Wednesday, 27 May 2009


I was recently musing about that age-old musicians' favourite topic – the worst gig you've ever played: stories from the trenches of musical combat. Looking back at my history as a gigging musician, I've experienced some absolute nightmares on stage... Here are a few of the more memorable ones.

There was a time when the band I was with had a booking at a pub in Felixstowe. We were a five piece, with our own PA and when we arrived at the gig we asked the publican where we should set up. So he moved a few tables away from one corner of the pub and we began to set up our gear. One of us noticed that there were no power sockets anywhere in sight and when we asked where the nearest outlets were, the publican told us to give him a nod when we were ready and he'd unplug the juke box. One socket to power guitar, bass, PA, sundry effects, etc... Not a sensible option. I think we used every extension cable within a four mile radius that night.

Another time (different band) we arrived at a venue and couldn't find the power amp for the PA. The bass player and keyboard player looked at each other and announced simultaneously, 'I thought you were bringing it!' Luckily, one of my guitar students was in the audience that night and he was able to run home and get the amp from his own band's PA.

The there was an occasion where we were booked to play at a country house. It was out in the wilds of the Essex countryside and directions were vague, to say the least. We phoned the guy who had booked us (it was a garden party) and he said not to worry, he would be putting up signs from the main road, directing his guests to the house. I set off and drove towards the gig and got totally lost. At one point I saw the bass player's car approaching on the other side of the road. We stopped, decided to form a convoy and set off once again. Eventually, we came across the house down a long driveway and when we said to the host that we must have missed his signs he said, 'Oh, I haven't put them up yet.' 

I was at a gig one night – one of those rare occasions when you get to play on a really large stage – and my big moment was approaching; one of those tunes where the guitar makes a seriously dramatic entrance. I was milking it for all I was worth, too; stalking the stage looking suitably cool and posing inordinately. My time arrived and I hit the first note: nothing. I'd walked so far from my amp I'd pulled the guitar lead out without noticing.

They say 'the show must go on' and it's particularly true when you're playing a solo gig. There's no one to cover for you and so you have to muster through, whatever happens. I was booked at an arts centre to play some solo jazz guitar, but the problem was I had a seriously upset stomach. That's seriously upset, OK?. I'll never forget those last moments before I went on stage, tuning my guitar in the toilet... 

Possibly the worst experience, though, was playing at a large London venue where, owing to a game of Chinese Whispers between the venue, the guy who booked us and the band we had to play the entire set without monitors. It was a very big PA system and a huge stage, but for some reason the venue thought that we didn't need a monitor engineer (the guy who has a separate mixing desk at the side of the stage for the PA foldback) and so we couldn't hear each other at all. We played the gig using telepathy more than anything – from where I was standing I couldn't hear any vocals, bass, drums, keyboards, not even myself. It's surprising how sound just dissipates completely in a large open space. Needless to say, we came off stage at the end of the gig feeling really despondent – until the guy who booked us poked his head around the door of the dressing room and said, 'That was really great! What an amazing sound...'

And they say that music has one of the toughest apprenticeships in the world!

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