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.