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