Monday, January 30, 2006

Tonight we have a gig in Felixstowe - I will leave home at approximately eight o’clock in the evening and get home at two in the morning. I will be paid thirty pounds. In between times, the following will occur….. Thursday, designated pub-rock day in any reasonable licensed establishment, gives way to a ritual. Gear in car, quick idiot check around the front room to ensure that there aren’t any stray stands, bags, leads or guitars kicking about (always embarrassing to turn up in, say, Wetherden without a serviceable amplifier, I find), and then off to a local takeaway for pre-show sustenance. There is a gentle rhythm about fast food fursday – the gravelly tones of Bob Harris, the reassuring plumminess of Paul Jones, and the intractable incompetence of Darren, who if he’d only concentrated a bit harder at school may well have mastered simple addition and subtraction as well as grade three button-pushing. As it is, the furrowed brow on being given the correct money is always a joy to behold. Having said that, he is at least bright enough to be in a job that pays at least the minimum wage, gives you free food and provides a uniform, and at this juncture it occurs to me that mine doesn’t. 

With the car smelling nicely of a unique blend of herbs and spices, arrival at the venue is heralded by the flashing hazard lights of one estate car, a five door company job and a rather worse-for-wear Astra. The band’s all here… According to who’s been the most progressive in setting up, leads are uncoiled, stands assembled, speakers positioned and four-way extension leads readied for use by unspoken volunteers. The drummer is, as usual, excused from all this – engaged as he is in the arcane ritual of tightening, tweaking, arranging and hitting which heralds the first triumphant roll around the kit - usually with an attendant shudder from the bar as our patrons realize how loud it’s going to be. Already, four of them are singing along with the rhythm, football shirts and baseball caps flapping in the breeze generated by the pounding of the mighty Tama bass drum. A round of drinks is ordered and paid for – one lager, one lager tops, two Guinness, a Budweiser – under a sort of informal rota system. This round will get progressively cheaper throughout the course of the evening as we switch to lime and soda, generally thought to be the cheapest way of accepting liquid sustenance without actually refilling a bottle from the tap in the toilets. 

We look around and nod at vague acquaintances – there are the couple that follow us around to most of the gigs, quiet and appreciative, there’s Mark, the heavily-tattooed and quietly threatening ‘internal eviction technician’, there are no wives or girlfriends on this trip. While never quite plumbing the depths of some of the capital’s more insalubrious dives, tonight’s venue is prone to drunken and clumsy late night chat-up lines, not all issuing from the stage, and after the last time when two of our girls pretended to be lesbians in order to deflect the attentions of the local Don Juans they have declined further trips out – the girls that is, lothario central is looking to be as well-staffed as ever this evening. The lezzing up just encouraged the lads anyway, apparently, and even before the relaxation of the licensing laws this was a late gig for a school night. Now it’s even later. Naturally, the money hasn’t gone up commensurably. Times are hard, apparently.
The gig itself is a pleasant surprise – we haven’t played since well before Christmas and any rehearsals beyond front-room get-togethers are anathema to us, as indeed are soundchecks and, frequently, set lists. We are, however, gelling well tonight – it always helps when the drummer is on a high (quite literally on occasion) and the sound is full and balanced. The singer is playing my Les Paul tonight as his Epiphone is “making odd noises” (I decline to comment) and he seems to appreciate it’s grade-higher playability. I’m thrashing away on the back up Tele copy and our amps are pushing out a wall of sound both full and delineable. It feels good – especially during the nearest we come to close-harmony lead work in a torrid “I Fought The Law” where the alternately wailing and keening guitars combine together, and just for a moment we ARE The Clash on Broadway. We have a flexible and easy-going approach to playing the songs on the list in order, depending on how the mood (of both us and our audience) takes us. The bass player has written down a song title that doesn’t actually exist outside his imagination, and by the time we work out what it’s supposed to be, he can’t find the words in the safety-net big folder of words we carry with us at all times either – we skip it. 

At half time we (as usual) have over run the allotted three quarters of an hour set. I get to the bar and order a round of drinks, there is a woman who wants to talk to me. “That was great”, she starts. “Thanks” I say, wondering when the ‘but’ moment will arrive. It isn’t long. A great number of conversations conducted between band members and their public are based around the preposition that they (the audience) know what they (the band) should be playing far, far better than the group do themselves, whether it’s introduced with the deliberately self-effacing “Well, I don’t know much about music because I don’t play….” or the rather more confident “I see bands all the time, and…” which generally infers that “You owe me a living young man, so you’d better listen to what I’ve got to say – without me you’d be behind the counter in KFC”. This disregards two vital pieces of information – three if you accept the fact that no-one calls me ‘young man’ except in an ironic sense these days – point one; no-one dreams of working behind the Colonel’s counter (not even Darren, I’ll wager) to the point where they pose in front of the bedroom mirror, with a tennis racket standing in for the basket you get the fries out of the fat with setting the kitchen timer to go off every ten minutes in order to complete another imaginary order and so, no, specifically if we weren’t popular enough to make it worth the management hiring us in order to sell more drinks (you, sir, got in free, didn’t you?) I wouldn’t actually be behind the counter asking if folk wanted to max their zinger burger meal, I’d be at home, probably with a nice glass of red, on the sofa idly wondering whether I could get away with avoiding the washing up in order to watch the end of Location, Location, Location and ponder if Kirstie Allsop ever uses that big scarf for anything during loveplay. 

The second vital point to note is that if I hadn’t been having this conversation I’d have caught the barmaid’s eye by now and would have got a round in and been happily into my second Marlboro Light of the break. This interruption is of the former variety, and conducted with a very slightly slurred, yet insistent tone. Despite our crowd-pleasing set-closing triumvirate of numbers by Razorlight, Snow Patrol and Coldplay, my new best friend wants to know why we don’t play ‘House of The Rising Sun’. “We don’t know it”, I begin before realizing this is a well-worn and hopeless route to take. Sure enough, she’s already humming the intro at me. “Well”, I start again “I know how it goes, but we don’t play it”. We, apparently however, should. The feat of logic behind this is that it is her favourite song. Does she have a copy of it at home, I ask? It transpires that she does. A gentle rejoinder that perhaps if she listened to it on headphones in the comfort of her own lounge later on after the gig she may glean more enjoyment from it than if we were to attempt an unrehearsed wade through it cuts no ice with her. 

We should play it, we should ideally play it in the second set and we should let her sing it. The other forty songs we had lined up to play over the course of the evening are transparently inferior to this, the one, true hit, which “no one else plays”. There must be a reason for that, I suggest. After ten minutes of these sorts of exchanges, I make a radical suggestion – if the need to hear this song played live in public is so pressing, perhaps she should pursue the option I did, that is learn to play the guitar, then form a band and she’ll be able to play it whenever and to whoever she liked. “But I don’t play guitar”, she counters. “Well I do and I think it’s shit”. The encounter has not gone well. I return to the group to find The Other Guitarist in conversation with a hippy. “So, you do a set, and then we do an hour, and then you go back on to finish the night” he is saying. “We”, it transpires, are a hundred-piece samba band. T.O.G. seems about as happy as I do, but he’s a better actor. The second set brings more noise, more list-skipping, more badinage – we’ve all known each other for long enough that there’s a real sense of the gang on a night out in the banter. When it works, it works superbly - (conversely, when no-one’s in the mood it can be embarrassingly stilted) – tonight the subject under onstage discussion is singing drummers (we have one). 

Just about the point that the whole edifice is about to crash down around our ears we click into the intro and are away as one. It looks incredibly rehearsed (we were once accused of scripting the gigs) but it isn’t, and it’s glorious to be swept away in the midst of it. There are joke intros to songs we have no intention of playing (always a mistake – that way lies more “You should really have played…” but we, or specifically I, can never resist it). Before long it’s encore time. They know we’re doing one, we know we’re doing one, we just have to hang around long enough to be back on before the applause dies down and the conversations resume. There’s a pretty girl dancing at the front (she really has taken the mantra to take her Mama out all night quite literally) who has been cheering and clapping all night and so we listen to what she wants, and it turns out we do have a Who number in our back pockets. The drummer is looking tired – it’s been a fast-paced end to a long evening. We’ve got just enough gas in the tank for a drawn-out “Fat Bottomed Girls” – The Singer morphs it Bono-like into “Helter Skelter” half way through the outro – we haven’t rehearsed this, or even ever done it at a previous gig, but we’re going with him, there are harmonies appearing, riffs being bended to fit.

 It ends with a bang, and the first thing after that are that the sliders on the P.A. amp come down (there’s always someone who wants to carry the evening on, and microphones are like catnip for drunks). The Mama from earlier thanks us for her Who cover. It’s her birthday. I get home, it’s two in the morning, I’m still buzzed from the gig and there’s a whining in my ears that’s not Neil Young. I get a beer from the fridge and turn on the laptop.