Try telling Mike Skinner this, but The Streets is an ambitious Arts Council-funded project bringing live music to local businesses in 7 outer London boroughs. 2015 saw me working as one of its producers, focusing on the high streets of Ilford, Leyton and Woolwich.
The Streets is a mighty beast of a project spanning two years. It's run by Serious and involves a consortium of representatives from 7 councils. The underlying motivation is to use art and cultural activity as a stimulus to greater vibrancy on the high street - increasing footfall and dwell time, bringing exposure to local businesses and changing perceptions of particular areas.
At times it was a challenge persuading businesses that live music on their premises may be a good thing. We wanted to use a variety of spaces, from charity shops to grocery stores, shopping malls to social hubs, even empty units. For some it took a while to understand the concept: that having a high calibre jazz vocalist scatting on their shop floor was a fun way to surprise and delight people and pull them into their shop.
But many shop owners got it immediately. Palmeira, the little Portuguese cafe in Leyton, was a case in point. They have a small coffee bar and a few tables and chairs, some Portuguese produce on shelves at the back and a TV relaying an endless stream of news and live football. It gets crowded, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when small groups of weather-beaten men huddle over beers and espressos conversing in a relaxed but serious way.
Could we squeeze some musicians in here? The proprietor was very open to the idea and he ended up hosting Adriano Adewale's trio and the American bassist-songwriter Alan Hampton. At times the customers seemed a little more interested in their own conversation, but the music eventually won the day and the musicians won an appreciative audience, some of whom had never been in the cafe before.
We worked in many other cafes across the other boroughs - and also pubs and restaurants, clothes shops, big brand stores, and a raft of independent businesses. In Greenwich we worked in a shoe shop called Egoshego where Cecilia Stalin and Brendan Reilly sang their heart out to admiring and somewhat bewildered shoppers.
There were many highlights but for me the ultimate accolade came from a local in Woolwich who happened upon a spontaneous jam featuring Adriano Adewale and Cecilia Stalin. 'I'd expect this in Pizza Express, Soho,' he said, 'but not in...Dunkin Donuts.'