What It Takes: On Stage with Original Songs

DAY SIX: I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations with three different people recently. Hence, this post. For it dawned on me that few people realise what it takes to get on stage in the first place, let alone, what it takes to get back up there after such a long break (over three years). Yes I did the gig at the Ritz for John Guthrie’s OBE Inauguration dinner but that wasn’t really a FREYjA gig because it was jazz standards, not original songs and it was only a trio. I don’t particularly enjoy doing standards any more. I am a songwriter. There are classics I will always love like Nature Boy but I repeat – I am a songwriter.

What does that mean, “Jazz standards”, some of you non-musicians, non-jazzists may ask? Well it means that no matter how many musicians on stage, we all have a shared repertoire we know. You don’t need to rehearse for that. It is part of our DNA a repertoire of about 200 songs which we pull out of our bag. Not only does it take little effort but it costs less to put on such a show. We don’t have to schedule and gather musicians to rehearse, pay for a rehearsal space and so on. We just get on stage and 1, 2, 3 let’s go.

Getting a project like the FREYjA incarnation back on stage is an entirely different matter. These are original songs. They need atmosphere of a different kind.

As many of you know, my life went on a peculiar trajectory recently. I have found myself moving from home to temporary home. I lived on the boat. I looked after friends’ and strangers’ pets. I put my Bosendorfer into storage (that’s some years ago now) and what this means, the peripatetic, ungrounded, floating life, is that I don’t get time to practise my craft. I am so busy surviving, trying to earn a living in this expensive town doing what I love (i.e., inspiring children and the elderly with music whilst finishing my novel, children books and choir music books) and keeping organised amidst the potential chaos that I haven’t been able to get my head together to pull the musicians together and bring them up to speed on my new material. I have also lost a few musicians to other countries so need to find a new local team.

I have to arrange and chart the songs myself – that means working in Sibelius programme and putting the dots, the chords and the words down on the page so any musician in the world can play them) which means I need to know them myself really well on the piano. But when do I get a moment to do that. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, thank you John Lennon, indeed. And my other plans are creative projects. Endless creative projects which sleep in the corner of my storage boxes, in my journals. More of this later…When I do give the musicians the music we need to be time-efficient as we gear-up to cast that musical spell. It is me who needs to know what I want to hear from the band.

Bear in mind then, we don’t just book a date and step on-stage. It takes guts, no matter how small, to get back up there. It takes a lot of practise (for me) and I need to know there is a good sound-system in the venue, that the engineer is professional and knows how to mic me right. I need to know I’m going to get paid (not just passing the hat I’m afraid to say), I need to know my musicians are going to be paid. I need to know if I have to be the one to do the majority of the publicity to draw people in or if there is a team working on this with me from the venue.

For an experienced professional such as myself, and the guys I have worked with, it’s so much more than the music, folks. Just going in and hopping up and singing is not how it works once you have built up a 20 year career. I’ve sung before 47,000, I’ve performed festivals and jazz clubs all over the world. There is an internal pressure to keep the quality high. An expectation I placeon myself now that I have come so far (and not so far).

On a deeper, more personal note, when you step off stage for so long and when life throws you so many curve balls, you do tend to lose a little confidence. Not solely in your ability to do it as well as you used to but in your ability to fill a room.

You see, it comes down to the artist, the person on stage – namely FREYjA – to draw the audience in. There are fliers to print, deals with the venue to negotiate, photos to choose for the promo, sound guys to pay (if I want to record it I have to cover that), photographers to pay (one has to have a record of the event), perhaps I need to film it? music to perfect, rehearse, chart, fix, lyrics to relearn, hair to style, dresses to choose…

…sounds fun right? yes if you have the time and you are not moving around, trying to survive day to day (I am currently working 7 days a week by the way)…it was fun once upon a time…when I was able to underwrite the gigs or have them underwritten by a patron…

I will be live soon…big and small concerts…just bear with me


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