Thursday 3 December 2009

Free-e-day live

Free-e-day live was the real-life gig to tie in with Free-e-day, the global online celebraion of internet culture that I dreamt up on the bus one afternoon and ended up attracting 100 participants all offering amazing creative things for free, and giving us workshops and webchats with invaluable resources for anyone outside the mainstream. It has been all a bit of a wonderful haze.

Free-e-day live was put together by local singer-songwriter Nikki Loy (pictured) who, being an illustrator as well as musician, embraced the multi-arts idea behind the festival. Held at Oxford's Cafe Tarifa, the night featured an art ecxhibition, belly dancers dressed as skeletons, music and reading. It was a fantastic night with a fantastic crowd. Let me bore you with a LITTLE about what makes a live, indie occasion like this great.

First off there's the hyper-contrived shot for the local rag (who thought, for some reason, that we were giving away electronic gadgets and wanted Nikki and I to hold up some mobile phobnes for the photoshoot!). next there's the inevitable when you invite people from London. As the 8 o'clock kick-off approached, 2 writers and the headline band remained, as so many before them, and so many, I dare say, to come, stranded on the M40. Never have I been so pleased (I'm always pleased to see him, but I can't remember physically bear-hugging him before) to see Roland (pictured left), who gave us a brilliant rendition of Chapter 17 of The Beach Beneath the Pavement. Hearing his words somehow made them even funnier than they had been on the page, a reminder that stories - whatever your age and their genre - are best read aloud.

Setting the reader-musician rhythm we were next treated to a rather endearing keyboard and vocals set from the big-voiced Mol Hodge. "Most of my songs are a bit morbid" she told us nervously. "Bloody hell, if you think that's morbid just wait for SKIN BOOK" I thought. Mol has a great voice, and plenty of time on her side, and as she explores the melodic range of her music over the years to come is sure to be someone we see more of.

Nikesh Shukla is someone the world has already seen plenty of. With a string of TV and radio credits, festival appearances, awards and the like, he is far the most advanced and successful of any of ourt artists on the night, and we were hideous lucky to snag him - not only that he doled out copies of his kidologies CD to grateful audience members. Having introduced Nikesh as a poet he proceeded to read us a short story, but the performance element of Rap Tracks - a hilarious tale of pre-teen rap, Asian grandmothers and Gujurati dialect - was the match of anything slam poetry can offer. More confirmation that anyone who says writers can't engage an audience with prose is talking nonsense.

I met Nikki Loy, who came on as Nikesh departed back for the next of 20 gigs in 32 days, when she was busking on Oxford's St Giles. I was so taken with her guitar and vocals I snaffled a card and dropped her an e-mail, and I've been impressed with her ebergy, verve, and all-round artistic enthusiasm ever since. This was the first time I've seen her live, and I was impressed by the way she handles a crowd and the way she handles a guitar. She too had freebie CDs that were gobbled up gladly.

In the interval, Nikki came up to me and said "can you hold this?" pointing to a UV tube. "Er, OK" I said rather confusedly, until I saw what was coming next, a train of skeletons snaking to the stage who proceeded to shake their fluorescent booty to music I was too gobsmacked to notice much but think may have been some scuzzy Goldfrapp.

The Scary Skele-belly Dancers gave me the perfect segue into the world premiere of the whole of SKIN BOOK - you know "those were th bones, now for some skin" - ah the joys of improv! Won't say much about me (below). That would be rude. Suffice to say my opinion remains unchanged - performing to a live audience is THE best thing a writer can do - feeling attentive eyes, listening to the gasps the sighs - that kind of engagement is what writing is all about. I THINK people enjoyed it - if enjoy is the right word for a story about a woman whose diary is made from skin she harvested from her twin bro.

The headline act seemed to enjoy it, though, which was nice. The Joker and The Thief describe themselves as a folk blues combo which had me worried before the show. I dislike folk so much I wouldn't hand a picture of Fleet Foxes to my dartboard because it would be unfair to the bristles. But The Joker and the Thief were an unexpected delight. Full of energy (proper energy - the kind you actually believe might just come from some kind of dark passionate place rather than the gurning wurzelly cheeriness of much folk), they delivered a set that was variegated and exciting. They have a penchant for playing around with different instruments, whcih added colour to the set - from frontman Dan (sounds like an epithet from Total Wipeouut) banging the cymbals with an assortment of bells and sticks, to Josh's alternation of ukelele, sax and accordian (far my favourite - I could almost feel myself on the set of Amelie).

A pretty much perfect night was rounded off when two of the skele-bellies came back dressed in burlesque and the crowd dispersed happily into the night.

There seem to be some obvious lessons from a night like this. Everyone would do well to bear them in mind:

1. There is a ridiculous wealth of talent outside the mainstream.

2. The creative world is full of almost boundless energy, enthusiasm, and can-do attitude.

3. Writers are every bit as engaging as musicians.

Here's hoping this is the first of very many such nights I get the pleasure of being involved in. A HUGE thanks to all who contributed, to Cafe Tarifa for being such great hosts, and most of all to Nikki for making it happen.

A full list of artists who contributed to the exhibition:

Cheryl Pearce – Poet

Will Mankelow – Photographer

Sandra Farrow – Photographer

Nikki Loy – Illustrator

James Whayman
– Photographer

Sarah Kennedy – Artist

Year Zero Writers and Rob Lennox - artist:


  1. What a great idea. Gears are already turning in my head. Sounds like a fun time was had by all.

  2. It was utterly super. I'm hoping that for next year's Free-e-day there will be events like this all over the world. I might start a workshop on the website with "how to" tips for organising in fact - thanks for getting me thinking!

  3. Fabulous, Dan! So sorry I wasn't there. I love the skeletons.

  4. They were fantastic! It's such an exciting time to be in tae arts at the momnet. There's so much happening at a grass roots level

  5. I can't believe I couldn't make it in the end! It sounds amazing, so I'm already looking forward to next year's!

  6. A fab. report, Dan! It sounds like an amazing night.

  7. B - sorry you couldn't be there - it was such good fun. Hope you'll be able to make one of the Year Zero "Thirteen shadows" tour events. There will DEFINITELY be a next year.

    Shayne, thank you - I hope you got extra readers as a result - I know we had 3725 site visitors on the 48 hour da day, with some people getting 40 or 50 clicks direct from the site - plus visits direct from the brochure and from twitter. So not huge, but certainly enough to make it the start of something that could become that way. I was SO pleased the discussions went so well. We had long, incredibly useful pieces from a lot of experts - as ever the stars on that front were the wonderful Vikram and Freya from Bookbuzzr

  8. Dan: yes, Roger and I both noticed big spikes in Smashwords downloads on the day, so that was a way to share in the occasion :-)

  9. I'm so glad - everyone I've spoken to who contributed said they've noticed a positive effect. I so hope we've turned just one member of the public on to what's out there!

  10. Thank you! Very much look forward to reading about your next big thing!