Friday, 24 August 2007

Gig-a-Blog™ (GoodBooks, iTunes Festival & Channel 4 TV)

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

A few days after the GoodBooks/Radio 4 thing, Anna the manager was in touch once more to ask us to come and play in Passchendaele again. Naturally we were pleased to be asked: I'm like yeah woo babay. (I'm like good show, top hole, pip pip.) This time it was part of the iTunes Festival at the ICA - the Institute for Contemporary Arts, rather splendidly situated on The Mall, between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace.

The iTunes Festival ran for the whole of July with two acts most nights. Some of these were astonishingly eminent: people like Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse and Stereophonics among many others: a total of more than sixty acts listed for the whole festival. The whole thing was run by and/or for iTunes and Channel 4 TV, so you could go to the gigs, or (eventually) see bits of it on TV or download performances from iTunes. The "going to the gigs" bit was interesting - tickets were free but had to be applied for in a ballot. I rather liked this neat idea, but I'm not sure what iTunes' message to the fans was meant to be in this: is it just the very obvious one, or what? Your guess, Tamsin.

GoodBooks' appearance on Wednesday 11th July was as support to Editors, whose work I didn't know but I'm told that they're well thought-of. (What I heard of them on the day sounded good and I probably ought to be less lazy about music and find out more things I like. But then I'm also told that Old Gits trying to be hip about music is faintly disgusting. Ah, conflicts, conflicts innit Colin?)

Lottie and I met at the ICA quite early so we had time for a cup of tea. It's all very pleasant and trendy there and I'm ashamed to admit that this was my first visit. I must try to assuage my CultureGuilt™ by going there for a proper look some time.

We ran into or were introduced to the band, Anna, various technical and admin people and James, another trumpet player, who I think was at school with some or all of GoodBooks: so today we were a section of three.

The soundchecks, astonishingly enough, ran a bit late so there wasn't too much time for the trumpets, as the venue were champing at the bit to get the front of house clear. We did, nevertheless, get checked and it was immediately clear that it was going to be a bit easier than last time to hear what was going on. We still didn't have our own monitor (which is fair enough in the circumstances) but I could hear a lot more from the FOH and if you wellied it a little you could hear it smacking back at you from the rear of the venue, not loudly but definitely there, which is helpful.

The venue, by the way, was not large: I seem to recall that the ICA calls it the Studio or something. Bigness is not its thing - I think a capacity of over 300 was mentioned but I'd be surprised, nay alarmed, to see that many fitted in there unless this were students being sponsored, possibly by Lurpak. It looked especially tiny before the gig in the get-in/soundcheck period when the auditorium floor was pretty full of musical and technical kit and you couldn't really see how you'd easily get even twenty people in. But yes, they did tidy all this up nicely, and make a fair space for the small, but undoubtedly high-quality, audience.

During this pre-gig technical phase I was really intrigued by the boom-mounted TV camera. It's mounted on a sort of big trolley, and the long arm bearing the camera is massively counterbalanced so that the operator's end of it, with the monitor and controls, is quite compact. I was impressed by the subtlety and artistry with which the operator could move this camera: despite the obvious, major constraints on its movement it was so cleverly done that it almost looked like it could fly. This looked like a nice job!

Having soundchecked we had a little time to kill, and a meal voucher for the rather nice caff: hence our encounter with The Best Sticky Toffee Pudding in the Entire Universe. Ah yes. <long sigh>

That little moment of bliss over, it was time to go and Do Our Thang. Well actually it was time to go and hang around backstage for some time, in an area so tiny that it makes the front of house look like the Royal Albert Hall. The ICA's site is not huge and, believe me, they are using every inch back there.

I must mention that I was impressed by the guy tour-managing for GoodBooks at the ICA. He seemed busy and hardworking and did a couple of attention-to-detail things which were useful, and was at pains to keep us trumpets informed about the progress of the gig. This is handy when you're in that kind of situation and don't want to feel a bit semi-detached. So well done Mr Bloke.

After a couple of songs - which were now quite familiar due to the near-obsessive amounts of GoodBooks listening I'd been doing - we were on. I'd have felt a bit cooler not carrying on a music stand, but as discussed ad nauseam elsewhere there's no contest if the choice is between cool and correct and the band, bless'em, agreed. If they ask me a third time, tell you what, I'll try and learn it. But safety first, I reckon.

In any case we were not exactly centre stage and it was therefore possible to kind of snurgle our way on in a low-impact way, music stand and all; and in line with the 6Ps weltanschauung I'd gaffer-taped the music onto the stand so that was one potential disaster nipped in the bud.

It all seemed to go well. We were a bit surprised by the not-overfulness of the studio but it was early in the evening and who they did have there seemed enthusiastic enough.

Max almost threw me a little by announcing me, or rather a "Mr Louis Armstrong", just before the solo. It's not that I was put out at being mentioned in the same month or year as one of the greatest musicians ever, far from it. It's just that I didn't quite grasp immediately what he'd said so for a second it could've been anything from We're skipping straight to the hitherto unknown Verse Three to The building is on fire, please panic calmly to Ian Dury's famous Cut out the f*cking spitting on the Live Stiffs tour album. (My word, how lovely touring must have been In Them Days.) Thus just briefly I was slightly baffled, thinking "does this affect what I am about to do?" but then instinct reasserted itself (Fight or Flight in F minor) and I switched modes out of WTF?? and into Better-Just-Play-It-Anyway with only the mildest hint of crashing gears, stripped cogs, shattering crockery, squealing brakes an ting, such is the hem hem incredible flexibility of my rusty demicentenarian brain. Memo to self: be more flexible; nothing is set in stone. (Except things that are actually set in stone, yes Tamsin, thank you.)

gb_MAL_0160-bigger The other thing that happened is that - according to Lottie - when I started playing, camera persons dashed over from all points of the compass. (Erm. Erm. I guess you don't see a physique like mine on stage every day of the week, no?) Lot was not unreasonably concerned that had I noticed I'd have freaked out. Haha, she doesn't know the half of it. It's quite hard to play the trumpet while gibbering, screaming, babbling and trying to get your head (and indeed torso) into a Krispy Kreme Donut bag. Fortunately I had by then reached a semi-eyes-shut state of either Musical Ecstasy or Catatonic Fear (reader, you decide) and so did not notice the Sons of Satan and their thrusting, ah, equipment.

In a trice it was all over and all that remained was to leave the stage without falling over the music stand then fight our way through hordes of screaming trumpet-groupies, or not, and homewards. In some ways I'd have quite liked to stay and listen to Editors but in some other ways I was quite to keen to keep a date with such hip'n'cool appurtenances as The Comfy Armchair and The Nice'n'Large Glass-o-Red, so I did.

Another seriously enjoyable gig; another massive lurch forward in my Popular Music Career. Skilled statistical analysis based on my performance so far reveals that the next phase should begin in around 2032. Book your seats now.

Note: a later blogological entity discusses the appearance of recordings of this performance on the televisual apparatus and on a "music webby downloader website internet network thing" frequented by young persons with too much pocket money.

Stage photo by great kindness of James at Mallinsons.

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