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