Chair throwers, air guitar players and a thoroughly nice bunch of chaps/chappettes).

Warning

It is very late now and I have just returned from the night club so my spelling and grammar may be even worse than usual.

Well its been nearly a week since my last blog update, the main reason that I have been quite is because I have been socialised.

Last week I was sitting alone and about to write this blog when my space was invaded by some of my entertainment colleagues (who are now friends). They asked if I was posh or just anti-social, they thought this as I sat alone and was forever playing with my laptop rather than mixing and being friendly.

Many of those who know me will not believe this, but the main reason that I was keeping myself to myself was that I was feeling shy. At home I am in control of my environment and I can mix on an equal footing with anybody I meet, however, here on the ship all of the entertainers have a great deal more experience of cruising (I had none) and they all know one another very well.

So where I had no doubts in relation to my performing ability I did feel a little inadequate socialising. My new friends have changed that, I now sit with people in the mess and socialise after gigs. By doing this I have made a few friends who are not even entertainers (they work in retail on board), it’s great!

So the blogs have suffered but I am much happier.

Highlights of last week:-

Chair Thrower.
A passenger collared me between sets. Most of the passengers stay just two nights on board however I had noticed this passenger sitting at the front of the stage on 3 or 4 occasions, so I thought she was crew. I was wrong, she told me she regularly travels this route on business. During the conversation she asked me if I was impressed with the archipelagoes, I had to admit that I didn’t know what they were. For those of you who enjoy my lack of formal education I am not going to explain what they are, you can look it up. Anyway I was told that the best way to view them was by taking a seat in the Bow Bar when the ship leaves Stockholm, I thought I had explored every part of the ship but didn’t even know there was a Bow Bar. The following afternoon before the passengers embarked I went and found a seat in the middle of the Bow Bar (a bar at the front of the ship with a spectacularly large window). There is bench seating and comfortable small armchairs positioned across the window. I sat in the middle armchair. About 20 minutes later the passengers arrived. I heard somebody who was obviously angry shouting (in Finish or Swedish) but did not turn as I thought it had nothing to do with me. A moment later the armchair next to me was picked up and thrown to the floor. The chair thrower was a man in his late 60’s with a very red face who looked like steam was about to come out of his ears, he was glaring at me. Before I could say “English” to him he turned and left the bar, the woman (I assume his wife) followed. A few of the other passengers looked shocked, some laughed and I looked puzzled. A guy picked up the upturned chair and placed it back next to mine, he and his girlfriend sat. He smiled and spoke to me in Finish, I explained I was English so he switched his language to mine. He told me the elderly chap was a lunatic and was screaming that I had taken his seat, he queues early to ensure he is always the first on board and he and his wife always have the two seats in the middle of the window. If only he had asked (in English) I would have gladly given him my seat.

Air Guitar Player
Half way through my first set a big Finish guy who was very drunk approached the stage and tried to tell me something, I thought it was a request so leaned down to see if I could understand (I couldn’t). After a number of tries I understood, he was telling me “I vil elp you”. “Elp me do what”? I shouldn’t have asked, he pushed me aside as he got onto the stage and stood beside me, he looked friendly and smiled as he drank what appeared to be vodka form a pint glass. The punters looked amused so I continued with my next request which was “Changes” a Black Sabbath slow ballad. As I started to sing my partner on stage started to play an air guitar and violently shake his head, I continued to sing “I’m going through changes” All was all quite bizarre but OK until my vodka drinking partner started to leap about. The security officers quickly removed him, I once again was a solo act.

A marching band, a cloven hoofed creature, a woodland pet cemetery and a tall tower. episode 5

Singersbitz

Sunday night and Monday night gigs went well without anything that interesting or unusual happening, however, after the gig on Sunday night I sat for many hours with a varied group of ship’s entertainers. A couple from the Ukraine who do some amazing things hanging by their teeth from hi wires many many feet above a very hard wooden floor. A few show singers from South Africa, lots of dancers from Hungary (and all the girls look very thin), some jazz musicians from Italy, a sax player and DJ  from Sweden (who work as a team on the promenade deck), a Bulgarian 7 piece function band, and a pianist who never said where he came from. All were sharing details of their contracts and T&C’s. I was surprised that all of them are amazingly different, this is because everybody is working for different agents. The hi wire couple perform for just 10 minutes every night and although are proportionately (if worked out fee per minute) are the best paid entertainers on the ship they risk life and limb every time they climb their rope ladder. So even if I could do what they do I would never swap with them. The length of our contracts varies from, my 14 nights to the show singers 6 months. I was so pleased to chat with the guys as I have learned that other than the jazz band I would not swap with any of the other acts on board.

Observations

I am pleased I decided to give Stockholm another try. I decided to walk into the centre and found that I have changed my mind about the place. I had a lovely walk through interesting residential and commercial areas. It took me about 50 minutes to reach the centre and I was very surprised that there were no cup shakers, maybe they all take Sunday off? I wandered around the centre of Stockholm and enjoyed myself. Some of you may know I have child like admiration for marching bands so imagine my joy when I heard one in the distance. I followed the sound and found them, a large military band followed by a few dozen soldiers marching with shining swords and bayonets. I learned it was “the changing of the guard” the soldiers were the Swedish Royal family life guards. I found a parkland route back to the ship that followed the waterside and arrived back at the ship with an hour to spare.

Monday,  I returned to Helsinki and felt like I was getting to know my way around well, I heard an English couple talking they struggling with a map looking for the railway stain and I gave them directions. That brings us right up to today (Tuesday). I have just had a very weird Stockholm walk. I ventured out without a map and found some steep woodland. I walked a path for about 90 minutes without seeing a soul, what I did see was a number of horses wandering the woods (one made a loud whinny noise at me and frightened me). In the mud I found a set of large cloven hoof tracks, I walked very quietly but didn’t find what had made the tracks. Deep in the woods on an overgrown path I turned a bend to find over 100 gravestones many had lit candles in front of them. When I went to investigate I found it was a pet cemetery, there were the expected cats and dogs but also some of the headstones had pictures of horses, goats, a pot bellied pig, birds and reptiles. What a weird find, I wondered how did people get there as it was so far off the beaten track. When I left the cemetery I found a much wider path that led to a dog training centre, two silhouetted Dobermans were depicted on a sign that looked like it said hound training centre. I was now worried as there were 3 empty cages but still no sign of any human presence, I was also ware that I had now been walking for a couple of hours and should try to find my way back to the ship. I cam to a clearing and poking above the trees I saw a huge telecoms tower so I went to have a look. Imagine my pleasure when I found that there was a tarmac road that led to it, a souvenir shop at the bottom of it  and an elevator  for the public to access to the top, up I went. At the top was a bar with fantastic views of the surrounding area and I could see my ship. I had walked for a couple of hours along finger of woodland that followed the peninsula, to get back to the ship I could walk directly across some moorland which only took about 20 minutes. I am now back on board and going to have a kip before my nights performance.

Sorry in Stockholm but Happy in Helsinki (episode 4)

Observations Saturday Morning.

Yesterday (Friday) I went ashore in Stockholm but I didn’t blog anything because I didn’t have anything nice to say. The dock is outside of the centre of Stockholm and a courtesy bus is provided to transport us to/from the ship to the centre.
I missed the bus so got the tube. On the tube there was a couple of Eastern European women begging, I tried blanking them but they just talked at me, so I shook my head (which I thought was a universal movement that means no) this is not the case with beggars in Stockholm, when a beggar sees a head shake they think it is a signal to shake a cup at you lots and lots of times, so I suppose I will have to learn/translate some appropriate Swedish head shakes.

I alighted at a stop that had “centre” in it’s name and I was there.  The first thing I noticed/experienced when leaving the train was the extraordinary number of beggars, they are extremely colourful looking wearing  vibrantly bright long skirts, beads and scarves however that is the only positive thing I can say about them. When talking to one another they laugh, shout and display a host of different emotions, however when they approach a target, each and every one of them have the same look of despair and anguish (a face like a slapped arse). Within minutes I had decided I disliked them. Static ones sit on the floor at every street corner (some in the middle of the pavement) mobile ones follow their targets shaking their cups at them.  I think I may have said in a previous blog that I have a bit of a “counting” compulsion, be it good things or bad things  I like to have a number placed against it. I decided to see how many beggars I could spot from a department store second floor window. The 16 static ones were easy to count, however the mobile ones kept sodding moving about, changing directions and crossing in front of one another, I think there were 11 mobile beggars but I am not sure, what I am sure about that my inability to count them made me dislike them even more.

I wandered around for a couple of hours but eventually found the annoyance that was being caused by cups being continuously shaken in my face was turning to anger so decided to go back to the ship. Not sure if I will venture into Stockholm again.

Saturday Helsinki

The boat docks very close to the centre of town, I had already walked around a bit with my Italian friends however today I was to explore alone. On leaving the dock there is a small market, vegetable stalls selling strange coloured fungus’s (I wonder if that is the correct way of saying more than one fungus)  stalls with bright fish (both cold/wet and cooked), souvenirs and lots of other interesting things. At the end of the market most people were crossing the road and going towards a big church, so I went straight ahead following the waterside. I walked for a couple of hours through beautiful waterside parkland, nice residential areas, some touristy bits and back to waterside parkland. Sometimes there was not a soul to be seen, sometimes there were lots of people jogging, sometimes there were tourists doing touristy things and sometimes there were Helsinki people just doing Helsinki type things. I had looked at a map before I left the ship and thought that if I carried on walking along the coast eventually I would get to a railway track and if I then followed the track to the left I would get back to the town centre. It happened just as planned and I was very pleased with myself. I really, really like Helsinki.
As a treat I stopped at a waterside cafe an bought myself a beer!
Back to the boat ( I have got to decide if it’s a boat or a ship).

Singers Bitz
Saturday Night gig
Beka the bar manager finished his 10 day board on stint so has gone, the new bar manager is Oz he is a tall Nordic looking guy and has a shaved head. He is friendly but seems far more serious than Beka. In my last blog I mentioned the fact that it seemed obligatory for a nutter to attend every one of my gigs, well all rules are made to be broken and the bar was nutter free last night. Lots of very drunk passengers with the most varied taste in music imaginable. One lady asked could I play Paranoid (Black Sabbath), I oblieged and a note went in the tip jar, 10 minutes late she was back asking for anything by Bonnie M
(so I gave her a Brown Girl in the ring and got another note in the jar). Another woman asked for AC/DC and then later requested Country Roads (John Denver) She only gave me coins. By my last set my entertainer friends had arrived, and I closed the set feeling good. Off to the other bar for a late one!

The Fireman, the bikers and the dilemma (Episode 3)

While on this gig, I have decided to split these blogs into 2 parts, initially my blog was set up and intended to focus on all things professional singer related, but I have realised on this gig that half of what I am blogging could be written by anybody travelling. Therefore from here on forward we will have SingersBitz and Observations. My observations section for this blog is missing as they were not very interesting yesterday.

SingersBitz Night 4 (Friday 26th Sept)

Update on my last blog Episode 2:- Boris the Russian was not kidding when he said he had left a large tip to encourage/request an Abba song, I found one of his $50 notes amongst my tips.

Here is my Friday night update.
I had a slight “what’s the time” mishap tonight. Onboard all staff (including entertainers) clocks are set at Finish time which is 2 hours ahead of UK time. However passenger time (including announcements for when the shows are to start etc) is set according to the last port of call, so sometimes it’s 1 hour ahead of UK time and sometimes it’s 2 hours ahead. To add to this confusion, sometimes my phone automatically updates to local time, but if there is no signal it doesn’t. So although I am not a bassist or drummer I now have timing issues.  In my cabin at 2 minutes to 10 I realised my show was to start in 2 minutes. My cabin is about a 4 minute jog away from my stage and my guitar was with me and I was undressed.

I dressed got out of my cabin onto the outside deck and ran. Thankfully the outside deck was deserted so I arrived at my stage at 5 past 10, my friendly Fin manager (Beka) had not reported me missing, so if the Cruise manager never finds this blog he will never know.

Beka was right about the party starting on a Friday night, the bar was full and a great deal of alcohol had been consumed. It has become apparent that it is obligatory to have at least one drunk nutter attend my gig every evening, it is also obligatory for the ships security officers to remove the nutter ASAP.

Last night’s token physcopath came in the guise of a 5’4” Russian dressed as Johnny Cash, he arrived with some friends sat nicely for about 10 minutes (but I could see he had an itch), the itch needed to be scratched so he came to stand directly in front of me and stare at me, I am not sure if he was attempting to be attentive or menacing? The stare continued for about a minute or so, then he very, very, very badly trid to lip sync what I was singing. I soon found out that my cowboy admirer/competition for attention, was totally bald with a tattooed head. I hear a huge chorus of you asking how did you find that out… well if you wait a minute I’ll tell you. It’s because the toy cowboy attempted several times to put his cowboy hat on my head, this was a thankless task as his head was only slightly bigger than my granddaughters, therefore the tiny hat he was wearing would not stay balanced on my head, it fell to the floor many times, each time the hat fell to the floor the Johnny Putin Cash became more agitated and tried to put it back on my head. After a while I got bored of this game and so I impersonated the movements that Jerry Springer’s guests make when they are stressing a point. The audience were amused but the cowboy wasn’t, security were nowhere to be seen. I was now pleased that a little earlier in the evening I had won a couple of giant Sweedish bikers over, by singing “Born to be wild” and “The Ballad of Easy Rider” they were sitting by the side of the dwarfish Putin cowboy so I was confident that if my ankles were about to be bitten the perpetrator would be swiftly apprehended.

My first set ended, my ankles were not bitten and I retired to the bar. Shortly after my arrival at the bar a commotion erupted in front of the stage, the tiny Russian had removed his shirt and was attempting to kiss and cuddle a very tall pretty blonde, the tall blonde in turn was looking very cross and slapping the coyboy about his bald head (the coyboy hat was once again on the floor), one of the giant bikers brought the conflict to an end by picking up the toy cowboy and passing his jerking body to a security officer. It looked a bit like a scene from a Chucky horror movie. Johnny Putin Cash was taken away and placed in a lockable toy box.

At the end of the gig I was approached by a very well dressed young Russian guy who had earlier arrived with an equally well dressed lady, his female companion had now left and he was sitting with the big bikers, they were all very drunk.

The Russian was obviously beckoning me but I could not understand what he was saying, it sounded like we wanted an ice cream and a Selfridges walking frame so I was intrigued, I accepted the invite to join them at their table. I learned via one of the bikers that that a fantastic plan had been hatched, the young Russian named “R2” (well his name sounded something like that) was going to propose to his girlfriend, and at this proposal I would be singing “Unchained Melody” the bikers had been invited to join the post proposal celebrations (where I would continue to provide musical entertinment).

So the only thing to be decided was how much would it cost to entice me up to his suite on the VIP deck (where this event was to take place).

I explained that the music had stopped in the VIP areas an hour earlier as some VIP’s liked to sleep, and that although he had a VIP suite we would not be allowed to make any noise as the VIP’s in the other cabins would complain and I would be thrown off the boat. In reply R2 explained to me that the all top deck VIP cabins on the port side of the ship had been taken by his girlfriends family as her dad was celebrating becoming a politician. None of the neighbours  would mind being awoken, and they would all be happy and probably join the celebration. I regretted accepting the ice cream/walking frame invite and  was becoming more and more worried, while my new friends were becoming more and more instant that we were going to party. I desperately was looking for a way out. Then I thought I had found one! As this was an impromptu engagement I knew the what the answer would be when I asked, “do you have a ring”, the wind was taken from R2’s sails (and I had found an escape) R2 looked so sad and deflated until hairy Biker “1” offered to give R2 one of his rings, the giant hairy biker had about 46 rings on each of his fingers “oh bollocks I thought.

I told my new friends I had to return to my cabin to leave my bits and pieces there and would meet them in the late bar in 10 minutes, I had no intention of going to the bar.

When I got to my cabin and realised that these guys may be coming back on the return journey so I would have to face them again, and they might not be so friendly if I had previously left them sitting waiting for me in a bar. I would have to go to meet them and face the music (but without playing any). I went to the bar (without my guitar), I was going to explain that I was not allowed to go into passengers cabins (which might even be true) and I would suggest that R2 could propose to his beloved tomorrow with a proper ring, I would gladly (for an appropriate fee) perform for him then. The bikers didn’t like this idea but R2 agreed. I thought that R2 even seemed a little relived. Later I learned R2 used to be a fireman, this changed when he met his love, she did not want him to be a fireman and so her dad had employed him as a manager (in one of his many companies). R2 was not really sure what he was the manager of, he was paid much better than he had been as a fireman but he did not really enjoy being a manager. As the night progressed R2 told me that he was not going to propose to his beloved tomorrow because she wasn’t really his beloved, he was only with her because she wanted him to be with her,  he remained with her because he was very frightened of what her dad might do to him if he disclosed the fact that he wanted to return to being an unattached fireman.
Another interesting end to an evening.

PS The giant bikers were amongst a number of guys here that are over 6’6 tall so I am of the opinion Sweden and Finland seem to have a dis-proportionate number of giants, I am going to start counting how many I see on my travels ( I have a compulsion to count things).

Not so new boy! (Episode 2)

I feel very proud of myself as I am now able to find my way back to my cabin without first visiting every corridor on deck 5. As I explained in my last post I was not expecting to have a tips bucket on the stage so the extra money is a surprise gift. The first couple of nights were quite in the bar but produced a heavy weight of coin and a few notes, I took these back to the cabin and emptied the lot into a carrier bag and thought not a lot more about it. Yesterday I was befriended by a group of Italian entertainers who showed me around Helsinki and spoke in English the whole time (which I thought was very nice of them), I accepted a Facebook friend request form Lorenzo and found that we had five mutual friends small World huh.
Last night the bar was much busier, I tuned up, had a quick sound-check and was about to start my first set when a very drunk woman came to the stage, smiled at me, then lay on the stage in front of me and immediately fell into a coma. Two Finish blonde female officers were quickly on the scene picked her up and carried her away, the drunk woman appeared to be repeating some of the lines from a 1960’s Donovan hit as she was carried away.

It was a good evening with lots of requests, I learned that in this area of the World Bad Company, Black Sabbath, The Doors and The Kinks are still very popular, so I was in my element.
At the end of the night I was accosted by a couple of punters (Herty and Gerty) who are reps on the boat for a conference, they were friendly but a little over refreshed, so I was very pleased when my new found Italian friends appeared with even more new friends (more entertainers). I was invited to join them at the Atlantic night club where a band continue performing until about 3pm. I grabbed my tip bucket to take it back to my cabin (en route to the club) and was a little disappointed to find it was much lighter than it was the previous two nights, but c’est la vie.

The band in the night club are just what is needed for that time of the morning, the dance floor is kept busy with drunk people entertaining the entertainers. After a while most of my entertainer friends decided to join the punters on the dance floor, this made the whole experience even more amusing, as initially there was a distinct separate area where the entertainers were dancing together, the rest of the floor remained a passengers area. However within minutes the professional dancers had attracted the attention of male passengers (who had previously been only “dance watchers”, but now they ventured  onto the floor). Most of these guys were my age but believed that their “dad” dancing technique would attract the  professional dancers (who were all probably younger than the dad’s daughters).

I was having a good time people watching until Herty and Gerty appeared, they were being followed by a couple of Russians who had also been at my performance earlier. Herty and Gerty had decided that the best way to loose their unwanted followers was to sit at a table with me. Boris and Karlov came and joined the table. Boris (who’s English was decipherable) told me that earlier in the evening he had given me a big tip and requested an Abba song but I had not sung it, Gerty translated for me. Boris showed me his watch (a Rolex) and a roll of American 50 dollar notes, he then gave minute long monologue in Russian. He ordered 5 ½ bottles of Champagne and Gerty told me one was for me.

As soon as the opportunity arose I escaped by going to join my entertainer friends on the dance floor, in an instant I realised I now looked like one of the predatory dad’s!  I left the dance floor on the far side and went to the “New York’ night club, no live band but safer. I sat and watched the passengers on the dance floor and all was well. Thirty minutes passed and my Italian friends appeared so I had some company, 10 minutes later the pro dancers arrived followed by a hoard of drunk passengers including Herty, Gerty, Boris and Kalov. So in the words of Zebberdee “time for bed” and to write this blog.

Tomorrow I think a trip around Stockholm beckons.

The new boy, all good so far! (Episode 1)

Wednesday 24th Sept 14

Before I left home to venture on my first ever cruise gig, I used an i-phone app to check in and subsequently display my boarding pass at the airport. When I got to the departures gate at Heathrow the machine asked me to swipe my boarding pass (phone), and the barriers opened, my hand baggage went through security and I was “air-side” it was then I realised that nobody had asked to see my passport, good security huh?

My Heathrow highlight was that, at the boarding gate amongst the complimentary newspapers was a selection of complimentary magazines that included a copy of “Guitar Aficionado” (this months addition and usually sold for 8 quid). I took it then picked out all the good bits to read, which took me the 2 hours and twenty minutes (the flight time to Helsinki).

On the plane there was a priced menu and I thought everything was chargeable however I was given a complimentary breakfast so things were looking up. At Helsinki airport I was met by a Mercedes uniformed chauffeur he took my bag to a brand new Mercedes saloon with blacked out windows, the interior smelt of new leather and was lovely. Sadly he spoke no English, so we had a 20 minute drive to the port in silence.

Three boats were docked and I was dropped at the Silja Serenade (my home for the next fortnight). The dockside Information directed me to a nonpublic area, a guard asked to see my passport and I boarded. Once aboard there were no passengers but lots of crew buzzing about, there were no visible signs as to where I was supposed to go, I asked an officer if he could help and he directed me to a lift that took me to the 12th floor where there was another information desk, the clerk there contacted the Cruise Manger who took me to the security office where my bags were left and then he took me on a tour of the ship wearing my newly issued “entertainers security pass”.

After a long wander, we went back to the security team who directed me to my cabin, although I was supposed to have an outside cabin I had been given an inside one, but never mind.

Off to find food. I found the crew mess, it’s available 23 hours a day, self service and good, with a salad bar, fruits counter, sweets/cakes, and a limited choice of hot food (meat, fish, vegetarian or a selection of all 3). After my meal I left the mess to return to my cabin and spent nearly 40 minutes looking for it, I knew it was on floor 5 and numbered 577 but for the life of me I couldn’t I find it. I found cabins numbered from 500 up to 560 then they started again at 590. Eventually I found what looked like a locked cupboard door, my key fitted and behind it was another 30 cabins (including mine).

My performance started at 9pm and the manager was very relaxed telling me that, within reason I could start and finish as I liked. The punters are a mix of Swedish, Norwegian, Asian and Estonian and all speak English to a much better level than I could speak to them in their languages.

I played a mixed set of Crowded House, Beatles, Stones, Kinks etc and the punters responding requesting more of the same. With each request some coins were thrown in a “tips” ice bucket on the edge of the stage. After the first set the manager told me he was very happy because usually all the singers perform the same songs and it was a buzz for him hearing something different.

The bar was quite empty and the manager told me it will continue to be so until Friday when it goes nutty for the week-end. After my performance I emptied my ice bucket into my man bag and wandered around the ship to listen to the other musicians. There is quite a good jazz pianist, but not sure of the rest yet. I think I am the only English musician on the boat and it seems some of the other guys have to work during the day.
So to bed.

I awoke this morning after a good nights sleep, after about 4 hours we docked in Stockholm. At breakfast I was asked if I would be prepared to help with an “emergency drill” there are regular life boat drills however once every 6 months the ships safety team organise for the top deck chutes to be inflated then, non-saftey crew and entertainers are asked to act as passengers, we will be guided to the top deck, given life jackets and then decend on the chutes down 12 floors to a pontoon in the dock.

Slip sliding away!

Singer or Torturer?
Last night I was really looking forward to my jazz duo gig at a French style bistro.  My last performance there had been a great success; the people who had pre-booked tables had been into the music, the diners who had arrived as passing trade were also very appreciative, all the staff were great. To add to the buzz, people passing the restaurant were pausing outside, the place was full and the maitre de had to turn people away who had not booked.
So, onto last night.  The Blackwall Tunnel was clear, there were no other delays en-route, I arrived in good time, I found a parking place close to the Barbican and approached the venue.  Outside was Dave (my musical partner for the evening) with his acoustic (nylon strung) guitar.  He is not only a virtuoso jazz guitarist but also a superb accompanist so I was thinking, “I got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night”.
From the pavement I could see the restaurant was nearly empty.  There were more staff than customers…oh dear.  A new manager approached me, apologised for not having more customers and said there were only a few tables booked.  It had been quiet all week and the pavements were empty.  With a friendly smile, he told me not to worry because he had heard reports of what a good night we had had previously so he was sure that people would turn up.  Even if people didn’t turn up he and his team would enjoy the evening.
The only people who were in the restaurant had finished their meals and were about to leave so the manager said we could delay the start of our performance until more arrived, but within a few minutes he came back to say one of the couples had asked when we were going to start, so we started our first set.  After the first song the couple applauded (quietly) and ordered drinks, they were going to stay.  A few more people arrived and although the restaurant was still very quiet those who were there were digging the music.  I forgot about my set list and responded to the customers’ requests.  They included, “anything by Michel Legrand”, “Autumn Leaves”, “some Cole Porter” and “can you sing a Nat King Cole song?”.
The gig is a very relaxed one.  We end our performance no later than10:30 but other than that we take breaks as and when we feel appropriate.  Although we had an “intimate” gathering, the punters looked like they were there for the duration so it wasn’t going to be an early finish.  So at around 9:30 we decided we would play a couple more songs then take another break.  Our penultimate song was “Foggy Day”.  During this song the climate changed and a low depression with a cold front entered the restaurant. A group of five people came in, all very smartly dressed three in their late 60’s and an attractive couple in their late 20’s. The older guy flashed me a glare that reminded me of a line from “Games Without Frontiers”.  It did not look like these people were going to have a good time. Before they had removed their coats they had called for the manager.  As I was about to start my last song of the set the manager told me that the new arrivals had complained that the music was far too loud and had asked for us to turn down.  The manager had qualified his request by stating that he didn’t think we were too loud but had to pass on their request.  I told the manager that we were on our last song of the set and would keep it very laid back.
During our break the ‘cold front’ that had arrived further chilled the air.  The diners who had  helped create the warm, intimate atmosphere were glancing across at the new arrivals because they were very loud.  The three older people seemed intent on broadcasting their conversation at such a volume that the previous warm and tranquil hum was snubbed out, they were not shouting but were unnecessarily speaking at a volume you would expect a teacher to use when addressing a noisy classroom.
During the break I thought that the last set was not going to be as pleasant as the first two but never mind.  We had less than 30 minutes to play and I would try to ignore the raucous table and concentrate on pleasing the nice people. I approached the performance area, as if in response, one of the new arrivals approached the manager and bent his ear.  I waited, as I thought we had problems.  I was correct.  The manager came across and told me that the new arrivals had told him that he was to make sure that we did not play too loud as they wanted to enjoy their meal in peace.  It was obvious the manager did not like the new arrivals but it was also apparent these individuals were practised in the art of intimidation and were used to deploying their skills to ensure that they got what they wanted.
We started the final set.  I positioned myself so that I was facing away from the intimidators. Dave played some beautiful chords, that, with great feeling introduced “What are you doing the rest of your life”.  We kept it quiet. I sang without a mic and Dave’s amp was turned down very low. The song ended and the small audience in front of me applauded. I felt the presence of her behind me before she tapped me on the shoulder.  It was the younger woman. “My father is asking can you please turn it down.  He and my mother can’t hear themselves speak”.  I was truly surprised as we were performing at such a low volume I thought that surely there would be no more complaints. I thought that the lady seemed like she was only doing as she was told and seemed quite polite so I said to her, “I am really sorry that your dad thinks we are too loud.  I am now singing without a microphone and the guitarist’s amp is turned as low as it will go, I think the volume of conversation is higher than the volume of the music.  Do you think we are too loud?”  I got such a surprise when her politeness turned in to open hostility.  She took a deep breath and at about 80 decibels said, “We came here tonight to enjoy a meal.  My mother’s friend has a problem with her hearing and your singing is so loud it is not only spoiling our evening but it is physically causing her pain.  You are seriously hurting her ears. The volume of our conversation has nothing to do with it because it’s your frequencies that are causing the problem. If you really don’t care that you are distressing, torturing an elderly lady then you just carry on”.  As she walked away she said to herself “so selfish”.
The restaurant fell silent, the manager offered to move the sufferer and her companions to another table but told them that the other diners had come to the restaurant specifically because there was live music.  I sang two more songs (very quietly) and then thankfully it was 10:30, time to finish.On the way home there was a hold up at Blackwall tunnel and I sat for 40 minutes without moving an inch forward, but at least Radio 4 was there so all was OK with the World.

You don’t only live twice.

It’s 2:55am so probably not a sensible time to write a blog but I feel like it so here goes.

I love analogies, they help me make sense of the sometimes very confusing World around me.  I enjoy listening to the analogies that others offer and even more so, I love creating my own.

I recently had to learn “You Only Live Twice” and the more I read the lyrics the more I disagreed with the title.  So, to prove my point (just to myself) I thought about an analogy of “life”compared to a singer’s ideal live performance.

I will now share my thoughts with you.

The preparations for a gig can be compared to life.  It’s good if you know what’s expected of you, and, there are usually some essential requirements (you need to know the location of the gig, learn the songs, have a set list etc.)  So, like life, a gig usually goes better if you  have taken it through some type of planning process.

Now I think this is where the important bit comes in,  the performance part. This is  where some singers  choose to either “give it their all” by performing to their limits or choose to play it safe.

The stage lights have been illuminated, you have been introduced, so there is no going back for a rehearsal, you can’t ask for another sound check (not even a small twiddle of the knobs) because the audience have arrived, they are watching and are listening.  It’s time to do it.

The performance choice is,  to keep it nice and safe and maybe have an “OK” gig or to make it exciting, take risks, maybe make mistakes but most importantly make the performance an enjoyable and memorable one.  I have chosen to live my life like I perform.

I want to seize  every opportunity that presents itself to me and even grab some that have not been  presented to me.  At times I will push my range and experiment with vocal licks that I previously had not even thought about, let alone attempted.  If I feel that the band are happy to embark on a mystery tour I may occasionally stray from the set list altogether. I have no doubt that I will make mistakes.  There is a danger in this way of living /performing because mistakes could make others uncomfortable so it is very important that whilst performing I don’t forget that others are on the stage/in the venue with me and they must be considered.  The band must have an explorer’s spirit and not be distressed by being taken into uncharted waters.  It is essential that the audience enjoys the experience. On and off stage it’s also nice to make time to bring smiles to the faces of the bar staff, security, cleaners (and anyone else you might bump into before you pack up and leave).

I find that writing things down is like creating analogies,  it helps me understand and achieve what I want.  I hope writing the above will help me focus and perform a blinder.

Life is no rehearsal, this is the real thing.  You only live once and it’s happening now so make the most of it and “Life’s A Long Song” so sing it the very best you can.

 

 

 

The ease of the job.

The trick with slick band fronting
(band fronting = the person who is standing in front of a band and giving the audience the impression that they are in complete control, they call the tunes, they deal with any hecklers, they diplomatically refuse to allow X factor contestants access to the stage/microphone, they deal with many other unexpected occurrences…. almost forgot, and they usually sing).
is to give the appearance that no effort is required.
The truth of the matter is that, most of the time experience controls instinct and so the time spent on stage is the easy bit (and very pleasurable).

 

What the punter does not know is the extraordinary amount of effort and time that is spent in acquiring the skill to perform, finding the gig, negotiating the gig, learning the songs, getting a band together and  making sure everybody knows who is doing what, when, where, how, what they should be wearing while they are doing it and sometimes having to explain why you were unable to get free drinks and a proper meal for all (including the roadies girlfriend).

 

A few of weeks ago I had an enquiry from an individual representing a large organisation (who I regularly work for) requesting that I quote to perform with my soul band for a huge London wide multisite event. The T&C’s were unusual as the request was for the band to play on an outside platform from early morning until late afternoon, I provided an appropriate quote. This started a lengthy exchange of e-mails and telephone conversations as the budget was not large enough to accommodate my fee. Eventually the organisation increased their budget by a little I dropped my fee by a little, I also reduced the size of the band and it was agreed that we would finish our performance early afternoon (rather than late afternoon)  this meant I could still perform a Saturday night function so would have a double bubble Saturday.

 

One might think that’s it, job done, but that was just the shunt that got the train rolling. The task then was to get the band on board, deps (stand-ins) were found for those who were not available, access passes for those driving had to be arranged (the event was to close many of London’s roads)  and a series of band generated “what if’s” had to be answered.
Finally with a mobile phone irradiated hot ear and keyboarding e-mail induced RSI the pre gig “Frontman” tasks had been completed ……. or so I thought.

 

Less than 20 hours before the gig I received a phone call, “hello I am the co-ordinator looking after you” I said “hi” and said I was looking forward to working with her, she continued, “I have just had my briefing, don’t worry there is no big deal but, I have checked your requirements and there are a couple of small things we need to sort out that were agreed but now cant do”. I replied that, that shouldn’t cause a problem and asked what needed to be changed. My co-ordinator then told me that although I had an agreement that the band would be provided with parking places, now there were none, all surrounding roads were to be closed to traffic (including parked cars), and that there was no electricity on site “ are you OK with that?” I explained that we are a soul band with a load of equipment that we couldn’t carry on London transport, and the PA electric guitars, keyboards wont work without electricity. My co-ordinator was very polite but said that we would have to perform without electricity because there wasn’t any.
I awaited more, but the phone was quite, I suggested that our performance area be re-located to one that was within reach of a power supply, my co-ordinator agreed and asked if I knew where we might relocate to? I explained that maybe she would be the person to find a new location (not me) and she agreed.

An hour later she called me back with some good and some bad news. The good news is that they have found a source of power on site, the bad news is that a significant number of protestors have set up tents on and around the platform where we were to perform and the police are unable to remove them. My co-ordinator told me she will get back to me soon.

In about 14 hours we are supposed to be setting up the PA and gear, will a new location be found?

Late update:- I have just been informed (10 hrs before the scheduled arrival time) the gig is off. Now let the battle commence for a cancelation fee.

Another Day

It’s just another day.  I took a morning bath and washed my hair, then off to Brentford not to have a trial for Brentford FC, not to go to the Arts Centre, but to sing a jingle. I got off a stop early, because I had a memory of passing an Army Surplus store close to the station, and I needed to buy a uniform.  I’ll tell you why in another blog.

I was pleased to see the shop was still there.  From outside it looked quite large however when I entered it resembled something from “The Hoarder Next Door” with boxes amongst heaps of “things” stood stacked to the roof.  A young guy dressed in a mis-match of military uniforms was balanced on a stack of boxes so that he could empty other boxes of combat trousers onto a pile of boots.  Like a child with a spade at the seaside, the box balancer was mesmerised with his building (the pile measured about 5 foot tall and was rapidly growing).  I stood on the only surface I could that would not have involved a climb to a base camp.  The box emptier had seen me, but needed to empty just one more box of trousers before he would make eye contact or acknowledge my presence with a “you OK mate, or do you want something?”.

I told him I wanted a high-visibility coat with the blue chequered strips, one that had not had the POLICE reflectors removed. He said, “I think I might have some at the back” and, like Golum in pursuit of a precious thing, he scrambled away over the foothills of footwear.

A few moments later, a huge box came hurtling from behind ‘Mount Boots’ and landed by my feet. “That’s them, mate”, in the flick of a knife he was back. He emptied the jackets from the box by systematically throwing one to the left, one to the right, and one behind.  “Nah, we have to take all the police badges off and cut em up, cos it’s illegal to sell old Bill stuff with old Bill badges”.

The box emptied, unfortunately for me, every jacket was badge-less.  “Oh well never mind”,  I said, “I’ll come back later and have a look at your other stuff “.  Golum smiled, reached into the box and then held aloft a selection of different sized reflective POLICE badges,  “I found some” he said with a even larger grin, “how much do you want for them” I asked, he threw them to me, “you can have em, mate”.

I had spent more time than I had intended in the shop, so had run to record my jingle.  I thanked my kind new friend, telling him I would return in a couple of hours to buy a jacket.

The next 30 minutes were spent singing with an exaggerated East End accent, ensuring that I did not sound like a professional singer but like an East End builder.  I then sang like I was the builder’s mates accompanying him. A multi-tracked demo completed, I headed back to buy a jacket.

An elderly chap who was wearing a mix of RAF, Army and Road Sweepers uniforms sat in the shop (taking up 50% of the previously available floor space.  My young kind friend was squatting up at base camp one.  I said “hi” but to my surprise the young guy did not appear to recognise me.  Was it a twin? Did I dream that I had been in the store earlier? I reminded him that I had met him earlier and that I wanted to buy some police gear. “Oh yes, I remember, but I don’t think we haven’t got anything your size”.  I said there were a lot of jackets and suggested maybe one would fit.  A little louder, my friend repeated his message and then, as if on cue, a large man appeared from somewhere and stood in the doorway shop.  He wore the same mis-matched uniform, but with clown sized big boots.  “He just told you, we ain’t got nothing to fit you”. He did not look happy.  It was like a far more scary version of “this is a local shop for local people”.  I was not sure if I would be allowed to leave or if, in a few decades time, my half-eaten body would be found beneath a pile of army boots.

Fortunately, a woman appeared behind the door keeper said, in a very well-spoken voice, “hello, do you sell Russian overcoats with real fur collars?” This distracted the door keeper.  I took my opportunity to escape the scene and headed for the railway station, occasionally looking over my shoulder – was I going to be pursued?  Would Mrs Real Fur Collars ever leave the shop?