Saturday, 6 July 2013

Hot music

Went up to the Aveyron yesterday to do a gig with Cathy, a fiddle player who is one half of a duo. Angus, a kilted Scots guitar player, couldn’t make it as he had to go back to Scotland for a family bereavement, so I was the stand-in. They mainly play Irish music; how cosmopolitan is that, considering that Cathy is French?

The Aveyron is a beautiful area of France, not unlike the west of England, but on a larger scale and much greener than round here. In fact at one point we could see how high up we were, as we crossed the Pont de Millau, which is higher than the Eiffel Tower. It was the first time that I’d been across it.

We stopped for lunch with Cathy’s parents, whom I’d never met before; what lovely people. After a pause of a few hours and a relax in the garden of their beautiful 16th century house, we continued for another 90 minutes and arrived in a small, ex-mining town, whose name escapes me already. It was hot. So hot in fact, that the group who were playing later in the evening were doing their soundcheck on the large stage set up in the square, wearing their tee-shirts on their heads Arab-style to prevent sun-stroke.

One of the organisers showed us to a dressing room in a very impressive theatre complex at the side of the place, which was mercifully cool. I recounted a story of playing once in St Rémy de Provence. I was was in a five piece Celtic-Rock type band. Willie, the drummer and also the guy who directed the changes between jigs and reel sets, was placed on a podium at the back of the stage. We arrived late afternoon in very fierce heat, did our soundcheck and headed for the shade of the nearest bar and a cool beer. When we started, it was still blisteringly hot. After about two numbers, the PA system stopped working. We continued playing acoustically, as otherwise, we risked a mass dispersion of the crowd of about 2,000 people. Luckily, the sound was restored fairly quickly, but by this time, what with the heat and this unwanted diversion, our concentration had begun to waver. Even worse, what we hadn’t noticed was that there was a smoke machine. What is it about smoke machines? I really don’t understand them. They tend to lend an ambience to any spectacle similar to what you imagine Whitechapel must have looked like at the time of Jack the Ripper.‘Black Sabbath,’ perhaps, but definitely not us. We’re too young for that sort of thing.

The upshot was that Willie disappeared on his podium for large parts of the remaining concert. He came off stage furious; ‘where the fuck were you?’ he shouted at the rest of us. When I pointed out that I could quite easily have asked him the same question, he calmed down a bit.

Anyway, as I recounted this story, I started to get a bad feeling. We were playing for the apero* at around 7pm and when we came on stage, the heat hadn’t diminished one bit. Worse, I heard a horrible tinny sound coming through the stage monitors, which turned out to be my beautiful guitar. The battery which powers the controls was running out. Normally, this is not a problem, as I keep a large supply in my guitar case and it is a matter of a few seconds to put in a new one. Unfortunately, batteries were the one thing I’d forgotten to pack. 

It started to niggle. I really believe that you should give one hundred per cent on stage every time, but that requires confidence in your equipment, fellow musicians etc. All I could hear was this awful guitar sound. At this point I started making mistakes on songs which I’ve known for ever. We soldiered on, and I decided to try to make the best of a bad job. As is often the case, nobody else seemed to notice what was going on and we were given a good round of applause after each number. All in all, it probably really wasn’t anything like as bad as I thought. It just didn’t sound like it normally does. We then completed the 506km round trip, getting back around two o’clock this morning. 

As Neill Innes said: ‘I’ve had to suffer for my art, now it’s your turn.’

*see ‘Whisky a go-geurgh.’


  1. [it's actually too hot to be outside today, here, hence my incessant commenting, bent over this keyboard]

    Seen from the other side, a town square with scaffolding and a stage in it, with some hapless bands playing to an inattentive audience as the sun (or rain) beats down, is a feature of anyone's holiday in France. Always wondered whether I'd spot you up there one day, and what I'd do if I did.


  2. Yeah, those kind of gigs aren't the best. Have done some good ones though. Played in a place in Brittany with the aforementioned band. We were in a hall which held about 1,000 people at a guess. The organisers said we and had to be off stage after 90 mins as there was a tight schedule. We thought we'd go down OK, as we normally did, but in fact the tightly -packed hall started rocking the moment we started playing. We dutifully came off after about 75 mins, knowing that they would want us back, and came back to do the last fifteen mins. We ended up playing about 2 hours. The organiser, after a while said to us: 'play as long as you like.' It's for gigs like that that I still play and luckily, it still happens from time to time, but not quite as wild as that time. Doing a festival in Normandy in about ten days time, with a couple of smaller gigs in Paris as a warm up.Fingers crossed that we can do something similar.

  3. Just to try to cheer you up a little bit, I saw Neil Innes playing this weekend. Whilst he often pretends to make mistakes, he was rather obviously taken aback twice, but at one particular point where he completely cocked-up a little ending solo he went,"oh, Shit . . ." He got a round of applause anyway but it was so obviously to several of us in the audience a genuine clunker.

    I met him a few years ago - he did a fund raiser for one of my daughters when she was at school (well, for the group of intrepid explorers she was a member of). He had agreed to come and appear at my school for a song-writing workshop I was running. Unfortunately he had to pull out at the last minute as he had to go on tour with the Bonzos (with Phil Jupitus filling in for Stanshall).