By DaNeo Duran
Text copyright © 2015 DaNeo Duran
All Rights Reserved
To Beverley for always believing in me and to everyone taking the time to read this work. I hope you enjoy and benefit it.
Stage fright is something that’s blighted me since stepping out as a solo musical performer. And in you’re considering reading this book it’s likely that stage fright is causing you problems with public performances or your anticipation of them. But for you is enough, enough?
Following a specific open mic performance in September 2014 my frustration reached criticality. Si who runs the ‘Seize the Mic’ night in the Leeds venue Carpe Diem told me and Ritchie my pal from work that ITV would be recording a TV show (or excerpt) there the following week. Participating artists would sing one song and answer a few questions. Ritchie and I figured, why not? As Si didn’t give us any further information we imagined it’d be a local news story or something equally low-key.
Nevertheless knowing myself as I do I couldn’t leave anything to chance. Who knows who’s watching local news? I’d choose one of my eleven original songs. It’d have to be perfect in private rehearsal if I stood a chance of getting it right in public. As a solo singer/guitarist my track record of live open mic performances had been disappointingly substandard. At time of writing I’ve never done a full gig as a solo artist. For more than a year I’ve been turning up on spec to perform between two and four songs a time at open mic nights. I can’t think of a time when I’ve been pleased with a performance. Something always goes wrong, gets forgotten or just doesn’t impact the way I’d hoped. Generally people clap after I play but during my songs (covers or originals) it’s quite normal to be ignored as people carry on their conversations or worry about their own upcoming performances.
In anticipation of my TV debut I practiced hour after hour both with and without metronome. My chosen song Heading for the Coast became rock solid. The day before Carpe Diem I couldn’t make a mistake if I tried. My overworked fingertips burned painfully. But I didn’t care about the pain because Heading for the Coast with its rapid Merle Travis style finger-picking had never sounded so confident.
On the day in question I checked Facebook and read the disappointing news from Si that ITV had cancelled the show at the last minute. Si appealed to the artists to come along to Carpe Diem anyway for a regular open mic night. Ritchie and I decided we may as well still go. After perfecting Heading for the Coast I thought I should at least show the venue how magnificent it could sound.
Arriving before Ritchie I bought a drink and found a quiet corner to do some casual practice. Despite hurting, my fingers appeared to be working well. I sang softly to warm my voice.
When Si showed up after Ritchie he told us that we’d been wrong guessing that ITV would be doing a local news story. Instead they’d been planning to film for a national reality talent show. It’d differ from Britain’s Got Talent and all the other talent shows in that acts would receive votes exclusively from the public; there’d be no judges or ‘experts’ in sight. The show’s format had been doing extremely well in Germany, the USA and several other countries; that is until those impressive viewing stats nosedived without warning. ITV had been keeping tabs on these and when the overseas shows failed to turn the waning interest around ITV decided not to go ahead with the show. Opportunity really might have come knocking.
Having arrived early to Carpe, Si put me on stage first. Whether that made me more or less nervous I’m not sure. You might imagine going on later would help especially if the preceding acts are lower in standard or make plenty of fluffs. And so already the psychology of stage fright and best performance comes into question. The writing of this book has shown me that following lower standard or less well practiced acts has annoyingly still led me to perform badly. This appears to be due to arrogance or ‘trying too hard’ wrongly thinking, ‘if you liked that you’ll love me.’ Not surprisingly though following high standard acts can also intimidate and unnerve me. This book later discusses the subject of ‘competition’ and its uses/hindrances in our performance attitude.
Another characteristic of stage fright is that despite its suggestive name it’s not necessarily ‘fright’ as in to feel frightened. For example on that fateful night at Carpe I took the stage and adjusted the mic feeling reasonably happy. So Si could get a level I sang a few silly notes and said some ‘one-twos’. To get a guitar level, Si asked me to play as hard as I likely would. Obliging him I strummed an open E-chord. But Heading for the Coast isn’t hefty strumming. It’s finger-picking; a much softer volume technique. Unwittingly I’d just set myself up for the excuse I’d later give as to why I played so badly.
How did I feel? Sure I had plenty of nervousness but nothing so great as fear or fright.
Si’s introductions tend to be so cheerfully enthusiastic it’s difficult not to smile and that helps create a sense of ease. ‘Please give a warm Carpe welcome to DaNeo Duran.’
The time to play had arrived. Weeks earlier I’d played Heading for the Coast at Carpe and hit a wall after Verse-2 when the bridge-to-chorus chords failed to appear in my mind. The song had come to a crashing halt. Ritchie shouted up to stage that I’d already played those chords after Verse-1. I’d kept that incident well in mind during in my subsequent practice which as described had been thorough.
To play a song from beginning to end a singer/guitarist has to remember all the lyrics, the melody, the song’s verse/chorus/middle structure, the chords and how to execute the instrumental parts. I knew all of these aspects perfectly. I consciously knew how precisely my fingers subconsciously knew how to play. My off stage practice minutes earlier had confirmed this. And yet … here, now, my fingers refused to behave. Though the Intro’s chord types came to mind the finger-picking sounded terrible; not that I could hear much of it through the monitors. The information from brain to fingertips seemed to be getting lost or diverted. My fingers appeared to be guessing what they should be doing. They couldn’t connect with the strings as they should – as they’d practiced. For every other open mic appearance I could have put this down to lack of practice. But not this time. There must be another factor at work here. A cloaked stage fright?
In the moment I had no idea what could be causing the problem. I got through Heading for the Coast but it never found its groove. Oddly enough I then I played through the next two songs with comparative success.
Not in a hurry to admit (even to myself) that I’d had crippling stage fright I came off stage and wondered again what could have rendered the first song such a disaster. I reasoned the problem must have been that the guitar couldn’t be heard clearly enough through the monitors. Maybe I should have soundchecked my guitar finger-picking instead of strumming.
Finding Si I told him I’d made a mistake in soundchecking by strumming. Well I had to say something the guy couldn’t have failed to notice me clawing hopelessly at the strings. Incredibly he apologised to me saying me someone else had been using the mixing desk and like when you get back in your car’s driving seat after lending it to another driver you struggle to put the seat back how you had it. I appreciated the kindness of his sentiment.
When I got home I considered what had happened more closely. That’s when the real disappointment set it. I realised I’d lied to Si. It hadn’t been his fault and nor should I have blamed the monitoring. I should have been able to play Heading for the Coast in the blackness and silencing vacuum of outer space. The inarguable truth: my mind and body had failed to engage a state conducive to guitar playing.
The feelings of disappointment that followed that night’s performance breached my patience. That sense of enough being enough became the source of motivation for writing this book. Whether you’ve reached that critical point or not I hope you stay with me and get something of use from reading this book.
The writing of this book has put me in line of dozens of performers. Most seemed to have ‘expert’ opinions of what stage fright is and have been keen to share them. Not only do opinions vary but most performers seem to think their opinion is the only one of value; like I wouldn’t need to ask anyone else or share a book – perhaps a leaflet or single webpage would suffice. As the variety of opinions seems never-ending I have to consider everyone’s opinions and suggestions with an open mind. Hopefully this will ensure at least some of the information in this book eventually hits home to you and all readers.
Despite these variants I’m sure everyone would agree that stage fright robs public performances (musical or otherwise) of joy and their true potential. But an individual’s quest to beat stage fright is likely uniquely personal. Yours and every other performer’s stage fright issues would ideally be assessed on a case by case basis. But as that can’t be achieved in a book of this nature it’s my aim to illustrate my own journey with its variants whilst focusing on stage fright’s commonalities. And as you read question your own situation and consider how the offered information and suggestions could benefit you.
Having written songs and learned some covers I wanted to air them publically. In private rehearsal I can sing and play them on guitar well enough. But as already described when I get out and on stage I perform them badly. The audience doesn’t get the best of me or the songs and therefore they don’t experience the enjoyment they deserve or the experience I’d like them to have. This failure ruins my pleasure of the performance. I wonder if you feel similarly after a public performance? Generally I’m so disappointed when I get off stage that my girlfriend Beverley virtually told me to give up. ‘You don’t enjoy it,’ she said. Well of course I don’t enjoy it. What’s the point of anyone coming to the stage if they can’t successfully communicate their intended message or emotion?
I guess that last question makes a most salient point. Whether you’re a singer, musician, rapper, speaker or dancer when you come to the stage you’re doing it because you’ve got something to say. The more effectively you communicate your message, song or dance the better the chances it’ll be received, understood and appreciated.
So it’s because that fateful open mic slot in September 2014 that I’ve decided enough is enough. I haven’t spent all that time writing songs and developing guitar finger-picking to follow Beverley’s advice and simply give up. I don’t expect you to give up either. I’m determined to find a way of bringing the best of my private rehearsals to the public stage.
Here’s the fascinating thing. When I committed myself to this journey and to write this text I never anticipated its creation would take my thoughts beyond just wanting to beat stage fright’s unpleasantness. It’s caused me to wonder what happens after stage fright’s been beaten? What does it take to be the very best performer I can be? I’m sure many of us wonder this frequently but this time I’m feeling my mind more seriously opening to the idea. I’m expecting answers and I’m expecting a path to greater excellence to unfold. What could I do if I could perform and affect an audience the way I’d like to? Where could performance take me? And (and this was a real eye opener for me) the writing of this book is causing me to ask: do I have stage fright or do I have life fright? How much of life am I missing out on due to fear? Do you wonder the same things?
As an aside, when the band I played bass for split in 2007 I stooped into a depression that sapped me of musical and performance energy. Only my imagination remained. I closed my eyes, imagined, and wrote my first novel Little Spirit where my fictional band enjoyed the successes I’d dreamed of. When I’d finished Little Spirit of which I’m very proud I still hadn’t a scrap of energy to actually get out and enjoy life. So I considered that I’d always wanted to tour America with a band. Again I closed my eyes and wrote Johnny and The USed Wonz. The USed Wonz another fictional band enjoyed the touring and romance that I felt I never would. Life fright? I reckon I’ve had it all my life in greater or lesser degrees. Little Spirit sets up Johnny and The USed Wonz which sets up a third novel. For a third novel I decided to make things really tricky. Unlike the first two novels set in the 1980s this third fictional band would be trying to crack the 2010s; a ‘now’ time whose music industry I no longer understand. The writing ran aground. Now something in me is telling me I have to get up and make it happen for real. Having worked up a set the next challenge is to conquer stage fright.
Though chiefly about freeing yourself from stage fright this book might wake up your performance potential and start you asking questions as to what to do with your newfound awesomeness. I hope you continue reading this book to its end. You could dash through it in no time or until you find points worthy of your contemplation. The text is full of questions that I’ve been asking myself to lead to the root of my own performance issues so I’m certain you’ll find plenty to consider too.
Enough is Enough. As you read this chapter it’ll have certainly undergone any number of re-writes but by continuing to read you’re taking a near real-time journey with me towards my goal of more fulfilling and joyful performances. You can trust that I am determined to not only root out but also to destroy the psychological millstones around my neck. In doing so it’ll surely help you do the same. The book is inexpensive because as much as I’d like to make money from the sale of it, for me this text needs to be written for my own consideration. At time of writing I’m more interested in sharing my findings than profiting from them.
Before we start moving forwards let’s consider what has brought us to where we are now. Is stage fright the result of something in our history? What successes or un-successes determine our current potential? And where did we even get the idea or develop the belief that being on stage is scary?
I’m an advocate of GROW model life coaching. The biggest difference between counselling and GROW model coaching is their approach (or direction). Counselling is looking backwards at what has happened. GROW model coaching considers your ‘here and now’ (nervous performer?) and looks forwards to your future (confident performer?) and considers the options available to lead there before considering what actions you’d be willing to take. This book much more considers this forward view.
Nevertheless I respect the past and to help me route out my sources of stage fright I knocked up my own musical autobiography with a few other bits that I felt might have affected me as the person I am today. As it’s several pages long and relevant only to me I’ve not included in this publication.
Of course you don’t have to write your autobiography but I’d recommend at least considering your own history it’ll surely identify any issues that might otherwise get dragged with you on your journey to effective stage performance. And your achievements will help remind you of your potential to be the performer you know you could be.
My investigation of the past has identified that I haven’t been honest with myself. As a teenage drummer I had plenty of understandable nerves but when a bandmate told me he never got nervous I decided that only wimps get nerves and swallowed my own. As a gigging drummer the nerves in time genuinely wore off to the point of negligibility. But when I switched to bass they came back. Having beaten stage fright once I perhaps couldn’t believe they’d shown up again. Or more likely I still denied myself the truth and convinced myself I didn’t have stage fright. It’s only now that I’m a solo artist that nervousness has too badly affected my playing and become too serious to ignore. So firstly I’m using this considered information to be honest with myself. But secondly what of this ‘nervousness is for wimps’ belief?
Maybe I still believe nervousness still is for wimps. Practitioners of Neuro Linguistic Programing like to state that unhelpful believes can be changed. I’ve never subscribed to this. Rather than ‘change’ an unhelpful belief (which has never worked for me anyway) I prefer to find other things to believe that’ll help me work around it. For example: So what if nervousness is for wimps? Firstly: I don’t have to tell everyone I get nervous; provided I’m honest with myself. Secondly: what’s so wrong with being a wimp? Respectfully throw the wimpy kids in a Thai Boxing gym and they’ll soon toughen up. And I can toughen up too. If you’re feeling like there’s a stigma attached to feeling nervous then know that you can toughen up too. Exploring my musical history has first of all shone a light and now I need to have the courage to admit my shortcomings in order to move on from them. And hopefully this light will help me manage my expectations better.
When you get on stage are you expecting too much of yourself? It’s because of my investigation of the past that I’ve been able to remind myself of successes and failures I’ve had. In some ways it’s made me grateful I can play and sing at all. I feel I should relax in the knowledge that despite my many previously failed attempts to play guitar that I now can and trust the natural musicality that my friend Gareth and I discovered in our infant years.
Before wrapping up this chapter I’d like to share this story with you. The reason I’d like to share it is that nervousness can be considered an important ingredient to spicing up a performance. Some would say a bit of nervous energy is essential. I’m not so sure. If you love performing you might give 100% of yourself to the performance with or without nerves. Exploring my musical history reminded me that as a drummer touring the working men’s clubs of the North East of England 2-4 nights a week I managed to squeeze nervousness down to nothing at all. Working that circuit has been the best job I ever had and I don’t imagine anyone would accuse me of not giving all I had practically every night. For that reason I’d choose a lack of nervousness any day over the hopeless performance that stage fright renders me with as a solo artist.
During my time in the clubs I had a girlfriend who came along to several gigs. Despite the confidence I’d developed her presence did knock my game a little. From the stage I struggled holding her gaze and my performance lacked flamboyance favouring safe reservation. I felt as though I’d gone into safety mode. In short nerves had the better of me. Fortunately we’d often fallout. After one misunderstanding we sulked along to another gig together and she sat in silence before I grumped to the dressing room with my bandmates. I didn’t even want to make eye contact with her that night. Instead I ignored her and turning my bad temperedness into excitement I played my heart out whilst making eye contact with other audience members. I played like my girlfriend didn’t exist.
Eventually I dared a quick glance her way. Clearly the ice had melted between us. She looked suitably wowed. From then on whether my girlfriend came to a gig or not I played with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.
Whether an artist thinks nervousness is a good thing or not is a personal choice or situation. As far as I’m concerned you can keep nervousness. All nerves do for me is take the edge off my performances and nudge me into making mistakes. I don’t feel that excitement is the same thing. For me excitement is sweet whereas nervousness is sour. How do you feel? Can nervousness be useful? Is excitement the same thing as nervousness? Neuro linguistic programmers (practitioners of NLP) or hypnotherapists such as Paul McKenna suggest when they feel nervous they just ‘chose’ to redefine the emotion as excitement and that gives them the edge. I used to be a huge fan of all of that NLP stuff but for me it never delivered on its promises. Maybe I’m doing it wrong but in my experience emotions are what they are; they won’t morph into something else just because I want them to.
Personal development guru Anthony Robbins states: ‘Your passed does not equal your future.’ Do you agree with this? I reckon most people’s past will equal their future to a greater or lesser extent depending on how much positive action they take. Whilst our past does not have to equal our future I feel reminding ourselves of previously forgotten or taken for granted aspects might be worth keeping in mind as we move forward. But let’s not dwell too long on it.
How does one actually get over stage fright? As mentioned I’ve spoken to lots of people and they all seem to have their opinion and think they’re on the money. But some opinions smack more practically and appear more often than others. One such opinion is that repetition is the answer. Simply put: do more of what scares you.
My instinctive feeling is that the psychology of my stage fright is too complex to be got rid of this way alone. Something is causing me to foul up when I play live. Doing lots of gigs ‘might’ help desensitise my anxiety but could it really help me to stop making so many mistakes? Could it be that after a series of regular gigs I might be able to play publically as adequately as I can play privately?
Well really there’s only one way to find out. The opinion that doing more of what scares you is so strong that I feel I can’t write a book about stage fright without putting it to the test; if only to rule it out.
I’ve decided to attempt an open mic performance or gig every single night of November 2014. Something positive has to come out of that right?
Hmm. Despite Leeds’s many open mic nights I’m not certain there’s one every night of the week and truthfully I’m not confident I can really be bothered if this isn’t the answer. I’m feeling I might sap out after a week or two. Though I feel determined to beat stage fright I’m doubting whether I’ll have the energy to walk, cycle and bus to a different venue every night for a month. I’m not sure what affect this’ll have on my relationship with Beverley either. And can stage fright can be beaten inside of one month? Change can be immediate or gradual. Well, however it happens I’ll need a plan; a plan to reach a goal.
Beating stage fright is my current goal and I guess yours too. Carol Wilson’s GROW model coaching teaches that goals should be stated in the positive and be ‘ExACT.’ That’s Ex – Exiting (something that’ll keep you motivated), A – Assessable (i.e. you can track your progress towards your goal’s achievement), C – Challenging (whilst we don’t want to be faced with something impossibly difficult we especially don’t want something too easy. Therefore make your goal challenging) and T – Time-framed (stick a date on your goal’s completion – something suitably far enough in the future without dragging it out. You can adjust this as you A – Assess your goal’s development).
Beating stage fright isn’t a particularly ExACT goal. It’s not as absolute as saying, ‘I will have a Jaguar F-Type by the last day of April.’ If you imagine desiring such a car and setting this positively stated goal then you might be Excited, you could Assess how much money you’ll be saving, which could be suitably Challenging if you’re to save enough inside your chosen Timeframe.
Beating stage fright is a wobblier fit. That said the idea of being a ‘confident public performer’ (now positively stated) does Excite me. As I do the open mic night performances I can Assess my feelings whilst monitoring the number of errors I’m making. Becoming a confident performer inside a month’s Timeframe will be Challenging enough without over-facing me provided I maintain my determination.
What does it take to stay determined? I’ve asked myself why I’m so determined to succeed in becoming the best performer I can be. I don’t see performance leading to fast cars, massive houses guarded by Doberman, yachts, beautiful girls, St. Trope, sunshine, financial security or even financial subsistence – all the things I dreamed of two decades ago when the music industry promised all of the above.
What is it that’s making me determined? And what’s making you so determined? I won’t be surprised if by the end of this book you don’t know. If you’re determined to beat your stage fright and realise your performance potential it might also be worth considering not just why but for how long will you remain determined. There are times in life when we ‘think’ we’re determined but something happens and we give up. Determination isn’t always real.
Is your determination a flash in the pan or is it something that’s never gonna pass? I reckon mine won’t ever pass. Even if I think it’s passed it’ll probably be back. Someone might offer me a job I can’t refuse and I’ll come off the boil but it’ll only be for a while. In my case I’m not sure if I really need to know in words why I’m determined. But is that true of you? For most things in life we need a big ‘why.’ Anthony Robbins states: ‘Get a big enough ‘why’ and you can overcome any ‘how’.
If, like me, you have confidence in your determination then we should have all we need to get started. Let’s hope it’s Exciting. The rest of this book is my Assessment as I face the Challenge of performing nightly throughout November 2014’s Timeframe. Each date entry includes a specific subject to consider in our quest to alleviate stage fright.
In the last year I’ve done open mic nights in London and played a bit of bass in bands too. A year ago I used to keep a gig diary. Reviewing it I see that since my last entry I’ve barely improved. As things are quiet at my day job I’ve been practicing guitar. Let’s hope this makes a difference. Now, where to gig on a Saturday?
The internet shows Saturday open mics are thin on the ground. Fortunately The Unicorn Inn isn’t too far from where I live. It plays host to an open mic night on each month’s first and third Saturdays.
I’d visited the Unicorn a couple of months earlier on open mic night but I didn’t play. That night had proved interesting as there seemed to be a broader range of talent than some of the city gigs. Older guys got up and gave things a go regardless of weak voices etc. Being out of the city the traditional pub feel is more homely than some other venues I’ve been to. On that previous occasion the pub’s manager Chris and musical partner Kelly had hosted the night. This time I rocked up with my guitar and Beverley at my side surprised to be told I’d need to speak to James. I’d previously met James as he organised the open mic at the IT Bar in Leeds. No major problems but I’ve found him to be something of a cold fish and had thought he didn’t much like me. I never returned to the IT Bar having attempted songs that technically might have been a little beyond at the time. Perhaps James had thought me a bit of an idiot. This night in the Unicorn however I couldn’t help but like him and reckoned his ‘coolness’ might just be his way.
James put me on after Hamish who I remembered from the previous visit. He has a great voice (more about this in a later chapter) and he’s got the confidence of someone who owns the joint. You might think he’d be a tough act to follow but this night his set meandered due to a loop pedal misbehaving. During this I sensed a wavering lack of humility about him which eased my tension. So, I didn’t mind following him. If anyone gave me cause for concern it could only have been Molly who’d preceded Hamish.
Her set had been stunning. She’s an attractive teen; okay on guitar but incredible voice. Her sweet innocence had silenced the room. I’ve seen this happen with many a youngster giving it a go and you’ve got to pity the poor sap who goes on afterwards.
I’ve been that poor sap. It happened to me when I did an open mic night in London. A brilliant girl called Katie had the place eating out of her hand. It tore me up following her. The mistakes I made when I took the stage after her had been uncanny. People’s attention left my performance one by one until I stood alone knee-deep in my befuddled playing.
Unlike many teenagers Molly’s voice really is worth listening to. I felt fortunate to have Hamish standing in as the poor sap following her. But given Hamish’s confidence and that his voice is wildly better than mine I doubt he gave a thought as to who he had to follow.
Eventually Hamish left taking his guitar and troublesome loop pedal. I went on figuring I’d start with an easy one. I did Tainted Love and it came out fine; people even sang along. I almost knew they would. Someone had done it a month earlier and it went down well then too. I went from that into Living Once Again a song of my own and promptly lost my polite audience. Living Once Again is all about its groove and though I spotted one lady’s foot tapping I hadn’t bitten the groove as deeply as I’d have liked. Either way the feel of the room had changed. At this stage I find it impossible not to be disheartened. I made a brand new mistake in the middle section which disappointed me. I think I managed the lyrics correctly though.
After finishing Living Once Again I forgot to announce my last song. I really hadn’t thought much about what to play. I knew I wanted to save the big guns: Heading for the Coast and Digging on Faith for next time when perhaps members of Beverley’s would be there. It’s almost like I didn’t want to be too good too soon. I shouldn’t have worried. I played Duran Duran’s Girls on Film. I think I got the lyrics right which doesn’t always happen. But I knotted the chorus chords and inevitably fouled up my finger-picked middle section. But how badly? I simply couldn’t get it together. I realised the necessary corrections from brain to fingers wouldn’t happen in time like staring someone in the face knowing their name won’t come before it’s too late. This is annoying. I’ve practiced this song blindfold (that’s right; I have a blindfold). In fact I’d practiced it blindfold that very day. Eventually I had to stop and say, ‘Screw it.’ Someone near me laughed which relaxed me as I ploughed into the final verse and to the end.
I figured I should do one more song as I hadn’t announced my last one but James wouldn’t let me. Fair enough. He said I could go back on later but after a bit of chit chat Beverley and I left.
The sound on stage (or rather the sound tucked in the lounge’s corner) had been okay. I thought my voice had sounded good too but Beverley only said it sounded, ‘less timid – more confident.’ She did say that my guitaring looked relaxed and professional so that’s something I suppose.
What lessons are there to learn from this experience? Yes I felt nervous but not so bad I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the mic. I walked up to the mic just fine. Nevertheless nerves had been present and they may have started before I left the house for the gig. I’d hated leaving the sanctuary of Beverley’s living room and hadn’t wanted to get off the sofa.
Nerves can both affect and be affected. Nerves caused me the errors in my playing. In rehearsal I might fluff notes when playing the middle section of Girls On Film but I’d never foul it up to the point where the song grinds to a halt. Nerves had affected me. If I hadn’t had them that calamity wouldn’t have happened I’m sure.
But nerves can themselves be affected. Following an attractive and talented teenager who everyone stops what they’re doing to listen to can affect your nerves. Nerves recognise there’s more work to be done because of what’s gone before. In short nerves are affected by the level of competition. At this stage I’m not too concerned with not having answers to either of these issues. I’m happy just to know they exist and to keep an eye on them.
I left the house on Sunday bound for the Bierkeller. And getting off the sofa felt less of a gruelling task than the previous night. Surely cycling alone to a venue I’d never seen before would be worse? No Beverley for transport and reassurance and no fellow open-micing mates to meet?
I did it though (guitar in gig-bag on my back). After locking my bike I strolled behind some offices and swapped my cycling gear for something more suitable. I remembered cycling a similar distance (over six miles) to another open mic night the previous summer where after cooling down I got clammy shivers. This time I put my warm hoody straight back on and strode towards the Bierkeller.
Fortunately I didn’t break out into shivery sweats. But as I walked up Leed’s Park Row I did feel strangely uncomfortable. My memory recalled a Paris trip years earlier. I’d taken the lift up the Eifel Tower to the second level. The previous year I’d been up New York’s Empire State Building which had at first been scary before becoming exciting. I wanted to go up to the highest stage of the Eifel Tower but the queues for the lifts had been horrendous; the lifts looked horrendously dangerous too. To avoid this I decided to leave my girlfriend on the second stage and take the stairs to the top stage alone. As I climbed those steps my legs progressively grew heavier; not because of lack of fitness. My brain seemed to send messages to my legs stopping them climbing higher; no doubt dumping adrenaline into them. As I type this I feel for the first time grateful for my subconscious mind. It had my best interests at heart or so it thought. Not that it mattered on the Eifel Tower’s steps. A locked gate stopped my climb. I returned safely to the second level.
Approaching the Bierkeller conjured similar feelings. My legs seemed similarly heavier. I looked up Park Row at the pub I’d never visited before and it felt as though it had a force around it keeping me away. Nevertheless I pushed through it. When I arrived a girl promoting the venue greeted me. I said, ‘It is open-mic tonight isn’t it?’ She didn’t know but thought there might be bands on. I thought, close enough. It would be over an hour before I’d discover: not, close enough.
The Bierkeller is a basement bar and once downstairs I liked it at immediately. Lights illuminated the decent sized stage. I spoke to the barman, got a drink and asked about the open-mic night. He said someone should be along shortly to organise it. The many internet pages I’d seen stated a 7pm start. I’d arrived on time figuring I could be back home and in bed for 9pm.
Finding a quiet corner I unzipped my guitar’s gig-bag to practice not knowing which of my twenty-two songs to play. I’m convinced that one day my subconscious mind will eventually get used to my playing the guitar in alien environments and my nerves will give up trying to stop me. I played for a while. This contemplation seemed poignant.
Is it true that my subconscious mind tried stopping me climbing the steps up the Eifel Tower? Yes, I feel thankful of its desire to keep me safe. But the subconscious mind seems to value safety or preservation over fun and development. The force keeping me from the Bierkeller must have been an illusion conjured by my subconscious mind. Did it decide going into the pub could be dangerous? Well it seems it’s not always right. There I sat without a trace of danger. But is that why I play badly on stage? Is it a trick of my subconscious mind? Is it trying to stop me getting up on stage? Is it putting a force around the guitar to stop me playing well which could lead me into unknown potentially dangerous territory? If this is the case then my subconscious mind surely requires re-educating.
Before much longer a smartly dressed friendly guy appeared and introduced himself as Paul. We shook hands and he sat down. He asked whether I might be the other act.
What’s that now? What did he mean? It turned out Paul with his acoustic guitar had been booked through an agent. He said Sunday nights at the Bierkeller hadn’t been open mic for some months. He’d been told he’d be doing a turn before another act and, as I had a guitar, he guessed I must be that act.
As nobody turned up to clarify the situation we chatted and I learned a lot from Paul about performance and his take on stage fright and other places to play. It sounds like our paths will cross again.
At some point my guitar slid of the bench and hit the concrete floor. No serious damage done but it annoyed me enough.
Eventually (after 8pm) some guy appeared who told me in the nicest way that the mistake lay with me and I wouldn’t get to play that night.
I stayed to listen to Paul’s set for a while but left when he started Robbie William’s Angels; heard that one too many times.
On the bike ride home I thought about how smartly Paul had been dressed and decided to get a monthly travel card. That way I wouldn’t have to cycle and could look smarter because of it.
So I didn’t get to play. Boo. But what can we learn? Firstly, ring up venues to check that an open mic or event is actually on. Web pages can hang around forever after going out of date. Secondly, it’s to be considered that in addition to the feelings of stage fright one’s sub conscious mind could have an agenda; working for preservation but against personal development. Personal development introduces ‘the unknown’ to the subconscious mind and therefore risk; something it wants to avoid. But feelings of stage fright or nervousness are subconscious. We don’t consciously think: ‘Right I’m off to do something new. I’ll just give the adrenal glands a squeeze.’ The subconscious mind controls our adrenal levels just as it controls heartrate.
I knew on Saturday that I’d be leaving the safety and familiarity of home and heading to a bar I’d only been to once before and I’d play songs publically to people who I didn’t know, who might not like them especially the one I’d written. They might not like my singing. I knew I’d certainly fluff my performance. But what’s the worst that could happen? Well really I didn’t know but I imagine I’d feel humiliated and disappointed. Both are emotions I’d rather avoid. My guess is the anticipation of humiliation and disappointment coupled with a sense of ‘the unknown’ must have been enough for my subconscious to trigger adrenaline leading to feelings of nervousness and strange as it seems, lethargy.
Then on Sunday I approached the Bierkeller and again the anticipation of the unknown triggered the subconscious mind’s preservation reflex which in turn triggered the adrenal response which created the illusion of there being a force keeping me from the bar and hence the unknown or a situation that might end with humiliation and disappointment.
These physiological reactions that follow the psychological might seem obvious but I’m currently not sure what to do about them. What I’m wondering now though is whether life has been presenting me opportunities to try new things and develop only to be redirected by the subconscious mind. Is it just stage fright or am I (we) victims of life fright too?
I’m familiar with this venue and normally do it with my work pal Ritchie. But in the spirit of expanding my comfort zone I didn’t invite him. I arrived alone clean and smartly dressed having bought my travel card and after a visit to the library to work on new lyrics.
In Carpe I found a quiet corner as I’d done the previous night at Bierkeller and got to practicing – or at least familiarising myself with playing the guitar in a new-ish environment.
In Saturday’s Unicorn performance I’d messed up the middle of Girls On Film. Just as I imagined, sat there alone, I could play it fine. A moment later mature fellow appeared and introduced himself as Dave. He’d played there the week before and that had been his debut as an open mic artist. It shows it’s never too late. He too said he suffered with nerves and reckoned the best cause of action would be to simply keep doing more gigs.
Si who runs the night arrived and Dave excused himself to do some practice of his own. If the bar is less than half full Si will delay the night’s start. Not tonight though. Dave came to mic and played through his 60s and 70s covers – simply but with admirable execution. He even did one of his own songs.
I chatted with Si and Martin ‘G’father’. The G’father is a regular at Carpe and recites amazing poetry. He’s very well worth a look at. I told him about my nerves and my intention to do 30 nights on the trot. He said he’d done seven days back-to-back once and that he felt brilliant for it. He added with a laugh if I still had issues after thirty days of daily gigs then I should just forget it. Yikes. I’m still not convinced just doing gig after gig is the answer. Just before I went on stage I demonstrated to Martin how well I could play the middle bit to Girls On Film.
On stage I noticed Si hadn’t set up the drums. Plenty of space. I fancied a prowl around like the rock star I know is trying to get out. Si introduced me and I started with Girls On Film and struggled to play the verse riff. Damn it. There really should be no excuse for this. I didn’t even feel too nervous. I knew exactly what I had to do but my fingers just wouldn’t strike the strings properly. I’d managed to play this section well at the Unicorn. What could be the problem? My fingers felt stiff. Right in the midst of all this I wondered whether my fingers might not be receiving enough blood. I sensed the musical information reaching them. I sensed the problem laying with my fingers not my mind.
On the plus side Si had created a fab sound on stage. Though I wanted to I don’t suppose I really let my voice free. From the stage I spotted Dave looking on but I didn’t make eye contact. Behind him sat a table of three ladies. I didn’t look at them or anyone else during that gig. Not even Si at his desk. Girls On Film’s instrumental section arrived and I managed to get through it. Possibly as well as I’ve ever managed it live. My fingers must have woken up a little.
Next I played Only When It’s Saturday. It’s a tricky finger-picked song of my own. I could have performed it better but again I got through it. Next came Wichita Lineman. You might know the song. My version has a fairly involved guitar part with a semi-original instrumental playout section. So far as I know I played the song fine but cock-up the playout. I just seemed to forget which chord came next. If it hadn’t have been for that it might have been a good rendition. I ended my set with Digging on Faith. I love that song (it’s another of my own). It’s great to play live and I really wanted to belt it out. But despite the lovely sound Si had got me on stage I couldn’t just let go.
Afterwards Dave complimented my Wichita Lineman. Si approached us both saying that one of the ladies at the next table wanted a go at singing if we could accompany her. Both Dave and I reckoned we wouldn’t be able to help at such short notice. We introduced ourselves anyway. The lady in question turned out to be attractive and called Lindsay. Dave and I listed the songs we knew but unfortunately it seemed neither of us had any songs to help her out. Dave went back to his table and I discussed other open mic nights with Lindsay. I said I’d found one in the ‘Churwell Club.’ Lindsay could barely believe it. She lived just around the corner. She sent me a Facebook friend request from her iPhone and said she’d send me some songs to learn. We’d meet at the Churwell Club and do a couple or so numbers.
I spoke more to Si and he said he’d like to get me round to his studio to record some tunes. I took that as a compliment. If that happens I’ll get them uploaded to the internet. Perhaps for your listening pleasure?
What is there to learn about stage fright from this night’s episode? It’s back to the subconscious and adrenaline. The sense that my fingers wouldn’t do their required job isn’t a new one. If my fingers would behave I’d have very little to worry about. I had thought that my problem lay with nervousness distracting me. But on this occasion I’m sure my concentration seemed fine. Despite my brain telling them what to do they just wouldn’t respond. Could the stiffness my fingers felt be linked to blood flow? Is it possible that adrenaline (produced at the subconscious mind’s command) could be reducing the flow of blood to my fingers?
I’ve done some reading and it seems yes, adrenaline does reduce blood flow to the extremities and that means the hands and fingers. Adrenaline is produced whenever we feel stressed or fearful and it’s often associated with the fight or flight response. What happens is blood leaves the parts of the body that adrenaline ‘reckons’ aren’t important and redistributes it to more important body parts. So the legs, heart and lungs get plenty of blood at the expense of the digestive tract, genitals and extremities. In an emergency situation you don’t really want to be worrying about digesting your most recent meal. That can wait until you’re back to safety. You probably won’t be too concerned about reproducing at times of emergency either. The reason the hands have their supply of blood taken away though is that in a fight situation your hands might be held out in front of you; they might be the first line of defence. You might be punching or protecting yourself from a tiger (as daft as that might sound). In a fight situation your hands risk being cut and bleeding. By reducing the blood flow to the hands you limit the blood loss.
Put like this it makes sense but it doesn’t help with playing guitar in nerve-wracking situations. I’m not yet sure what can be done about this as a problem.
Having not been to The Fenton’s open mic night before and following Sunday’s gaffe I figured I should ring ahead. A lady answered and told me, yes there’d be, ‘a bloody good open mic night,’ and that Stuart the organiser would find me. That sounded promising but other open mic-ers had told me The Fenton’s open mic night could be a bit unruly with people jumping in on bass and drums whilst you played – like they’d know where and what chord/rhythm changes your songs had.
Keeping an open mind I left the house a little late and then had to wait 14 minutes for a bus. The Fenton’s a fair hike from the south side of Leeds. I could have caught another bus out the other side of town but instead I got a stride on. Surprisingly I arrived only five minutes after 8pm and not at all late. Having not been in The Fenton for years I’d forgotten the extent of its grunginess. I’d chosen three songs but now worried that Duran Duran’s shiny sounding Girl’s On Film wouldn’t suit.
As per the telephone call Stuart the organiser indeed spotted me with my guitar. I spotted a lad I recognised from Carpe Diem next to him and it dawned on me that I probably had met Stuart before. Stuart’s mate had admirable confidence. He introduced himself as Daniel and I wondered whether his confidence came with his youth. Could things get more nerve-wracking the older one gets?
It’s likely they could. The part of the brain associated with danger apparently develops more slowly than other parts. That’s one of the main reasons why in Britain we don’t teach people under the age of seventeen to drive and apparently this is why so many teenagers have accidents.
Stuart and Daniel both recognised me from Carpe and explained they made up the core of their band. The lads had taken over half of one of the pub’s rooms filling it with speakers, drum kit and bass amp. I felt slightly awkward. These guys obviously in the midst of their arena looked perfectly at home surrounded by friends in the near-full bar. The Fenton it seems does better than the other bars I’d passed on that Tuesday evening. Gratefully both lads welcomed me despite my being old enough to be their fathers.
When I told them my intention to do an open mic night every night of November they recommended I visit the Cardigan Arms on Sunday. I decided to check it out.
At this stage I didn’t feel nervous. I’m finding as often as not that I don’t feel nervous beforehand. And without many takers for the mic I offered to go first. Stuart granted me a three-song slot and said that Daniel would take the second spot. So I warm the place up for Daniel? I didn’t really mind though.
Before I came to the mic Stuart introduced me as David, not DaNeo Duran. I didn’t mind that either. I took the mic and told everyone, ‘I’m DaNeo Duran.’
I’d been thinking of grungier songs to play and so started with the Foo’s Fighter’s, Learn to Fly. It’s a comparatively easy song to play and my fingers didn’t do a bad job though they’d been more accurate at home. With no monitors I had to make use of the front-of-house sound when pitching. Unlike Si’s Carpe sound this night’s did not flatter my voice. I wanted to set it free I but didn’t know what to do with it. Not hearing the guitar very well didn’t help and it even dropped out a couple of times. Dodgy lead? I’m not sure. After my guitar hit the Bierkeller’s floor I worried that I’d damaged its electrics.
After the Foos I asked Stuart whether he thought the guitar should be turned up. He made an adjustment and it dropped out again. Fewph, the problem lay with him.
I addressed the audience telling them that in scuba diving you plan your dive then dive your plan. I told them open mic is similar: Choose your songs, practice them, perform them. Then I said I’d have to break the rule as I didn’t think they’d go for Duran Duran. The audience sounded like it didn’t agree and at least one person in the audience shouted up that I should do a Duran song. So I did Girls On Film. Up to this point I had been feeling fairly ignored. That crowd’s murmur suggested that regardless of how things seemed they at least had some awareness of me.
I don’t know how but I still managed to miss a few of the main riff’s bass notes. Like Carpe I don’t know how that’s possible. I’m not so nervous that my hands shake. I ploughed through it but struggled singing the high notes. Inevitably I bumbled through the middle section but afterwards considered it an adequate attempt. One or more people even joined in with the choruses.
Given The Fenton’s lack of monitors I figured delicate finger-picking inappropriate. I had practiced the same four songs I’d done at Carpe so still had Wichita Lineman, Only When It’s Saturday and Digging on Faith up my sleeve. Digging on Faith seemed the only natural choice given its hefty strumming. Suddenly the guitar seemed too loud. Well whatever, I got through it fine.
Really it had been as easy as any solo gig I’ve done. Did I enjoy it? Would Beverley still be telling me to quit it?
Hmm, I didn’t exactly enjoy it. To enjoy it I’d need to have played better and/or have more confidence in my performance. From where I stood my voice lacked musicality. I sounded like someone kicking boxes. To enjoy it my voice needs addressing and I need to free myself; let my performance take flight.
I’ll be interested to see what happens at The Hop tomorrow. Before I left the stage Stuart requested a final round of applause for me. Then he asked if Daniel could borrow my guitar for his set. I said sure and left the stage and my guitar behind.
Daniel came to the stage without a shred of doubt in his confidence. Though I’d been capped at three, Daniel had four songs I’m sure. It sounded very different from when I’ve seen him at Carpe. Everything about The Fenton seems rough and grungy – great if you like that. As if he couldn’t help himself, Stuart joined his mate on stage for the last song joining in on bass. I found it interesting that that as bass player and sound guy you couldn’t have missed the bass. It bellowed.
After they left the stage a young comedian tried his hand. Though he seemed likable enough it didn’t seem to be his night. He wrapped his set up prematurely after only winning the odd titter from the audience.
Stuart announced that he’d put some tunes on whist sorting out the next act; then promptly said, ‘Forget it, let’s have a jam.’
To my ears things rapidly descended into chaos. Stuart took to his bass. Daniel put my guitar down and jumped on the drums. He did a good side on drums. He’s obviously a talented lad. I parcelled up my guitar and got ready to leave. Jam sessions generally hold little interest for me. However, one of the lads rose from the audience joining in on trumpet as things oddly started taking shape.
I soon headed home where I cogitated about why when I set foot on stage my fingers stop working properly. Girls On Film begins with an Am-chord. What could be easier? But at The Fenton I’d put my fingers on the wrong strings! In front of the whole pub. An error like that can’t be down to lack of blood flow can it?
This puts me back into the mind that there isn’t enough information reaching my fingers and that it is anxiety and nervous stress that’s causing me to concentrate insufficiently. That contradicts how I felt after Carpe. And I didn’t notice my fingers feeling so sluggish as they had at Carpe as if they had plenty of blood. Maybe blood flow and concentration are linked.
Another thing is my diet. I’m doing the 5:2 diet where two days of the week I limit my food intake to 600 calories (you can eat what you like on the other five days). Tuesday and Saturdays are my chosen ‘fast’ days and that meant that at The Fenton I’d only eaten salad all day. One of the apparent benefits of this diet is that it allows the digestive tract to rest. Given there’s so little food to process the blood should leave the digestive system and go elsewhere. Could it be a person might play better on fast days? Could there be more blood for a performer’s hands on those days.
I’m keen to try cutting down on caffeine and dairy on my fast days too. I don’t imagine caffeine helps performance. Though I can’t vouch for their accuracy recent tests have shown caffeine does not to give us the pep or greater alertness we once thought. It merely restores caffeine drinkers to their pre-caffeine crash state. Apparently non-caffeine drinkers have better reaction times throughout the day. Grrr, I love tea and coffee. I can’t promise I’ll get any conclusive results from this but you might like to give it a go?
Bonfire night. I’d imagined it might be a quiet night in the pubs and even wondered whether the open mic nights would be on. I left the house in time to catch the half seven bus and as you’d expect the found the air full of smoke and brilliant explosions. The bus I wanted had been cancelled so I jumped on one going an unfamiliar route.
Guessing I’d reached the right end of town for The Hop I got off and mooched the rest of the way on foot. I say mooched but unlike Sunday when I headed to The Bierkeller my legs felt fine. Maybe things are improving already? Or could it be that The Hop simply isn’t as unknown as The Bierkeller?
The Hop is situated in a modern square amongst other trendy bars and approximately a trillion swanky flats and yet I hardly passed a soul. Inside The Hop I hardly saw a soul there either. Bypassing the bar I knew to head upstairs where I saw mics on the gantry (if that’s what you’d call it. Artists perform from a metal bridge).
I had played The Hop about eighteen months earlier and though I couldn’t remember the organisers’ names I did remember the layout. The general public can look up and watch you perform through the gantry. Upstairs your audience is off to the right in the seating area. It makes it a strange gig because when you’re at the mic you don’t really know where to look. You could look down to the ground floor, over to your right or just straight ahead at the wall.
When I arrived upstairs I couldn’t see anyone except a couple eating each other’s faces. I had a decision to make. Either go downstairs for a drink or head to the Duck and Drake for their open mic.
I made to leave but a lady appeared with a guitar in a gig-bag on her back. I introduced myself. She told me she’d telephoned earlier and got confirmation that the open mic night would be going ahead despite it being bonfire night. I then recognised her from a Carpe night two months previously. She had a big voice I recalled. She introduced herself as Julia or Jularah as is her stage name. I got myself a drink and we got to talking. I told her about my quest to beat stage fright. Just as I’d been reading the day before in Dave Buswell’s book Performance Strategies for Musicians she discussed breathing.
During the day I’d been practicing my songs and noticed that instead of letting my stomach relax; rise and fall as one does with slow, relaxed healthy breathing that instead my abs crunch. Jularah is a tremendous singer and I bet that she kept a relaxed abdomen. She said you need core strength to sing well should practice relaxing breaths.
The first six chapters in Dave Buswell’s book are practically given to relaxation. Clearly he thinks it’s is a most notable factor in better performance. Jularah thought so too. Not only that but she has made something of a business of it. She told me to practice breathing deeply from the abdomen, nice slow breaths. Then she told me to imagine routes growing from my feet into the ground. The routes positively anchor you and leave you feeling calm and in control of your performance.
At that point someone arrived and joined us. Keith is a singer who I’ve met at the Duck and Drake a number of times. He said he never goes there anymore. Instead Marc who organises The Hop plays acoustic guitar for him to sing along to.
Speaking of the devil Marc the organiser then appeared. I decided to remember him for next time. He took our names (obviously he knew Keith already).
Marc then opened the night by playing three songs himself. Despite one acoustic guitar sounding different from another I never feel one has a more important sound than another. However that night Marc’s, Martin acoustic sounded excellent. It surely has the best DI’d sound of any acoustic guitar I’ve heard though I expect that’s so much to do with his fingers.
After Marc played I got my turn.
From the gantry asked the sound guy to knock the guitar down a bit and put the voice up. From where I stood the sound from the monitors swam round me fabulously rivalling Si’s Carpe sound. Just before I began, Paul (the guy I’d met at the Bierkeller on Sunday) arrived. We said hello but that didn’t throw my stride too much.
I opened with the tricky finger-picked Only When It’s Saturday which went through fine. I realised during Verse-2 that I’d not reverted to the other finger-picking style. Nobody there would know that I’d made that mistake though.
Next came Girls On Film which I played fine-ish. I missed a few bass notes as I have been doing but during the day I’ve noticed a few getting lost during practice too. The middle bit faltered hugely but I pulled it back. Digging on Faith went through fine. No cock-ups at all. It might even have detected a bit of swing in it. And it might have been my best performance to date.
Dave Buswell’s book refers back to Barry Green/Tim Gallwey’s book The Inner Game of Music and discusses, ‘The Difference that Makes the Difference’. If two people perform the same song in the same way and everyone hates one but loves the other then the loved one has The Difference that Makes the Difference or the X-Factor. I’m probably jumping the gun but I’m starting to wonder about Ingredient-X now.
As if to remind me not to get ahead of myself during my performance I’d looked to the right to see who might be listening but everyone except Jularah appeared deep in their own conversation. Marc looked bored enough to sleep. (To be fair he looked equally bored when Paul played, and when Jularah played. Jularah did point out Marc had complained of not getting enough sleep.) But what does one have to do to really take the lid off the place? Having not crushed stage fright it’s too soon for me to be thinking about that.
Paul gave another highly commendable performance as did Keith with Marc backing him. But that night I found myself most interested in Jularah’s performance. When she took the mic I guessed she had been practicing what she preached. She looked relaxed and well planted. When she sang she seemed to lose herself to her songs. As she had months earlier at Carpe she leaned back off the mic and seemed to sing over the top of it as if to the ceiling. And yet her voice filled the room with the mic still picking up plenty of her voice. This style and power of singing is definitely something I want for myself. The difference that makes the difference? I’d say she’s got a bit of it.
What is to be learned from this night’s experience? Relaxation is definitely worth a mention. Dave Buswell’s book suggests if you practice relaxation techniques often enough you’ll be able to do them at will and in stressful situations including on stage. I’m more of a fan of this than the NLP guys who suggest you can trigger desired states of mind including relaxed states by ‘anchoring’ and/or ‘firing triggers.’ In brief NLP practitioners might suggest you get into a relaxed state of mind and tug your left earlobe. If you do this often enough then you should be able to recreate that relaxed state any time and in any situation by tugging your left earlobe. Another thing they often suggest is that physiology precedes states. I.e. you can change your state by changing your physiology. Theoretically you should be able to beat depression by throwing your shoulders back, taking a deep breath, striding out and speaking confidently. It simply doesn’t work that way for me; not in any longer term way.
Wait a second – no Thursday gig?
I’m afraid not. Beverley won tickets to see John Bishop at the first direct arena. Even an important quest as beating stage fright, turning down a free ticket to see one of Britain’s top comedians in such a prestigious venue would be insane.
Not having any ‘normal’ work again on Thursday I saw that Lindsay (who I’d met at Carpe Diem on Monday) had Facebook messaged a three-song list for me to learn with a view to performing with her on Friday at the Churwell Working Mens Club.
The list included Bruno Mars’s Treasure. I know this song but she wanted it in a key four semitones higher than my version. Because I’ve never considered using a capo and don’t own one I’d have to learn alternative chords.
I’d suggested to Lindsay that the club would probably give us a three-song window. She kind of cheated by suggesting a ‘mash-up’ of two songs: Let Me Be Your Fantasy/Set You Free. Both are classic electronic dance tracks. She picked another dancey number for her third choice: Addicted to You. I found the prospect of working with a lady that could sing these somewhat contemporary songs exciting and hoped she had the voice for them. More than that I hoped I could pull the guitar parts together quick enough to do her justice.
Lindsay directed me to You Tube for Treasure as sung by Elisa Doolittle. I didn’t even listen to it all. The ‘mash-up’ (a medley actually) also appeared on You Tube performed acoustically with basic chords; both songs being four chord wonders. There should be no problems there. Addicted to You sounded like it might be tough. I You Tube’d how to play it and found everyone playing it on capo-4. Again without a capo I’d just have to find my way with alternative chords shapes. What a relief the fiddly guitar parts came to me surprisingly quickly.
I didn’t spend long on the songs until Friday when I played round them all (expect Treasure) for hours. By the time I attempted Treasure my fingertips practically glowed with burning pain. Do everyone’s fingers hurt this much after a few hours practice? Treasure ended up being more problematic than I’d imagined. The new key meant where my left hand would normally descend the neck it had to go up.
Though I wanted to practice my own set my fingers felt too sore.
My knowledge of south Leeds’s suburbs isn’t great. Silently I’d hoped Beverley would offer me her car. When she didn’t I started with a bus ride but ended up walking the rest of the way. Though Lindsay and her friend beat me to the venue I arrived at the club in good time. It seems she’s got loads of friends.
The club typified so many of Northern England’s working mens clubs. My memory scooted back to the 90s when I played drums in every club in England’s North East. Tremendous if you like that type of thing.
I got a drink and unzipped my guitar from its gig-bag only to discover I’d no damn plectrum. A search of jeans, jacket and gig bag came back with nothing. I can’t play without a plectrum.
An open mic night must surely make for a plethora of guitarists and therefore plectra. Not this early in the night it seemed. A lady called Adele runs the night with her husband. Fortunately Adele’s husband made some calls and soon a plectrum arrived. I put down my substitute plectrum (the corner of a ripped beermat) and got to practicing quietly with Lindsay. I didn’t tell her my struggles to the remember chord sequences and that Set You Free started on G not Em as my fingers yearned to play. I didn’t let on just how long I’d been practicing either.
Most open mic nights are kicked off by the host/organiser playing a few songs. Adele got up and sang just one song. She didn’t play guitar. She sang to a backing track. Karaoke? It looked that way.
Next up: me. I hit the stage and plugged my guitar in. I can’t remember what I plugged it into but the bottom E-string boomed threatening to feedback. The venue had no monitors and the mic stand stood straight, not on a boom. Did I have stage fright? I didn’t mind being the first, third party act so that’s good. I’ve really struggled with straight mic stands in the past but this time I simply leaned forwards so the guitar didn’t bang against it. The disinterested and diminutive audience didn’t worry me either. Sounds like a no stage fright situation?
Actually I had plenty of nerves. I remember Lindsay saying that she didn’t know Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus which surprised me. But I didn’t start with it. I addressed the room saying, ‘Let’s get the difficult one out the way,’ and cracked into Heading for the Coast.
I’d forgotten to tune up. This happens more times than you might imagine. My fingers seemed to be working though a bit cludgy. But the guitar did sound out of tune so I stopped.
To my surprise the guitar appeared virtually perfectly tuned (even the B-string registered 5cents flat – as I always tune it). Could this be another effect of nervousness? After sharpening the A-string ever so slightly I started playing again. The guitar no longer sounded out of tune. I must have been imagining things. But the terrible sound on stage worked against me. My voice seemed detached from the guitar. I didn’t play well and didn’t sound like myself. But it didn’t put me off too much. Despite having nerves I coped.
The song didn’t have much effect on the audience. Looking out I saw Lindsay’s friend texting. Lindsay didn’t look enwrapped in my performance just like everyone else.
I can’t say for certain but I sense I’m beginning to get on top of or at least getting used to nervousness. But that’s not to say I’m a better performer. Personal Jesus came next with equally little effect though I didn’t do a reasonable rendition of it. If anything could make a difference it’d be Digging on Faith.
In the 90s I owned a big hefty punch/kick bag. I bought it after learning the art of Muay Thai. I remember hanging it up at home before getting stuck in for the first time. After pounding it for a while I wondered whether my lefts, rights and kicks would actually affect an enemy in a combat situation. After a few more rounds I had to admit that no, I hadn’t got a damaging punch. I’d enough to get me into trouble but not back out of it. I figured I should stay clear of trouble until that had been remedied. Over time I started getting more shoulder into my punches. Eventually my fists banged into the bag leaving nasty dents. Though I’d spar defensively in the ring I always let fly on punch/kick bags. In a moment of financial flushness I had several one-to-training sessions. Despite all sorts of criticisms about my technique my trainer reassuringly told me my punches never lacked power.
I’ve been thinking about this recently and find the anecdote encouraging. Honestly my open mic performances are as affective as my early attempts at knocking hell out my punch bag. But that I can spare this thought suggests I’m developing a desire beyond simply being satisfied to just get through the three or so songs.
In the club I played Digging on Faith and being honest even it didn’t leave a dent in the metaphorical punch bag. It didn’t dent the audience.
I came off stage and said to Lindsay, ‘Got through it.’ She didn’t complement me; nor did her friend. But once again I’m now wondering what would it take to blow the lid off this or any other place? I’ve a shred of faith telling me the answer isn’t too far away. I hope I’m not deceiving myself.
Every other person who came to the mic left the stage after only one song – karaoke style; even the words came up on a screen. And nobody other than me had a guitar. I had the feeling I’d hogged the mic doing my three songs in a row. I wonder if I’d have had a greater impact if I’d done one song at a time?
It probably didn’t matter and later the organisers and punters seemed happy enough to let Lindsay and me do her three songs back-to-back. I felt just as nervous as I had earlier. Lindsay didn’t let on but I saw her hand tremble. The sound on stage hadn’t improved and after one song she said she couldn’t really hear the guitar. I sympathised but knew she probably could her me as we stayed roughly in time and tune. Looking to the back of the room I asked if we could have the guitar louder; a request met with blank looks from the organisers. Silly of me to ask. Without monitors what could they realistically have done?
The songs probably went about as well as I expected. But what did Lindsay think? I’ve no clear idea and don’t know if I measured up to her expectations. My guess is she thinks I’m below par for her. She didn’t comment on my accompaniment any more than she had on my solo performance.
She asked what I thought of her as a singer though. But honestly, I didn’t know. The ropey sound on stage and in concentrating so hard on my own parts left me with no idea. She answered that problem by doing a couple of karaoke numbers on her own.
And no doubt about it she has a voice. She’s lovely looking and her voice is powerfully soulful. She did tremendously. I complemented her as did enough other people. Obviously they thought her the best singer so far. This isn’t much use to me if she thinks I’m too poor a guitarist or not right personality or interest-wise to consider starting a band or act with.
We got on well enough that if it’d been a date a dumb bloke would’ve expected a kiss at the end of the night. But ‘well’ enough doesn’t mean ‘good’ enough. If Lindsay suggests starting a band I’ll be most surprised. It won’t happen.
Am I bothered? Not really for all she looks and sounds wonderful and despite the compliments she got she still didn’t actually leave a bigger dent in the punch bag than I had. Another of her friends had arrived and I’m not sure if she didn’t slope off to the loo during one of the songs Lindsay sang. Clearly having a voice and looks shouldn’t be confused for grabbing your audience by the kahunas. Grabbing your audience is something else. And whatever it is I want it. In the past as a bassist and drummer I may even have had a few audience-grabbing moments jointly or severally. I’d love to bottle the audience grabbing formula.
What does this experience teach us about stage fright? Nerves are still lurking and I’m still not performing as well on stage as in rehearsal. Rather than worry that people aren’t responding to my performance the way I’d like to I’m becoming willing to accept responsibility. It’s not the job of an audience to be moved. It’s our job as performers to move them.
Because this book is about stage fright I’ve decided it’ll be the first of a series. Once this book is finished I’ll be hunting The Difference that Makes the Difference. I’ll be aiming to find out and do whatever’s necessary to move an audience. If this book helps you overcome stage fright I hope you’ll read: The Difference that Makes the Difference.
But how do these revelations help stage fright? Like this: if you desire to be the best possible performer then tremendous but don’t worry if that it’s not happening tonight, right now. Know that you’re on a journey. First step: work on beating the nerves. Second step: move the audience. So because we’re on step one we don’t have to be overly concerned about audience response. Get comfortable on stage then, soon, we’ll worry about how the audience feels. In the meantime audience response is one less thing to worry about.
So what happened to doing a gig on Saturday? Well, I couldn’t find one. I spent the time wisely though. I worked on some lyrics to a new song: Sunshine’s Darkening Shadows. The song had been stuck getting off the ground probably because it lacked a title/hook. I went on to Kindle Book Store and typed ‘novels’. I looked through titles and though I saw nothing like Sunshine’s Darkening Shadows one snappy book title after another inspired me to find the words that fitted what the song needed to say. So there’s a free tip for songwriters searching for titles.
Before telling you what else I got up to let me tell you about Sunday’s outing to the Cardigan Arms.
Beverley kindly drove me to the pub. Upon arrival I got out the car and she headed home. The pub’s sprung door bounced off my guitar and everything else in sight.
Pete, the guy that runs the night greeted me. He struck me as really cool and pretty driven. He’s got big plans for the pub as a venue and breeding ground for musicians and their talent. But, he hadn’t actually arranged a bleedin’ open mic for that night.
I rang Beverley. Answering machine – inevitably. I texted her but driving home she didn’t hear the alert. She arrived home before learning I stood high and dry 7.5 miles away.
Meanwhile Pete showed me the gig room upstairs and the rooms he intended to use as rehearsal rooms. All the while Beverley rang my non-vibrating phone nine times. I had no idea she’d set back off to rescue me.
Pete told me the open mic night would resume after Christmas. A lady joined us and then a mature man and then Mick the manager. I’d met Mick before when I did a few songs in another pub he’d been managing in Keighley. We talked about the people we knew and then one of them turned up with his guitar ready to play. Then someone else turned up ready to play. Quite a crowd in an empty unheated room.
Pete suggested, ‘What the hell,’ and said he’d set something up in one of the rooms downstairs. By this time I’d seen the missed calls and knew Beverley would be back to get me any moment. How quickly could Pete set up?
Not quick enough. By the time Beverley had driven us home she’d covered thirty miles in uncharacteristically heavy Sunday traffic. She hadn’t wanted to park up and come into the pub. I didn’t blame her.
Do you remember how after the previous Sunday’s cock-up at The Bierkeller I advised ringing ahead to make sure an event is definitely on and not to trust webpages? Well once again I’d seen trustworthy-looking webpages. Plus I had rung the pub but had got no answer. I would have rung again really how could I doubt Stuart and Daniel’s (from The Fenton) surefooted recommendation?
So there’s not a lot to learn about stage fright from this second cock-up is there? What else can I share to help our quest?
On Saturday I recorded my full 22-song set to Cubase (a sound recording software package). I did this twice, once with and once without a blindfold. Forty-four songs in total. I’m probably improving. I’ve done this about eight times now. Each time I’ve listened back to both sets on headphones in bed. Instead of counting sheep I count vocal and guitar mistakes.
Anyway, this time however I made a change to the ‘sighted’ set.
Interestingly I read of an experiment suggested people can spot which singers have ingredient X (or the X-Factor or The Difference that Makes the Difference) even with the TV’s mute button on. Have you ever practiced what you intend to perform in front of the mirror? If so how did it go?
My own experiences have reflected an uninspired, non-impressive soul. I’ve never wanted to look at the mirror whist playing. If anyone saw me on TV with the mute button on they’d surely see nothing of ingredient X. But I’ve come up with a new idea.
In practicing by the mirror I’ve previously looked like someone practicing i.e. not performing. But when I record my full set to Cubase I’m reckoning my head’s more in ‘gig’ mode than ‘practice’ mode. When I first tried recording the set in its entirety (without stopping for mistakes) I did it without blindfold but I could barely play. This I found fascinating. Did I have stage fright – despite being alone in the house? Surely not. And yet just like being on stage my fingers wouldn’t behave. I couldn’t engage a guitar playing state of mind. As it goes I never had this problem again. But to date recording my full set is the closest thing to recreating the gig experience at home. I render each gig to a low quality MP3 and listen back to them in the hope that this will help me improve as I get more used to the sound of my voice and work with its strengths and limitations. But what if I video’d my home gigs?
I’ve asked for a camcorder for Christmas and intend to practice the full set at home in a couple of months’ time.
On Saturday I carted my long mirror out of the porch and propped it up in the living room. Hitting record in Cubase I set off into the set. Actually my reflection didn’t look the same as it does when practicing but did look weak and awkward. Soon though that changed.
I saw the easy-looking guitar style that Beverley had seen at my Unicorn performance. Watching myself perform more than practice showed me that I do have potential as an entertaining performer. I can’t wait to do it again. I can’t wait to video my home performances.
I started this book telling you my performances are a mere fraction of their potential. But how do I know?
If you’re coming off stage thinking you too have unsuccessfully realised your own potential then ask yourself how do you know? It may be that you made a host of mistakes that you thought practice had ironed out. It may be that you plain forgot what came next in a song or speech or chord progression. Singers often forget their lines. Where do those lines go? If you’re a singer you might have reached for high notes with pinched falsetto instead of your usual full voice. Maybe your voice screeched or just didn’t work for you. But how do we know what our potential actually is?
This might be tougher to answer than you first realise. This book has caused me to think about so much and so many factors. Our internal dialogue might feed us as sorts of different concepts at different times. For example I sometimes doubt I have enough natural talent. Now in my forties I’m well passed notions that I’m special or deserving of any exalted status.
Thoughts and doubts like these can mess with notions of our potential. But one sure reason I know I’m not meeting my potential is because my solitary living room performances and recordings do show me I’m considerably better than my lame-ass stage performances. But I reckon I can only know this through recording and mirror sessions.
Be honest how do you fair either in private or in your imagination? What is your potential? Take a moment to answer these questions but don’t worry if you’re unsure where to begin. As you read on a clearer picture will emerge.
How does this help with stage fright? Knowing your potential tells you more about you and thus what you’re dealing with. As Napoleon Hill tells us (from memory) in his classic book Think and Grow Rich: from acquired and specific knowledge comes power; especially when intelligently directed. Knowledge of oneself certainly fits this bill I’m sure you’d agree.
For all I’ve considered my potential at home it nevertheless leads me to wonder whether I’m expecting too much of myself in live situations. I’ve only been playing guitar seriously for two or more years and my guitaring can be overly adventurous; technically a stretch for me. I recognise the limitations of my singing voice though it makes a sound even if it wouldn’t impress Simon Cowell.
Going forwards it’s my intention to nurture my potential as a musical act during private rehearsals. But I won’t expect too much from myself under a live situation’s pressure. As per the previous chapter if I can do this whilst setting concern for the audience appreciation in the future then that should help relax me.
My intention of doing a public performance every night of November isn’t going too well having missed two nights on the trot. But Monday I had Carpe Diem. What could possibly go wrong?
Well it happens I nearly didn’t get to play despite being the first act to arrive. In a rare occasion I actually had some regular work. At 7pm I finished work and headed directly to Carpe with guitar and a bag containing pen, paper, rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. My intensions to work on lyrics ended when Si turned up early.
I joined him on stage unravelling leads from a box and befriending him. The drum kit that resides on the stage belongs to him I learned as we set it up together.
Soon other players began arriving. A young lad stood at the bar and I asked him if he’d be having a go. He said yes. I asked him if he ever got nervous. He practically laughed. ‘Just another day at the office,’ he said. Arrogant? Not really I’m afraid. I wish I could remember his name but our paths may cross again.
He took the stage first. Hmm, he had a good voice – not amazing but certainly good. His played well too – not amazingly but definitely good. And his voice and guitar worked well together; synergistically. This might have been helped by his Boss RC-30. It’s one of those pedals that allows you to loop sounds, chords, rhythms or harmonies. The Boss RC-30 is one of the more sophisticated varieties of this type of pedal. Like a lot of things they’re only as good as the person using them. This guy really had it down though.
He set up basslines (that sounded properly bass-like due to him muting the strings thus killing the overly high frequency aspects of the notes). He created some great ambiences. With these pedals if you mistime stepping on ‘record’ the loop will sound terrible on its way back round. This guy had immaculate timing though.
After he came off stage I complimented him on all he’d done. I asked if he preferred the Boss as a brand to Line-6. He said definitely. Then told me he’s endorsed by Line-6 and they ring him up to suggest he buys one of their products. He says no thanks and they tell him he can have one for free instead. (Line-6 wouldn’t be too pleased. Perhaps I’d do well to not mention his name if/when I learn it.) He said again doing open mic nights is just another day in the office. Guess he’s professional. Ah, it’d be lovely to approach things so casually.
Next came another tour-de-force – Ricky. I’d seen him months earlier sitting to perform and playing at the Duck and Drake. Tonight he stood at the mic and played more songs. He seemed better. I wonder if my growing experience is enabling me to better assess quality.
Halfway through Ricky’s set I said to Si, ‘Don’t put me on after these guys, they’re way too good.’ I may have said that partly to illustrate how good the first two acts had been. Si however took me at my word and bumped me down the play order.
I need to give more thought to the issue of ‘competition’ and how it affects stage fright. I definitely get extra nervous going on after someone clearly so much better than me. I wonder why. Is it because I think people will throw bottles at me? More likely I’m nervous that people will think me proportionately (or even disproportionately) bad.
I turned my attention back to the stage. I’d been at the bar talking to Si’s girlfriend Hazel. Wondering what’s The Difference that Makes the Difference? I thought of Ed Sheeran who for years (and at time of writing in 2014) has enjoyed as much success (commercial, celebrity, financial or otherwise) as any acoustic guitarist could hope for. But Ricky on stage looked and sounded his equal; and then some. I asked Hazel what she thought. She didn’t hesitate in telling me she thought Ricky superior to Ed Sheeran. So why’s Ed enjoying success and our guy Ricky’s on stage is playing to us for free? Ricky’s instrumental sections are filled with fabulous beatboxing; where required and somehow he gets back to singing without us feeling his song still needs a beat.
When he finished I had to compliment him as I had the first guy. I shook his hand. It turns out he, like the previous guy is also making a living from music.
When I got home Beverley reckoned open mic nights shouldn’t be for professionals. I’m not so sure. Ultimately they’re a way for venues to make money. But did either of the first two guys pull a crowd? I don’t think either brought fans. And did they stun us all into silence? Nope. Would Ed Sheeran stun us lot into silence? I’m not sure. Of course when Ed gigs people (his fans) love him. But put him in a room full of other wannabe singer/guitarists and perhaps he’d not impress us nearly so much. Maybe discovering and developing The Difference that Makes the Difference needs to happen in another, alternative environment.
During my brief chat with Ricky he told me that he’s trying to build his fan base. It occurred to me that I’ve haven’t got a single fan. Currently I’ve only seventeen Facebook friends and every one of those is a fellow musician or a local venue.
I’d been chatting away with act No3 – Georgette during the first two acts’ sets. Our paths have crossed at other open mic nights. She told me that she’s been heading out of Leeds to places like York or the coast where stag and hen parties descend. On boozy Friday or Saturday nights she busks. She reckons it’s the best thing. At night there’s less competition from other buskers and she makes money. This doesn’t surprise me. The psychology must be completely different. The streets are filled not with people shopping for bargains and reluctantly handing over their credit cards. Instead people are coin-rich party-mood inebriates. They’ve been handing cash over one bar after another all night. Why not toss a couple of quid to the busker? But how much could you earn?
Generally I’m of the opinion that all buskers lie about how much they earn. Having asked Georgette I readied myself exaggeration and still found myself shocked when she told me she earns £3-400/night. Crikey if I earned that much I’d play 3-4 busking gigs per month and never set foot in another office.
The downside is she does get hassled by drunken yobs. What has made this worse, she told me, is that they go for guys more than girls. She said that she’d been busking as a duo with a guy and that exacerbated the situation. Damn. Who’d have imagined being a solitary lady would be the safest option?
Georgette asked me if I had an SM58 microphone. Yes I do. Did she want to borrow it? Not quite. She told me the grill of an SM58 is bulletproof and for her the mic had come in handy as a defensive weapon. Blimey I’m not much fancying this especially if it turns out it really is worse being a guy. All this could give rise to a whole new type of stage fright. Street fright or street fight?
Of course if the money’s that good maybe one could hire some hard bastard as a minder; split the money? Georgette said she researches where she’s going to play in order to maximise her earning potential. When she’s out she looks down the street at an approaching group, sizes them up style and age-wise guestimating what music they might like. She says she’s got a varied bunch of songs and reckons it only takes her a day to learn ones. Out on the street having weighed up a group of people she’ll switch to what she imagines is a most fitting song.
Georgette took the stage next and after her, Dave the sixty year old who I’d met the week before. Now I started worrying about time marching on.
Si had bumped me down the list but rather than a three song limit Carpe offers its performers twenty-minute spots.
I looked at my feet and saw my Puma Suedes. I only have to walk ten feet in them and they’re tearing strips of my heels. I didn’t want to miss my bus and have to face the 6.5miles back home on foot.
I appealed to Si and he said he’d put me on next. Ah relief. I got talking to Paddy, another semi-regular in the bar. He’s another one not lacking confidence. I told him I’d be going on next but might have to run afterwards and would have to catch his set next time.
Then Si cock-up. Instead of introducing me he introduced Paddy. What? Fortunately Paddy said he’d only do three songs.
He did five. Ricky joined him on stage to beat box with him. Then Daniel from The Fenton joined in on drums. Bugger.
Peed-off I put my guitar away. I’d not gigged on Saturday and kinda wasted my time going out on Sunday without gigging and now it looked like I’d just wasted another whole evening without playing. Si apologised but I could only blame myself. He kindly offered to put me directly after Paddy.
It’s supposed to be a tough month not an easy one. It’s about facing fear. I should have gone on after Ricky instead of chickening out. I’d only succeeded in making Si’s job arduous. Anyway at that point Paddy finished and I looked at my watch. I told Si if he turned it round quick enough I could manage two songs. Smiling Si told me to jump to it.
I adjusted the mic stand, plugged in and cracked into Wichita Lineman. I didn’t play it as well as I had the week before. I had great sound on stage but my voice refused to play. The rush hadn’t helped my confidence. I sensed the guitar dying to feedback too. And when I got to the playout feedback indeed howled from the bottom E-string. What a shame I’d at least played that bit better than the previous week. Next I dashed into Digging on Faith whilst Si reigned in the feedback. I didn’t really have a moment to consider my nerves. Halfway through the first verse Georgette’s friend a grey haired man called Billy caught my eye and made a drumming gesture. Did I want him to play drums along with my beloved Digging on Faith? You can bet I didn’t. I haven’t even settled on a drum sequence/arrange myself for recording yet. This guy couldn’t possibly know where the stops and drops came. Nevertheless caught off guard I nodded. Seconds later thump-bang-thump-bang came from behind me.
He mightn’t have known where the groove lay but actually it settled and as experiences go it certainly counts as a first. I stamped my foot and Billy locked to it.
The first drop down arrived and instinctively Billy caught it. Brilliant. Alas that seemed to be where brilliance ended as we lumped our way onwards. I turned for the dropped mid-section and he tickled the cymbals but didn’t really know how to take us to the end from here. Really the whole thing sounded farcical and that did afford me time to consider my nerves. Though he started well I ultimately felt Billy had wrecked my song. I felt a touch disappointed, maybe even cross but I didn’t feel nervous; a bit like sitting an exam and writing joke answers knowing you’ll never pass anyway.
We wrapped up and with a smile I said with a bit of rehearsal we could’ve been good. I think he might have taken offense as he commented that, ‘It’s supposed to be a jam.’ Whatever. I had a bus to catch or a long painful walk home.
I thanked Si and sprinted across the city to catch the No2 – just the bus I wanted. I got in to find Beverley had run a hot bath run for me. And when I got out she’d prepared spicy fajita wraps too. All good and a full tummy to prepare me for the next 5:2 fast day.
It occurred to me that this book could end up be a bit like Neil Strauss’s: The Game. Have you read it? A lot of guys I know including myself have. In Neil’s diary-style book he starts out as a man who has little hope of talking to the ladies. As his story unfolds, Neil transforms into a lady killer; bedding many a beautiful woman and meeting celebs as he goes.
Here our subject of choice and my personal situation is different from Neil Strauss’s. I’m too grateful of my Beverley to be messing around pulling other women and I’m sorry to say that I don’t foresee meeting any celebs just yet either. But similarly to The Game this book is not retrospective. I’m grappling stage fright as I write; sort of in real time.
What has concerned me though is that we’re beyond a third of the way through the month and therefore the book. At this stage of The Game, Neil Strauss had travelled considerably towards his ‘shagging-nirvana’. Comparatively I’m not nearly so far along my performance journey. As mentioned, I haven’t a single fan. But just like leaving dents in the punch bag, is that the point? This book is not about blowing the lid of venues and it’s not about building fans. Neil’s book didn’t cover a mere month. He wrote it over a longer period. Surely it’d be asking too much of myself and of you to expect stage fright to be crushed and a fan base to be established within a single month.
Importantly, stage fright does appear to becoming less of an issue gig by gig. By the end of this book I feel confident that stage fright’s unpleasantness could become a thing of the past fans or no fans. And that is the point of this book. In terms of stage fright perhaps I am (and hopefully you are) on track and on time. Let’s stick to stage fright here and worry about The Difference that Makes the Difference in future months and the next book. And after that we’ll consider getting fans and Going Mega.
Back on to matters strictly relevant. I arrived at The Ship after work at 19:15. Daniel from The Fenton had been at Carpe the night before and said he’d meet me at there around half seven if he could borrow my guitar.
He didn’t show up.
Fortunately I had my Kindle so set to reading and sipping a pint of lime and soda which I’d make last the night.
Soon however Dave rolled through the door of this the smallest venue I’d played this month. We sat for ages waiting for the organiser, Ben to arrive. I’d started wondering about skipping the joint in favour of The Fenton. But Dave had emailed The Ship’s organiser who had confirmed the night would be on.
Eventually Ben turned up. He’s quiet but personable. After chatting to us for a while he set up. A few others milled around the little bar. I couldn’t clearly tell the musicians from the non-musicians.
Ben came to the mic first. He didn’t introduce the night. I imagined this might be due to a touch of shyness. He doesn’t play like a shy person though. He’s yet another highly accomplished player and his songs are beautifully written. The number of accomplished guitarists could be having a negative effect on me. There is so much about the acoustic guitar I’ve yet to learn and master. Ben used his loop pedal to great effect but more than that he can do more with his plectrum than I can finger-picking. Unlike other hosts he didn’t just do one song and hand the mic over to the first contender; he played a full twenty minutes. I didn’t know but everyone gets twenty minutes. Even though I’d arrived first I got pushed down the list as the regulars took the early spots. Even Dave got to play before me (because he’d emailed Ben it seemed). Dave said he’d only do three songs though. Once again I started worrying about catching the bus home.
I’d take the mic after Dave but wouldn’t get twenty minutes either because Ben had shuffled the order of acts. It seemed others had to leave by ten-thirty too.
Finally I took the performance area under the TV and looked into the bar. I’d been facing forwards all night and hadn’t noticed everyone leaving the joint.
To the mic I said I’d rush through the difficult songs and quoted JFK. (I paraphrased saying, ‘We do these things not because they’re easy but because they’re hard.’) I played Why Georgia. Despite it being one of the first songs I learned to play two years ago I still struggle to get the groove, play the fiddly bit and remember all the chords in the bridges and choruses. And I struggle singing it. I felt further hindered by the stage’s poor sound. No added reverb. Yuck. During the high notes my voice sounded terrible.
Next I played my Beside the Breaking Waves. This is actually the first song I learned to sing and play from start to finish. It’s my own composition and features finger-picking I learned from You Tube. It hadn’t been aired publically since my first open mic eighteen months earlier. It didn’t go down well then probably because I couldn’t play it well enough to do it justice. But it’s an easy enough song to play and I played it okay in The Ship. But with barely an audience I had no feel for whether it had been effective or not. I told the mic I had one short song that I’d rush through for the sake of the next performer worrying about time. Ben implied I should hurry up which is a bit rude don’t you think?
Ignoring that I cracked into Only When it’s Saturday. So far as I can remember I did an okay job; only slightly swaying from my stride when Ben left the bar for what I presumed must be a cigarette break.
How about the nerves? Well like Carpe the night before there hadn’t really been time to recognise or tune into the sensation. If I’m right in thinking that there’s a lack of blood and information getting to the fingers it’s no wonder the plectrum so often comes loose and I struggle keeping hold of it. But this night I’m fairly sure the guitar felt comfortable on my hip and the plectrum stayed in securely pinched between thumb and forefinger. All in all it’s fairly good news.
Given The Ship’s diminutive size and that by the time I took the mic I practically had the place to myself I have to wonder to what extent venue size affects nerves. Personally I don’t think the square footage of a venue has much bearing on nerves nor is the specific number of people in the audience relevant. From former stage experience I’d say nerves are affected more by the feel you get from the type or mood of people in the audience. I also think the feel you get from an audience is affected by population density.
What I mean by this is that I’ve generally felt better performing to venues that are tightly packed with people irrespective of how big/small that venue might be. You might be surprised or not agree with this next statement but I’ve tended to find more tightly squeezed crowds become the more receptive and the less judgmental they are.
Another book on the subject of stage fright named ‘judgement’ as its principle factor. I.e. our fear of being judged by others is what scars us most. I don’t think I’d considered this before but for all the rest of that book offered little useful advice I did consider and agree somewhat with the author on this point.
Personally I want to get on stage and do something that elevates people emotionally; not come before them and have them intellectually evaluate my worthiness.
A more noteworthy book and one I must read again soon is Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd. Here the author observes that it’s hard to maintain one’s individuality from within a crowd. Basically put (and most likely from the perspective of being on stage) the crowd appears to have one mentality, personality and emotion.
It’s my guess (and through prior experience) that individuals in a crowd are each affected by everyone else within it and together everyone becomes less intellectual and more emotionally driven. And crowding (reducing peoples’ personal space) brings these effects on faster and more decisively. Our jobs as performers should be easier. Now we’re not being intellectually judged we can give the crowd a big smile and get on with the task of entertaining it. The art of this is almost certainly a major aspect of The Difference that Makes the Difference. But what has this to do with how things are now?
At The Ship my fingers unfortunately didn’t behave as confidently as they do at home. My subconscious mind seems to know that this stage isn’t home. Though I didn’t feel especially nervous I didn’t feel at home either.
I’ve not been a great fan of simply doing more gigs as a sole means of overcoming stage fright but I am wondering whether it might in fact be the best way towards feeling at home on stage. If I’m on stage all the time surely it’ll have to end up feeling like home.
These small gigs haven’t so far been anywhere near packed. There isn’t that unified crowd mentality. Not everyone gets caught up with the social proof of facing the stage and therefore anyone who does might be more inclined to judge me and other performers harshly. The trick is to get over it and by doing more gigs the subconscious mind might learn that judgement doesn’t lead to pain and therefore might start caring less.
Conversely is it possible at The Ship I felt less nervous than usual due to the numbers being too small to worry about? I’m not so sure. At home there’s nobody there to judge me. At The Ship I made mistakes and I’m sure the few stragglers in the bar couldn’t have failed to notice them.
I got to The Hop fairly early and unlike the previous week found plenty of people in the downstairs area. I headed straight to the mezzanine where the open mic takes place and saw two small groups of musicians identifiable by their cased guitars. I didn’t know any of them and I felt too nervous to introduce myself. As Marc and Abi the organisers hadn’t turned up either I ducked back downstairs to the bar and bought a pint of lime and soda. Whilst at the bar Keith who’d been there the previous week strolled in and towards the stairs. I called to him. He joined me and got himself a drink.
Upstairs we found a table moments before a guy called Ian arrived. He’d been at The Hop the previous week taking photos. Next arrived a lady called Sarah. She knew Keith, and I recognised her from other open mic nights though I’ve never seen her perform. She joined us and a moment later Paddy (who Si put on before me at Carpe) showed up. He also knew Keith.
I considered how just three minutes earlier I’d felt alone and shy. Now I enjoyed getting straight into conversation with Paddy and Sarah. I looked at the other musicians in the room and saw that they didn’t look as comfortable as I thought they had. I had nothing to worry about at my table with the old-schoolers.
Marc arrived and he and the sound guy set the mics up. After Monday and Tuesday I should have known to get straight in and ask for an early slot. Marc started the night off. I don’t think he played more than one song; possibly the Incubus song he played the previous week. As per the previous week his execution of the guitar appeared faultless though his Martin’s sound didn’t impact me nearly so much as it had previously. When he finished, he went around the room establishing the night’s running order.
First up came Paddy. Happily Marc asked me if I’d mind going on after him. Indeed I did not.
On stage Paddy grabbed a stool and adjusted the mic so that he could sit to play. Part of our conversation had been about ‘vibration’ i.e. spiritual vibration. I’d complimented his guitar playing, particularly chord voicing. I like that he doesn’t come across as a hippy type or obviously spiritual but he clearly is. He told me that when he composes and voices his chords he ‘feels out’ the vibration. Not only that but when he chooses which songs to play at nights like these he does so according to how he feels he’s vibrating. Interesting.
Funnily enough when Paddy got into his set I almost wouldn’t have recognised him as the same person from Carpe two nights before. His chord voicing seemed stripped back, sparse. I preferred his Carpe gig but admired his sonically chameleon nature.
Next came my turn. As mentioned I’ve pretty much decided after this month hopefully when stage fright’s back is broken to do another series of gigs and write another book on The Difference that Makes the Difference. Hopefully you’ll read it. I’ve started collecting ideas for it already and one is that being sexy could be part of ingredient-X.
By sexy I don’t mean pervy or inappropriate. For now I mean stop looking so sperm-less. Another factor I’ve been considering is honesty; i.e. being honest with yourself and your audience. Don’t fake. I decided to think like a lust driven man and hopefully I’d resonate sexual good health.
On the bridge where artists perform from I shoved Paddy’s stool backwards and raised the mic. My favourite performers have generally been ones that move. For example Paul Carrick may be a great singer but seeing him stand stock still at the mic all night doesn’t interest me. One observation I’ve made is that pretty much all acoustic singer/guitarists never leave the mic. That small thing could be one difference to set me apart from the others. I told myself to get ready to move.
At The Ship I’d wanted to do the tricky songs. Tonight I thought I’d start with Magic Words another none too easy composition.
I saw Paul (the policeman) had arrived. I said hi to him over the mic then, wondering about resonance, I introduced Magic Words as a song I’d written and that I believed is waiting to happen. In this song my voice can sound quite different from usual and I hoped it would tonight. I vaguely fluffed the intro; not to worry. The sound on stage surrounded me wonderfully. Getting close to the mic seemed too loud. That encouraged me to attempt the operatic off mic vocal belting that I’d love to be able to do well. Things appeared to be going well but the chatting didn’t really stop and I could see Paul by the mixing desk not taking his eyes off his iPhone. I sensed my voice wanting to be set free but not feeling able. With a knotted voice the song wouldn’t go free either. For the instrumental I stepped backwards from the mic as planned, then fortunately stopped, another step and I’d have gone over the stood I’d moved after Paddy’s performance. Despite its shortcomings that rendition of Magic Words might have been my best to date.
Next I played Wichita Lineman to make up for the feedback at Carpe. I don’t recall making any mistakes apart from the solo which I executed poorly. Finally I played Only When it’s Saturday and struggled to get the pull-offs on the B-chord. Also in one of the verses I actually completely lost focus. I could have been anywhere doing anything. I bumbled through the mistake more annoyed with myself than anything else. I’m not sure how noticeable the error might have seemed to the listeners.
Maybe the problems lay with practice. I hadn’t managed as much that day as I’d hoped for. Instead I’d had a long chat with my guitar teacher friend Peter. He’d been very complimentary of my guitar development but agreed that what I play is more suitable for guitarists who’ve been playing longer. He agreed that what I play on stage is a stretch and it’s no wonder I struggle. I can’t imagine a way round this problem other than practice. Dumbing down what I’ve already composed and practiced would seem a step backwards. Perhaps I should consider ease of playing more when adding new songs to the set list. We also discussed performing in a tongue-in-cheek manor. It occurs to me now that I might have this down or at least it could be something I could do easily. It’s probably another point of discussion for The Difference that Makes the Difference.
That said, the end of Only When it’s Saturday has a huge long note as I reach for the final chords. Sometimes people chuckle. I don’t think anyone did that night though. Not tongue-in-cheek enough?
I left the stage and sat down. Marc requested a final round of applause. Paddy kindly asked me what I thought of my own performance. I prefer that to people asking me what I thought of theirs. I told him I done okay-ish before asking about his.
Next came a duo. A lady sang and yet another quality guitarist backed her. Though we’d every right to it still felt rude to continue our conversations especially as we sat closest to the performance area. Clearly we’d not been swept up by any crowd persona mentioned last chapter.
After the duo came Keith’s turn with Marc backing him. I decided to say hi to Paul. He seemed chatty enough but didn’t seem so keen to keep talking. I told him as a half serious joke how sick I’m getting of hearing all these high quality guitarists. ‘I want some crappier ones to make me feel better about myself,’ I said. He laughed. I didn’t realise that ‘dream’ would come true within true twenty-four hours.
Feeling a little awkward talking to Paul I sat back at the table and chatted to Sarah. She’s not a performer but her friends are. She told me she’s out most nights wherever there’s entertainment. She doesn’t like staying home. I needn’t have worried about her liver though as she only drank soda. She told me of more places I could play and I wrote them down on a beer mat. She couldn’t think of anywhere for Fridays though. Looks like this Friday might be another night off.
What about nerves though? I can’t be sure. If I’m not getting over the nervousness I’m certainly getting used to it. Maybe if I just keep this up they’ll diminish slowly. Or maybe not. I don’t know.
Could the idea of thinking like a lust driven man help? I think it could. It causes a distraction from worrying about what audience members think. If I can get it right it’s almost like I’m convincing myself that something more important is going on. When I say this line of thinking is a distraction I’m sure done correctly it won’t distract from the quality of performance. I sense my ‘outage’ during Only When it’s Saturday would have happened anyway.
Would the rain hold off? The Chemic Tavern is nearly ten miles from where I live. Beverley told me to take the car. That saved me two bus journeys and three hikes. Generally I’ve regarded Cloth Cat as my favourite open mic night. Its distance and my working so much most of 2014 has until now put me off going for ages.
I thought back to a previous Cloth Cat night and recalled it started early.
Oops, I got that wrong. I arrived to find an empty room but for the sound engineer and his mate Badger (who I’d met on occasions when he did the sound for previous Cloth Cat nights). The place had change a little. Being quite tall my head would almost brush ceiling now they’ve created a stage of sorts. No flying scissor kicks tonight.
I found it funny noticing how sheepish I felt arriving alone in a venue. Going to a pub on my own really isn’t my thing. And yet within moments I’d engaged in conversation. The sound guy and Badger made me feel welcome. We talked a little about guitars and I admitted that my Richwood acoustic cost well under £200. They asked me if I’d do a bit of playing so they could set the DIs and mics up.
I could play and I did play. I felt kinda exposed and though I didn’t feel nervous as such I slipped from an ideal performance state of mind moments after I started playing.
On this rarest of occasions I enjoyed a ‘handsome’ night happy with how I’d dressed and with my hair behaving well. I stood on stage finger-picking Heading for the Coast which started well but deteriorated. Not to worry, I hadn’t planned to play that song anyway. As the guys continued checking wires I played Personal Jesus. Suddenly I stopped mid intro. I’d forgotten the notes. I simply couldn’t remember the passing section to get back to the route A from the D-chord. The guys had done what they needed so I came of stage, sat down and at once remembered what I’d just forgotten. In re-remembering that part intellectually I figured on keeping the song in the night’s three-song-set. If it came to it I’d ‘think’ my way through the notes.
With a lime and soda and guitar parcelled away again people began arriving. I recognised an Asian looking man having seen him once over a year ago. He joined me and introduced himself as Gee. I told him what I could remember of the first time we met; that he busked and had a song about Leeds. Gee and I discussed that song’s Bo Diddley rhythm. We got on to the subject of stage fright. He said what a lot of people do: have a beer. Just one, well maybe two; not enough to get drunk though. As you read this you might agree. I’ve got two and a half problems with beer drinking as a solution. Firstly I don’t drink. I don’t like the taste of anything alcoholic. Secondly and more the point I can’t imagine alcohol having the right effect. I don’t want to brush stage fright under the carpet. I want to beat it properly. I want to preserve the good energy to make for the best possible performance. Doesn’t beer slow reaction times down? I don’t want to steady my jittering and trembling at the expense of my reaction times. I want to be in the best performance state of mind not numb it.
Though I don’t personally know of anyone in this country whose taken beta blockers to curb performance anxiety I’m sensing that nervous performers do take them all over them in America. Beta blockers regulate heart rate. They generate an artificially slowness by blocking adrenaline and noradrenaline’s actions. Cool? Hmm, not for me. My intention is to perform and raise the roof. How can a person do that without setting their heart rate free or without having the adrenaline which makes excitement possible? I still feel my problem is that there’s not enough communication between my brain and my fingers. And there’s not enough blood reaching my fingers. It’s true that adrenaline is probably the cause of poor circulation to the fingers but I still don’t fancy beta blockers.
Before I play my hands are cold. I’ve been keeping tabs on my heart rate. Generally before I play it’s slow and steady. I don’t think it’s racing on stage either but it’s nice to know that if I need it to it could. Beta blockers might just make the circulation to my hands worse. The reports I’ve heard suggest people taking beta blockers still find they’re as unpleasantly afraid, terrified even, despite their slowed heart rate.
Whilst swilling a beer could perhaps take the edge off my nerves short term I don’t want alcohol in the short, mid or long term. But what about you? Could a swift beer help you?
I mentioned there being two and half reasons for not wanting to drink. The half reason for not drinking is simply price. At time of writing I’m earning zero money. I’ve been saving this year but the money I’ve got might need to be stretched I don’t know how far.
Anyway let’s move on for fear you find me preachy.
As the room filled, guitars appeared. Cloth Cat nights always have a ‘featured act’. Tonight an acoustic middle-aged male duo called The Brilliant Readers appeared and soundchecked. I didn’t get the feeling they had what it takes to change the world.
Someone who I feel could make a positive effect on the world would be Mike who runs the Cloth Cat night. He works hard for charity and runs courses to help musicians. I like him a lot. He remembered me and sat with me and Gee. Interestingly he’s not keen on getting up on stage at all. However, all his charitable work makes public speaking unavoidable. I told him about my quest. What did he propose?
Have a beer.
Ha ha. But we’ve moved on from beer. Gee suggested practice as a way out of stage fright. Well if you think back to the start of this book it’s practicing one song like furry then flunking it live that inspired it. But two days after silently rejecting Gee’s comments I thought I’d had a breakthrough during practice. You’ll read about it soon. Maybe practice is back on the menu. Gee simply stated that the more you practice the more familiar you become with the songs, parts and instrument and with that comes confidence. Makes sense doesn’t it? I believe he’s essentially right. There’s still heaps more practice for me to do. But I also still believe there’s more to it than practice.
A bonny looking girl in her twenties came in. I guessed she’d be a great gal when you get to know her but for now she showed a prickly personality barking questions and instructions at Mike to get her name (Alice) on the list. The fact is Mike doesn’t do the list because he’s not the compere. Mike’s aversion to public speaking means he prefers to get someone else to host the night.
The compere (whose name I didn’t catch) established a running order: Alice, then Gee, then me – DaNeo Duran. The Brilliant Readers (featured act) would follow me; after which normal open mic-ing would resume.
I learned an important lesson that night. When my turn came I took the stage like I had no competition. We’ve already discussed competition but here’s another side to it.
Beginning her turn Alice announced that she’d not lived in Leeds long nor done many open mics; so more credit to her for opening the night.
She fared well but as someone new to open mic she had a hint of ‘learner driver’ about her. I could see her fingers over-working the strings. Nerves had got to her no doubt about it. But she ploughed on like they hadn’t. Before she finished Gee left to tune his guitar.
Alice wrapped up and Gee took the stage. Gee is experienced in open mics and busking. He’s a genuinely lovely bloke and from what I saw of his set I could see he’s not negatively affected by nerves. He began by playing a new composition in memory of WW1. In my opinion it lacked musically and it didn’t sound well-rehearsed. He asked me about it afterwards and I honestly said I’d never have guessed he’d not played it before.
That in itself illustrates what nerves can do. During his set I’d got to psyching myself up for my turn. Only afterwards when he reminded me that he’d joked about having only learned guitar two weeks earlier did I remember what a rough-edged performance it had been.
So what lesson did I learn that night?
Football. I’m no good at it, much to the occasional chagrin of my teammates. I never watch matches and don’t follow a pro team but I do play on Astroturf once a week. I don’t really care which side wins and we’re not part of a league. I play to maintain personal strength and fitness. I don’t understand the game tactically and my accuracy is nothing to brag about. But I’m confident that I’m a valuable member of the team. I’m comparatively fast on my feet and have plenty of stamina. I can run into spaces and charge down the attacking opposition. The point is that the only thing I do is my best (actually I tell a lot of jokes and wind people up with sarcastic comments but don’t let that ruin the point). I’m interested to know my teammates’ strengths and limitations and it’s useful to know precisely what the opposition is up to. But none of this is a worry. I just do my best and congratulate everyone on good shots and goals. (I even congratulate the opposition on good goals as I believe it helps me to be more aware of their attacking potential thus making me defend harder). I like my attitude to the game and think it makes up for my lack of skill.
After Gee my turn at the Chemic arrived. I approached the mic with the familiar twist of nerves but with an attitude that tonight I could be the best – so far at least. The audience seemed more attentive than other nights. Surely it’s fair enough that I wanted to make the best impression but my attitude contained a little smug arrogance. As I write this I’m hating myself for it. Despite my belief that people can read all about you in your ‘signs’ I hope I still think I managed some humility. Especially as right behind arrogance came pressure. Like my body seeming to say: you’re the best so the responsibility to entertain these people is all yours. You’re better practiced and you’ve got stronger songs. Go to it. Now’s the time to take the roof of the place. I reckon my internal dialogue only said this because none of the acts including the, yet to play, Brilliant Readers seemed worthy of ripping the place apart.
I started with Magic Words. Like The Hop the night before I told the audience that I believe in the song and am always hoping it’ll take flight. I don’t remember making any mistakes. The audience chatter dropped and the lady to my left finished texting. The room quietened.
Yikes. The chorus is very difficult to play. Even if I’m not playing it incorrectly it can drop to single notes as the bass notes die prematurely. And that happened-a-plenty.
Next I did Personal Jesus. If you recall Paddy at the Hop had talked about resonance. Personal Jesus doesn’t resonate much without some injected umph. The umph took me beyond my comfort zone. Again I don’t recall any specific mistakes but the playing quality didn’t seem good. Certainly it didn’t warrant any smugness. Like Alice my fingers well and truly over-worked the strings.
I introduced Digging on Faith as my get out of jail free card. I thought about the tempo and groove. I’ve discovered the lighter my touch the better. That night I hadn’t got the plectrum positioned correctly and it stuck nastily into the strings. I believe in the song’s message so that’s always there (provided I remember the lyrics – see later). But without the groove the song loses its identity and that night I couldn’t find it as I wanted.
I finished the song and the set. I received a generous and welcome round of applause. But to me The difference that makes the difference hadn’t really been obtained. I still felt I’d been better than the first two acts but I hadn’t trampled them into the ground and if it had been put to an audience vote I don’t imagine it’d have been anywhere near unanimous especially given Alice’s good looks and Gee’s cheeky sense of humour. For me the learned lesson is to keep reminding myself that it’s not a competition; even when you think you could be the winner. ‘Do your best and call it good.’
I shouldn’t be thinking that I’m superior or especially deserving. I should do my best and be grateful if it ever comes out as brilliantly as I hoped or planned.
What do you think? It’s not a lesson necessarily relating to stage fright. It might come up again with The Difference that Makes the Difference. That said I reckon the right attitude could settle the nerves.
And what about nerves? Gig number nine this month. I haven’t missed more than two days in a row. It’s true to say that I did feel the nerves might be getting beaten to the point where I could switch my attention toward attaining the right state of mind to play my best guitar. But that night at the Chemic the nerves came back. During Magic Words I lacked the optimum state of mind and I could feel nervousness coursing through me. Given the gentle erosion of nervousness this immediate regression came as an unwelcome surprise and that probably only served to make matters worse.
So why are these nerves back? Thinking of myself as ‘the best’ I’m sure didn’t help me. When realising it’s not true the nerves flooded in? It could also be that with this being the first time back at the Chemic for over a year I wanted Mike and anyone else I’d not seen for a year to think I’d improved. Either way I left the stage that night disappointed with my performance. I really thought I could make a dent in the roof even if I didn’t lift it clean off.
Before I played Mike had told me about an event coming up a week on Saturday. He said he needed acoustic acts. I figured there’s a bar full of acoustic acts right here, what’s the problem? I expressed that I’d like to play the event especially as Saturday’s are proving difficult to find somewhere to play. Despite my disappointing performance it looked like I’d done enough to impress Mike. (Mike and I are Facebook friends now so hopefully times and details are following).
The other thing I’d wondered about that night regarded my approach to the mic. I didn’t take my time. I probably started without being properly ready. But then I thought I’d rushed things at Carpe and the next night at The Ship. I don’t think rushing affected my nerves those times. Nevertheless I think this time I’d have benefited by taking a moment at the mic to check my breathing and my attitude as well as things like mic height.
I’ve a lot to consider if I’m to integrate my ‘football attitude’ into musical performances. I’m thinking how well I perform, how my voice is sounding, whether my fingers are behaving, how creative my guitar parts are, how rich my chords sound, whether I remember chords, words, song structures, how in the groove I am, whether I’m looking powerfully sexual or not, whether I’ve got the right jeans and shoes etc. is nothing to do with how good or bad the act(s) before and after me (or you) are. If we can find a path to being our best then, like in football, there’ll be value in it.
After I came off stage I spoke to Gee who bought me half lime and soda. Alice left and openly complimented me on my performance on her way by. How nice, maybe I’ve been overly tough on myself.
I got to talking to a lady next to me. She’d come along with her husband and daughter to watch The Brilliant Readers (who it turns out are a pair of solicitors. No further comment). Anyway she said she gets stage fright. Years earlier she’d learned violin. On one performance she got stage fright so badly that her hands wouldn’t behave. Without frets violin playing requires very accurate finger positioning to sound in tune. Not only that but the bowing isn’t something you can leave to chance either. The poor lady described how mortifying she found failing to get the violin to sound musical. The experience put her off the instrument for life. What a shame.
She is still a performer though. She plays as a member of a steel drum band. As I’d imagine she said the nerves are eased by being part of an ensemble. She appreciates that the responsibility of the group’s musical outcome is shared amongst others. Nevertheless she does still get nervous.
She then described something that really helped her (as a side effect to grim misfortune). A relative of hers tragically died both suddenly and at a young age. Being in a band means you have a responsibility to your bandmates. Not wanting to let them down she played a gig with them but the awful shock following her loss made her numb. Here something had happened that far outweighed the importance of this one gig. Emotionally she had no room for stage fright and this helped her put the gig into the perspective that it deserved.
Her sad story delivers a great point for us. I remember reading Depak Chopra’s book: Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. In it he mentioned missing a flight. His life requires him to fly a lot. Unfortunately tight schedules also mean he misses a lot of flights too. On this story’s occasion he felt particularly annoyed. But he calmed himself down by imagining how he’d feel about it a year from now. He decided that in year’s time he wouldn’t much care and so chose to feel that way in the moment. He wrote that he actually laughed as he put the event in its proper perspective.
As I write this the date is Sunday 16th Nov 2014 (three days after the Chemic gig). Twice in the course of this book I’ve gone to open mics on Sundays to find them not on. Well not tonight. I’ve actually got my first gig; not open mic but a gig. I’m going to Verve in Leeds to perform a 25 minute set. I’m excited about that but I’m getting concerned as time’s rushing on and I’ve not started practicing yet. I wonder how I’ll feel about this upcoming gig in a year’s time. Will I take the time to have the right attitude to do my best? Will I remember to put the gig and the nerves it’ll no doubt bring in their proper perspective before and during play? Let’s see.
I couldn’t find anywhere to play Friday. Really? For me excuses are a kind of denial. Maybe I fancied a night off. Maybe I couldn’t be bothered to Google the places Sarah from The Hop had suggested. Maybe I couldn’t find the beermat with her suggestions. Either way I took the night off and started typing after Beverley went up to bed.
I took a moment to reflect. When I decided to do an open mic night every night throughout November I thought I’d probably bottle-out after a week of it. I thought it’d be too much trouble and too frustrating. The opposite has turned out to be true. At the start of the month getting out to these venues, especially the new ones did seem hard work. The previous Unicorn gig on the first of November stands out as being particularly bad. It’s surprised me how quickly I’ve developed the habit of getting into the chilly nights and travelling by bus. Then it occurred to me that actually the last week had been one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in months, possibly years.
The next morning/afternoon I knew I had a Saturday night ahead at the Unicorn in Carlton but what about the next day; Sunday? I texted Pete at The Cardigan Arms to see if last Sunday’s impromptu event had inspired him to do another. The text came back: No, hang fire until the new year. Damn.
I found Sarah’s beermat right where I’d left it; I knew I hadn’t lost it. Starting at the top of the list I saw Verve, a bar in Leeds. I Google’d them, rang and spoke to Tom who said they have acoustic acts on Wednesdays, Thursdays and … Sundays. ‘Sundays?’ I said. ‘Brilliant. I’m looking for somewhere to play tomorrow.’ Tom told me it’s not open mic. Oh dear. He suggested I get in touch with ‘liveatverve’ on Facebook or contact a lady called Hayley.
Consider it done. I messaged ‘liveatverve’ and moments later a message came back; from Hayley. An act had dropped out. Could I be there at 8pm to play at 8:30pm for 25 minutes? Perfect. I’d got my first gig! Beverley came home from work later that day and asked how did Hayley know I could play? I shrugged.
Firstly I had Saturday at the Unicorn to contend with. I’d slept in; then spent a good wedge of the day typing for this book. The time to practice had arrived. I would have liked to have recorded my full set, sighted and blindfolded. But without time for that I choose which three songs I’d do at The Unicorn and added four more to make a 25 minute set for Verve the following night. I got the mirror set up but no mic or headphones etc. I planned just to play through the seven songs over and over.
I mentioned in the previous chapter that today I’d experience a breakthrough. It lay just around the corner. I should perhaps tell a short story first.
Back in my last band Rob the singer/guitarist told me that he felt tied to the mic. Unlike me and Will (the lead guitarist), Rob couldn’t wander off and prowl around the drums. The point is that if you’re a singer/guitarist then your mic will be on a stand and you’ll have to come back to it. That potentially limits your performance.
If I (or you) are ultimately to blow the roof off the place either we’re going to have to get headset mics with radio packs or develop a roof-blowing set at the mic stand.
The superstar comedian Lee Evans plays to arenas of tens of thousands of comedy fans. Recently I saw him performing where he asked the audience (probably not in these exact words): ‘Is it just me or do you find the longer you look at yourself in the mirror the uglier you get?’ The audience murmured unreassuringly. Looking troubled Lee said: ‘F*** it, it’s just me isn’t it?’
I think I speak for most when I say the longer we look in the mirror the better looking we become. Our faces make subtle changes, our shoulders straighten etc. and we basically pull ourselves into shape. This is largely why I think practicing in front of the mirror is so important. My hope for myself and for you if you’re following this suggestion is that every time we do it we’ll pull ourselves that bit more into performance shape.
Before I describe my breakthrough let me ask you this question. If you’re not the performer you want to be then how do you imagine becoming your fabulous best? I don’t myself know how to answer this question despite wondering about it many times.
Improvement could happen as slowly as hair takes to grow grey. Sorting out the mistakes might be as gradual as a sunken iron ship corroding to nothing. Alternatively the secret to your brilliant self might be rolling around your head just waiting to drop into place. You might wake up one morning and just think: Got it, I know what I need to do! Alternatively something in between those two extremes might happen. Improvement might happen in fits and starts.
On Saturday I began practicing my seven-song set; three covers and four originals. Maybe I should have set the mic up if only as a prop. I started experimenting with my reflection. Rather than face the mirror head on as I would normally with the mic I turned as far to the left and planting my feet twisted back to see my reflection. I made sure I watched myself the whole time for all seven songs. I repeated the set twisting from the other side. Then I started doing more of the stuff I used to as a non-singing bass player; things like wearing the guitar on the hip. Here comes the breakthrough.
I started to really enjoy myself and my reflection. The voice in my head started telling me I really had something, that I could be a really good entertaining musician. I really mean it; I felt change happening. The experience of awakening seemed almost religious.
Now, I wonder how old you are. Gary Marcus’s book Guitar Zero expresses how difficult it is for older people to learn new skills. Apparently people like me and older may as well be calved from teak. Well so what? We learn slower, but if we’re determined we’ll get there. What interests me is how we define ourselves. I’ve considered this for a long time.
Perhaps in most cases our personal self-image (PSI) happens to us according to our environment and experiences. Paul McKenna points out that everything from our careers, homes, cars, clothes, partners, friends, choice of vocabulary etc. all defines and expresses our personal self-image to ourselves, and to others. And how we make choices and choose to behave is there too. It’s all a bit much isn’t it? But NLP practitioners reckon we can change aspects of our PSI using its techniques. I can believe it but have never had much luck in that field.
I prefer to risk being honest about how I feel even if I don’t like the truth. And with that here’s an important question: Are you a performing (musician, guitarists, singer – add more and/or delete as appropriate)? What’s your PSI?
If someone I’d never met approached me and asked what am I, what would I say? What would you say?
For me the truth lies with how I put bread on the table. To earn money I work in an office on a self-employed basis. Telling someone that would be the most honest answer; despite my lifelong ambition to be a financially viable musician. Thing is, I’ve not had any work for weeks, but I have been smashing it on guitar. Am I ready to say I’m a singer/guitarist? Honestly? I’m not ready for that. The sixteen year old in me might say I’m a musician but the forty+ year old wants to know the house around me is staying put. I imagine PSI is far more pliable when you’re young. Right now though at best I’d say I’m becoming a singer/guitarist.
I think this could be a factor in stage fright. That is, if you believe you are that which you’re doing you wouldn’t be afraid of it. Put another way: would I have stage fright if I got up to play music truly believing myself to be a musician? I’m guessing I wouldn’t and I’m guessing you wouldn’t either.
It could be a chicken and egg situation. Maybe your PSI will change after stage fright has been cracked. Or maybe one helps (or hinders) the other. So the more you accept that you are becoming the musician/performer you desire to be the less stage fright you have. And the less stage fright you have the more you embrace your new PSI as being the musician/performer you so long for.
How does your situation sit with you? Frankly it rankles me. I’ve been in countless bands and in my twenties some have been professional, I’ve written songs for years and I spend six years studying music in colleges and have a degree in the subject. And yet I’d be reluctant to tell someone I’m a musician. Why? I guess that’s for me to work out.
But what about you? What if telling someone that you’re a musician or a public speaker (or whatever wish you may have) doesn’t feel comfortable or honest? What could you do to change it? What needs to happen for your internal image of itself honestly say that you are that which you want desire? Are you like me in that income defines your PSI?
My parents and environment instilled in me that music is a worthy hobby. But, because it doesn’t come with an index linked pension that’s its end. Only profound good luck (the type that statistically simply isn’t going to happen to me) can give rise to a career in pop music.
How depressing you might think. But firstly this should be about you and how you define yourself. I’m just using my situation as an illustration. Secondly that guff above doesn’t make this day’s breakthrough by the mirror any less important.
I felt my mind and body gearing for change and I’m wondering what affect it’ll have on stage fright.
Before I went out to the Unicorn that night I lay in a hot bath and considered what had happened by the mirror. I felt meditatively euphoric if that’s possible. The breakthrough happened and that’s so important of itself.
So how did the open mic at the Unicorn go? Grrr, I did not rock out like had earlier. I didn’t expect to actually.
Things went well though. Beverley drove me after her Saturday shift meaning we arrived late to the running order. We had to wait for many acts and I eventually went on second last; after last orders at the bar. Unlike the living room at home I hadn’t space to move despite guessing I wouldn’t have done so anyway. The euphoria of that earlier moment had passed. That felt fine; I still know it really happened.
I performed well in other ways though and didn’t feel bad about my performance.
Though plenty had left, a lot of women still remained in the bar. Halfway through the night the kitchen staff had brought out chips for the punters to share (not that I had any on my 5:2 diet). When I took the mic I commented mostly to Chris the organiser about the number of women who’d been in the pub that night. Taking a deep breath and gesturing I told the room I had thought I could smell oestrogen until Beverley told me it’d been the chips.
The previous act had been a guy singing hilarious comedy songs so my joke getting a laugh pleased me. I added that as part of my set I’d normally swing from the chandeliers but given the room didn’t have chandeliers they’d have to put up with my guitar playing instead. I played Magic Words, Wichita Lineman and Digging on Faith. My feeling is that the Unicorn folk prefer hearing covers; it could be because there are regular punters and partners of the performers. All my songs went down okay but only Wichita Lineman received compliment.
The organisers Chris and Kelly finally stepped up to close the night. Privately Kelly said to Chris there’d been some ‘real talent’ that night and seeing as I hadn’t left the stage I hoped she meant me too.
Of my performance I don’t think I played Magic Words too badly and don’t recall making any mistakes but I’ve performed it twice since then and it’s still not taking flight. I intend to break it back down to brass tacks and build it up gradually ensuring it develops the wings it needs.
My playout section of Wichita Lineman went wrong. My fingers usually fall from one chord to another but this time I lost the big Em11. The moment my fingers came off the neck I knew I’d not get the chord back in time. I wrapped the song up quickly and got on with Digging on Faith.
I like considering the size of the room before I play. I imagine whether I could sing without the mic; if the room is small enough then why not? After all you can often hear the chatter of people on the other side of the bar despite them not having a mic.
Knowing I could sing out gives me the confidence to lean back off the mic and let the voice fly over the top and fill the room anyway. I’ve seen far better singers than me do this during my open mic adventures (Jularah and Matt Dunwell to mention two of the best I’ve seen/heard). And the Unicorn is small enough to do just that.
Though I’m still not executing the groove as accurately on stage as at home, I do let my voice go during Digging on Faith but think I fumbled the chords in the middle section.
I didn’t think I’d done too badly until afterwards when Beverley pointed out that it sounds like I’m singing, ‘Dicking on faith.’ That put me in a bad mood immediately. I thought I’d stopped making that error. It winds me up that people aren’t hearing it correctly. What must they think of the song? Beverley also reckoned Wichita Lineman doesn’t require my added playout section. Well I had asked for her opinion I suppose. Maybe she’d have enjoyed the playout if I’d played it accurately. When I get it right it’s my favourite bit of the song so it’ll stay for now.
Nervousness didn’t present such a problem; certainly nothing like my previous experience at Cloth Cat. Arriving late and being put to the back of the queue meant Beverley and I sat through plenty of other acts. Rather than build up I think the nerves settled such that when the time to play arrived I just felt pleased to be on.
During the last chapter I created a checklist to help me prepare mentally. Unfortunately I didn’t review it (nor did I the next night at Carpe). I can’t even remember all the things that should be on it. As mentioned at the Unicorn I also forgot what a tremendous practice session I’d had beforehand. I kinda knew I’d forget but by the time it came to mind I realised I wouldn’t be looking half so cool as I had earlier. I didn’t have the room to stride about in but when I saw the photos Beverley had taken I did feel almost as disappointed as her telling me it sounds like I’m singing, ‘Dicking on faith.’
After I published my novels on Kindle/Shakespir I figured on setting up a website. Facebook is as much as I can handle at the moment but whilst DaNeoDuran.com occupied the web I had a banner saying: ‘DaNeo Duran: Once seen forever remembered.’ From Beverley’s photos I see that’s as much a lie now as when I created the slogan. The DaNeo Duran she photo’d looked neither confident, sexy, musical or memorable. Ah well I’ll get there in the end – hopefully.
Here we go; first actual gig! I spent a couple of hours cooped up in the cluttered spare room practicing my seven songs for the night.
Hayley had asked that I be there for ‘around’ 8pm in order to play 25minutes from 8:30pm. Beverley decided to come along and support me. That meant I’d get a lift in her MX5.
Grr, at 8:05pm we still sat crawling through traffic. Not wanting to seem ungrateful for the lift I didn’t let her know how tense and frustrated I’d started feeling.
After parking we found both Verve and ourselves alone but for a solitary barman. We bought drinks and sat amongst the pub’s emptiness. The barman told us that Hayley should be along shortly. Well so much for rushing and worrying.
Five other customers drifted in and, sometime after 8:30, Hayley and another guy finally showed. She introduced herself but not the guy who’d come in with her. Hayley led the way past the five customers to the basement venue. That took the potential audience from five back down to zero discounting Hayley’s friend.
We got to chatting and learned that her companion Mark, as we learned, promotes the Leeds West Indian Centre’s Sub Dub nights. (Sub Dub is a Leeds reggae night famed for having the world’s largest sound system. Apparently the venue’s vast and swelling bass is sufficient to make some folks feel queasy). Mark said he’d recently bumped into Hayley and she’d introduced the Leeds acoustic scene to him and he’d been staggered by the number of venues and the quality of musicianship. I wondered what affect I’d have on him.
We discussed venues and it seems one of the most prestigious is Oporto. Sounds difficult to get a gig there. But not for Hayley. She’s in a ton of different bands and has sung in Europe. I thought of my Cloth Cat check list and reminded myself this isn’t a competition. I spoke modestly of myself and we got on to the subject of stage fright. Hayley’s advice? Keep gigging. So far I can’t argue with that.
Still nobody else arrived – including the next act.
I guessed it must have been 9pm. I should be handing the stage over to Lara. Lara seemed to be a friend of Hayley’s who had some guitar issues. Apparently she’d be along shortly.
My modest talk probably led Hayley and Mark to wonder what kind of novice act they’d got on their hands. But soon Hayley suggested I soundcheck, Lara arrived and we decided the time to perform had arrived.
During the wait I had been playing quietly and as much as I can forget how to play the instrument on my way to the stage that didn’t seem to be a problem that night. In fact I felt surprisingly relaxed with my audience of four.
Generally I wouldn’t recommend starting with your worst songs and ending with your best. Experience suggests if you lose your audience during the weaker numbers you’ll struggle getting them back for the better ones. I prefer to alternate between strong and weak whilst still reserving the strongest for last. However on this occasion I began with Magic Words a potential winner but as usual it proved tough to play and it didn’t resonate as I keep hoping it will. That said I played it well until most annoyingly I arrived at Verse-3 (the power verse) with its different, richer, chords. I suddenly found myself confused about which chord went where. I only managed to hammer the Bb-Add9. Very disappointing.
Next I played Bruno Mars, Treasure. It’s an under practiced and underperformed song. My performance of it needs tighter rhythm. Two somewhat weak song/performances in a row. Still I couldn’t complain and my personality seemed to be hitting home.
What could Only When It’s Saturday bring? I’d been playing it so badly in practice that I’d wondered about dropping it. Could this be three weak song/performances in a row? Fortunately I played it accurately(ish) and thoroughly enjoyed the big vocal off-mic notes at the end. Good one.
Suddenly things brightened. When I play I rarely look at Beverley but Mark looked entertained. I felt Lara might be having second thoughts about following me. Hayley however, never took her eyes off her iPhone. Strangely I took that as a compliment. She felt confident enough in my performance to concentrate on her phone.
Hayley did crack a smile when I played Personal Jesus though. I’d been practicing on the metronome and although I’ve questioned the song’s resonance I saw her tapping her foot. When I get the groove Personal Jesus is seriously groovy.
Heading for the Coast an original song to be proud of came next. It’s difficult to play but as the impetus to write this book it has benefited from subsequent practice. I played it well.
Wichita Lineman. That went through fine including the playout that I’d botched the previous night.
Lastly: Digging on Faith, of course. Still not smashing the groove but it went well and every ‘digging’ came out as ‘digging’ not ‘dicking’ assuming Beverley told me the truth afterwards.
Despite the songs not coming out as powerfully as I’d really like, on the whole I had played well. Mark told me I didn’t strike him as someone who suffers from stage fright and I knew what he meant; I hadn’t been too nervous. Hayley thanked me and apologised for there being no audience.
Here’s another thought about competition and its relation to ego. I’ve long been on the opinion that we shouldn’t be egocentric. But without ego I doubt we’d ever get out of bed and ego must be part of our desire to get on stage at all. Gary Marcus describes an interview with Tom Morello in his book Guitar Zero. I’m not particularly into guitar shredding but Tom sounds a fantastically dedicated musician.
Apparently Tom would enter guitar competitions naturally wanting to win and be hailed the best. But to win he knew he’d have to practice harder feeling he had some catching up to do. After a few competitions Tom decided he didn’t just want to win. No, he wanted the other competitors so floored they’d pack up and go home. I think that’s rough but it makes me laugh and admire Tom’s attitude. As mentioned I don’t like the pressure of performing after more talented, better practiced or better looking artists but that’s a bit different to actual competitions. And though musical contests can make for great TV shows or nights in venues I’m not generally a fan of these either.
Even more than Tom Morello I know how much work lies ahead of me. I’ve plenty of catching up to do. Even if I’d already developed my guitar playing fully I’d still have to play publically like crazy to get significant recognition.
And so here’s another thought about competition. If an artist keeps practicing and developing then in playing live they’ll see themselves getting proportionately better than their peers. If the artist keeps improving then like Tom their peers might feel like packing up and going home. Tom used that attitude/approach to gauge his development. Whether our improvement is directly linked to greater applause, sex or financial reward or not our egos take pride in getting better and will use our peers’ relative ability as a yardstick; perhaps even if we don’t yet know of their ability.
With that in mind I took it as a compliment when at Verve, Lara passed me on her way to the stage grumbling that she didn’t want to do this. There of course could have been any number of other reasons for this. Certainly I didn’t tell my ego that.
This has a little to do with stage fright. I’m not of the opinion that it’s okay to make mistakes guessing nobody will notice. People notice I’m sure of it. If you drop a clanger everyone will surely notice. I also think it’s important to work at what you want to say in your song writing and then inject as much of that into your live performances. But just because you feel that you haven’t said what, or as much as you hoped in your performance that doesn’t mean other people haven’t been affected by it.
Their response to what you do is their business. Whether your show wows or intimidates is each individual listener’s right. Take the compliment and use it for your piece of mind going into future performances.
You could still use the compliment even if it’s not actually valid. For example when Lara took the stage and sat with her non-electro acoustic guitar she promptly gave me a lot to think about as far as The Difference that Makes the Difference is concerned. And for that reason I’ll describe her show fully in the next book other than to say she had nothing to worry about. Her beautifully Afro-Caribbean voice oozed with melody. Whatever she’d been grumbling about I doubt it had anything to do with being intimidated by the previous act.
Despite her grumbling on her way to the stage she appeared fabulously laid back; in control and unconcerned.
What’s The Difference that Makes the Difference? Well for me it’s not sitting down, shifting a capo around an unplugged guitar’s neck and singing quietly. It’s standing up and marching around a stage and belting it out vocally. And yet Lara with her beautiful voice and compelling invitations to join in her songs had plenty of The Difference that Makes the Difference without any of the trappings I’ve put so much importance on.
But if it’s unabashed stage antics you want then read on.
As well as playing an open mic or gig every night through November I should be keeping up the sense of challenge. Carpe’s becoming pretty easy. I’d really enjoyed my previous week at Carpe so anticipated another good one; and it didn’t disappoint. The upcoming compliments helped mind you.
I decided I’d been arriving to gigs too early so set off later. I’m not getting nearly enough exercise so intent on walking the six mile journey home after the gig I wore an older jacket and comfy trainers. Now I could relax as it didn’t matter how late I’d come off stage. When I arrived Si the organiser looked over and I impulsively gave him a double thumbs up (wasn’t quite as naff as it sounds). He gave me a little cheer and announced DaNeo Duran’s arrival.
What a warm welcome. The first act ploughed on with his set whilst plenty more already queued behind him.
To maintain the sense of challenge I’d decided to do tough songs that I felt less confident about. I’d been practicing the three intended songs in front of the mirror for a couple goes but ended up furiously angry with the number of mistakes I made.
Years ago I played a game of squash with my best friend Pete. I’d not been in a happy place for a while. Therefore winning that game of squash felt like the only one thing that could save me. With hired rackets we set to the game.
I repeatedly smashed the ball with everything I had. Pete couldn’t possibly return that bastard could he?
Turned out he could. But assuming he wouldn’t he caught me off-guard. Another point to Pete.
Well Pete ‘ave a bit of this: BANG! Unbelievably he returned that one too; as I loitered around the wrong side of the court. Another point and game to Pete. The points may have been close but match spun out of control in my mind. I end up so furiously disappointed with myself that I destroyed two hired rackets.
Both times I calmed myself and took the knackered item back to the desk with a story of accidentally falling over or minutely clipping the wall. I offered to pay but the lady didn’t seem to mind as she handed me a second then a third racket. I looked after the last one until our hour thankfully ended.
Pete told me in no uncertain terms that he’d never play squash with me again. That happened more than half my life ago and despite still being friends we’ve never played squash again. Pete – if you’re reading I’m sorry about that day. I’m over it now I’m happy for you to be a better squash-ist than me.
(And to everyone else reading wouldn’t you have thought he’d have just let me win – he knew how bad I’d been feeling?)
The reason I’m mentioning this is because we all get angry from time to time don’t we? One cause of frustration is our not improving at something as quickly as we’d like and that pressure could either cause stage fright or be caused by it.
Going to Carpe is getting easy but those less impactful songs aren’t easy. Magic Words – has yet to deliver its worth, Bruno Mars’s Treasure – I struggle getting to the major seventh chord and nailing the groove and Take That’s Rule the World chords often leave my mind.
I didn’t record that day but I did set up the mirror. With privacy and only two days after my euphoric epiphany where I saw myself as a genuinely entertaining performer I expected good things after a little work. But I couldn’t find anything that day. The guy in the mirror seemed incapable of blowing me away. Frustrating? Very.
Magic Words continued showing no further signs of wanting to go nuclear. Take That totally irritated me.
My ex-guitar teacher who told me to, ‘knock it off with all the finger-picking bullsh*t,’ had prompted me to accept the challenge. When I play Rule the World I do it with single strums: ‘You strum the strum up a-strum me.’ Nothing could be easier. Give me a tricky song and I’ll fluff plenty of notes. Give me a truly simple song and I demolish it worse than either of those two prior mentioned squash rackets. On Monday I couldn’t seem to get it right and the man in the mirror made exactly the same mistakes I did.
I looked at him and saw his face full of rage but he didn’t scare me. I jabbed his face with my left-hand index finger. It shouldn’t have hurt but my reflection raised his right hand and jabbed his index finger with equal determination bashing it into mine.
It’s two days later as I type this and my first knuckle is still stiff and swollen (not what you need when you’re a guitarist). The good news is that event focused me. I didn’t dare muck up after that.
Anger can be the most uncontrollable of emotions for some of us and I wonder if it is for you or how you handle it. Personal development guru Anthony Robbins describes emotions as Energy in Motion. He reckons all emotions carry a message.
He’s not alone in thinking this. People have said anger is the emotion of change. If, for example, the TV annoys you then just how angry do you have to get before you throw it out?
In my case just how angry did I have to get before I’d start focusing on my practice properly? Too angry I’m sure you’ll agree. But I’ve also heard it said that anger is a message to yourself that you care. It’s obvious really. You wouldn’t get angry about something you didn’t care about would you? I doubt we could if we tried. It would have been nice to have stopped and taken a step back before jabbing my finger at the mirror. If I’d taken a moment to recognise the nature of my desired change/outcome that I cared so much about I might have got into a more positive state of mind.
Or maybe I wouldn’t. Being so angry I didn’t notice any nervousness but the idea of getting on stage at Carpe to play songs that aren’t effectively practiced or, dare I say, don’t necessarily even work as acoustic numbers could inevitably cause concern. Even though practice has proven not to eliminate stage fright nor aid an optimal state of mind on stage surely being unrehearsed only makes matters worse.
Truthfully I didn’t give myself enough practice time to pull Rule the World and the other two songs together. I’ll do the same three songs at The Hop tonight. I’ll leave the house in a little over four hours. For that reason I’ll stop typing right now and dedicate as much of the next four hours (minus a meal and shower) to tightening up those three songs. I’ll let you know how I got on at Carpe with them as you read and in two chapters I’ll describe how I got on with them at The Hop.
Okay I’m back. The Hop didn’t go great and has left me feeling a little disheartened but let me first tell you about Monday’s Carpe gig.
As mentioned at the start of the chapter as a night Carpe went well and I made a couple of tentative new friends. By the time I reached the stage, the bar had started emptying and my performance did nothing to stop others leaving too. But I enjoyed Si’s introduction.
I started doing exaggerated stretches and Si from behind his mixing desk said, ‘… he’s limbering up there.’ Silly stuff really. And yes I did feel nervous starting with Rule the World. My internal metronome deserted me. I suppose the strum, sing a line, strum approach means you can get away with a little free-timing.
I noticed for every couple of people leaving the bar a couple more came in. I melded Rule the World into Treasure and one newcomer to the bar started dancing at the front of the stage; a first for me. Could this be due to my striking the chords as my friend Pete had described: like a hammer on nail? Could I be grooving like Bruno Mars’s band?
Not really. Happy being at the venue and on the stage I did my best and enjoyed it. I knuckled down for Magic Words and got through it fine. I could see Short Dark Stranger (or Cabaret Chris as he’s also know) readying himself to take the stage after me. I wrapped up the set with an un-rehearsed Digging on Faith.
The guy who’d danced for Treasure danced on even though I didn’t make the song what quite it should be. I wrapped up and Si requested a round of applause for me. I felt good being me and didn’t mind throwing my hands in the air. Did I feel at home though? There’s another question I’d soon be asking myself.
Next up came Short Dark Stranger. I looked forward to his show. Chris does not hold back. If he’s self-conscious, nervous or insecure he gets over it by going over the top. This makes him one of the most distinctive performers I’ve seen on the Leeds open mic scene. He takes the mic, whilst off stage Si starts his backing tracks from his iPhone.
Chris leapt around the stage with exaggerated gestures. He obviously takes the creations of his Cubase arrangements seriously (even the wows and pows he adds for himself to dramatically dance to). His act is tongue-in-cheek.
The first time I saw him I didn’t know how to take him or his act. It left me asking: crikey did that just happen? I didn’t know whether to laugh or … I didn’t know what. The second time I saw his act I felt far more comfortable and smiled throughout it. Tonight would be the third time I’d see him work that stage – air humping as he went.
But I missed a great deal of Chris’s show because the guy that had been dancing to my show approached me bringing welcome praise. He told me he’s putting together a band like Alexisonfire.
I’d never heard of them. They’re not half as bad as the guy (called Shane) described. A lot of what they do is ‘screamo’ which wouldn’t normally appeal to me but the screaming is juxtaposed with a clean voice for the other sections. Shane couldn’t speak highly enough of my performance or the ‘right’ use of high notes. My range isn’t that impressive really and though I loved Shane’s compliments I’d be a fool to think that my voice is good. (Even if I could be fooled I’d be put right in my place with twenty-four hours.)
Shane left me to enjoy the rest of Chris’s show. Generally speaking I like performers who tear up the stage burning calories as they go and no one does this so much as Chris.
Lara had given me a lot to think about sitting there and still managing to get everyone singing along but Chris’s powerhouse approach more closely matches my performance aspirations.
Had I stage fright that night? Not really. Yes I felt nervous when I started but I’ll expect a little of that always; not an issue if the nerves are lower than the pain threshold. As always I didn’t play as well as I’m sure I can do in practice. And this brings me back to the subject of anger. I’m thinking back to when I first started open mic nights and noticed stage fright as being such an issue. I predicted then that if I didn’t bring my performance potential to the stage that frustration would grow. Maybe more home rehearsals coupled with more performance is the answer. I’ll have to break it eventually.
Location and circumstance could have a great deal to do with stage fright at a conscious or subconscious level. For example if a musician only ever plays their instrument in their bedroom then maybe they’ll subconsciously become overly accustom and comfortable with that location.
As soon as the musician choses (or is forced) to appear on stage the subconscious mind loses its familiar comfort and the stage frightened musician’s performance suffers. I’ve described experiencing this problem regularly throughout this book. Take me out of the comfort of my home and I can’t play nearly so well; in spite of my really wanting to and in spite of me having the best month in ages.
The writing of this book coupled with heavy outings to open mics is without doubt helping. However, before this month I had another episode which booted me along to the point of enough being enough.
I took my guitar to The Billiard Room recording studio. I know Carl the producer well and he knows me if only as a bass player and ex-drummer.
He’d invited me along to air my songs with a view to recording them in the future. He said, ‘Let’s have it,’ and I tried my best to play and sing one of the songs I intended to record at his tremendous studio.
I played appallingly.
So, instead of playing any further songs live I Bluetooth’d a couple or so others from my phone for him to hear. He said a lot of kind things about my song writing. Really, did I have anything to worry about? Well obviously my subconscious mind thought I did. I haven’t gone back to record at The Billiard Room and don’t know if I ever will; Carl’s been busy. But I had stage fright. Even without the stage, even out of a ‘venue’, away from an audience I still had stage fright. Though I didn’t feel nervous in Carl’s company my subconscious mind wouldn’t let me play.
There’s only one way round this problem that I can think of and that is to take the guitar out of the house as often as possible and play it in as many different places and situations as possible.
What’s The Difference that Makes the Difference? I don’t yet know and this book isn’t about that. But one thing I’m guessing doesn’t constitute The Difference that Makes the Difference would be crushing stage fright or embarrassment or failure to become the performing artist you are in whatever setting you find yourself asked to perform.
So to mix things up I decided this day not to go to an open mic night but instead attend an acoustic jam night at the Unicorn. I guessed it might be an education and an alternative environment to develop my mettle. Unfortunately the only instrument I can jam with is the drums.
When my last band wrote songs I would step back with my bass largely leaving the other bandmates to jam. I’d listen to the drummer first then the chords. Then I’d sing a complimentary melody to myself. I’d learn that melody on bass and that would be my way in.
But by this time the song would already have largely taken shape. Maybe the Unicorn’s acoustic jam session might teach me a bit more about the guitar.
By the end of the night I didn’t really know any more about jamming though. Instead the night had a more important lesson.
I arrived to find Hamish the only other jammer practically alone in the pub. I’d seen Hamish at other Unicorn open mic nights and new that he had a good voice but how good? Hamish told me Chris the manager would be along from the next room after he’d finished giving someone else a guitar lesson. Soon a bass player arrived so we started jamming. I listened to what the bass player and Hamish played and joined in on a fresh part of the neck playing funky octaves. As we warmed into whatever this might be Hamish started singing.
After that he sang songs I recognised. I joined in with harmonies. Only then did I understand the strength of his voice.
His voice probably isn’t better than Rob’s from my last band, and given the choice I’d still chose Rob’s for one reason I’ll come to shortly. I knew Rob had a tremendous voice but at that time I didn’t need to be concerned. I played bass. It served the song by linking Woz’s percussive rhythms to the song’s harmony and key. I could let Rob get on with his job as singer. But now as I attempt to be a solo singer vocal quality is suddenly a worry.
Hamish hardly sounded loud and certainly didn’t seem to be pushing his voice but I found I had to push my voice just to get to an acceptable level for a backing vocal.
I don’t like to make assumptions as to your knowledge of music production equipment but Hamish’s voice put me in mind of compressors. If you don’t know, audio compressors are electronic (or nowadays commonly software) devices developed by engineers as talkies took over from silent movies. Before compressors sound engineers would set a recording level suitable for the level of the actors’ dialogue picked up by the mics. But what if an actor then suddenly screamed or shouted? This new higher volume might be loud enough to exceed the limits of the tape and all the scream would sound distorted.
A recording engineer would either have to pull the recording level down manually in anticipation of the scream or ‘compress’ the loud scream; automatically via electronics bringing its loudness closer to the level of the dialogue. Obviously mic placement played a considerable part but the desired result would let the audience hear the dialogue without having their ears blown by the scream.
Compressors soon found their way into musical recordings and you’d struggle to find any commercial vocal recordings where compressors haven’t been used. Most studio engineers wire an electronic compressor after a vocal mic before it goes into the computer or other recording device. This adds a little level control before further compression is applied commonly by software a compressor(s). Executed well this makes vocals sound more pleasing and easier to mix.
Hamish’s voice as compared to mine sounded like it had been compressed. Singing un-mic’d beside him I could hear that some of my notes or vowel sounds appeared loud whilst most sounded weak. Where my voice sounded out of control Hamish’s tones sounded measured. Every note no matter what the vowel sound came out with clear strength. And the tone had a far more pleasing effect.
Mic technic can help with this. When you’re on the mic you can use distance to even out the levels. With decent on-stage monitoring you can hear if you’re too loud and ‘simply’ pull away from the mic. In quieter moments get closer the mic. I say ‘simply’ but good mic technique can take as long as anything else to master. Wherever you’re gigging hopefully the sound engineer will be adding a bit of compression and reverb to level out any other louds and quiets. But that’s quite a lot to count on; far better to have a voice like Hamish’s. I won’t forget what I’ve learned this night and once my guitar and performance have taken further shape I’ll be coming back to vocals.
My one observation of Hamish’s voice that, if he reads this, could stop his head getting too big headed is that even though his power seemed effortless I feel it could be ‘a bit much’ after a while. The reason I still rate Rob in such esteem is that he’d call up other tones from smooth to rock and that gave his voice a little extra controlled dynamism that ears don’t tire of.
I once asked Rob whether he felt his voice to be the result of nature or nurture. After some thought he said probably he’d been born with his strong voice.
The two singers that have stood out for me this month are Hamish with his level power and Lara’s with her lilting melody. Though aspiring to their brilliance I should keep an open mind. I don’t believe my voice has what it takes to be like Hamish’s, Lara’s or Rob’s. Or does it?
Well I’m sure it doesn’t and you may or may not be thinking the same regarding any wonderful singers you might know. And what does this have to do with stage fright anyway? Surely quality of voice is subject more suited for The Difference that Makes the Difference? The start of this chapter touched on both environment (playing in the privacy of one’s home vs publically on stage) and how we define ourselves and whether that changes from environment to environment. But could core beliefs in our abilities be the deciding factor here? And when taken from one environment to the next could limited (or limiting) beliefs about our abilities come into play?
What I mean by this is that at home there’s no pressure – except the pressure you put on yourself (I’ve told you about how angry I can make myself home alone). But in practicing alone you’re not affecting anyone’s thoughts or emotions because they’re not there.
We’ve discussed how stage fright guru Noa Kageyama suggests making your home rehearsals as much like the your stage performances but whilst I love this idea in principle it’s my experience that you can’t kid the subconscious mind into truly believing there’s an audience present. I’ve tried on virtually every occasion. I’ve tried it different ways from imagining a room full of adoring fans down to a near empty room of disinterested inebriates. Things always feel and appear differently when I reach the actual stage.
But what’s going on within our ‘true’ selves – our subconscious minds when we get up in front on an audience?
Could it be that’s when we question our ability on a grander scale? Yes I played the songs fine at home and my voice sounded fine too. Therefore everything should be fine now shouldn’t it?
This isn’t about competition as we’ve previous discussed. This is about your honest evaluation of yourself. This comes back to what we discussed in this book in the chapters for 08th and 09th of November but from a different perspective. Those chapters compared developing a punch to a punch-bag with developing oneself as a public performer. I’m still excited about the prospect of developing this further but when you’re on stage the only time that matters is now. That goes for you and your audience. All that matters is how you feel in yourself and how you’re making your audience feel. There’s no point performing badly on stage and saying to your audience, ‘Hey, don’t let this rubbish put you off. I intend to practice; I’ll be back next month and blow you away.’ That’d be just as pointless getting into a fight and telling your adversary to go easy until you’ve toughened up in a few weeks’ time. The fight is on now!
If you or I are not developed enough to leave a punishing dent in the punch-bag yet then, neither of us will dent it. As I type I can tell you I haven’t got what it takes to sway an audience and that I guess is why it’s not happening.
But so what? The point of all this is that when we’re faced with more work than there’s time for commonly we elect to do no work. In performance terms if we get on stage intent to blow the roof off but haven’t yet the developed skills or confidence then maybe our subconscious minds sabotage our performances? Maybe my mind (at least) thinks not having the required minerals to affect the desired outcome renders it pointless.
If you think of a better antidote to this problem than the one I’m about to suggest then I’d love to hear from you. Instead of being over-faced with the workload and doing nothing look at the work and at least do something; even just a tiny part. In performance terms if you know you haven’t yet the means to blow the roof off then don’t expect to. Realistically decide what you are capable of and make that happen. If, like me, you think the whole point of what we do is to blow the roof off then take another step back and know that subsequent short to midterm gigs are there as a rite of passage. Disappointing and badly performed gigs might be unpleasant but we need them to reach the better ones.
Now here’s something to cheer you up. Above I wrote that I’ll never have a voice as good as Lara, Hamish or Rob – or would I? I recently watched a celebrity autopsy TV show which examined the circumstances in which superstar singer Whitney Houston tragically died. The coroner said he first examined her vocal cords. When he did he found nothing unusual about them; nothing suggesting that she’d either been a great singer nor any reason as to why she struggled in her later carrier. Whatever it is that makes one person a more fabulous singer than the next is appears that it’s nothing to do with vocal cords.
Practice had been strange. I got the mirror in position but my reflection couldn’t get me going. With Beverley off to work I had plenty of time to work up a good performance state of mind. The too short tracky bottoms, washed out old T-shirt and lank hair made for a less than inspirational reflection. Eventually I put the guitar down and got showered, aftershaved, hairstyled, new clothed.
With time to spare I resumed practice. The guy in the reflection looked like a new man. The black jeans, black trainers, black short-sleeved tight shirt over T-shirt looked great behind the peacock-blue and black guitar. What a difference that made. I got to rehearsing and found my stride at once.
As I walked to The Hop I figured perhaps rhythm isn’t something one either has or does not have. I remember being an infant when my best friend Gareth and I would use sticks to bang out the rhythm of melodies. The fact that we could both guess the melody from the stick-beaten rhythms suggests both of us had a reasonable sense of natural rhythm. But a sense of rhythm isn’t something that stops aged eight. I reckon it’s something that you could spend your whole life developing. It could be the most subtle of musical developments. It’s not like learning a new chord where you say, ‘Great, I got it,’ or hit a new high note. You just gradually strengthen the internal metronome or deepen your sense of swing.
Getting a good strummed chordal rhythm isn’t the same as picking broken semiquavers on one string of a guitar for example. Sitting tightly in a rock band doesn’t necessarily mean you could walk straight into a jazz, Latin or African band or … take your pick the list is massive.
For me because I used to play drums for a living I used to arrogantly think that I had rhythm. I doubt I’ll ever be that arrogant again. I urge you not to brag about your great sense of rhythm either. Let your playing tell people all they need to know. And don’t listen to anyone else tell you they got rhythm like it’s a finite thing.
My consideration of all this rhythm stuff had surely ascended from my intention to medley Rule the World into Treasure.
Until now both songs had lacked groove. But I’d barely been aware of their rhythmic deficiencies. After hefty practice rotation both songs (quite different in musical styles) began to develop different but deeper rhythmic meanings. Who’d have thought a simple strum and sing approach could benefit so greatly from a strong sense rhythm. I guess it’s part of The Difference that Makes the Difference. If that’s the case you might wonder why I mention it in this book?
Well this is connected to stage fright. When I came to play at The Hop that night the rhythm that I’d firmed up during practice vanished once again. Could my nervousness be to blame? Maybe but I’m certainly continuing to feel more at home on stage.
Despite all my practice I still struggled remembering which chord followed which. I imagine a listener might comment Rule the World sounds like I’m pulling its time to make the song more emotional. Fine, but that’s not my intention; I’m pulling so I can have more time to think of the next chord.
My new pal David AJ had come along to The Hop and unbeknownst to me recorded my performance with his portable recorder. Whilst on stage I remember thinking nobody’s listening to me. Sure enough when David AJ later emailed me the recording I heard little of me under the audience chatter. At least my pulling at the time resulted in me playing the chords correctly.
At the end of my Rule the World/Treasure medley I announced that I knew I’d lost the audience before the first verse had ended.
Treasure hadn’t been any better.
Again I recall Pete’s ‘hitting the nail head on’ idea. I’d worked to strike Treasure’s Maj7 chord accurately. If I could do that hopefully the subsequent Min7s would follow safely. Get that right plus the rhythm grooving and it promises to be a credible song especially if I can throw a few moves in. Practically none of that happened. The performance at best scored mediocre.
Finally I played Magic Words. It seemed it still didn’t want to take flight and given the damage I’d done with the first two songs maybe that made Magic Word’s fate inevitable. David AJ’s recording sounded slightly more promising than I’d feared though.
With so few performers that night everyone got another two-song crack of the whip. Just before I got up again Lara arrived. Borrowing my guitar she did a three-song set. I don’t know how nervous she really gets but she feigned nerves if she didn’t actually feel them. The reason I wonder how nervous she gets is just as she’d done at Verve she got straight to the songs and had no problems asking people to sing along. I looked on with David AJ and wondered where all her rhythm came from.
Her voice lilts with no discernible beat. She does what she can on guitar but isn’t really hammering rhythm out; not like I intended with Treasure to hopefully get people foot-tapping along. I wonder how she’d get along with a metronome. And yet what she does creates as much motivation to dance to rival the best I’ve seen. Once again rhythm is a curious thing confirming that there is no box called rhythm on a list waiting to be ticked. I doubt there’s even one part of the brain concerned with rhythm’s presence, absence or motivation.
After Lara played I took the guitar and as per Dave’s request played Wichita Lineman. I hadn’t specifically practiced it. Surely that wouldn’t matter I had been playing it enough recently.
Nah: another poor rendition. For my second song I scratted my mind and decided on U2’s All I Want is You. I struggled through that too. When arriving at the song’s refrain I had two possible chords to play. Would you believe I played the wrong one? I played D instead A. How annoying. In my version I play a tricky A chord after my cowboy-esque solo. I didn’t strike that tricky chord accurately or timely. I should then play the final verse chords in a polyrhythmic way. I used to get muddled with that section eighteen months ago. I muddled it again.
Despite not feeling too nervous, nervousness is still present and robbing me of the comfort necessary for best performance. I blame stage fright both for blatant mistakes and for the erosion of what might have been a rhythmic performance a step closer to The Difference that Makes the Difference. I might not have rehearsed all that night’s songs too diligently beforehand but surely I’m better than the limp-wristed attempt the audience received from me. I’d never have played those songs so badly at home. I went home with a sense of disappointment and wondered whether any good can become of whatever it is I’m doing here.
It’s currently Thursday so I’m up to date with the writing and I’ve yet to go to the Chemic and play. Any dwelling on last night’s performance has been blown aside by the practice I’ve done in readiness for tonight. Given how badly The Hop went last night I knew I’d have to do some more serious practice. Beverley went shopping and I jumped to guitaring determined to do the same three songs in the same order again tonight. With no time to lose I skipped on the mics but I did grab the mirror. The guitar sounded in tune and I didn’t even bother with the metronome.
Little did I know Beverley would be out for a good while. I decided just to play through the three songs in sequence over and over until she came back.
Rule the World didn’t go well. My voice sounded listless. Vocal tone really is something I’m going to have to get to grips with. I shouldn’t knock the people who’ve complimented my singing but I will want to improve my tone soon.
Next: Treasure. It didn’t sound any better either. Magic Words. Goddamit. I started by singing Verse-2. I lost my temper in an immeasurably short time. Fortunately I recalled what anger means from my rehearsal three days earlier. If I’m angry it’s only because I care so much; in this case about singing the right verses in the right order. Time to refocus. I concentrated and got through Magic Words.
Then I repeated the set. I got through Rule the World with mistakes. Then came Treasure. I started thinking it really isn’t working as an acoustic number. Perhaps the thing to do is to slow it down and pour some unnatural emotion into it. I didn’t want to do that. The voice in my head told me it’s just about getting the song right and nailing the groove.
Magic Words. Goddamit. After two introductory chordal errors I only went and started singing Verse-2 – again.
Screw my own advice. This stupid repeat error got me raging. In that moment I felt that the part of me causing these errors needed teaching a lesson. A moment later I’d thumped my jaw three times. (I checked later and I couldn’t see any bruising but when I had my next meal I barely had strength to chew.) I sincerely hope this ridiculous behaviour is as rare amongst other people as you’d imagine. I’m worried to think I’m not the only person who gets so furiously disappointed with myself. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you look at it beyond the immediate term) the violence helped focus me.
After correctly playing Magic Words I repeated the set again.
I’m not sure how long I practiced or how many times I went through the three-song set. My voice didn’t come to life. I may have been slightly dehydrated. But I got better at playing all three songs especially Treasure. I keyed into my internal metronome and it started to groove. And my reflection looked good. Very good; super confident like someone who could entertain an audience. Rule the World started grooving despite the groove only being internally implied. Maybe this is what people like Lara do.
Even Magic Words grew in confidence. Again Treasure. My wrist flew and I looked like I could have been born wearing the guitar. I imagine I’d have had the same religious euphoria if I hadn’t had it on Saturday. Perhaps getting those feelings again would be like laughing at the same joke twice.
But knowing those great feelings hadn’t lasted or taken shape at Saturday’s Unicorn sesh and given Beverley’s unflattering photos from that night I decided to keep an open mind for the night ahead. The goal here is, like everything, more long term. Again this subject might sound like part of The Difference that Makes the Difference. But it’s inextricably linked to stage fright I’m sure. Taking a great performance with its great feelings from home rehearsal and recreating them on stage will surely displace stage fright. Don’t you think?
At home I need to work to get to that state of confident looseness quicker and on stage I need work to get it at all. If I can glimpse it on stage before the end of this book I won’t be able to get to the computer quick enough to let you know.
The week before at the Chemic I’d been surprised to find myself wracked with nerves again. So how did that night’s gig end up?
Very kindly Beverley lent me her car again. I arrived reasonably early and got my name on the list well before The MoMos, the night’s “featured” act. To my surprise the night’s compere ended up being none other than Cabaret Chris. He told me he’s been compering Cloth Cat nights for years. I can’t imagine how we managed to miss one another so long.
I’d had internet contact from both David AJ and Lara that day. I saw Mike the organiser and told him someone called David would be coming along and possibly someone called Lara.
I sat in the corner and Chris joined me. Soon the pub filled up and amongst the throng I saw and waved David AJ over. He’d come in from choir practice. Lara arrived minutes later but too late to secure a spot before The MoMos. With so many acts Cabaret Chris wouldn’t himself perform and Lara wouldn’t be going on before 10:40. That bothered her as she’d hoped to leave early enough to catch Hayley’s (from Verve) band the Sea Whores.
A fella called Dan who looked Steve Vai opened the night’s entertainment. He had an electric guitar which he plied with so many effects none of us could hear the chords changing. At some point during his first song I noticed his A-string sagging like a spare strap. He finished his first song but did nothing to tighten or replace the string.
As he turned knobs on his effects unit I shouted, ‘What’s happened to you’re A-string?’
Neither looking up nor missing a beat Dan said, ‘It’s gone on holiday,’ before cracking into his next song.
I can’t remember the name of the second act. The man sang his acoustic songs and I used my grip exerciser to pump the blood into my hands and went on after him.
Chris introduced me as a “talented guitarist” and as “a mate of his”. This had me genuinely touched but I had to concentrate. Despite not feeling nearly so nervous as I had the previous week I didn’t take my newly complimented guitar talents for granted.
Opening with Rule the World I once again failed to find the metronomic timing of my rehearsals. But I played the right chords and the audience appeared vastly more attentive than had been the case at The Hop. But as I looked out into the watchful faces it became apparent they didn’t know how to take my Take That cover. A mickey take? I couldn’t be sure myself. I started smiling as if to say, ‘It’s okay, just enjoy it.’ That might have helped. The chorus is so familiar to most that when it came I saw people’s lips moving. Maybe I should have encouraged people to sing along.
Next came Treasure but I can’t remember much about it. It must have been okay. I remember feeling ready for Magic Words. Fingers crossed it’d be great.
Hmm, not this time. But it might have been good. Very few mistakes. I misplayed the exaggerated Asus4 chord; shame that’s what sets up the power verse. I wanna hit that verse like it’s the last music anyone will ever hear. If I could communicate the sensitivity of the first two verses as honestly as I felt when I wrote them the song would be super-great when it hits that final verse with its rich chords changing differently to the first verses. Ah well.
I left the stage feeling pretty pleased with myself on the whole. Staying with my new pals a few more acts played before David AJ. Then came The MoMos, then someone else and finally Lara got her turn. By this time she’d given up hoping to reach Hayley in time for the Sea Whores gig.
Lara took my peacock-blue guitar to the stage and I took her phone to take pics for her Facebook profile. Lara played and stormed it with me photo’ing her on my guitar.
Afterwards Mike the organiser said to me, ‘I didn’t know you meant that Lara.’ He knew her from bands she’s played with in the past. When Lara came off stage Dan the electric guitarist jumped to compliment her. Mike couldn’t wait to talk to her and offered her a full set! I’ve never heard of a solo artist being the featured act. Did that make me jealous? Nope. But it served to remind me how far I’ve still to go. It pleased me that Lara had a good excuse to give Hayley for missing her gig.
It had been a while since I’d ordered the “DaNeo Duran” logo for my guitar. Lara, getting the royal treatment, meant I felt gutted to have photo’d her with my guitar but without my alter ego’s name slapped on it. How cool, Lara Rose used DaNeo Duran’s guitar.
… Practice went well. Yesterday I said it’d be good to practice and reach that state where the playing’s going well and the reflection is looking good. Today I got stuck into practice the moment Beverley left the house. I set the mirror up and found a groove and a worthy look straight away. To up the ante I got the mic stand out. Tomorrow I’ll record the full set or all least get the headphones on and make sure the voice is working whilst maintaining a cool look.
… Practice went well again. Not wanting the hassle of travelling too far for a Sunday gig I’d Facebooked Hayley to see if she needed anyone to gig Verve the next day. She came saying yes for the 22nd Nov. Did she mean that very night? Better get to practicing.
I decided not to run through the whole set or record. Instead I chose not seven but eight songs (seven plus one contingent/encore).
I set up the mirror, mic and headphones but didn’t find the groove immediately. I started slowly. After settling on a running order I decided to play each of the eight songs three times in a row. Then I’d play them twice and finally I’d play them consecutively. This took a surprising amount of time.
Most of the day I expected to be playing my first Saturday gig which would surely be busy.
But by the time Beverley came home from work I’d had confirmation from Hayley. I’d be playing the following day (Sunday) and therefore possibly to nobody. That might be a good thing. I’d very little voice and needed a day’s vocal rest.
There are several reasons for mentioning the above rehearsal. Firstly I’m becoming progressively convinced that I have an entertaining performer in me dying to get out. As concerned as I am that my voice is under par another part of me is thinking if I could bring the best of my rehearsals to the live stage it might not matter. In the front room I kick ass.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that when I’m rocking out at my best (and I’m not keen on the following turn of phrase but it describes it perfectly) “the guitar is my bitch”.
This is a considerable stage fright issue. In rehearsal I normally feel like I’m clutching the instrument making it mine. When rehearsals are going tremendously the guitar’s been fully wrangled under my control. Even if I still make the odd mistake the guitar feels like an extended body part. It’s another breakthrough. Only recently has the guitar felt so good in my hands. For the first time I feel like a guitarist; an entertaining one. This isn’t to say that I’m Prince or Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan. It’s just to say that the voice in my head is telling me I have some value as an entertainer. Enough of my over excitement.
How does your instrument feel to you when you play live vs practice? Is it your slave or master? If your guitar/other instrument feels alien to you in live situations what’s the cause? I haven’t got to the bottom of this yet. Even before writing this book I’d practice standing up trying to establish how things felt so that I could recreate the same instrumental hold in front of an audience. On stage the setting, lighting and ambience is different from home but so what? Why should the guitar feel so different?
If we’re practiced enough we shouldn’t have to spend too long looking at the guitar’s neck. But strangely when I’m on stage I can’t see the frets the same way. At the Duck and Drake one night I said from the stage that I needed a beer belly to tilt the guitar neck so I could see it. A big guy called Sam shouted up that I could have his.
Why the guitar swims around my midriff when playing live is a mystery to me? I’ll have to think about this a little more. In the meantime the only thing I can think that might help is more practice, more hours on the instrument and more live sets. Develop the most familiarity with the instrument as possible. Hopefully in time I’ll recreate the same grip live as in private rehearsal.
I used to blame the microphone for messing with the ergonomics. I started practicing at home with a mic so can’t use this excuse anymore. I’m wondering if adrenaline is affecting my breathing and my posture at the mic stand. Recreating as much of the optimal gig posing/posturing during rehearsals could lead to a better chance of getting things right in a live situation but it will take practice. And always expect things to feel different when you actually get to the gig.
Another thing I’m coming to realise is that stamina is more of a factor than previously noticed. Just because I cycle everywhere and can play football flat out for an hour doesn’t mean I can sustain the concentration or physical demands that solo gigging requires.
Despite being pleased to release the entertainer within me comparatively early in practice, sustaining that level of energy for the rest of the rehearsal proved challenging. My mind would wander before I realise I’d come off the boil. I questioned whether such energetic lapse would lose an audience (assuming I ever have one) in a live situation. And I further wondered whether it’s right to get “on” the audience and stay on them? Or is it better to let them breathe i.e. turn the entertainment up and down to add contrast? At time of writing I can only imagine experience will answer this but I’ll attempt to answer it in the next book.
After long practice sessions I feel tired and in the mood for a lie down. Should gigs be viewed as marathons or sprints? Presumably that depends on how long your show is. A three song open mic set perhaps should be a sprint with full entertainment. A two hour show perhaps could benefit from peaks and lulls. I only hope I can get a bit of my high voltage entertainer out at tomorrow’s Verve gig. I wonder will I be able to make the guitar my bitch? I’m keeping an open mind.
The day started slowly. I can’t get over how much sleep I’m getting. Hopefully it’s good for my voice. I’m so far behind on my typing up these gigs but I want to practice, practice, practice for tonight. There seems to be a lot more Facebook activity this week surrounding Verve than last week. Will this bring more people in? I found out the names of two other people who’d be performing that night and Facebooked them to say I’d see them there. Ellen, a young girl new to Leeds came back to me asking for directions. She seemed very unsure of where she’d be going.
In the end my directions got her to Verve before I arrived. The other performer would be a guy called Laurence. At Verve, Hayley asked who wanted to go on first. Between us we established a running order. Ellen offered to go first but Laurence figured his “low-fi blues” style would be most suited for first act. When Ellen said she’d go second I couldn’t help feeling just a tad like the headlining act.
A few people arrived filling up Verve’s downstairs bar seating quickly. During Laurence’s set a couple appeared and stood at the stairs looking a little lost. I smiled and waved them over to the space on the bench seats to my left. Laurence’s guitar style largely featured him bashing his bass strings. Unlike me who figured at my age I’d be expected to play advanced things on the guitar he (like me on bass) had no shame in keeping things simple. It worked well but when he asked for more guitar in the monitor I had to stop myself from blurting that he should play more strings.
Sarah, who I’d met at The Hop had arrived. She knew Laurence and said he’d improved massively. I’m not sure what he wants or is expecting but his original approach makes him distinctive.
Ellen took the stage after Laurence. Sitting down she sang covers and originals. She certainly had promise.
When she finished the room looked suitably full. But Sarah told me I should get up and do my thing at once. Apparently the audience don’t hang around. I jumped to it. Laurence returned to the stage to ask me whether I had my own guitar lead. Dumbly I never carry leads. Incredibly Hayley didn’t have one so I had to borrow Laurence’s. I told him I’d look after it. I tuned up and played a few chords and riffs. So far so good. But Hayley didn’t seem to be in the same hurry. Not able to stop people leaving I decided to go to the gents and warm my hands on the hot air dryer. How did I feel?
Well not nervous but I did feel dreamy. I figured this must be another aspect to nerves not that I’ve noticed light-headedness in the past.
I got back downstairs and happily everyone appeared still to be present. I went back to the stage and this time Hayley gave me the nod. I started with Personal Jesus. I tried getting the stance as well as the groove. Whilst playing the intro I asked whether the attentive audience had seen the Depeche Mode video. ‘They’re out in the desert. I think it’s important to get that just-got-off-a-horse look right.’ That got a laugh. Through the venue’s gloom I saw Laurence and Mark’s teeth. I didn’t play the song badly and didn’t really feel nervous. I joked that if I did the same songs in a different order from last time it might kid Hayley and Mark into thinking I’d come up with a whole new set. More laughs. Great. But surely I’m not that funny?
I designed the running order to alternate between covers and originals starting and finishing with covers and one more cover in reserve. Next came Only When it’s Saturday followed by Wichita Lineman into which I injected a touch of Elvis baritone into Verse-2. I said, ‘I don’t think this was sung by Elvis.’ Got another laugh. I got through Heading for the Coast and Treasure with no problems. I grooved and moved well; I think.
Basically things went as well as I could have hoped. I felt happy but next came Digging on Faith my powerhouse tune. Despite the kiss of amateur dramatics I inject into the song it’s not to be laughed at. It got a laugh anyway. Hold on a minute. I wanted to stop and ask what the hell people found so funny.
World travelled Francis Dunnery does acoustic gigs aplenty. He’ll often tell hilarious stories from his life before telling us he wrote the next song about it. His face then becomes concentrated and his magical musicianship begins. We the audience stop laughing; things turn serious with the first chord. Clearly I don’t have his audience control. This is something else to add to The Difference that Makes the Difference quandary.
Anyway, I finally I did Tainted Love. I made that fun and even though I only play F#Min to begin the song one audience member guessed it. I sang it well and played it fairly accurately ending by reintroducing the riff in and singing Hit the Road Jack.
Afterwards Sarah told me she’d asked everyone in the audience to stay. She told me I’d played well. During my set I only recall losing two audience members. Mark told me I’d been, “quite good.” I think I knew what he meant. It meant: “Don’t think you’re there yet. You’re on your way and are entertaining.” It’s one of those slightly backhanded honest compliments that one should take heed of. Certainly not too gushy.
The light-headedness before I played had been new. Other than that I don’t recall feeling nervous at all. It might have been the best I’ve played to date.
Why could this be? Plenty of home rehearsals? Certainly they must be helping. Could it be the general entrenchment of gigs and practice? Is my personal self-image swinging round to believing that I’m doing what I am? Am I convincing myself finally that I’m a solo performing musician?
Here we are entering the final week and sadly I’m no longer certain that I can totally quash stage fright inside of a month. That said I am building tougher nerves like the calluses on my fingertips. By going out most every night my subconscious mind must be getting the message and submitting to the identity I’m forcing onto it.
Whether I kill the snake or just scorch it after this month I’m gonna be coming down hard on what really is The Difference that Makes the Difference.
I did make one tiny inroad towards being different on Monday and if you check out my Facebook profile you may still see the evidence. The wait for the DaNeo Duran guitar print had finally come to an end.
Before going to Carpe I drove Beverley’s MX5 to Tony the printer’s house. He’d prepared the dining table for my guitar. He showed me what looked like a sticker. I had no idea how good it would or wouldn’t look. After cleaning the finger prints off the guitar’s body he positioned the sticker and duck taped it into place. He then pressed it into place. Finally he peeled the backing off leaving just the letters on the guitar’s body behind the bridge. In unison we declared, ‘Wow.’
I’m excited and delighted with the result.
Tony brushed aside any concerns I might have had that maybe people might think me egomaniacal. He reckoned the print is no different than bands displaying their name on the front kick drum head. Good point. I’ve a superbly printed logo and a rebuttal should anyone dare to disrespect it. I’m all the more pleased that Tony liked it so much too. He said it turned out better than he’d imagined. It looks pretty much exactly as I imagined and yet seeing it and actually having it is great. I couldn’t wait to get home and show Beverley before getting down to Carpe.
Beverley indeed liked my guitar’s tattoo. And so did Si and Cabaret Chris when I arrived late at Carpe. It turned out to be another fab night. Lots of acts and socially I felt connected. I wondered if Beverley would enjoy herself here as much.
An American called Ash visiting from Sheffield (Boston originally) wrapped up his set as I arrived. His friend Fi took over. Lara arrived after me but said she didn’t want to play. Arriving late I’d inevitably have to wait to play. I’d already decided I’d walk home and felt so happy I didn’t care.
When the time for me to play arrived I took the stage with my DaNeo Duran guitar. I’d practiced four songs and knew what to do and it what order. Some of the acts had already gone home but more queued behind me. To keep the nerves going I decided to open with an original song There You Stand in its 9/8 none to hooky time signature.
Given the song’s lack of natural umph I’d have to get my full weight behind it if I wanted a response. Strumming the basic triad chords should be easy enough but I noticed my fingers bumbling them. Then I noticed I hadn’t a scrap of nervousness. I’d approached the mic with the most confidence I’d known as a solo artist; totally calm. Obviously there must have been something nerve related back there interfering with my getting into the best guitar playing state of mind. Bleedin’ ‘eck, in the change section I kept playing the BMin-chord before the A-chord. If I made the mistake once I dumbly made it two or more times again. I knuckled down and got on with the song but felt annoyed.
Next I played Morning Glory by Oasis. The way I play the verse is tricky and I knew that I sounded like someone practicing as I failed to execute the verse’s two chords. The chorus is massive though. Leaning back off the mic I let ‘em have it. To my delight everyone at the bar sang along – not that I really felt like I deserved it.
After Heading for the Coast I finished with Tainted Love. Dan (often at The Fenton) had done two sets already. He nodded and I figured why not? He jumped onto the drums and Cabaret Chris joined in on harmonies. Great way to end the set.
But more than that this had been a public performance where I really didn’t feel a scrap of nervousness. I made errors and I don’t think I’d have made those errors at home but I didn’t feel any nervousness at all. How strange. Have I beaten this thing after all?
The Fenton is one gig I feel a bit funny about; not nervous just uncomfortable. And it’s a bit of a carry on to get there as it’s on the far side of town. Having a ‘woolly throat’ didn’t help my feelings. What’s The Difference that Makes the Difference? I imagine having a strong throat that doesn’t give up the first time you feel under the weather would help. Nevertheless this is the last week of November and not the time to sap out.
The Fenton might be grungy but when I arrived I found Cabaret Chris looking dapper in his cravat; a contrast for sure but he appeared to be quite a big deal there and known by many.
Lara appeared too. It seems The Fenton’s muse is far more open minded than my closed mind gave it credit for.
Stu put me on early. As per the previous night I started with There You Stand and as per the previous night like a spanner I played the BMin-chord before the A-chord. Annoying. I can’t remember what I played next but I guessing it must have been Morning Glory. For my third and final song I figured on Tainted Love but I had Heading for the Coast in reserve. I asked the audience, ‘Original or cover?’ Two people came back with the answer: ‘Original.’ Right then.
As I played the opening chord with its rapid Travis picking I shouted over to Chris that I’d share the secret as to how I’d written it. He expected me to blurt it out to him over the mic. No fear. I won’t blurt the secret out here either. On the subject of ‘no fear’ it didn’t occur until after I’d played that I had experienced just that – no fear.
Sometime after my stint Chris performed but I left before Lara played. She told me later she’d had a great time jamming with the others. One of the jammers had been a young lad. I can’t remember his name nor the name of his band. He had talent and charisma and optimism. I liked him but don’t even know how to find him on Facebook. Maybe I’ll have to get back to The Fenton.
I’m not sure when after the event it occurred to me that I’d had zero nerves. But how cool is that?
Could my guitar’s DaNeo Duran logo represent the crossing from nervous musician to worthy performer? I wouldn’t like to speculate but isn’t it strange that I didn’t even notice I had no nerves until afterwards? I had to think about it to realise I’d been fine; almost like I’d taken a peaceful state of mind for granted.
At the age of thirteen I dropped guitar playing in favour of learning the drums. At that time I’d no idea I’d be playing the guitar again. I imagined all other guitarists would give me too much of a run for my money. Because I knew my place I never played guitar seriously until after my thirty-ninth birthday. Since then my guitaring has come on powerfully. I don’t underestimate the importance of practice and a quest for excellence. Now I might even give some guitarists a run for their money. But every time I feel like I’m getting somewhere on guitar I have a bad gig or back slide of sorts. My last two performances had been practically without nerves. Would I be a fool to think I might be getting somewhere on the stage fright front?
The next day my voice felt less woolly and tired than Tuesday.
Despite practice Morning Glory remained elusively tricky. It’s frustrating but I am deliberately trying to make things difficult. In order beat the nerves I should keep going to unusual environments and playing songs that are either difficult or less strong than Digging on Faith for example. It’s not a nice thing to do to myself. And is it too much to expect anybody to like, There You Stand? Maybe it isn’t a good enough song for people to get behind. How can it be when even I don’t like what the lyrical point of view has done to the sentiment? But maybe giving my all in performance could still help. Maybe it’d help to visualise the crowd going wild to it.
And with that is it possible to write a book about stage fright without dealing with the subject of visualisation? What are your thoughts on it? So much has been written on the subject but what do you really expect from it?
If you’ve not seen the docu-movie, The Secret then you must … err, sort of. Like books such as Think and Grow Rich it basically tells us that if we visualise things how we want them to be then the universe will make your wishes come true. And you know what, I can get on this as an idea. I believe in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Pauli’s Exclusion Principle and their suggestion that there’s a ‘knowingness’ to the universe and that knowingness is what we understand God to be. Because electrons can theoretically exist in different aspects of space/time I can imagine an infinitely multiple universal soup where every possibility of ‘now’ is happening right now and that all that has ever happened and all possibilities that ever will be are also happening right now. As intelligent humans wanting to shape our experiences all we need to do theoretically is focus our awareness away from any ‘now’ that we don’t want and become aware of a ‘now’ that we do want.
However in practical terms The Secret is, for me, best placed in the bin. Watch it, take its point then bin it. It’s nothing more than an interesting idea. This is an extreme theory of visualisation’s use. But what else can visualisation be used for?
My friend Pete has taken a welcome amount of interest in my quest to beat stage fright. He told me that when I practice I must be visualising things going wrong on stage. In fact the opposite is true.
Some people find visualising difficult and perhaps you do? For me it comes fairly easily. When I rehearse well, I can’t help visualising. My visualisations inevitably conjure a stage (tonight’s stage perhaps). Without trying, I see an appreciative audience from where I perform. In fact it’d be harder to imagine things any other way when my rocking reflection looks so good. But despite imagining how things will look, sound, feel and even smell there seems to be nothing quite like actually getting up on stage and doing it in front of a real audience. The differences may be subtle but they’re significant.
Real audiences don’t seem to receive the communique stating how they should individually and collectively feel/behave. Real audiences to date never pay me the desired attention during my performances. And even if they do they soon don’t after a verse and chorus.
The Secret tells us: Thoughts Become Things. Not in my experience they don’t. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Given how I feel about flying, planes would either never leave the tarmac or come hurtling uncontrollably back to it.
Despite this I appreciate that everything starts off as a thought. I must have seen the DaNeo Duran print on my guitar in my mind’s eye before creating the designs and sending them to the printer.
Of course you might find visualisation a different tool from how I do. For that reason learning more about its uses wouldn’t hurt. Whatever you do though make visualisation work for you.
The word that stands out for me though is truth. I imagine truth is visualisation coupled with intuition. Playing the Leeds first direct Arena might be easy enough to visualise but intuitively I know it’s not on the cards; not at this stage of my development. I reckon I could visualise myself into my grave before that venue would consider playing me; the visualisation is not coupled with an intuitive sense that this might actually happen.
Electrifying an audience according to my current truth appears to be telling me to write/learn and practice the best songs and then perform like my life depends on them. It’s up to me make the music come alive and electrify the audience. And that’s for the next book: The Difference that Makes the Difference.
Here’s another use of visualisation. I’m planning on doing both the Duck and Drake and the Grove tonight. I’m familiar with the Duck and visualised performing the same songs I’ve been doing the past three nights there. But instead of visualising myself in my body, I imagined I was someone else watching me from the back of the bar. Now with a bit of creativity and imagination it shouldn’t be too difficult to visualise the guy on stage tearing the place up and the audience going bananas. But instead I found my imagination giving me a dose of honesty; my current truth.
I couldn’t help but see the guy (the me) that will no doubt appear on stage later. He had nothing of ingredient X and he didn’t look sexy either.
I’m generally so pleased looking at the guy in the mirror during home rehearsals that I can’t believe the photos people take of me look so lamely prosaic. But today’s visualisations reflected my brain or intuition’s truth about how I look like on stage. That’s what other people see.
Whilst I consider this something of a breakthrough we can’t have that. Once again it’s my full intention to shine supernova bright on stage and heat people to their core.
I’ll keep on with the ‘truthful’ visualisations as I reckon they’re a path to better performances. Again this is for the next book as I’m sure I am asking a lot of myself to think that I can become a noticeably better guitarist/performer in addition to beating stage fright inside of one month.
Given the previous two nights’ performances if I didn’t know better I might say I’ve beaten the nerves. The two things keeping me doubtful is firstly that slight shock of nerves I had at the Chemic not a fortnight earlier and secondly my new visualisation. If I’ve really cracked stage fright then surely I’m free to sing and move like a confident performer.
With these thoughts I arrived in good time at the Duck and Drake and approached Dickie who runs the night. Given the number of times I’ve played the Duck in the past (this venue played host on my first ever open mic back in May 2013) I should feel at home there.
Dickie asked me how Sunday had been. With faux suspicion I asked him what he knew about Sunday. It seemed he’d seen somewhere online that I’d played Verve. It seemed he’d done a set there for Hayley the week before my first Verve gig. The night had been as quiet for him as it had for me (first time at least). And that night the Duck and Drake appeared almost as quiet. Dickie told me only one other musician had arrived right before I told him I’d be heading to the Grove shortly.
A minute later a lad neither of us recognised arrived (Louie). He didn’t have a guitar with him nor had he any songs. He just wanted to play some guitar. I found out that he’s working towards a PhD and just wanted to clear his head. Well for him I imagine coming to the Duck had been a good call. He took Dickie’s acoustic guitar and Dickie joined in on bass and the pair jammed some blues. Louie really could play. Soon the pair invited me to join in on drums. On the subject of stage fright jamming the drums gives me no reason to be nervous. And there shouldn’t be any right or wrong in jamming after all.
Soon another guitarist joined us on stage. Then Louie fancied a bash on drums. Dickie took his acoustic guitar and handed me the bass. I played the same three notes over and over for several minutes (with just two others for variation); no wrong notes there.
Time ticked on and I grew concerned that I’d be late for the Grove. Nevertheless I did want to take a three-song set. Finally the jam wrapped up and I plugged my DaNeo Duran emblazoned guitar in. I joked with the audience that having my name on the guitar satisfied my egomaniacal nature (not that I believed it; I just like the word ‘egomaniacal’). I also mentioned what an issue stage fright has been and that I’d be looking for ways to keep the nerves high and that they’d be receiving the under-rehearsed non-heavy weight songs.
I started with There You Stand. And I don’t recall feeling any nervousness. That’s three gigs in a row without feeling nervous. But There You Stand isn’t really an under-rehearsed song. It’s technically easy to play and I’d been pounding it in practice for days. So why did I play it so badly? I nailed the tempo, and the words/melody came to me fine but yet again the chords fell into the wrong order. As mentioned in previous chapters there must be nerves you feel and nerves you don’t. The main thrust of this book is not to beat nervousness because we don’t like trembling but because nervousness can damage our performances. It’s great to be doing these nights without feeling nervous. But what I want is to sing and play accurately; to sensationally affect an audience. It seems beating feelings of nervousness is only part of beating stage fright. The rest is getting into an effective state of mind.
My next song of the evening Morning Glory ended up being as hit and miss as I imagined it would be. I pretty much decided then and there I’d be taking it back into practice to work it up from very slow tempos.
As I had at the Fenton the night before I asked the audience whether they wanted a cover or original. Dickie shouted up original. And so … Heading for the Coast. It came out fine. The heavy, heavy practice of this song must be paying off. I thanked the audience in particular the two ladies as singing in first person about going to the coast with a girlfriend in a short dress isn’t conducive when performing to a room full of bearded men.
I wrapped up the guitar and hot footed it to the Grove. If you’re local to Leeds or thinking of going there I should advise you of the Grove’s rules. I’ve only been once before but the rules are so strict that you daren’t forget them. The first thing to note is that despite the night’s name there is no mic (so don’t turn up with an electric guitar because there’s nowhere to plug it in). You sing your song with whatever God gave you and for some that could be a new challenge but if you’re looking to be taken seriously this could be the place for you.
The lack of mic is the reason for the night’s rules. It takes place in a room separate from the bar. You go in and Mat who organises it will take your name and explain that when there’s an act on stage there is to be no talking. If you want a drink or toilet break do it when the acts are changing over or during ‘the break’ which happens after everyone’s played their first two-song set. Finally whilst performers are performing the door must remain closed.
It’s serious business and with all this in mind I didn’t want to be late.
Nevertheless, I arrived late. However, this turned out not to be the imagined big deal. The normally tight-shut door hung fully open. It turns out it had come off its hinges.
As a guy in a trilby and waistcoat played his own set I floated through the doorway like gossamer on the breeze. He spotted me and I recognised and recalled him as Mat the organiser. (Mat in the hat). He finished his song and with his book in hand asked my name. Clearly he didn’t recognise or remember me. I find this a lot. I remember people and their name; they don’t remember me or mine. Maybe my DaNeo Duran (remember that name folks) guitar will help.
Sitting on my own as one act followed another I wondered when I’d get a go. Three acts went by and none of them opened their throats wide. No wonder audience silence is enforced. Some acts had no fear of being quiet. I should take heed of this. Being a good singer/performer isn’t necessarily or simply a contest in volume. Nevertheless I sat silently without a shred of nerves and couldn’t wait until my turn. Even in newly nerveless situations I wouldn’t go so far as to say I couldn’t wait to get on stage. But this time that’s how I felt. That’s right, I felt great even though I knew nervousness could be around the next bend.
Finally Mat invited me to the stage and I still felt, tremendous. Striding to the stage I unzipped my gig-bag.
Though I didn’t at first recognise a soul I had no problem addressing everyone. I said anything funny that popped in my head and told everyone about my writing this book. Then I played There You Stand … better than I ever have live, possibly better than any rehearsal and certainly miles better than I’d just managed at the Duck and Drake. I then turned to Mat and double checked the two-song set (as opposed to the usual three at most other open mic nights). When Mat confirmed two songs only I said that piece of good news meant everyone had been spared a dodgy Oasis cover. Mat (who it seems dislikes Oasis) seemed delighted by this. I asked the audience would they like a cover or an original. Original, came the answer. And so I played Heading for the Coast; rather well I’m pleased to report. Its grateful reception took us to the break after which we’d all get another two-song set.
Last time I came to the Grove I had Ritchie for company and there’d been a travelling workman who’d popped in as a way to pass his evening. During the break conversation hadn’t been a problem. Some people have told me that the regulars don’t talk to you at the Grove. This of course might be an effect of there being no talking during performances.
During the break I got a lime and soda and sat back down at a different table. Alone. And I felt it but I also felt super happy. A fellow asked if I’d written Heading for the Coast. He complimented its intricacies. I thanked him but played his kind compliment down.
The second set started with a higher quality of artist. It reminded me not to be smug.
Then it occurred to me that doing these gigs is like driving along a road. Some of the drivers are men, some are women, some have been doing it years, some take it seriously, some are distracted, some are learning or have recently passed their tests. I find this metaphor an ideal way to put to bed the idea that music is competitive. It isn’t a competition. Our ability to entertain an audience isn’t based on how good or bad we are compared to what comes before or after us. It’s about what effect we have on our audience in the moments we’re on stage. Eroding or removing the notion of competition (especially if you’re thinking in terms of competition identifying winners and losers) should make for more relaxed focused performances.
But if the road metaphor isn’t yet sufficient then try this: Imagine you join a motorway intent on being the best and the fastest driver. You pull straight into the fast lane south of Leeds and burn rubber towards London. You speed past lorries and family estate cars. Even BMWs soon end up behind you. But there are still more vehicles in front of you. Further up the road you see a Ferrari. Flooring it you flash your lights bullying other cars out of the fast lane so you can exceed the speed limit and catch the Ferrari. Short minutes later you’re screaming whilst nosing passed the Ferrari. You ease off the throttle and take a moment to see that still all the way to the horizon the road is full of traffic. It doesn’t matter how fast you go you cannot get to London first. Traffic has been turning off the M1 at London’s Junc-1 since 1959.
When we’re on stage the only relevant thing is doing whatever’s necessary to affect your audience in the moment. Other acts performing before or after you are only relevant in their moment. When you’re on stage it’s your time, your moment.
For me this means not wearing sunglasses. Despite your nerves let your audience see your eyes. Wearing a jacket (unless it’s specifically part of your image) could suggest you’re not staying or at least distract from the ‘now’ moment. A wedding ring doesn’t just advertise your sexual unavailability it suggests you have a life beyond this moment. I don’t even like wearing a watch; no matter how thinly it still suggests that time is an issue. Your performance is all about now. Forget what time it is. And forget about who’s been before or is coming after you. This is your moment to make each audience member pleased they came out tonight.
And so with that in mind how did my last two-song set go?
I lived for the moment. I finished by asking the audience: ‘Only When it’s Saturday or Digging On Faith? Someone said, ’Digging On Faith.’ It came out well. Big and commanding.
I wonder whether Mat had given the same consideration to competition as I had. He closed the night by playing one song of his own. A quiet one? No. A big beefy one. Might he have been trying to compete with me?
So, it’s getting late in the month but the great news is that nerves appear to be receding like the tide leaving an estuary. But estuaries and channels can be very tidal and after leaving, the sea must come rushing back. I’m finding after all of these gigs plus all the open mics I did before starting this book it’s getting harder to be surprised.
The New Scarborough surprised me though. Unlike most of the open mic venues I’ve visited The Scarborough is not an artists’ pub full of people waiting their turn to play. The walk up crowd are mostly people who’ve had a long day at work. They don’t come out specifically to play or even to hear music. Not that I’d have guessed at the start of the evening.
When I arrived Mike who runs the night had already set his PA up and some of the other players had arrived including a drummer-less band called, ‘The World Keeps …’.
With Mike so busy I talked to a chap in his fifties called Richard. He raved about a Saturday open mic night in Wakefield at a venue called Red Shed. I’d never heard of it but he described the venue as nothing more than its name suggested; a red shed. He said the audience there tended to be extremely attentive.
Well that might have been so but when Mike got up in The Scarborough and did four songs people seemed perfectly attentive. Next Richard played four songs and he got a reasonable reception. I didn’t give much thought to the steadily filling pub. The scattering of non-musicians must have doubled and doubled again before I took the mic. More acts came to play too.
As an inexperienced Scarborough-er I dumbly thought they might have some interest in me. Maybe I thought they’d know I’d had a great time rehearsing that day. Maybe my body language ‘signs’ would suggest confidence. Well I did feel confident.
At the mic I explained how I came by the name DaNeo Duran and showed the guitar off. Hmm, that didn’t seem to interest anyone as much as I thought it might.
I then broke one of my most important rules of performing. A rule directly related to stage fright: Take Your Time. Firstly I needed to pee. But I figured (correctly in case you’re wondering) that I’d last the length of my set. I threw my guitar on without straightening the twisted strap. That’s not a biggy but anyone taking their time and taking a moment to relax would have straightened it. I then started Personal Jesus but hadn’t adjusted the mic height either. Maybe I thought I’d transcended such trivialities.
I haven’t. And they’re not trivialities. Getting the mic to the height that’s comfortable for you is very important. Nevertheless I felt confident enough to get through this.
I played the Personal Jesus riff okay but not as okay as I’d have liked. I talked over the top of playing it; telling the audience about the video and the required cowboy stance. Nobody laughed or responded at all. That’s when I realised that unlike Richard and Mike’s set everyone’s attention had deserted me. I decided just to get my head down and get on with the song. What’s The Difference that Makes the Difference? Clearly I had no idea.
I began Heading for the Coast. I’ve noticed practically everyone who stands at the mic singing does so with their feet and legs together. Not me. I reckon get the karate stance at least; maybe even the full rock star leg splay. That night I had to have it to get low enough to sing into the unadjusted mic. At the end of Heading for the Coast I received a round of applause from somewhere but so far as I could see only one man in the pub paid me any heed. He looked like a rough, tough type so I didn’t eyeball him too much. Before I played, Mike the organiser told me he’d enjoyed my Wichita Lineman rendition at the Unicorn and so I said I’d play it.
I played it as my third of four songs and so far as I could see this now full pub had completely turned its attention from me including Mike.
Yes, I did feel nervous. Or something I’d liken to misery. I really wondered what could possibly be the point of my being there. The middle section of Wichita Lineman is tricky and I never play it as accurately as I’d like, even in rehearsal, even when I’ve recorded it. When I played it that night I reckon I made one error. But given my state of mind it threw me. I lost the plot. I didn’t know how to correct the error and felt I could do nothing but stop. So I did. I stopped playing mid-song right in the middle of the pub.
And nobody noticed.
I could have unplugged the guitar, jumped into Beverley’s car and been home with my feet up before anyone would have realised I’d gone.
Pulling myself together though I picked things back up and mumbled on until the end. When I reached the end I don’t recall hearing any change to the level of conversation and can’t remember if anyone clapped. I want to tell you, ‘never mind,’ but right then and there I did mind.
Not waiting I got straight into Digging on Faith, my get out of jail free song. Could I stir things up a bit with this? Probably not it seemed and now I worried that I’d reach the end of the song and the set and how embarrassing it’d be that nobody would even notice. You know things are bad when not even the organiser notices you’re alive or dying.
As long as I get the groove, Digging on Faith is easy enough to play and despite the lack of space I rocked it out as best I could. When I reached the last line of the song I did the only thing I could think of to grab the audience’s attention. I’d practically died on stage and so figured the utterly uninterested crowd may as well have my death kick; my last remaining ounces of strength.
Digging on Faith ends with three notes and the words, ‘Some, day,’ stretched over the last six beats. Well I leaned back off the mic, relaxed my throat and emptied my lungs through my larynx. Those notes are right in the middle of my comfortable range and they came out with God-like loudness. The sound of my voice filled my head deafening me to the crowd’s rowdy chatter. As I let the last note slide from pitch the volume in my head relaxed and … blimey I’d only intended to get Mike’s attention but I’d shocked the room into near silence.
Looking at the perplexed crowd I said, ‘Thank you, I’ve been DaNeo Duran.’
Mike’s attention had been got and he asked for one more round of applause. Great. Now can I go for a pee?
I packed my guitar and headed to the toilets but that rough, tough looking fella I mentioned stopped me. He told me he thought I’d really performed and that had impressed him. He said right from the moment I stepped up to the mic he thought I had ‘something’. Well that’s quite a compliment. He liked the way I’d introduced myself.
It’s a funny thing to receive compliments for what appears to be a job not well done. I guess my ego loves it either way. The guy introduced himself as Kevin and he told me about his own quest in getting to grips with the guitar. I suggested he should get up and give us a blast. He declined though it sounds like something for him to think about in the future. I don’t like giving advice and you might notice this book is about practical suggestions more than actual advice. Nevertheless I advised him if he decides to do open mics or similar that he should when reaching the stage take his time setting up and not rush when there’s twisted guitar straps and mics at the wrong heights.
One other person might have been listening that night. Karen the landlady approached me and asked if I’d like to come back a week on Saturday and try out for Britain’s Got Talent.
If you’re reading this in Britain or are British or even if you’re American you couldn’t help but know what Britain’s Got Talent is. If not, it’s a TV talent show and it’s a national event full of razzmatazz. It’s also a competition. If you get involved then straight away you’re either a winner or a loser. We’ve spent no small portion of this book ridding ourselves of competition’s shackles. When Karen asked me I figured I didn’t want to be part of it. It’s not just for musicians. It caters for artists, dancers, acrobats, comedians, dog trainers, you name it they’ve got it and any of the above could appear as solo artists or in groups.
The few people I know who’ve been along to pre-TV auditions have pointed out that people selected to later appear on TV are generally unusually bad, unusually good/talented or unusually unusual. I’m none of those things. I’m conquering stage fright but I haven’t cultivated The Difference that Makes the Difference; not yet at least. There’s nothing remarkable about me so I’m sure I’m currently of no interest to BGT’s production team. So what did I say to Karen?
I told her I’d be very interested to come along and get in front of a camera. I figured just treat it like another gig. If I try out and don’t get accepted then I won’t see that as a lose because at least I know I’m not being picked due to my quirky lack of talent.
I ended up having a conversation with another solo act of the night. He, Carl, told me he’s all about the voice. I’d missed his set due to talking to Kevin. But I think he’s right. In song, in most cases, more is said with the voice than the guitar. I know that’s an enormous generalisation but I’m finding evermore that despite the complexity and originality of my guitar parts the voice is the thing that really defines the song; the voice and the groove. After this month I want to go back into hefty rehearsals and really strengthen my grooves and the quality of my singing. Then I’ll look further at The Difference that Makes the Difference and write a book about that.
I’m building ideas for it all the time. I imagine I’ll go out and do a whole bunch of gigs again and instead of concerning myself about how nervous I am I’ll be monitoring audience reaction and uptake of social media ‘friends’. I imagine it’ll take quite a bit of preparation. In advance I’m already hoping you’ll read it. Of the ideas coming to mind quality of singing has to be one of them. Having seen so many performers it’s remarkable that only two singers have stood out to me this month. However, a third had just started playing at the Scarborough.
The World Keeps … (and yes the ‘…’ is part of the band’s name) began their set. Their songs didn’t grab me too hard but they had distinction in other ways. They may normally have a drummer but not that night. Like a lot of drummer-less bands they appeared remarkably tight. The bass player kept his eye on his bandmates and marked his groove visually as much as aurally. The principle guitarist had a right Johnny Cash train-chugger rhythm on him and the secondary guitarist filled the harmony. With a little female backing singing the just required a lead singer.
A couple of songs might have gone by before I realised just how good a voice the young man taking lead had. My previous band’s singer Rob, and Hamish’s voice probably had more strength and Lara’s has a more melodious sound but this guy had a tone that I found every bit as appealing as any I’d heard. I found myself wondering if he had any idea just what a gift he had. For some reason I concerned myself that he might miss his chance or not look after his throat.
After they’d played I talked to him. Felix, as is his name, accepted my compliments. Though he didn’t take himself too seriously he appeared to know his vocal strength and character well enough. Since meeting Felix I’ve dug out CDs full of vocal exercises. Whilst I think I’m nailing the exercises in terms of pitch and timing accuracy my lower notes vanish into breath and my up notes certainly lack the clarity of Felix’s. I wonder if there’s anything that can be done. I’ll keep working at it an investigating vocal development.
Friday always seems to be the most difficult day to find somewhere to play and this Friday proved no exception so unfortunately I didn’t get to play. But after Beverley finished her Saturday shift she drove me through to Wakefield and dropped me outside its town centre. With time on my side I strolled taking in the sites. I’d never seen Red Shed but knew where to look.
According to legend the administrators at the new Trinity Shopping Centre had tried and failed to have the shed demolished. Apparently they found Red Shed an eyesore not in keeping with their too close lovely new shopping centre. I figured if I walked around the outside of the shopping centre I’d have to find the shed. So that’s what I did. By the time I found it I’d almost landed back where I started. However, as advertised, I couldn’t have missed it. It’s a big red shed; like a scout hut on the outside but it feels like a working man’s club once you get inside. Interestingly it also seems bigger once inside.
Only Steve (the organiser) and a couple of other acts had arrived but there seemed to be an extraordinary number of guitars on the stage (or performance area). I chatted with the guys there and told them I’d come in from South Leeds.
Steve told me he’d just paid forty-five quid to get the PA fixed. He said he’d had it years and it owed him nothing. He also told me I could get a half decent PA system for two-hundred quid. What? That strikes me as being incredibly cheap. I could go out tomorrow, buy a car and PA and start gigging pubs for a bit of money. My busking amp set me back considerably more than two-hundred quid (not that I’ve found the bottle to use it).
The place started filling and it became apparent that Red Shed attracts people over fifty years of age. The bass player/sound technician looked a bit younger and as the place reached capacity I saw another table looking to be occupied by guys in their twenties.
Steve introduced the first act who I took to be his friend. I learned that generally you play four songs each. The first guy played his four then Richard (from the Scarborough) walked in with his guitar. Steve decided to cut everyone down to three songs each. Ah well.
Another act or two took their turns and it seemed in keeping with the venue’s feel that country music had found its home in West Yorkshire.
My turn. I figured with three songs and a mature audience I should do the Wichita Lineman. On stage I thought to take my time. I adjusted the mic’s height and made sure my guitar strap had no twists. There appeared to be no reason but I did feel a twinge of nerves. Though I had a keenness to get up it didn’t compare to the enthusiasm I’d felt at The Grove.
Like falling off a horse I always feel it’s important to play a song if it got ballsed up last time. Wichita Lineman had suffered a disaster at the Scarborough and I wanted to set that right. However it’s not a good song to open with. It’s one of my most detailed accompaniments. Though it’s easy on the voice it’s not to say that it can be sung well before the vocal cords have warmed up. I had cheered the previous acts to help warm it up but really I didn’t feel prepared vocally or guitar-wise for Wichita Lineman. I shouldn’t have opened with it.
Still I managed the difficult middle section without freezing as I’d done at the Scarborough. I yowl a melody over the top of my added out-section but it seems the voice has to be well and truly ready for that. Get it right or don’t bother with it. Yuck. Never mind.
I next played Heading For the Coast. I supposed I expected a more genuine round of applause. As seemed to be the problem at the Duck and Drake it’s odd singing in first person about bikinis and short dresses. That problem only gets worse singing to an audience of 50-60+ year olds. What’s The Difference that Makes the Difference ? Well one thing that must be considered is singing the right song to the right audience. Maybe that’s all Ed Sheeran’s secret is. Maybe he just found the right people. Maybe he means nothing to 99% of the listening population. But given that the remaining 1% turn up in such vast numbers it doesn’t matter. It’s another point to consider in the future.
For my third and final song I figured on Digging on Faith. I asked the audience if they’d prefer an original song or cheesy cover. I expected them to say original. That’s what everyone says.
Not tonight though. There seemed to be a genuine want for cheese. I wanted to impress them with Digging on Faith but reckoned I’d asked the question so should fulfil on my suggestion. I played Tainted Love and it came out fine.
I stayed for a few acts and happily found one worthy of note. I don’t know his second name but a young lad called Charlie stepped up. He’d played at Red Shed before and had only dropped in that night by chance. He had to borrow a guitar. He played a Billy Bragg song and one or two of his own. He could sing and play. He didn’t use a plectrum and threw a few flamenco-esque strums and trills into the mix. I enjoyed that but best of all this guy could pose. He didn’t exactly tear up the stage but he’d do things like pull the guitar to one side. If performance is about showing the audience what the music looks like then that’s what this guy did. I definitely reckoned he had a few moves for me to emulate.
Not wanting a late night and not knowing a thing about bus times back to Leeds I made my excuses and left. I knew that whichever bus I got I’d still have a hike back to Beverley’s house. Fortunately when I reached the bus station I’d only a minute or so to wait for a bus. Unfortunately when I got on the bus the bus to Kettlethorpe the driver informed me it had come from Leeds. Okay, so let’s go back?
Wakefield it seems isn’t the end of the line. The bus had to press on to Kettlethorpe (south of Leeds and Wakey not north as I’d hoped) before coming back via Wakey to Leeds. Damn. I got back off and looked at the timetable. I had over twenty minutes to wait.
Despite the pretty ladies who’d arrived at the bus stop I grew bored and set off for home on foot; still fairly uncomfortably in my Pumas.
It’s a fairly long hike along roads. I had to ring Beverley so she could check Google Maps to make sure I’d gone the right way.
Arriving home tired and cold I decided not to go all the way to Pudsey the next night. In doing a count I realised in the month of November I’d managed to play twenty-three times.
When I had the idea of gigging every night throughout November I felt sure I’d sap out after a week of it. I can’t believe how much fun it’s been nor can I remember a time when I’d go to bed and feel so excited about waking up. November has been the most enjoyable month I’ve had in years.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this book as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it for you and myself.
My next goal is to toughen my act. The last two gigs have shown me that even when I thought I’d got nerves beaten they still lurked and came back to hassle me. But really it doesn’t matter. I don’t mind feeling nervous. Given the right audience I don’t imagine nerves getting the better of me. I’ve had gigs where I’ve not felt nerves at all and where I couldn’t wait to get up on stage.
I hope you get over your nerves. I hope you get up on stage and enjoy it. And if you do or if you have let’s now consider what we can do next. What can we do to blow the lid off the venue? What’s The Difference that Makes the Difference?
So what’s happening now? Well Christmas interrupted things as it does. I wondered about going to Hong Kong or Shanghai for January 2015 as generally open mics take a month or so to get going again.
As it goes I did feel a little down on the back side of November as I might have expected.
January came and so did some office work. Despite slowing my artist endeavours it felt good replenishing my bank account.
I did a gig in January at Verve and Hayley’s friend Mark told me he’d joined in promoting her nights. He’d Google’d DaNeo Duran and said he couldn’t believe he couldn’t find any covers or tracks recorded.
That put me on a quest to record twenty-four songs acoustically for the internet. I hadn’t got much done before my computer got cut down by a nasty virus.
Also going back over this body of work has taken a surprising amount of time. I wanted it to be as useful and readable for you as possible.
But now it’s almost the end of February and I’ve promised myself that I’ll go out every night of March 2015. Not only that but I intend to play two times a night. One gig or open mic night and one … I’m not sure … something else. Maybe I’ll busk, maybe I’ll stand on a busy roundabout during rush hour and sing from there. Maybe I’ll get on random buses and perform to the passengers. I’m really up for that last idea but fear it the most. The idea terrifies me and I can imagine it causing problems with health and safety standards etc. It’ll all be in the name and quest of becoming The Difference that Makes the Difference. I’ll start writing it on the first of March when hopefully I’ll be back at Verve.
What about stage fright though?
Well, I promise you it is no longer the problem that it has been. Is there one thing or attitude I’ve learned that’s done more to see it off than anything else?
Actually there isn’t so far as I can see. For me beating stage fright into manageability has been about a number of things. Practicing at home to gain confidence. Going out every night to face fears and new or unexpected situations. And allowing both of these two points to filter and into my subconscious mind in order to define myself as the performer I want to be. It’s been about realising a performance is something that happens in a moment and is therefore valuable in that moment irrespective of what act preceded or comes after it. It’s about taking your time before you start playing to ensure you’re as comfortable as possible. It’s about realising each performance and moment’s importance with the proper perspective and proportion; i.e. it’s the most important thing when you’re doing it but there are more important things in life.
And it’s about realising that stage fright (or rather stage courage) is like rhythm. Rhythm isn’t something we as musicians either have or don’t have. We can spend our lives developing it. Stage courage is something we might develop through the above means but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a situation around the next corner or on the next stage that won’t reignite nervousness. In fact my advice would be to keep searching for situations that make you nervous. Read my next book: The Difference that Makes the Difference and see if I find the courage to take my unused Roland Cube Street into Leeds and busk. Find out whether I jump on a bus and record a performance on YouTube. Find out whether you do too. Is this stage fright or is it life fright?
If I can sing to strangers on a bus I’m pretty sure I’ll not be too worried about performing open mic nights. I reckon keeping the nerves high will help focus rehearsals so I keep improving.
At the start of the book I suggested you consider your musical history as I found writing my musical biography helpful. In it a remembered fondly my first proper drum teacher.
Iain would charge by the hour but end up teaching me about the drums and all things musical. The degree to which his influence has affected my life should not go untold. That might seem more pertinent when I say that I haven’t spoken to him since the early 1990s.
Well he crossed paths with my mum recently and so I rang him up out the blue. We chatted on the phone for hours and I told him about this book. Now bear in mind this is a guy who’s played drums in countless bands for decades. He’s a wonderful musician and just like everyone I’ve spoken to he had his unique take on the subject of stage fright.
He said, ‘You’ll never get rid of stage fright.’ His suggestion? Have a beer. But I feel like I have very nearly ridded myself of nerves. The thing is I respect Iain’s opinion too much to dismiss anything he says. He told me that he has just one beer before he plays and that he still almost always gets nervous before he plays.
So with that whatever you do keep an open mind about stage fright. Don’t be arrogant; you never know when your musical or performance life might kick you out of your comfort zone.
Again I’d like to thank everyone who has read Stage Fright: Watch Me Wreck the Mic. Of course I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if you haven’t yet read Little Spirit and Johnny and The USed Wonz I’d love you to enjoy some time with them too.
Need I ask you to leave a review? I’m sure you can imagine how much I’d appreciate your thoughts and feelings. I’d love to hear from you at:
If you have any queries about the content of this book or any other please contact me at:
The Book Cover design was by myself DaNeo Duran who wishes to thank com for providing the font in particular Nestor Delgado for the ‘Expansiva’ font.
DaNeo Duran is a novelist, Leeds University graduate musician and Carol Wilson Performance Coach. He has spent many years in amateur and professional bands and has decades of music industry experience.
During the 1980s he played drums in many bands and throughout the 1990s made a gradual switch to bass guitar. Also during the 1990s he studied Music Production and song writing.
After one too many career disappointments DaNeo turned to novel writing in order to enjoy the so-near-yet-so-far superstar professional success that had at that time eluded him. He now enjoys touring as a musician and promoting his novels.
For plenty more information, music, photos, live appearances and a means to contact DaNeo Duran visit:
And if you’d like to read more books by DaNeo Duran please visit:
Ladies and gentlemen stage fright or performance nerves of any kind can ruin an otherwise well rehearsed performance. This problem might affect you and is common enough to suggest that it'll affect someone you know. Here DaNeo Duran returns to the musical stage. But quickly discovers with shock that away from a band, nervousness en-wraps him during solo appearances robbing his performance potential. Disappointed but determined DaNeo Duran chose to transcend his nervous blight. By studying what makes us nervous and by hitting the problem head on he beat stage fright within one month. Here you can read just how he came to both beat and accept stage fright. Reading this book will fill you with hope as DaNeo Duran's month turned out to be one of his most enjoyable months ever. And should you be affected by stage fright you too will surely beat and accept them too.