Three Months, Three Bands

As I have reported at tedious length, I want to be back out there. In front of people, performing. While recording my own music has been a great way to express various thoughts I have, there’s something electric about singing to a bunch of people. My quest to find a home for my voice – and maybe even my songs – is proving to be a small torture.

Problem One is that Nobody Wants to Hear Your Fucking Song. Harsh, but true. In most live settings, people are there to drink and talk and a band is a distraction at best. And for it to ‘work’ normally means you have to be playing songs that people know.

Turn up and start banging your way through your self-penned opus My Girlfriend Doesn’t Like The Way I Fold My Socks and people will in the main leave the pub or hurl glasses at you. Apart from the occasional weirdo whose girlfriend also doesn’t like the way he folds his socks. Then you will connect with them, and they will follow you everywhere until either you or they are dead. If you are a niche band prepared to play enough gigs you can eventually gather a small, loyal following. As a local indie band that’s about the best you can hope for.

My brief stint with Indigo Foxtrot 9 was sort of proof of the counter pudding. If you’re prepared to swallow your artistic pride and batter your way through Blink 182/Killers/The Shits songs with a bit of competency and some say-how-about-this-weather banter between songs, you can get a couple of guaranteed pub gigs a week for beer money. And you can use that in turn as a springboard for other gigs like weddings/corporate does, where you can command what might be a living wage.

But still. It doesn’t set the heart alight does it?

So my fallback position was a stint with an entirely different proposition: the remarkably obscure psychedelic/experimental outfit Death Valley Picnic. You’ll struggle to find them online because they’re still printing CDs and hoping to do a gig “one day.”

They are actually quite a decent band with a very interesting approach: essentially instrumental, overlaid with sound effects and spoken-word samples. People tell me that’s what Public Service Broadcasting do, but as I’ve no idea who they are I can’t vouch for that.

What I can vouch for is that ultimately they decided they didn’t want vocals. And, to be completely fair, that was part of the deal up front: they said “we’d like to try vocals, but don’t know if it’s what we want” and ultimately it wasn’t. From my perspective a shame, because I had some nice vocal/lyrical ideas for songs like Message For Marvin and Stone Age Genius. But if you’re an interloper into someone else’s vision, you’re also hostage to their tastes.

But! The plot continues to thicken, as I had also been approached by a band called The Diesel Trees – in search of a singer. They can actually be found online – with a Facebook, SoundCloud and all.

They fall very much into the local indie band category. They’ve been at it a long time, performing regularly and with some recordings to back up their claim to be An Actual Band. And a lot of what they do chimes with me.

So, as of now, I am their putative singer. I’m learning their songs, but – and this is critical to me (for I have my own vast store of My Girlfriend Doesn’t Like The Way I Fold My Socks songs) – they are amenable to whatever I bring to the table.

So, this is another new start in a year that has been full of them. I will, of course, report back in due course. For now, I remain your obedient servant &c.

…and Back to Obscurity

But. As soon as I got back in the car, bathed in a sheen of triumphant sweat, I knew something was wrong. I opened my mouth to sing a line.

I got back in the car after the gig, still beaming. The crowd had danced. I’d called and they’d responded. I’d not sung a bum note and my voice was clear and crystal, with a pleasing rasp at the high end. As I’d left the stage, each of my new band mates had clapped me on the back or shook my hand. “Well done, mate.” I’d finally arrived back where I thought I belonged. Accepted.

A long, whistling bark of a sound. Like the final seal of a once thriving colony dying alone on an ice floe. I drove home in silence.

In the morning, straight to the office for some vocal workouts. Up and down the scale through a range of vowel sounds. But my trusty, reliable old top note – a ringing G – was nowhere in sight. My voice collapsed like a rusty stairwell before it had even reached the E before.

A warm drink and some Strepsils and back into the breach… to nothing. “But I have a gig tonight,” I pleaded with my uvula. It shook with disdain.

I knew then what I feared: my voice cannot sustain 2 gigs and a 3 hour rehearsal a week. Not without coaching and training. But! I was booked in for 2 gigs a week from here until eternity… how could I do those gigs AND gain strength at the same time?

Maybe I could do the gigs and hope that they’d beat my voice into shape? I was reminded of a certain vintage of PE teacher who seemingly believed the same thing: “Slow runner, eh?” he would muse through his moustache. “Start running again. And keep running until you’re faster.” And off you’d trot, legs leaden, lungs heaving, returning even slower than your first lap.

No. It wouldn’t work. And I had to make a decision quickly: either abandon ship now, or risk really letting the lads down two months hence with a bunch of gigs booked and a singer with polyps or nodules decorating his throat lining.

Only once choice. Quit.

So I did.

It felt horrible that day, and it feels horrible now – because the buzz of being back on stage was immense. But if the gig schedule is too much too soon, then me and my 44 year old vocal chords are going to go down in flames – and I love singing too much to take that risk.

So again, I am singer without a band. A fork without a cutlery set. It hurts for now, but I will find the right set up. Once I’ve finished this 3000 pack of Lockets.