My first gig
If you haven't decided to scroll all the way to the bottom of my set list archive or read the paragraph at the top of it, you won't know that my first gig was a one song slot at a show called World's Got Talent in Copper Rooms 1, Warwick SU's main music venue.
Of course, this would be ignoring my performances at my Year 6 carol concert in my town's shopping centre, the rendition of Mary's Boy Child at a Christmas concert with my Year 7 keyboard club, the Warwick folk society Christmas ceilidh in 2012 which I was late to because it was on a bit of the campus I had never been to before and the time I sang the French alphabet to the tune of Jingle Bells in a French lesson.
Anyway, this is the story of what I count as my first proper gig.
Some time in December 2012, I applied to audition for 3 different gigs. At the time, I only played an acoustic ukulele and I had a few songs uploaded on Soundcloud. The first audition was for some sort of cultural festival and I never heard back from that audition. I then auditioned for the campus pub's acoustic night.
I auditioned with "Never Told You", a song I wrote when I was 15 which I was convinced would be a hit some day (video to the right), and a mashup of "Baby" (Justin Bieber) and "Friday" (Rebecca Black). Two very energetic performances, which was my style at the time. What didn't help was that I practiced for a solid hour before walking to the pub and I was completely out of breath. Again, I didn't hear back from this audition.
A few days later, I prepared for my final audition, which was in a classroom in the engineering building. I turned up and went through "Never Told You", but kept stopping and laughing because I was nervous. I got to the end of the second chorus and said 'yeah, that's what it would sound like'. The panel seemed impressed for some reason. I then showed them the version of "Never Told You" on YouTube and they seemed to like that and offered me a spot at the gig. I felt as if this was the beginning of some sort of journey. They seemed to be particularly impressed at the fact I wrote it when I was 15.
The day of the gig (30th January 2013) arrived - the performers were told to meet at 10 am at the Students' Union. I arranged with my tutor to leave my 9 am tutorial halfway through. I was drawn to perform last, but due to other people not turning up in time, I was bumped to perform 5th out of 8 acts. One of the people organising the event introduced me to the MC by saying that I had a really good song, which was a little confidence boost. None of my flatmates were able to make it. I can't remember if I invited them but either way, I was without support.
There were no sound checks planned and I had never used a microphone on a stage before so I asked to get a quick check, which ran over into people coming into the venue. These people were going to be sitting down, which worried me - how were they going to dance to and get involved with my song? I also found out that there were three judges who would give feedback after each performance.
Opening was the University Salsa society, then a guy singing a cover of Daniel Merriweather's "Red", then a girl playing an acoustic cover of Never Gonna Give You Up, then a guy downing a litre of beer in 30 seconds (he actually completed it in the last 3 seconds, which was quite impressive).
I was up. Nerves set in. I stepped on stage with my ukulele and two mics were positioned by my mouth and my ukulele. I realised that I probably should have made some sort of strap to hold my ukulele. I took a quick blurry picture (below). The MC introduced me: 'This is Eli Gumble, get ready to groove to his voice!' Wouldn't have been my choice of introduction but c'est la vie. This was it.
I played the introduction to "Never Told You". The chords kicked in. The vocals kicked in. At this time I didn't know that breathing was helpful when singing so you can imagine what effects that was having. I feel sorry for the sound guy, I was moving all over the place. After the second chorus, I knocked the ukulele into the lower mic, then said 'sorry'. Through all of this, I couldn't see anything past the mic; it was so surreal. This was either because I was focusing on keeping my mouth in the right place or just nerves blocking everything else out. I made it through to the end and there was applause, which was nice.
The leftmost judge then picked up the microphone on their table. She began to speak: 'Erm...'
'Ok, here we go,' I thought. Their comments included that they liked my hair flicking (check out the video earlier in this post; that was basically my performance) and the rap verse. They also said that I shouldn't say sorry on stage when I'm nervous, to which I explained that I knocked the ukulele into the mic and thought it made a noise and said sorry again. I was still very nervous. I walked off the stage to a milder round of applause.
The remaining acts were a dancer, a gymnastics performance group with a very well-produced backing track and a girl doing an acoustic cover of a Valentine's Day themed song.
The judges deliberated and I still felt confident that I would place well because I was the only person who wrote an original song and I had a dangerously unrealistic level of confidence in myself.
The results were announced: gymnastics guys third, guy singing "Red" second, Salsa Society first. My stomach dropped, I felt awkward, I mumbled some congratulations to the guy who came second when he came up to me. I quickly packed up my things and went back to my halls, which were about a minute away from the SU and went to sleep for a few hours. I later decided that I wasn't at the point where I could play on stages like this and vowed to focus on posting things on YouTube and SoundCloud for the time being.
It was definitely a learning experience - a well-needed lesson in humility and a full-on highlighting of my limitations - I can thrash around all I like on stage but if I'm just playing an acoustic ukulele, I'm not really making epic groundbreaking rock music.
I didn't play another gig until October that year, where I showed up to an open mic with my ukulele and got complimented on the song I played by a few people. This led to my joining and continued membership of Warwick Bandsoc.
Eventually though, I made a return to the big stage in Copper Rooms 1 at [spoilers] the final of Warwick Bandsoc's Battle of the Bands in 2016 where I played to an audience of a few hundred who were all standing up and got a very nice reaction. Possibly because I decided not to include "Never Told You" in my set.
I'm thankful that I got the opportunity to play World's Got Talent. The level of detail I still remember about that morning just goes to show that no matter what follows, you never really forget your first.