The Games We Play

The Games We Play

Driving to, staying at, and returning from punk gigs occupies many hours of the day. These hours are sometimes filled with mirth, occasionally populated by discussions of musical world domination and periodically, wallets permitting, fast food.

Quite often however, they are boring. Arduous, drawn out anaesthesia for the mind.

To combat this, over time we created some games to pass the time.

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened a lot.

Inter Car Charades

Venue: Multiple cars.
No. of Players: 4+ a couple of pretty brave drivers.
Win Condition: All about the taking part.   

This simple twist on the classic parlour game necessitates a minimum of two cars travelling to or from a venue. There are two key factors in ensuring a good round of Inter Car Charades.

Firstly, the two drivers need to be halfway competent and staying within a reasonable distance of one another. For us, this usually means driving in convoy and not letting me drive. Which is fine, I’m better at miming anyway.

With that in mind, the second factor you need to consider is what to mime. Our games normally began with a series of easy, one word movie titles to warm everyone up. Typically these were, in this order: Jaws, Jaws 2, Jaws 3 and Seven. We knew we were on a long car journey by the time we were hitting The Hunt For Red October.

I SPYYYYYYY

Venue: One car.
No. of Players: Anyone within ear short whether they like it or not.
Win Condition: Last throat screaming.

More a piece of performance art than game, our version of I Spy consisted of adherence to a carefully worded script that was screamed at the top of everyone’s lungs until such time as you simply couldn’t do it anymore.

Player: [screaming] I SPYYYYYYYYYYYYY!

Everyone: [screaming] Yesssssss?

Player: With myyyyyyy little eyyyyyyyyyye.

Everyone: Gooooo ooooooooon.

Player: Something beginning wiiiiiiiiiith–

Everyone: Oooooooooh, I caaaaan’t wait!

Player: (Insert designated letter).

The guesses were also then screamed as loud as physically possible, as were the yes/no responses. The winning guess would be met by the loudest Roy Walker impression the Player could muster.

Merch Table Tag

Venue: Merch Table.
No. of Players: Entire Band.
Win Condition: Don’t be at the merch table.

Historically, I’ve always been in bands with people who don’t enjoy sitting at the merch table. I’m not sure if other bands have the same issue, but certainly in this rabble, the job of selling merchandise was definitely seen as a burden, in spite of it accounting for the largest portion of money made at gigs by some margin.

This hatred of being stuck at the table resulted in the development of Merch Table Tag. This was an unofficial game, because if we ever owned up to playing it, the ruse would be over. But essentially it consisted of one goal; if you were manning the merch table, by hook or by crook you had to convince someone else to do it. Which usually resulted in this something like this short exchange.

Merch Person: Hey, can you man the table for two minutes? I need a piss.

Victim: Sure.

[20 mins later Merch Person would be spotted at the bar]

Victim: Sonofa…

This cycle would repeat ad infinitum. And in reality, it’s a game we never stopped playing.

Photo by Incase via Flickr.

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Story Time With Jake – Net Loss: £40 And A Shirt

Story Time With Jake – Net Loss: £40 And A Shirt

The season of forced goodwill and grimace filled smiles is officially upon us. So with that in mind, please welcome to the stage Jake, our bassist, to regale you another tale of gigging woe. Merry Christmas to you all.  

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: This was a little while ago…
Venue: Some hall in the middle of the the creepy-arse woods of murder-ville.
Crowd: Allegedly.

At some point during the beginning of your broken-fingered clawing crawl over shattered glass towards rock stardom you’ll hit this point; you’re good enough to gig but no one knows who you are. Gigs are scarce. The merest hint of somewhere to play that isn’t just in front of each other will be like making love to a beautiful woman – you’ll just be happy to have the offer.

It was a birthday gig for a presumably upstanding guy just turning 19. Good on him for surviving this long I guess. Either way, we’re desperate to show what we can do so when his enthusiastic girlfriend asks us to play we are all over it.

“Sure thing we’ll be there! Where? … I have no idea where that is? Woods? Right. Village hall? What village exactly?Ok… yeah ok we’ll get a van or something. Any equipment there? None? Ok. A big van. A stage? Excellent!”

Filtering information to a band is a tenuous job to make sure they don’t bail or kick off. Graham approached this like a game of Chinese Whispers.

“There’s a stage!”

Of course we are sold, we’ll be elevated above the masses, like we deserve! Who cares if we have to pay £40 to rent a crappy van. Worth it in every way, it’s like every holiday rolled into one neat package for a new band on the scene.

So that’s what we do, we rent a van, we even coerce a friend into driving for us and helping roadie all of our equipment, people like him are absolute troopers; real fucking heroes of the scene. An angel amongst Devils. Then we drive into fuck-knows-where-ville to get presumably murdered.

We turn up at the venue promptly at 6pm and are greeted by Enthusiastic Girlfriend who directs us to the stage and then drops the first bombshell.

“I’ve just heard, he won’t be here until 9:30, it’s the soonest they can get him here.” Graham looks like a cop that just found out the doughnuts aren’t free. I’m trying to figure out the jail time on throttling her. There isn’t even a KFC nearby. “But I thought you guys could go on at 7 to entertain the guests?” Her and her mum. “We’ve only got the hall until 10 anyway.”

Graham forces a smile so brittle it should be made from peanuts and looks at the stage. “That where we’re setting up? We’ll get to it.”

“No…” Enthusiastic Girlfriend has the good grace to look apologetic just before she deflates us like a flat tyre in bad weather. “We aren’t allowed to use it, can you just kinda, stand in front?”

On the fucking floor. With Mum.

Bombshells 1 and 2 done We already know we aren’t getting paid for this and sometimes it’s best just to set your jaw and get shit done. We set up and soundcheck; we sound good, the acoustics here are excellent and our songs are gonna fill the room like banshee wails. At least Mum will get a rocking show, she smiles at me encouragingly. A few more people filter in like tramps looking for a soup kitchen and being disappointed at the lack of cream of tomato. Enthusiastic Girlfriend nods at us, she’s already told us we don’t have to play more than 45 minutes, they’ve got an iPod for later. She’s gonna be lucky to get 20 at this rate.

6 minutes in and my bass strap breaks. Clean break; I guess like me it was getting tired of holding on. Sick of playing to an audience made up of the ghosts of birthdays past and under the ever watchful eye of Mum. Something had to give.

I spend the rest of the show facing away from the “crowd” so I can prop my leg up on the amp and balance the bass. It looks pretty rock and roll except I’m facing the wrong way and I have to keep adjusting it. We struggle to the end of the set and then make our excuses and get the fuck out of creep-town. On the ride home I realise someone stole my shirt, I took it off pre-gig to play just in my “Fuck Society” tee. I bet Mum took it.

And I never did meet the Birthday Boy. We left before he arrived, if he ever even existed and this whole thing wasn’t just some cruel joke on us.

Like I said, playing early gigs is like making love to a beautiful woman. You won’t get to show her your best moves and you’ve probably paid over the odds for the experience, but you’ll still jump at every chance to do it.

Photo by Nick Vidal-Hall via Flickr.

Urination #1: My Bladder vs The Police

Urination #1: My Bladder vs The Police

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The day I learned a valuable lesson.
Venue: A bush outside a university club.
Crowd: A guitarist and a police officer.  

It’s half past midnight and I’m peeing in a bush outside a university club. 

I wish I could say this is the first time. But being in possession of the smallest bladder in the punk community has its drawbacks, not least of which means forcing your driver to stop frequently in lieu of urinating into some food or drink receptacle (both of which have happened, but they’re stories for another day). Anyway, bottom line, I’m peeing in a bush and in the process trying desperately to keep my shoulder bag out of the line of fire.

After completing my mission with zero bag casualties, I rush back to the car. There are a few frantic moments of bag wrestling before taking my seat next to Ritchie, my band brother and perennial driver for our out of town excursions.

“Why didn’t you just use the toilet in the venue?” Ritchie huffs, the way any helpful brother would, before pulling away.

“I went just before we left. If I go straight back in they’re gonna think I’m some kind of deviant.” I argue as we stop at a red light about 50 metres from the freshly watered bush.

Ritchie mutters something about doing what normal people do and holding it till they’re home, but I don’t listen with any real sense of enthusiasm. At this point we’ve been in a band together for over 3 years and he is well aware my bladder is like a Lidl carrier bag. It holds a lot, but not for very long.

A police car pulls alongside us and for a briefly entertaining moment, my brain weighs up how funny it would be if they saw me peeing. And how being arrested for public urination might one day might make a great story. And how come to think of it, I might really suit a tear drop tattoo. And whether or not you can pick your prison number and if so, whether I’d choose 55-46 or 80085.    

Which is when one of the Officers motions for me to wind down my window.

I immediately and unreservedly yell at Ritchie to drive! I don’t want to go to jail. It dawns on me that a tear drop tattoo would really upset my mum.

Ritchie rather reasonably points out that jumping a red light next to a police car is generally frowned upon. Furthermore, his reply is punctuated by the foreboding buzz of the passenger side electric window as he prepares to open a dialogue.  

After weighing up my options, I narrow them down to two. 1) Turn invisible. 2) Blame everything on Ritchie.  

The Officer opens his mouth to speak, and without any semblance of self control, I projectile vomit excuses in his general direction. “I can explain. We’ve just played a gig and we’re about to drive home which is a really long way and we’re in a rush and I’m really sorry and I’ll never do it again!”

The light turns green.

“There’s a bag on your roof.” The Officer states plainly. The police car pulls away at a speed I can only describe as ‘judgemental’.  

I sheepishly retrieve my bag and return to my seat in silence. Ritchie, to his infinite credit, says nothing.

I realise I need the toilet.

I hold it.   

Photo by West Midlands Police via Flickr.   

Forgotten Instruments, Improvised Censorship and Cows

Forgotten Instruments, Improvised Censorship and Cows

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Her Royal Majesty The Queen’s Jubilee.
Venue: A field.
Crowd: 60/40 split between humans and bovine.

“There’s no such thing as a bad gig. Only a bad performance.”

This was a mantra we adopted early on as a band. The idea that if any gig was objectively bad, it was due to deficiencies in performance as opposed to any fault on the part of the gig. The rationale was to focus on our ability as a group rather than apportion blame elsewhere. Shortly after, we played a show where the sound man neglected to provide any microphones (Which incidentally is a story for another time). Since that day we have been slightly more open to assigning blame where necessary.  

On this particular blazing Saturday afternoon in June, the weekend of Her Majesty The Queen’s Jubilee, it’s hard to decide who’s more responsible for the veritable clusterfuck. But it’s approximately 30 seconds into our first song, titled something like but not necessarily “Gas Chamber”, that I stare into the eyes of a nearby toddler and realise we may well be playing to the wrong crowd.

You see, ringing alarm bells were initially ignored when we arrived at the venue. A field in the centre of England’s garden, Kent. Now, fields aren’t inherently bad venues, it depends entirely on how they are populated. However, this particular patch of farmland had a worrying percentage of families having picnics. See also: people that generally are offended by swearing accompanied by people that generally shouldn’t be subjected to it.

There’s no such thing as a bad gig.

It is shortly after surveying this scene that Jake begins stretching the theory to breaking point.

“I’ve forgotten my bass.” He declares, rather less apologetically than I would’ve hoped for, but at this point he’s probably distracted by the fact the crowd is in serious danger of being outnumbered by the cows in the neighbouring field.

For reasons I have never questioned to this day, Ritchie has a keyboard in his car. With that, Jake triumphantly assures us of two things: 1) That he is familiar enough with the general workings of a keyboard to know which notes he has to press in order to play his ‘bass’ lines, and perhaps most importantly 2) That his colour blindness doesn’t extend to the difference between black and white. With that, the keyboard is hooked up to the PA and a crisis has temporarily been averted.

There’s no such thing as a bad gig.

So, approximately 30 seconds into our first track is when I catch the eye of a nearby toddler. 31 seconds into our first track is when I become painfully aware of a pertinent fact. This song has many, many swear words. A plethora. A surplus. An overabundance, you might say. A metric fuck tonne.

Mercifully, the same thought has evidently pops into Jake’s seldom sensibly occupied mind. He frantically signals my attention and in the split second our wide eyed stares meet, we concoct a genius plan of improvised self censorship. Our lyrics are suddenly punctuated with FUDGE, SHOOT and POO. What was intended as a social commentary on teenage bullying becomes speckled by FIDDLESTICKS, DARN and SHUCKS. By the end of the song, those in the audience that have vocabularies developed enough, are left in no uncertain terms that we hate those MOTHER LOVERS. Our punk rock credentials may have taken a slight beating, but I’m pretty sure the five year olds found it hilarious.

The silver lining to this whole affair, is that we are now aware of where the bar resides with regards to bad gigs. We can make sure we never put ourselves in a situation like this one again. With our heads held high, we can look forward to the next gig on the calendar.

The day after. Another show to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Jubilee. In a small village green.  

At least there won’t be any cows.

Photo by Richard via Flickr.

A Crime Against Music

A Crime Against Music

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Recently.
Venue: Large (with an obnoxiously big stage).
Crowd: Dedicated.

It’s 10-30. We finish our third song of the set. There are still plenty to go before we finish at 11, but the crowd have been uniformly superb so far. I grin, step up to the microphone and offer some heart felt thank yous. Attention, let alone appreciation, is wholeheartedly seized and not forgotten in this band.

I’m interrupted by Nicky, our drummer. Stoppages like this are not uncommon with Nicky, and are normally due to a lack of one of three things: beer, vocals in his monitor, or a knowledge of how a song starts.

“I gotta go.” He declares.

I’m confused to the point of the statement not registering, which he must sense because he then clarifies.

“I need to get the last train. I got work in the morning.”

Suddenly struck dumb, I offer nothing. I have nothing. As a rule of thumb, if something unexpected happens during a show you play through it. To my knowledge, there was no contingency for a drummer walking off stage 3 songs into a set.

Nicky gets up to leave. “Tell the soundman the monitor levels were great though.”

The crowd fidgets, expecting quite rightly the live band to play live music as opposed to dispersing one by one after a few minutes.  

I plead with him to stay. When it comes to disagreements in the band, desperation is my silver bullet. Dignity is for the worms.  

“Sorry dude. See you guys later. Have a great show.”

I rapid fire the Punk Band 101 go to platitudes. “You don’t need a job.” He does. “We’re gonna be famous.” We’re not. “Jobs come and go. The band is forever.” It will break up next year. At the latest.

Perhaps sensing the argument being won, perhaps realising he doesn’t care all that much, he walks off stage.

Without much choice, given the sudden and severe deficiency in the beat department, I lean back towards the mic, offering a final thank you and goodnight. The offer is so lacking in conviction I may as well have asked it as a question. Which is just as well, as my answer, in the shape of a very disgruntled looking promoter, looms just offstage. He shakes his head, pointing to his watch. His eyes clearly state “Fill the next 30 minutes, or you’re not getting paid.”

After considering our predicament for a moment, I conclude that I will look back on this moment as the moment the band died.

That is to say, what with options exhausted, all points of return now very much behind us and any exit strategies frankly non-existent, we are very much fucked.

I turn to the rest of the band, mustering every ounce of positivity that hasn’t been charred by the lackadaisical fires of a drummer that stopped giving a fuck, and offer my solution.  

I shrug.

Bands live and die by how much their drummers give a shit.

Which is when Jake puffs out his chest and unblinkingly declares himself a drummer.

I ask whether he is ‘learning’ or ‘can actually play’, as if beyond him there is a queue of beat men eager to drum us through to the conclusion of this nightmare.

Jake scoffs at my doubt and assures us he can play the last song. This strikes me as a distinct possibility. The song is pretty slow and straightforward. A crack of hope no thicker than a top E string opens before my very eyes.

The crack slides shut. With Jake on drums, there’s no bass.

“I’ll do it.” Ritchie, our guitarist answers. Except Ritchie is left handed. “Don’t worry, it’s only two notes.” Richie reassures me, simultaneously proving two things. One; it is possible for guitarists to read each other’s minds. Two; I’m thankful we play a genre no more musically complex than punk.     

I glance back to the promoter. His eyes now screaming “Get the fuck on with it.” I write a mental note to blame profusely this mess on Nicky.  

The band switches instruments with enough brevity to make me question why we have never, not once, started a rehearsal on time.

Jake readies himself, then without any hesitation begins the 4 count into the song. With each number, Jake cracks his drum sticks together with enough force, enough vigour, that I dream of the gig being not only finished, but closing to rapturous applause. I dream of the crowd chanting our name. The promoter paying us double. Booking us a tour. Local papers loading the review section with adulatory praise predicting nothing less than world domination.

Then the song starts.

The bitter reality is that Jake cannot drum. Not even a little bit. This fact becomes so painfully obvious to everyone in the room after 2 bars, that what we should do is stop.  

But there is an unwritten rule in live performance; you finish the song no matter what. Though it is clear that the genesis of this particular musical law did not account for anything close to our version of ‘no matter what’. Some songs, I feel, are worthy of euthanasic ends. And we should pull the plug. All of them.  

Now I call it a song, but I feel that does a disservice to songs. It is an abomination. A twisted wreck of sonic incest. Nothing shy of a crime against music.   

But we finish. Somehow. There’s a moment’s pause as the audience considers its options.

The promoter suddenly appears to my left. He very slowly mouths “Please would you do me the courtesy of removing yourselves from the amplification devices and leave the performance area.” Or rather, an abbreviated and profane equivalent.

I breathe a sigh of relief and lean in towards the mic. “Thank you… and sorry?” The crowd mumbles their acquiescence, no doubt appreciating the twenty five minutes of peace our early conclusion has afforded them.

We skulk off stage and for ten minutes pack away in silence. Which serves as the perfect juxtaposition to our sonically defunct finale.

Which is when my phone rings.  

It is Nicky.

“Hey man, can I crash at yours? I missed my train.”

Bands live and die by how much their drummers give a shit. Tonight was punk rock seppuku.

Photo by Chris Devers via Flickr