It’s live, but not as we know it

It was December 1973 when I played my first gig with a band in front of an audience. I was 16 and too young to drive (or drink… or even be in the venue really, which must have been at least 100 years-old then and is surely long demolished). The drummer had to pick me up and put my gear in his van.

I had done, I think, just one solo recital before that a couple of years earlier and it was enough for me to know that I hated and dreaded playing alone and that if I were to ever do it again (which I did), it certainly wouldn’t be for pleasure.

As first gigs go, it belongs in a comedy screenplay. The bass player – a late recruit whose name escapes me – got the job because he claimed to have a pa system (which turned out to be two rickety looking cabs and a 100watt amp; one tenth the power of my present backline).

His wife, Sandra – can’t forget her – we soon discovered, came along as a package deal, immediately appointing herself band manager and barking out orders of what we should do and how we should do it.

The singer (I was way too shy to take that on at 16) was a teacher who obviously hated kids and had a fringe that started at the back of his head, which made the sides float outwards like flimsy wings.

We started up with the intro to Chuck Berry’s Memphis Tennessee as the singer walked out from the wings and towards the mic. His hand moved under his right curly hair wing and cupped his ear. Then his lips started moving: “Long distance information give me Memphis Tennessee…” and halfway through the word information he turned in horror as it became painfully obvious that not only could we not hear him (no stage monitors, of course) but the packed venue couldn’t either – the makeshift pa too weak even by early 70s club standards.

By the second gig three weeks later, the pa issue had been resolved with the purchase of a couple of Laney columns, a 6-channel pa amp and a Wem Copycat echo unit, Mr and Mrs bass player had thankfully departed and as we received a standing ovation and calls for an encore (there really is no accounting for taste) I had found what has for the 47 years since been my comfort zone – on stage with a band.

Not for the appreciation, as welcome as it is, but for the camaraderie and that unique feeling when musicians lock in and play as one unit.

After almost five decades of playing to crowds ranging from barely double figures to 15,000 here and abroad, it has now been more than two years since I was last on stage and I’m wondering how much longer it’s going to be before it’s even a possibility.

Bands were already struggling with grassroots venues closing down and with the pandemic putting a stop to concert or gig audiences standing in close proximity to each other, even with a vaccine it’s difficult to envisage that communion of crowd and band, the sea of heads all bobing up and down in unison, ever happening again.

The image of musicians playing in a sectioned off perspex box – separate from their audience (actually, considering I gave one cheeky sod a slap one of the last times I played, that may not be such a bad idea) and from each other (not great for interplay, not great at all!) doesn’t really make for that “gig” atmosphere.

Live performance may never be the same again.

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Any bets on a second American Civil War breaking out this coming week?

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Stupid TV quiz answers of the week:

The usual intellectually challenged specimens from Tipping Point

Q September is the first month of which season?

A: Spring

Q: Hiccups are caused by involuntary spasms of which muscle?

A: The neck?

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Edward Case

Columnist