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Thursday, June 1


I wrote yesterday that I felt I was in the crap. There's nothing like a tiredness, coupled with some negative experiences and a sense of not moving, to really stifle one's spirits. So, at 4.30, with a gig in Brighton planned, I left the office with a head that was buzzing with a bit of stress and a general sense of disquiet.

I have four therapies which work well on me:
  • Driving
  • Gigging
  • Strangers
  • Music
All of these were involved in getting me from Farnborough to Brighton. Though a physical journey, it also proved a journey of the soul. Did I really write that? What an arse!

I set my sat nav to avoid the M25 - always a good route decision in my opinion, so the journey to Brighton was about 2 hours on twisty A-roads. That, in itself was pretty entertaining. Entering Brighton, there were plenty of strangers to gawp at, which amused me. The music was provided in the form of Imran Khan's album "Cricket is my muse", a collection of bangra/drum 'n' bass fusion numbers with hip/hop and garage influences. This is, of course, total nonsense. I listened to kd lang (If feel that's how to write her) and also the soundtrack CD of the TV show "Banzai", which is, itself, less of a tribute to the show and more a collection of absolute cheese. If you're ever in the dumps, the sheer pomposity of "Music" by John Miles will bring you out: if it doesn't cheer you up, then you'll at least laugh at it.

Arriving in Brighton, with plenty of time before the gig, I drove round aimlessly looking for somewhere to park. Correction, I drove round with the aim of finding somewhere to park and with a sat nav providing me accurate street maps as I went. That's hardly aimless. It had a very specific aim. However, I had no idea whether I'd be able to park near the venue, so even though I was equipped with technology and purpose, I was still meandering.

I had an hour before the arrival time I was given and two hours before the gig was due to start. Given that I was wearing my work trousers - some delightful brown pants, which are fitting awkwardly now I'm losing weight - they don't know what to do - I wanted to change into my jeans, which I find more conducive to credibility when performing as a stand-up. I wandered over to the venue, had a look around and used the ladies' toilet to change in. There was nobody around, so this didn't matter, and I had the consent of the barman, who was setting the room up.

Once changed I scoped out the PA system. I'm currently worrying about having the right equipment for gigs. I only need a little bit of amplification for my guitar, but there are a myriad of different ways to connect a guitar to a PA system and the way I want to connect is the obvious one, yet so often not provided. The PA system was not up to the job in any way shape or form, but the room was small enough that even my weedy acoustic guitar would be up to the job of filling it acoustically.

Trousers in hand I went for a wander through Brighton. I didn't have my guitar nor any purpose - nor a map this time. I wandered down the street and noticed, with my spider-senses-like-gig-senses, that there really weren't many people about. This suggested that there wouldn't be many people at the gig, but I've been wrong on that score before... just not often. Anyway, I wandered past a busker, who was so good that I chucked him some money. I'm not sure why, but his playing was very straightforward, slightly ethnic, in a european way, and evocative enough to cause money to leave my pocket.

My wander was a saunder around the block.

I went back to the car and collected my guitar and stand, along with my recorder. At that stage I hadn't had the "this gig will be shit" instinct, and so I hadn't decided to leave the recorder behind on principle. I then wandered back to the venue. Arriving there, I realised that there was still far too much time before I was supposed to be going in, so I was just going to walk on by.

I was accosted by a young South African girl, which altered the course of events for the next few minutes. She was one of those street-based-charity-collectors. Reading this back it looks like I'm trying to use a euphemism. It looks like I'm suggesting she was a hooker or a homeless, but she was simply one of those people who attempts to get you to sign up to a direct debit agreement to give money to charity. Spotting this for what it was and pretty much taking control of the conversation by telling her, in advance of her efforts, what she was about to do, I turned my refusal to give her money into a chat. This was all perfectly friendly and above board. It seems that the public-spirited South African school-leaver can decide to become a doctor to work for free in 3rd world countries after a gap year in which they solicit money for a similar cause from decent people. It all sounded very good. After a few minutes of talking about this and not surrendering a penny, the promoter for the gig turned up. He joined the conversation and then made his excuses to go and sort the gig out. I took this as my cue to join him. We failed to get the charity collecting girl (or Clare as she likes to call herself) to agree to come to the gig. This would, as it turned out, have been either awkward or very useful, as no genuine punters turned up to the gig. It would have been maybe a good thing to have a muggle (or non-gig-performer) in the crowd, or it might have been awkward, since those assembled pretty much all knew each other once the gig had started... but I digress.

As we entered the venue, a fellow was arriving with enough sound equipment to quell any fears I might have had about being plugged in. He had a mixing desk and speakers enough to run a small band. This was handy as there was a band on the bill. The format of the night was unusual for a comedy night. The promoter put it that it was a night of two halves. In each half there would be some comedians. The band was going to play in the interval. I think I rather liked this format.

The entourage of the band arrived and a rather awkward thing happened. Two of them (both girls) acted as though we'd met. I think they just assumed from context that we must have met at some point. This hadn't happened. Or at least, I didn't think it had. It's awkward when someone thinks they know you and says hello like you're a friend or acquaintance. It's even more awkward when two people do it... and they're girls... and they've got strong make-up... and one of them is especially made up to press male buttons firmly (albeit in a more provocative way than a tarty/overtly sexual way)... and you're slightly scared of them. So, I played along a bit. It soon became clear that we'd none of us met, but that we were going to vaguely pretend that we might have met "at that other gig".

The band's soundcheck was impressive in as much as mine was simple. I made more of mine by taking over the control of the desk from the sound guy. I arrogantly tweaked the bass and treble controls to something which made my guitar sound pretty good. The sound guy let me do it. In fairness, he had had a play and wasn't happy and I've done it enough times on that sort of equipment to know pretty much where these knobs need to be turned. So that was that. The band on the other hand had an impressive array of stuff to wire together. They were a two piece, the lead singer of which was the one with the slightly scary look about her. The other guy, the engineer of the whole thing (in every sense - nice guy, mind) was keyboard and guitarist and had a load of stuff coming out of a laptop. He set up four instruments, countless FX boards and reminded me of Bruno Martelli from Fame. The band was not my sort of music, but I was impressed with their setup and the obvious effort that had gone into creating everything.

Before the gig was due to start we stood on the terrace outside the upstair room, looking at a reasonably empty street, and chatted in the crisp pre-summer air. The sea air helped get rid of my tensions and the conversation was fun. The audience never arrived, but there were enough people in terms of acts and their partners/friends to proceed with something gig-shaped. I agreed to go on first, and off we went.

It's really hard to do my usual stand-up stuff in front of people whom I either know, or have largely met me off-stage. It turns out that I'm not quite me on stage and what makes people laugh about my stage personality doesn't work if they know it's all pretence. So, I had to adapt my set's delivery and content in order to cope with that. It sort of helped that I had musicians in the room, as I was able to talk a lot about song-writing, which is, after all, the heart of my stuff. I was, however, deeply aware that I was being looked at without the mystique of the performer, and that my guitar playing would be regarded, by the proper guitarist in the room, who was looking at my hands as I performed, as fairly basic and poor. In fact, totally basic! What do you do under such circumstances? Make a joke about it, that's what. And I did. And it made us laugh.

Reaching my favourite song of the moment, which is something of a ditty, more than a song I suppose, I had a guitar string snap on me. Very annoying, especially since I was gently finger picking, rather than giving it a good hard strum - you'd think that that would not be enough to bust a string. Anyway, the stub of the string punctured my finger and I was aware that I was bleeding slightly. I checked my watch and realised I'd done about 20 minutes. So, instead of ploughing on into more material (somehow, I'd managed to skip a lot of my usual material and still fill the time), I did my usual finale number - also about songwriting (Coldplay, in fact) and got off the stage. It had been a good gig, despite the low audience numbers, lack of concentration in places and the pain of a bust string and bust finger.

I wanted to go back home, but I stayed to watch the other two acts in the section, both of whom had asked me to record their sets (I'd sort of offered too). I also felt some sense of obligation to the band, whom had been interesting company and a good audience. I'd even discovered that the singer from the band had grown up near Leeds and gone to University in Newcastle. Despite looking in her early twenties, she was a couple of years younger than I was and must have walked past me countless times when I used to strut around Newcastle University Student Union like I ran the place in 1995 when I was running the place as its Sabbatical Secretary.

So, I stayed. I swapped contact details with the acts who I'd recorded and I gave my details to a chap called Guy Venables, who runs another gig in Brighton. So far, the 2 gigs I've done in the place have been tougher than I might have liked and sparsely attended. Perhaps it will be third time lucky. I like Brighton enough to want to find out. Guy is an interesting chap. Having recognised his name and then Googled him, I discovered that he once, in an attempt to plug his comedy show, stripped naked and jumped into the Shark Tank at the local sea-life centre. He was unharmed, but a shark died during the stunt. The news stories didn't ever report whether it was definitely his fault - it could have been a coincidence, but they were big enough news stories to reach Italy. Quite a lot of publicity, then.

So, I eventually left and drove back. That was my night out. Given that a few other gigs were evaporating from my gig diary (just bad luck), it was nice to be doing a gig, and a late night, some traffic and even a sore finger wasn't too high a price to pay in my opinion.


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