A Typical Gig, Pt. 1
Welcome to this, my first entry in what after some debate I’ve decided to give the rather clumsy title “My Blog About Gigging”. Or “My BAG”. I decided, since our very own Josh Watson has been good enough to lavish upon the world a blow-by-torrid-blow account of the recording process, to give people a bit of background into what Captain Horizon gigs are like from our point of view. By which I mean, my point of view.
Let’s start, then, with a simple question: What’s a typical gig like for us? What happens?
(I imagine a lot of this will be the same for every unsigned band. I’m not claiming we’re special or anything…)
17.00: Load Up
Band arrives at lockup at 5pm, with the exception of Whitty (singer). After a brief consultation regarding tickets for the evening’s gig (“… Why haven’t we sold any fucking tickets for this evening’s gig?!”), gear is dismantled. Mez repairs his drums using sticky tape, nondescript pocket lint, some roadkill and a credit card. Josh (guitarist) rewires his rig to pick up two or three of the better pay-per-view porn channels. Alex (bassist) trips on an errant wire, one end of which he’s holding, stumbles into his speaker cab face-first and angrily blames Mez for getting in his way.
After twenty minutes of extremely heavy lifting, gnashing of teeth and cursing, the cars are loaded up. (We can’t afford a van. Even if we could, nobody’s got anywhere safe enough to keep it and we all live miles apart.)
Whitty arrives, drinks an energy drink, smokes a rollup and calls Alex a dick.
18.00: Arrive at Venue
Upon arrival at the venue, it becomes clear we’ve been told someone’s ideal load-in time, not the time they actually expected us to get there. As such, the sound guy hasn’t turned up yet and the venue appears to be shut for the foreseeable future.
Some time later, we get in. We carry our gear up the stairs. We set up. We soundcheck, usually first.
Why do we usually soundcheck first? Well, we seem to play more than our fair share of headlining gigs, for a variety of reasons – I think chief among them is that Mez is a left-handed drummer and very few venues (sound guys) can be bothered to switch a set of drumkit mics around more than twice in an evening. Other possible reasons for our continual headlining slots include: stupidity, since headlining as an unsigned act is essentially a very bad thing and we for some reason keep agreeing to do it; or, if I was feeling supremely arrogant (not to mention inaccurate), I’d say people just don’t want to go on after us. Ha! … No, it’s definitely stupidity.
It’s taken us a long time to work out that headlining’s not a good deal, but basically, you can usually assume that at an unsigned show the band before the headliner (the main support act) will have the biggest crowd of people to play to. Around 60% of these will then leave. The only gutting thing about this is that whether a band is any good or not has no bearing on the number of people who hang around to see the beginning of their set. On who stays for the duration of the set, perhaps, but the vast majority of punters who are there to see a mates’ band won’t bother sticking around for anything else. A fact of life for unsigned shows, I think.
Anyway, during soundcheck, we try to be nice to the sound guy. For some reason these people often have a bee in their bonnet. We try not to give them any reason to purposefully make us sound any more shit than we’d sound left to our own devices.
19.00: Start Waiting
Having soundchecked and removed our gear from the stage, we settle down for the part of the process I find hardest: the interminable wait which precedes playing our set. This often involves watching other bands soundcheck, and has led to one of my favourite pre-gig occupations: passing judgement on other bands. Often for unfair, spurious and outrageously stereotypical reasons.
We have played with some absolutely blinding bands. We’ve also played with a good few bands which were no better than livestock, mooing nervously and shitting on the monitors. You can more or less tell before a band’s done anything at all which way it’s going to go. Do they get themselves set up quickly? Are they polite to the sound guy? Once set up, do band members noodle at full volume until someone physically restrains them? If a band’s good, almost every time the answers will be yes, yes and no.
20.00: Continue Waiting
I think everyone handles the wait to go onstage slightly differently, and it’s the same for our band. Mez and Josh concern themselves mostly with quietly getting geared up for the set by having a light dinner and a beer. That’s fair enough. Personally, I find myself physically unable to remain in the same place for more than two minutes before I am compelled by an unseen force to wander off elsewhere and commence another conversation. I hope it doesn’t offend people that on a gig night I have this bizarre pattern of asking how they are, nodding blankly at their answer and then striding off towards someone else to repeat the exercise. In reality, I’m pretty sure it must do – who does this guy think he is? Has he forgotten how to understand English? Does he even recognise me? Oh, he’s gone.
To all you people who I’ve done this to, I’m sorry. I console myself by repeating the mantra: You’re not as bad as Whitty.
The first time I ever played a gig with Whitty, I was staggered at how annoying he became before we started playing. If gregariousness were an Olympic event, Whitty would have been disqualified for setting off fireworks in the judging panel’s hotel rooms the night before the competition was due to be held. Before gigs, more than at other times (and that’s saying something) he rediscovers those schoolboy jokes which amount to gross invasion of personal space and in some cases Actual Bodily Harm. He’s a frontman. Getting hyped up before a show comes naturally to him – in fact, he really needs it.
You wouldn’t expect a runner to sprint a hundred metres without warming up. As far as I can tell, tweaked nipples, slapped faces, pinched elbows and that thing where you hit someone in the crook of their supporting knee so they fall down like a sabotaged puppet are his way of stretching off. And he does these things to everyone – strangers, friends, promoters, loved ones, bar staff and would-be muggers included.
I realise so far this has been a catalogue of things which on the face of it don’t sound like they’re much fun – or perhaps they do sound fun, and I’m painting them in the most miserably bleak light possible. Luckily, in part 2 the good bit happens!