What We Talk About When We Talk About Music

I’ve spent a few days in the past week at the Book Festival in Edinburgh.  It’s my first year attending the book festival if I’m honest – well, since my mum used to take me as a kid – and it’s been really eye opening and thoroughly enjoyable.  What has struck me most is the lovely atmosphere of the event.  It is a great place to go and write, think, watch, exist.  It is vibrant and alive and the events are varied and interesting.  All in all I have enjoyed the time I have spent at Charlotte Square and wish I didn’t have to work every day so I could immerse myself more in the events.

As I was sitting there I got thinking about music and how amazing it would be to have a similar festival celebrating music.  And I don’t mean lots of little/big gigs like the Edge Festival.  Or gigs across the city South by South West style.  Nor a Homegame type event either.  What I was thinking was a similar layout/form, if not identical, to the book festival, where musicians and people from the industry (not agents/managers etc – whilst I see the benefit of these sort of workshops that’s for another time and place) would come and talk and play.  So not gigs.  More discussions with music involved.   Let’s say, for example, a place where Beck could come and discuss his new album ‘Song Reader’ and, perhaps, with a bit of organisation have other musicians perform songs from it – or at least their interpretations of the songs.  Somewhere, that discussion on music could take place and the mechanics of being a musician could be explored.   I mean, there could be all sorts of workshops involved in this festival not just for adults but for kids too – encouraging young people to explore/pick up an instrument for example, which would be a massively important element – education.  There could be small independent record label stalls as well as work for sale by all the artists appearing at the festival and there could be the chance, like at the book festival, to have work by your favourite musician signed and to meet them in person breaking down the barriers between artist and fans that so often exists and adding a human element to the mystique of the music world.

For me, the book festival has got it spot on.  More and more, as I grow older, a simple gig where people get up and play music fails to appeal.  Too many times I have been to gigs and just wanted them to end.  Or I have wanted more interaction with the artist or had things in my head I wanted to know about the music/musicians.  My interest in where the music comes from, how the artist works, how the music came together has increased significantly over time and having conversations with other music fans it seems there is a similar feeling that exists. A friend told me of a Philip Glass concert he attended where Glass discussed each piece before he played – perfect I thought.  Musicians have important voices and there are discussions to be had I believe with musicians that are not taking place.

Conversation pieces between artists is actually something I’ve been trying to incorporate on the blog – but it’s not easy getting artists to have those conversations as they tend to be very busy people with little time to sit down and write to each other.  The Believer has done it successfully but I think there is a massive opportunity to have artists coming together to discuss their worlds that could and should be explored.

Gigs exist.  That market is catered for.  What I am imagining is a 2/3 week event where artists would come and discuss music.  I am not really interested in the social aspects of gig going.  For me, and I acknowledge openly that this is not the case for most people, if I go to a gig/festival, get pissed and have a laugh then I feel like I’ve missed something.  I cannot and never have been able to see music events simply as social gatherings.  You can do that without music in my experience.  It’s great that music brings people together but I would like something more from my music festival than drink, listen to artist perform, drink, listen to artist perform.  I want to hear Wayne Coyne discuss with Beck the challenges of being a musician in this modern world.  I want to hear Jamie and Anneke from Conquering Animal Sound discuss the shape of their music, how it comes together, what they think about illegal downloading etc.  I want to hear Jeff Tweedy talk not only about music but about other things too.  I want to hear from musicians from all over the world and not just the ones we know and love.  I want to hear what it’s like to make music in – let’s say Russia where, as events over the past months have shown, it’s not always as easy to make your feelings known through music.  Fuck it, I cannot stand the Manic Street Preachers music but I’d love to hear Nicky Wire or James Dean Bradfield talk about why they think politics and music go hand in hand and how lucky we are to be able to air our views openly without fear of punishment, not only through music but through other artistic mediums too.

Perhaps I am just getting old.  But whatever it is, I have sat at the book festival wishing that the music world embraced this idea and came together to have conversations rather than simply listen to songs.  There are many conversations to be had through music, which really are not being discussed and I think it’d be a great idea if somebody took on the challenge of making my pipe dreams reality.


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