The bar full of John Lennons: Bad gigs and breaks
I haven't posted much on the internet in a long time. I did a short video of myself singing a song with an accordion on Facebook, then before that some photos from my BOTB final gig because it was a year since it happened, then not really anything. I wrote this post in August 2017 and this still holds true.
In real life, I've been doing even less music. My last proper performance (at time of writing) was in April and while it went well, I started a full time job a few weeks later and apart from an impromptu performance at my friend's music video shoot, I hadn't done anything live at all since that night.
I guess you could call it a break. And I think I can trace the start of this break back to one bad gig (hence the title).
Back in November 2016, I was making 1,000 word blog posts every 10 days (well, I did 2) and doing an open mic at The George in Crossharbour every month (well, I did 2). The second of these open mic nights was where it all started to go downhill.
The above screenshot from my set list archive tells you what I played that night. It stands on that page as 16 words in 5 lines, taking up more space than most of my gigs. What it fails to capture is detailed below:
It was a simple enough set - open with a new song called Iceland, play Amnesty, play Sandy and then, because it was the 1st of December, throw in Jose Feliciano's classic Feliz Navidad. Pub loves it, the drunk guy from last time buys me as much orange juice as I want for the rest of the night, I go home a hero.
So the thing with playing songs that you haven't quite finished is that you have to make things up on the fly, which I'm not good at. The thing with playing a song with a pause after a punchline for a reaction (it was a Brexit joke) is that if your audience doesn't hear you properly or isn't paying attention, you have an awkward silence to immediately recover from.
I fumbled through the rest of Iceland, skipping the second chorus to build up the end loop section. I'm good at loop crescendos when I remember what parts go into them and because most of my small amount of practice time went into writing those parts, I pull it off ok. I didn't mention before but this pub had no monitors for the microphones and I don't often do well when I can't hear what I'm singing. This is bad enough when you know your material well, but when this is the first time you sing the word Eyjafjallajökull in public, and you're desparately trying not to mess that up, the rest of the verse suffers a little.
Iceland is over (a statement which their president would heartily argue against) and there's light, golf-level applause. The room I'm in is small and most of the people there are at one table and not listening to the open mic. Great bar-choosing skills, guys. This pub had 2 other rooms where there was no open mic, but here they were making me feel inadequate for not capturing their attention.
For song 2, I do Amnesty. This is a minimalistic mellow looping one with some parts that I've never written down because I can't do sheet music, I just know what strings I pluck and what frets I push. Because I'm now nervous, I can't remember the bass loop part, which is the second thing I play. I get it wrong and almost immediately stop the song, announcing that I'm going to do another one. I've stopped and abandoned songs before during gigs without much reaction. Same is true for now, except there is literally no reaction to this. I take a long sip of water to disguise my discomfort.
I think 'I can bring this back with Sandy because the Sandy intro story always gets a laugh'. Of course, an audience will only laugh at what you say if they're actually listening to you.
By this point, I'm not my normal stage self. I'm operating on fear. This is like those movies where the kid is on stage at the talent show and the light clunks on in the silence while the whole school stares. Except the whole school is talking amongst themselves and drinking alcohol in an East London pub.
Just before I went on stage, I was talking to the girl who I brought as a date and 2 other people who worked at a school nearby. During my performance of Sandy, I looked over at them and they were all talking to each other and not listening to me. That night ended up being our last date - I'm not the kind of person to make not listening to my music a dealbreaker but I found her a bit annoying anyway. The organiser, who remembered Sandy from the last time I played that pub, sang along in the crowd with the chorus. That was nice.
I'm now halfway through the set. You can tell this hasn't gone well because it took 600 words to get to here rather than it being 'I played a song that went well, then another song that went well'.
I decide to go into drastic measures to close this set by playing my emergency cover - Twist & Shout. It's a 60 year old song which people can dance to which has call & response lyrics which are easy to remember and easy chords which I can loop. And it's only 2 minutes long, which is even better in the circumstances which I'm currently in.
It goes ok. There are about 2 people who are doing the responses, then they tail off and I'm left doing John Lennon shouty vocals while the crowd is treating me like how John treated his son Julian and my date is making me feel like Cynthia Lennon when John went off with Yoko.
~ And in this moment, I swear, we are John Lennon ~
Twist & Shout ended with very little twisting and me doing all the shouting. I never did learn how that ending went and I only remembered that as I was about to go into it.
My foresight once again saved me because I had chosen to end with the easiest Christmas song ever - Feliz Navidad. This song has 1 repeating verse and a chorus with only 1 line. Despite this, I managed to mess up my intro, which was going to be 'It's now December, and in Spain, they don't say Merry Christmas, they say [start playing] Feliz Navidad...' but I missed out the bit where I start playing and had to pause a little bit before I did start.
Over the next 2 minutes I think I did to Jose Feliciano what Jose Feliciano did to Sting in this video. There may have been some applause at the end. This happened a while ago so I don't remember.
Sets at this open mic night are usually 4 songs long and before I left the stage, the organiser asked me if I wanted to do another song. I gave him a look that said 'come on, man, we both know that wouldn't be a good idea'.
I went home that night feeling a little empty. I didn't have a good meal before I left for the open mic so that contributed to that, but it was mostly the bad set. I did get to ride the DLR (my favourite train line) on the way back, so it wasn't all doom and gloom.
I wanted to write this blog post closer to the time but I just began to care less and less about music. Over the coming month I had some correspondence with the BBC and Getty Images about clearing a sample for a song on my EP, after which I decided to drop the sample completely, and that whole ordeal left me a bit indifferent to the industry as a whole.
I'm now in a state where I'm drawing closer and closer to finally releasing my first EP - all I have to do is get some artwork approved and schedule some release dates. After that, some gigs should follow - hopefully next time it'll be a room of Sir Paul McCartneys. I'll settle for a room of Ringo Starrs though.