Paris, early 1990s. Virtually every little bar you go in has its own little resident musical thing going on – a trio – a soloist – a duo – a whole band. This isn’t ‘an event’ as such; it’s just part of the provided atmosphere. Music because it’s fun to make and fun to listen to.
Back in London, it’s not that hard to find live music either. It’s more formal and there seem to be more health and safety hoops to jump through – but it’s there. Hell – even Greenwich has a thriving little jazz scene, where the Trafalgar Tavern jumps and little bars, lost to us now, follow.
Sadly, those bars in Paris got tidied up in the mid-late 90s by an incoming regime determined to crack down on – well, fun, as far as I can see. Even the Folies closed. Back in England though, I’m not really sure what happened. We just seemed to lose the knack of going out for a quiet drink or a meal and have a little live entertainment that wasn’t some drunk individual screaming into a karaoke mic. And in Greenwich the lid was finally closed on live music as a general thing when Greenwich Inc started taking over the town.
We still have a couple of pockets of brave, live music, but we can’t look to the major venues like The Trafalgar any more. We have to go underground. Sometimes literally. Olivier, down at Olivers, for example.
At ground level, The Lord Hood, for those who like trad, and Peter de Wits for mainstream stuff still just about battle on (though PdW, slightly worryingly, always seems to be shut these days whenever I try to visit.. .) One-offs on an occasional basis at other places. None of these gaffs is huge, just run by individuals who are passionate about live music. They can’t make much money, but they believe in it. And I applaud them for their courage and tenacity.
Happily, it’s not just in Greenwich town centre that these tiny venues tough it out to bring us live music. Cattleya (Chu and Cho) in Charlton Church Street, another place that could easily have used the “we’re too small” excuse hosts Los Dawsons every other Sunday night. It’s taken me a long time to make it down to see them. Sorry, guys.
It is what I call ‘Hangover music.’ Blues, pop covers and good old fashioned rock & roll, played simply and, largely, acoustically by two guitars and a double bass. Three guys crammed in behind a wall of music books, hats and coats, and a fixed circular table that is in just the wrong place. The audience is crammed the other side. The little bar table that runs around the wall has been flapped-down on hinges to make room for (not many) more punters; the tables squashed together to get as many bums on seats in as possible. The place is full. Business is brisk. Meals are served. Drinks are brought out.
The guys themselves are clearly on their day off. To say they’re not dressed up for the occasion is an understatment – their dress as casual as their music. And that’s how it should be. I’m sure they scrub up just fine for a ‘proper’ gig – a wedding, perhaps, or a barbeque, but this gig is for them. They are doing this because they love it. And it shows. I can even tell which songs they like doing best. The blues and R&R are played with big grins on their faces, Hound Dog and Blue Moon of Kentucky rip from them with the kind of gusto I’ve reserved for my Thai curry. The latin stuff slinks around like the poor waitresses trying their best to edge between the tables.
The pop covers seem more like they’ve been added in as crowd-pleasers. They’re ok – played perfectly well – but they’re more like day-jobs – they’re working at it. Doing them because they will get a bigger round of applause (which they do, btw.) Personally I’ll take the Big Mama Thornton stuff every time.
Los Dawsons are gaining ground because they work at it behind the scenes – they are managing to get little one-offs in other venues now, but I find myself asking a bigger question. If these little places can make live music work on a simple, every day level (sorry Los Dawsons – I don’t mean you’re ‘everyday’ in a bad sense – I mean that the music you play is the kind of stuff that one can sit with a pint and a bowl of tapas and just relax to) then why can’t more places have this kind of thing instead of forcing us to watch enormous TV monitors showing two obscure countries playing some obscure Eurosport or listen to the kind of muzak that nobody even hears?
Greenwich is full of musicians, both pro and amateur. We even have a major national music school here. But the amount of live music in our bars and restaurants is pitiful.
I urge you, however worn out by a weekend’s relaxation you may be, make an effort to get down to see Los Dawsons for a final Sunday-night chill before the week begins. They’re only there on alternate weeks; find out which ones here. And do pre-book – Cattleya can get very full indeed…