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The First Gig – Have we lift off?
Graeme Garvey

Tom was in a dead-end job. It was dead in the middle too. Talking to him, it was hard to tell what he actually did for a living but friends suggested it had something to do with social work. Now in his late twenties, life was no longer passing him by. It was trying to make a detour round him.
He’d started to push his luck at the office and he didn’t really care any more. He would turn up an hour late. He always left early and was most often found sitting, feet on desk, playing a few chords on his acoustic guitar, planning the great escape… surrounded by an ocean of adoring fans, stadium lights tracing incredible patterns which swept across stage, over the crowd and into the sky before racing back towards them. Music, their music, their own songs having grown through fame into anthems. The glitz, the glamour, the adrenaline rush of it all. It was a dream come true. It was here, it was now, it was happening…

Tom’s mate, Dan, didn’t really do anything. He sort of worked at a few things. It was hard to be certain with him too. It didn’t matter to the lads though. Once they had realised that one could play a bit of guitar and the other could sing, their dream had started. It wasn’t that they just wanted to be, it was that they were definitely, unquestionably going to be rock stars. This certainty became, well, even more certain once they lined up a gig at a pub in the north of Leeds. It was in two weeks’ time and they had plenty of practising to do. For a start, they didn’t have any songs.
Practice went well. Well, it went and so did time. The two weeks became two days and the tension mounted. Then cold, blue FEAR set in and butterflies grew into hyperactive hummingbirds whirring within their innards. How to cope with all the tension? Came the great day and drink provided the answer, for Tom at least. It seemed sensible, considering the venue was a pub, to have a few ‘settlers’ just to calm himself. Stories had been circulating by teatime that Tom was already drunk. He’d begun early and was already in great form by the time he’d arrived at ‘The Farfield’, venue of their first ever gig.

Where better to begin than in a pub hidden so deep in the suburbs that no one could possibly happen upon it by accident? Providing they survived the night they could then look on it as a ‘controlled experiment’. They didn’t exactly have a reputation to tarnish and they had everything to learn. So though it was all a bit scary, it was also ideal.

The Venue.
When the car carrying all their supporters drew up outside the pub it looked to them like a neon-lit Colditz. They took Tom’s panicky wave from inside to mean, "About time you buggers turned up, we’re on!" Inside, The Farfield was less daunting: virtually deserted but less daunting. One day, Tom and Dave’s fans would be as countless as the fish in the sea but as yet they could all be named, quickly. Tom had the desire, Dave had the voice. Did they have the nerve? You need plenty of bottle to go on stage and it was clear they had already had plenty, just to make it go all the better. Dave was edgy but still in control, Tom was positively radiant.

With their five fans now in the pub, it pushed the audience easily into double figures and triggered the lads on to the stage - or raised step, to be more accurate. Soon they were playing and, like with the first hesitant strokes in a rowing boat, they were unsteadily on their way – two would-be rock gods. Tom was planted firmly on a stool and seldom gave less than 100%, sometimes he gave it more but usually gave it exactly 100%. Dave’s voice impressed on the occasions he sang into the mike, though there surely had to be a better p.a. than this one, linked as it was through the juke box to every speaker in the pub. Yet, amazingly, incredibly, despite all the difficulties, it held together somehow. Ambition kept them going. Or perhaps it was blind terror.

As the evening tried to wear on, the performers learned to ignore the talking audience. They grew indifferent to the fluctuations in numbers as a gaggle of locals kept migrating between bar and pool room. The second set of songs found Tom and Dave more relaxed, already seasoning as pros; The Verve, Oasis, REM and Radiohead were being plundered and the audience had, if anything, grown. Songs were being clapped and a few were even beginning to sing along. Their own fans led the way, listening whenever their conversation flagged.

The second set ended with the gig at its absolute peak, but a snag had presented itself since a third set had been ordered – the boys had run out of songs. So it became a matter of which repeats it would be easiest to slip in. Variety could always be introduced in any future gig. What made this possible to believe was that, far from being disliked, there was evidence that the locals didn’t even mind the turn. Not minding hardened to outright enthusiasm in isolated pockets as one or two began to catch up on Tom’s drinking.

The landlord and landlady, hard taskmasters, did insist on a third set and then slapped in a personal request as the sound of music filled their pub. Thanks to the peculiarities of the p.a. system it even filled the cloakrooms with Dave’s fine, distinctive voice. It had somehow managed to filter out Tom’s gritty and robust guitar playing. By the later stages of the third and absolutely final set, and far from wishing to leave their audience wanting more, Tom and Dave were in the throes of ‘losing their religion’ yet again and were becoming unstoppable. They only finally took the hint to do so when the landlord began switching off the lights and shutting the pub.

Not a dream, but not a nightmare either, their play had earned them a return invitation in four weeks’ time. Their first gig was over. Lift off had been unsteady but they had left the launch pad.

© Graeme Garvey 2001

Graemes first piece for hacks email him to find out where he's playing next?

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