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Music On Tap

At great risk to the magazine’s circulation, we present a guide to spending your evenings playing music instead of reading about it. Your local may never be the same again.

If the local arts centre is fully booked, students' union entertainments have been cut back, and the drama school has stopped doing live music, you've got nowhere to play but pubs and clubs. We pinpoint the pitfalls and pleasures of playing in front of an inebriated audience.

So you've taken the big decision. You're going to get out of your bedroom, and play some of your music to an audience wider than your brother, the local scout troop and E&MM's DemoTakes page.

Let's take a look at a few of the problems that are inevitably facing you. Never mind all this 'sequencer or tape' stuff for the time being. It makes more sense to start with where you play.

There may be a cathedral in the vicinity whose stained-glass windows and long, winding reverb times would compliment your more ambient pieces to good effect.

Or you could consider the local Women's Institute, which continually plays host to a wide variety of events from tupperware parties to raffles in aid of leukaemia research, and which would probably find a slot for a musical evening of some description. Then again, perhaps not.

Well that's it, then. You've exhausted all the possible options, and there's nothing else for it but to retire to the pub for the evening to sink a few beers, and discuss your impending fame and fortune with your Heavy Metal guitarist mate. But just a moment. What about the pub as a venue?

The idea is plainly silly. There's no stage, not enough space in the room the stage isn't in, no lighting, no three-phase mains, and no dressing room.

But do you really need a stage as such? Or, for that matter, anything more than the in-house lighting, a couple of 13-amp sockets, and the Ladies' to get made-up in? One thing's for certain: when it comes to situations in which space is at a premium, your drum machine/sequencer or tape deck is a hell of a lot smaller (and less frightening) to the publican than a live drummer and all his regalia will ever be.

Now we're making progress. Why should the pub gig remain the domain of the ageing organist and the HM band? Answer: no reason at all.

But things are rarely that simple. There are a whole load of factors to consider before you go into the first few bars of the song that's supposed to drag people away from the bar.

First of all, there's the choice of pub. A few simple guidelines here will help to reduce the amount of wasted journeys you make, and the number of bewildered landlords you meet.

Initially, you should approach venues already in the habit of playing host to live music. But don't rule out any that aren't; you may be just the man to rectify the situation. In either case, you're going to have to represent your intentions and your music as attractively as possible, so have a good idea of what you're going to need and why before making your approach — and be prepared to remain flexible. A cassette of your music should make communication between landlord and self a lot easier — it might even convince him you're not going to drive his custom away for good.

While you're at the watering hole in question, cast a wary eye over the clientele. Does it look like the sort of audience your music will appeal to? Remember that OAPs, for instance, are not recognised by Gallup as constituting a sizeable element of the electronic music fraternity.

There is another consideration: money. Now, I know many of you would be quite content merely with the chance to enrichen the world with your artistic genius. But given that you're unlikely to make much profit out of many pub/club gigs, you should at least try to ensure that your expenses are covered.

Unless you have access to some adequate amplification, or even a modest PA rig, you'll have to hire something. This costs money. Even if you have some suitable transport, you're going to need some petrol before it'll take you anywhere. If you don't have transport, you'll have to hire some. All this costs money, too.

There's no single approach guaranteed to make the landlord cough up either expenses or some sort of payment likely to land you in the black. The best advice I can offer is that, as a consumable commodity, free beer is a good barter.

You may have to settle for playing an evening early on in the week to begin with, as a consequence of landlordly reservation. Do not be deterred.

Right, gig secured. What next? In this respect, if in no other, your pub debut is no different from the opening night of Duran's mammoth American tour, as preparation is the keyword for any gig, no matter what its scale.

To begin with, we'll take the material for granted since it's a pretty obvious point, and who am I to question your artistic credibility or musical merit? Let's turn our attention to other practical considerations, beginning with your situation within the licensed establishment that you are about to desecrate in the name of art.

On your arrival you will, in all probability, find that Herr Landlord has already chosen a site for your activities without recourse to you. Nine times out of ten, this site will be devoid of mains sockets, partially obscured from the remainder of the room by a conveniently situated pillar, and right next to the 'Crazy Kong' video-game machine. If you're able to locate El Gaffer (very likely), kick up a fuss in an attempt to get him to change his mind (very unlikely).

Whatever happens, you'll soon discover that decent mains extensions are essential if the evening is not to finish here. And do try to keep the cable out of harm's way (plugs come out as well as go in, sometimes with the assistance of the curious punter), because people who trip over it have a nasty habit of asking you to replace the pint of Euro-fizz they've just emptied on the floor.

It's unlikely that floor space will be in abundance, so use it wisely. This doesn't mean you can't use it imaginatively or entertainingly. There is documented evidence of people using slide projection and videotape accompaniment for this sort of performance, so there's no reason why you shouldn't consider doing something similar. You are calling it art, after all.

And so to the joint subject of equipment and personnel. It may be that your original intention was to use a traditional 'band' format to present your work (alternatively, you may be more of an electronic purist or simply an equipment fanatic, in which case the issue doesn't arise), but if space is limited, you may find your Portastudio or Akai 4000DS suddenly becoming an invaluable friend. Even if you're against the idea of being totally dependent on machines, a judicious pruning of the lineup can still be a great help — especially if it means the difference between playing that night and watching Joan Collins on 'Wogan'.

In the same way as drum machines obviate the need for a greasy know-nothing skin-basher, sequencers offer an attractive alternative to tape as a space-effective extra pair of hands.

One important consideration has so far escaped our attention: The Beer Factor. I know it hasn't been too far from your thoughts (it's certainly never too far from mine), but in the context of a pub gig, it has ramifications that at least equal those of location, material, equipment, and all the rest of it.

Surprised? Let me explain. Just as a sequencer can transport your gig from the realms of fantasy to reality, so beer is more than capable of bringing it back again. OK, so you do a bit of Kronenbourg now and again, but you can handle it... but can your precious MSQ700 or Portastudio? The sad truth is that not only can your equipment hold its beer better than you, it can also hold crisps, pork scratchings and cigarette ash better than you — all in the wrong places and all to devastating effect.

The arrival of digital access control has given us the instrument panel largely devoid of knobs and buttons, adorned instead with lots of pretty pictures and tables. Unfortunately, these tables present a very tempting alternative to those provided by the pub for the accommodation of your pint/ashtray/nuts. They also have a habit of not remaining upright when your attention is elsewhere. You have been warned.

And now the gig's over. How did it go?

Maybe it was fraught with technical problems and you swear you'll never venture into live performance again. Maybe you were as well appreciated as the Colorado Beetle is by the potato farmer. Maybe it was more successful than you ever dared hope.

Whatever the result, it was worthwhile. You can be sure that the next gig will belong to one of the other categories — they always do — but you're keeping music live and alive. You need no further justification. Buy yourself a drink.

7 things to bear in mind when gigging in pubs and clubs

compiled from experience by Dominic Stockler

1 TRY to use up as little space as possible. Landlords prefer space to be taken up by the alcohol-buying public, and don't really give a tinker's cuss about the music so long as it brings the punters in.

2 GAFFA tape all leads down so that punters don't trip over them on their way to the toilet. Avoid obstructing toilets as this can make you very unpopular.

3 DON'T rely on one piece of equipment too heavily; try and have some sort of replacement on hand when one of your main instruments suddenly decides to take a holiday halfway through the set.

4 SWITCH off any jukeboxes that might be lurking in corners. They have an unpleasant habit of springing into life in the middle of quieter numbers.

5 DON'T try to be too avant garde. Unless the gig has been heavily advertised, most of the audience will be there to get drunk, find a mate, or whatever. That said, you'd be surprised how well a bit of musique concrete can go down if you get the balance right.

6 REMEMBER to treat every gig as though it was Madison Square Gardens. You never know quite who might be watching...

7 WHEN the glasses start flying — Get Out!

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Birth of a Studio

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Hit and Miss

Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Dec 1985

Scanned by: Stewart Lawler


Previous article in this issue:

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