Occasionally people will ask if there is a worst gig that stays with me? As all gigs have good and bad points I guess ‘worst’ is a bit sweeping.
However there is one that stays in my mind for on balance a majority of negative reasons. It was a small club on the South Bank of the Thames. The manager apart from being of small stature physically, was not perhaps as fully equipped mentally as one might hope, but like so many in his position viewed himself as quite important and being in a position of authority from the performer’s point of view (he was in charge of bookings) felt it necessary to exercise this sense of his own self-importance at every opportunity, like issuing requests in the form of orders sufficiently loudly (he felt) to impress his clientele.
Whatever – this idiot wasn’t the reason this venue springs to mind, it does so for demonstrating a peculiar phenomenon I’ve seen in other guises, but in this instance in its most obvious form.
Two young ladies (NOT the two fans pictured) of a rather well rounded stature – could have been sisters but definitely together – drew my attention initially whist I was setting up. Both had loud voices and were debating who would stand where during the forthcoming set.
The positions being argued over were about the same, perhaps one slightly to the left, the other to the right but in every other respect identical, central and more or less in front of and closest to the speakers.
As a self-contained act my equipment has evolved over the years to be able to work almost any size of venue. The speakers are compact and when required, very powerful. Anyway, once the set got started so did these two young ladies. The subject matter of their exchanges was lost to me, as you might imagine I was trying to concentrate on what I was doing. However, what was not lost to me was that in order to converse – given the proximity of the speakers – they had to shout. For the entire first set these two stood within a few feet of the speakers and shouted at each other.
During the break they both went outside for a fag – (I went out for some fresh air and there they were – Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee – puffing away but with apparently not much to say to each other. They were very complimentary to me so I wasn’t about to deliver any critical observations). Come the second set I had a plan.
The moment I started they were back in their original positions, and off again. As the first song (‘Sweet Home Chicago’) finished, discreetly I cranked up the volume a bit. This was a small place – these PA speakers can easily manage a hall. The increase in volume seemed to pass unnoticed. I should mention here that these two PA loud-speakers at full volume (not that I’ve ever had them at full volume) register a decibel output at just a few (seven I think) decibels short of a standard passenger jet airliner taking off.
A few more songs into the set, with me covertly upping the volume between each, it’s a wonder the audience at the front weren’t bleeding from the ears. The shouted conversation had moved up a few notches too, towards and then crashing over into screaming pitch. At that point I resorted to turning up my monitor – at the risk of feedback (which thankfully didn’t happen) I was able to drown out the two conversationalists still in their original positions and still making every effort to be heard above the music.
Even without being able to hear them I could see they were still at it. After the gig, reluctantly, I rejected their compliments (inwardly that is, I didn’t say anything I thanked them and smiled appreciatively instead) on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly have heard much of what I was doing – but what a strange thing – go to a live music performance, stand as close as possible to the sound source and then spend the entire gig trying to shout over it. I wouldn’t expect anyone to remain silent but given their apparent need to talk, couldn’t they have done so at the back?
A variation on this theme I noticed whilst busking in Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. (I’m adding a blog about busking called, imaginatively, ‘busking’). Amplification is permitted on some pitches but not on this one – for anyone who knows the layout this is the one on the curved and slightly sloping bit of narrow-ish corridor immediately one enters the station down the steps from Tottenham Court Road.
There I was with an acoustic guitar doing my thing. A young couple decided that a particular subject for conversation had cropped up requiring not only their immediate attention but requiring also that they stopped walking to deal with it. How odd. Instead of walking a few yards further on, or even back a bit, they stopped within five meters of me and got on with their discussion.
Whilst few of us think we’re brilliantly good at this sort of thing (amongst whom I don’t number), I am at a loss to think why they might otherwise stop to talk so close to a source of noise – albeit acoustic.
I tried stopping altogether and staring at them, to no avail. Next, during gaps in the intermittent streams of passing commuters I tried advancing a few feet towards them and singing a bit louder whilst continuing to stare at them – still to no avail….If I did swear at them when they finally finished their discussion and walked past me to ascend the steps, it was only quietly and nothing too vulgar…no honestly…..