Saturday, August 02, 2008

White Noise

Three venues, three events.

Wednesday: The Blag Club in Notting Hill

A small venue hidden behind a wooden door, incongruously located next to Rymans. I'm early (as always), nervous about the new technology I'm using tonight. The soundcheck is quick, patchy, I'm not sure how it's going to sound. I have to remove all my equipment, this makes it worse, what if some important knob or switch gets knocked, some vital setting changed. I try not to worry, check out the other acts soundchecks and sit back to wait my turn to play.

The other acts do their bit - it's a hard night. The venue has bare walls, there is a birthday party in, the noise of the crowd is almost painful. It's supposed to be an acoustic venue, but the acoustics are amplifying the crowd's chatter, strangling the artists on the stage. Mentally I'm readjusting my set, putting in louder songs, resolving to stick to my guns as much as I can, use the technology. This is what I do, I've practised very hard for this moment, my 25 minutes of infamy infront of a largely indifferent group of individuals.

It's time, I move to the stage, feverishly plugging in leads, checking settings, double-checking tunings. Oh to have just a guitar and plug in and play. Too late. It strikes my frenzied brain that the electronics don't care about the crowd and their noise. The harmony voices are ready to soar above them, to follow my every utterance with a relish undimmed. The distortion pedal is ready to break up my guitar's beautiful tones, throw clipped rock notes into the space. A calm comes over me - what do I care? I have something to share. Songs based on experience, honed by a hundred performances, a thousand hours of sweaty practice. Here we go. I say something in the mic. A camera clicks in my face, the video rolls. I hit a G chord. It begins.

Thursday: The White Hart

Peace. Another upstairs room, a cool escape from the muggy Whitechapel streets. There is rain outside, I don't care. I'm onstage, playing to a hushed room. Every eye (mostly) on me, every ear sparing some listening space to hear the notes I'm creating. It's a new song. Delicate, picked guitar notes. A folky melody - not like me at all. But I play with confidence and feel relaxed. I'm relishing the silence in the room, using it, filling it. Letting notes ring longer, holding sustained notes, feeling my way. No electronics tonight, just a guitar, a voice and a tambourine. I didn't think it would be like this, I wish I had my electronics (the irony is not lost on me). It doesn't matter though, the songs work, stripped down, or padded up. The lyrics taste good on my tongue. How many hours have I worked on these lines? Every word has a value.

It's the last song, sweat pours off my face into my eye, it stings. I'm standing on one leg, playing tambourine with the other, playing guitar with both hands, singing, sweating. I close one eye, the pain doesn't go away. It's the hardest part of the simplest of songs. Try and stay with it! Try and finish well, you've worked hard. My fingers slip, but it's okay. It's near enough for rock'n'roll. I finish. I wipe my eyes dry. Sweat and tears? I leave the stage, heading towards the friendly welcoming eyes, and a slightly warm pint of Guinness. Not perfect, but still good. Deserved, I think.

Friday: Elevator Gallery

A night off. Beautiful company. A boat on the Thames, a glass of wine. A cocktail at the O2 dome, accompanied by Kylie. She's somewhere in the building, but we're in the bar. Tube - train. A lift in a warehouse, it's a performance night. There is a girl in the corridor, she's deep into a role. It's scary, too much to take. In the main space a man is playing a violin through a Heath Robinson invention, cassette tape machine innards ripped out and lashed together. Perhaps it's more Frankenstein? The noise comes down through loudspeakers in the ceiling. White noise. You can't avoid it. It's too much for tonight, too intense. We leave soon after we arrive, back into the cool air. The journey home is slightly too long. It's good to be home though. Very, very good.

Tomorrow the work starts again.


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