Saturday, May 13, 2006

“Sometimes the bear eats you….”

I am rather looking forward to an evening at The Steamboat with the band when the telephone rings at the day job. It is the singer – but not with news I was expecting - that he has finally mastered both the tricky timing for the riff from Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” and the low harmony in Graham Coxon’s “Freakin’ Out” (which are both due to be unveiled before an audience for the first time this evening - we are nothing if not eclectic in our set list choices). Sadly the artist fondly known as Wendell has picked up a gig-precluding chest infection – or at least his physician has advised him to avoid smoky rooms, straining his lungs and heavy lifting, which are pretty much all par for the course in terms of pub gigs. On the bright side, he’s got an official doctor’s note telling him to lie around and watch DVD’s rather than (say) take the bins out so, y’know, every cloud and all that. We enjoy a short discussion on how gentlemen of a certain age (i.e. us) will have an unexplained stabbing chest pain one minute and then the next find themselves on an American website at three in the morning (coincidentally the time at which most heart attacks occur) looking at descriptions of coronary symptoms and trying to remember what CPR stands for.
Luckily, Val at The Steamboat is another pub-running old chum, who refers none-too ironically to Picturehouse gigs as her “Radio two nights” given as she is to mostly providing the youth and punk of our town with a much-needed platform to perform at weekends. There are also the occasional forays into jazz and blues shows, where grizzled veterans of the pub rock wars extemporize at length on (for instance) how much they enjoy living in Chicago, frequently expressing their fondness for The Windy City through the medium of various minor scale solos - you don’t want to be in there when an under-age punk show audience has got a diary date wrong, I can tell you. She is more than likely to be sympathetic to our plight, what with us only playing this evening after we helpfully shunted our last gig around to help her with a double booking. Whether we resolve the situation through swapping some vocals around, throwing in some original songs (The Bass Player, The Other Guitarist and I have parallel careers in bands who are self-sufficient in material) or, and here’s where the touchstone of all bands comes in, the obvious solution – we do “Jazz Odyssey”, I’m sure we’ll pull through.
As it turns out, The Other Guitarist has cunningly constructed a set list which both utilizes the vocal talents of the other members of the group – he has bravely stepped into most of the breach and is due to sing some new stuff, has adopted some others - and retrieved some archived material from the recesses of his memory banks. We start gingerly (this is an in joke for those who know us) and ease into the spaces left by our errant singer. The audience are also easing into the spaces in the pub, and there are plenty of them, and Landlady Val is presumably easing into whichever bar in Brighton she has decamped to for the evening – bugger – her post-gig chillis are legendary, and it seems that we shall go home hungry tonight. That’s the nature of being a performer, I guess – everybody’s got a hungry art. Gradually we stretch out, and a few of the holes are covered – the bass player is donating some fine unrehearsed BV’s, I get to do my Waterboys turn (“Ah’m gonna tug at Ma tetherrr…”), and The Drummer pulls out his “Driving With The Brakes On” party piece. Creditable as it is, it somehow isn’t quite the same, somehow - there’s a gap onstage which can’t be filled simply by bluster and bravado, however nice it might be to be able to hear all the intricacies of my guitar parts in full for a change. The compact and bijou audience are enjoying themselves enormously, as are we, but when they start amusing themselves by trying on each others’ glasses you just know that they’re not quite as lost in the moment as they could be. There is a period of distraction as drunk guy number one starts hitting on first Mrs Drummer and then Mrs Skirky, always a dilemma for the working musician (at least when they called for someone to move a black Corsa as it was blocking someone in three songs into the first set she was still able to handle it without recourse to my driving skills, and at least she didn’t disappear outside with the guy – that’s guaranteed to take the edge off your big solo, I can tell you). Drunk guy number two pulls him away for a pogo as we close the set with The Clash. The guy who wanted to have a go on the drums at half time and did manage it – we are blessed with a patient drummer who encourages all exponents of Le Batterie, from four year olds at weddings to drunks in pubs – has long gone, the whiff of Burberry trailing in his wake. Unfortunately he got a bigger cheer from his mates than we did. There is no encore tonight. I have a bottle of Port at home for some reason. We remake our acquaintance, like old friends do. I raise a glass to The Singer.

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