It’s a slow night at the Indigo – even though there are plenty of songwriters. The bubonic plague could sweep through this town and within days I guarantee the songwriters would emerge, blinking, from the abandoned buildings and start setting up meetings. Nobody is on the street – but in the city of a million songs, and you can always rustle up someone to sing.
The Nashvillians have retreated from the snow, and the chilly weather has kept most of the punters indoors tonight. Even Broadway seems half deserted. The usually-crowded pavements outside the honky tonks are empty. The lobby of the Hotel Indigo is similarly empty. It’s an elegant, tall white palace of a place, with maybe two dozen people watching the stage area. Of that crowd, about three quarters are friends of the performers, and will vanish as soon as their set is over. We have an odd gathering of material tonight, everything from well-constructed contemporary songs delivered by well-groomed (and very pretty) women - to an unrecognisable and complex bebop jazz medley of Hank Williams classics (please make it stop).
Little of it seems to make an impression. The handful of previous performers and friends applaud politely and the songs float up towards the ceiling and disappear like smoke. I’m in a three-man round with one songwriter writing old-time Woody Guthrie-influenced stuff and another writing growling protest songs about Lehmann Brothers and oil tycoons. All of us are kind of irrelevant, really – the audience are talking to each other and no-one is really paying attention. The last round of the night features a young guy with a 70s-style open neck shirt playing Caribbean-influenced Jack Johnson-type material, and a black husband-and-wife team who knock out some excellent blues/soul music.
In the middle of their set, a rangy man at the bar wearing a cowboy hat starts to shout: ‘TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF!! WHO ARE YOU? WHO WROTE THAT SONG?’ And the young guy quietly and politely introduces himself and says, ‘well... I wrote that song. That’s my song’.
As they play the next one, the big guy approaches the stage and hands a $20 bill to the young songwriter and asks if the three of them could play ‘anything by Jackie Wilson’. Then he insists that his wife gets up on stage and sings one of HER songs. She doesn’t have a guitar and can’t tell them what the chords are, but she starts to sing anyway and the three of them – now in danger of having their set completely derailed – bravely play along as best they can.
The woman turns out to have a frankly amazing voice. Husky and assured and startling in its suppleness and clarity. When she finishes and goes back to the bar, the husband of the husband-and-wife team leans into the mic and says ruefully: ‘man... I HATE it when white people have more soul than me.’