If you were given a moment in the spotlight, how would you use it?
I’m certainly a “vocal hero” of my town at least!
Cities offer an abundance of opportunities for emerging musicians and artists, but for youngsters in the small towns and villages dotted across the country, it’s a completely different picture. As I argue in my second column for my local newspaper the East Grinstead Courier, whenever the circumstances are in your favour, you have to use it and hope with all your might.
The lights flash on and you’re ready to go. Centre of the stage with a guitar in your hand, you step up to the microphone and find yourself staring out across a sea of bemused faces, all ready to be entertained. Forget who’s played before, forget any previous context; the atmosphere, if not the night itself, now rests on you. Does that fill you with horror? Dread? Or perhaps excitement?
If it’s the latter, then perhaps it’s time to start doing some vocal exercises; now has never been a better time to be a musician in East Grinstead. My teenage years in the mid-noughties were punctuated randomly by the occasional showcase of local bands… usually whenever someone could convince the Wallis Centre or the Parish Hall to give them a shot.
Real opportunities for adolescents to demonstrate their musical talents were a rare treat. Who knows how many hidden gems slipped under the radar? Sure, it’s to be expected with small towns and villages, but the sad result is an abundance of proficient youngsters who are unable to utilize their skills and learn the craft of the live setting. After all, there’s only so much magic that can be wrung out of garage rehearsals and bedroom demos.
But now, things are certainly on the up. The Crow’s Nest, already reputable for putting on a diverse assortment of live acts, hosts a weekly Open Jam Night on Tuesdays. You can bring a group, perform solo or even join the resident band; if you’ve got the enthusiasm, there’s nothing to stop you. Or how about The Sussex Arms? Often overlooked, the pub is becoming a prominent location for emerging acts to break in their boots.
And then, there’s Ashstock. Last September saw the inaugural edition of the festival, where over a thousand revelers descended on John Pears field in Ashurst Wood, to enjoy a packed schedule of local acts and twenty kinds of ale from the surrounding area, including a batch brewed especially for the event. Suddenly, a quiet corner of Ashurst Wood was transformed into the most enjoyable event in Sussex; sometimes, the simplest of ingredients work wonders.
But asides from bringing the local community together (and a bit more besides), Ashstock’s aims was to give local youngsters a much needed platform, to give them their own moment in the spotlight. How they use it is up to them; the point is that there was one there in the first place, actively encouraging youngsters to have a go. Now back for a second outing, Ashstock is looking to fill its roster as it did before, and it’s not a prospect to be sniffed at.
Everyone knows how hard it is to catch a break in the music industry, and none more so than the wannabe musicians themselves. But if you can captivate a group of passing strangers, then surely you can take on any crowd that comes your way? And you never know who is going to stumble across your set; maybe someone with just the right connections to help you on to the next step.
It’s a shame there aren’t more of these events often. The buzz Ashstock generated shows that there’s certainly the demand for it. You can never guarantee how long these events will be providing an open door for, or whether that sea of bemused faces will be there in the first place. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes along, you have to make the most of it.