After the highs and thrills of several brilliant gigs with Mimosa in the last few months I had that first "not so good" one on Saturday. It was at a music festival in the expected sunshine and warmth of an English June in Ascot. But, this is Glastonbury weekend so everyone knows that sunshine will be nowhere to be seen and warmth will be hanging around tropical islands and watching the sunshine.
We were one of about 10 bands due to play and we were billed as the third band on, at about 2 in the afternoon, hardly a headlining slot but one with potential. We had arranged to meet there for about 1PM so, as I have an obsessive fear of being late, I arrived sometime in April. There are some characteristics in me that are definitely British rather than Sri Lankan, fear of being late and a total disinclination to say "my how you've put on" when I meet someone who's been eating a few too many portions of Chocolate Biscuit Pudding are merely a couple of them.
As I got there and took in the surroundings all looked pleasant and promising. It was a kind of old mansion house place with picturesque grounds and a lovely English atmosphere. I pulled up to the sight and sound of another band soundchecking, always a slight thrill for any musician. The stage looked professionally set up as I had been told it would be. There were decent sound engineers and a top quality drum kit had been hired and provided for the drummers to use. This is both a blessing and a predicament. A blessing as we drummers don't have to cart our whole drum kit around, set it up, then take it down and do the reverse, nor do we have the worry of other drummers using our kit. A predicament because we'll still take our cymbals, snare, pedals etc and they take up a bit of space anyway. And we have to try to set up an alien kit in a very tiny space of time. In this case I had to sit at a totally strange kit and be ready to ply in about ten minutes, not easy.
I listened to the soundcheck with enthusiasm. The band sounded good, the sun was out and the afternoon had potential. The drummer was some flash kid who looked about 12. His playing was about 63 times better than mine. I wasn't bothered though. I can't do all the flash stuff, all the flying around the kit with arms flailing, making me look like an NGO dancing at R+B at about 3 AM on Saturday morning. But I realised a while back that I didn't want to do all that, I just want to carve out a nice feeling groove, that's my holy grail. I gave the little fucker a small kick in the back of the calf as he walked past me though. A chap can only be so understanding.
They finished their soundcheck, the other Mimosians arrived and the heavens promptly opened. I had only sent a text to someone a couple of minutes before, to say how great it was looking and how excited I was when grey skies opened up and English music festival weather ensued.
This was at the time that the first act hit the stage too. One of the good things about being a muso is that we tend to appreciate other musicians even if we don't like their stuff. This chap was a David Gray type of act. I've got little time for these depressing tunes, they're not the music of choice on my iPod, but I watched and clapped and cheered along with the other brave few of us who got soaked.
Then the band with the 12 year old drummer went on. The sun made an appearance, a few of the student crowd began to dance and I felt as if we, the next band on, could easily wow this crowd with some funky toons. I was wrong. The dancing lot were all friends of the band, enthusiastic ones who were pissed and interested in swaying to rockabilly stuff and a few slightly jerky cover versions.
They finished, we did the setting up thing and launched into our set. It was as if we were a proper band after watching the previous one, but it was as if we were too polished. We played our set to a crowd of people who mostly sat and watched and listened. There was a small huddle of dancers but it was largely watchers. They clapped, they smiled and they listened, but they were a hard lot to play to. I never knew whether they were actually enjoying us and just didn't fancy getting up and boogieing or if they hated us and were clapping politely.
We played okay, that's the most accurate analysis. Personally I felt a bit mechanical, I was playing but without much passion. I made a couple of mistakes, only one which totally took me by surprise. I missed a fill on Summertime, my favourite of our songs. It didn't cause a train crash as we're tight enough for any one of us to make a mistake and the rest to still know their parts, but it did surprise me and I learned a lesson from it. The lesson that I need to pay attention to the songs that I think I know as well as the less well known ones. We're not home to Mr Complacency in these parts.
But it's such a different and unusual scenario to play to a crowd that appears impassive. The only feedback was coming through the PA and the only dancing was happening onstage. As our set progressed and we all felt that we weren't winning the crowd over we just began to want to finish. Well, I did anyway. We came to our last song, there were no cries for an encore, which we took as a telltale sign that they didn't want an encore. So we buggered off. The first gig I've ever played that didn't have at least one encore.
The organiser, who is also a guitarist and whose band was due to play later on, was very complimentary to us. A few others also said nice things, but it was an unfamiliar sensation that sat next to me in the car as I drove home a while later. A sensation of flatness, not bad gigness, I've had gigs in which I've played badly or the band has been below par, or both. I just haven't had one like this before, one that left me nonplussed and puzzled.
The good stuff was good. I learned things and I benefitted from playing. Any practice is a good thing and any chance to play with others is a joy. But as George Orwell said, when he played in his funk band.
"All joys are equal, but some are bit more equal than others".