Good venues, bad venues, barely there and great venues, green venues, black (painted) venues, Swiss and Thai and wide venues – I’ve played them all (well, maybe not Thai venues, although not for want of trying).
Yup. I’ve stood on stage in on and near rooms of between 50 and 3,000 people (*1). I’ve been punched in the nose and eye (by mic-stands as well as fists deliberate and accidental), broken and sprained an ankle, been hit by three bottles and two glasses, once just after I’d shit myself on stage following a 36 hour bout of food poisoning (*2) and been physically intimidated by doorstaff so large than sometimes the sun itself became a distant memory and the songs began to merge into eachother as if apologies to a long-dead lover. Yeah, I’ve been on stage budd-eh. I’ve slipped on the spit of friends and strangers, sung into microphones which looked (and smelled) like an ill robot’s revenge penis and I’ve festered in dressing rooms/green rooms /cupboards and stair-wells so completely that I’m amazed I still have the power to recall them all through the finger-strokes as I happen my mostly happy mind backwards through the laughter and the tears.
My life has contained a series of truths which have revealed themselves to me, gradually, by accident or sometimes brutal circumstance. The first I can remember, beyond the significance of a good yawn, was that short-cuts, unless technologically assured or insisted upon by an authority figure with a gun, are for the short-minded. The second involves the false economy of cheap bin/trash bags, a lesson painfully learnt whilst cleaning up tins of of half-eaten cat food and packets of unopened broccoli from my kitchen floor in the middle of a hangover about fifteen years ago whilst dressed as Batman(*3). The third, and central conceit of this hastily written opinion piece/tour diary/exercise in self-flaggelation, occurred to my teeth, gums heart and then entire body whilst standing on stage in Merthyr Tyfdil, South Wales, sometime in 2001.
It would be safe(*4) to say that the average 1st world human finds no need to consider the fullest ramifications of electricity on his or her life as long as the toaster, hairdryer, TV and mechanised poop-scoop are all present and working correctly (especially in the case of the mechanised poop-scoop, which I’m hoping I just invented) but on that day I was forced to readdress my attitude to it’s eternal power. This quote from Guitar Repairs explains the problem most succinctly – ‘Most occurrences of electrocution on stage happen when a person who is playing a guitar with (earthed) steel strings touches a microphone – if there is a fault with either the PA or the guitar amplifier that results in the earth to either the mic or guitar becoming live, the musician will not be aware of it until he or she completes the circuit with disastrous results’. There we are, just to clear up any confusion.
So, yes, Merthyr. The show was opened by a band called Midasuno (whose frontman, Scott, now plays in a band called Exit International) and even though they reported some shocks from the mics there was nothing which seemed to indicate a wider concern – I mean, anyone who has stood on a stage has had slight burr of static brush their lips, right? Well, we hit the stage and it turns out that either Scott’s face conducts electricity less well than mine (WHICH MAKES ME THE WINNER, RIGHT?(*5)), or my guitar has been moonlighting as a lightning conductor because I’m getting shocked all over my fat fucking face, and not in a sexy way. After a few minutes of this, with blue flames shooting from the mic and my eyes struggling to focus through the maw, I’m blown back from the mic and land by the drumkit. I refuse to continue. ‘English pussy’, says a kid in the front row – I assume his father may have beaten cancer by simply pissing it out. ‘That was so cool!’ says Clare, the DJ. ‘I could see the electricity leaping towards your mouth – you were completing the circuit!’. I respectfully disagree (with the cool bit). The venue engineer lollops over – ‘we get this all the time!’. ‘Fuck you,’ I say. ‘Fix it’. Mark Foley, the self same(*6) finds the issue, somewhere in the snakework of leads and junction boxes. There is a twenty minute delay. My chest hurts and my mind, such as it is, is spinning but I’m fine to continue. ‘We get this all the time’ he says again, impassively. WE GET THIS ALL THE TIME, HE SAYS, THE POTENTIALLY FATAL ELECTRICITY PROBLEM. ‘Hell’, I say, ‘let’s just wear metal suits and take out the element of surprise.’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘that would be a bad idea.’ Yes, yes it would. We finish the show, the inbred cocksocket in the front row shaking his massive forehead at me the whole time.
Since that day I’ve encountered this problem to a significant degree only three times, once in Cologne (‘it must be your equipment’ screamed the irate in-house engineer – it wasn’t) once in Manchester (‘it must be your equipment’ screamed the slightly less irate in-house engineer – again, it wasn’t) and now, just the other night, in San Diego where, for the second time in my life I encountered the least reassuring retort that a hoping-to-stay-alive-on-stage-carbon-based-lifeform could soberly bear – ‘we get this all the time’. The Mic had a foam cover on it, a cover I know from past experience would be soaking wet with spit and condensation within ten minutes of the show starting and would be even more of a hazard than the plain vanilla potential fatal danger we’d identified some moments before. At moments like this, your gear thrown on stage and the crowd of kids sprawled close, awaiting several units of Rock (*7) caution is thrown to the wind but and the show played with average to large shocks received to the face (particularly when contact is made with the teeth – I guess fillings must be the sweetest conductors). The engineer, bless him, is as helpful as possible in the circumstances but guys, girls, hermaphrodites and Smashing Pumpkins fans(*8) this shit is simply, immutably not good enough. As the touring sack of shit we are we deal with facilities big and small, dirty, clement and downright non-existent but rock and roll does not need to be predicated on imminent danger to it’s performers for the enjoyment of an audience, however dumb or bloodthirsty. No soundcheck?
Not ideal, but we’ll grasp onward. No greenroom? Similarly. We probably have a vehicle to throw our bags into. Food? Those Tacos? Well, I won’t thanks, but am happily able to eat elsewhere. Safety? Fuck you. Non-negotiable. Shut that shit down until it’s right. Take the few hours that’s required to turn a potential death trap into a buoyantly working venue and we’ll all agree to get along.
There are those on the internet, which is a common affliction, who believe shocks and electrocution are largely disconnected states. Interesting. Well, I would like to challenge them to stand on (that) stage and wait for the charge to build before placing their liquid-soaked lips against a microphone whilst holding onto a easily accessible metal barrier. That is, I would LIKE to, but rather believe that their intense stupidity may render them oblivious to sarcasm, leaving them dead or brain-damaged and me open to legal action from their even stupider parents.
ps. I would also like to add to my tour scars – two road crashes (one serious), vegan options in central Europe (where the sausage is simply removed from the plate of vegetables) and two ginger-haired bass-players, the second of whom was a pleasure to work with.
pps. Against common sense, wounded pride and the knowledge that we’d got a parking ticket for the crime of loading in we went back to the venue the following night and played again because, having done the sums over a surprisingly good motel margarita, we couldn’t afford not to. Principle meets reality in a flash of wallets.
ppps. Aside from a tweet which didn’t even mention the particular venue or issue in question I was relatively set on keeping schtum on this and then found myself abused by aggressive, ignorant beastlets on the internet (as well as debated by sounder fellows, he respectfully adds).
Unfortunately my character means that it is impossible for me to back down from a fight even if it’s with a four-month-old baby. I apologise in advance to my actual children, of whom I hope to have a couple. x
pppps. Apart from this shit I’m having a great time – I just can’t write a great time, unfortunately. Damn brain.
ppppps. Have I misused ‘whom’ in this thing? I have no idea at this point. I’m just typing down-wind, hoping that any mud which sticks is righteous.
(*1) although mostly closer to the first figure, admittedly.
(*2) I went backstage and got changed before the next song, though.
I’m a formal gentleman n’all.
(*3) don’t ask.
(*4) no pun intended.
(*6) of ‘Manchasm’ ‘fame’ and other, real-life, escapades.
(*7) this is a universally accepted formula which involves multiplying the level of sexual repression in the room by the amount of guitar riffs per song and then dividing the result by the price of the cheapest domestic beer at the bar.
(*8) just kidding, bubba – I’m not talking to you(*9)
(*9) again, just kidding.