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.