Gordon Mark Webber has been performing around Greenwich for decades, and he’s here to say there’s still plenty of work out there for musicians, writes Laura Burgoine…
The singer works six nights a week, performing at local haunts like Oliver’s Jazz bar, and the “secret caff” Oxleas Wood Café, hidden away in the woodlands of Shooter’s Hill. “I’ve been working as a singer since I was 14,” Gordon told the Weekender. “I come from the East End, and left school very early after one of the teachers told me to get out and not come back. Two years later, just before I was 16, a truancy officer came to my home and told my Mum I hadn’t been in school!”
Gordon got his start performing in Working Men’s clubs; “I looked much older than I was,” he said. Then at sixteen he had to get a “proper day job” and kept performing in evenings and on weekends. “After 36 years in the same job I went on a motivational lecture. The guy said: you should follow your passion, and so the next day I handed in my notice,” Gordon said.
At the same time, the musician owned the Greenwich Inn pub on Greenwich High Road. “It was a great music pub. I had lots of well-known musicians hanging out there. Jools Holland used to come in, Eddie and the Hot Rods… I had my day job, and my income from singing but the pub was struggling badly so after 19 years I sold it and decided to be a full-time singer.” This was ten years ago. “I’ve got a far lower income now but I’m happier,” Gordon said. “Now if somebody phones me up and asks me to do a gig in Portugal, I go.”
Up until recently, the 59-year-old did a lot of international performances. “It changed for me when I was 57 and the agency who I was working for, who got me cruise ship work, realised I was over 50.” Now Gordon lines up a lot of his own gigs. “It’s so very easy to get the work,” he said. “A month ago I went to Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Transnistria. I go abroad two or three times a year, work out a trip, sometimes with a tour group and I look at each town, find the music venues and just contact them looking for work.”
The singer is particularly successful in India and Vietnam, and puts it down to having an English accent. “What they realise very quickly, if they look at my webpage and video links, is that they don’t have anyone like me. There aren’t English singers out there,” he said. “There’s thousands of Filipino artists who do cruises and when you’ve got someone singing Frank Sinatra songs in an accent, it doesn’t work.”
“Me singing with the correct accent is a huge tool for them. On my last tour, I went away for 15 nights and worked 10 of those nights. I’m not making a fortune but it’s paying for a holiday. During the day I do what I want, then I perform at night. If I get a wedding or a corporate gig that one event will pay the airfare.”
“In the UK I work for some agencies, and they get me better paid gigs,” Gordon continued. “After paying their 20 percent I’m still earning more than if I went out on my own.”
The original East Ender became a south Londoner at age 16. “My brother lived in Thamesmead and there was a notice in the local paper saying ‘tomorrow they’re giving away council flats in south east London for anyone who can prove they’ve been living in London for five years,” Gordon recalled. “I joined the queue at 5am, it was four hours long, and the cut-off flag was 20 people behind me. They offered me a flat in Morris Walk Estate in Charlton, and part of the deal was the flat would be in a right state. But I went there and it was beautiful. A two bedroom flat. It had been refused five times!” And the rest, as they say is history. “So I became a south east Londoner,” Gordon said. “Gigging work came quickly. I went into local pubs and got work, then discovered Greenwich and Deptford for music. It’s changed now. Mine was the first pub to put on gay jazz nights, and I was treasurer of the Riverfront Jazz festival for six years, which ran across 60 odd venues.”
When the corporate chains like Jamie’s Italian, and Café Rouge moved into Greenwich it changed the tone. “The fee I’m earning now in Greenwich is less than 20 years ago,” Gordon said. “The work is still there but it’s a flooded market now.”
“I still love Deptford and Greenwich with a passion,” he said.
On the last Sunday of the month, Gordon holds an open mic night at Tudor Barn. “I’m there with another professional musician. We play an unplugged mic, acoustic music, and we encourage youngsters to perform. The youngest has been ten years old –and they get to play with people who, last week, were working with Ed Sheeran.”
“The Prince of Greenwich is the most unique pub I’ve ever been in,” he continues. “The owner is Italian and has travelled the world for 25 years collecting things. There’s a whale’s jawbone on the roof and a museum bar upstairs.”
Severndroog Castle is another favourite music venue, while Gordon has also entertained visitors to Woodlands Farm Trust. “There’s a little café up there on the farm where I’ve played an unplugged set, all rock songs. It’s really laid back,” he said.
“There’s still lots of people left in the Greenwich community who know each other; it’s still a wonderful place to be.”
Gordon’s advice for fellow artists is “you’ve got to be working to get work.” And going the extra mile seems to have paid off for this musician. As part of an exchange trip, Gordon performed at a festival in Greenwich’s twin city of Maribor. “BBC Slovenia turned up and filmed my gig, and now 20 years on, I still sell more downloads in Slovenia than anywhere else in the world.”
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