Monday, 24 June 2013

Manners will get you nowhere

I suppose it kind of ties in with the whole ‘Joys of Mediocrity’ subject thread that those who succeed tend to be single-minded, ruthless and altogether unpleasant. This is a sweeping statement that will garner a huge wave of protest and the production of a series of exceptions that go an awfully long way to disprove the rule. But…

I watched the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll movie a year or so ago (and terrifically good it was, too). In it Andy Serkis’ portrayal of the late, great Ian Dury showed a man so determined to succeed, and so convinced of his deserving success that anyone or anything that stood in his way was treated with such an utter disregard as could easily be interpreted as contempt.

Pop and rock music is littered with such people. David Bowie, Eric Clapton – in fact all three members of Cream – John Lennon, Eminem, Victoria Beckham even… And not just music, of course. A brief look at the life of Charles Dickens will produce a very similar picture. Brian Clough, anybody? Alex Fergusen? Robert Oppenheimer?

Single-minded people tend to work hard and push through obstacles and barriers. The hard work brings them up against more barriers than the lackadaisical, and the stubbornness keeps them battering at them until they give way.

I’m sure to their kith and kin, these people are as lovely as any other person on earth – certainly once they have achieved the important goals they seek – but to the rest of us… Well, we are just potential barriers or obstacles.

I kind of wish I had known this 40 years ago. If someone had had the foresight to instill this into me as an 11-year-old, I’m almost certain I would be far closer to achieving the things I want to achieve by now. I am sure that I would ‘be there’.

Instead, I am still trying to convince myself that it is worth being a little more unpleasant if it means getting what I want. Dammit all, I’m not exactly Mr Popular as it is – why the hell should I worry about what people I don’t really know think?

But I do.

Those of you following the news on the Mechkov website will be well aware that I have been gigging recently with a new band – a covers band playing the music of Cream and Hendrix and the like. This band began rehearsals in February with a mind to start gigging in March.

The guitarists, Nigel and George, were the protagonists in getting this band together and they called upon the skills of me for bass and vocals and Neil for drums.

Problem was, Neil was awful. Bad timing, bad rhythm and just all-round not very good at playing the drums. I kept schtum, thinking two things: first, he could improve if he takes it seriously and rehearses properly. Second, he has been brought here by the guys putting the band together.

Three weeks and lots of rehearsing later, we recorded the band in my little studio. It all sounded ok for the time we allowed ourselves… Except Neil. A friend of mine later said that his drumming sounded like someone falling down stairs… yes it did.

I finally told Nige and George that I couldn’t play with this guy.

“Oh, thank God for that!” they said. “We were just saying to each other that we couldn’t gig with him!”

“So why didn’t you say anything?” I asked.

“We didn’t want to upset you!”

Dear, oh dear! You see? Had I (or any of us) been a little more single-minded, a little more determined to get what we wanted and not let anything stand in our way, we would have ousted the dodgy drummer after rehearsal number one. Instead, we plodded on, wincing and grimacing, hoping that something would change or that someone else would do something to make a difference.

As Britons of a certain age, we are brought up that minding your Ps and Qs is an essential virtue. That might well be so, but no empires were ever built worrying about other people’s feelings. Sometimes you just have to say: “Please, stop. Please, go away! Please! Thank you!"

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The end of one rainbow

Now, why would I have gone to all that trouble of starting to document my task of documenting a new open mic night only to come to a shudderingly abrupt halt just eight weeks into the project.

Well, there are two reasons. First, my wife kept saying ‘do you really think you should be writing a blog when you are earning as little as you do?’ which is, sadly, true on one level.

Second – and if it hadn’t been for this point, I probably would have ignored my wife and continued – I chickened out.

When writing a blog, one needs to be brutally honest and true to one’s thoughts and opinions, however upsetting they might be for the people you are writing about. When organising an open mic night, one needs to nurture relationships and create a nucleus of loyal participants. Pissing people off could well be counter-productive.

The fact is, the main body of support I got for the Plough’s Tuesday evenings included Psycho Deano (a lovely bloke), Sassy Lozza (my wife), The Mafia (nice people, but always tricky in terms of conversation), Jeff the Jock (who is as lovely as he is boring beyond belief) and Not Manic Mark (again, as sweet as honey, but a real effort to talk to and play with). Among this group, only The Mafia would both play and sing. All the others either required me to play and/or sing. But I needed these people to make sure that someone was there in the pub to keep East End Bob happy.

So, taking the micky in a blog might not be the most conducive method of mollification of my muso masses. With these guys coming regularly, anything else was a bonus.

And so the Tuesday evening chugged on through up to Christmas and into the New Year, becoming stronger and more defined with each passing week. In order to keep East End Bob happy and in control, I agreed to a pay cut, but he was decent enough never to pay me the minimum amount – always adding a little extra on and often giving me the full fee.

Then the last week of March was upon us and – after a couple of quiet evenings – no-one came! For the first time ever, not a single person showed up. I was gutted. East End Bob was mortified.

This stung me into action. I immediately got on to the Slough Observer and wrote press releases, gave interviews and sent over pics (taken by The Mafia). The lovely people at the paper promised me good coverage.

Then I got a message to ring East End Bob…

“I think we’d better knock it on the head,” he said… At least I think that what he said. It could have been ‘a thud with berry knocker on the air’, but I took it to be the first one. The second one was just ridiculous.

The next Tuesday some 15 people turned up having seen the article in the Observer. I wasn’t there. I just smiled a knowing smile and thought to myself: “Bob, you chickened out. We’re as bad as each other.”