Ever since he started university in 1988 Nige Tassell had lived and breathed live music. He had been involved in the world of gigs in several different guises: student entertainments officer, roadie, dj support act, reviewer, and punter. Nige knows this world from almost every conceivable angle and his title of “Mr. Gig” was well deserved.
“And my relationship with live music was like a love affair – a steady, reliable one that occasionally bordered on the obsessive.”
But then fatherhood arrived and live music slipped away having fallen victim to the demands of parenthood.
Any music lover with a long history of going to live concerts will sympathise with the reasons Tassell gives for having lost the urge to continue going: “the astronomical ticket prices”, “the sea of mobile phones obscuring the view”, “the incessant chatter of those in the crowd who believe a gig is a social gathering and the live band is a mere accompaniment to that” and “having to stand in a muddy field several hundred yards away from the stage, only able to see your distant heroes on a big screen” are only a few of the, all too recognisable, examples listed in this book.
“Why is the success of a band measured by how small they look from the cheap seats?”
And so, with mid-life looming large, Tassell decides to have another look at live-gigs. He has a few questions he would like to answer for himself, the most crucial being:
“Is the mosh-pit an appropriate place for a tubby, bald man on the dark side of 40?”
Tassell’s quest begins with The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, to give the event its proper name, where he is immediately confronted by the dreaded sea of mobile phones trying to capture performances and ends up pondering:
“…how if you’re capturing the experience of watching a band by taking a few dozen photos or shooting some video’s you’re going to be seeing a large part of the gig through your phone screen.”
But, overall, his first outing back on the gig circuit can be called a success; Mr. Tassell enjoyed himself and even found a few examples of how the modern day version is an improvement on the Glastonbury of his (very wet) memories.
But this book is more than a commentary on gigs and the differences between live performances in the past and the present. This book is about the whole music industry and the huge transformation it has undergone. For (a rather stark) example:
“Previously bands toured (…) to promote and flog their new record. Now, increasingly, the role of a new release – whether physical or digital – seems to be to indicate that a bunch of live dates are imminent.”
Furthermore, this book shatters a few illusions many people may have about those who make it in the music industry. A hit single is not a get-rich-quick-scheme. It can take bands years, if not decades, to pay off the production and promotion costs associated with bringing out an album. A lot of albums never sold enough copies to bring the artists who created it any royalties at all. Maybe this is a bit of advice that should be shared with all those hopefuls applying for shows like The X-Factor, hoping for fame and fortune. While the fame may come, the fortune may prove more elusive. Heck, maybe this book should be compulsory reading for everybody auditioning.
With Nige Tassell the reader takes a look at, among others, an eighties revival festival, bands that have reformed despite splitting up most acrimoniously in the past, a tribute band (shock-horror?), arena concerts, big festivals, small festivals, exclusive festivals, posh festivals… Who knew there were so many different sorts of festivals and concerts, just in Britain? And it is not just the performances themselves that are put under the microscope. Through talks with organisers, performers and background staff the reader gets a really good insight into what goes into organising an event and what it is that motivates people to stay on the circuit despite the mad schedules and, at times, obscure locations.
And Tassell discovers that his cynicism may have been misplaced, his reluctance unnecessary. The music industry may have changed, and he may not like some of the modern day aspects of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things are worse now; they’re just different. But then again, so is he. But that doesn’t mean that Mr. Gig can’t follow the example of so many artists and make a come-back.
As I hope the description above makes clear, this is a charming and engaging look at live music in our time. It is an at times laugh-out-loud funny analysis of the differences between the music scene in the eighties and the early 21st century. If anything shines through this book is Nige Tassell’s love and devotion for music and those who perform it. This is a book for anybody who loves their music, enjoys live performances and cherishes their memories of times gone by because they will recognise the sentiments so eloquently described by our Mr. Gig.