My top 3 worst experiences performing live- and what I learnt…

TOP 3 Lessons Learnt:

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Best laid plans… Ok, so we’re practiced, packed and ready to go… here are a few  lessons I learned the hard way, hopefully so you won’t have to:

No.3: Band on the run

I was playing at a particularly rough venuethis was some years back when we were just starting out gigging – you you tend to take what you can get gigwise until you build a good reputation with good venues. Perched in the tatty small back room of a bar on a Friday night, we were two songs in when we started getting hassle from the bar maid, too loud, wrong song choice etc. etc. The landlady however was happy with our performance, but disappeared, to leave us again to a torrent of abuse from the bar maid. The band stopped playing. We didn’t need this crap. We perform because we enjoy performing. We started to pack away.

The only issue is, it’s quite difficult to storm out of a venue when it takes you 30mins to pack up, with multiple trips to the car! But that is what we did… The land lady reappeared and apologised, but we were committed. As we packed up, the rather unpleasant bar maid loaded the juke box with ‘Band on the run’ by Wings – in hindsight we can see the funny side. But we were pleased to leave that venue never to return.

Lesson learnt: It is tough at the start trying to find good venues. Do some research and visit in person to see the sorts of bands that play there and also how they are treated. I am pleased today to work with a raft of wonderful landlords, landladies and venues that look after the bands and treat them with respect. If the venue is somewhere you wouldn’t find yourself in, even if it was the last place on Earth selling beer, then think twice about booking a gig there.

No.2: Rain and band don’t mix

Much like Gremlins, it is a bad idea to mix water with your fully live (electric) band. I was performing an outdoor gig two years ago with three piece band, it was going reasonably well and the crowd were enjoying our set. Then the rain fell, hard! We were under a gazebo, but the band footprint meant our equipment (including my valve amp) was poking out exposed either side. The crowd disappeared for shelter, as I wrapped up that song, I turned to see rain water pouring off the gazebo on to the open cooling vent on top of my valve amp 😮 . The rain was running down the tiled courtyard toward the band too – all our cables, plugs and extension leads were soaked. Not good.

We had to do a rapid strip down which consisted of chucking wet tangled leads into the bass drum case, move everything inside and set up ready to continue ASAP. We managed to reassemble and incredibly (towelled down quickly) switched on and cracked on with the set. Two set  up and strips downs in one evening was tiring.

Lesson Learnt: When you see clouds in the sky and your band mate says ‘ahhhh it’ll be fine’, use your best judgement – strip down and rebuild of wet kit is not a lot of fun (make sure you have all the correct safety gear for out door gigs too, to prevent electrical shock!)

No.1: School gig went south

One of my first live performances, around twenty years ago, at secondary school, performing a solo piece on the guitar to the whole school in the main hall, not the best time for a bad gig.. I had written a ‘bluesy‘ variation on the ‘When the Saints go Marching in’ melody and had been rehearsing loads in preparation. Set up in the main hall, I had sound checked and had to make some tweaks to my sound as something wasn’t right – instead of playing through my old amp, I had the guitar plugged in to a tube screamer overdive pedal and then straight in to the school’s PA system, I assumed it was just the EQ of the system that was off. I increased the treble on the mixing desk and on the effects pedal. It was sounding pretty good.

Just as the school population filed in to the main hall, sweaty palmed and full of anticipation- ready to crank the guitar volume for the performance, I realised the both tone controls of my guitar (my trusty old Les Paul copy with Kent Armstrong PUPs) were set to zero. I quickly pulled up the tone controls to ’10’ without thinking. With everyone seated and now waiting, I was given my cue to start -with guitar volume raised, I pierced the silence with the first few notes of the piece. The warm adjusted tone I had in sound check was replaced with a high shrill fizz. It sounded awful. I looked over to the sound man who had a ‘I don’t know what to do’ look on his face as he shrugged. End of performance.

Lesson Learnt: I had done everything right in preparation, even the sound check. I just made a mistake. After getting the sound adjusted, I should not have messed with the mix. This was a tough experience in front of the worst possible audience. But I survived, the world didn’t end, and I ‘got back on the horse’ and continued to perform live many times since.

Do not let this post put you off!

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Performing live musicsolo or with a group, is awesome! The buzz is indescribable and well worth the pre gig nerves and all that prep and hard work. I cannot recommend more strongly for you to go start practicing, writing, jamming with other musicians, whatever your ability. I will dig deeper in to this topic in a future post, but for purposes of this post, lets say you’re gearing up and getting ready to go.

Preparation (Failure to prepare is preparing to fail..etc, etc) IF you want to perform live, but are wrestling with nerves or anxiety about standing in front of a crowd, there are a few things you can do to help yourself:

  • Practice, practice, practice!!!sticking your head in the sand will not help, face up to the challenge, and give your self the best chance of knocking the socks off the crowd!
  • ICE (In case of emergency) gear Always take a spare…guitar (or have access to one, or if a friend is playing at same gig), spare strings, leads, picks, capos, fuses for your amp or pa, valves, batteries (for pedals or pre-amps on electro-acoustics etc) – think about what might go wrong and think about what you’d need in your ICE kit . If a string snaps or battery gives up the ghost – no worries just switch between songs. This might be slight OCD on my part, but at one point I was taking two amplifiers to every gig! That might be excessive, but start to assemble a small emergency kit over time will help reduce pre-gig stress and help smooth any blips in your performance that might occur.
  • Double check the deets- really simple but important, if you are playing at a music venue/pub/function room, just give them a call a week before the gig to confirm you are still booked and check the times and payment details. It maybe worth dropping in posters for your gig a week or two before and do this face to face. Venues book lots of bands and sometimes they can double book by mistake or even worse change landlord and decide they’re stopping live music, to give two examples – check in and confirm all is good!
  • **Some venues will not pay without an invoice** (printed with act name/ contact name/address/date/amount/signatures) worth having a few blank ones in your guitar case.

Finally, don’t forget to breath and smile! When gig time comes, take a few long slow breaths helps to abate the panic feeling that nervous short breaths tends to bring on. And smile – you’re doing this because you enjoy it!

(Image reference: http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/stephencolbertquadfacepalm_4937.jpg)


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