Here's another blog of mine prompted by a live gig.
I drove a couple of hours to Bilston last night to see Crimson Sky supported by an acoustic Manning. Now, for me, Crimson Sky + Manning equals "a dream team". There couldn't have been more than 20 paying punters on the night, in a venue (Robin 2) that holds 700. Credit to both bands, they got on with the show and it was an enjoyable gig, but obviously lacking in the atmosphere that a memorable rock concert needs. Back in the "good old days", I went to a Van der Graaf (Generator) gig on the The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome tour and only about a 100 showed up: Pete Hammill was visibly p***ed off and refused to come out for an encore, irrespective of however hard his 100-or-so supporters yelled. Big sulk. Up until recent times, that show was top of my "least well attended gigs" list.
I have a ticket for the upcoming The Tangent + Unitopia gig in London; my ticket is no.0004. Is the same thing going to happen? No, because I know the promoters for The Tangent gig and they will pull the plug on it unless it becomes reasonably viable. But, hey, that's another "dream team", so why aren't more tickets getting sold. The gig last night was in Bilston, which has a large catchment area, being so close to Birmingham, and clearly The Tangent + Unitopia gig is the same in that respect.
A friend tells me that she was at the Panic Room gig in Tavistock last night – they had 40! 40. Satellite has to be one of the best albums of the year, if not the best. Crimson Sky's Misunderstood was one of the best of 2009.
Is it that prog fans just don't want to go to concerts because, like me, they are not in their teens/twenties anymore?
I noticed that the previous evening at the Robin 2 they'd had a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, and in a few days there's a T.Rex tribute on. I hear from reliable sources that these tribute groups pull in considerable crowds, much more so than original artists. Of course, we should all be used to tribute bands doing well - after all, I'm sure Mozart, Beethoven or similar have a tribute band playing in your own town this very night - so it would be pointless to moan about them. I'm guessing that the fans these seventies tribute bands pull in must be the same age bracket as little ol' me because they are artists of "my generation", so the lack of people at the original artists' shows can be nothing to do with fans' ages.
When I was in my teens/twenties, bands would come to your town. They still do of course – I could go to a gig in Bristol most nights, certainly every week (if I was single!), but there is a range of these sorts of progressive rock bands that don't; they will play a few gigs – a handful if you're lucky - and that's it. Mostly Autumn are a notable exception; they're often traipsing up and down the country. "Oh but they have a following", I hear you say. Well, perhaps they have a following precisely because they are happy to traipse up and down the country year in year out. Internet blogging and networking is not enough.
What seems to be happening now is that many prog fans are only coming out for "festivals", of which there seems to be an explosion; with new ones announced almost every week. Soon there will be a prog festival for every band! They're good value of course, quite a few bands for less money, pro-rata. And, because of the number of bands, you usually get a decent crowd, certainly enough for an atmosphere.
I can well understand why some prog fans would choose to stay at home, even if the band were playing in their home town. You can put the CD on and listen to the sound quality (as best as they could afford in the studio), you can be sat down if you want and there's no hassle of transport. Then there's the cost: often (last night was not the case, incidentally), ticket prices are often much higher than CDs. And what do you get? Poor sound quality, the vocals are muffled, you can't hear the keys; then the blokes next to you are yakking away during the show; you may well have to stand (ouch, my back!); and if the crowd's small then there's no atmosphere anyway. You can't go and see Steve Hackett every week. (Well, actually, you could, the b***er's always on tour, good luck to him, he still pulls in more than 20!).
I guess the moral of this rant has to be that, despite what you might read in the papers about the resurgence of prog, it still ain't easy being in a band and making a living out of your music.