The room was pushed, the stage was set, the atmosphere thick with anticipation. The lights were dimmed, the clock struck out eight and on they came. To a roar of approval.

By now, well into a 23-date UK tour, including a festival at Cecil Sharp house London on 9th October, This joint Colossus of the folk world, Spiers and Boden, took to the stage.

At one time it must have seemed that they would never perform live on stage again! The same feeling, I warrant, for thousands of musicians and performers who have been cut off from their career occupation for 18 months and more.

They have survived largely through the power of the Internet which has enabled them to perform in live stream concerts over this period, to maintain some sort of minimal cash flow and contact with an absent audience. No smiles, no cheers, no heckling, no support, no jokes, no reaction. Emptiness!

22nd October saw the full first full live audience at The Live Room, live folk and roots club, on Caroline Street, Saltaire in over 18 months. Covid-secure protocols were still maintained, masks worn when people were moving around with a machine to purify the air and as far as I know there were no cases of Covid infection from that evening.

It was a risk worth taking.

For the performance the two Jons (actually one John and another Jon) were obviously and absolutely overjoyed from the start and before even a note was played. They surely had realised the full impact of what they were doing and this was reflected in masterful singing, fiddle-playing and squeezebox, accordion, melodeon and the like, by this supremely talented duo. The skill required to produce this musical effort is truly unbelievable. The knowledge and interpretation of English folk song going back over centuries is staggering. By the time they had hung up their hats as a duo in 2014, they had earned a place in the hearts of the folk audience that few could rival. Spiers and Boden rocketed onto te music scene in 2001,quickly grasping a clutch of awards. They were the founding members of the pioneering and hugely successful Folk Big Band, Bellowhead, famous not only for their music but also for the drinks and food they required back stage before and after performance. I received this inseode information from theor headline appearance at no less than the garforth Music Festival (!), which I managed to miss, though another year I did see the South African jazz legend and Flugel Horn player Hugh Masekela, at the same venue!!

However, I am certain that this is true of all performers: that without the presence of an audience the music and art are in many ways lost.

As an amateur musician and performer myself, the full understanding of the above is not lost on me. The reactions we get when we play as the City of Bradford Pipe Band and with the Enrico Marchesi Stroke of Genius Big Band are overwhelmingly positive and the thrill is overwhelming!

There is simply nothing for a musician that can compare with the pleasure of receiving a reaction from a live audience, especially if this is positive, in terms of either conversation, dance, smile, joke etc

Consider these quotes:

There’s nothing more exciting than that conversation you have with a live audience. It’s the best feeling in the world. Liev Schreiber

The best feeling in the world is performing in front of a live audience who like what you’re doing. I can understand why people become dictators just because of the thrill they get making the speeches. Steve Coogan

If I live to be 90, and I’m planning to, I’ll always love performing for a live audience. Lawrence Welk

I love the rehearsal process in the theatre, and the visceral sense of contact and communication with a live audience. Judd Nelson

I don’t get stage fright, I actually love the energy, I love the spontaneity, I love the adrenaline you get in front of a live audience, it actually really works for me. Brooke Burke

Without at least the possibility of a performance at the end of a period of writing, production, rehearsal, there seems to me little point in engaging in the activity. Don’t get me wrong, there is of course value in solo practice, playing together with a small group and so on but to not have an opportunity to perform for an audience is to deny the extraordinary potential in music-making.

So in a way the audience is the most important thing that should be considered in any performance. The instant the performer appears on the stage, she, he, they must grab the attention of the audience, nurture it, maintain it, develop it, exploit it, leave it calling for more: “Encore, encore”!

I am grateful to our good friend, Ken, for his posting of a blog article from the Christian writer and commentator, Phillip Yancey. He talked in a blog only a few days before the writing of this, of having visited a mega Church in a tiered auditorium on a few occasions. He had the feeling of being at a huge basketball game (football or rugby match for us?) with 10 000 spectators cheering on 10 (22, 26,30?) professionals on the court (pitch?), a feeling that this is the opposite of a biblical view of Church. “Worshippers,” he says, “gather together not as spectatprs to be entertained, but as active participants. While toxins work their way into the church, seemingly without effort, a healthy church will require the vigilance of all its members. Meanwhile the real audience sits outside, waiting to see if we truly represent Jesus through our acts of service, love and unity.”

We are being watched!

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4

Peter Lambert – November 2021