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.

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