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Friday, August 24

First Gig Back And Wowser

Tonight was an important night for me. It represented my first night back gigging after returning from Edinburgh. This was also my first gig performed within my new job. It's important to make sure people are comfortable with the whole gigging thing. I perform because it's something I feel I have to do and because it's something I really enjoy. I have always been up front about the gigging side of my life with employers and I being that up front means that I foster a sense of trust. That's important.

In the new job, there is a sense of people putting in the hours and being around at the end of the day. I had to get to Bristol, so I capped my day at 5.30pm. This was something which added stress to the build up to the gig, since not only did I have to worry about getting away in time, finding the venue and also getting in the right mood to entertain the people, but I also had to be certain that I got enough done before I left and didn't act like I couldn't give a damn about leaving people in the lurch.

It was the end of my first (nearly full) week at the job and there hasn't been a great deal I've been able to involve myself in so deeply that I'd be missed, but I still felt like it was a big deal to break out of the office before 6pm. There will be more such evenings to come, so we may as well get used to the idea sooner or later.

Driving to the gig was fine. I had a couple of chats on the phone which had the benefit of helping me while away the time and also changing my mood from work to pleasure. Since I'm now driving dead on (or below) speed limits, in a vain attempt not to make my driving licence situation any worse, there are to be no heroic car journeys where I arrive all rushed. That means car journeys will take as long as they take. Virtual company on the handsfree is always appreciated.

Anyway, back to the subject of the gig. A little background, I think. It was a charity night. That's not a problem. I like doing charity gigs and, in general, they often go very badly for me. Hang on. Did I just say that I like doing them and that they also go badly? What's all that about? Well, to be honest, I only just worked it out. The thing is, I like the idea of doing gigs for charity, and I don't mind giving of my time and even paying my way to do a gig, if there's a charity that's going to benefit from it. However, thinking about it, the two major charity gigs which immediately spring to mind from earlier in the year were both equally disastrous, though for quite different reasons.

Anyway, I'd committed to doing this gig and the organiser had been checking and double checking that I was still up for it. I don't remember, at the time of booking, checking exactly who the audience were. I don't remember at which point I found out that the venue was a British Legion. In fact, I don't think I thought this gig through at all.

My last phone conversation ended about 15 minutes after I'd arrived at the venue, after which I'd had chance to see various people going in. One of the things you do when you see your audience out of the context of the venue is try to work out if they're your sort of person. Will you have enough in common with them to make them laugh? Or, will you be able to adopt a role in their company which paints you as the sort of person they expect to make them laugh. That's basically how it works.

Had I been my own grandfather, by which I mean swapping identities with, rather than some bizarre genetic discrepancy, I could have heartily answered a positive yes to the question - "Are these my people?". Sadly... well... I entered what was a bit like a scene from Phoenix nights, only significantly older.

I knew from the off that I'd have my work cut out and I was prepared for the challenge of seeing how long I could do without resorting to any of my usual material, most of which is so very "blue" that the audience would probably not even understand it. Of course, I'm selling these people short. The truth is that a lot of them have lived a long time and know all about filth as much as I do. The difference is that their interest in filth is very different. It might not be embarrassing to them, but it probably wouldn't be funny. I would have to meet them somewhere in between.

The order of the night was quite something. First there would be a man playing his organ. Then there would be a singer for a bit. Then I got to go on and try to be funny, after which there was a charity head-shave, a raffle and then the singer again. A good night... unless you happen to be the out-of-his-depth-comedian stuck in the middle of it.

I looked at my options. Option 1 - use the emergency joke. I think that was a given. Option 2 - do some sing-along stuff at the start in order to break the 4th wall and make them play along. I think that made sense - start off not being funny and then funny may emerge over the low bar set. Option 3 - do the "Amore" bit - they'll like that and will even get it. Oh yes. Option 4 - Do some other stuff and then go.

I used all my options. The emergency joke got a laugh. A lot of stuff didn't. A few things I thought of to say made me amused "Do you remember the kids' TV show Rainbow? No? Maybe it was before your time." These were PENSIONERS, FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!!

It was in no way my finest hour. The audience laughed more during the head shaving. In fact, I sort of wished I'd just had a shave on stage - it might have done better. They sang along at the "knees up mother brown" section of a routine I did, and I had the sense to keep the song going along, rather than stop it where I normally do. It was a one-off that an audience would do that. They didn't laugh at the punchline where I substituted the national anthem into "Who ate all the pies". Such was the gulf between my own brand of absurdity and their sense of humour. However, I worked the room and even turned a nice middle aged lady into a rancid heckler. Well done me!

I couldn't stay beyond 30 minutes into the raffle. I think that dying in a room, even when you take it with a sense of humour and know it's going to be a death in advance, makes you feel like you want to leave, and I'd had enough.

I'd also had the good sense to decline the offer of expenses, which were given to me in an envelope before I'd been on stage. I insisted on donating such a gesture directly back into their fun. They were raising money for MS and Breast Cancer (or for "M&S" as I heard one guy explaining outside). My own ego and my company-subsidised fuel expenses were not worth paying for in this situation.

I'll be honest with you, I headed home in a bit of a state. I was facing a weekend of some solitude, with a couple of gigs to do, and some DIY also to do, but no real sense of the sort of company I'd become used to enjoying over the course of my time in Edinburgh. This was to be the long bank holiday weekend and I knew it was going to be slow and potentially soulless.

I hit upon the idea of making some recordings. Well, actually, I hit upon the idea of recording a song. It was a song I quite liked and which I thought summed up how I was feeling. Rather than turning my own feelings over and over in my head, I would, instead, turn over the question of how to recreate this song with my limited ability, equipment and talent. Good idea. I could have fun with it.

Arriving home, I fetched my piano, recording desk, microphone, wires and such like and recreated my sometime recording studio. I also listened to the song I was going to try, transcribed the lyrics, copied it to my computer for piecemeal playing and got ready for the long process of rehearse-record.

It took a few hours, long into the early hours, before I'd fathomed out enough of the chords and the tricks in the song to be able to fashion a wan facsimile of the actual accompaniment. However, it was very satisfying and my mind was totally occupied with the music, not the internal blether of misery that it could have been occupied with. I had planned to spend Saturday doing DIY things, but I had a vocal to record and my Friday night voice wasn't up to it.

So, the first week of the new job ended with stress, disappointment and then a resolve to make music. I slept deeply.


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