Tuesday, June 9, 2009

'Sweet soul music’

Some of the voices I heard underground today were remarkable.

I started off at the MUNY location at Union Square and listened to a guy called – appropriately enough – Gibran Soul, whose voice was hauntingly beautiful: like a combination of Seal and Marvin Gaye. We exchanged emails and hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk with him a little over the coming days.

Then I went up to another of the MUNY spots, at 34th Street, where I met Calebe Arruda, a native of Rio de Janeiro, who has been playing in the subway for 25 years. Given that this was my second day, I thought that was pretty cool.

Calebe mostly plays classical guitar but didn’t have his with him today. He looked at my guitar case and asked “steel or nylon?” I think if I hadn’t had steel strings on, he’d have wanted to play it. He's been teaching himself to play violin. He had a little amp and CD backing tracks – he says its tough to play unaccompanied because people like to be able to hear familiar classical music as they're coming towards you. He plays in the subway three days a week.

On the platform downstairs, I bumped into Dexter Jones, a steel drum player from Trinidad, who performs as FunknSteel, and has a smile as infectious as his melodies.

As I was getting on the train, a guy said to me: “He’s good, but you should hear the guy who plays in Astoria on Saturday mornings. He’s so fast – he’ll play ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ for ya.”

And that’s pretty much how a lot of musicians will stick in the public’s mind – if they don’t have a visual gimmick, it’s because something unusual about their repertoire resonates with a passenger who maybe only hears them for a couple of minutes.

For me, a very short setlist today, in part because the station I chose at random turned out to be not so great: 28th Street has really narrow platforms, so you can’t lean against the wall, and you definitely don’t have room to lay down a case or fake book. I had the little Martin today, luckily – it wouldn’t have worked at all with a bigger guitar. Also acoustically, because there’s three tracks, with the up and down platforms facing each other across the tunnel, it’s much noisier than a lot of other stations.

So we live and learn; but here’s what I tried out today:

People Get Ready – Curtis Mayfield
Bad Moon Rising – John Fogerty
Drift Away – Dobie Gray
Little Sister – (the Ry Cooder version)
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin – Colin Hay

I ran through a few of them a couple of times, but I didn’t get through a single complete song. On “Drift Away”, I just got through “Day after day I get more confused…” when a Q train rattled past and literally kept going through the remainder of the song, as if it was an endurance contest to see who’d give up first.

The train won.

So in all I only played for less than 20 minutes today. And I probably don’t need to tell you how much I didn't make. There weren’t that many people on the platform, to be fair, and New York had a huge thunderstorm this morning so a lot of people had dripping umbrellas with them. Not really conducive to musical tolerance, I guess.

I cut it short in part because I just couldn’t hear myself, but also because an R train pulled in and as the doors opened, there was a sensational version of “My Girl” happening inside the carriage, so I had to get on to listen.

It was coming from four guys who call themselves Acapella and have just great voices. They said they’ve been singing together “forever” and we talked a little about music all over the world and people who sing for the sheer joy they get out of it.

I’ll see them again as we go along – “this is our line,” they said – and I’ll tell you more about them and try to bring you some video, but if you get a chance to catch them, these guys are good.


From 'This Day In Music' : on 9th June 1915, Les Paul was born. A pioneer of acoustics and recording techniques, he also invented the guitar Gibson named after him.

On 9th June 1972, John Hammond signed Bruce Springsteen to Columbia Records.

1 comment:

  1. Keep playing, and show us very interesting musicians across the undergroud tube...Regards from Brasil.