I played to an empty bar last night. And it was fantastic.

Ok, so it wasn’t technically empty, there were six people there. But of those six, two were my friends (my house-mates), two were the other acts (my music-mates) and the final two were friends of one of the acts (my new-mates). Oh, and the bar staff, but there were only two of them. So that’s eight people that I played my set of songs to, which, by any accounts is a pretty dead gig. The thing is, I had an utterly fantastic night.
At the beginning there was about twice as many people, as there was a warm-up act who are friends of the venue owners. They played alright music with good stage presence and punchy sounds, however, after their set, they and their friends left. Now that, frankly, is rude. Not everyone can stay until the last act all the time – there are last trains to get and early alarms to rise for – but to arrive just before your or your mate’s set and leave just after it finishes is simply rude. It just is. It’s also a great way to piss off all the other musicians in the room and not get asked back to play another gig. And when this lot left they missed out on something amazing.
After the opening act was my friend Darren’s set, shortly followed by mine. What with us knowing each member of the audience on a first-name basis, we felt no need to fall into the usual performative habits of circuiting musicians: the rehearsed yet relaxed promotion of our social media pages, the carefully ordered playing of our most well-received tracks. We didn’t need to win over an audience as this intimate following were already well on our side. Instead, we both decided to just bloody enjoy playing without the pressure of being on a bill with a load of other acts politely comparing your style to theirs; performing without the thought that how we play tonight will determine whether the promoter rebooks us or the audience listen to our online tracks. We just had fun playing songs that we’ve loved writing to an audience who were there to simply listen and support. It was a liberating way to gig. But this wasn’t the highlight.

After I said my thanks, the real fantastic moment of the evening happened. Fantastic in its original sense, as the music held a sense of fantasy – dreamlike, magical, melodic, beautiful. It was the moment the chap who organised the gig, Chris – a.k.a Esperi – played his headline set. And it was stunning. I hadn’t met him prior to that night, but I soon discovered that he is the embodiment of what it is to play music because you love it. His act involved two-acoustic guitars, a bass, an electric, a drum kit, a violin bow, a xylophone, a melodian, various children’s toys and house-hold items all looped together in gorgeous, literal harmony. He deftly created a soundscape through what was essentially a musical laboratory. A beautiful and dreamlike musical laboratory at that. All amplified because with there being so few of us we got to share in the intimacy of his sound. It was a stunning display of musical talent, an auditory diamond in the rough of a tiny, quiet cafe in Hackney and so, although as a musician I didn’t benefit hugely from the dead bar, as a music-lover I gained worlds of joy.

Last night, not only did I get to experiment and practice music with a full sound system and test audience, but I discovered a musician who was able to elicit emotions of elation, and awe in wonderful quantities. Moments like that are sincerely what get me off my arse and out to the next gig.

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