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Monday, November 29, 2010


Some time ago I was asked if I would sing a few songs at a local church. Having received the all-clear from the hospital I was anxious to get out and about playing my songs again. Who knows? I may have already played my last ever show, so each invite puts off the inevitable last show into the future.

To say the arrangements were haphazard is something of an understatement. My contact neglected to tell me where to turn up until I prompted him several times, and I was never really sure what the evening was in aid of until I arrived on the night. I was also told that the sound check would be between 5 and 5.30 (but wasn't told what time the concert would start).

Anyway I was late arriving. We pulled up at about 5.45 and parked in a side street. I saw a light and rang a bell. Someone came and opened the door. I asked where the concert was being held and I was given directions. When I arrived the soundman was busy wiring mikes. I'd met him before but a long time ago. It was a bit disconcerting that I had to shout to attract his attention- his wife said it was social deafness but I'm not so sure.
As I was the only act there I did my soundcheck. I'm very low maintenance. My mike and guitar settings are very straightforward. I'm so used to doing my own sound that I just set the kit up and leave it. I move in and out of the mike as required and control my guitar volume from the guitar. It should be so easy.

But no.

Then my friend turned up with his guitar. Silly me, I allowed him to use my DI box and therefore my guitar settings. Normally it would not be a problem, except that he keeps his guitar settings flat and relies on the soundman to eq the sound. No wonder my guitar (which sounded great in the soundcheck) sounded so awful and tinny during my spot. All my settings had been changed.

Then a woman who was so obviously a music teacher turned up with about ten teenage girls. This choir was to open the show. It was now about 6.30 and the show was to start at 7.00. She wafted in, said that the electric piano had to be moved as she couldn't direct her girls where it was and then disappeared. The soundman was on the balcony. Apparently there was a powerpoint presentation that he hadn't been told about. I enlisted some help and we moved the piano on to the stage, and I plugged it in and managed to attract the soundman's attention by shouting through the PA. I don't play piano so I pressed the "demo" key and made sure that I could hear it while sitting at the piano. I then went looking for the schoolmarm to ask her to soundcheck the piano. I found her out the back. She was warming up the singer's voices and said she'd check it afterwards. She never did.
She did however, try to commandeer my music stand and walked off with my guitar lead. It was only the intervention of my wife that saved the day.

Meanwhile I was introduced to a man who was to be the MC for the evening. He insisted on calling me David and introduced me to the audience as such. The only time I've been called David was when I was in trouble with my mother.I was past caring by now. He was given a radio lapel mike (but not soundchecked).

The audience were mostly in their seats and the first we knew the show was about to start was when we heard a burst of feedback and a muffled tinny voice calling us to order. I looked around for the source of the noise. It was the MC. Eventually the MC's mike was sorted and he introduced the choir.
Schoolmarm and her gels walked on to the stage, trampling the guitar DI box underfoot. She sat at the piano, not having touched it since she arrived. My wife and I looked at each other. What if it were too loud? Too quiet? The wrong setting?
Schoolmarm had no such worries as she kit the keys and led the choir through a selection of vaguely spiritual songs, including "Hallelujah", "Let it be", "Lean on me" and o joy of joys- "You lift me up"

O bliss.

Eventually it finished and the MC came on stage to introduce me as David Clemo- singer songwriter. It was by now 7.30 and I normally haven't left the house at this time, let alone started playing. In fact, the only places where the doors open this early are theatres and churches.
I started my first song. Now I admit I made a mistake by putting my music stand (which I keep very low down so as not to obstruct the view) on my right instead of on my left. I know all my own songs by heart, but I still have the words there just in case. I'm not alone in this. Perry Como was a huge star back in the 50s and 60s. He was renowned for his easy going and relaxed style. What wasn't common knowledge was that he had all the words to his songs written out on huge boards just out of shot. These days the stars use an autocue, a kind of celebrity karaoke but with a live band.
The first song was OK. And the second. I'd not sung the third song before. I'd been practising it all week, but I had a problem with the middle8, specifically the second line. That's when the words would have come in handy, but they weren't in my line of sight. From then on it was downhill, as far as I was concerned. I fluffed the lyrics to my final song as well, and I was glad to get off stage. Not my favourite performance. I struggled to get into the zone, and Sue said that my mike volume kept changing. I suspect that the soundman was fiddling, trying to anticipate me and constantly adjust the settings. Please- just don't OK?

I don't remember much more. My friend came on and played guitar while some people sang. The first song was apparently a reworking of an old hymn. I didn't know it, and neither did my friend the guitarist. The second song was apparently a new one. I couldn't tell you anything about it, except that it was a bit too long.
Then the speaker came on to the platform. I've done dozens of these type of event before. If you add in church services then it's hundreds.
Even so I was gobsmacked when the "speaker" started to sing to a backing track. And not just any backing track, but a real "Frank Sidebottom" effort, with drum machine and casio keyboard sounds.

I let out an audible groan. Sorry. Just- couldn't help it.

Anyway, we sat through the presentation. Then we were all invited to have a cup of tea and some refreshments. I packed away my guitar and followed the throng into another room. I was buttonholed by someone who insisted that if I sang with a couple of people that he knew it'd be really good. If you say so mate.

Sue and I exchanged glances and sneaked out and away when we thought no-one was looking.

I've played a lot of churches in my time. It probably wasn't the worst organised event we've been involved in, but it was pretty close.

Maybe I'll write about the worst gigs I've ever played.

Or maybe not. I'll probably get nightmares or die of embarrassment or both.

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