The Picturehouse Big Band are engaged in one of our infrequent forays and soirees, and are headed to darkest Posh North Essex, where we are to appear at the Brigadoonian Bacchanal that is Helstock. A new venue has been sourced, this time in a three hundred and fifty year-old barn which has been decorated with flags, fairy lights, vintage posters, artfully-distressed sofas and - crucially - a mirror ball. there is also a bar, a pool table, table football and a stage, upon which The Drummer has already set up by the time The Bass Player and I arrive, reverse straight up to the stage door, and unload the backline. We have taken the executive decision to go all-guitar tonight, the better in order to avoid trailing leads, overly-complicated set ups & changeovers, and us having to drive all five cars in order to get the gear in. The Singer rolls up shortly after us, relieved to be relieved from his flu-inspired confinement of the week, but still inhaling deeply from a menthol-infused nosegay as a result. It is half past five in the afternoon.
As there is a full PA for this show, we enter the time-honoured routine of line checking everything in order to ensure that our front of house sound engineer has all the tools he needs to curate the best possible sonic experience at his disposal. In practise, of course, this means The Drummer stolidly thumping a kick drum until the correct sine wave of appropriate resonation has been achieved. That is to say, when he makes the low thumpy noise, it doesn't sound like the room has been transformed into a massive oil tank which everyone is sat inside while a baboon hits the outside with a crudely-crafted hand tool. We also do that with the vocal microphones, which is the point at which everyone makes those roadie jokes about not being able to count up to three. There's a lighting engineer one which is much better, but that's like The Aristocrats of crew banter, so I won't share it here.
The barn, splendid as it is, is nontheless intrinsically barn-y, and so as the evening draws in and the mercury drops, the relevance of the blankets strewn faux-casually across the arms of the sofas becomes clear. The Singer is wrapped in a comfort blanket and huddled against the cold. He is informed in no uncertain terms that he resembles, in the vernacular of the times, "A Homeless". Fan heaters purr into action, a firepit outside springs into life, the bar opens. We are faced with the classic conundrum - it's now teatime, there's a hearty buffet of cheese, rough farmhouse bread and Minstrels to sustain us, but we've now got around five hours to fill before showtime. The Drummer and I enter into consultative negotiations around the appropriate level of drinking to pursue. Too little and peak party is missed. Too much, and you get into the sort of scrapes where you can't quite remember which fret your capo goes on, whether you've tuned down for this one in the first place, or if simply falling off the stage might be a good way to distract the audience from the concurrent incidence of the first two examples. I'm not necessarily saying I speak from experience here.
In the end we decide to alternate foaming pints of ale with warming hot drinks. This works well in some instances, in that they are, by their very definition, warming, but the cumulative effect will be felt later when we engage in a rendition of The Jags' Back of my Hand which usurps the original's fairly frantic tempo by several degrees. I am also aided in temperance's pursuit by our sound wrangler, who cheerily lets me know that he has been drinking my delicious Coggeshall Gold since it was (a) nearby and (b) he didn't know whose it was. "No offence" he adds solicitously. By some series of infractions of the laws of thermodynamics it actually appears to be warmer outside by the brazier than it is in the bar. "I should get one of these....what do you call them..?" says The Bass Player. "Flames?" suggest someone helpfully. A small person in a hi-vis jacket takes time out from his parking attendant and glass-collecting duties to throw another log on the fire for me. I make a cheese sandwich and coffee.
At twenty past eleven we hit the stage running, or at least stamping from foot to foot, and launch into some full-tilt boogie. The audience is thinning quicker than my hair, the demands of childcare and the lure of getting home in time to put the clocks forward lending an irresistable pull to some. We play the hits and even manage to conjure an encore, during which the signature intro from Neil Young's Like a Hurricane is surreptitiously drafted into the solo in You Really Got Me. "I'm just having fun!" I say. From the stygian corner over by the cheese, someone counters. "It's not your birthday any more".