Monday, 3 November 2008

The Year of Gigging Dangerously - prologue

This is a prologue to my diary of gigging in the last year.

The Year of Gigging Dangerously


‘So, there’s no PA system, no stage, no microphone stand, and nowhere for me to plug in my guitar?’
‘What do you expect man? This is a coffee shop in India, not Wembley Stadium.’
‘Yes, but when you booked me for the concert, you told me you had everything I need.’
‘Most performers bring their own equipment.’
‘So make the music.’
‘On what?’
‘You understand music, you will work out what to do.’

This is my moment to shine. This is my moment in the sun. I am an international troubadour. I am a wandering minstrel. I can get through this.

‘Do you know any Bollywood covers?’

I try to erect a microphone stand out of the materials before me. I watch Blue Peter. I watch the A Team. I am prepared for anything. I can get myself out of tight spots. I look around for something, anything that might act as a microphone stand. The only thing that might work is a hookah. I grab it and wonder whether I can balance one on top of the another. Not going to work. I take a table from the corner and put the hookah on it. It’s the perfect height. I balance the microphone precariously on top of the hookah. It rolls around a little. I ask for gaffa tape. Surely they have gaffa tape. The owner looks at me and arches an eyebrow.

‘You break it, you buy it.’
‘How much are they?’
‘£200 each.’
‘It’s cheaper to buy a microphone stand.’

When the gig comes around, I ask him what time I should go on. He tells me whenever I’m ready. He won’t introduce me though. I should be professional enough to do that. Ultimately, when the time comes, all the people sat drinking lattes and devouring cakes see is a man with an acoustic guitar stand up and launch himself into a song about how monkeys will one day take over the world. Bemusement doesn’t quite accurately describe the mood. Especially as four bars into the song, the microphone cuts out.

The microphone one of those cordless radio mics, prone to receiver signals from mobile phones, taxi ranks and anything with an electronic signal. The receiver of the microphone is plugged into the back of one of those colourful JVC hi-fi systems that you buy for your teenager because it has lots of flashing lights and digital screen prompts on it. The JVC hi-fi is my PA system. It’s connected to the speakers on the veranda where the performance is taking place. The guitar has no microphone. Thus, anyone sitting inside the café can just hear my singing. The microphone is too far away from the receiver to work effectively so sizzles and fizzes with staccato syllables making no sense. The audience loses interest and returns to cake and coffee.

A helpful granny sat nearby eating an ice cream sundae with her fingers smiles at me dumbly and calls me over.

‘Walk around. Play. Walk around. Play.’ She smiles. I smile back, turning back to the audience who has instantly forgotten those vital first four bars I have already played. I try the microphone once more but it’s still cutting out. People look up at the staccato sound bursts wondering what’s causing them. At no point do they pay me any attention. At this point in time, my ego is buzzing, crying out for attention and the old lady’s advice seems the best. I launch into my most uptempo song, imagining myself as a mariachi man, serenading tables with my song about superheroic justice, political intrigue and Machiavellian pets. People start to tear themselves away from the vice in front of them and listen to me for the few seconds I arrive in their radar. As soon as I’ve moved to another area, I’ve lost them. Cake and coffee, cake and coffee. I can hear the buzz and thump of the speakers gurgling with input and suddenly, a house beat reaches out of the hi-fi system and into people’s ears. They start tapping their feet and smiling. Normalcy has been resumed. I stop playing, my cheeks burning, and my fingers strumming lighter and lighter. Looking inside, I can see the manager of the café sipping an espresso behind the counter reading a newspaper. I de-strap my guitar and walk in, arms aloft in the universal sign for ‘what the fuck man!?’

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I thought you’d finished. That first song you played was weird.’

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