The run-up to Christmas had been intense to the point that the trip to L.A. had been mentally engulfed by preceding events. The little fellow had been ill enough to keep him out of nursery adding additional pressure to some late work-related deadlines. Then there were the seasonally-themed social appointments, a few gigs, a sort-of pre-Christmas day with the folks and family and, last but by no means least, the band; furiously rehearsing in order to make good an appearance at a (dear friends’) wedding a mere two days before we were due to set off.
We’re a competent covers outfit that takes well-known ditties and sort-of fondles them into another shape. This is all well and good (and when we’re on form it is actually jolly good) so long as you remain aware that the whole point of a song cover is that it must have a semblance of the original then all is well. No problem for my skilled bandmates (two of whom are professional musicians, one in a well-regarded pop band) but a major issue when the singer can’t remember lyrics, song lyrics known for decades, lyrics from songs performed live a number of times, rehearsed one hundred times or more, melting into nothing at the very moment they’re supposed to be launched into the faces of our confused looking audience.
The gig had been playing heavily on my mind for weeks. Aware that I may be rendered speechless by my own brain in front of a hundred-plus wedding crowd isn’t the sort of thing one can psychologically brush off, especially as it’s not just oneself one is letting down if it all goes tits-up. I found myself awake in the small hours trying to establish codes and triggers in order to ensure I’d get from verse A to chorus B without incident. When I typically failed a wave of panic would hold open my already boggling eyes and I’d be forced to reach for the words printed on greasy foolscap that lay atop the pile of unread books on the bedside table.
The other small element of concern was that we weren’t due on stage until after 7 pm and the shenanigans kicked off at 2.30pm. I’d vowed not to drink more than a couple of glasses before we played but I already knew this was going to require an inner strength of its own accord. The solution for the reparation of my fraying nerves had now, ironically, become an issue, this took on a life of its own two days before the gig when one of our bandmates, the pop-pro, our glue and, frankly, reason we get away with our rather grimy set, was rushed to hospital. Mercifully his condition wasn’t life-threatening, if a tad painful, and he’d be as right as rain after a course of antibiotics. In a couple of weeks.
Having rehearsed extensively without our hospitalised pal it was possible we could do the set without him. But did we actually want to do it? After a little back and forth we decided to give it a shot, both the groom and his lovely wife-to-be were warned in advance that the set might be a little more chaotic/blue than usual and we were given the ‘up to and not including GG Allin’ green light.
On the day itself, I was both excited to be performing and terrified to be doing so; it’s the awful paradox in which the thought of not doing the show outweighs the projected nightmare of actually doing it. I hung out with the guys and their respective others and begun to loosen up a bit, the celebratory atmosphere re-assured me that this would be a forgiving crowd even if I cocked up. We ate, drank and cheered our way on to the moment we’d be on stage. Late afternoon the PA showed up and I helped lug some gear about which calmed me down and sobered my thoughts. Then all of a sudden, we were on.
I remember watching Mark Manning transform into Zodiac Mindwarp at an Idler party in the 90’s in front of a relatively small crowd. He went from writer to rock overlord in the space of seconds. At the time it looked faintly absurd (despite being a fan of ZM&TLR) when, all of a sudden, this articulate middle-aged man was ripping his shirt off, waggling his tongue off and grinding himself against a mic stand. Now I understand what was happening. When performing a person not dissimilar to yourself arrives into your being and fiddles with your controls, and there isn’t a huge amount you can do about it. Or maybe there is, perhaps that’s what determines whether you’re looking from the stage or at it… Not that there was a stage I hasten to add. We were on the ground level with the now rather sloshed audience who were dancing about and giving the impression they were having fun. That man off of The Kaiser Chiefs and X Factor was watching us play as well -I think he must have lost our contact deets because we’ve heard nout from him since- either way, he, or the wider audience, didn’t seem too fussed when, inevitably, I fluffed the odd word and made a pig’s ear of a Doors song (we all make mistakes, Mr. Wilson. You know).
All told, it all seemed to go rather well despite my aggressive and shouty self. Most importantly the bride and groom were happy so we’d done our job in that respect at least, and the better half wasn’t trying to crawl out the door with a bag on her head.
Soon after we said our fond farewells and departed, the better half and I stopping for one on the way home so I could mentally climb down and start to focus on the perils of a long-haul flight with a very little boy.
Never mind L.A., we had to get there first.