Story Time With Jake – Graham Alienates the Audience

Story Time With Jake – Graham Alienates the Audience

Jake always plays bass. Jake sometimes remembers what notes to play. Jake never cares. Please give a warm hand to Jake. 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: A school night
Venue: A local sweat-pit
Crowd: Packed, capacity and then some.

Some gigs are golden. Everyone in the band is playing like their hearts are about to burst, the promoter is grinning like a cat in a cream factory and the audience is one huge appreciative mob. These nights are a balm that every small-time band needs, a reminder why we step out each night and put ourselves on the line.

Graham steps up to the microphone, his smile beaming out to the sweaty mass like a lighthouse on a stormy night. The sea of excited music-goers surge forward, eager for his next announcement. His patter has been amazing tonight, they’ve been putty in his hands.

“Everyone having a good time?”

The crowd roars like a hundred lions.

“Who here is drunk? Lemme hear you!”

Another roar, deafening. I let it wash over me and glance down to the set list, two songs to go and we might even earn an encore on this one. Graham holds his arms out to either side, falling easily into a classic ‘rock jesus’ pose as Nicky starts to bring us in with a simple beat. This song gets hard, fast and dirty, like a brawl in an alley. The crowd is gonna go wild.

“And who here…” the mass surges forward, ready for another chance to scream… “still has homework to do?” Everybody screams, then stops. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife called “realisation”. We’re playing to a bunch of illegally inebriated school kids. It’s a Thursday

If you’ve ever seen footage of a zeppelin go down you know how quickly something can go from touching the heavens to a flaming wreck on the floor. The promoter looks stricken, the bar staff go into a panic. We blast through our last two songs in half the time it should take while the mob in front of us stare daggers. Some gigs are golden, but sometimes it’s fool’s gold so I guess the lesson here is don’t look too hard.

Also, no encore.

Image by Mike Lowe via Flickr


The Mirror Incident

The Mirror Incident

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: 5 years ago.
Venue: A local pub.
Crowd: Some old drunk punks.

You know that thing where if you hear your own voice a few milliseconds after you speak it completely throws you off? Reading stuff out becomes insanely hard. Despite what people will tell you, I’m like it with watching myself.

We arrive to set up at the pub, they’ve got a lovely little stage area. It’s maybe only 6 inches off the floor, but it’s raised, which still counts. It’s square and a really nice size for a 4 piece. I’m feeling pretty good as we set up, we’ve only played a few gigs at this point but we’re getting tighter; Nicky only asks how every other song goes, Ritchie tends to just break 1 or 2 strings in soundcheck and Jake finishes songs at the same time as everyone else. Band life couldn’t be better.

We set up the gear then have a chat with the bar staff and owner of this delightful little pub. He tells us he really enjoys putting on new bands. It’s a far cry from the “What do you mean you’ve travelled 100 miles and only brought 4 guests?” to which we’ve become accustomed. Benevolent promoters are like cheerful soundmen; a myth.

Before long, it’s time to rock and/or roll. I step up to the microphone and look at the pleasantly tipsy regulars, they’re paying half an ear’s worth of attention, but that’s all we need. It’s time to make some friends.

And then I spot it.

Directly opposite the stage, right in front of me. A huge mirror. It’s big enough that I can see the whole band, the whole stage area. Everything. Which results in the following moments being dominated by the sole thought; “Is that how I stand?”

I’m analysing every aspect of my stance, my clothes, my hair. Everything. Not through vanity, I should clarify. This isn’t Narcissus rocking out in front of a mirror. This is unadulterated self loathing and horror, the nourishment on which my psyche thrives. Why am I the frontman? I look like an absolute mess.

Mirror Jake is looking at me curiously… I realise, we’re meant to have started. In panic I blurt out the first words that spring to mind.

“Fuck…” Bad start. “Sorry.” Even worse.

“Hello… we’re The Underdogs.” I wonder if my face has always looked like that when I talk. What’s my mouth doing? “We’re from…” My jaw looks so weak. Should I grow a bigger beard? “… uh.. Let’s go?”

It’s the most  unceremonious start to a set we’ve ever had, which, allowing the time Jake failed to turn up to a show, is saying something.

Jake’s bassline comes in like an enormous question mark as he stares at the back of my head in disbelief. This is not our first rodeo but I’ve been thrown from the horse, trampled and shit on. All with an audience. The shame in my eyes looks like judgement in the mirror. Mirror me judges.

I fumble lyrics and stumble over chords, screwing my face up in a punk grimace. I look like a baby that’s just filled it’s nappy. I pray to the Gods of Punk, willing them to smite mirror me or let the ground swallow real me whole.

They do neither.

The set is brutal. Every second is a new horror in self-hate and I find myself mumbling my way between songs. Thank fuck we’re a punk band because I don’t think I hit a single note.

The last chord sings out. Jake, Ritchie and Nicky to their infinite credit kept it together. The crowd applauds, quietly and sporadically. The owner looks painfully polite, we’re not coming back here. I’m ok with that. As the onlookers turn back to their drinks and I hear Nicky start to dismantle his kit there’s an exclamation from Ritchie.

“Oh shit there’s a mirror? I could have watched myself the whole time?? Why didn’t you idiots tell me?”

Vanity can be faked, possibly even learnt. But guitarists already have it in spades.

Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo via Flickr.

Tales from the Ritchie – One More Song

Tales from the Ritchie – One More Song

It’s time for another solo tale of musical woe from our guitarist, Ritchie.

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: The longest day of my life.
Venue: A massive field with a cowpat carpet.
Crowd: Hundreds of underage drunks. And a few more cows.

Status Quo once played four gigs in one day. Def Leppard played three gigs in three continents in the same day. It’s a rock’n’roll tradition and a badge of honour to be popular enough to have to lug all your gear from one place to another and set it up more than once in the space of 24 hours. I’m guessing Quo and Leppard didn’t have to lug all the gear themselves, and probably travelled in aeroplanes rather than Rover Metros, but on the day in question, this was our equivalent of the badge of honour.

The first show we played was ok. It was nothing amazingly special and playing at 2pm didn’t really bring out the best in either us or the crowd. The show was at my old college but it had been long enough since I’d left that there were neither lecturers nor students who I still knew. I couldn’t really show them what a rock god I’d become after they had said I’d amount to nothing. Which was quite good because my hangover was still gracing me with its presence and I forgot how to play an F sharp minor during an important part of one of our songs. I definitely did not feel like a rock god and I was pleased that no one I knew was there. There were a couple of guys who seemed to like us and bought two of our highly unpopular t-shirts which meant we didn’t have to chip in for petrol ourselves. They bought them on the condition they could have a photo taken with us which I still have to this day. A photo of the four of us and two random guys whose names have long gone from my memory.

To get to the second gig, we packed all of our gear and band members into the aforementioned Rover Metro and journeyed out into the countryside. We saw a lot of the countryside. Not because it was such a long way but because Graham is poor at navigating. To be fair to him, it wasn’t entirely his fault because the directions we’d been given were effectively “Go to this village. Look for signs to my festival.”

Our excitement at playing our first festival died down somewhat when we realised that it was just in a random field in the middle of Nowheresville. Some posh kid with rich parents who had decided to put on a festival for his birthday. It was a far cry from playing Download.

I’m sure 90% of the kids there didn’t know/like the kid organising the festival, but were there for either the free booze that he’d put on, the opportunity to meet humans of whichever sex or sexes they were attracted to and the general promiscuous nature of any teenage party.

We were due to be playing at 11pm which we had assumed would be the headline spot, however we discovered that there were actually 3 bands after us with the show due to finish at midnight. It was obvious that this kid had never put on a show before. A fact that was reinforced as he seemed to come tell us every 5 minutes that our stage time had been pushed back.

It’s not very punk to admit it, but 11pm is actually my bedtime. My adrenaline will usually kick in and allow me to play a set but if I’m at home, I’m usually half-way to dreamland long before Cinderella ever needs to think about leaving the ball.

The rest of the band spent the extra time we had to wait before our set wisely – consuming large quantities of the free alcohol and interacting with some of the humans of whichever sex or sexes they were attracted to. I, being the designated grown up and therefore the designated driver, was unable to consume any of the free alcohol and instead spent the extra time unwisely having a long forgotten argument with a long forgotten girlfriend.

The result of both of these is that by the time we finally got on stage at 3pm, I was full of tiredness and anger which I took out all out on my poor defenceless guitar.

Sometimes going on stage to bash out your anger can lead to a worst musical performance than the early stages of some crappy reality TV show. Sometimes it can be pure 24 carat musical gold. Fortunately, this time was one of the latter. Or at least it was as golden as three chords and the truth can ever be.

The rest of the band are buzzing as well and this set is one of the best we have played in a long time. The receptive crowd of the drunken horny teenagers also helps and Graham fulfils a lifelong ambition of getting the entire crowd to sit down and then jump up when the song kicks in fully.

The kid whose party it is tells us we’ve got one more song.  My punk roots kick in. I’m up way past my bedtime and I’m having a blast. I want to keep playing forever. Whilst I know that’s not possible, I know I can elongate the experience slightly. I tell Graham to tell the crowd our time is running out and ask them if they want one more song or two more songs.

Obviously in their inebriated state they decide they want two more. We play two more. This is the most I’ve ever felt like a rock star.

Story Time With Jake – Nicky Drinks The Bar Dry

Story Time With Jake – Nicky Drinks The Bar Dry

Please welcome to the mic, our bassist*, Jake.

*other than the times he forgot his instrument and/or quit

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: 5 years ago, but fresh in my memory like new snow.
Venue: The Golden Bells.
Crowd: 7. At best.

Time for a lesson people, the kind of lesson that needs to hit home like a .45 to the brain. Whatever you do when you play a gig make sure you do this; get payment up front, especially when you’re playing in a shit-hole.

We’re busy setting up, I’m tuning my favourite bass, the one I play for our first two. She sounds like an angel in a brothel. Ritchie is fussing over his array of pedals, Graham is… doing the usual. He exists at a low-level of panic pre-gig, like a worried mother fussing over her chicks. This minute’s crisis? He can’t find Nicky.

There are seven other people in here and he can’t find Nicky.

I guess maybe the spotlight has affected his eyes. I see Nicky immediately. There he is propping up the bar, cuddling up to it like a new lover. Or, actually, it’s propping him up. He turns and waves, stumbles and rights himself. He looks like a jellyfish that suddenly found itself on land.

Our drummer is hammered.

Nicky sidles up to us and before I can stop him he looks Graham dead in the eye and says… “I love you guys”. Damn, like the motor in our last van, he’s fucked. There is no way he’s gonna make it through a whole set. But that’s no issue because I don’t think Graham will make it through the next sixty seconds. There’s a vein throbbing in his forehead that looks fatal. Nicky somehow seems to catch on, he knows we’re worried about his ability to play, which is impressive because he doesn’t seem to know how to stand at the moment. Then he utters the words you never want to hear from a drunk.

“Trust me. I got this…” then he turns to me, winks and conspiratorially taps the air two inches in front of his nose. “Always get paid first… bar… pays beer. More beer, more pay!” The hiccuping giggle afterwards really sets my mind at ease. Sometimes promoters will pay you with firewater. Nicky thinks tonight is such a night.

Graham starts rubbing his temple in the way I’ve grown to realise means he’s holding back a nervous breakdown. I know why. We’re not being paid at the bar tonight, we got the money when we turned up, it’s snug in Graham’s back pocket.

Graham is the closest to murder I’ve ever seen him when Nicky is saved by the Bells. Because they want us to start playing. I grab my bass, just in time to avoid Nicky stomping it on his meandering trip to the drums. He seems excited by the prospect of hitting them, more than normal anyway… I catch myself thinking maybe it’ll be ok. Stupid mistake, I know better than that. Positive mental attitude is for rookies and cat posters.

What a shit-storm in a cluster-fuck. Sure, Nicky held a beat. Several in fact. Just no one knew what beat. He definitely played the wrong song several times, including a drum solo during Ritchie’s solo. Never try to duet a lead guitarist’s solo, it’s like trying to kick his baby. I think the only thing that saved him from Graham’s wrath was the punishing, death-like, misery-bitch hangover we all knew he’d have the next day. And the fact drummers are so hard to find, like trying to pick out one snowflake in a blizzard.

So learn your lessons people, get payment first, but more importantly, check how the fuck you’re getting paid.

Photo by Kjersti Magnussen via Flickr