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?

Should you have to share your stage with stranger singers

The scene.  Saturday night at just gone 11:00.  A filled to capacity Mayfair club.  A soul band with male and female vocalists are just beginning their third number of the first set.  The dance floor is full. I am singing BVs for the female singer who shares the stage with me.

A woman grabs me by my wrist, the one holding my mic. “Give me the mic, give me the mic.  I’ll sing this one”.  I try to pull my wrist away but she has a firm grip.  I tell her to let go.  “But I am a professional singer, give me the mic”.  I still can’t get my wrist free.  Security are nowhere to be seen.  My hostage negotiating  skills come into play.  I tell her I will speak to her in the break if she will release me. I am freed. A few minutes later.  I am in the middle of a verse when she returns. “I am going to sing Valerie in the second set, OK”.  I continue singing. “Did you hear me?  I am going to sing Valerie!”.  I nod and she goes away. All is quiet for a while, well not actually quiet, because the band are loud, the crowd shout a lot and the monitors are less than a foot away from my head, but the stage invader has disappeared.  One song before the end of the first set, the rhythm section strike up the introduction to ‘Lady Marmalade’.  I start to sing, “Hey sister, go sister soul sister, go sister”.  The dancers on the floor are thrust aside as the ‘wrist grabber’ heads straight for me.  “Stop, stop!  I know this one and I want to sing it in the second set!”.  I keep my wrists out of reach. Francesca, the female vocalist, sings, “He met Marmalade down in Old New Orleans….” at a higher volume.  I hear, “stop her singing, stop her now!”  Ha ha!  She hasn’t got my wrist so I can keep my foot on the mic stand to stop her moving it to get closer to me and I can see security are on the way.  She sees them too and makes a tactical withdrawal back onto the dance floor, disappearing into the crowd.

The first set ends.  On the way to a table to take a well-earned break I pass the manager and warn him we have a looney lady in the house.  As I am speaking to him she appears. “Ok in the second set I am going to sing Valerie and I think I might want you to play Lady Marmalade again”.  I tell her I am very sorry but she can’t come onto the stage as we are not insured for customers using the equipment.  “I am not a customer, I am a professional singer!  People pay a lot of money to hear me sing”.  Not realising with whom I am standing she continues,  “I have spoken to the manager who told me to tell you that he said you have to call me up to sing”.  The manager asks her exactly when he told her that.  He gestures to me that I can leave.  As I head towards my wine, a voice can be heard shouting, “you are not the manager you are an arsehole!”.

I think that musicians may be in the only profession where members of the public attempt to take over their jobs. Would a butcher, baker or candlestick maker be subjected to the same experience?