Story Time with Jake – Last Minute Gig

Story Time with Jake – Last Minute Gig

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: Early enough to never turn down a gig.
Venue: The diviest dive.
Crowd: Far more than we deserved.

Home truth time. Some gigs you should turn down, you need to look at all the angles and figure out if this will be a good gig for you to play. It’s not about the pay or the “exposure” you’ve been promised by that asshat of a promoter. Will the gig be fun? Will you and everyone else enjoy it? If not you should definitely consider a big fat “no”. Another truth for you, you won’t. You’ll play every damn gig you’re offered. But sometimes you really shouldn’t.

We get a call from a friend, Mike, he’s in a fairly popular local band, a bass playing hero much like myself, but the band is splitting up. Which happens a lot. They’ve decided to play one last show, a goodbye mosh, all self organised in an amenable local venue. Odds are it’s gonna be pretty packed. And their opening act just pulled out. Let me make this abundantly clear, this is where you live as an early band, waiting, pleading for misfortune to strike a gig and open up a slot for you. Yeah you’re untested, but they’re desperate. And desperate he was because the gig was in 2 days. Of course we agreed. I nearly reached through the phone and bit his damn hand off for it.

There was one major issue with agreeing to this gig, and in my excitement I didn’t even give it a moment’s thought. We were currently “in between” drummers, Nicky had yet to shamble his way into our lives and spring on us his particular brand of explosive freneticism and our last drummer had moved to the other end of the country. Possibly to get away from us. Two days is not a great timeframe to find a new drummer. Frantic calling of all the beatmen we knew got us nowhere but one day closer to our gig. Which was fast looking like it would be a whole series of nails in our collective coffin. Then we get a little ray of sunshine, a friend called Dan knows his way round a kit, it’ll do for me but Graham was in full panic mode, which he alleviates by demanding we rehearse. The night before the gig. For three hours. At 1am.

Gig O’clock: We’re bleary eyed, no one slept much through nerves and adrenaline. Dan vaguely knows the songs. Ritchie is running on fumes but is excited because he bought a new gig guitar. Downside is it’s right handed and he’s a leftie so he’s currently restringing it upside down. But he seems happy. Graham’s last nerve has been frayed down to a stub and there’s a wild look in his eye. I’m rocking a cocktail of nerves and stone cold dread. None of us drink anything. We need to be sharp to get through this Frankenstein’s monster of a gig. Mike sidles up to us and eyes the tiny space we have to play in.

“Ready when you guys are.”

So never then? I’m 5 seconds from running out the door but Graham stands up.

“Sure thing, let’s go guys.”

Man, he can fake the shit out of confidence.

We set up and forego the pleasure of a soundcheck, everything is set to loud, it’ll do.

The next 20 minutes is an absolute nightmare. The back line is in front of the drum kit. In layman’s terms, our stand in drummer can’t hear a fucking thing that’s being played, so he doesn’t know where we are or what’s going on. This becomes painfully apparent after he keeps drumming for a minute at the end of the first song. A quick and panicked conversation leads to the following stunningly rock ‘n’ roll plan; I have to stand dead in front of him so I can mouth “verse”, “bridge” or “chorus” at him and he can watch my hands to figure out what fucking song it is. From that point on I don’t see the audience that I presume hates us, which I guess is a small bonus.

As if that’s not enough, Ritchie’s lovely new upside down guitar? The volume dial is positioned perfectly so that he keeps hitting it with his forearm on the downstrokes and turning his volume off. He spends his gig looking confusedly at his amp or desperately turning himself back up again. Myself and Dan our drummer are locked on some sort strange miming conversation, Ritchie is eyeballing his volume dial like it said something about his mother so that just leaves our charismatic frontman.

Graham’s account of the gig was like some sort of horror story, like a nightmare you’re afraid you’ll never wake up from. He alone took the brunt of the crowd’s ire. Like a stalwart spartan he stood before them and weathered the looks of disgust and contempt as we fumbled our way through a 20 minute set. By the end he was a broken man, he apologised between every song, sometimes during middle eights and twice over Ritchie’s solo which we only heard half of. His last words into the microphone? “Don’t worry, we’re done.” This was no mere trial by fire, this was trial by all the elements and everything else on God’s green earth.

We didn’t gig for a good three months after that and the next offer we got we rehearsed for a solid week, everyday leading up to it. And we probably still sucked.

Kids, do yourselves a favour, say no to gigs.

Photo by Dineshraj Goomany via Flickr.

Rehearsal Schmearsal

Rehearsal Schmearsal

When rehearsing with your band, expect nothing. And prepare to be disappointed.

Due to Jake’s family ties to the clergy, The Underdogs rehearse in the underground crypt of a Church. On the one hand, this has its benefits. Firstly, we have essentially been allowed to practice for free. The only time the parish council asked us to contribute anything was when they asked us to perform at the church fete. This was only allowed to happen once. And with sound reason.

Secondly, it allows us certain opportunities. That is to say, when inevitably someone didn’t show up, or we are simply bored, we seek entertainment elsewhere in the building.

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened in a house of God.

Date: Practice(s).
Venue: A place of worship.
Crowd: The band. And maybe, depending on your faith, God.

Bombing the Reichstag

When Nicky failed to show up for two months, the rest of us took it upon ourselves to draw a map of the Reichstag on a piece of A4 paper, replete with a waving Hitler. Different locations were assigned numerical values and the paper was then placed on the floor beneath the bell tower.

At the top of the bell tower, there was a trap door of sorts, which opened up to overlook the church floor below. It was, to be blunt, f**king high up. Two band members would then drop tiny screwed up pieces of paper from this trap door, whilst the third stood by the Reichstag and scored points.

I forget who won, but Hitler was definitely killed.

 

Bon Jovi Sermon

Burned into the very fabric of my memory, with little sign of ever disappearing, are the lyrics to Always by seminal rockers Bon Jovi. I put this down to very sound musical listening choices in my youth.

As a result, I have led several Bon Jovi sermons to the rest of the band from the church pulpit. Much like our version of I Spy, it’s very much a performance piece than actual game. What happens is this; I call out, line by line, the lyrics to the mid 90s rock anthem Always. The band replies, from the pues, to each line by repeating it in unison. This continues until a) laughter, or b) Ritchie Sambora’s solo. Whichever comes first.

This past time serves no practical purpose, beyond once again cementing those lyrics into my long term memory bank.

EDIT: Since drafting this blog, Jake has reminded me this game was played with many other Bon Jovi songs, You Give Love a Bad Name being his particular sermon of choice.

 

On the other hand, there have been numerous occasions where the church has worked against us. There are far too many to reasonably take your time, but i’ll share my two favourites with you. 

The Church Bell

For reasons never explained to me, the means with which you sound the church bell is the most nondescript piece of blue nylon rope. Nothing like the inches thick you can imagine a monk dangling from.

Consequently, it is very easy to pull it thinking it’s just a piece of blue rope, simply to see what it does. The answer? It rings the church bell. Loudly. It is, after all, a church bell. These things weren’t designed with subtlety in mind.

Furthermore, The Underdogs tend to rehearse after dark. On one occasion following a gig, a friend was storing some equipment. He probably rang it a good three times before being stopped. It was 1am.

 

It Would Be Nice

The final tale I’ll leave you with involves a special guest.

It is late, the band has been drinking in a nearby establishment, and the time feels right for a quick practice. But for reasons I forget, we cannot access the crypt located underground. Instead, it feels like a good idea just to practice in the vestry, a room located very much above ground. Within clear earshot of several local residents, many of whom frequent the church. And have the vicar’s number, should they wish to complain about a punk band practising at 11 o clock at night.

We decide to have fun with a couple of cover songs. Which we do. At full volume. The vicar himself interrupts us, wearing a demeanour of confusion as much as anger.

We are in the closing phrases of this…

We don’t finish the song.

Photo by David via Flickr.

The Second Nicky Incident

The Second Nicky Incident

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Nicky’s an idiot.
Venue: Nicky’s an idiot.
Crowd: Goddam Nicky.

The first time I wanted to kill Nicky, we were onstage in North Kent. Nicky had just announced he was leaving to catch a train, halfway through a set. This is what we refer to now as The First Nicky Incident.

There are few times in our chaotic and short lived career that come even close to how shameful and unprofessional it was. I think I said as much to Nicky at the time, which is probably why he’s been trying to one up himself ever since.

Now, I want to make it clear at this stage how much I love Nicky. He’s like a little brother. But the trouble with little brothers is that sometimes you want to kill them.

So the second time I wanted to kill Nicky, I was onstage in North London.

When your drummer texts to inform you he’s running late, you can reasonably double any estimation of arrival time. He says 30 mins? Tough luck, it’s gonna be an hour. Stuck in traffic and he’s an hour away? Come up with a plan because he’ll be through the door in 2. Nicky, however, exists in a different time zone.

Nicky once stopped turning up to practice. No phone call. No text. He just stopped coming. Two months later he came back, sat at his kit and practiced as if nothing had ever happened. He offered no explanation, and I don’t think anyone even asked him where he’d been, but Nicky has always been a sort of excitable and distracted toddler and disappearing for weeks without a word seemed to fit the profile.

So, we are opening at an extremely reputable London venue for a ska/punk band called Doodad that has ties to Reel Big Fish. In hindsight, everyone has ties to Reel Big Fish. They’re like the Kevin Bacon of ska/punk. But at the time, this instilled in us a reverence that bordered on embarrassing (more of that another time).

Ritchie, Jake and I arrive in plenty of time, but by now it is 6-30. Nicky told us he left straight after work. Which I find shocking, because there’s no way I believe that anyone would give him a job. In any case, we are due on at 7-30, sharp. Fastidious Promoter skulks over and makes clear his opinion on tardiness. In an effort to not get kicked off the bill, I neglect to fill him in on the history of Nicky’s timekeeping.

I receive a text from Nicky along the lines of “Stuck in traffic. 30 mins.” Which is a problem. Nicky’s concept of time means he could turn up at any point between show time and next Thursday.

45 minutes pass and still no sign of Nicky. Ritchie, Jake and I have set up. Tuned. Adjusted mic heights. Re-tuned. We could’ve learned new instruments in the time we were on stage. By now, Fastidious Promoter is angry. He tells us in no uncertain terms that the show will go on. That is to say, The Underdogs will perform tonight with or without a drummer. This would be an unmitigated disaster; as a band we are haphazard enough, to remove one of us from the equation will only distil our disharmony.  

5 minutes until show time. A crowd has misguidedly formed. It looks increasingly like this will be a punk show sans drummer. Which is unthinkable. It doesn’t matter how minimalist you want punk to be, you don’t lose the rhythmic backbone. Even Slaves know that.

Show time. I’m paraphrasing, but Fastidious Promoter instructs us to play in the very immediate future. We have no choice. Nicky is nowhere to be seen. We step up onstage and I reluctantly approach the mic, which right now feels like a magnifying glass on our anguish. It’s rare that I ever know what to say to the crowd, most of the time I free wheel. But particularly on this occasion, I’m totally blank.

“We’re The Underdogs… kinda.”

This is the second time I’ve felt a murderous rage towards our perennially dysfunctional beat man. I swear I will never forget this feeling. I vow to crush his soul. My endless fury will know no bounds.

And I instantly forget this all as Nicky walks through the door.

Nicky casually walks to the stage with his sticks and cymbals and seats himself to play. If he is aware of how late he is, he doesn’t show it. But this isn’t a surprise. This is the man who stopped turning up to practice for 2 months.

The first song of our set is called “Nicky Nonchalantly Attaches His Cymbals in Silence.” The crowd do not like it. This is probably the high point. But we finish the set and Fastidious Promoter doesn’t officially ban us for life. Relative to some of our shows, I call that a win.

It was a close call. A bullet was dodged, despite being fired by us. But The Jake Incident, that’s a different story…

Photo by Jared Eberhardt via Flickr

The Language of Musicians

The Language of Musicians

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happens.

Date: Never-ending.
Venue: Our life.
Crowd: These idiots.

Musicians learn two new languages when they join a band. The first is an entirely eyebrow based version of semaphore. You can comminute even the most intricate forms of disgust and/or pleasure with the hair above your eyes.

The second is subtext. Musicians don’t say what they mean. We’re an emotional bunch and prone to rage, as such, it’s best to never to be honest. Should you ever meet a musician, or worse still, become one, I’ve translated some common phrases.

Feel free to contact us with some of your own.

Stock Questions

MUSICIAN: What time are we playing?
TRANSLATION: What is the latest possible time I can turn up without you getting mad?

MUSICIAN: Are we headlining the show?
TRANSLATION: Are you gonna make me stay to the end?

MUSICIAN: Are we practising Tuesday?
TRANSLATION: I have a better offer for Tuesday.

Guitarist

GUITARIST: Am I too loud?
TRANSLATION: Can I be louder?

GUITARIST: I’m not sure about the middle section.
TRANSLATION: Can I have a solo?

GUITARIST: Or the outro.
TRANSLATION: Can I have another solo?

Drummer

DRUMMER: Do I need bring my kit?
TRANSLATION: I’m not bringing my kit.  

DRUMMER: Can you give me a hand with my stuff?
TRANSLATION: Can you give me both your hands, your back and maybe your neck too? Also, I hope you didn’t skip leg day because I parked in the next town over.

DRUMMER: Don’t worry, I’ve been practising at home.
TRANSLATION: My spare kit is in the loft and hasn’t been played since trumpets in punk was a thing.

Bassist

BASSIST: What are the notes?
TRANSLATION: Seriously, what are the notes?

Thanks for reading. See you next week. [TRANSLATION: I hope]

Photo by David Whelan via Flickr

Urination #2: My Bladder vs Jake’s Car

Urination #2: My Bladder vs Jake’s Car

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The day of 2 gigs
Venue: Suburbia
Crowd: Suburbians

All my good stories begin and end with my bladder. This is a stone cold fact. What’s also factually indisputable is that my infinitesimal bladder is like the dancing guy from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones; bereft of any actual function, but if it weren’t there I’d know something was up.

For those more partial to a sports metaphor, my bladder has lost every fight it has ever been in. If it’d been a boxer, it would have gone 0-20, retired with irreparable hearing loss and written a memoir entitled “Flow Like a Water Supply, Sting When I Pee”.

To whit: I piss a lot.

In the not too distant past, we played two gigs in one day. You can read about Ritchie’s account of the day on his most recent blog. However, what he left out was the journey between the gigs…

Following the first gig, and enough drinking for a small tour, I am in the back seat of Jake’s car. Ritchie is navigating and perennial napper Nicky is next to me, drooling on the upholstery. It occurs to me that in our years travelling to gigs Nicky is either sleeping, or singing at people out the window. Nicky has two settings; silence and conspicuous.

The venues are about two hours apart. Three if you drive like Ritchie, half that if Jake’s behind the wheel. The speed with which we are going, however, doesn’t comfort Rocky “The Bladder” Peeciano when he decides he is full and needs voiding. From experience, I know Rocky is about 10 minutes from emptying.

I ask Jake to pull over somewhere, but I’m afraid at this speed the stopping distance is about 3 months. In any case, he declines, citing 2 very important facts. 1) We are deep in suburbia, so unless I want to pee in someone’s garden, or up against a stranger’s car, I’m out of luck. 2) He doesn’t want to.

Heroes are only as brave as their villains force them to be. John McClane killed a helicopter with a car. James Bond fought Boromir on a giant satellite dish. Katniss Everdeen killed a franchise with a sequel. Rocky, when confronted with unassailable forces of antagonism, instructs my body to utilize the only lifeline it can. A 500ml lucozade bottle.

I specify the size because I want the reader to fully appreciate the challenge involved in peeing into an undersized container whist in the back seat of a moving vehicle.

“What you doing? You better not be pissing in my car!” Jake snipes.

“Technically I’m pissing in the bottle, but objection noted.” Is what I would’ve said if I wasn’t expelling all available concentration on directing a wobbly stream of urine into a target no wider than a bass plectrum.

“Seriously, don’t piss on my fucking car!” Jake bellows as my aim falters and I piss on his fucking car.

Jake turns a shade of red reserved for really great album covers and begins yelling obscenities found on even greater punk albums. But by this point Rocky is done and the fight is over. I screw the cap on the bottle and hide it in Nicky’s footwell, content that I’ve probably got another 33 minutes before Rocky starts another fight, by which point we’ll either be at the venue or Jake will have killed us with his poor knowledge of the Highway Code.

“PULLOVERIGOTTAPISS!” Nicky is suddenly bolt upright and wearing the look of a man who needs a 2 litre Lucozade bottle. “FUCKINGPULLOVERI’MGONNAPISSMYSELF!”

Jake, knowing better than to argue with a drummer on a mission, pulls over at the first opportunity. Which, it will not surprise you to hear, is a beautiful cul-de-sac with mown lawns, washed cars and swept streets.

Nicky exits the car faster than he drums and within moments, we can hear the steady stream of drummer pee. Against the car.

Jake explodes. “WHAT IN COCKING FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!” Which to put it mildly, is paraphrasing.

But Nicky, ever the pragmatist, maintains composure, looks Jake in the eye and says “What?! I’m not gonna piss on the street. It’s too nice here.”

There goes the neighbourhood, Underdog style.

Photo by Arid Finne Nybo via Flickr