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

“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?”


“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?

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