As part of my pre-mid-life-nostalgia crisis I've been leafing-through some of the myriad of photos taken during the 8 years I trogged round Scotland (and much of the rest of the UK) as a member of WildGeese ceilidh / celtic rock / jazz / King Crimson & Yes covers band (!), and came across a curious wee juxtaposition... one of the worst gigs I've ever been involved in, and one of the best.
They happened on consecutive nights within a couple of miles of each other - the terrible one was playing covers in a hotel bar in Ullapool (NW Scotland, nestling beside Loch Broom, in case anyone didn't know), and the great one a wedding reception in a marquee about a mile-and-a-half up the road in Allt an t-Strathain (loosely translated from Gaelic as "The glen that's about a mile-and-a-half up the road from Ullapool". Possibly).
The first gig was already going fairly poorly - the pub was half-empty, the stage was cramped, one of the speakers was playing up intermittently, we were all tired and irritable from the long journey - the standard petty gripes and niggles of a working band, but nothing to mark it out from similar shows in Brechin, Aberdeen, Stirling, etc,etc. Nothing, that is, until a drunk & abusive weegie (sorry, Glaswegian) chef from the hotel, who'd been chucked-out of the bar earlier for being, well, drunk & abusive, came back in and casually stuck a brick into a young lassie's face. This, fairly inevitably, resulted in him being beaten unconscious by the rest of the customers, and dumped outside for the police to collect...while we, it was made pretty clear to us, just had to keep on playing. "Johnny B. Goode", as I recall (to be honest, I don't think I could forget it if I tried - I can still see the guy's arm coming up, almost in slow motion, and then realising - but only as he did it - exactly what he was intending...). Fortunately for the girl it turned out to be a relatively minor injury - just a few (!) stitches, and the hotel didn't give her the next morning off, naturally - but still...
One of those gigs you just wish would end, you wish you'd never bothered coming to, that wasn't worth five times the money. One that you'll never forget, though, for all the wrong reasons.
Anyway, next morning the sun shone, and my Cannondale road bike was hiding in the van, so while the guys snored (or in the case of my mate Martin, drank coffee and smoked) for Scotland, I tried to work off the previous night with a switchback ride to Stac Pollaidh, one of our most impressive and generally lovely-to-look-at mountains (a couple of hours of breathtaking scenery and vigorous hill climbs - what more could anyone want?). Exercise has always been my personal drug of choice - on a recent holiday I genuinely enjoyed lifting & shifting a pile of big rocks for the friends we were staying with - and with the calm, austere solitude of the road & the mountains to amplify the effect, equilibrium was definitely restored - plus I certainly saved myself a lot of money on expensively aged & pungent single malt (my fall-back drug of choice when exercise isn't available as an option).
And that night went better than we could have hoped - the equipment mysteriously sounded fine, a more-than-ever-so-slightly-enthusiatic crowd (including a half-trolleyed bride who just seemed to laugh harder every time she fell on her backside), multiple requests for self-indulgent-extended rock-jamming numbers - function band heaven! It was even warm! (a minor miracle in Scotland) If my memory isn't too befuddled, we were having such a good time that at the end of a 4-hour gig, we played an extra hour or so in return for a decent bottle of whisky.
Things did take a slightly bizarre turn when there was a knock on our hotel room door at about 2am, and we were confronted by a guy wearing a wetsuit and full scuba gear...but then we were a ceilidh band, and in that dark nether-world of reels, jigs, and dashing-white-military-willow-stripping, anything can happen...!
You get used to it after a while. Then you become sadly blasé, and take it for granted. Then you rather miss it when it's gone.