OK, now I get it.
Now I’m an Amanda Palmer fan too.
Of course as a long-time Neil Gaiman reader I’ve known about her for a while, and watched what she’s up to with interest, and pondered the questions a raised by her million-dollar Kickstarter campaign, and loved the song she wrote (and performed naked) about the Daily Mail recently, and pondered even more deeply the questions raised by her “open letter” to Sinead O’Conner (about Miley Cyrus), amongst others… but I wasn’t a fan, not properly.
But I am now.
So what brought about this sudden conversion ?
Seeing her play live in front of only 100 people at a benefit event in Cambridge for the awesome Squeaky Gate music charity last night.
Because she was amazing.
More particularly, because most of the 100 people in the room were (like me) not already fans, as far as I could tell.
There were some real fans at the front, singing along to all the songs (especially in the crucial NSFW participation sections of “Map Of Tasmania”), toting ukeleles and dressed in fishnets, glitter and angel wings – but they weren’t the majority, by any means.
But did that stop, or confound her ? Hardly. Did the fact that the 100 people present barely filled half the room ? Not that I could tell. In fact she came straight out and played the first song – accompanied only by a battered old uke – without a microphone.
Instantly I was reminded of the house concert with Imogen Heap I was lucky enough to go to after ending up in her video, and the magic of hearing music happening right in front of you, close enough to touch, that direct connection from performer to listener…
(Something it can be easy to lose sight of sometimes, I think, when we spend so much time recording and mixing.)
Dean Whitbread wrote a blog post back in 2009 saying that live performance is fundamentally a transmission of energy, and last night was a reminder he’s dead right.
Because by the end of the first song, Amanda F Palmer had us captivated, and she kept it that way – and that’s not easy, not by a long shot. A couple of the performances were nothing short of blinding, and to achieve that from a standing start in a room full of mostly-not-fans, having got just straight off the train from somewhere… hats off.
But I think the thing that really won me over was the simplicity and honesty of her performance. She didn’t get naked on this occasion, but she was distinctly exposed and vulnerable nonetheless, and that’s really powerful – it reminded me of Brene Brown’s amazing TED talk. If you haven’t seen it, click here to check it out.
And the fact that she brought her husband Neil along with her was an unexpected bonus – he read a few short short stories and his amazing poem “The Day The Saucers Came”, and even sang with his wife for a couple of tunes !
Then they answered some questions asked by the audience, including “Who are you ?” from a +1 in the audience who really wasn’t yet a fan. Neil revealed that if he had to choose which planet he would have liked to have come from it would be Vulcan (when he was a kid) but Galifrey now; Amanda quoted a simple but profound piece of advice she’d been given on how to succeed as an independent female artist – “Keep working !”; and answered a serious question about the relevance of feminism in music today in an extremely eloquent and pragmatic way (which the song above more or less sums up, in a nutshell!)… and then they were gone.
And I was suddenly a fan.
Mainly because of the blistering performances – she gave everything, even in a tiny “mini-gig” like this – but also because of the honesty and vulnerability, which was also part of the performance, and… well, just because.
I Get It now, and you you get the chance to see her live I recommend you grab it, and then you’ll Get It, too.
Which is probably the real secret of her success.
The event was organised by the excellent Cambridge networking & events group CamCreative – if you’re based in or around Cambridge, check it out ! And, please consider supporting the excellent Squeaky Gate charity.