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Friday, 9 March 2012

Babies, Batman and banging in to people

You’re a musician. You’re having a baby.

It’s happened again. Following a recent gig offer I got this reply, “Sorry, we’re not gigging for two months. Our guitarist is having a baby”.

Two. Months. Eh? There’s a quarter of a million babies born every day.  You can’t tell me that’s half a million months off. 

It’s a different world these days, supportive and more in tune with parental needs, and for the better too.  I was there for the birth of all three lovely daughters and wouldn’t have missed it for the world but when the first two arrived, on both occasions my (ex) wife’s father did the hospital taxi bit.  During the run-up to No 1 daughter I went to work and rocked up later. For No 2 gift-from-God I had a gig and got back in at 3am just as the midwife phoned implying some urgency, but I fell back asleep for a while.

And for No 3, I was actually able to drop the better half off myself, then promptly dumped the car and headed round the pubs of Brid. I was tracked down in the nick of time, mid-G&T, in the Half Moon on Prospect Street. No mobiles in those days, they had to try hard.

Of course, that was in the days when men were men, sheep were nervous, a vegetarian was ‘vegetable’ misspelled, and ‘gluten allergy’ was a green man on Star Trek lobbing polystyrene rocks at Kirk and Spock.

And, of course, the postscript to all that is she left me and in case you’re thinking NOT SURPRISED she took the money and left me with the kids.  But it did set me thinking about no-shows, I’ve had them all.

From the usual “Our van has broken down / run out of petrol / collapsed under the weight of sandwich boxes and Fanta bottles” to “The drummer has broken his wrist”.  Not by drumming, mate.

My favourite was “Sorry, musical differences”.  It was a solo act.

In 2001 I booked a North West band, generally hailed as the first of the ‘guitar group revival’, six mates who shambolically but in great style welded 60s psychedelia with folk-rock and indie.  They were brilliant (and still are, playing in big venues and high up on festival mainstage bills), the public agreed and the show sold out.

At 5pm on the day of the show I was told that one of the singers had a sore throat and was unable to perform.  These things happen but without the benefit of social networking etc I had to stand on the front door for two hours refunding many disappointed customers, “Watch the listings for the rescheduled show!”.

Hastily rearranged for a fortnight’s time, again we sold all the tickets (a little faster this time) and on the day waited as usual for the band. And waited. And waited. And then, once more, I found myself standing on that front door refunding ticket money except this time without an explanation, “Er … they just haven’t turned up. Sorry”.

Just as I got to the office next morning, the phone rang and it was the agent, “Hi Tim, just checking to see if everything is OK for tonight!”.

“It was last night”, says I to a long silence at the other end.

“F*ck. It was. I’ll let them know. Sorry”.

The band finally played a month later, tickets were £1 and I paid them £25 petrol money but I’m still a fan to this day. On a side note, the very wonderful Hope&Social (then Four Day Hombre) were first on …

Similarly with a matinee (afternoon) show on a May Bank Holiday Monday 2005 featuring New Jersey rock band Armor For Sleep.  The agent forgot to tell them it wasn't at night and when my No 2 at that time, Mark Walker, now of Kilimanjaro, phoned the tour manager at 11am to ask when they’d be here for soundcheck, sure enough they were all snoring in a London hotel.  Cue a bit of M1 chicanery and in double-quick time three hours later they loaded in after the supports had played and went straight into their set.  Heroic stuff.

Fast forward to a Sunday night late September 2007 and for the princely sum of £100 I had booked a young, fragile and prodigiously talented Laura Marling, along with her chums Noah And The Whale and King Charles on support duties.  Come the time for Laura for appear I was told our headliner was unwell and so NATW bravely filled in.  There were just over a hundred folks in the venue and I think we all knew we’d missed something special.

I'm sure it's not a girl thing but on a Sunday night late November 2005, yet another tour bus had just done the familiar nervous reversing manoeuvre down the back lane (Bus Driver: “It’s physically impossible to get down there”; Me: “Get on with it”).  It contained a North London female rapper and grime artist more famous recently for showing us on a national TV reality show (Celebrity - I don’t think so …) just what a spoiled and high maintenance madam she really is.  The show had sold out but our tuneless darn-wiv-tha-kidz bird put her head briefly through the back door and decided she was too ill.  The show went on, regardless, and the supports saved the day.  The tour bus was still there the next morning.

Of course, there have been a few “I’m not coming out of the dressing room until I get another crate of lager”, to which my answer is always “Cheerio, then, don’t think you’re getting paid and you now owe me £50 for everything you’ve consumed so far. I’ll be keeping your gear until you do”.  The show goes on.

Blues band Champion Franny Eubanks drove for ten hours over a snow-bound M62 to get on stage at 10.45, bloody heroic.  Not quite so the many rap artists booked for an occasional hip hop event Beatsiality.  Oft was the time that a wheezing W reg 2-door Ford Fiesta would rattle down the back alley, exhaust scraping the floor and suspension groaning under the weight of four or five twenty-stone black blokes from Brixton, arriving at nearly closing time just as everybody else was preparing to go home.  And that’s if they turned up at all.

And of course sometimes gigs just go wrong or don’t happen.

Pete Docherty was booked, sold out and his agent e-mailed at 6pm on the night of the show to say he was unwell.  I suppose it was a bit of trek up from London only to return the next day.

Local band Kid Ego lived up their name, or rather the manager did. “I’ve been in th’business twenty years lad”, he said to me.  “How come you know f*ck all, then”, says I and it all went wrong from there.  The licensing laws didn’t apply to Kid Ego apparently and when half the audience couldn’t provide ID and were turned away, Mr Daddy Ego pulled the show.  I’m since reconciled with the singer who, I am happy, to say, is piloting an excellent band, A Joker’s Rage, that I’m still booking to this day.

Around that time we also entertained a band who, ahead of their time, had spotted the arriving tsunami of social networking and played on it heavily.  They rose without trace, were pretty dreadful and their frontman/singer majored on introducing young girls to drugs.  There was a stage invasion, the gig was stopped and our hero kicked off very much in the style of … a young girl on drugs.  Recently reformed and asking for a comeback show I had great pleasure in refusing.

Other mishaps occur; the singer from a Bowie tribute broke his ankle before our eyes; Dr Didg skydived over a parking chain and tried to sue us for his own negligence; on other occasions mixing desks sank to their knees, speaker stacks toppled, barriers buckled, ceiling tiles showered us with little white bobbles, and fire extinguishers bounced around, foam-propelled.

The first Alabama 3 show nearly didn’t happen.  The Rev D Wayne Love arrived looking distinctly the worse for wear and Miss National aka the lovely Abbie Marshall took him to the doctors who after one look said get rid of the drink and drugs and you might pick up.

Me. Overreact? Never.  Except when Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster were just about to go on and I sacked our PA engineer on the spot for putting on the wrong music before they went on.  Oops, fail.

Of course, we live in a sue-it world, a place where everything is somebody else’s fault not our own because there wasn’t a sign to tell us to watch where we’re damn well walking.  It’s a yellow triangle world, “Beware, slippery floor”.  Beware you don’t fall over the triangle more like.

In one of our venues, the manager was waving goodbye to the last two customers who were laughing and joking and then fighting …  One of them fell backwards in to the front window which cracked, sending a small piece on to his nose.  The manager, seeing the issue, dashed outside to put on a plaster and sent him to hospital as a precaution.  Six months later, our insurance company still hadn’t settled the claim negotiations which stood at a whopping £40,000.

And at the same venue, a long steep alleyway lay behind, punctuated by a series of drain covers, one of which was outside the delivery door in the back yard. Every week without fail the draymen would dislodge the cover as they rolled barrels up the lane.  And every week, whoever took in the delivery would replace the cover.  Except this one week …

Next door’s café were already covertly dumping their rubbish in our backyard and it was one of these trips to dispose of rotting fish and tins of econo-beans on our premises that a commis chef got his foot stuck in the hole.  How I laughed at the irony of it all until the little sod took us to court.

It must be something to do with spa towns as a barmaid tried to sue us for wrongful dismissal after she got her marching orders for kicking a customer who dared to interrupt her from showing around her holiday photos.  The manager removed a whole upstairs bar one weekend without asking and took down all the custom portraits of iconic blues legends, replacing them with those of his own wedding.  You couldn't make this stuff up.

My theme, such as it isn’t, continues with a battle cry, heard up and down the land in venues big and small, full and empty, clean and smelly, well run and not.


A phrase bellowed not by your average acoustic troubador singing his plaintive bedsit songs of being dumped, or sailing back o’er the sea to see ‘Molly who’s been waiting for me’ (like hell she has)  but by T.H.E. M.E.T.A.L. B.A.N.D.

Why exactly do they say this?  As it passes whiskered chops, most onlookers are thinking, “To be honest, mate, trashing the joint is all very well but they won’t let me back in again.  A pint in here costs four bloody quid and if you don’t get on with it soon I’m going to miss the bus.”  Lads, they didn’t feel like kicking ten bells out of the telly at home so they’re not going to start now.

And weirdly enough it was an entirely different gig and an entirely different genre, but a very similar crowd behaviour, that got me thinking.

The impossibly monickered Dananananakroyd (think Batman theme meets Ghostbusters thesp) were until recently a Glasgow indie sextet that took a stance against everything ‘indie’.  The fashion haircuts, the earnest dissection of Franz Ferdinand b-sides, the lot really.  The difference being they had a skipful of terrific songs all delivered at, literally, breakneck pace by cracking musicians and two skinny frontmen hopping around like velociraptors with their haemorrhoids on fire but, and this is crucial, with a smile.

They recognised that not everybody comes to a gig on a mission to GO ****ING MENTAL.

At intervals they actually spoke to the audience not in cliché (have you bought our new album yet, it’s hot up here etc) but, and it’s a very specific skill this, as if they were real people.  And about halfway through the set, there was a small (it always is small) outbreak of slam dancing. 

If you didn’t already know, one of the most popular slam dancing moves is pretending you’re a ninja fighting in your own circle, kicking and spinning.  Geddit?  See that big semi-circle at the front of your local hardcore gig?  That’s where 99% of the audience are avoiding getting their drinks knocked out of their hands by three or four boys-without-girlfriends.  Those at the front can’t really watch the band.  Nobody else can get close enough to feel the volume or the power or the sheer energy the band is generating.  The band don’t say anything because it’s not cool.

Lads, go do that at the back of the venue where you don’t get on people’s nerves.  Or go and do it in your local pub and see how long your nose stays intact.

I’m happy with moshing, circle pits, the wall of death.  Everybody is joining in, picking each other up, smiling their heads off.  It’s what it looks like – bloody good fun and what a gig should be.  Not a few berks windmilling their arms and throwing punches.  That’s not fun.

Back to my point, and the small outbreak of slam dancing at the gig …

“Look guys”, said one of the singers, “Pack it in with the slam dancing.  Look after each other, nobody get hurt, OK?”.  And the guitarist weighed in with an altogether more honest appreciation, “It’s really good fun for a few of you but shit for everybody else.  So stop it”.

And stop it they did.  And the gig just got better, not dominated by a few but enjoyed by everybody.   What a great band and what a great night.

About ten years ago, surfing was more tolerated than it is now.  Not a gig went by without some idiot tumbling on to the stage knocking mic stands, pedals and bottles of water flying.  Most small venues don't have a 'pit' as such and Fibbers is no exception and I watched in horror as a lad landed on the stage, his head wedged firmly between two monitors. How his neck wasn't broken I'll never know.  Some venues operate a three strikes rule, that just means everybody does it twice.

And on the theme of domination by a few, my favourite venue is being dominated by just two people.  One at the front and one at the back.

Two hundred yards to the front a resident has decided he/she doesn’t like the noise.  Only on certain nights, mind.  The nights he/she’s not going out themselves.  Noise meters held close to his/her flat, never mind inside, stoically refuse to flicker.  Buses, taxis, emergency vehicles and go-faster boys whizz up and down.  All around are takeaways, restaurants, pubs, people going about their business walking home chatting, laughing and, yes, sometimes shouting.  But the almost non-existent noise from the venue is just too much for him/her.  And being a large building, it’s a sitting target.  You can’t ask every driver to turn his engine off and coast past, or close the city down at 9pm, or gag every human being so what do you do?  You go for the music venue that’s what.  Except when you’re actually in it of course ...

And so, bemused people stand queueing outside, admitted two by two so a complicated series of door opening and closing can be executed.  People standing outside smoking have to be shooshed.  They’re not shouting, vandalising anything or breaking any laws.  You can’t talk on a phone outside for the noise of the street but not a peep must come from the venue.  And it’s bloody ridiculous.

And at the rear, tens of thousands have been spent by the venue on extra soundproofing and a complex series of door opening and closing so bands can load out. Not needed for the last nineteen years but all of sudden a priority because of, yes, one person.  Who has decided that alongside quick access to Marks & Spencers and every amenity 24/7 there should also exist a Constable landscape outside their door.  A Dedham Vale of towering oaks, water-driven mills and hay carts struggling across shallow streams.  And this person has a history; ‘relocated’ (I am told) from a beautiful outskirts village where he took a house next to pub, the heart of the village and it’s peaceful population, and started a stream of protest about the noise.

But it’s not their fault.  Somebody gave them the impression that the full might of the law will back their quest to live in a York circa 1430 where the only noises after dusk were the occasional flutter of fowl’s wings on the village pond, the crack of a twig on the fire and your neighbour having it away with the livestock.

And it’s not the fault of the council officials, either.  They’re just as afraid of their jobs as well, and the endless paperwork and e-mail answering serial complainants with far too much access to regulations and far too much time to interpret them.  They’re just doing a job.

Maybe getting pregnant is the answer after all.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliantly written and laugh out loud funny, I always look forward to this blog getting published!