Two men, seated around a central table, read books quietly. A trio plays improvised jazz in the corner of the room, the low throb of the double bass offered counterpoint by the acrobatic scales dispatched by nimble-fingered men with seriously cultivated beards. A tank-topped actor reflects on his circumstance, and with overly serious intent another man, of indeterminate age, but with distinguished salt and pepper-flecked hair betraying his world-weary mien, explains his predicament. “Honestly, if I see a demo with a fucking Cajon on it, it goes straight in the bin. That or a ukulele. Imagine the two together!” he continues. “I tell you, if anyone created a power duo featuring a cajon and a ukulele, I’d go round to their house and kill them, just to save everyone else the trouble later on”.
Welcome to backstage at The High Barn, premier purveyors of musical theatre and entertainment to the barboured masses of North Essex, and home of Our Beloved Record Company. We are here as part of the monthly acoustic showcase night, which essentially involves a half past five soundcheck, four hours of sitting around and then a twenty minute set (by which time settings on the desk will have irrevocably changed, thus bringing the whole five-thirty soundcheck thing into some sort of perspective from a having tea at home POV) - hence the time-filling manoeuvres described above employed by some of the turns.
There’s always drinking and smoking, of course, and those who have renounced the latter reflect fondly on the smoky dampness that is part of the shared experience. After a period of the former, conversations strike up betwixt journeyman and jobber, percussionist and perfectionist, soundman and shaman; be nice to everyone you meet, runs the mantra, for you never know who they might turn out to be. A guitar case by the kitchen area bears the legend ‘Matt Cardle’. Literally, if you believe Our Glorious Leader, who claims that the erstwhile X-Factor winner now exists in such reduced circumstance that he is forced to live in a guitar case in his parents’ garage.
“I can’t believe”, says bass player Gibbon “That it was over a year a go you told me that knock-knock joke”. “Guess which nationality I am” says the blond guitar player with the impressively groomed goatee. No one can. “Austrian!” he says after many guesses working their way up and down the Scandiwegian map have come from the group. We suspect he has played, and won, this game often. I try to perk up OGL by mentioning a very lovely uke player Mike Scott out of The Waterboys (his official title according to Debretts) has tweeted*. That takes up a few more minutes as we try to guess her name. I would say ‘remember’, but I didn’t know it in the first place.
Time waddles by. Eventually we are beckoned stageward – for the purposes of the business of show we walk out of the side door, round the side of the venue and back in through the stage door – luckily it’s stopped raining. Twenty minutes later and we’re off again travelling the reverse route. “Language, Timothy” OGL mutters at one point during a lengthy stage introduction on my part. Actually, the set may have lasted twenty five or thirty minutes, now I think about it. On the way home Gib and I listen to ELO’s first album in the car. I reflect on the artistic endeavour that took Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan out of Sixties psychedelic hit makers The Move and into the realms of massed overdubbed cellos and flugelhorn solos. “It’s mental” I say.