The return of the gig from hell

2011-02-18 10:48
Lately, I’ve been trying to remember what my first solo gig was like. I have been in the music industry for so long now that the memory of my first gig is buried in the mists of prehistory somewhere between the Second Boer War and the death of Elvis.

The reason I’ve been trying to remember my first gig was because I wanted to recapture that sense of freshness, the feeling of anticipation, the joy of first strumming my first chords in front of my first audience. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling! I’d hate to grow old comfortably numb!

Then, last week, the unthinkable happened. I had a gig which made me remember my first gig. And it wasn’t a pleasant experience. In fact, it was a gig from hell.


I was supposed to perform only four songs to a select group of academic dignitaries in a little theatre in Stellenbosch as part of some bursary sponsorship get-together. A number of things went very wrong.

In the first place, I arrived seconds too late for my sound check, which meant that I was going to go on stage without the benefit of checking the levels.

In the second place, my slot came a bit earlier than expected; contrary to all expectations, the speeches lasted only twenty minutes instead of the estimated two hours.

Which meant that, even as my name was being called out and introductions made, I was grappling with my guitar case backstage, breaking the zipper that got stuck at that very moment. I arrived on stage half a minute late, not having had time to check if the tuning was right. As luck would have it, I knew, as I hit the first note, that my G-string had shifted (the G-string on my guitar, that is).

I wasted precious moments trying to tune my guitar on stage with my built-in tuner (did I mention that I’m tone-deaf?).

It seemed to take forever! Suddenly, I realised the mistake I was making: my G-string was perfectly in tune, but not to G. It was tuned to G #. Which was either half a note too high or too low. In my state of utter panic, I could not remember the difference between sharp notes and flat notes.


So I just carried on playing like that, trying the avoid the G-string, which was, of course, almost impossible.

Then, in the middle of a very serious song – I had picked a serious poem-like song that relied entirely on the lyrics, with very sparse guitar notes – the lighting engineer got carried away by the atmosphere and dimmed the lights.

It worked very well, atmosphere-wise, but suddenly I could not see my lyrics. I had to make up the last half of the song! In the dark! Total chaos!

That was when I made matters infinitely worse. I started telling jokes. Un-funny jokes. Jokes that didn’t match the occasion. People were laughing and clapping, but I should have realised they were uncomfortable. I realised it, but only afterwards.
As I walked to my car afterwards, droopy-shouldered and depressed, I had a profound sense of ancient déjà vu. And with it: total recall.

A dim recollection of my first solo concert, a long, long time ago. The awkwardness, the fear, the little things going wrong all the time. The disinterested audience, the extreme self-consciousness.

And, after twenty-something years in the music industry, after all the accolades and the fans and rave reviews, it was kind of healthy to have such an experience. It reminded me of the important fact that I’m just another bloke. A fallible human being like everyone else I know...

I drove home, put my kids to bed, and surprised my wife by doing the dishes.


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