Human Soundwave Company

January 1st 1970,

Human Soundwave Company

This was a nice one.

Originally I was supposed to me MCing this night. Then Veronique decided that she wanted to do more nights at the same time that I thought that MCing this particular venue wasn’t for me. This left tonight in a sort of limbo, since I hadn’t booked it and she went ahead and booked March, forgetting tonight, and it was left sort of blank.

When I met her last week at the Kashmir Klub, she said she didn’t have an act and I said that I’d do it if she wanted, since (karmically at least) if someone was going to have to play to an empty room because the night hadn’t been promoted at all, it should be me.

I arrived at about nine o’clock, and the last few floorspots were going on, so I got to see the mighty Dave Russell. After the break there was the first main act (who was very good, but whose name I can’t remember. Curse my cheap, plastic memory! Perhaps someone can remind me, and I can fill it in here retrospectively). The poet hadn’t turned up. Veronique played a song, hoping that she would just burst dramatically through the door. But she didn’t. So I went on earlier than expected.

I started with Little Games and took it from there. My fingers seemed to behave themselves for the first time in public since I came back from Italy. Occasional glitches, but merely corroborative detail to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. As it were. Since I didn’t have to worry about my hands, I could check the energy in the room – fairly positive, except for a (possibly foreign, non-english speaking?) couple to my right. I couldn’t tell whether they were enjoying it or not, and I certainly seemed to lose them during the introductions. Although this might have been that they didn’t enjoy my jokes.

It’s interesting the disparity between the looks on people’s faces (or at least my ability to read the looks on their faces) and their actual attitude and energy level. If I looked at the audience I began to wonder what they were thinking, reading their facial expressions as potentially bored or hostile or similarly unsupportive. Not look at them, try to feel the energy instead, and I got a completely different picture. There were gaps in the energy – for example the foreign couple (who left after about half an hour, and the gap in the energy disappeared, which suggests some negativity on their part, although perhaps they have a foreign energy, the language of which I do not speak), the fact that the room was not packed, anyway – but outright negativity would cause a disturbance that can disrupt positive attention coming from other quarters. For example, the relatively small, isolated amount of negative energy at the VAC a couple of weeks ago drowned out the genuinely supportive, positive energy that was coming from the rest of the room. On of my Tasks seems to be to learn how to deal with this without flinching.

Because I went on early (and because the poet never did turn up), I played a longer set than I normally would at this venue. When there isn’t a particular time limit, I can relax into it. I played a lot of the stuff that isn’t yet recorded – Mr Wrong (which went fine, no riots this time) Obvious or 100 Horses – which makes me feel more confident about the new stuff I’m trying to write at the moment. Of the rest, I noticed that only the essential Iodine came from Plucked, otherwise it was Where Did It All Go Right?, The Secret Agent’s Dream, Sensitive Boy, Comforting Lie. The usual gang of reprobates. So perhaps I’m leaving the Plucked material behind (although Steve Beaver, a percussionist I’ll be working with, has done some work on those songs, and made them interesting to play again, so we’ll see).

Upward and onward.

I do enjoy doing longer sets, though, and think that I’m a better act while doing them. Given two or three songs, or half an hour, and I tend to stick to shorter, more reliable songs. At forty-five minutes to an hour I can add in more unusual material, play with the structure more. However, given that I lack the talent for attracting groups of people to see me, I can’t really demand huge quantities of time.

Which suggests several things that I can work on – either addressing shorter sets as ends in themselves, or getting better at attracting Bums On Seats. Or both. Or some other option, that I haven’t realised is there, yet.

The gig left me feeling warm and euphoric, despite the fact that it kept me up well past my bedtime. I have noticed that the headline spot at the Soundwave is a Charmed Place, that bestows positive vibes on many people who play it, and as such is actually an honour to play. A particular honour on a night when I was not rushed to finish the set (because of the normal weight of floorspots at the Soundwave, such temporal luxury is an especial treat)

The Virtually Acoustic Club

January 1st 1970,

The Virtually Acoustic Club

Curiouser and curiouser.

The story goes like this:

I’m trying to work up a new song, Mr Wrong,
which I’m still a bit shaky on the words for. I go along to the VAC to give
it a try, taking the words on with me as a crib sheet. But the only place I
can put them is on the floor, so that I can’t see them anyway. I mention this
– I have an odd habit of being as open as I can be with the audience about the
strange little things that freak me out, because it often means that they don’t
freak me out any more – saying that I have a piece of paper, but it isn’t really
very useful because I can’t really see it, but that I derive great comfort from
it “like Neville Chamberlain did from his piece of paper – and we all know what
a success that was”.

And then the band who’d been on immediately before
me, who seem a bit tanked up, frankly, start heckling me from the back. I just
try to carry on (considering that I’m doing the song that I am least able to
do in my sleep, this is not the simplest of tasks, but it’s either that or stop
altogether), and they get louder and more obstreperous. The audience in general
applaud quite warmly considering my actual playing must have been pretty bad.
Referring to an earlier performer who’d cut her finger (“so that’s my excuse”,
she said), I say that my fingers are fine, so I have no excuse (except
maybe to say “the dog ate my talent”). Most of the band have left by now, except
the singer, who’s getting very worked up indeed. This is a very pissed young
man, in both the British and American senses, hurling random abuse. At me.

Steve Chin, one of the people who run VAC, tries to
reason with him, but in vain. Then he tries to get him to leave. I’ve gone for
Comforting Lie, which I really ought to be able to play in my sleep by
now. Unwisely, I answer back (“at last, the folk scene has its own Bez” – the
singer does that shambling walking-on-the-spot dance favoured by such luminaries
as Bez and Thingy Brown out of the Stone Roses), which was not only likely to
make him more aggressive but was also Bad Karma – never be rude to to other
performers, even if they are a complete pain in the arse, it’ll only reflect
badly on you. He resists Steve for a bit and then goes downstairs. I do the
rest of the song.

Interestingly, the fact that I seem to have been cool
under pressure (in fact, I was rabbit-in-headlights paralysed, trying to work
out which way to duck should he throw his beer glass), completely distracts
from the fact that I played very badly indeed (I challenge anybody not to when
people are hurling personal abuse at them, but all the same: “We should learn
to play in our sleep, because usually we do”).

When I went into the gents later on, I was followed
in by an old bloke with grey hair and a beard, who starts having a go at me:

“What’s your problem?”

(What? I thought.)

“What’s your problem?”

(Right now, my only problem appears to be you)

“Why are you so insulting to people?”

(What? Why me? Why is everybody suddenly picking on
me?)

“Why are you so insulting to people”

And the only thing I can think of is:

“Everybody’s got to have a hobby.”

Bad mistake. Bone to a dog, with a side order of grist
for the mill. I try to leave, he blocks the door.

“So it’s your hobby, is it? Being insulting to people?”

(Eh?)

“Give us a kiss.”

(Oh, for God’s sake…)

He grabs my face, one hand on each cheek. Getting
very aggressive.

“Give us a kiss.”

I think this has got wierd enough. The time for polite
incomprehension is past. The time for discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valour
est arriv&eacute.

I force my way out of the toilet.

The singer reappears, saying he wants to talk to me.
What about, exactly? He’s got pissed up, spent five minutes hurling abuse at
me and now he wants a quiet chat about… what? Chord progressions? Buying trousers
that fit? What?

“I don’t want to hit you, I just want to talk to you…
you pussy!”

Run away. It’s Valentine’s Day, all the normal people
are tucked up in bed with each other. The world is full of nutters tonight.
Run away.

* * *

I had to work it out for myself. Not a
reflection on Steve, but he didn’t tell me why they were so pissed off
until after I had done. They thought that the “Neville Chamberlain” line was
having a go at them – the kid had taken crib-sheets onstage with him.
In fact, I suspect that they interpreted everything I said as a dig at them.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you don’t have a go at other performers,
it’s a sure way to lose the audience’s sympathy, particularly when the audience
are the other performers. The man who molested me in the toilet was the
singer’s dad. He probably thought I was gay, because to some people anyone who
isn’t a “hard bloke” is a poof. Most of the gay people I know would be mortally
offended if they were associated with as big a slob as me. But he wasn’t to
know that. Or, indeed, anything else.

In the real fact, the basic one, the hard truth, they
probably knew I wasn’t having a go at them. They just didn’t care. The
kid had been on, now it was the old man’s turn for his fun – it was him who
detected the “insult”, and probably fanned the flames of his son’s alcohol-fuelled
paranoia. Proper wind-up, get the poof, lovely.

This is the downside to this city, maybe even this
country. I hope not the whole world. The mindless, pissed-up let’s-just-get-off-our-faces-and-have-a-ruck
pointless bollocks that you have to watch out for all the sodding time.

The name of this band was either Sonnet or
Sonet and at the end of day the really sad thing about them was that
they weren’t actually that good. At the music thing. Not really, stinkingly
bad, which can be quite interesting sometimes, but not that good in a
way which is just dull. And if the Old Man starts a barny everywhere they go,
then the kid doesn’t stand a chance of getting a proper gig anywhere except
the local boozer. Maybe that’s all he wants. Maybe he thinks Alan McGee will
wander in off the street and whisk him away to stardom. Maybe he’s right, I
don’t know.

I don’t think so, though. Either way, I don’t care.

Good at making a bit of trouble out of nothing at
all, though. That’s probably enough for Good Old British Stardom, eh?

Virtually Acoustic Club

January 1st 1970,

Virtually Acoustic Club

Another odd one, I suppose, although the oddness was definitely all my fault. I had a feeling that it would be quiet when I agreed to do it, although I realise there could be an element of self-fulfilling prophecy about that. We arrived at about half-past eight to find downsatirs teeming with people and upstairs empty, apart from David and Stephen (the organisers) and Rich Barnard (a VAC regular and very fine singer-songwriter who’d seen me do a spot there the previous night and was enthused enough to come along). I discovered that the people downstairs had come to see the other act, and felt a bit better. I don’t mind playing to a handful of people, but find it a bit embarassing looking the promoter in the eye if I don’t attract an audience (probably because I’ve been that promoter myself, and I know how he feels). This way, I got to play, and he got his audience, and all was pretty good with the world, and God was in, or near, his heaven. A bit later, John Arthur (another V. fine S-S) turned up. So that was five, then. Laura was quite interested in trying to get some of the people from downstairs to come up, but I wasn’t sure – often when a group of people go to see a mate perform, they’re not really there for the performance at all, but for the social thing (in which I’d just be an interloper), and besides, how seriously were they going to take someone whom nobody had come to see?

So I set off at about 9:00 (after a couple of false starts, David getting his minidisk going – and it would have been a pity not to get all of whatever it was) with The Things You Get, explaining the lack of applause (which there was not, actually – those five people did make a tremendous noise) by saying that it was a packed out “benefit for people with no hands, or who have hands but are unable or unwilling to use them”.

Lots of little mistakes (which there always are, and they don’t get to me, but it is worth mentioning them), and occasional large areas of glitch – I almost forgot Calm Blue Ocean completely while I was in the middle of it, resulting in more a capella bits than usual. I did my new song – Mr Wrong – which I’ll probably continue to do, hopefully without having to sneak the words on with me, just in case I have a lapse of memory.

As I was finishing, since the other act’s time was approaching, his loyal fans began to dribble in. Quite a good crowd, actually. They seemed to enjoy him. I made my excuses and left (we were very tired – this rock ‘n’ roll stay-up-til-eleven-thirty-playing-the-geetar lifestyle does not agree with my new-found sleep patterns).