It was a night of mixed emotions, stress, compromises and arguments, but above all a night of music in various guises…
It’s been a while since I last drove around Glasgow and numerous new one way streets (as well as unexpected roadworks en route) meant that I didn’t arrive as early at the Classic Grand as I had intended. A rant for another day, but it added unnecessary stress before the show was even underway. As it turned out Glass were still setting up, so we had a bit of time to unload and prepare to shift our gear on-stage. With four bands on stage over the course of the night time was tight for soundchecks, and as first-on we drew the shortest straw with a check that everything was making a sound without the luxury of any fine-tuning. Not to worry – the doors were open and people were arriving, so we took to the stage to kick off the evening.
The intention had been to play a new short song, Morning Rolls first, followed by an instrumental improvisation, then finishing off with The Unofficial National Anthem, but the time restrictions meant that we had to drop something, so Morning Rolls got the chop. The improvisation we started off with was based around a delayed loop on guitar which I varied between a gentle acoustic sound and a slow e-bow background pad. I knew we wouldn’t have the luxury of time to set up the ‘Sooper Looper’ system I used at the Theremin Symposium, so the loop came from a standard effects pedal, meaning the sound looped, but gradually degraded in clarity and faded away so that the piece changed texture as the looped sounds piled up. Having rehearsed this method a good few times over the last couple of weeks and come up with some interesting and varied music (different every time), we knew this could work even though the risk of it being a total train-wreck was high. On the night I don’t think it worked as well as it had in rehearsals, but these were really just wobbles on the corners rather than full-scale derailment. The fact that we had to keep it fairly short instead of building the piece up gradually meant that there were a few places where we changed directions earlier than we would otherwise have done, so I don’t think the piece flows as well as it might have, but neither does it stand still for long.
The Unofficial National Anthem mutated out of the dying echoes of the improvised track, and we kept it simple with no instrumentation apart from guitar, drums and voice. We had tried a number of variations on the song recently, including with a full drum kit, but the little set of digital drum pads just seemed to be the right sound for this song. I built a mount so that it could be attached to a mic stand which meant that Sean could stand at the front of the stage to sing instead of being hidden behind a wall of drums, and was also able to easily switch between drums and bass guitar where necessary. Since there are only two of us, this arrangement means we’re both up-front and visible, even if we need to play on a relatively small stage area.
As is usually the case, the venue didn’t really start to fill until nearer the time for the headliners to take to the stage, so we weren’t playing to a crowd by any means – probably a few more people than were at the Theremin gig, but it was more of a toe-dipping exercise for us. We wanted to see how we’d do on stage, how the songs would hold up to being stripped down from multi-layered arrangements into more direct and raw pieces of music, if we could pull off a totally unstructured improvisation live, and finally if anyone would even listen. As with my previous stage outing, we did get some positive comments. We know we’re only likely to appeal to a tiny section of the population, but if just one person enjoyed what we did at a gig, then our mission is worthwhile.