A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own Part III
First published in Trad and Now magazine, September 2013
“Do you have to go on stage? Can’t you just get a radio mic and just let them know it starts in ten minutes off stage?”
The speaker was (and still is) a talented musician and a lovely bloke and what he was to say next was in no way meant to be demeaning. He was in his own pre-game/pre-show warm up and consequently his head was processing a few things and on auto-pilot.
Meanwhile, the MC was fatigued and slightly ill, on the road for 11 days and 3000 kms by road, rail, air, sea, and lots of walking, pack mule style. He…
Ok, let’s leave this third person malarkey alone. I had been on the train down the escarpment to the gig, nodding off slightly as the NSW Trains carriage gently rolled about from side to side within a narrow range of oscillation.
The phone had rung and the gig promoter had asked me to step in at the eleventh hour to MC the big, almost sold out extravaganza that many in the area had been building up to for many weeks.
I’d literally run down Crown Street then back onto the one that runs parallel, stopping off for a bottle of medicine for later after the show. You know the sort of medicine I’m talking about. It comes in 700ml receptacles, this one was blended (many are single malt), and there are fine healers from Scotland who distill and distribute it for its magical, health-giving properties.
(As it happened, the stopper never came out and it stayed parked outside the venue, and I went to bed, un-dosed and with my medicine uncapped.)
Back to the Green Room.
“Ok. If I can, but I’m pretty sure the sound guy said his two radio microphones are already on stage. He asked me to use the microphone in the middle on stage.”
I’d only been there for ten minutes, hadn’t found the promoter, and had already received three sets of conflicting instructions.
Which fazed and fazes me not one iota. An MC worth their salt can flip on a penny whenever and as required, so long as the requesters and their information are credible.
Many’s the time I’ve smiled sweetly at a request-maker and said, “No. That thing that you just asked me to do? No.”
I did it that very night after the first band. The chat levels in the back stalls were horrendous. The music was mostly mellow-ish and the volume did not always match the energy and enthusiasm of the band and its members, a quartet of lovely people and massively accomplished professionals. The volume level wasn’t a problem or an error; it was just very appropriate and relevant to the music and musicians.
The downside was that the chook shed chattering from the back/upper stalls was clearly audible to us sitting right at the front of the venue. I gave a few bemused looks at the back as if to say, “Really? You paid that much for your tickets and this band came all the way from Queensland just for a couple of gigs in this region and you want to talk all over the top of them? Ok.”
If it were me in the back stalls I just would have gotten up and moved. However, with a very packed venue, everyone did not have that luxury. Some of the more senior members of the audiennce had also settled in and made their base early on only to be surrounded and eventually washed over with barnyard noises.
In a piece of synchronous coincidence, my writing partner in crime and bwana in the music blogging biz, the lovely Gareth Hugh Evans of Timber and Steel (dot wordpress dot com) was at a gig at The Basement in Sydney that night and had taken to social media to vent his exasperation at the same syndrome going on at the expense of a very fine young singer-songwriter.
Meanwhile, a lovely woman approached me at half-time between acts and asked if I would say something on the microphone about the noise, to which I politely smiled and said ‘no’.
I have made such observations and requests in the past, but I’ve also once asked a group of individuals to please keep it down to a dull roar and was threatened with actual physical violence. While there was little chance of that happening at this venue, I do now pick my battles and modes and channels a little more carefully these days.
Who am I kidding? I’m surprised I can keep my head un-punched in most weeks!
Luckily, the messages and requests were finding the ears of the second band, and one of the members very diplomatically and pointedly, and with a laugh and a smile, got the message across when they took to the stage. Ah, the Irish; they can tell you to go to hell SO delightfully that you look forward to the trip!
Back to the Green Room.
No, actually, in for a penny, in for a pound.
[The following section where I’ve quite pointedly shirt-fronted someone in print for their serial chook noises in all manner of gigs can just remain molding away in the print copies. Move along. Nothing more to see here.]
If you can’t shut up, then listen to them on CD and in the comfort and privacy of your own home. If your house is too close to the venue, consider lining your walls with egg cartons. On behalf of the listening audience community, thank you if you do so. [Ooos, finished now. Now there’s nothing more to see here!]
Back to the Green Room.
“The two radio mics are on stage; I’ve been asked to announce from the stage.”
“If it’s off stage then you don’t have to get up there and do the whole, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ thing before the band comes on.”
I teetered slightly which could have been fatigue, low blood sugar or sheer incredulity. Like many privations and slings and arrows (inferred) of outrageous fortune of late, I shrugged it off.
Unfortunately, another dear man, multi-talented musician and one of the top ten to twenty people I would insist being marooned on a desert island with for sheer entertainment value immediately and inadvertently hit a similar theme.
“Tonight, it’s all about ewe, Bull Quuhn!”
“Um, no it’s not. It’s absolutely about you which is why you’re on the flyer…”
“No, no, no; it’s all abooooot ewe!”
A couple of more returns of serve and I was ready to smile, fake a small coronary and hail a taxi for Wollongong Hospital. I’d had two medicos and several pharmacists trying to do exactly that over the previous few weeks due to pretty savagely high blood pressure.
(Coincidentally and ironically, two health professionals had been giving me all sorts of spurious advice and some poison-chalice aid and comfort, so there was some nasty confluence of embuggerances. I don’t often crawl into a cave but I do and have and that night it was looking very, very tempting.)
Instead, I did what the good performers and MCs and stage managers and back office staff do: smile, grimace, turn and plough on.
Yesterday my time, which is today your time at the time, but probably last week or the week before now, and several months ago on the interwebz, yet another muso had called me a ‘legend’ on Farcebook and said it must be hard being a legend.
So with my word limit about to expire, I’ll inwite you to read my article on topic at www.overheardproductions.com – search terms: ‘Beatles Sing A Long’ and ‘under-garments’. Actually, since we’re online now you can just go straight to the link.
Read the lot, suspend disbelief, pretend that I mean every word without tongue in cheek or my mouth.
The moral of the story is this: I learnt very painfully not to get in the space of a performer before introducing them. The older I get, the more I’ll observe a performer before engaging or even saying ‘howdy’.
Here’s the dirty little secret: MCs are performers are too.
The good ones will enhance your performance, giving you a short but enthusiastic intro and all the relevant details about your web presences, next show, and CDs/merch for sale in the outro.
Finally, if some reciter/poet is your MC and wants to scoot you off stage so they can fill the gaps with their doggerel, you have my permission to Liverpool Kiss them into the middle of next week.
Kick ‘em on the way too.