May 12th 2014
“I’ve never heard Birmingham so quiet”, said the person standing next to me as the artist known as Passenger performed one of his new songs that was written in Minneapolis in response to a random encounter with a Biker smoking the “best cigarette in his life”.
On the 7th May, the centre of Birmingham was transformed into an intimate gig led solely by Michael aka passenger and his acoustic guitar. I was staying at ‘Staying Cool’ at the Rotunda and was working on a proposal for a Music Earth Rise gig in December at Kings Place in London. As I stepped out of the Rotunda I recognized Michael setting up with his guitar and strolled over as he was having his picture taken with some passing fans. I heard him say he was going to be playing again at 12pm.
Not that I’m a practicing Buddhist or anything but that morning, above the circling seagulls, I stood in my apartment overlooking Birmingham and chanted out across the top of city, ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’.
At this point no one had really cottened on to what was about to happen and the treat that lay in store for the shoppers of Birmingham
I couldn’t help but feel that this was a great chance to speak to Michael about the Music Earth Rise gig in December. I thought I’ve got until 12 o’clock so I’ll go back up to the apartment and print out the proposal I was working on so at least I can give him something solid to look at rather than take up his time whilst setting up. When I came back down circa 11.45am I realised what a mistake that was as he had already started performing in the Bullring and by now, surrounded by fans and security. Disappointed I was ! but in actual fact that soon passed as I got sucked into the contagious vacuum of someone in their element and the effect of music and it’s communication.
Promoting his new album with an array of fresh material, Michael had already captivated the audience by the time I had arrived with both song and story. Catapulted to fame over the past year with his smash hit ‘Let Her Go’, Michael talked of how the past 5/6 years had been spent busking, trying to make a living. He talked about how lucky he was to be here today after the success of the last year…… but this time to be giving a free gig. He said something along the lines of: “Instead of asking for money, I’m here with Kevin who is selling the Big Issue so if anyone would pay £5 to go and see a Passenger gig then to donate it Kevin as it would make a huge difference to his day.”
As the gig developed Michael talked about the age of technology and the experience of performing to thousands of people and whilst looking up at one gig, he looked out to a sea of mobile phones. He talked about how in this age of technology he feels that we often miss the real moment, the real connection and spirit of the moment. I thought yes, exactly and it was only when he later performed a cover version of Paul Simons ‘Sound of Silence’ that I remembered my blog on the Paul Simon gig at Hyde Park ‘Silence Speaks’ which mentioned the same issue and dilemma.
“I started filming this song but then thought ‘what am I doing?’ I just had to stop and actually live this moment of a legendary artist performing a song that is set deep in the heart of musical history.”
Throughout the gig I thought it would be great to get a photo or some video footage as I knew this would be a great blog for Music Earth Rise as the more the gig continued, the more I felt that I understood a bit more about Passenger, the artist.
I looked round at the crowd and saw the look in peoples eyes and how Michael cut through their day and touched their hearts, not because of his new found celebrity but because they saw reality, a human emotion with a humble yet strong performance.
I was also surprised at the amount cheering when Michael talked about a song called ‘I hate’ and asked the crowd “who hates Xfactor!???” There was a huge cheer from the heart of Birmingham. Michael, the country needs you in the spotlight more !
Looking around I saw in eyes of people how much the true creative connection is needed in the soul of our daily lives. It wasn’t just the pull of someone who has had a hit song, it was the stories, it was his tunes, the lyrics, it was the expressive performance slap bang in the middle of a bustling city that prompted a stranger next to me to say ‘”I’ve never heard Birmingham so quiet!”
However, towards the end, the power of social media was too much to resist and the mobile phones came out in force to the sound of the hit song ‘Let Her Go’, Michael smiled but by that time the crowd had already been captivated and silenced like we were in the middle of some field in England sharing one heart, one love led by one artist. Maybe that was their reward to capture something after standing there for 45 minutes to an hour ? Unlike the Paul Simon gig I actually refrained from filming, I thought I’ll keep this one in my memory. The moment was too random and the Buddhist word ‘Myoho’ which I chanted earlier above the circling seagulls literally means the Mystic Law – the underlying truth or principle which governs the mysterious workings of the universe and our life from moment to moment. Myo refers to the very essence of life, which is “invisible” and beyond intellectual understanding.
I felt Michael carried part of ‘the invisible’.
From my initial disappointment of missing the moment, I was actually in the moment.
Passenger…….you put out hope and strength. I saw it others and I felt it in myself. Anyone can make a sound but few make people think.
We were all Passengers that day on the same journey, Michael drove us to another place, he silenced Birmingham and silence certainly speaks !
So Michael thank you for the journey, the fun, the depths of the performance. If you read this; thank you so so much…..
Passenger was promoting his new album Whispers, due out on the 9th June.
Article by Brendan Poynton
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