Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.
Venue: Large (with an obnoxiously big stage).
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.
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