Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Neil Mcormack raves again about Simone Felice in London Telegraph
I was at a small venue in London last Sunday, when a call came through from a radio station. Jedward had been expelled from X Factor. The station wanted a music critic to discuss the chances of the non-singing-barely-dancing conjoined twins’ survival outside the artificial womb of “reality” TV, in the actual “real” world of record and ticket sales. To which the only sane reaction, surely, is complete indifference?
I told the researcher I couldn’t help because I was about to watch a performance by one of my favourite bands, The Duke & The King. What I didn’t mention was that they were led by a musician, Simone Felice, who himself can barely sing (at least he has a thin voice, prone to going flat) and has never been known to dance, and who frankly wouldn’t survive the first audition in front of Simon Cowell and his panel of squabbling egotists.
Ten singers who can't sing What’s more, Felice will probably never hold the attention of an audience of millions on Saturday night TV, never top the charts or cause tabloid hysteria. But on a cold, wet Sunday night in London, he and his band held a few hundred devotees spellbound with one of the warmest, funniest, most intense, emotional and spontaneous performances we will ever be lucky enough to witness, and he will be back doing that, making extraordinary music of the highest artistic standards for years, maybe decades to come.
As for Jedward? They have the kind of gauche adolescent confidence and extravagant hair that sets young girls hormones a-jiggle. Back in the Eighties when DIY pop eccentricity held sway and the excitable Smash Hits magazine dictated the agenda, they might have enjoyed a year of mania before their inability caught up with them. In the modern era of pop as televised light entertainment, I suspect we have witnessed their whole accelerated career arc in weekly instalments, and they will now proceed more or less directly to employment as children’s TV presenters without actually scoring more than a token novelty hit. And they should count themselves lucky. The key element in their act was neither their appearance or voices but their ability to infuriate Britain’s favourite pantomime villain. Jedward’s most insistent hookline was Simon Cowell’s petulant protestations that the X Factor was “a singing competition”.
Despite Cowell’s complaint, popular music is not about singing, and never was. If you insist on only hearing the most technically accomplished vocalists, go to the opera. Popular music is about the delivery of a song, with character and authority, vital ingredients that Jedward lack. Sure, they couldn’t sing. But they couldn’t not sing with any real conviction either. What they did was transparently fake. What people really respond to is the truth.
Ever since Bob Dylan opened the floodgates, any populist poetic voice who wants to communicate in a mass media forum is likely to form a band, whether they can sing or not. Indeed, many of my all time favourite singers have barely a note between them. Can you imagine what Cowell would say if Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Ian Dury, Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker and Nick Cave turned up to audition for the X Factor? But what a gig that would be!
If pop music was a singing competition, how would Mick Jagger, Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry or Madonna have fared? Johnny Rotten inspired a rock revolution with a voice like a cat going through a mangle. But it is not necessarily even about being an original songwriter. Although Johnny Cash wrote some classics, his cracked, wobbly baritone was every bit as effective when singing other people’s songs, as his late series of ’American’ albums attests. It is about authenticity, the complete ownership of the lyric.
These people have the triple X factor: personality, integrity and vision.
They produce vocals where character matters more than note for note perfection and bring out something utterly unique and transcendent, a real human soul, wrapped up in a song.
That is why I was out listening to the fractured warblings of Simone Felice instead of being hypnotised by Britain’s favourite pop freak show. And why real music fans will keep coming back to see how he is developing and find out what he has to say, when Jedward and the rest of the X Factor also-rans are long forgotten. It is why, ultimately, Felice will prove more important to pop culture, and actually sell more records and tickets over his lifetime than any novelty fad. If we must listen to singers who can’t sing, surely we had better find ones with songs worth singing?