My Dog Gave Me The Clap and Other Near Misses by muso Adam Morris is forthcoming in October 2011. Adam Morris plays in the Murder Mouse Blues Band.
From Chapter 2: Music
Saul had played many gigs like this one before. Three sets, forty-five minutes a set, ten to twelve songs a set depending. They were often strange and unusual experiences. Saul had played in clubs, bars and festival stages to big responsive audiences who appreciated his songs and his singing. But these gigs were different and came up more often. Saul was basically like a lot of musicians, a part-time musician. He couldn’t rely on playing full time as some weeks the gigs simply weren’t there. At times he’d go two months without work. That’s why he worked in the prison, that’s why he sometimes took relief work in schools, that’s why he was going a little off the rails. He had one leg in each camp and couldn’t get a secure footing in either. He had thought many times, if he fully dedicated himself to his music after ten or fifteen years he would be in a solid position. He also thought that if he stayed in the prison teaching or in a school or an office job or some sort of more stable and normal career, after ten or fifteen years he would be earning well, rising in his chosen field, progressing. But the way it was he had his flashes of success in both worlds and more pain and middling in both.
Saul would arrive at the venue like the one he had just played and set up while half the room was already full. No one had come to see him play. They had come to take their wife out for dinner, a casual dinner, they had brought the family and the kids out for an occasion, someone’s birthday, a visitor from overseas maybe. The fact there was a musician playing there was a bonus for everyone in the room. Saul always felt slightly uncomfortable setting up if the room was already in full swing. He felt like he was intruding. There would be some non-offensive light jazz background music over the house PA, the lights would be dimmed, the vibe was nice, you could smell the food, hear people talking, laughing, cutlery hitting plates, glasses clinking. Saul sometimes felt like a little brother at his big sister’s party. No one minded that he was there, but everyone could have a fine time without him.
They watched as Saul walked through the door carrying his PA. They watched as he returned to his car and came back with the leather bag of leads, microphone, mic stand and guitar stand under his arm. They watched as Saul disappeared again and reappeared carrying two guitar cases. As Saul would play these gigs alone, he had no one to talk to and so everything that was said in the room he could hear. ‘Ooh looks like we’ve got a guitar player,’ says a man in the far corner of the room to his wife whose company he’s not entirely enjoying. Saul noticed how usually the people who were having the most miserable evening would be the ones watching him the closest. ‘Two guitars hey, must be alright.’
Saul would try and make the set up as professional as possible. He didn’t want to do it too quickly because then he’d be sitting around waiting for the start time alone in a pub reading a paper he had no interest in. Finally he’d get a drink which was usually included in the pay, ask the bar staff to turn off the house music and wander back, hop on the high stool and create some atmosphere of his own, but not too much as to interfere with the football.
The pay for these gigs was pretty good, about the equivalent of a day’s pay in the prison or the schools. So although it wasn’t Madison Square Garden, one gig like this was a day less Saul had to spend at the prison or the school. He usually played something bluesy and mellow to start the set, trying to blend in with the atmosphere he was replacing, at least at first. As the set wore on Saul would loosen up bit by bit. More often than not the hardest part about these gigs was that hardly anybody ever clapped. If he got a small smattering of applause for each song he considered himself to be very lucky. It wasn’t that they didn’t enjoy it, most of the people who left at the end of the night would thank Saul for his music. They just didn’t clap for some reason while they were actually there for some profound reason. Saul had played many a gig where he sold six or seven CDs at the end but hardly anyone clapped while he was playing. Saul was used to this practice but it was still hard to get used to. In fact it was impossible to get used to, it was like having a conversation with someone who never answered, it felt bewildering. He remembered his first solo gig, when it first happened, he didn’t get a single clap, not one for the whole first set. He was playing in a beer garden in the middle of the day and forty-five minutes went by with nothing from the entire gathering.
Saul was at first mortified. Maybe I’ll just pack up and leave after this set he thought, that will look terrible. Maybe I’ll just take a long break, like a nine-hour break and pack up when everyone has gone home. Maybe I need to kill myself to apologise to these poor people. But the pub asked him back and each person who left the beer garden who passed Saul thanked him for a wonderful afternoon. These were things which baffled Saul, yet also these were things Saul was proud to have endured.