Since that ‘First Concert, Best Concert, Worst Concert, Last Concert’ bullshit is all over Facebook like a rash of twats again, I have a terrible secret to admit. I’ve been a gigging musician for over 30 years now, but I don’t actually like going to gigs.
To clarify, I like going to gigs – if I’m playing – and I do like a certain kind of gig, although if I’m not playing regularly I’m like a jealous lover watching the object of their affections being mauled by some unsuitable suitor. But at 43 years old, I am finally going to stop pretending I’m a proper music fan (see here for earlier writings about not being a proper fan) and admit I have lied to myself for years about what a great time I had at certain events.
My first ‘proper’ gig was a big one. AC/DC, Metallica, Motley Crue, Queensryche and the Black Crowes at Castle Donington – August 1991. Nearly every one of the friends I have made in the 30 years since that day has told me they were there as well, but I didn’t know any of them then so it was just me and Paddy all day, once we’d lost Nick and his mum. I had been to plenty of local gigs before that, (Any other North Devon kids remember slogging around after Shea and Testament in the spring of ‘91?) including being roadcrew for a christian Rock festival in Crediton (featuring Cliff Richard’s actual guitar player – not Hank Marvin or Bruce Welch though – and the actually fucking brilliant Brussel Spaceship). Technically my first gig was The Spinners at The Queen’s Hall in Barnstaple, but I will never ever want that one to count. It was my parents’ fault, as is the ‘Judy Drownded’ earworm I’ve just given myself.
This is an actual picture of the actual event from an actual photographer
who I couldn't find the name of to credit, sorry
In my memory, Monsters Of Rock 1991 was the best and most exciting day a fourteen year old boy could ever have had. That same memory that always, without exception, lies to me about my past happiness. In reality, it set a precedent for my future crazy that would never leave. Long car journeys, endless encores, no way of getting away and being penned in on every side will never be my idea of fun. I didn’t realise until I watched the DVD of the show over twenty years later just how long it took to replace Angus Young’s sweat-drenched, malfunctioning guitar in Let There Be Rock. I could say it didn’t get boring, but I would be lying. I still have nightmares about trying to eat a whole tray of Mr Kipling’s pies without waking up the four other people sleeping in the car that was still so so far from home in the middle of the night, filled with hunger and regret at having launched our spring rolls at Vince Neil in disgust and living on Marlboro reds all day.
Any time I go to see a ‘proper’ band I am hit with ‘please stop doing encores’ PTSD, reminding me of being 14, cold, tired and battered by a thousand metalheads fighting over the ‘Money Talks’ dollars that were spunked into the crowd at its climax. Never more so than at a Motorhead gig in Exeter when they were on their fifth ‘exit’ and still hadn’t played the Ace of Fucking Spades. I should have gone to the bar before they did the first one. I’ve been on the receiving end of a crowd that just won’t let you stop, it’s addictive. But sometimes you really should leave them wanting more, some of them are being polite and really want to go home. It’s not you Lemmy, it’s me.
My greatest memories of music I’ve not played myself are all, without exception, from sitting in front of some speakers in my own home/a record shop/a mate’s house, or sharing earphones on the school bus (and one notable night of nothing but Prince outside the Fortune of War in Brighton). The studio version will always be the definitive version, honed from many takes to be as good as possible, so why would I like a bum-noted, fluffed lyric imposter in a poorly designed room where I can’t hear the fucking bass properly?
On the other hand, I do like the energy of live music, I like the intimacy of small shows and I adore open mic nights, even if I don’t play. But I don’t have the attention span for the long gig. The idea of Springsteen’s 4 hour marathons brings me out in hives, I can’t even get to the end of Thunder Road without wanting to leave. It’s not just that I don’t like Springsteen (for clarification, I don’t) it’s just that I can only tolerate a single act for about half an hour before I want them to fuck off and put something completely different on. It’s why I like festivals (apart from the camping, and the endless queues for the inevitably overpriced drinks) where you can wander from stage to stage and end up in the disco tent, where the funk lives. Even Public Image Ltd and Jethro Tull had me bored rigid eventually, and they’re two of my favourite bands.
I think it’s because of the distances involved. Had I lived in a city and been able to stroll from venue to venue, dipping in and out of gigs and able to leave once I got bored, I might have happier memories. But I’ve lived my whole adult life in rural Devon, where the most famous band to be put on within walkable distance (or reasonable public transport) was that famous version of Dr Feelgood with no original members left; or on one notable occasion, Chumbawamba in Westward Ho! Although it was three years before Tubthumping and only Jim, Tarot, Paddy and myself knew who they were.
There’s just so much driving and admin involved in going to watch bands. I do not enjoy either of these things, or feeling obliged to have a good time on account of how much money the tickets have cost. If, say, you suffer from anxiety that you’ve spent over forty years masking from your friends, you might perhaps not enjoy such an occasion to the hilt, but instead pretend to, and convince yourself you have for years afterwards.
So no, I do not wish to pay a week’s wages to stand in a room where I can’t have a fag and wait through eight encores to hear a poor imitation of the definitive version of the only song I came to hear. It feels good to say that. Honestly, the amount of bullshit excuses I used to not buy the many Kate Bush tickets that were offered me would astound you. As would the many imitations of regret that I was not there I have made since. Reader, I regret nothing. I stayed at home and listened to side two of The Hounds Of Love as it was intended to be heard.
Tonight is the anniversary of the last time I sang in public, and it has affected me more than I thought. For, in a twist of irony, I have little to no interest in just playing music for myself. I don’t need a big crowd, I’m happy just to sing at the barstaff (which is lucky most of the time) just some kind of human interaction, even if it’s only a kid rolling their eyes as they walk over to throw fruit at me. I know other musicians who are happy to just keep practicing, playing their instruments to nobody but themselves in endless self-improvement, or writing and recording their own music at home. And while i used to enjoy that, it feels pointless at the moment with no endgame in sight.
This is an actual picture of the last time I played in public
I've not got my eyes closed with passion, I was trying to remember the first line of the second verse
I’ve been recording some vocal tracks for a friend recently, so had to warm my long-out-of-use voice up. As I sang my way through my usual Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift repertoire it properly hit me. I remembered how a year ago I began making videos with the express purpose of getting solo gigs at little festivals: because this is the 21st century and you can’t get gigs without videos. Two videos in, the first lockdown hit and I saw it as a blessing. Time to pull together a good hour’s worth of material to pick and choose from so I could play to whatever crowd I found myself in front of by the end of the summer. As soon as it became clear there weren’t going to be any crowds I just couldn’t face it anymore. I had nearly two hours worth of material for no good reason.
So last night, standing in my shed, singing my way through Wrecking Ball for the thousandth time (it’s a great warm up) I stopped before the middle eight, looked around at my tricorn hats, gathering dust where I’d left them last summer, put my guitar down and very nearly cried. What’s the point? Once the gigs do come back I’ll be able to get it back together again and right now it just makes me utterly miserable to think of the good times we used to have when we could scream along to Baby One More Time in the pub.
I love little multi-band gigs for the same reason I love open-mic nights, a quick changeover, a chance to meet other musicians and find a little camaraderie in a business that gets a little shitter for all of us every year. So at the moment every note I coax from throat or fingers reminds me of what we’ve lost. I was prepared to get back to it last August,but since then I have all but given up.
Anyway, there is video footage of my last public performance but it was on my wife’s last but one phone and has probably gone forever.
Luckily I’ve got these versions of both songs I did that night, and since these were recorded carefully, in a studio, with time for extra takes and overdubs, they are better than the inevitable speeding up and fluffed lines of my performance that night. Live is never better for the listener.
Enjoy, and I hope to see you on the other side of a mic stand soon.