Earlier this evening I went to hear Al Lindsay play at Kesgrave Music Festival near Ipswich.
One song into the set, Al said something like:
‘I’m gonna do a John Martyn song now. D’you like John Martyn’s stuff?’
A man sitting behind me said
‘I like it when he does it’.
I wanted to get hold of him and say
‘This guy’s actually better than John Martyn.’
For one thing, he’d written off the song even before Al played it. Also, I do think Al is better than John Martyn, certainly the John Martyn of the past 25 years.
But the incident illustrated the problems faced by grassroots artists, however brilliant they may be. Few people in the average audience will ever sit down at home, put on a CD by a grassroots artist and let the music make them feel blissful.
This is because they let the mainstream media tell them who is good and who isn’t and if they’ve ‘never heard’ of someone, that excludes them from getting a fair crack of the whip.
It takes a while to discover you’ve got an artist on your hands, much longer than a lot of us are prepared to give it. That’s why you hear the same songs on the radio all day. Eventually, you find yourself ‘needing’ to hear something, and then you’re hooked.
The grassroots artist, on the other hand, has only one chance to move people, people whose motto is ‘we shall not be moved’.
Al played brilliantly. The guitar playing was amazing, the singing understated and cool. Though I have reservations about the John Martyn covers, his penultimate song was a rapturous ‘Go Down Easy’. The John Martyn fan behind me had long since left. Later I went and sat by the bin.