Well, I've just finished watching Scotland lose their rugby world cup quarter-final game to Argentina by committing far too many unforced (i.e. bloody stupid) errors of a kind that would have had us doing punishment laps of the pitch when I was at school. Even if it was quarter-to-five on a lightly-sleeting, almost pitch-dark winter's afternoon, and we'd been relegated to using the "spare" balls - the bloated, vaguely oval, brown leather ones that had been worn smooth by the hands of hypothermic spotty oiks for the previous 20 years or so, and stung like a complete b@st@rd whenever you tried to catch one. You wouldn't think I absolutely loved playing the game, would you? My general approach was that being crushed into the ground by big guys hurt, (usually a lot, because I played full-back most of the time, and often had to stand, helplessly, waiting to catch a high 'up & under' while as many large sweaty forwards as possible charged towards me, with the sole aim of smashing into me as hard as they possibly could), so try to avoid it if at all feasible. Hence I was a jinky, elusive runner, who'd glide through the opposition with counter-attacking dash and verve - until I was shudderingly chopped in half with extreme malice by an implausibly vast 16-year-old, at which point all of his mates would pile in on top just to teach me a lesson for being flash. Adult rugby was similar, as I recall, only the rules had changed, so there was less of the piling-on, but more "judicious use of the boot" when you were trapped on the floor at the bottom of a ruck. I do miss it - honestly, I really do!
In spite of this misery-inducing national disaster (or minor inevitability when you consider the teams' relative world rankings - them 4th, us 8th - and current form), I thoroughly intend to make up for this week's absence of posting - general exhaustion brought on by small children, ho hum - but first a little bit of "housekeeping":
I only realised after my "America Must Be Destroyed" header that not everyone reading this would be fully aware that I'm being completely cheesy, and using song/album titles for my posts. Anyone who's managed to spot all the artists so far (without using Google, or similar) clearly has an impressively eclectic knowledge of modern music, and seriously needs to get out more. Also, I didn't intend to cause any gratuitous offence to any Americans out there who might be reading this - my wife's American, our older son has dual citizenship (just been far too idle to get round to it for the wee one yet!), and I have American friends whom I hold in the highest regard. (Will that do to convince the CIA I'm not some bizarre, fish-based-weapon-toting, would-be terrorist, d'ya think? I don't fancy those orange jumpsuits much.) Additionally, I would hate to cause offence gratuitously. I'm perfectly capable of being extremely offensive, (and frequently am, especially when "going fretless"), but I do like to maintain a certain degree of control over the process.
Plus, thanks to the kids currently taking up almost my entire existence, (I'm 'on-call' right now, and waiting ever-so-slightly-on-edge for sounds of mini-primate misery to emanate from the bedroom ), I have been forced to abandon my usual "Graduate (Cum Laude) of the Billy-Bob Thornton School of Personal Grooming and Deportment" appearance, and now more closely resemble a finallist in a Dave Lee Travis lookalike contest. Growing all the extra hair (and not it's just on my head, you know what I'm saying? oh, and no, it's not a perm), seems to be sapping my already-drained reserves of energy, so I apologise in advance for being even more meandering and tangential than usual. Any more 'deviation' and I'd likely end up the subject of a Papal Bull - or at least, a Papal Coypu.
What I'd intended to do today, was present the first instalment in the "Ultimate Musicians' Troubleshooting Guide" - the only reference book (in handy, easy-to-digest chunks, yet packed with nutritious meaty morsels for a soft, shiny coat) you'll ever need when confronted with musical-performance-related problems (you'll have to go to www.areyouabittoofloppy?ohdear.org for that other sort of performance. Sorry). However, since my time's a bit limited, here are a few sample problems (all of which I have some measure of direct personal experience) to be going-on with:
Symptom: In the middle of a stomping boogie-woogie gig, you realise there is a very strange sound coming from your electric piano.
Problem: Your beloved Traynor valve amplifier has flames coming out of it. Your amp is on fire. Fire. Yep, that's the one, let's not all just stand and look at it - fire! The nasty hot stuff that burns! Are all musicians quite so slow on the uptake? Sheesh. Burning, burning, burning. I know, it's awfully pretty, but will somebody bloody do something - ah, at last. Took your time, didn't you, Einstein?
Solution: Unplug the amp, pat the flames out, then pull the offending power valve from its holder, and proceed at half-volume, blithely hoping that the other one doesn't join the festival of spontaneous combustion. At least you won't be permanently injuring any small dogs within a half-mile radius of rehearsals with the sheer treble ferocity of your set-up any more. Which can only be a good thing.
Symptom: You are a reasonably well-known local folk singer. You think the band you're in are sniggering behind your back between songs, for no apparent reason. Which is annoying, and demeans poignant ballads about large-scale misery and/or death.
Problem: Completely unconsciously, you are using the break between numbers to pick your boxers out of your arse-crack, where they have become irritatingly wedged while you were singing and strumming away. Your band is aware of this, (even if the audience seem oblivious), and every time you do it they are behaving like 12-year olds. Which, given that they are musicians, is inevitable.
Solution: Try wearing a thong. It may not cure the bum-crack-itching, but occasionally exposing your hip underwear-of-choice to the punters might open up whole new markets for you.
Symptom: You have just started playing a large, open-air public gig that is being televised (ok, so it's only a crummy local cable channel, but still, it's tv, you know?!). Some of the notes on your guitar suddenly appear to be missing.
Problem: You have, predictably, broken a string less than 30 seconds into the broadcast, throwing your guitar horribly out of tune, and screwing-up all the intricate chord-work you had planned for the entire gig (since there's no time to fit a replacement, and the 'emergency spare' guitar is a completely strange beast belonging to the bass player - well, who else would have an odd acoustic guitar? - which has no onboard pre-amp, merely a passive pick-up that seems to be addicted to frequencies over 4khz). To summarise - you're screwed.
Solution: Dear Martin, it wasn't your fault, but unfortunately there is no solution. Using the entirely scientific method of dividing the vast number of strings broken by gigs played over several years, and cross-referencing location and frequency of string breakages with the lunar calendar, we can only conclude that your guitar was cursed. We're not entirely sure who by, but we think it's most likely the same people who convince fiddlers to buy all those "easy-to-install", "requires no alterations or modifications", "no glue or screws", violin pick-ups. You know the ones I mean. The pick-ups that end up costing you your youth trying to stop them falling-off, buzzing, or coming apart entirely as soon as they sense the proximity of rosin.
See? Completely indispensable! Soon to be available from all good bookstores. And, as Eddie Izzard once said, quite a few bad ones too. Order yours now to avoid disappointment!