Money #2: Two Pounds, No Questions Asked

Money #2: Two Pounds, No Questions Asked

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: More times than I care to remember. 
Venue: Whoever wasn’t paying. 
Crowd: Everyone except our dignity. 

When The Underdogs started out as a band, we rarely charged for shows. This wasn’t because we were particularly ‘punk rock’, or against the system, as such. It’s because I always forgot.

After a couple of years gigging we built up a great local following. We would regularly draw 200-300 people to the local sports bar we frequented, no mean feat for a sleepy little seaside town. For most of these, we were paid nothing. I don’t regret a single one of these gigs. Ritchie does, he hated me for it. But I loved playing, so when asked how much we charged I’d generally shrug and say “don’t worry about it”.

I was, it should be said, an idiot. This is the dumbest thing I ever did in the band, and I repeated the mistake dozens of times. As such, The Underdogs are effectively owed hundreds of pounds in back taxes.

Years later, once we realised that bands ought to be compensated for the hours and hours of rehearsal that go into every show, and once I got sick of Ritchie’s whining about me doing a bad job of negotiating, we started charging for gigs. Which brought about 2 unexpected results; 1 – Ritchie was happy. Ritchie was never happy. Unless he was on his third energy drink of a drive, in which case he would’ve agreed to clean Nicky’s bathroom. 2 – I began to realise how much bands were screwed over by promoters. You see, if you don’t charge for gigs, you can’t get underpaid. It’s a wonderful, ignorance inducing loophole in a very depressing system.  

Allow me to elucidate. Due to an inexplicably complex payment system, an extremely reputable London venue once paid us £2 for a headline show. And we had to argue for that. Having said that, at the same show the toilet in the dressing room directly above the stage began overflowing, resulting in a less than hygienic shower for the front row of the crowd. To whit; the venue probably needed the money more than we did. So maybe £2 is better than being soaked in p+++.

On more occasions than I care to bother counting, we’d travel hours in the ever petulant van (RIP Thunderdog One) to play a show for enough petrol money to get 1/8th of the way home.

I can also guarantee that if you are in a band, you have 100 of your own stories that match these. You’ve probably got worse. To that I say this: we were once booked to play a show at 11pm at a pub on the south coast legendary for physical forms of expression. Upon arrival, it transpired that the sound man had been sampling the local ale for the best part of his adult life and had as such gone AWOL. As had the sound equipment. The locals were rowdy and were in no mood for their music of choice being turned off so a band from out of town could fumble through 3 chords for half an hour.

After a prolonged argument, we decide to confront the promoter and say our goodbyes. The Underdogs were refusing to go on stage. This wasn’t about brown M&Ms or exercising star power, this was about our health and safety dammit. As a result, the promoter apologised, paid us £200 and sent us on our way. It’s the most we’ve ever been paid for the least we’ve ever had to play.

I’d like to think that the ‘universe’ has made good on its back taxes.

Photo by Tax Credits via Flickr. 

Tales from the Ritchie – Never Judge a Punk by Their Haircut

Tales from the Ritchie – Never Judge a Punk by Their Haircut

Time for another guitarist solo. Please welcome Ritchie. Free Bird!

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The day the band needed new underwear.
Venue: One of the most reputable punk venues in the county.
Crowd: Hardcore punk fans.

There are certain parts of the country that have a certain reputation. There are certain punk stereotypes that have a certain reputation. When you put them all together, you have a recipe for destruction but very likely with much less appetite for it than Axl Rose.

We arrived in one of these certain parts of the country that we’d not been to before. Everything seemed to be going well. The promoter seemed nice, he’d even got a crate of beer for us. The venue was well sized and had a reputation for attracting decent sized crowds. The stage was sizeable and the PA system looked loud to our non-technical eyes.

We even arrive in time for a soundcheck and the sound guy is efficient enough that there is time for us to do so, and we are pleased with how everything sounds. Smiling we decide to go outside the venue for a spot of fresh air or, for those of us who are smokers, some unfresh air. We are jovial, in high spirits, full of the joys of spring… and then we spot them.

A bunch of skinhead punks waiting for the venue doors to open. They look like they’ve travelled to the gig via a time machine from the late seventies, at least they would if it wasn’t for the fact that these guys are not youthful. These are old school punks who lived through the Pistols, Clash and the Buzzcocks and seem to be refusing to acknowledge that these bands are dead, defunct or doing reality TV. They’ve probably been coming to this same venue for the last 40 years listening the same music.

Everyone’s mood drops instantly. Sure we’re a punk band. But we’re not “punk” punk. We weren’t even born when London Calling came out. My mum thought that Johnny Rotten was a naughty little boy.

These guys know what they like and if their precious venue books any bands that don’t match their tastes… well they look like they’ve had more than a few fights in their time and they can probably still handle themselves well.

The rest of the band are bricking themselves. As the oldest member of the band, I also happen to be the baldest. I can probably pass for a skinhead who has just not been able to afford a haircut in a couple of months. If it comes to it, my get out is that the rest of the band make me tone down my punk sensibilities. Man.

The doors open, the skinheads go inside. Everyone breathes a momentary sigh of relief as they start to discuss the possibility of doing a runner. As the grown up, I point out the sound is ace, the money is alright, there’s free beer and most importantly, I’ve got the car keys and I want to do it. We’re going to play the gig, even if it could well be our last.

When we get on stage, we don’t see the skinheads and this relaxes everyone, along with the 5 pints of lager that are inside their bellies. We start to play well. The best we’ve done in quite some time. And then, during around the fourth or fifth song, the skinheads come down to the front, there’s a wave of menace and potential violence about them. They form a line and basically square up against us. I think even the stage trembled a bit.

And then they dance.

In fact they spend the rest of our set dancing along non-stop. Afterwards, they buy us all a drink and each of them hugs each member of the band at least five times. They ask us when we’re coming back to the venue and when we tell them we don’t know, they start to hound the promoter.

We have four new number one fans. Which is four more than we had before.

The morale of the story: never judge a punk by their haircut.

Photo by Eye Steel Post via Flickr.

Sh*theads, Turds and the Promoters In Between

Sh*theads, Turds and the Promoters In Between

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: First and last time.
Venue: Football club, minus a broken light.
Crowd: Responsible.

Contrary to a common held belief in the DIY punk scene, not all promoters are Shitheads. Some promoters can also be Turds. There’s a difference. You see, a Shithead will do everything in their power to screw you out of money and/or time. They’ll welch on a fee. Lie about attendance. Charge you to use equipment. Whereas a Turd will just stink.

Lying in between these two extremes are myriad possibilities on a very eclectic spectrum. There are promoters who are Dickholes. Some can be an Anus. You even get Dildos. They will, respectively, piss on you, shit on you or try and fuck you.

You get Incompetent Niceguys. Conversely, you might meet a Competent Asshole. On more than one occasion, we have played shows where the promoter failed to appear. We call these the Groundhog. Imagine having so little confidence in your gig that even you fail to turn up. Would you go see that show?

Neither did anyone else.

Now if you’re a promoter reading this blog, human nature will dictate that you assume I’m talking about you. Trust me, I’m not. If you’re a promoter that has enough love for a music scene that you’re reading a Blog About A Punk Band You’ve Never Heard Of ™, then you’re off the hook. This isn’t about you. You’re awesome. Don’t ever go changing. We love promoters like you. You’re proof that there are also some shiny jewels in this bounteous sea of waste.

And also, can you give us a gig?

So the story goes like this. We are playing a show on the South Coast. The venue is a club by a football ground. We frequent one a few miles up the road, so our assumption is that this one will be just as popular with the local crowd.

Our assumption is correct. The turnout is fantastic. Furthermore, for reasons that elude me, we achieve a perfect storm of competence. Ritchie has Nicky’s intoxication levels just right, as a result the songs are the right tempo. Ritchie’s amp is on my side of the stage, so it’s not too loud. Jake remembered his bass and his tuner which is unprecedented. And I only had time for one beer before the show, so I remember all the words and keep the talk in between songs to a skeletal “hello” and “thank you”. Overall, I rate the show a B+.

At least I would do, but the Shithead promoter has other ideas. It transpires in the madness of the show that a light bulb has been broken. And not just any bulb. One of the really long ones that always flickers in any good horror movie. Shithead has also seen fit to pay for the breakage out of our agreed fee for the show. The fee, minus the breakage, leaves us with about £20 for a headline slot to a full venue.

I wish there was a punchline to the story. I wish I could say I retorted with something pithy, but I probably just sputtered and muttered under my breath and asked for another gig. I want to say that Nicky let a fire extinguisher off in this venue, but that was another time in a venue that just didn’t deserve it. I wish I could say Shithead listened to Ritchie’s excellent reasoning that perhaps docking our pay wasn’t the moral or ethical thing to do, but  I think the guy just really liked his strip light. I’d hoped that Jake would explode in boundless rage, but on this occasion I’m sad to say we just got screwed. So that’s it. Tale over.

The moral of the story, to paraphrase Henry Hill, is that sometimes you just gotta take a beating. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m just kidding. Nicky took a shit behind the bar.

Photo by Exile on Ontario St via Flickr.