Any artist who plays live will appreciate that venue experiences can vary massively and at times can render an artist speechless and not in a good way either… Here are some real life observations that you really couldn’t make up
The duo gig in the fish market
Many years ago I was asked as a duo to do a set for a charity in Leeds market. This was in the very early days of playing live when I assumed that any host would have sound gear sorted for any musical event. We turned up to see that there was a PA at the back of the open air market with all market traders going about their business as usual, so not eactly what we anticipated. There were literally three people listening and a dog. Wose still throughout the 45 min acoustic set, there were constant chants of ‘GET YOUR FRESH FISH TODAY, MISS THIS AND YOU’LL MISS YOUR WAY HOME” Its like some mad dream, where you wake up and think ‘WTF was all that about?” except this was no dream…
The bloke said you didn’t need a PA
In the early days of playinmg with the 5 piece Caravan of Dreams ensemble we did a bunch of local gigs to warm up before an album launch. One was in a small tavern that would make for a low key gig and seemed like a good plan. I always like to arrive early ahead of the rest of the band and meet up with my sound guy. Experience has told me to always bring your own sound person for a good performance and personal sanity. When I landed Carl (the sound guy) seemed to be busy taping up some speakers which seemed a bit odd. On asking him about this he commented “They said you didn’t need a PA for the evening, so I’m having to put together a work around so the audience can hear you. They loaned the house PA out for the night!”
Monitors, BUT no kettle leads to be able to use them!
I assumed that longstanding venues that had been in existance for decades, would have basic gear in place for bands. I have since learned ‘ASSUME NOTHING!” We again turned up early noting once again it was a tiny stage (but we are used to that) and started to set up the PA. We found the monitors, but no leads to plug them in. Once again nobody in the venue seemed to know where these may be located…
Arts centres? <shudder>
Ok, lets not denegrate all Arts centres, BUT often these are run by volunteers and this can make for some “interesting experiences.” On my first ever duo gig, we had “Pete, the sound guy” My partner for the evening (on seeing him) spouted “Oh no its Pete!” This meant nothing to me at the time until we started playing and I realised her concerns. We had essentially two sound settings for the evening. the first was massive feedback which was highly unpleasant for the two of us on stage as well as the audience. The second option was NO SOUND AT ALL IN THE MONITORS. I was on stage playing to a packed room and I could hear exactly NOTHING! At another recent arts centre experience, the stage lights didn’t work and the volunteer commented “Yeah mate, that board has been broken for ages”
Ukulele festival experiences?
My band “The Small Change Diaries” played “The Grand Northern Ukulele festival twice. There was a strict limit on 20 minutes for any artist set, so we may squeeze in 5 songs at best. In both instances there was a problem with sound either in vocals or in the instruments. Again the problem was mostly not having professional engineers and two little time to ensure the sound was at a good standard. After the second experience I decided that I’m done with such events as it doesn’t make for either a great playing or listening experience!
Lets end on a positive note
Despite these nightmares, there have been some great experiences. Playing The Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal was terrific. The venue had been built for acoustic acts and the sound guy was first rate! In Leeds “The Old Woollen” proved to be a superb venue and I’ve done support acts for Martin Simpson and Jon Gomm, two artists who insist on great sound. I have learned to pick and choose venues and to look at Fri – Sundays for live events. Post covid there is from what I see more of a reluctance to go out mid week. I also now only play at and/or attend events where its a great listening/watching experience.