So after staying up being miserable last night I wake up at nearly ten o’clock. Having committed to doing a daily sitting I do so, but am less than able to concentrate on … whatever it is that I’m supposed to be concentrating on, it’s still not exactly clear. I watch my breathing for a while. At least I’m still breathing.
Then breakfast and I finish the three versions of a font for Ness and mail them off to her, write an email to someone who mailed me ages ago asking about getting fonts made and just as I’m about to send it…
The electricity dies. Lights off, computer off, everything. It just takes one faulty wire and it’s back to the nineteenth century – actually with the lack of a fireplace in modern homes and the running water in the bedroom, it’s back to the caves.
Given that I can’t think of anything else to do, that I don’t want to mess with the electricity if the water’s got into it and that I wonder what else could possible fail now, I decide that it might be a good time to practise.
I’ve also committed myself to do this for half an hour everyday, and it’s not as if I can do anything else at the moment. Playing an acoustic guitar is at least something that one can do in the semi-darkness with no electricity, which is why it’s so popular among students. I do the primaries and run through the piece I’m working on, concentrating on the uncomfortable bits, such as the “joins” where one section goes into another or I have to change position. But the fact that the last vestiges of my already tenuous claim to be part of civilisation are crumbling around my ears leads me to spend the final five minutes playing very loud and assertive C major scales. There’s something very cathartic about C major scales.
That done I try to think of what to do next. I’m the single least useful person in an emergency I know, unless that emergency is a shipwreck in which case I might make a serviceable raft. I call Ben at home, but he’s out, so I speak to Sally who gives me a lot of common-sense and useful advice: to call the Electricity company (who tell me that there is in fact a general fault, and that it’s just a coincidence, hurrah, and also explain about the neutral, red, blue and yellow power lines, which I never knew before and which explains why the power in my flat can go but not that of the flat next door), and to go downstairs to speak to the shop, the ultimate recipients of the leak, who have been more assertive in such matters before (if you’re going to run a large business you have to be on top of such things, unlike arty types like me who can’t make up their minds whether they’re going to be namby or pamby or both). As I’m leaving the flat I see that there’s a card jammed in the lock. It appears that the people in the shop want to speak to me.
The chap in the shop shows me the damp patch that appears to have no source, and I explain to him at great length the chain of events and the Great Domestic Irrigation Project. Then I go to the Italian coffee bar to get myself a cup of tea. In both the shop and the coffee bar the lights have failed (I suppose they’re on the same circuit as my whole flat). I suddenly feel a surge of Blitz spirit. It’s the English way: not matter how terrible things are, as long as someone else is suffering along with you it’s all right. And if no one else is suffering, well, you just have to induce suffering in them.
I get back upstairs and update Sally on the developments and as I’m on the phone to her the lights flicker on and then off again, on again and off.
I drink my tea and eat my very nice egg mayonnaise bap and eventually the lights come back on and stay on.
The managing agent is unavailable, but thankfully the shop downstairs are on my case. I should have gone to them as soon as I knew it wasn’t my fault (yes, that is symptomatic of a terrible moral lapse on my part. Sorry).
I spent two hours that I really should have been practising or working making a snazzy new design for my Guitar Craft notes (secret because it’s astonishingly dull to someone who’s not me, even by the standards of this.
Quick bath and then off to the Purple Turtle for the Joan Coffey gig.
I manage to arrive at 7:15 to discover that the soundcheck isn’t, in fact happening and…
Let’s start with the gig and work backwards, shall we? It may be more instructive that way.
I played the worst I think I ever have in public for a very long time, essentially they would have been better off if I hadn’t bothered to get out of the bath this evening. There are, broadly, two factors for this: technical and personal.
The first technical problem was that the guitar wouldn’t stay in tune, so that even when I was, theoretically, playing the right notes, it sounded horrible beyond belief. This is very strange, because that guitar does usually stay in tune – you can drop it and it stays in tune. I’ve done the Jeays gig (mucho thrashery) and the rehearsal last week with it since I changed the strings (a couple of days after I played the River Bar), so it’s not that. It may be the only proof of supernatural intervention in tonight’s farrago of a performance.
The second technical problem was that I was playing incredibly loudly: there is some law of nature that if I’m going to play as badly as that it has to be loud enough to be heard on Primrose Hill. This is because I was told that I couldn’t plug straight into the PA, but rather had to use the amp. What I didn’t know was that they were taking a feed from the effects send to the PA. Since I was plugging into the effects return essentially they were getting none of me and I was turning up to try to compensate for the lack of presence in the PA. This is incredibly frustrating in retrospect, especially since I should have just asked the sodding sound man what was going on. Which brings me to the personal thing.
Most of the problem – the sloppiness, the bad playing and the inability to communicate with the sound guy – comes from a bad attitude on my part, which I developed after I arrived. I asked the guy in charge whether I could have a spot and he said that I’d have to go way down the list because I would be massaging my ego in Joan’s band. That set me off, because I don’t see what it has to do with anything, but hey: his house, his rules. What was interesting (and slightly alienating) to me was that it gave the impression that his notion of the whole thing was just showing off, that that was the essential reason that people do it. Why should I get two chances to show off? Well, I guess. I personally don’t ascribe to the showing off paradigm, but what the hell. I looked at the stage and saw that there was a Folio Light, so I assumed that that was what was going into the PA (I’ve played gigs with far less,so this doesn’t surprise me). It turned out to have been some sort of feed to the main PA, and the quiet chap that I thought was just playing CDs was in fact mixing the show.
And then I arrived at 7:15 (fifteen minutes late) and had to wait until after ten to play. There was, of course, the show in the meantime, but still. For a start that didn’t begin until eightish and even then it was very slow – there were a few open mic spots, but they took so long in between the acts, playing sort of nondescript ambient techno, that any energy, any sense of an evening was dissipated. If you have one person after another you can sort of build the energy, even if some of the performers let it slide, there’ll be another one along in a minute. If you’re going for a break, you put someone you think is good on just before it (a couple if you can). Some nights there are no good spots at all and from the MC’s point of view those nights are like being nailed to a pig – you have to go out, look a paying audience in the eye and ask for a big round of applause for someone who’s going to spend the first five minutes looking for a C chord (their one chord du jour and then proceed to sing in Db major (note to the non-technical: this is not good).
We made our camp in the balcony, as did the other band of the evening who were very kindly allowing us to use their amps. They went on at 9:00, then there were more spots and then us. The sitting up there, being separate from the night had bred in me a sort of smug bad attitude, such that the only thing I could do was to play the wrong chord at the wrong time very very loudly, to play badly enough that not only did I humiliate myself but I brought the others down with me.
It was a reminder, as if I really needed one, that what one needs is to preserve the sense of goodwill. Pride, to quote the book of sententious cliches, comes before a fall. What I ought to have done was sat there in the audience, smiling benignly and indulgently at every performer, building a positive karmic field for myself. Anyway, home very late, and to bed even later. Bah.