I was recently asked to play a great little Christmas Carols gig for a large community shire. Basically, it was one set, full backline and production, charts provided, good pay and with a well-known artist. There'd be one rehearsal and there was even parking close to the stage. It sounded like a great gig, but it's funny how things work out. This isn’t a complete train wreck story, but more one of complete frustration for, well, me. Let me explain.
I got all the charts and the reference tracks for the gig on Dropbox. I had a little look and a listen, and it was all pretty sweet. Standard Christmas cheer, with some classic big band arrangements thrown in and even the old Mariah Carey for good measure. The band set to play the gig was killer and everything looked solid for rehearsal.
I was teaching on the rehearsal day and nicked home quickly after work to grab my kit and park the car. I threw my laptop in the house and was chatting to my wife as I systematically placed the drums in the car. As many of you would know, you do it instinctively. I bid my family goodbye and took off knowing I'd be on time, as I hate being late – or worse, rushed. Approximately ten minutes from my destination, I was suddenly hit with the horrendous feeling that I'd forgotten something. It dawned on me – my cymbals. Crap. A bloody jazz set with no ride cymbal.
Thinking quick, I rang the rehearsal studio to see if I could borrow some cymbals because heading home and back would have resulted in me being very late, so the choice was to either look crap for being late or sound crap with other cymbals. Unfortunately, the studio only had some cracked cymbals left over as all the others were hired out. I graciously thanked the studio and accepted the cymbals, with the understanding that they’ll sound like, well, arse basically, while I rehearsed with a well-known artist. Fantastic.
Thankfully, there was minimal speak of the cymbals at rehearsal and I felt that I was on top of the charts again and had upheld my dignity overall. Fast forward to the gig itself and things got interesting again. I couldn’t make the daytime sound check due to a prior commitment and was informed I’d have a ten-minute changeover time. The stage manager approached me and said I could take my time and I’d be the last person they’d check with before we got under way. Nice.
Cut to the actual changeover and by the time the other drummer took his cymbals off and I got behind the drums, I had about five minutes to get cymbals up, adjust drums and get comfortable. The stage manager that told me to take my time, and proceeded to stand at the Perspex barrier around the drums like a kid looking through a pet store window signalling, “Are you ready yet?” Rushed much?
I’m sure many drummers have been in this situation and it’s nothing new, but from this point on, things got worse. The bass drum pedal felt terrible, as did the hi-hat pedal. The drums were horrendously out of tune and of course, there was no time to make adjustments as the gig was under way. Sweating and anxious, I grabbed my brushes at the very last minute before the MD counted off the first tune. From the word go, it felt average – both kit and feel. Maybe it was the fact that I was behind a giant plastic screen, but there were some sound issues and tempo issues as a result. I’m not 100 percent sure the whole band could hear each other because it felt like everyone was struggling and the tempo never settled. All of these issues really affected my state of mind and the “easy” reading charts induced some silly mistakes amid lapses in concentration. Overall, it wasn’t the greatest experience, as you can probably ascertain from my ranting. Ho, ho, ho.
So, what to make of all this?
Well, it happens sometimes. Everyone has good and bad gig experiences. This time, the odds were stacked against me. But what could I have done differently? Some things were out of my control but firstly, being a little more organised and remembering my cymbals would have been one thing. More than that, knowing the charts backwards would have provided me a comfortable safety blanket to then combat the other things that were out of my control such as the drum kit, sound etc. I shouldn’t have assumed I’d be comfortable enough to read the charts and feel the gig. It couldn’t have been more the opposite of this. In hindsight, a better warm up and some water would have been beneficial. Coffee doesn’t always fix everything.
They say a tradesman shouldn’t blame his tools, but it was certainly a factor this time. I should have been more on top of everything else, coupled with actually taking my time getting set up, and I might have had a better experience. Food for thought.