Tag Archives: gig

Leading from the front

Back in March I posted about how long it takes to recover from being at the front at a punk gig. I’m thinking now that maybe it was a one off, and here’s why.

Last weekend, the same band – Stiff Little Fingers – played a homecoming gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland as part of their 40th Anniversary celebrations.  The venue was outdoors, in Custom House Square, and the capacity was around 5000. When tickets went on sale, over 3000 were snapped up in the first 48 hours – I got two, one for me and one for my friend S – and all 5000 were sold out long before the event.  Dee came for the weekend but had decided that she didn’t want to join us at the gig.

The support acts were not too shabby: Belfast’s very own The Outcasts, Ruts DC (best known for Babylon’s Burning) and The Stranglers, who had their 40th Anniversary a couple of years back.  I hadn’t seen the first two before, so I was looking forward to hearing them: I wasn’t disappointed.

S and I met up around lunchtime and took in some of the sights (pubs) in Belfast. It seemed like everyone in the city was wearing a tshirt or something related to one of the four bands, and the atmosphere was brilliant. We moved to the pub nearest the venue a couple of hours before the gates were due to open and joined the throng of cheerful fans.

For the last couple of years Jake Burns, SLF’s lead singer and only ever present in the band, has worn a black shirt with white polka dots when gigging.  Someone on the SLF forum on Facebook thought it might be fun if fans turned up wearing something similar. Eventually it was decided that we’d all meet up near the gig venue an hour before gates opened for a polka dot photo.  There were 50 – 60 people in polka dot shirts (S and myself included) who congregated at The Big Fish (officially called The Salmon of Knowledge) on the banks of the river Lagan, and everyone was in a happy and excitable mood.

Once photos had been taken, people either went back to the pub or, as S and I did, started queuing to get in to the venue.  Once we got in, we headed straight for the merchandise stall and each bought a tshirt which had been specially produced for the gig: as it turns out, they were sold out very early on, such was the demand (more are being printed now, for a limited time only).

We then turned the corner and saw that there were hardly any people in ahead of us, so managed to secure a spot against the barrier at the very front, right in the middle of the stage.  This was a prime position and we were very surprised to have captured it.

As the various bands came and went, the venue filled up and the press from behind grew stronger and stronger – but we didn’t lose our spot. Cue SLF, and the place went wild: there was a general frenzy of singing, pogoing, chanting – everyone totally blessed out on the music and the fact that we were there, in Belfast, where it all began for our favourite band. What could be better?  What could ever top that?

From a music perspective, possibly nothing. But, the whole experience was enhanced by a couple of things.  First off, at the end of the gig, I managed to get a hold of Jake’s set list, which is now framed and on my wall. Second, it turns out that the Ruts were staying at our hotel, and I managed to grab a few words with their bassist and got a couple of photos with him.  Third, I found the exact spot – not far from the hotel as it happens – where the photo for SLF’s latest album, No Going Back, was taken: I of course had to get a photo of me taken there.  And fourth, we found Hope Street, which is the title of a song and album by SLF.

Me in the front row, 5000 fans behind me. I’m the one with big spots on my shirt!

At the end of the gig, the crowd dispersed, still on a high and in very good humour.  Since then, my Facebook feed has been full of praise for the city of Belfast, for the welcome the fans received, and plaudits for how good the gig was.  Just imagine that: a punk gig with 5000 people and no trouble, no fighting, no bad temperedness. Everyone was just glad to be there.

I described in my article in March how I’d been battered and bruised by being in the second row at the gig at the Barras, so how do you think I fared being in the front row at a gig that had more than double the attendance?  I was absolutely fine. Other than temporary deafness which went after a day or so – and which would have happened even if I was further back – I had no ill effects. My legs were fine, elbows weren’t damaged and there were no bumps or bruises to speak of.

So, this begs the question – when I next go to an SLF gig, will be at the front again? You bet!

Advertisements

Week 33 – TBT 2017 – London Calling


Sticking with the punk theme from last week, I thought I’d share this classic track from The Clash.  Not just because the bassline is excellent, but because the photo that goes with it has become iconic in its own right.  

Paul Simenon is in the process of smashing his bass – presumably at the end of the gig – and I think the image has such powerful energy and makes a statement all on its own.  

I played this track with a covers band a few years back, and had it as my ringtone for ages (I now have an AC/DC tune, but that’s for another week!).  For all that the bassline is a classic, and is so much fun to play, I can also state from experience that if the guitarists don’t play with some attitude the song becomes a bit bland. The song is crying out to be played with passion, with a swagger, and if you don’t play it that way it loses a lot of its power.  

I should probably state for posterity that, for all I like(d) punk, I was never a massive fan of The Clash.  They just didn’t seem to “do it” for me in the same way that other bands – notably SLF, the Sex Pistols, The Damned or Siouxsie and the Banshees – did.  It’s almost heresy to admit that, according to some fans, but we all like what we like, right?  

Anyhow, here it is: enjoy! 

London Calling – The Clash

Week 23 – TBT 2017 – Smash It Up


Did you know that the first punk single released in the UK was New Rose by The Damned? Or that their brilliant double LP, The Black Album, had one side which was recorded live and which isn’t included in the CD version? I listen to that album a lot, and really missed the live side – until I found Spotify. Smash It Up (Parts I and II) is on there, and for as long as I can remember I’ve loved the bass line in Part I.  

This version on the video is a studio version, but it’s almost as good as the live one.  

I was lucky enough to see The Damned when I was in my teens. They released their Friday the 13th EP on the same day as I saw them, and the gig was memorable for a couple of reasons. There was a power cut during it, so Rat Scabies (the drummer) played a 10 or 15 minute solo while they got everything working again. Captain Sensible (guitarist) swapped his jacket with someone in the crowd because his original mohair one looked to be covered in spittle (not mine!) as was kind of customary (and gross) at punk gigs in those days. The support act was the Anti-Nowhere League, who found notoriety by having the B-side of their Streets of London single banned as an obscene publication, and they were very growls and menacing. 

I still follow The Damned and Captain Sensible on Facebook, though I’ve not seen them since the very early 80s. Listen to the track, and see if you can hear why I think the bassline is brilliant. 

Smash It Up (Parts I and II) – The Damned

Week 16 – TBT 2017 – Ziggy Stardust

Another cover version this week, and again it’s one I heard long before the original (by David Bowie). Bauhaus were probably the biggest Goth band of their time, and I was a pretty big fan. I got into them about the time that they split up, and beat myself up for years that I’d missed seeing them live. Then, joy of joys, they announced a runion tour and I had my chance – which I took. 

Brixton Academy was the venue – a legendary place in its own right – and on the appointed evening the place was full of people sressed in black, leather, fishnets, heavy make up – and the women wore much the same! I hate to think how much gel and hairspray was used just that night! 

I can’t remember who the support act were, but I do know that the gig was all I’d hoped for. The music was awesome, and the place was buzzing. So, with that little trip down memory lane, I commend this tune to you. Enjoy! 

Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust

What goes on at band rehearsals?

Since I started this blog I’ve written about playing in a band a number of times, but it occurred to me today that I’ve never really talked about what goes on at rehearsals. And not many other people have either.  So I thought I’d provide a bit of an insight into the world of preparing to gig and getting songs to come together.  


I’ve been fortunate over the last 10-12 years since I’ve been learning to play to have been a member of several different bands, all with their own personalities, both as the band itself and with the people in them. 

I’ve played in bands where:

  • the other members spoke a different language to me, who loved a music genre I didn’t, who didn’t drink – but who were the most friendly and genuine people you could hope to meet
  • the singer and drummer would or would not turn up for rehearsals, without telling the rest of us, and if they did the singer would spend the whole time facing away from us and not making eye contact. In the same band we’d agree two or three new songs to learn for next week, only to arrive and find either the homework hadn’t been done or the guitarist had decided he’d rather learn something else 
  • we didn’t rehearse often because we were gigging so much we didn’t really need to
  • we rehearsed every week for over a year, never tried to get a gig, but we had a blast 
  • it would take over an hour for the drummer to set up, but we’d then rehearse for 5 or 6 hours at a time with occasional coffee breaks
  • set up took 10 minutes but during the 2 hour time slot we had there would have to be a cigarette break half way through
  • we rehearsed every week for 3 hours, then all repaired to the pub for a beer and a chat afterwards 
  • any and all suggestions I made for songs to cover were ignored / turned down
  • they wanted to pull the plug on a potential gig 2 months in advance because “we weren’t ready” and it “would be career suicide” (we were a pub band playing for fun ffs)
  • we’ve had 2 weeks to learn something new and potentially tricky (Sweet Child of Mine for example – check out the bass line in the intro) and have just got on with it and carried it off
  • I stepped in with 5 hours notice due to illness, and had to play a gig where I’d never played any of the songs before that day

One band I was in tried to bend me to be like them, uptight and stuck in their ways. They had six months to work out new vocal arrangements but didn’t then tried to blame the new boy – me – for them not being “ready” to gig. I tend to be much more easy going, and don’t sweat the small stuff. 
You can see that there’s a wide variety of bands, and none are the same in terms of their approach to rehearsal, to agreeing set lists, to how we socialised with each other when not playing. 

I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences. Here are some (but by no means all) of the key points. 

  1. Turn up on time, and make sure you’ve prepared any new tracks you’d agreed with the rest of the band
  2. Set up, tune up, then wait for the others to be ready: don’t endlessly play stuff while others are setting up
  3. Guitarists and drummers noodle and make a lot of noise, particularly when other band members are trying to talk
  4. Some people take themselves way too seriously. Unless you’re very lucky you’re not going to “make it” as a professional musician, so you should remember that playing should be fun. By all means, be serious about your music, what you play and how you sound, but it’s not life or death so chill out and enjoy yourself
  5. Don’t treat the band like a business – see 3 above – because you’re there to entertain others and enjoy yourself
  6. Being able to get along with the other band members is crucial – possibly more so than being able to play well
  7. All the practice in the world doesn’t help when you play live, for real. It helps you cover up and / or recover from mistakes, but for some reason it feels different
  8. Practice any dance moves or poses during rehearsals: trying to do them for the first time at a gig will almost always end badly
  9. A little give and take goes a long way.  Just because you don’t like a particular song doesn’t mean the band should drop it – unless you all hate it.  You may find that some you really enjoy playing are not favourites of your band mates
  10. Be flexible i.e. go with the flow.  

I find that being professional in terms of getting set up quickly, then sitting down and waiting quietly before a gig or rehearsal works best: you don’t annoy anyone if you do that. When you’ve finished, pack everything away quickly and then you can relax. Go with the flow, and don’t get uptight about anything – it’s all meant to be fun, right?  New songs? All part of the learning experience. Embrace change, embrace the challenge, and step out of your comfort zone.  Most of all, enjoy making music: it’s why you’ve practiced alone for so long. If it’s not fun, if you’;re not enjoying it – you need to find a new band. 

How long does it take to recover?

In my TBT post last week I said I was going to see SLF in Glasgow.  Normally that would be the end of it, but I felt that I had to write today, just over a week later, to describe the night.  I’ve been to countless gigs, and have lost count also of the number of times I’ve seen SLF, though it’ll be in the teens or early twenties I think.  This gig was different though. Read on to find out why. 


I’m going to gloss over the travelling I’d done to get there, and will even skip the pre-gig auction run by fans which raised over £3000 for charity.  

I met my friend S at the auction, and when we were ready we headed along the road towards the legendary Barrowlands Ballrooms, affectionately known as “The Barras”. Stopping en route for haggis and chips washed down with Irn Bru (I’m in Glasgow, remember, and nothing could be more Scottish than deep fried haggis with a sugary drink), we met up with S’s friend M, then carried on the remaining 5 minutes or so to The Barras.  It had been raining, the streets were wet, and all around were quite merry Glaswegians celebrating St Patrick’s Day.  (The only reason I can think of why St Patrick’s is supported more enthusiastically than the other patron saints is his recent association with Guinness and drinking in general.)

We joined the queue to get in, which seemed to move quite quickly, and before we knew it we were upstairs, coats checked in and souvenirs bought from the merchandise stall.  So, upstairs again and into the ballroom itself.  With its low ceiling and sprung floor, and quite a few fans in already it seemed like the place was buzzing.  So far so normal really, but the first change for me was having a beer while waiting for the support act to come on. 

Theatre of Hate were the support this year, SLF’s 40 Anniversary year, and I think probably the second or third time I’d seen them.  I’m not a massive fan, but it’s always good to see and hear musicians at their craft.  We stood maybe 15 yards from the stage, just right of centre, and had a good view of the proceedings. 

After Theatre of Hate had done their thing, it was time for the stage to get cleared of their stuff and SLF’s to be made ready.  It was the first time I’d seen them since their legendary roadie / guitar tech Andy Scott had gone off to get a “real” job, and felt a little odd.  As the time for SLF to come on drew nearer, we gravitated more to the front.  My friend S managed to get a place right on the barrier, M and I were just behind. 

The lights dimmed, the band’s instrumental Go For It blared out, and the 2000+ people in the event behind me suddenly seemed to want to be in front of me as the band took the stage.  For the next 90 minutes or so, there was a mix of total concentration on the music and performance in front of me, while jostling for position and pushing back against the hordes – including those in the mosh pit which was effectively immediately behind me.  

There had been a spate of thefts of phones etc last year, so I took the precaution of having my wallet and phone in one front pocket, and I held on to them with one hand for the duration of the gig. My other hand was on the shoulder of the person in front – whoever that was.  At the start of the gig M and I were about 4 rows from the front, by the end he had moved to one side and I’d got right behind S and so was only 2 rows from the front.  It’s the first time I’ve been so close at such a big gig. 

I’m a big bloke – over 6ft – and I did feel a bit for those who were behind me and couldn’t see. Particularly one lady who appeared to be well under 5ft – her head didn’t reach my shoulder blades – who towards the end of the gig had to be pulled out of the crowd by security guards as she struggled to breathe in the crush.  I also had a fair few people ask if they could get past to take photos, and I’m afraid I developed a sort of “if you wanted photos that much, you should have got here early to be at the front” attitude. That’s not particularly charitable I know, but if I’d let one past, before I knew it I’d be standing at the back.  Unusually for me, I had the beginnings of cramp in both calves at different times during the gig.

After two blistering encores, the gig finished and, after collecting our coats we emerged into the chilly, damp, Glasgow night. Tshirts and jeans wringing wet due to sweat, we felt the cold air and drops of rain keenly as we headed back into town, the others for their trains and me to the hotel.  

I had the usual side effects on the Saturday and Sunday, which gradually left me completely by Monday, namely ringing in my ears and partial deafness.  I was quite surprised that I didn’t have any bruises or knocks.  What I hadn’t bargained on was the effect of pushing back against that mass of people for so long.  On the Saturday my calves were particularly tight, which meant that whenever I stood up I had to pause, straighten my legs, and hobble slowly along. Dee was walking way quicker than me – and that doesn’t normally happen! (She hadn’t come to the gig, but was waiting at the hotel for me.)

Sunday was the real day of reckoning!  My calves had tightened to the extent that I pretty much could not straighten my legs other than very slowly.  I was reduced to walking on tiptoes – I’d probably have been more comfortable wearing high heels.  I was dreading the flight back home, but was actually able to get up and out of my seat and down the stairs reasonably well.  

As the week has gone by, I’ve learned that a) running with tight calves doesn’t help you get better and b) taking stairs two at a time with tight calves is also a really bad thing! Here I am, 8 days after the gig, and it’s the first day my legs have felt normal.  I have never felt so injured for so long after a gig. 

The question remains though – would I do it again?  Absolutely! Being in the heart of that melee made the gig even better than it probably was for those at the back!  

How many sleeps to… Image #74

image

When I was growing up I don’t remember the phrase “How many sleeps until…” being used, but it seems to be everywhere now.  The obvious two countdowns are to Christmas and your next birthday, but it’s also increasingly appearing when adults are looking forward to a big event.

How do I know this? Well, I’m one of those adults using the phrase this year!  A long awaited and much anticipated gig is only 3 sleeps away, but I’m not going to say much about it here until after the event.  Suffice to say that I’m VERY excited about it and, judging by Facebook, I’m not the only one!  We’ve been counting down to this (with a chalkboard in the kitchen) for several months and it’s hard to believe that we’re down to the final couple of days!

So what other things do you get this excited about? Is it going on that dream holiday, or buying a new car, seeing long lost friends, or something else?

I think it’s a good and really healthy thing for “grown ups” to do: get excited about a forthcoming event that is.  It seems to me that we spend so much time and effort doing all the mundane things we have to do, the routine, the normal things, and that we need to have something exciting to look forward to.  And the best thing is – we should let ourselves get excited, lose sleep over it, just enjoy the anticipation and the moment. Who decided that when you grow up you can’t look forward to dreams coming true?

Right, time to get another pesky sleep out of the way, then it’ll only be two to go!