Daylight Music 334

During lockdown, I guess we all had a list of things we were looking forward to. Some of mine were things like getting back to see live music, seeing favourite bands play again, even getting to a football match. High amongst the live music wish list, was going back to Daylight Music.

For the last seven years, Daylight Music has formed pretty much the foundations of my Saturday’s. First, it was used as the starting points of a weekend walk as I tried to get fit. Then I started to photograph the event and got involved with the Daylight team. I go most weeks, but things like football occasionally gets in the way. I’ve always stayed on the ‘paying punter’ side of the fence so that I don’t feel obliged to attend every week. (but I’m happy to help move things around when I’m there during soundcheck)

This weekend I wasn’t meant to be at the return of Daylight Music. Instead, I was meant to be doing one of the other things I was looking forward to getting back to. To see my favourite band (British) Sea Power who were playing near my parents home, giving me an excuse to kill two birds with one stone. However, a self inflicted injury to my arm, meant I was unable to drive home. So I thought I’d drop in to offer some moral support (Due to my arm, I couldn’t photograph the event)

I wrote last week about the return of the event and mentioned some of the challenges the team faced to allow the event to continue. This has meant new homes and pretty much everything being managed by the team.

Today’s event was at the first of their new homes. St John on Bethnal Green. A lovely church just outside Bethnal Green tube. The decision to continue to use a church is the right one. The acoustics in churches can be special. With Daylight Music the spaces need to be flexible enough to deal with everything from an artist playing a viol de gamba, choirs, jazz, pianists, theremins, to a loud full band performance. Pretty much anything really. The space also needs to be relaxed where people can have some tea and cake while watching the performances. Normal gigs spaces aren’t really going to provide this, while churches oddly do. Today, St John’s was more than up for the job.

The difficulty of continuing to use churches is the lack of sound systems and in the case of St John’s, there’s no cafe. When I finally arrived, there was a hive of activity with the sound engineers soundchecking the artists and volunteers setting up the cafe, ticket desk and merch desk.

It’s difficult for events at the moment. Many of us are wary of going into venue spaces. I want to see promoters require the COVID passport and/or a lateral flow test, but most aren’t. I know several venues saw low numbers for the first few events, as it took a while for people to feel comfortable with the new normality. I know I’ve still not been to my local venue because I’m not confident it will be safe and there’s one venue I have already scrubbed off my gig list. Daylight are not requiring passes, but they have asked Daylight volunteers to wear masks and also asked the audience to wear masks, at the very least when they move around the building. Plus many active churches still have social distancing in place and St John’s had signs asking people to keep rows free. Personally, I did my usual lateral flow test before heading into London and wore a fresh FFP2 mask for the whole duration. I felt relatively safe. There’s no right time to effectively launch a new music series. But it’s especially difficult under current conditions. Hopefully, Daylight will attract back it’s regulars and stay safe.

Outside the big imposing, but perfectly proportioned doors of St John’s, several familiar faces were waiting to experience the new series. It was reassuring to see people returning. I’m not sure what the numbers where like. I think it would have been a quiet MK1 Daylight. But for the first event in what is effectively a new series, it looked a reasonable number and felt a comfortable number for the space, given the current circumstances. I’m not sure I would have been as comfortable if the numbers were significantly higher. It will be interesting in coming weeks to see how the other venues fair and if they’re busy, if I will be comfortable.

Several people I’ve spoken to have said the Leytonstone venue is the easiest for them to get to, which I guess makes sense as people have moved out there as central London house prices have soared. The venue locations will clearly be a new dynamic to work with. It will be interesting to see which venue becomes my favourite. If they’re as good as St John’s, then, it’s going to be a really interesting series. It will also be interesting to see how the new £10 suggested ‘pay what you can’ affects numbers. While it seems very reasonable for what Daylight offers, others might see things differently. It’s odd how the brain works when you’re lying in bed on a Saturday deciding if you should bother getting up (just me?). An interesting experiment and one I hope works.

Just after noon, Ben Eshmade introduced the new series. Thanking everyone who supported the event through the crowdfunder. Briefly discussing the difficulties and reasons for the changes (including a new weekly programme and cashless payments!). I think many in the audience knew how hard he has worked to put on this series and his small celebration was welcomed by the crowd.

First up, Matthew Bourne and Charlotte Keeffe. Now, given the conditions. Other music series might have played it safe with their first act. Not Daylight. Matthew Bourne has played Daylight before. His last session was with the sadly departed Michael Tippett. Matthew is a pianist who likes to create experimental jazz and classical compositions. Joining Matthew, Charlotte is a trumpeter and flugelhorn improvisational player. They apparently had never met before and I assume the piece was partially improvised. I find these types of pieces in all genres, a difficult ask, because I usually lose concentration. At some points in the piece I was really enjoying it, other points I did lose concentration and struggled a bit. But for me, that’s the great thing about Daylight. It challenges me. Only Daylight would have the confidence to start with such a challenging piece. Exactly the reason why it is so special.

Next up was Andrew Plummer’s WSR REDUX. Andrew played Bourne’s Daylight curation in November 2019. Andrew tells dark tales. His deep voice backed with grubby, grungy guitar and drums. It felt like the pastor had dragged an old man who was sitting nursing a whisky in an east end boozer into church to tell the believers about life on the other side of the tracks, to ensure they didn’t stray from the righteous path. It didn’t work. The old church sounded gloriously dark and I think we all felt like straying with Andrew into his world.

The break gave me an opportunity to visit the cafe and see what was on offer. Yay. The return of sausage rolls! (The Chapel had basically gone vegetarian). The food was freshly baked by the nearby Beehive Cafe. There was a decent range of quiches, cakes, sausages rolls, and flapjacks. Prices were very reasonable. Only £2.50 for a slice of cake and £1 for a breakfast tea. Getting the quantities right will be challenging as the series moves around and I think there was food left over at the end. Hopefully, the cafe covered itself financially, because they did a great job.

With the cafe under Daylight’s control, they have introduced long overdue cashless payment – something we are all now used to and a very good move (I’ve only used cash once in 18 months). In fact only the merch desk remains cash only – but then that’s sensible as Daylight are basically taking the money on behalf of the artists

Closing the afternoon was another jazz duo, Run Logan Run. A fierce saxophone with thunderous drumming really pushed the church’s dynamics to their extreme. It sounded glorious at times as the saxophone’s wail hit the crescendo of drums, returning just the right amount of echo to make it sound really big. The church was really given a baptism of fire into Daylight Music and passed with flying colours.

So how well did the Daylight team do? They opened the doors on time. The sound was great. The cafe had good options and people were dealt with quickly. The music challenged me. The team, their usual friendly self. So brilliant really. I look forward to seeing future sessions at their new venues.

I have a bit of my normality back. Thank you Ben and the team.

*snaps taken with a pocket camera used upside down in my left hand (why are all cameras right handed?)