# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - July 2010

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 25 / 6 / 2010

Miscellaneous - July 2010


In the latest in his 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' column, Ben Howarth examines the links between music and sport

Summer (where festivals compete with mega gigs, the World Cup competes with Wimbledon, where Twenty20 clashes with England v Australia, in rugby and cricket) is a resounding triumph, I would say, for my two greatest enthusiasms - live sport and live music. Increasingly, I find that I couldn’t live without either: it has been many, many weeks since I failed to attend either one sporting event or gig. (Oddly, I don’t have anything like the same interest in other seemingly-similar activities - my two visits to the theatre this year represent a lifetime high). Perhaps I like live events just because they are an excuse not to do any work. It’s hard to completely enjoy listening to an album when I know that I should be tidying the flat, renewing my television licence, replacing the broken sole of my shoe or knocking in my cricket bat. In person, in the venue or at the ground, such matters can be set entirely aside. That said, I would hope to find much cheaper hobbies if either were just a diversion from normal life. When I’m watching Kent play cricket or Exeter play football, I become genuinely anxious. Some theorists say that the nervous energy expanded by supporters of sports teams is a psychological measure to make winning sweeter; but I actually like caring about the result, I am almost addicted to the feeling of wanting to know how a close game will end. The joy of winning is always tempered by the fact of the game ending - much in the same way that the rapturous enjoyment of hearing your favourite song as part of an encore is often dimmed by the reality of a gig you’ve been looking forward to for weeks or months now being in the past. And yet, live music is less rooted in the immediate present. When Paul McCartney was playing at Hyde Park, I was in the overnight Wimbledon queue for centre court tickets, but I did see him three weeks earlier on the Isle of Wight. McCartney is my all-time musical hero, while Roger Federer is my youngest brother’s sporting hero - within a month we’d seen both in person. I wouldn’t, unlike many critics, dismiss Macca’s live show as just a nostalgia trip. Granted, 32 of the 33 songs performed come from before 1980), and between them we hear stories telling us what it was like “back in the 60s”. But this does not feel like a celebration of our sixties memories, but of the fact that this exciting point in modern history left us so many marvellous cultural touchstones that didn’t need a use-by-date. What McCartney did on stage that night (singing the best songs anyone has ever written rather damned well, for the record) mattered. But my enjoyment came just as much from all the time I’d spent listening to those songs at home - the concert felt like a culmination, like it was my right to hear those songs I love so much played at full volume by the man who wrote them. Thus, I have tended to assume that sport and music fill two different needs in my life - gigs connect me physically to the songs that are playing for so much of my life, while sport takes me into a different world where my own life matters much less than whether a Kent batsman can clear the boundary during a tense session of play. Ultimately, however, a great sporting occasion and a great musical concert rely on similar qualities - the ability of the performers to shut themselves off from the world and create their own reality, to create an experience that has meaning for thousands of people who have ended up in the same place for different reasons and with different experiences. True enjoyment - the kind that makes you gasp when Ghana miss a penalty that would have made them the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final, that makes you scream for more because Paul McCartney has finished the main part of his set without playing ‘Yesterday’ - relies on the performers switching off reality and being so compelling that only the immediate present matters. To do this, they have to be able to focus intensely on their craft - to create an experience so attractive or tense or stimulating that we can give in to a, frankly, childish notion that pop songs or sport scores are incredibly important. Rarely can this sensation have been created more convincingly than it was for me in the last week. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect setting than SW19’s centre court to witness evidence of astonishing human achievement. Then, two evenings later, I found myself being drawn - almost magnetically - to the merchandise table as Broken Social Scene left the stage at the Forum in Kentish Town. It's not that I needed anything in particular. It's just that I had to acknowledge the sheer wonder of what I had just seen. An overpriced T-shirt now hangs over the back of my chair. Unlike with McCartney, I have not had a long and lasting emotional attachment to Broken Social Scene, though I like their music very much. It has been a real pleasure to listen to their latest album, ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’, in recent months - mainly because they have distilled an enjoyable yet erratic approach into an album that seems to exactly fit my musical tastes. I’d even seen the band before (they were a headline act at the ATP festival, a month before), and they were good enough to make me want to see them again. But I was expecting a pleasant distraction - not the recreation of childish bliss that only the most excellent performers provide. Admittedly, the conditions were right. Slightly left of centre, and six or so rows of people from the front, I could see every member of the band perfectly. And - for reasons I wish I could identify - the usual gig irritant of being pushed about constantly by people going back and forth to the bar/moshpit was entirely absent. As Broken Social Scene extracted something more than expected from every song they played, I found myself thinking how similar this was to watching sport. OK, you don’t normally play ball games in the dark with strobe lighting, and the members of Broken Social Scene (alternately weedy or druggy looking) didn’t seem like they’d even get a game for my pub cricket side. But, it was remarkable how they’d raised their game for the occasion. ATP was Pavement’s gig, and their job was to play for an hour and keep the spirits up. It was good, not quite great. This was their gig, and their job was to make everyone there leave as a Broken Social Scene devotee. It was truly great. The first hour of the gig saw Broken Social Scene setting out their pieces. Each member took a song or a solo, the dynamics of the group were laid out. In the second hour, they started to play the old songs, and it was just like a good team coming together, recognising their opportunity and racking up a record score-line. The first hour was good, but seemed like the band were trying hard; the second hour was sublime, and felt utterly instinctive. The best sportsmen are the ones who can make the situation seem smaller than it is, and therefore rise to it. You might think the stock interview response, “I’m just focused on the next match”, is clichéd but it is actually the profound heart of great sport. Don’t over-conceptualise - just get out there and compete. The crowd and the situation, the press and the record books will do the rest. It seemed like Broken Social Scene had bought into the message of not over-complicating things. There are no gimmicks, no image - just songs and solos. They are just some guys (and a girl) who play music. Their sound, almost a generic definition of indie-rock, indicates a confidence in their abilities and suggests more time spent on sounding good than sounding right - just as the best tennis players focus on sending their backhand down the line, not on whether to use one hand or two. It was spectacular. During the 2005 Ashes, you could either consider Flintoff from overweight talent-waster to gigantic talisman or you just marvel at his in-swinging yorker. With Broken Social Scene, you could ponder the departure of the extended cast of part-time vocalists and the role of leadership in this loose-knit band line-up, or you could just bask in the brilliance of the guitar solos. Objectively, Broken Social Scene did nothing different at the Forum from their ATP performance. And yet, something clicked in between - was it just that this was their own show, was it an extra month’s practice on the road, was it luck, was it just me feeling different? I don’t know the answers to that. But I do know that this proves one thing for sure - that music is not just an abstract cultural creation, good or bad on the basis on an agreed objective criteria. It depends on the people, on the moment and the crowd. It's best experienced live, in the flesh.

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