Friday, 19 June 2009

Keep Music Live

It's ten o'clock on Thursday morning and I'm sitting in Westminster tube station waiting for a District Line train out to Parsons Green.

A Circle Line service pulls in and as the doors open I can hear, amongst the usual background noises, something that sounds like the last dying ripple of a round of applause, although it may just be some mechanical sound from the train, or even heels clopping along the platform.

The carriage in front of me is full enough for one or two people to be standing up, and one or two of these more visible passengers are clearly looking at something interesting further along.

I follow their gazes and locate a young guy in a t-shirt and jeans standing near the front set of doors. He is not now saying or doing anything, but in his hand he holds an instrument, half-hidden behind him from where I'm sitting, but I think it is a fiddle. Or maybe a violin. I can also hear someone talking loudly near him, as if addressing an audience.

Amongst the passengers looking on are a middle aged, smartly-suited guy with a smile on his face and, further back, a young Oriental girl with an even broader grin. These are not private, reserved smiles, and it seems almost as if these strangers might be about to begin spontaneous conversations with the people around them about whatever they have just seen.

Some of the local train services around Birmingham have on-board television screens which loudly inform anyone who can't find a seat in the Quiet Zone about the latest news and showbiz gossip. But even when people are paying attention to the screens there is never any sense of them being drawn any closer together by the fact that they are all looking at the same thing.

What is it about a live performance that brings people so quickly out of their shells even when they are not expected to participate other than to applaud at the end?

But I'm still trying to work out exactly what is going on when the carriage doors slide shut again and off they all go, leaving only individual individuals behind them on the platform.

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