Friday, 19 December 2008

The Unicorn gig

We are asked to be at the Unicorn pub for 6pm to soundcheck. We arrive at 7:15. This is largely because some of us have jobs to leave and/or children to deal with, so we couldn't possibly get there by 6. Experience tells us though that 7:15 will be just fine.

And it is. No-one has started soundchecking by the time we arrive. There's a band on stage setting up, but that's as far as they have got. There is supposed to be 4 acts playing. And when a third band arrives at 8-ish, it becomes clear that we are a band down. This is good news. Less panic. More calm. Longer set?

The booker clearly doesn't give a shit about the bands being well matched 'cos we got a 30-something grunge band headlining, then us - a 40-something English indie/rock band, and a teens to 20-something Strokes/ArcticMonkeys/Franz Ferdinand-sounding-band, opening.

The soundcheck is the usual thing. The room has a tall ceiling so the sound is echoey and muddled. The venue has a vocal PA which is fine cos the amps and the drums are loud enough without miking. We just have to watch our amp volumes a bit. But not as much as my guitarst does - more later.

We follow the youngsters, who have brought nobody. We bring in the most people - 8. There are a few bar-flies, the other band members and a mad bloke that looks like an extra from a street scene in Merlin, collecting the dregs of people's drinks in a jug and pouring himself pints of it all night long, to make up the numbers though.

We play well enough. The area in front of the stage, which could do with about 100 people in it, is empty except for two shadowy figures at the back. The audience remain at the bar beyond. The room is great to sing in, so I enjoy that and my guitar stays in tune, which is always a bonus 'cos I can move quickly from toilet flush end to intro, avoiding uncomfortable silences in the room as I tune up.

We make two noticeable cock-ups but apart from this we play well and are firing on all cylinders. Word on the floor post-gig is that the last 3 songs sound the best. Two of these are new.

I come home depressed though, because of my guitarist His guitar volume and sound has been so inconsistant of late and tonight it is very... too quiet. This is particularly noticeable when he is soloing. IAnd I couldn't tell you how well he played, 'cos I couldn't hear him. I fail to understand how he fails to notice this.

I realise that I have to have a word with him because it's not the first time this has happened. To be fair to him, it mostly happens at rehearsal where after a set or so, he gets his levels right. Tonight, though, we don't have time to wait for him to get it right.

I still feel grumpy when I get up this morning. I ring him today and tell him he must sort it out 'cos he's letting the side down. I don't like doing it but I am often too forgiving and tolerant of his shortcomings. He is suitably apologetic but has a few technicial explanations hwich are too complicate to comprehend. It should be this complicated. I tell him that I don't care about thee details but that it must be resolved.

I truly appreciate my 3 mates, my wife and her 2 mates, and my guitarist's mates coming out. But you have to wonder, was it worth it? What was that gig for? Who is it for? On one hand I enjoyed it, on the other, I could have done without it. You rehearse and you still make mistakes. The guitarist rehearses and performs with the same amp and still can't get his own sound right.

You go to bed. You can't sleep. You wake up in a mood. You write blog to get it off your chest.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

77 minus 70

It's my band's last gig of the year tomorrow night. At the Unicorn on Camden Road. It's free entry if you're around? This is where our new line-up had it's first outing back in December 2007.

That makes a grand total of....
....7 gigs, this year.
That's right, 7.
Not 77, but 77 minus 70.
That's one gig every seven weeks or so?
Is that enough?
Not really
So what you gonna do about it?

Well, we don't just need more gigs, we need better gigs too. I need to crack on with the idea that inspired the Rock-Til-You-Drop site and that is facilitating older musicians joining forces and playing gigs together. This will help maximise attendence. These events can also double as social networking occasions for mature musicians. This will be my New Year resolution. This is my mission for 2009. You read it here.

I have a few friends coming tomorrow night. The loyal few. Maybe they'll be ten or twelve of them. But what happened to the days when you could get thirty or forty people out? Here lies one of the main problems with gigging as a mature musician.

The band got up to speed last night in rehearsal and we've finally got round to including three or four of the newer songs. Thank fuck for that. After two run-throughs we we're firing on all cylinders. We don't get a warm-up tomorrow night, though.

The wife is working late but is coming to the gig. She is bringing some mates too, which is good. I have to let the babysitter in at 6pm. At which point, I have to dash across Camden with my guitar, my 100w Marshall combi and my kit-bag. I put my amp on a trolley and my guitar on my back. Soundcheck is 6:30 - if you believe it?

I shall let you know how the gig goes.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

I want my habit back

"Songs don't tend to come to you if there's no outlet for them. Because I couldn't get any records out, songs would occasionally come but I knew as soon as we had a contract the floodgates would open". Here, here Joe. Joe Strummer that is, on the voice over for Julian Temple's bio-pic 'The Future is Unwritten'

This sums up how I feel about songwriting. I miss the compulsion I had for it immensely. I want it back. But there is not the 'outlet' so the habit, in thrall to the necessity, is broken.

I wrote songs compulsively from about 15 years of age until my early 30s. I have an archive box full of A6 size note books and hundreds of songs to show for those years. But as soon as the gigs became fewer and further between and the sets of no more than 40 minutes in length, so the need for new material greatly decreased.

I am lucky because I was able to turn my creativity to making paintings. I have done this for the last 5 years, but it is not the same. Not for me. To be honest, I'd rather be under contract to deliver a series of albums. Then I could rekindle the compulsion.

But would I have anything interesting to say? (Of course I would!) Is my best work behind me? Should I continue to play the best of my back-catalogue 'cos no bugger (apart from a few friends) would know? And who'd care if they found out that at 41, I was singing a song I had written at 21? Noel gets away with it.

Noel Gallagher (41), in his Guardian Magazine interview with Simon Hattenstone, this weekend, talks about writing songs post-Wonderwall and Don't Look Back in Anger and how this was a time when he was simply "putting out records for the sake of it". This must be a creatively challenging time for successful musicans. You get your 3-5 years at the top and then, apart from the die-hards, people stop caring about what you have to say. You are now rich and out of touch with the people that you touched on the way up. If you are Noel Gallagher, you are also 41. You are married. You are a father. You want to be a responsible one. So there goes your edge. Right?

Well, not necessarily. Because there are mature singers and musicians that creatively appear to make a seamless transition into maturity and settling down. They do this, I think, by dealing with it in their lyrics. And with a less-fickle audience, who continue to be interested in what they have to say. They aren't attempting to sing to the youth. Instead their audience can relate to their songs about the challenges of middle-age. Because there is, of course, still an angst, some anger and fear associated with middle age. I'm thinking of someone like Julian Cope. He managed the transition. I don't know about his latest stuff but in the mid-90s he was singing about his wife and children. He and his music never lost their edge.

Unlike, Julian Cope I'm not making a living from my music. Music slipped a few places from the number one slot it was at for so many years. Like most married men with children, my time is more precious than ever. I do miss the days when all I did, all I wanted or needed to do with a passion was write songs. But writing and thinking about all this has got me to thinking that I'd like to attempt ot focus my creative attention on some songwriting again for a while. In the evenings, when I'm not painting. Regardless of the lack of outlet for new material. Besides, that's just making excuses, right? I could always go and play new songs at open-mic nights, anyway, couldn't I?

So, I'm off to write a song about the fall an institution close to my heart, Woolworths.