Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Rogers Birthday, The Progress Bar, Camden, London, UK, 11/04/05

Our first away gig proper (I'm not counting my first gig with the band in Southampton!)and my first gig in London.

I was really looking forward to it. I've been up to London in support of many a Pompey band over the years but it's not the same as being the subject of the journey. It was only one of London's hundreds of bars but the night still had that vibe if going to the city on a mission.

We had been invited up by a friend of Tony's, a chap called Roger, who DJ'd between bands. Probably second only to Skif in terms of diversity of musical taste (well, out of those people I've met)Roger treated us to Jazz, Rock 'n' Roll, Surf and a myriad of other musical styles...

Our day didn't start in the most promising of ways. Tony was driving us up with all our gear in the boot of the car. Unfortunately, one of the passenger door electric windows failed. A quick trip to a garage (where Pompey music legend Steve Lympany works!) confirmed the window was 'knackered' and no amount of shouting or hitting it was going to work.

We took the decision to drive up anyway and pray it didn't rain. The window was jammed half open and for me, sitting on the back seat of the car with my amp, it was a chilly ride. We found The Progress Bar with no problems, and set about trying to park the car with the open window side as near to a wall as possible.

By pure chance the venue was next to a garage and the friendliest mechanic in London (TFMIL) agreed to take a look. He removed the whole car door panel, broke the window motor, and forced the glass back up. He asked for "a drink" as payment. Best tenner this band has ever spent!

Now, you're probably thinking this chance meeting with TFMIL was the Gods smiling upon us and giving us a break. In such an impersonal, cold city as London, what are the chances of stumbling upon TFMIL right next to the venue you're playing in? We unloaded our gear, dragged it upstairs and waited for Roger and the venue staff, and the other bands.

Roger got us all drinks in and we shared a laugh about the car door. We looked around the venue: nice big upstairs room; approx 60 foot by 30 foot i'd say; a proper sound booth at the back; the bar downstairs was clean and large. Kind of like a Firkin pub feel. Such innocent times...

...because it would seem the Gods were merely toying with us. Oh yes. The other bands arrived and after a few enquiries with the venue staff it soon became clear that there was no sound engineer. It was his night off despite Roger being given assurances that someone would be on hand. What looked like speakers for the sound to come through were in fact only for the DJ decks. The PA speakers were mounted on walls facing the stage, so we had to turn them as best we could to give the audience some sound and to use them as monitors for ourself. They were also mounted in a way that meant one was further forward than the other. Not ideal conditions for getting a good sound.

To the venue's credit one of the barmen did come and fish some leads out for us because the connectors on the DI boxes on stage (linked to the mixer in the sound booth) didn't match our leads. Luckily, my Qhixldekx live experiences have meant that over the years I've ammassed a collection of adaptors. When I started playing live with Qhixldekx using a CD backing track I often found that there was no way of plugging in a CD player. Every mixing desk can be different and so you’re never sure what you might need. Hence frequent trips to Maplins to cater for all eventualites! And we needed some of those bits and pieces last night.

They also called in the regular sound guy on his night off but in all honesty that just frustrated me. He was a really nice bloke, don’t get me wrong. But it transpired that the venue does have other, proper PA speakers that you can set up and floor monitors too. However, he didn’t have time to do this so I felt what was the point in spoiling his day off?

So, I took on the role of sound engineer for the night. In all honesty, in a venue of this size, one mixer is much like another so it didn’t take too much figuring out. It was just frustrating that the venue had the potential for a much better sound for both audience and performer. The first band were an amazing vocal trio reciting Georgian hymns and poetry. They didn’t even use mic’s so that was an easy one for me! There were poets throughout the night too, so just a vocal mic for them. Simple. The second band were an all female jazz/gaelic band. This meant me mixing vocals, drums, upright double-bass, violin and guitar. Bit of a trial by fire all told! but we muddled through: I think the majority of people were just grateful we could get some sound going.

One poet in particular deserves a special mention. He was an Irish-Londoner and did an amazingly humerous poem about David Blunkett and Camilla Parker-Bowles. A humerous poem that worked.

Then it was time for Dave, Tony and I to go and be Autons. By this point we were just pleased to be going on. Speaking for myself, I can’t remember when I last had to concentrate so much. And despite Roger being the perfect host and supplying me with Guinness throughout my sound engineer duties, I was a bit tired. I felt very ‘responsible’ for the night but was keen to appear in control because the other bands seemed a bit worried about how things were going.

We had reworked our setlist to account for the more sober, mature crowd we had in. We began with ‘We Are Hungry’ which I don’t play on until half way through. The idea being I could check the sound in the first part and then run up to the stage to join in on guitar. This kind of worked except for those ker-razy Gods and their great sense of timing…

First the electricity to my amp and effects-board cut out.

Then Dave’s guitar strap broke mid song requiring me to play and help him out.

I broke a guitar string forcing a mid-set change of running order.

My amp channel changing switch broke which threw my sound for the rest of the gig.

And throughout there was the threat of feedback because no one was there to man the mixing desk.

I said to the crowd: “Now, I know what your thinking: you’re thinking “They’ve planned all this.” And you’ll never know if it’s part of the act!” I wasn’t joking, but then we dealt with all the above and got through it. Dave and Tony’s on-the-road experience proved invaluable here as they kept the humour levels up, and got the crowd on our side. By ‘Can Fever’ – the song Roger was waiting for – we had found ourselves and there was much foot-tapping on display in the crowd!

We got to the end of the set and weren’t sure what to play. We’d shifted our set around to accommodate our mellower songs but what with all the problems throughout the day I sensed we needed a ‘release.’ Thus, I struck up the opening riff to ‘Limbo Dancer’, our most frantic song and we threw ourselves into it. It paid off: everyone in the crowd – young and old alike – were into the song and by the time we got to the manic, feedback driven, ending all 3 Autons were feeling much better.

We didn’t even get a chance to come off stage before we were called back for an encore, which was jolly nice of the ladies and gents in attendance. Dave asked if the crowd wanted a “smoochie slowey” or a fast one. They wanted a fast one so we played the deceptive ‘Castles In the Air’ which went well considering we’ve only rehearsed it twice. The other lads were then very kind and loaded out all the gear to give me a chance to have a beer with my mate, Tobi, who’d come across London to catch the set.

So what can we learn from all this? Does it put me off away gigs? Absolutely not. Having no sound man forced us to act on our feet and take charge of the situation. And we now know we can sort our own sound out if push comes to shove. We’ll probably invest in some cheap mic’s and stands too, as well as a small mixer, so that when faced with an equipmentless venue we can be self-sufficient. But overall we all felt good about the gig and what we’d achieved.

All that remained was to get home, with a small diversion to buy coffee, muffins…oh, and a ‘Zippy’ air freshener…Hmm, life on the road, eh???
and we neede


At 5:39 pm, Blogger Ben said...

Sorry to hear it didn't quite go to plan, but it sounds like you made the best of the situation and got through it in the end! Glad Tobi made it along too.

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