Omens were bad from the off. The normally resident sound engineer (Kostas) was not there, a substitute was. The substitute’s command of English was definitely this side of articulate, matched by his apparent level of expertise overall. He seemed to be in a frantic hurry rushing from one spot to the next without actually achieving very much. Occasional utterances were produced which I couldn’t decipher.
The resulting balance between voice and guitar was impossible for me to discern as he’d set the monitor to the ear-bleeding level and then ran back to the desk which was some way off. I don’t know if he was simply a well meaning amateur, perhaps unfamiliar with the equipment or just not very good at the job, maybe a member of bar staff filling in or at worst pursuing some doubtful agenda of his own. Stage management as such did not exist – this guy was it. The unbalanced monitor/sound arrangement was not even the major problem.
The guitar I was using on this occasion was an Ovation ‘Elite’ with an unmarked black fret-board. This ‘fret-board’ description features for reasons which I’ll return to.
I have a set-list of 50 songs printed in large heavy black print on a sheet of white A4. Prior to the gig I’d alerted the ‘management’ to the need for perhaps a music stand or by whatever means some way of rendering the list legible. The ‘management’ said they’d find out if they had one and asked the sound engineer (Kostas – the same Kostas who wasn’t going to be there) if they had such a thing. Why didn’t it surprise me that Kosta’s substitute knew nothing of this?
Now for reasons which I still don’t understand it is apparently company policy there (according to the would-be engineer) that the stage is kept in more or less total darkness. The best that Kosta’s stand-in could provide – as a means of displaying the set-list was a stool – fair enough in the physical sense but I still couldn’t read the list, there was nowhere near enough light. With obvious if unfathomable irritation the helper scampered around puffing and blowing and managed to come up with a small light which gleamed dully, ineffectually. I do accept that even a ‘would-be’ sound engineer may not feel it is within his sphere of responsibility to address lighting, but he was the only member of FOH staff present.
It gets better – put at its simplest, I couldn’t see the guitar’s unmarked black fret-board clearly, forays into the higher realms of pitch frequently missed their mark, it sounded like shit, it sounded like inexcusable amateur mistakes.
This is not a self promotion exercise but I feel it worthy of note here that as some readers will be aware I have excellent reviews from New York, Los Angeles, Florida, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa (reached #1 in a Cape Town Indie chart), re-booked tours in The Netherlands, Belgium and gigged all over the UK – I’ve been playing for decades and do not make that sort of mistake). I kept asking for more light but the so-called engineer merely shrugged and assured me that “everybody complains about that”…
Thus I was forced either to abandon the gig altogether or struggle on. There were people wanting to hear the gig. I tried to press on. This bodger for whatever unprofessional reason had succeeded in completely screwing the gig, making me look as foolish and amateur as him in the process. ‘Embarrassing’ hardly covers it.
I guess it matters not how well you the performer performs or tries to perform – an incompetent twiddling the knobs can so easily make you look (or in this case ‘sound’) a complete fool.