I arrive at the venue thinking I will be very late but turn out not only to be not late but before the sound guy. I chat to Alison (co-headline), Phil (bass), Andy (tpt) and Dom (drms) who are eating their complimentary meals. I pass on mine until after I’ve played. Then we go downstairs to meet Charlotte (co-headline) and Dave (ivories) and wait for Sound Guy.
7:30 – no Sound Guy.
8:00 – no Sound Guy.
At something like 8:20 Sound Guy appears. Actually more Sound Gent than Sound Guy. He is sixty-something, very posh and very protective of his system and finds it difficult to understand the needs of the modern electro-acoustic guitar, a development in music technology that I suspect happened while his back was turned.
It looks like trying to reason with him is going to get me nowhere, so I opt for Plan B: just doing what I consider to be necessary.
I enlist the sterling and heroic assistance of Tim who jets me across town to my flat where I pick up my DI box, my SM58 and some cables. We then jet back with just enough time for me to plug everything in and begin (Sound Gent is playing the piano when we arrive, so that sort of explains who he is). Literally, just enough time, so no preparation, no warm up, no water. And with my voice that spells potential disaster. And I appear in a bedraggled state onstage as I’m being announced and rush into playing.
What is interesting about this is that the PotP has operated perfectly well for years, with a number of unspoken paradigms: There are singers, and they are accompanied by Pianists, so all you need, really, is a microphone for the singer and one for the piano and you can retire to the bar. Sometimes there are guitarists, but they have amps, so they take care of themselves. So someone asking to plug his guitar into the PA is obviously either mad or inspired by devils or other malevolent forces. They’ll probably not encounter such a thing again, either. What I was asking for doesn’t exist in their universe, although the fact that I managed to conjure the seemingly impossible out of thin air didn’t faze Sound Gent at all. I don’t think anything does – problems appear, then they go away of their own accord and in between one play’s Sophisticated Lady.
The set list:
- The Things You Get
- Little Games
- The Secret Agent’s Dream
Secret Agent’s Dream is requested, so I have to play it.
Monitoring is wierd, at least from the point of view of someone who’s used to either monitors at his feet or trying to pick up a signal from a big PA – little speakers quite a long way away, so there’s a noticeable delay. Also, my voice sounds very thin. I’ve become so used to the frequencies that big PAs favour that I’ve tailored my voice to suit, whereas this set-up is designed to be essentially transparent, simply amplifying the voice that’s there. Again, another culture clash, but one that really exposes the weakness in my technique (should I really be putting that on my website? Oh, what the hell) – and terribly thin and weedy on the top notes. I need to find more places to play where no PA is used at all, to try and work on that.
Further to that, I see that Charlotte and Alison both sing well back from the mic, whereas I’ve got into the habit of singing right on the mic, with my lips actually touching it occasionally (ugh!), which is something you get into to cope with hellish, feedbacky PAs.
I lose a lot of the audience quite early, it seems, becoming background music, which is alright. Not their kind of thing, I suppose. The closest I can remember is a gig at a restaurant in Hampstead called La Cucina in 1999 – a dinner audience. I didn’t offend them as much as bemuse them. They tune out halfway through Things, which is really not cabaret at all. They’re nice enough about it, though.
I’m very aware of not presenting the songs (difficult behind the guitar, and having to be aware of technical things, but not impossible) – I feel bursts of Guitar Craft Face coming on. I should really ask people who know about these things how you do it.
But I do claim my Free Pizza (they have a special menu for musicians – a grubby photocopied A4 sheet, with a cut-down menu of things they’re prepared to give to errant musicians. Which is, again, all right, because a free pizza is a free pizza and my free pizza was a four-cheese one.), sitting alone in the restaurant upstairs.
Very interesting in that it presented me with a number of challenges: to work on the voice and not get lazy with the PA, to look for better solutions with the guitar. This is presumably the way that jazz/cabaret venues work – thinking about it, the sound at the Vortex is structured in a similar way, but with monitors, and I’ve (almost) always had Des to deal with the sound there – and I like the feel of these venues more than most of the rock-type venues. I also need to work on presentation and the Guitar Craft principles of beginning and completion, attention and (particularly) protecting my space: how can I arrange the situation so that it will work for me whatever it is (alright, I can’t completely, but you get the idea)?
S.A.D. was requested by Mrs Stewart-Smith, wife of Mr Stewart-Smith whom I never email, and from whom I’m keeping the secret of playing that very song. This is because I’m evil. Just so that we’re clear on that point.
Charlotte and Alison rock, by the way, or whatever the cabaret equivalent of rocking is. Favourite moments – C: Pirate Jenny; A: Ladies Who Lunch; C&A: Hmm, not sure. Have to think about that.