Last Thursday it was bottom-rung-of-the-professional-music-ladder transportation, today it's another key staple of function-band existence - food! Napoleon's army may have marched on their stomachs, but ceilidh-bands don't reel, jig, waltz or 2-step (let alone bleedin' march) unless theirs are at the very least half-full at the start of the gig. Trouble is, a great many of the events we played at over the years were held in dirty great tents (DGTs) pitched outside small country houses - or on any sufficiently local and passably-flat expanse of what once was grass, but by the time we arrived (usually a decent 10 minutes or so before we were due to start ), had been churned into a simultaneously sticky and slippery mud by the vehicles of guests, caterers, and the people who were hired to erect the aforementioned DGT.
This could leave the band with something of a dilemma - what, when, and where to eat? (and were the forks worth stealing? ). The sheer remoteness of many locations often meant there wasn't a chippie available (standard fallback option no. 1 - experience [e.g. trips to Largs, or the 'delightful' Langstane's in Aberdeen] suggests that even the greasiest, lukewarm fish 'n' chips can be partially offset by consuming plenty of fresh fruit and semi-skimmed milk. Mind you, if there aren't any chippies to be found, your chances of locating a decent grocery store are plummeting towards 'none' at a fair rate of knots, so good luck with that one), and many of Scotland's roads are entirely bereft of petrol stations or "services" of any sort (so no Ginsters for Martin! ). [ Quick note - "Little Chef" meals do, in fact, qualify as "food", but that's based on inconclusive research results. Any future investigation into their products is conducted entirely at your own risk and expense account ].
You could adopt the solution favoured by one of our drummers, Nick, and myself - pre-preparing vast containers of pasta or rice cooked with almost anything, so long as it had come into prolonged contact with a great deal of garlic. (Hey, anything to combat the van's exhaust fumes. And always entertaining when you're the one liaising with the event organisers/tanked-up best man/glowering holders of the purse-strings.). Or you could trust to luck, and take a gamble on topping-up the mars bar you grabbed as you dashed out of the door with a visit to the half-time buffet. (Assuming, of course, that the band was invited to partake. And waited until the visitors from the planet Gargantua at table 38 had finished loading 3 plates each with everything that actually resembled a known foodstuff, leaving a couple of battered ham sandwiches - polystyrene white bread with a smear of industrial-grade bike-lubricant margarine - and the dish of mystery fried "chicken-things" for we vagabonds).
Buffets were a constant source of surprise and wonder. Usually the surprise was that the stuff in breadcrumbs that looked as if it might once have seen part of a chicken, in fact contained half-a-prawn and some soggy broccoli, and the wonder was that someone had stumped up at least £8-a-head for such crap. Mind you, to be completely fair, the only time I ever contracted food poisoning from a buffet the blame went on some dodgy salmon eaten at Scotland's AA "Hotel of the Year 2005", (go on, look it up!), so I'll lay off the generic mystery-food-buffet-bashing for now.
On the (very!) rare occasion, the buffet turned out to be far superior to anything we could have rustled-up for ourselves. At one wedding in Nethy Bridge, I was greeted by the groom's mother with the words "Would you prefer a glass of red or white? Oh, here, just take a bottle...what would the rest of the band like?", which were followed by an order to "dig in" to a table-the-length-of-the-hall display of home-cooking to die for, including some of the finest chocolate mousse I've ever tasted. (In order to understand the significance of this, you first have to know that I'm a certified chocoholic, and that the offering of chocolate mousse - of whatever quality - to the band was an event as infrequent as any of us 'pulling' at a gig... ). Needless to say, that was an excellent start to a rather splendid evening. (Not that any of us 'pulled', you understand. That would have turned it into a "miraculous" evening! )
One night, though, we really thought we'd hit the jackpot. We were playing at the renowned Gleneagles hotel, and on top of the agreed fee, we were each given a meal voucher to the tune of £20! Excellent, we thought, we can have a really nice 3-course meal and maybe have enough change left over for a drink (it was a few years back, don't forget ). So off we pootered in high spirits, all the way through the enormous building to the "family restaurant" at the back (i.e. the 'cheapest' one where they try to hide folk such as we 'vagrant scum in a tinker's van' from the higher-paying guests). Imagine our dismay when, having opened the menus, we realised the vouchers wouldn't even cover some of the individual main courses (I was going to use the word "entrées", but decided it was too poncey. Probably a subconscious reaction to the whole Gleneagles culture).
And then came something I'd never experienced before, an act of such subservience, of pointless obsequiousness it still makes me slightly uncomfortable just thinking about it. Now, in general, we Scots aren't too keen on the American table-waiting style of over-familiar servility and general fawning (on the strict orders of the management). A bit of off-hand, grudging, rudeness, mixed with occasional exasperation at our culinary ignorance - that's more what we're after! So when the waitress arrived with our orders, and promptly started unfolding everyone's napkins and placing them in their laps for them, (am I the only one to find this just a wee bit of an intrusion, as well as completely demeaning for the waitress? Why should she have to guddle around, uninvited (), in my crotch area? I have fully-functioning limbs, fer feck's sake! I do not find napkin-unfolding and application beneath my overblown dignity!), we were all a bit shocked, but I was far enough away from her, fortunately, to be able to grab mine before she could get to it and perform her small act of ritual self-degradation.
Still, I suppose that's all part of what people who stay at Gleneagles are paying for. Someone else's minor humiliations to make themselves feel 'special'. And lucky old us were getting it for free...
Ah, well. Never mind. There's always the time in Gifford when I scrounged a free double-portion of strawberry pavlova for everyone before we'd even begun humping the gear into the DGT. Now that was definitely going to be a good gig...!
(N.B. Nobody 'pulled' that night, either)