If you’ve read my previous page you will remember that after I sang Mustang Sally for the first time on stage that I ‘wanted to learn more’… well that’s what I did.
Today I have perhaps over 200 songs in my head that I can pick out at any time when I’m on stage.
This comes with years of picking songs either I like, or people have especially asked for – maybe a special occasion or just as a simple request. There’s two very simple rules I stick to when learning new material for my set – 1) The song has to stand the test of time, and 2) I have to do them as best I can. The rest is very much up to the crowd’s response.
I have been very fortunate to have been in various types of bands over the years; and as I travelled from one to the other I brought with me songs that seemed to work well. It’s true however that what works for one bar may not necessarily work for the next; or what went down well on Saturday night won’t please the Sunday crowd – even in the same bar.
‘Reading’ the crowd is vital. It’s something I learnt from an early age which can generally only be accomplished over time…and then some more time of doing live gigs and getting to know your audience.
I often used to wonder why I felt apprehensive about ‘starting’ my shows – just before the music began. I wouldn’t call it ‘nerves’ exactly, rather it was more like my mindset was altering and switching to ‘perform’ mode; something which I still go through today.
The answer to my dilemma came whilst I was singing and living in England and doing an open mic event with a few guitarists behind me. Just before we were to start I found myself looking for clues as to what sort of crowd they may be. Their hands, their feet, what they were drinking and how relaxed they seemed to be. Over time I like to think that I came to reading an audience pretty well. I watched for the hands or feet tapping, people singing along or more drinks coming to the table; all hopeful signs that people were having a good night, and that the music was working.
Naturally you will always get ‘off’ nights where, no matter what you try, there’s just nothing you can do to get a response.
If I’ve tried all I can – changed the show around and thrown every type of music out there from blues, country to dance to no avail, I’ll generally go into ‘safe mode’.
Bearing in mind that I’m a solo singer, this is where I choose some classic songs which aren’t so hard on the vocals – thus saving them for the next time.
A singer’s vocal is indeed the most precious instrument they use – no point in thrashing out the big numbers when people maybe just want a ‘quieter’ night. The strange thing is – this ‘safe mode’ has actually worked countless times, and finished up the show with a packed floor and people wanting a few more songs at the end of the night.
The songs in my set today cover a broad range from Dire Straits to Dean Martn; Depeche Mode, Mumford & Sons, The Waterboys, Steve Earle, Sam Cooke, Al Green, REM, Stereophonics, Neil Diamond, Bob Marley, Chris Rea, Talking Heads, Garth Brooks and Van Morrison to name but a few.
Like my songwriting; I don’t like to be pigeon-holed into a particular ‘style’. With so many different types of music to choose from I usually find something that works well for whoever I end up singing to.
Perhaps one thing I have noticed over the years is the general change in music.
I’m asked why I don’t do more modern stuff, and my simple answer is because most of it is pure………..no – this isn’t the place.
It still amuses me when someone asks for something like Wagon Wheel because they think it’s reasonably up-to-date. Well – ff that’s how they feel about a song which was written in the early 1970’s by Bob Dylan, and not ‘last year’ by Nathan Carter, then who am I to argue?
It’s maybe quite strange to some, but I generally won’t do songs which are in the charts at the time. I know many bands who do, and do them well; but for me I prefer the classics. Songs which were huge and maybe people had forgotten about.
Take ‘It’s a Sin’ by the Petshop Boys, or ‘True Faith’ by New Order as examples and you’ll hopefully get the idea of what I mean.
It was only literally a few weeks ago, at a new bar I was playing, that someone asked me for ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by the Boomtown Rats. I hadn’t done the song in years but thought I’d try it out. The song worked, the guy was very happy, the show took on a different slant with more of an 80’s feel; and I later found out that the gentleman who had asked for the song was a very close friend of the owners. At the end of the night the diary was brought out and a years worth of bookings were given to me. Job done, and probably why I do things the way I do. For me – it works. Simple as that.
Still today, the one question I’m asked the most is ‘what is your favourite song you do in your set’?
Well – still today, after first learning it about 12 years ago, it would have to be ‘Romeo & Juliet’ by Dire Straits. I love the song, the lyrics, and yeah – it just means a lot to me in a lot of ways. A real pleasure to sing. If I ever had a song I wish that ‘I’d’ written, Romeo & Juliet would be well up there.