Monday, 24 September 2007

How To Be Invisible

Back in the icy-cold February of 1996, I had my first ever experience of being completely ignored by an audience. It's happened often enough since then, (yet another of the myriad, mundane and minor hazards of corporate function musical prostitution. To be fair to them, why the hell should those guys give a flying monkey's danglers about whatever cover version the band are grinding mercilessly through, when they've been stuck in seminars on "Envisioneering Mission-Critical Synergies Within a Quality-Driven Brand Structure" all day, and there's a free bar, goddamit?), but up until then I'd only ever come across moderate delight, grudging acceptance, or outright hostility (we've all had our "YOU'RE the Good Old Boys?!" moments, though, haven't we?). I'd have to say that, while offering less potential for actual physical harm than the audience detesting you, a night of mass indifference is probably far more mentally damaging.

The venue for that night was another ground-breaker for the band - our first visit to Inverness. We had been booked to play for 2 nights at Lafferty's - a fairly generic 'Plastic Paddy' fake-agricultural-implement and low-quality-limerick adorned boozer in the town centre. (Apparently it has gone the way of "Sinners'" - see "Who Are You" from August 14th for details of that establishment - and is now Deeno's Sports Bar. Bet you're all a-quiver at that truly seismic revelation, eh?) Alas, and alack, we'd missed the first night due to that peculiar Scottish weather phenomenon known as "occasional blizzards".

We'd set off up the A9 in plenty of time, for once. (For the uninitiated: it's one of the most tedious and dangerous roads in Scotland if you're genuinely trying to get somewhere, rather than pootle along in traditional tourist fashion. It's the main route to Perthshire & the Highlands, yet only becomes dual-carriageway in very few places. Combine this with the heavy traffic - especially road freight, caravans, and farm vehicles, and you have a recipe for some of the most stressful road conditions in the country. Not helped by the large number of suicidal nutters who stake their lives on being able to overtake as many cars as possible at one time, (at night, and in heavy rain, naturally!), then bullying their way back into the line at the last available moment - i.e. when the air turbulence from the oncoming juggernaut is sufficiently close to shove their car backwards a metre or so. You wouldn't want their deaths on your conscience - I know, a little maiming wouldn't be so bad, or if it was only their car that got mangled beyond recognition, but you can't be absolutely certain that'll be the case, let them in, while swearing an oath on the blood of your maternal-second-cousin that you won't be so nice to the next one. But you will, for exactly the same reasons as before. It's a vicious cycle. That'll teach you to be nice.)

Unfortunately for us, while we were heading north the police closed the Drumochter Pass due to drifting snow. Undaunted, we decided to head across to Dundee, then try to reach Inverness via Aberdeen. But they closed that route, too. So, prompt about-turn and head home to Edinburgh...or not, as it turned out. Now the road home was shut south of us as well! Some urgent phone calls by Martin and he'd landed us a sing-for-your-supper-and-petrol-money gig in St. Andrews, after which we (very slowly & carefully) drove to Dundee, where we crashed (us, not the van) at Martin's friend Justin's flat for the night. Belated thanks for that one, Mr. Justin.

We finally made it into Inverness late the next afternoon, and on arrival at the bar were greeted by the sight of one of Billy Connolly's famous 'rubber men' being dragged out of the place with his arms flopping against his head, and gently seated on the pavement outside with his back against the wall, ready for collection by taxi. While we started to unload our gear, well-dressed restaurant-goers and bag-laden shoppers heading home just stepped-over his outstretched (one-shoe-missing, I seem to recall? wonder why?) legs without giving him a second glance. Definitely a classy joint then, this Lafferty's.

Inside was an unusually diverse mix of folk - just-off-work 'suits', a secretaries' hen party, baggy-jeaned indie students, smart-casual refugees from an LLBean catalogue, a few goths, oil workers off the rigs, and an obvious crowd of hard-drinking regulars. Things didn't start too well when the punters realised that the pool table had to be packed away in order for us to set up, leading to a small chorus of disgruntlement aimed at the band - a small omen of what lay in store.

For once, all our equipment seemed to be in good working order (even though we were feeding into the pub's own p.a. system, which was a regular source of "Why-the-@@@@-is-there-no-@@@@ing-sound-coming-out-of-the- @@@@ing-speakers-when-I've-got- @@@@ing-perfect-levels-over-here?" moments over the years), and we launched into our opening set of tunes/soundcheck with great gusto. From where I was sitting everything sounded within the bounds of acceptable tuning, decency, and (comparitively poor) taste, and we ripped through "Paddy's Bondage Trousers" & the "Jig of Sluts" (spot the peurile band names for ever-so-slightly played-to-death tunes) in fine style, finishing with (for us) something of a flourish.

To be met by an overwhelming wave of total silence. Nothing. Not a bloody sound. Nobody clapped, nobody booed, nobody even got up and went to the toilet as a critical response. Not even the merest hint of a parentage-and-musical-ability-questioning insult wafted in our direction. Which was odd. And it's not as if the place was empty, or anything nearing it. Quite the contrary, it seemed to be pretty popular - two-thirds full, at least.

"Not to worry", we thought (we had a strange collective telepathy in those days, another side-effect of the van's exhaust fumes), "We can win them over with some fine, rollicking songs, performed with utmost vigour and gay abandon! Then they will festoon us with acclaim and adoration!".

Wrong again. No matter what material we tried, the audience responded (or rather, didn't) in exactly the same way. It was as if they'd taken a ballot, and had decided to 'listen-to-rule' - the rule in question being, ignore the buggers. The longer the gig went on, we threw more and more energy into our playing, only to have it all crash into the massive wall of apathy and disinterest they'd created, and fall in a wobbly heap just in front of the monitors, calling out piteously for its mum.

Eventually, when it became apparent that they'd won, and we were broken, invisible men, sadly and quietly playing a last couple of songs we-knew-they-knew-and-we-despised-but-usually-managed-to-hide-it in a gesture of submission to the punters' will, a solitary couple took the piss royally by waltzing across the floor in front of us - the only acknowledgement of our presence during the whole gig.

And they got a sodding round of applause from the rest of the crowd when they were done.

We went back and played some perfectly average gigs there over the next few years, and had truly horrendous cold-shouldering in other places (at least one example of which will be related at great, and doubtless unnecessarily tedious, length in future), but we were marked that night in Lafferty's. We all were. Scarred, if you will.

They say you never forget your first time. It's true. Because no matter how hard you try, some idiot's bound to come along and write about it on t'internet in a desperate attempt to raise a few laughs.

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