January 1st 1970,
Virtually Acoustic @ Tinder Box
Tinderbox is a coffee shop on Upper Street, just
up the road from the Angel (and just around the corner from Moriarty’s, where
the VAC takes place on Wednesdays and Thursdays). The VAC have organised a short
series of gigs here to test the wateers, and I’m one of the for people chosen
to play. Four! That’s a tremendous honour.
It’s not a hokey little mint-tea-and-homemade-scones
sort of place. It’s not a Lianachan,
but all chrome and shiny surfaces. Which isn’t a problem – it’s just that "coffee
shop" usually brings particular felicitous images to mind – teacosies,
wobbly wooden furniture and cosiness. It’s still nice, though, teacosies or
There is a microphone set up and the mixer it’s connected
to is plumbed into the main music speakers – pumped into the main body of the
coffe shop and, indeed, out into the street at the door. There’ll be no escaping
A small but perfectly formed contingent from the VAC
have come to see me – Dave S and Steve C, of course; Alastair; Joan and
a Nice Australian Woman*. There are also occasional
people sitting around, not deliberately waiting for the music to begin, but
that is the gist. When the music starts they will, hopefully, realise that that’s
what they’ve been waiting for.
So I can either do two half-hour sets or one hour-long
one. I plump for the two sets, because it seems like a good idea at the time.
Dave and Steve check the balance in all the other speakers around the shop.
I say "hello" into the mic, and theres a complaingin voice over to
my left. I have to brak it to her that I’ll be making noises at her for a half
an hour at least (she does leave during the first song). And I’m off playing
Little Games. I’m not sure what else I play – over sets of this duration,
it all becomes a blur. I know that I do Secret Agent and Mr Wrong
quite early on, and have to tell myself not to play all the ones I’ve done
recently and are comfortable with at the beginning, or the set will be a bit
I do Home (not performed that for a while),
and try to do Bledloe Ridge but have occasional blank spots (a bit obvous
during an instrumental) so lead directly intoThe Sea. There’s a very
nice and smiley couple, a serious-looking man (who does seem to be enjoying
it) and Alastair and Joan to my left, David and N.A.W. to my right, and Steve
is in front of me and there are some other people there for a while. There’s
not a single cohesive audience-thing, but that’s cool, because I wasn’t expecting
it. As Nietschtian experiences go, I’ve had worse.
David suggested doing a cover, but I only know four
(the same four that I’ve known for fifteen years). I do my version of Pennies
From Heaven onthe grounds that it only has five chords (as long as you
count D, Dmaj7 and D7 as the same chord, which I suppose I shouldn’t).
I finish the first set, promise coming attractions
for the second half – Tragic Sandwich-Making Accident, Babies paying attention
to their toes, Long Song, either torch song or Apocalyptic Bossa Nova –
and sit around feeling very self-conscious. I look at the track listing on the
CDs to remind me of which songs I’ve done and which not. I also run through
some bits quietly to get them under my fingers – there’s nothing worse than
seeing a bit in a song coming up with no idea at all how one is supposed to
play it, hoping that your fingers know how it’s done, but also knowing tat thinking
about it will make that impossible. Except being nailed to a cow. That’s probably
I go over and say hello to the nice couple, explaining
that I’m not so good at person-to-person discourse.
Joan and the serious-looking bloke leave before the
second set. Dinner calls, I’m sure.
I kick off with Where Did It All Go Right? ("Always
good for an ironic twist, that one"), and do run into some energy difficulties
after that. Partly this is because there is now no one sitting in front of me
at all, and I appear to be playing to the magazine rack. Taking the break probably
was a tactical mistake, but I can never tell these things in advance (after
all I could have made a similar mistake the other way round, and have done –
stretched people’s attention spans with overlong-for-the-context sets).
I try 100 Horses as an energy booster, and
it only works intermittently.The baby introduction for Hard to be a God
has some effect. I then go for Automatic (the promised "long one"
– probably better in a noisy ambience than Obvious) and draw to a close
with Iodine and Comforting Lie like I almost always do.
I don’t sell any CDs, but it doesn’t matter. I have
fun anyway,and that’s the main thing.
*I know we’ve been introduced
at some point, but I have the very worst memory in the world for names. Usually
I can fake it (I never use someone’s name in conversation, for example –
I know from personal experience** that the rapport
you are supposed to develop by constantly referring to someone by name can be
mitigated somewhat if you get that name wrong). If you are that nice Australian
woman, please email me with your name,
I promise to remember it this time, I’ll put it in here and no one will be any
the wiser, least of all me.
Note, added 6/9/01: The nice Australian woman is called
Charlotte, and she is in fact Danish, which (geographically at least) is as
Unaustralian as it is possible to get. Previous assessments of niceness are
unaffected by this discovery.
**My first name is Andrew.
But that’s also my father’s name, so I’ve always been called John – my second
name. People in positions of relative authority, who have got my name from a
form I’ve filled in and who repeat one’s first name as a sort of drawing-in,
stroking mantra thing will inevitably call me Andrew, because that’s first on
the form. Consequently, rather than drawing me in, the effect is to alienate
me somewhat – not in an existentialist, oh-god-what’s-the-point sort of way,
but rather a Brechtian kind of alienation. I become aware that I’m witnessing
a performance rather than participating in a conversation.
They carry on doing this, even if I tell them they’re
getting my name wrong. I suppose they find having to switch tacks disorienting.
Anyway, I can never remember peoples names, one of
the many reasons I’m crap at selling.