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Thursday, June 8

What a Condition

I scooted out of work into the borrowed red Mazda 323F (M-reg and quite nippy) and sat-navigated my way back to the garage. They'd called me at 3.30 to tell me that the car was ready except for the brakes, which they'd not investigated because they couldn't get the wheels off due to the locking wheel nuts. I told them where the locking wheel nut removal kit could be found and they were charged with sorting out the jammed front brake - which had been giving me some bother, jamming on and causing vibration when I applied the brakes.

As I arrived at the garage, my car was coming out of the workshop and heading for its road test. I hung around, paid for the work (expensive at plenty-of-pounds - about 1% of my gross annual salary) and then scooted off to my gig. I sat-navigated the country-roads route to the M40, rather than go on roads which I'd been hearing about on the radio traffic news on the way to the garage.

The first thing I noticed about the car was that it ran a bit smoother, but there's still a vibration - I believe that that can be attributed to the fact that all four tyres are knackered. Oh dear. More expense.

However, the big thing I discovered is the pleasures of air conditioning. I've had air-con (not to be confused with crap Nicholas Cage movie - Con Air) in the car since I bought it, obviously, but there's a difference between having the controls and having an air conditioner with fresh gas in its system. I was chilly, straight away (indeed on the way to work this morning in a car which was baking hot when I got into it, it was only a minute before I was really cooled down!). This is a great development and well worth the 100 pounds it cost.

So, the drive to the gig last night was pretty reasonable fun. I listened to the radio, including David Baddiel's "Heresy" on Radio 4. I drove on some slightly congested, but non-threatening, country roads. I zoomed along the motorway at barely legal speeds... and some desperately illegal speeds.

I arrived in Wolverhampton at about 7.30pm, which was 45 minutes before I'd been asked to. I parked outside the pub where the gig was to be held. I used my gig radar to decide whether it would be a busy night. Few people on the streets, few people already in the pub, our survey said it was unlikely. I then checked out the room of the gig - presently empty and dark - a nice music venue with a high stage. I changed my trousers, got a drink, played on the pub's electronic quiz machine thing, and eventually collected my guitar and went back upstairs.

I found the organisers miraculously present in the room and I helped set up the sound. In fact, I more set up my own sound, then helped them with theirs. For some reason, my guitar came out of the main loud speakers on first attempt, despite the fact that there were several connections and settings involved, but I was only able to get the microphone to come out of the monitor speaker, despite trying several different permutations.

However, I got to play with a big 24 track sound desk, despite clearly not knowing enough about it to get around this odd limitation, which was nice.

There was a good cast of people to play the gig, with two comperes and the organiser doing a set himself - he usually comperes. I couldn't remember agreeing a fee for the gig. In fact, I distinctly remember agreeing to do it for free... and for 10 minutes only. My expectations were slightly exceeded when my time slot was upgraded to longer and I was put on last. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. My gig radar hadn't really let me down. The room wasn't throbbingly busy, but a pleasant crowd of 20 or so turned up (including the 8 acts). It had a really nice atmosphere and some of the acts were good and some were developing nicely. It was fun.

Going on last had problems for me on this occasion. When it was working, it was great. However, I took to the stage at 10.50, and the audience had seen 7 other people performing before me. They'd also witnessed a long-winded joke competition, a hard-to-follow compere (the wonderful Johnny Sorrow) and... well, from the moment I stood in front of them, I felt that they weren't going to be easy. I had to work for it. If I was being loud and brash, they went for it. At some moments, it was magic. However, if I dropped my energy levels, they dropped with me.

I've said it before, the walk up is deceptively important. You'd think that an audience wouldn't form an opinion until you did something, but the way you appear on the stage is one of the things that they see you do. It's very important. I didn't do it well enough and had to compensate. However, what feels like a lifetime on stage actually last about 9 seconds on the recording, so it didn't seem like I was really struggling when I played it all back.

I tried a few new lines, which was nice, some were spoken, some were sung. I think I need to write a new national anthem, which overlaps something Bill Bailey has already done, but since his was "Portishead sings Zippedy Doo Dah" and mine would be something very different, I think I can safely assume that I'm not copying him... and that maybe his "national anthem" thing was just a convenient way of setting up the Portishead parody.

I really like some of my songs and I enjoy them.

But I really want to be able to make the amusement without the guitar. It feels like it's holding me back. Perhaps if I write some jokes - I've got ideas for them - maybe I'll be able to do them and make people laugh that way. Without a regular gig to use as a place to experiment, it's going to be hard. D'oh.

Maybe the nail in the coffin came last night when a comedian told me that they liked my musical stuff and then named the only other musical act they liked... an act that I simply cannot stand! I don't even consider this person a musical act, which is a shame, because they play guitar very well, but just includes one (terrible) song in their set.

I think we all know that I'm going to remain a musical act for the foreseeable future. Still, I can dream.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. This isn't universally true, but when I've seen someone fail miserably at something in front of me and then later found out that they teach that thing... well, perhaps it's made me chuckle. Perhaps there is a big difference between practical knowledge and academic appreciation. Still, the best teachers CAN.


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