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Wednesday, April 18

Bring It On

No, I'm not talking about the cheerleader with Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku playing the role of hot cheerleaders. In many ways, I'm starting to wonder why I don't own a copy of this movie, which has to be a classic. In fact, I'm almost tempted to write at great length about my admiration for Mses Dunst and Dushku, especially in their cheerleader roles. I'm tempted, but that would be sad. Plus, though Kirsten Dunst is a pretty woman, I have to say she often looks a bit too wan and maybe a bit too flimsy.

But let's give a quick moment of reflection to the cheerleaders of movies. They're always worth a moment's reflection.

That's another of my non-offensive euphemisms for thinking about ladies. "ooh - she's worth a moment's reflection". Oh dear.

Anyways. The "bring it on" of the title refers to my relentless approach to life at the moment. It's definitely a case of the more I do, the merrier. I'm quite tired today as a result of last night's bring-it-on-ery, but I'm feeling satisfied in the outcome of my efforts, so that's a good way to be. Yesterday was a long day, which ended in me showering and getting scant hours' sleep before returning to work. The bit from leaving work to getting to bed was in various stages.

Leaving Work
I'd planned to leave work at around 4. It turned out that my travelling companion - a fellow comedian - was running an hour late, so I didn't have to rush out of the office. However, I'd sort of gotten myself built up to the point where I couldn't stay any longer. I was in pre-gig rev-up and sitting around waiting for it to happen wasn't doing me any good.

I drove to the station at a leisurely pace. I programmed my sat-nav with the directions and sat for about half an hour waiting for the train, hoping my late-running colleague would be on it. When you're travelling long distances starting between 4pm and 7pm, every minute counts. I know the roads between Farnborough and the North and I know where all the traffic jams are likely to be. They worsen by the minute. Setting off at 5 was going to cost a lot of time. There was no point in doing anything to get worked up about it.

So, I sat in my car and tried to write three comedy songs. I think one of them might be usable - the simplest. I wish I could make either of the other two funny, but perhaps they're not funny enough sources for humour.

My travelling companion arrived and we set off.

The Long Drive
I've gigged with this particular travelling companion before and knew them well enough to say hello to. Indeed, she booked me for an ill-fated performance (my fault) at her club. A four and a half hour car journey can really force you to get to know someone, whether you like them or not. Luckily, I think we hit it off and had a variety of silly and serious conversations on a range of subjects. Any of the bad vibes from that ill-fated gig and some inappropriate comments on this blog afterwards were discussed and laid to rest, which was a bonus.

The time during the journey pretty much flew by with a stop for coffee and plumbing/comfort a way in.

The gig was due to start at 8.30 and I hoped to be on stage around 10.30. I was worried about arriving too close to 10, since I would have to rush myself through sound checks and would have missed the rest of the gig, and not gotten a measure of the audience.

Arriving At The Gig
I arrived at the gig to find that things weren't as I was hoping, but they also were in my favour. We got to the venue at about 9.40pm. Once in the room, we saw the first act, using no microphone (warning bells were ringing in my head), playing to a room that wasn't rammed, but was densely populated with people where people were sitting - despite a good solid bank of empty chairs at the front. We discovered that the gig had started late and the PA system was missing some key leads to connect the speakers.

I had my bag of tricks with me and was slightly hopeful that I might be able to fix the PA system. If not, then I'd have to do my set acoustically, which can be a real strain.

I found my friends - three of the lads from Leeds, who had come to see what I do. I quite like it that they only really see me performing in random and not incredibly complimentary circumstances. If they came and saw me storming it at Jongleurs, they might get the impression that I had a cushy life as a comedian. Coming along to a dingy underground half-empty room in Bradford where there's no PA system, and I've driven four and half hours to be there with the threat of another 4 hours home, well, it's a good way to show them the reality of what I do with my time. I would have been happy for them to watch me struggle - it would have been less show-offy than the fictitious Jongleurs gig I described.

Anyway, the first act did a cracking job and was followed by another. At this point I was running through options for getting the PA system to work. I chatted to the guy running the venue and thought I might be able to get the PA system working. I just needed a break in which to have a crack.

The Unsound Sound Check
The break came. I raced to the PA system. I realised I didn't have the lead. I was starting to get a bit despairing of getting any sound and then I heard it. Music. Coming from some speakers somewhere. Where was the music coming from? Could I use that PA system? There was a DJ deck at the back of the room. All you needed was a mixer to hook into it instead of the CD and you'd have sound.

Did I have a mixer with me?

Yes.

Of course I did.

I rigged up my mixer. I couldn't get power into it. I unplugged the CD player and powered my mixer. I tried to get a microphone from their stash of microphones, but both of them looked knackered. Sod it. I should use my own.

Did I have my microphone with me?

Yes.

I rigged up the microphone. It worked. We got a cheer. We had a PA system. It's unusual for the headline act to come along and rig up a makeshift PA system, but it's a crowd pleaser to do it.

I did a levels check for my guitar and that was working well enough.

Right, now we need a microphone stand.

Was there a microphone stand?

No.

Did I have my microphone stand with me?

No.

Shit.

There's no point in having an amplified guitar without an amplified voice. As the middle section played out, I hoped for a microphone stand to be found. Then I pondered my alternatives. Then I was forced into my alternatives as they discovered that the nearest they had was a guitar stand.

Plan A: Use another microphone I had with me - it's a tie-clip microphone, requiring the 48v power from the desk and also requiring me to plug in a new mic, sitting in my top pocket, with lead running to my back pocket.

Plan B: stick the normal mike into my top pocket and hope it doesn't fall out.

Plan C: do it acoustically.

I ran to the desk in the second interval to remember that it doesn't have 48v phantom power, which was probably for the best as I wasn't sure I wanted a 48v powered microphone sitting in my sweaty top pocket.

After all that, I was down to either trying to make my top pocket into a microphone stand, or reducing the gig down to acoustic again.

I reckoned I could turn the adversity my way, but I had to see. First I tuned my guitar, which was still possible, despite the fact that I'd dropped my guitar tuner on the floor while doing some heel-click-jaunty-jumps to get myself in the mood.

I swapped jaunty jumps for a soulful rendition of "The More I see You" into my mp3 recorder as I waited to go on.

The Performance
I went on, stuck the microphone in my top pocket and spent the next 20-25 minutes balancing it there, via a series of "rock poses". I did my stuff, I did the louder version of it too, to make sure the audience could hear. They played along. I enjoyed it. I bantered a little, though not too much. I threw some jokes out there which I'd never heard before. I even came up with a witty retort for something which I'm suprised at.

What had been trepidation and worry about making a single laugh in a room with a tired audience and a makeshift PA turned quickly into genuine enjoyment of a good night. Oh, did I mention that I took to the stage at about 11.20pm? Yep. Running late. Still, I'd gone all that way, I may as well make a meal of it.

I engineered an encore, so it doesn't count. However, the audience were actually up for bringing me back on, doing the music venue chant of "one more tune", which I've never actually had before, so I was in a great mood.

I did the dangerous finale, but the room played along. I must never do the dangerous finale again (unless I'm drunk and it's absolutely necessary).

The thing about the dangerous finale is that, if the room get it (and this was a good room) it's actually quite safe AND the audience have to sing along. In fact, I can get them to do the work and I just orchestrate it like some weird holiday camp redcoat in a sea of wrongness. As they were singing my chorus at me, I dropped my singing out, looked across at my friends and tried to signal with the occasional glance here and there "Look what I made these people do". That's part of why I have loved doing that song... though I won't do it no more. Honest.

Then I did the hack finale.

Then I left the stage and had a shit load of stuff to remember to pack up, having used about 5 leads a microphone a mixer and other fripperies. I think I got it all.

I had been standing in a strange pose with a microphone in my sweaty pocket and I was all bent out of shape. What better way to relax those muscles than a long car journey!?

The Long Drive Home
It's a long way home when you're tired, even when the company is good. I was energetic for the first 20 minutes, but then I got very tired. We stopped for coffee, which was a big bonus. I had been fading. I got to the point where I couldn't multi-task so well. I could talk and drive, but only be able to drive in my part of the road and not observe the other side of the motorway, or think too carefully about routes. Or I could stop talking, and do something else, but my brain was in "safe mode".

We got home safely, though. Good conversation and no road incidents to speak of.

To Sleep Perchance To Sleep Longer
My comedy colleague became my house guest. She got my room, I got a shower and then my sleeping bag on the spare room floor. I slept well.

Morning
I could easily have slept so much more. The conversation went like this:

House Guest: Ashley! Wake up! It's time to go.
Me: I'm busy.
House Guest: Busy?
Me: [mumbling] Yeah, I'm busy snoozing.
House Guest: Wake up. You're not making any sense.
Me: [internal monologue] I'm making jokes and I'm still asleep. Beauty. One for me there.

Then getting dressed, dropping guest off at station and going to work, where the coffee is strong, but not quite strong enough.

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