“All the Worlds indeed a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers”
Famous words penned by William Shakespeare and paraphrased brilliantly by the genius that was Neil Peart in the song Limelight by Rush.
When those of us who make the decision to transition from casual listener and supporter of music to creator and producer of our own, the performance of that work in front of a live ('ish) audience is surely the pinnacle of those efforts. It doesn’t matter if you are following in the footsteps of legends and your heroes onto the stages of well known venues or onto the beer soaked carpet of a back street pub in Bury the feeling is the same... let me take you there.
The year was 1984, my band had released our first (and only as it turned out) album and we were flying high in the rock charts at No.2 second only to the mighty Van Halen!!
Granted the chart was one compiled by sales in Vibes, our local record shop, but it was a chart nevertheless.
Having completed a pretty non-eventful apprenticeship as far as playing live went, we had now gone up a league and I stood stage left as the band roared into our first song. For years as a teenager I had poured over photos of all my heroes onstage, UFO, Priest, Scorpions and Maiden. Every one of them had the same photo somewhere in their catalogue. The iconic image that so fascinated me was my idols standing at the front of those famous stages with their feet on the wedge monitors, arms raised in reciprocal worship between band and crowd. I wanted that.
I had waited my whole life for it and my moment was now. I ran onto that stage and jumped with both feet onto the monitor in front of my mic stand. Nobody told me those things were not stuck to the floor. The whole thing slid out from under my feet and disappeared off the edge of the stage, taking with it the cables leading to the guitarist and bass players backing vocal mic’s. The two backing vocal mic’s and their stands then slid slowly to the edge of the drop before lazily toppling over into the void.
I lay on my back, winded and bruised, looking up at the lights. Very slowly from my peripheral vision I saw two of my band mates, still playing the song, looking down at me with confusion and dismay. I’m pretty sure I saw a disapproving shake of the head, imperceptible maybe, but it was there.
Welcome to the unpredictable world of live music.
After that episode of “carry on gigging” I discovered that to expect the unexpected was the best way of dealing with life on the road. Shows that you anticipated for weeks would turn out to be a monumental flop while gigs in potentially dodgy or unknown dives made memories that live fondly in my head to this day.
One Tuesday night in Stoke fell into the latter category.....
The name of the venue escapes me although it may have been called Victoria’s. It was a proper bikers pub with a live music room upstairs. The guy running it was called Adam but we re-christened him Add-on due to his rather annoying habit of leaving you with an extra bit of information at the end of every sentence.
We were warned about the venue by another band who had been literally run out of town a few weeks earlier and as we walked in around two in the afternoon the scene was reminiscent of the opening sequence of “The Terminator”. A smattering of very scary looking Hells Angels looked us up and down as we trooped through the bar to access the live music room, I thought about going to the pool table and asking for someone’s “clothes, boots and motorcycle “ but I thought I might end up leaving through the front window with my teeth in my pocket if they hadn’t seen the film.
We followed Add-on up a small stairway. “Might be a tight fit getting all our gear up these steps” said Nick.
Add-on carried on walking and said “There’s a lift at the back of the stage actually boys.” I looked at Nick with relief but before I had time to comment...“But it doesn’t work”.
The live music room was above the main bar and was dark and dusty with the usual stale beer and old cigarette smells lingering from the previous nights activity. The stage was at one end and as I approached it you could see chicken wire attached from floor to ceiling in front of the stage. “Is this some kind of Mad Max style post apocalyptic look you’ve got going here mate?” asked Mike. I already feared the answer before it came. “They tend to throw stuff if they like you here and some of the bands complained so we put this up.” We all thought it but I said it.
“If they LIKE you... what do they do if they don’t like you?”
“They’ve been known to get onstage and physically chuck bands off if they don’t like you. This fence was put there to stop them doing that.” We waited. “Course, it’s not strong enough to stop em really.”
After a few hours of debate and, to be fair, blind terror, we decided to go ahead and it turned out to be one of the best shows we ever did. We were absolutely buzzing after the gig and talked about it for months.
As we dismantled all the gear in the early hours, our old pal Add-on reappeared with our money. We chatted for a while and he seemed pleased with how the gig had gone. “See lads, no need to worry eh! You know, I think that’s the best reception I’ve seen any band get up here for ages, really well done, you lads can come back anytime.” He turned and walked away and we all waited with baited breath...”personally...I thought you were shit, but the punters loved you.”
I could bore you with anecdotes and tall tales from on tour for more time than either you or I have... and I’m not sure they are of interest to anyone but me.
All the same, I will revisit some more stories from the road in another blog... involving a US nuclear submarine and a set of lost false teeth... beat that for diversity.