musical meaning revisited

So I did really quite well at ‘Beat The Frog’ last night. I did, at least, pretty convincingly do the time with good laughs throughout and one quite big applause break; and when the time ran out at the end I felt like I was just getting going.

(Perhaps if I had just got going a bit before that, I would even have won the night – as it is I came second behind a young fellow whose name was, I think, Peter Brush, and who seemed something of an oddball but a very funny oddball. For the purposes of concluding yesterday‘s discussion, yes his act was deeply functional with some very well-crafted pullback-and-reveals, and the Manchester audience loved him. As well they should have).

But anyway, what I wanted to write about was not that I did well, but that the music of the show was so well chosen. It’s an odd thing to notice, but I couldn’t help but feel it really set the mood of the night. Seeing as how it’s a gong show, and I was so nervous before the show started, it seemed a little distasteful at the time that they played Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’, but looking back it seems perfectly appropriate.

They played ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ as acts came onstage; if they stayed funny for five minutes they played the ‘Frog Chorus’, and if they didn’t they had to leave the stage to the sound of Beck’s ‘Loser’. It was all so carefully thought about that I couldn’t help admiring it. Timmy Manners (who, for the record, also ‘beat the frog’) suggested it would be quite a funny idea to go out and say something like, “This is a lose-lose situation for me – I really want to do well, but I also have an irrational fear of Paul McCartney.”

It’s peculiar, though, how certain songs fit situations perfectly, and how they attach themselves to thoughts of people and places. Naturally I’ve been listening to The Smiths all the way around Manchester, and now I’ll always associate the Frog Chorus not with Rupert Bear but with last night’s gig.

But it doesn’t always make quite such perfect sense. For example: out of boredom with Manchester (again, see yesterday’s blog), I ended up getting a train over to York today to say hello to my friend Mariel, and she was talking about how these associations can be reset with new hearings of a song. She’s right to an extent, and I guess essentially she was just repeating what the awesome Lawrence Kramer says in his smashing book about the perpetual re-readings and re-applications of music with imagetext.

But there are some associations that seem to wedge themselves into the consciousness and stay there, and then keep reappearing in the most uncanny way. For example, I didn’t mention this to Mariel at the time, but I always associate the irritatingly catchy Black Eyed Peas song ‘I Gotta Feeling’ with her (I mainly didn’t mention it because I have no idea whether she’ll approve of this, or even if she likes the song or not; but I don’t think she reads this blog so I’ll probably get away with saying it here). Anyway, it always seems to pop up shortly before or after I speak to her. I’ve written this off as being an entirely ridiculous coincidence and just a reflection of the silly amount that it was played in public places last year. Its popularity has waned now, of course, and I hardly ever hear it at all; but I’m still consistently reminded of Mariel when I do.

Anyway, then we chatted about this and that and about half-an-hour ago I said goodbye and got on the train back to Manchester. Within about a minute of sitting down on the train, the phone of the kid on the seat behind me went off. Then it went off again. And again.

The ringtone was – obviously – that Black Eyed Peas song.

Uncanny.

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what puts the ‘man’ in manchester

So I’ve come to Manchester for a few days.

Ostensibly the main reason for this is that I am going to be competing in ‘Beat The Frog’ tonight, which is a gong show I’ve heard it’s useful to do well in for getting other gigs in the north-west. But I’m also here because I have a few friends living in Manchester that I’m hoping to catch up with.

Either way, I’m expecting to be a little hungover tomorrow.

I’ve never known quite what to make of Manchester. The people are generally nice and I’ve had some of my best EVER nights out here – the place seems to have a public drinking/drug culture that is genuinely built around music (while I’ve often felt like in London, and in many other places, it is the other way round).

But on the other hand, I can never quite get my head round how incredibly ugly the place is. Not the people so much – I mean, some of the locals aren’t exactly lookers but there’s enough students and cool young people to balance that out. It’s the architecture around the centre of the city. It’s all brick-and-concrete boxes, all so deliberately and claustrophobically functional.

I mean, it’s honest, I suppose – and perhaps the image of the ‘straight-talking’ Mancunian originates from this honesty – but it is a city that once said, look, we only need humans to be instrumental parts in our industrial machine. And we will mill and manufacture and produce with them, in great numbers, until they die. It is quantity and utility that interest us, even in humans.

And this is what Lowry painted and it’s why I hate his paintings – not because he painted badly but because he painted in quantities; massive numbers of people and buildings, without the detail that captures and discloses the intrinsic worth of a thing…perhaps this was his point, but it still doesn’t make his art – or Manchester – very much fun to look at.

And, perhaps at risk of stereotyping, it could be said that these are male criteria, that numbers and functionality are male interests and male needs. Manchester is probably a great place to be if you are, or are interested in, men and masculinity. It is without grace, without cunning and guile, without intrinsic beauty…perhaps even the name of the place is no accident.

None of which I will be mentioning in my set tonight. I think that would probably be unwise.

But I will be expecting the most functional, most set-up/punchliney performers and routines to get the best responses.

We’ll see if I’m right.