response from the Olympics Committee themselves, but in the meantime I would encourage people to respond in the same vein as this guy on Craigslist that did the rounds online last year…


As it often does, something that Corey Mwamba said on Twitter got me thinking…



A few times recently it’s been noted with a small amount of surprise how music with improvisation in has been well-received by “non-jazz” crowds. A common reaction to early Beats & Pieces gigs was “I don’t normally like jazz, but this was great!” Indeed, my girlfriend Toni said the same thing about Led Bib, Polar Bear and more (to the point where I think she might just have to accept that she likes jazz…).

Aside: What I don’t want is to turn this into a debate on what “jazz” means. So if you think Led Bib, or Evan Parker, or whoever aren’t playing jazz, then please replace the word “jazz” with the phrase “music that heavily features improvisation” and read on…

Moving on, this isn’t a new revelation by any means, but there’s definitely a lot to be said for playing music to audiences who aren’t expecting to hear music played a certain way. The trick is how to get in front of different types of audience. On paper it’s quite difficult, and I’ve certainly struggled with how to pitch certain projects that are on the cusp between genres, which unfortunately is where I find the most interesting material to play.

Chris Sharkey has said that in the early days of Trio VD and Lima, rather than play the established local jazz gigs, they started to hook up with the Leeds hardcore scene, and play gigs with those bands, based on a shared energy rather than preconceived notions of genre.

Likewise, in Manchester, a brilliant new night has sprung up run by the Magic Hat Ensemble, featuring three different acts from three different backgrounds. From their website: “The Mix-Up kicked off in October 2011 as a way to celebrate the diversity of Manchester’s music scene without being tied to a style or genre. Drop the idea of scene, genre and demographic, and simply enjoy great live music and good food in a positive and relaxed atmosphere.” And it really works, there’s been a great buzz about the gigs, and last month they even managed to put an entire big band together on the day for visiting composer Paolo Dias Duarte (sounded awesome if you’re wondering).

So maybe the moral is ‘get off your backside and do it Anton’, or maybe the moral is we should all stop caring about genre. Having said that, as a promoter I know genres can be helpful for targeting interested people. I don’t know what the answer is, any thoughts on the subject would, as always, be very gratefully received. Any places you’ve found unsuspecting listeners quite welcoming/any good cross-genre projects you’ve seen or been involved in and so on.

The Magic Hat Mix-Up takes place on the first Thursday of every month in the Klondyke Club, Levenshulme, Manchester and only costs you a fiver. 5th April is the next one.