Battle of the Bands

Battle of the Bands

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Judgement Day.
Venue: The trenches.
Crowd: On our side.

There are two types of Battle of the Bands. One is a festering wasteland of arduous futility created in the degenerate filth laden mind of someone who truly despises musicians. The other is worse.

The misconception is that there can be merit in judging one band to be better than another. The problem for me is that punk is about community. You forge friendships in the damp infested basement shows that transcend prejudice and defy societal boundaries. There isn’t a band we’ve played with that I’ve disliked; Nor a musician I’ve shared a stage with that has deserved anything but respect and love.

Except The Monochrome Rainbows. They were insufferable.

Over the years, The Underdogs have had the distinctly underwhelming privilege of experiencing both types of battle of the bands. We’ll call them, for the record, Type Sh** and Type Sh**ter. The latter, and by far worse of the two, is judged by the fans. When you reduce this model to its component parts, what you essentially have is a competition judged on how many friends a band can drag to a show. The problem with this model for us is that The Underdogs have no friends. None that like us enough to come along to a show to raise their hands at the designated time anyway.

Type Sh** battles on the other hand are judged by a panel. Whilst this is indeed the least flawed of the two, the caveat would simply be this; the Hindenburg was the least flawed blimp design of the 1920s. We’ve played our fair share of these, but one particular appearance stands out.

The battle was in North Kent. A venue we had not yet seen. We arrive in plenty of time, a miracle in itself. Jake must’ve sacrificed a teeny bopper before we left because this would not be the first time the punk gods rule in our favour.

As I said, punk is about community. Helping your brothers in their time of need. But something about Battle of the Bands just turns people into insufferable f***wits. The atmosphere is frostier than an eskimos underwear drawer, and just as demoralising to our self-confidence.

“Hi, we’re The Underdogs.” We offer to the nearest musician who breaks protocol and makes eye contact.

“Ugh.” Comes the response. Punks aren’t typically known for their witty repartee, but this was going to be a long, conversation-less night.

We are on immediately after a band we’ll call The Monochrome Rainbows. They are what we aspire to be; that is to say, they clearly have talent. By the end of the set the crowd are so in awe they’d follow the singer to the ends of the Earth. The final song includes a guitar solo so technical and dripping with prowess you’d think the guitarist was possessed by a punk rock demon. Conversely, ours trips up getting onstage.  

Relative to The Monochrome Rainbows our performance is a thing of faultless adequacy. We were vanilla ice cream on a Tuesday; fine in the moment, but ultimately uninspiring to the point you’d wonder why you bothered.

The punk gods, in their infinite wisdom, choose to brainwash the judges and award us first place.

Following the decision, and given the restless crowd, we use our own version of eyebrow based semaphore to plan a swift exit. But as we bundle our mediocrity into the car, I realise my bladder has other ideas. As you’ve no doubt already aware from reading these tales, my bladder does not play nicely when full. I make the executive decision to void the contents in a legal place this time, and swiftly visit the little front man’s room.

I walk in and find two members of The Monochrome Rainbows with a marker pen permanently furnishing the wall of the bathroom with some fresh literature. Furthermore, The Underdogs are the subject of the aforementioned critique likening our collective character to that of female genitalia. It occurs to me they don’t like us.

They turn to face me. I open my mouth to say something about the new sweary wall motif, but think better of it. For one, they are much, much bigger than me and disinclined to agree with whatever I have to say, given their assumptions about my personality’s similarity to a sexual organ. Secondly, and most importantly, I’m full of urine and afraid if they beat me up I’ll wet myself.  

But they don’t recognise me.

In the ensuing, panicked wee, I rack my brains to figure out why my rear end is not being irrevocably kicked. I consider the theory that perhaps they think I look like I could handle myself in a street combat situation, but settle on the idea that they probably didn’t bother to watch our set. Ergo, they have no idea who The Underdogs are, just that they were bested in musical battle by them.

And so, The Underdogs gained their second nemesis.

The moral of the story is this; Battle of the Bands shows can get in the sea. The losers always think they should win. The winners rarely deserve to win. And the punk community? Well, that’s the real loser.

And The Monochrome Rainbows. They also lost.

 

Photo by Jakob Jankiewicz via Flickr.

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Story Time With Jake – Graham Alienates the Audience

Story Time With Jake – Graham Alienates the Audience

Jake always plays bass. Jake sometimes remembers what notes to play. Jake never cares. Please give a warm hand to Jake. 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: A school night
Venue: A local sweat-pit
Crowd: Packed, capacity and then some.

Some gigs are golden. Everyone in the band is playing like their hearts are about to burst, the promoter is grinning like a cat in a cream factory and the audience is one huge appreciative mob. These nights are a balm that every small-time band needs, a reminder why we step out each night and put ourselves on the line.

Graham steps up to the microphone, his smile beaming out to the sweaty mass like a lighthouse on a stormy night. The sea of excited music-goers surge forward, eager for his next announcement. His patter has been amazing tonight, they’ve been putty in his hands.

“Everyone having a good time?”

The crowd roars like a hundred lions.

“Who here is drunk? Lemme hear you!”

Another roar, deafening. I let it wash over me and glance down to the set list, two songs to go and we might even earn an encore on this one. Graham holds his arms out to either side, falling easily into a classic ‘rock jesus’ pose as Nicky starts to bring us in with a simple beat. This song gets hard, fast and dirty, like a brawl in an alley. The crowd is gonna go wild.

“And who here…” the mass surges forward, ready for another chance to scream… “still has homework to do?” Everybody screams, then stops. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife called “realisation”. We’re playing to a bunch of illegally inebriated school kids. It’s a Thursday

If you’ve ever seen footage of a zeppelin go down you know how quickly something can go from touching the heavens to a flaming wreck on the floor. The promoter looks stricken, the bar staff go into a panic. We blast through our last two songs in half the time it should take while the mob in front of us stare daggers. Some gigs are golden, but sometimes it’s fool’s gold so I guess the lesson here is don’t look too hard.

Also, no encore.

Image by Mike Lowe via Flickr

Story Time With Jake – Nicky Drinks The Bar Dry

Story Time With Jake – Nicky Drinks The Bar Dry

Please welcome to the mic, our bassist*, Jake.

*other than the times he forgot his instrument and/or quit

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: 5 years ago, but fresh in my memory like new snow.
Venue: The Golden Bells.
Crowd: 7. At best.

Time for a lesson people, the kind of lesson that needs to hit home like a .45 to the brain. Whatever you do when you play a gig make sure you do this; get payment up front, especially when you’re playing in a shit-hole.

We’re busy setting up, I’m tuning my favourite bass, the one I play for our first two. She sounds like an angel in a brothel. Ritchie is fussing over his array of pedals, Graham is… doing the usual. He exists at a low-level of panic pre-gig, like a worried mother fussing over her chicks. This minute’s crisis? He can’t find Nicky.

There are seven other people in here and he can’t find Nicky.

I guess maybe the spotlight has affected his eyes. I see Nicky immediately. There he is propping up the bar, cuddling up to it like a new lover. Or, actually, it’s propping him up. He turns and waves, stumbles and rights himself. He looks like a jellyfish that suddenly found itself on land.

Our drummer is hammered.

Nicky sidles up to us and before I can stop him he looks Graham dead in the eye and says… “I love you guys”. Damn, like the motor in our last van, he’s fucked. There is no way he’s gonna make it through a whole set. But that’s no issue because I don’t think Graham will make it through the next sixty seconds. There’s a vein throbbing in his forehead that looks fatal. Nicky somehow seems to catch on, he knows we’re worried about his ability to play, which is impressive because he doesn’t seem to know how to stand at the moment. Then he utters the words you never want to hear from a drunk.

“Trust me. I got this…” then he turns to me, winks and conspiratorially taps the air two inches in front of his nose. “Always get paid first… bar… pays beer. More beer, more pay!” The hiccuping giggle afterwards really sets my mind at ease. Sometimes promoters will pay you with firewater. Nicky thinks tonight is such a night.

Graham starts rubbing his temple in the way I’ve grown to realise means he’s holding back a nervous breakdown. I know why. We’re not being paid at the bar tonight, we got the money when we turned up, it’s snug in Graham’s back pocket.

Graham is the closest to murder I’ve ever seen him when Nicky is saved by the Bells. Because they want us to start playing. I grab my bass, just in time to avoid Nicky stomping it on his meandering trip to the drums. He seems excited by the prospect of hitting them, more than normal anyway… I catch myself thinking maybe it’ll be ok. Stupid mistake, I know better than that. Positive mental attitude is for rookies and cat posters.

What a shit-storm in a cluster-fuck. Sure, Nicky held a beat. Several in fact. Just no one knew what beat. He definitely played the wrong song several times, including a drum solo during Ritchie’s solo. Never try to duet a lead guitarist’s solo, it’s like trying to kick his baby. I think the only thing that saved him from Graham’s wrath was the punishing, death-like, misery-bitch hangover we all knew he’d have the next day. And the fact drummers are so hard to find, like trying to pick out one snowflake in a blizzard.

So learn your lessons people, get payment first, but more importantly, check how the fuck you’re getting paid.

Photo by Kjersti Magnussen via Flickr