Monday, November 15, 2010

No. 2 - Bristol

This show was the actual inspiration for the Top 12 list, a list that has recounted the stupidest shows Speedhorn ever played. I'm almost certain that this show bears no major part in the memory of anyone else involved, because it wasn't really "Speedhorn's" worst show. It was mine. And mine alone.

I had almost forgotten about this particular gig, or maybe I'd banished it to the depths of my mind. But, somewhere on the journey home from Uppsala, the day after the night of Tompa's (drummer in Battle of Santiago) stag night, whilst sat beside Patrik in the back of the van drinking a beer aimed at washing away a lousy hangover, the memory of this show came flowing back to me.

We were talking about the worst shows we ever played. We've both been in bands for years and we each have horror stories to tell, but as I told Patrik of this night, the details coming back to me as I spoke of them, he pissed himself laughing, as did I, and the idea for the list struck me.

Before I go into the details of the night we played the Bierkeller in Bristol, I should explain what I think makes a great show.

For me, a great show is when every member of the band manages to find themselves in the “zone”, as a cheesy American sports athlete would say. When each individual member clicks into the same gear, and the machine that is the band works in perfect harmony. It's when you're on stage and the sound coming from the monitors is like a high fidelity recording, when your instrument seems to be playing itself, and whilst looking around the stage at the rest of the band you see they're experiencing it with exactly the same buzz that you are. Right there and then, the guys in your band are your best friends, the people you care about more than anyone else on the planet, and you want to give them all a hug and tell them you love them. I know that sounds painfully cheesy but that's the high a great show gives you. It is like a drug.  That's how it is for me at least.

Now, a responding audience, an audience which is giving back as much energy as you are putting out, is obviously a major factor in making the step between a good gig and a great gig. The size of the audience is not the absolute be-all and end-all to how I experience the show, but of course it helps. A packed out show, be it in a basement in New Jersey or an arena in Japan, is a pretty crucial ingredient of a great show. There have been shows where the audience has been on the small end of the scale, or shows where the audience haven't been in to it, yet all the other factors on stage have been in place and the show has still left me with a buzz. As far as I'm concerned, what happens on stage is more important than what happens in the audience, because ultimately it's about the band, but those shows still only fall into the “really good show” category. For a show to be great, all of the factors need to fall into place.

Our slot on the main stage at the UK Ozzfest in 2001 is one such show. There aren't many on that level, because those shows are special. The show in the tent at the Download Festival in 2005, our first major show with Kev, is another such occasion.

Although I'm always more than happy with a regular old “good show”, or even better, a “really good show”, I'm still contantly looking for that next level.

And now I'm beginning to get the point of this ramble. It's really disappointing when you yourself have had a great show, when everything has flowed and you feel you've felt the magic, and then you come off stage buzzing only to be greeted by a disappointed band member, who hasn't experienced the same gig you have.  It's a right fucking gutter if you come off stage, totally chuffed, only to find someone in the band backstage complaining about their show. The usual stuff...monitors were crap, broke a string etc. If you come off stage buzzing then you want everyone else in the band to be buzzing with you. It's disappointing when this isn't the case. But then, truly great shows don't come along that often...

This show in Bristol is my own personal shittest show ever. It's the kind of event that is the substance of angst filled dreams. You know, not nightmares exactly, but the really heavy dreams.  Like when you're in school and all of a sudden you realise you're naked, that you just totally forgot to put your clothes on that morning. Or, you're lost in an area that you know really well but no matter which direction you take, you can't get to where you know you want to be going. Or closer still, when you're on stage with your band in front of an audience and absolutely everything you do goes viscously wrong.

Well, this is that show. If anyone else in the band came off stage that particular night buzzing, I'm sure one look at my face would have killed it instantly.

It starts with the first song. In fact, I hardly even make it into the first song. We're stood on stage in silence, waiting for Frank to scream the first line of Hate Song.  All very dramatic stuff you understand.  The stage is really broad yet not very deep. The P.A. speakers are hung from chains in the roof, instead of placed on the ground by the side of the stage, so the place feels wide open.  There is nowhere to hide. The dressing room door is at the back of the stage and in full view of everyone in the crowd. The crowd itself is maybe two hundred or so, but the venue is so big and weirdly laid out, there are all these little side alcoves and adjoining rooms, that the venue feels pretty empty anyway.

Frank bellows in to Hate Song and on cue I swing my guitar around as I belt in to the first chords.  And the show is off and running.

Except, it isn't. My guitar immediately sounds like it's completely down-tuned. I'm so busy trying to work out what the fuck has happened that it takes me a few seconds to realise that the rest of the band aren't playing the song. John is stood beside me, still, silently staring at the crowd, arms hanging by his side. And then I see it. My guitar neck is hanging in the air, the strings swinging it like a pendulum from it's otherwise decapitated body. I figure out pretty quickly then, that with that first swing at the start of Hate Song, I've smashed the guitar neck into John's arm. The beefy fucker hasn't even flinched, he just stands there staring forward, doing his best to look intense. My red SG on the other hand, is fucked. Great fucking start! I only just got that guitar fixed as well...

So, next guitar. I go behind my amp to the case that has my spare guitar in it. Only when I open my case does the realisation hit me. The spare guitar I have is not going to work for a Speedhorn show, not for very long at least. My Fender Jazzmaster is a beautiful guitar but it isn't set up for the kind of abuse that Speedhorn's music hands out. The guitar has a floating bridge, which means that the strings just rest on top of some cylindrical rollers, instead of wedged into a groove, as on a normal bridge. So in essence, anything more than tickling the guitar will make the strings pop out and become unplayable, until you've manually pulled the string back into place. There is a reason the guitar is called a Jazzmaster I guess. I'd only brought this guitar with me as a desperate measure...

I'd broken my black Gibson SG at a show in Worcester a while before. I'd gotten a little over excited by the show that night, which had been a packed out floor show, and I'd smashed my guitar continuously into the ground at the end of the set, not stopping until the neck had snapped off. I have no fucking idea what I thought I was doing. Adrenaline brain freeze I guess. As soon as things had calmed down after the show, I was ready to fucking cry. For a start, I loved that guitar, it still hangs on the wall in my apartment today, and for a finish, I sure as fuck couldn't afford another one at the time. Hence, the Jazzmaster was with me this night. I should have known better. I guess I was still learning. The thing is, I'd broken the red SG in similar fashion only a few weeks before, at the show which is Numero Uno on this list... What the fuck was I playing at? Anyway, this show tonight had been the first show I'd played with my newly repaired red SG, and it had lasted all of two seconds thanks to John's fucking tree trunk of an arm!

Not having any other guitar that I could call my own, the Jazzmaster was brought along. So once I've got it on, we start the set again, after much delay, and once again kick on in to Hate Song. The song is only a minute and a half long, but in that time, the strings pop out of the bridge on the Jazzmaster at least three times. By the time we get to the end of the song I'm fuming. I realise this isn't going to work. Cue another delay...

I look over at Roddy, by now our guitar tech/driver/tour manager (that guy filled a lot of positions over the years), who is looking back at me confused. I tell him I've got to get another guitar from somewhere. He immediately darts off and retrieves a spare guitar.  I think he's got it from Medulla Nocte, who are supporting us.  I hurriedly put it on and we finally get going into the second song. We, or at least I, must look like a right shambles from the point of view of the crowd. We've been on stage around ten minutes and we're only now going into the second song. That sinking feeling in my stomach is spreading to the rest of my body like a slowly moving lava flow of shite.  So we go into Scrapin' The Resin. I'm so het up that I haven't even thought to adjust the strap, and so spend the duration of that song with the guitar up around my rib cage.  I figure I must look like that tit from Rage Against The Machine. I'm already wanting this show just to just end.

I get through that song, although it's painfully uncomfortable. I get the strap adjusted as soon as the song ends and make an inner pact with myself to try and forget how this show has started, put it out of my mind, and just get on with the rest of it as best I can. Obviously my broken guitar is making me want to fucking punch someone, but I have to forget that for the next thirty minutes and leave worrying about how I'm going to afford a new guitar after my job here is done. Of course, I'm going to have to take it easy from here on in since a broken string is going to cause yet more delay.

Another three or four songs go by without incident. I'm hardly enjoying myself but I do start to wonder if the shit luck for this show is now over.  Of course, during the next song, a string snaps. I bluff it through to the end but when the song is done I have to string the guitar up, which causes yet more delay. I really am just wanting to get off of this horribly wide open stage as soon as fucking possible now. This gig sucks balls.

After another few minutes of farting around re-stringing the guitar, all the while Frank laughing and taking the piss out of me, we finally get on with it again.

I look at the set list, two songs left. Thank fuck. If anyone thinks that I'm playing an encore tonight they can go fuck themselves. I'll just be glad to get to this over with and piss off out of here...and worry about how I'm going to sort my guitar out for the rest of these dates.

The end comes even quicker than expected. We go into the penultimate song and the strap from the guitar comes off. So I spend that song on my knees, playing through it. I almost start laughing at this point.  Just as I'm wondering what could possibly happen next...I realise that the strap from the guitar hasn't just come loose, it's fucking snapped in half! That is it. Enough is enough. I walk off and leave the lads to play the last song without me.

As I walk behind my amp and towards the dressing room door, a red mist descends upon me and out of pure rage I kick the back wall, the wall that separates the stage and the dressing room itself. I kick the fucker with everything I have.

Much to my surprise the wall is made of paper-thin plywood and my foot and half of my leg go straight through it. So now I'm stuck in the wall, in full view of the crowd. Gords has noticed me stuck there, trying to wiggle my leg free, and he's pissing himself laughing, as is I imagine anyone else in the crowd who has happened to notice me. After what feels like an age, I pull myself free and huff into the dressing room. I sit there on the sofa feeling like a right wanker, looking at the hole in the wall which I figure is going to cost me too.  I console myself with the thought that maybe one day I'll look back at this night and laugh..

By the time I'm done re-counting this story to Patrik in the back of the van, he's pissing himself laughing, as am I.  I've laughed about it many times over the years.  And that is what led me to writing this series of stories. 

If you are wondering?  The red guitar I somehow managed to mend again, I think Darren's dad worked his magic on it.  After two neck breaks and various other "accidents", it's hardly the prettiest looking guitar today, but I still play it live with Victims. It's like an old pair of socks that are just too comfortable to throw away. I can't remember what I did guitar wise for those following shows with Medulla Nocte though...

The Jazzmaster, I sold to Darren a short while after. He bought it off of me with the strict condition that he'd hold on to it and make some use of it.

He sold it about four months later. Probably for a tidy profit too, the cheeky bastard.  

So that leaves just one more show on the list.  And I think all who were there would agree it deserves it's place at the top of the charts...

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