A few (un)rock ‘n’ roll thoughts in the light of recent gigs
Rock ‘n’ Roll in deepest rural France – We call ourselves RTT – six aging Saturday night rockers plying their musical trade anywhere and everywhere that there is somewhere to play and someone to listen. Cover versions of well-worn rock and roll standards that are so worn out they are threadbare. A bit like us.
In the past years we have played…
- On top of a septic tank
- On the backs of several lorries
- In the middle of a field
- In the middle of a field with a lawnmower race in the adjoining field
- On a campsite
- Under a marquee on a street corner in the pouring rain.
- In several very dodgy bars
- In various village halls.
Yeah. I guess we have pretty much played everywhere that there is to play around here. It’s probably only a question of time before we start playing the local retirement homes, so old is our repertoire.
Play at any price
Our guitarist/impresario/road manager/sound engineer has the knack of finding us unpaid gigs – at least not paid in real money but in kind – either food, or the promise of another unpaid gig. So, we don’t mind doing charity gigs, but just once it would be good to play for a fistful of Euros rather than a fistful of French Fries. Of course it’s not all fries, a hot dog and a beer often accompany them, but it is little recompense when you have just done a three-hour set. Nowadays we always eat before we play. There have been many times over the years when the organisers have run out of French fries, hot dogs and even beer. « Sorry guys » bleats the apologetic bloke in the baseball cap at the food stall. « We’ve run out. I’ve maybe still got enough left to do you a sandwich. »
Fame and Fortune
Of course, I shouldn’t complain. Who wants fortune when you can have fame? I am world famous down my street and occasionally I get recognised by « fans » in my local supermarket. I even signed an autograph once – some drunken bloke stinking of wine; sweat and garlic, propping up the bar at some French fry gig in some fleapit bar in some far-flung village in the middle of nowhere. Come to think of it, fortune would be nice. We like fame though. There is something thrilling when you see your name at the top of the bill – Poorly photocopied A3 posters pasted up around neighbouring towns and villages advertising your next gig, and there, in the headline spot for all to see in glorious black and white; « RTT in Concert. » Just a shame we can’t choose the support act (because there is always some kind of support act) Over the years we have been supported by: a troupe of overweight, baton dropping Majorettes (well Majorettes are always overweight in this part of the world): a group of Zumba-dancing housewives: a school choir: a drunken accordion-player: a local amateur line dancing group (complete with cowboy boots, chequered shirts and Stetsons) and a local folk band. It’s always good to have some support, if only to give the punters time to get drunk enough before we come on stage.
Dirty vans and decibels and more wires than spaghetti
So, last Friday, we travelled to the middle of the middle of nowhere to do a gig for Beaujolais nouveau night. The usual village bar – locals, yokels, alkies, oldies, loonies, gran, grandpa, mum dad and the kids, all gathered in the local café to see us, the biggest show in town, the only show in town. For sure you get a pretty eclectic audience in these spit and sawdust country cafés. We roll in around 6pm and set up our gear – OH LORD do we have gear – our guitarist/impresario/road manager/sound engineer is a gear geek. He arrives at the gig in his white transit van, loaded to the gunnels with enough sound equipment to fill a small football stadium. « There’s over 1000 watts in there; » he enthuses, giving a big hard slap on the side of his dirty van.
We don’t need 1000 watts or decibels or whatever. Sure we want to be heard, but we ain’t here to make the punters deaf or make their ears bleed. AND do we really need a 24 track mixing desk? Do we really need five separate mikes just for the drums in a bar that is no larger than a garage? There are cables and wires and more cables – its’ like walking around in spaghetti. Our three guitarists (yes three- all have huge Marshall amps, so heavy you’d need a forklift to shift them. They have racks and pedals –more pedals than the whole Tour de France, and every song has a different guitar effect and it takes so bloody long in between each song to find the right effect, even if it has been pre-programmed.
A myriad of Munchkins
Ah, what’s this? A new voice effect? Our guitarist/impresario/road manager/sound engineer thrusts a « machine » into my hands. The « machine » is apparently voice effect cum voice harmoniser. « You can pre –programme all your backing vocals and you can harmonise your voice when you sing » I’ll give anything a go, just to keep our geeky guitarist happy. I get wired up, plugged in, programmed – « Okay sing! »
« Smoke on the water, the fire’s in the … »
Second time round, the guitarist/geek tells me to press the foot pedal. Immediately my voice is harmonised, expanded and accompanied by what sounds like a myriad of munchkins, a choir of squeaky alien voices from a bad science fiction B movie. The squeaky message on my call minder sounds better than this/ I’m not convinced with this new technology.
Turn down that guitar!!!
In voice terms, there is only one demand I will make – that, I can actually hear myself sing. Yes, I have two stage amps at my feet, and I can hear myself singing when no one else is playing, but when the guitarists start playing – yeah, this is the problem playing with aging would-be Hendrix types – to play good, you also have to play loud and when it is too loud, the rest of us also have to go loud to be heard. It happens every gig. We spend hours setting up and doing a sound check, then when we start playing, the guitarists turn up the volume for their lengthy boring solos forgetting each time to turn the volume back down when they have finished pretending to be Eric Clapton or Steve Vai. Come the end of the gig, I can’t even hear myself sing though the stage amps; but everyone still in the audience who still has any hearing left, tells me that I am singing far too old. So, as always, I finish the gig, not fronting the band, but in the audience, in front of the band so I can hear myself via the PA.
Assholes and earholes
So, the audience seem to like it. Come around midnight, we’ve been rocking for a couple of hours. Time for a break. Most « normal » people head home for bed; leaving the bar filled with a selection of alkies, air guitarists, would-be musicians and assholes. The alkies and air guitarists flail around the improvised dance floor like they think they are at Woodstock, whilst those in the would-be musical asshole category keep coming up and asking if they can’t have a jam. Come 1 am, we want to stop – at least I want to stop whereas our leader wants to carry on because « we’ve got a good audience to night, we don’t want to disappoint them » and the bar owner wants us to carry on for the ten or so remaining hard-drinking punters. I just want to be at home in bed. I don’t want to be here, in this bar, in this noise, with some asshole shouting in my ear hole.
« Sweetomealabarmaaaaaa. » I think this last one is a request. All the while two mental cases have come up to join me at the mike and they are slobbering « highwaytoo’ell » over me and over the mike – I’ll have to disinfect it when I get home.
I’m not cool
And I have one of those « out of body » moments. I am not here but I can see myself here and I want to be anywhere else but here. So I stop singing. I politely tell my impromptu backing vocalists to go forth and multiply, adding a maternal reference when they tell me I’m not « cool ». No I’m not cool. I’m fed up of playing fleapit bars for no money. I’m fed up of playing for people like you. I’m fed up of this band; I’m fed up of gassy beer, luke-warm hot dogs and fistfuls of over fried French fries. And you know what, if I do stop all this; I sure am gonna miss it, so I guess I’ll just keep on rocking.