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Rediscovering my Inner Cockroach: Dream Nights, Hecklers and Two-Bit Gigs

This year has so far been characterized by my return to the music scene. Not unsurprisingly this momentous occasion has been heralded with the kind of fanfare usually reserved for the delivery of new text books to old fashioned libraries, but nevertheless, I got back on the horse and have been off the couch and gigging consistently since December last year.

This has been a colourful time then as a result.

I’ve gigged enough to have enjoyed some amazingly wonderful dream nights. Nights where the stars have aligned to introduce me to new and (hopefully mutually) beneficial relationships, to seat me in front of lovely audiences who were apparently on the same bizarre wavelength that I transmit on, where every word I uttered or sang was understood and appreciated. Nights where my voice was golden and my fingers just did what they are supposed to do and otherwise left me to it.

On the flipside, I have had some Hell-gigs, although more often (thankfully) just hell-moments. I tried to throw the biggest night of the year so far to end up slightly embarrassed at the smallest ever turn-out of friends and, for that matter, strangers. The same night I got heckled every time I tried to kick back and explore the dubious realm of the humorous monologue. (“Play us a song Mr Piano Man!” … “Yeah, thanks for that, Mr Tattooed Bogan. Give me a sec – I’ll just get the old baby grand out of my bag.”) And I’ve followed the microphone south during the odd song until I was singing bent over almost double, unable to rectify the situation without stopping the song, pleading with my eyes for a friend to hop up and adjust the stand to no avail, wondering if people were smiling ‘with’ me at the funny lyrics or ‘at’ me and my predicament.

And then there were the nights where my hands shook, the nights I played 100% sober.

That sounds really bad so I need to explain that my hands don’t shake in the absence of alcohol normally, just during gigs when nervous energy seems to make my hands go all crazy and, well, with apologies to spastic people everywhere, spastic. One or two drinks really calms them down. But I must repeat that I don’t drink to make my hands stop shaking at any other time … I just drink to get drunk (ha, ha)

So here’s a quick round up of the gigs so far this year:

Tuesday 20th January – Ruby’s Lounge, Belgrave

This venue is local to me, or has been for the last two and a half years, so it was cool to finally play a gig here. I rocked up on time and was pleased to discover that the sound guy was Jeff Springfield, who sound-engineered my CD. My business partner Steve Mills, also a local, came along but apart from that I knew nobody.

I was pretty sober and out of practice. This meant my hands were shaking and also they simply couldn’t remember what they were supposed to do. Also I had done so few gigs in the last couple of years that I found that everything I was doing was too subtle for a noisy bar. I soon pulled out some good songs that I knew would cut through the noise, but I certainly remembered at this gig that an unknown musician needs to forget subtlety when playing in a rowdy pub and just bust on through the wall of indifference with something exciting, humourous, or at least LOUD.

After the gig I hung around and got quite drunk and met several locals. I also met a couple of musicians who were on that night. I gave away a bunch of CDs.

Yes, that’s right, I give CDs away at gigs. Maybe I will explain why in a separate post one day.

Wed 28th January, Empress Hotel, North Fitzroy

A lovely venue to play and only the third or fourth time I had even played here. I organized the gig and got two others, my mate the talented Shane Walters and a friend of his, the equally awesome Faye Blais, to play as well.

I went on first, because my friends are a bit old 😉 and so I figured they would be more likely to come along on a Wednesday if they knew I would be onstage by 8pm or thereabouts.

Turned out to be a fantastic gig, it was incredibly hot (bushfire season here in Victoria, Australia) but not too bad inside the very dark pub. A good little crowd were there and they seemed to dig what I had to offer. It was the first gig where I deliberately told some pre-written comedy material and it went down a treat. It just seemed to come out of my mouth (for the most part) as if it was spontaneous, which I am discovering really makes all the difference. And of course I threw in some off-the-cuff funnies as well; to various degrees of success (the funniest joke of the night always seems to be one of the better spontaneous remarks). You can view some of the songs from this gig here at YouTube.

Songwriters in the Round, Vibe On Smith, Friday 20th January

This was an unexpected gig (and a pleasure) that came my way via a recommendation from Frank and Robin who organize the Empress Hotel’s open mike night, which I played at in December last year.

I had no idea what the night was going to be like but it turned out to be fantastic. The ‘songwriters in the round‘ is a really interesting concept. What it is three solo acts ‘in the round‘ onstage (well, on chairs in the middle of the room) at the same time, taking turns
to play, with chairs and couches all around the songwriters. Sounds odd but it really works. Lots of funny repartee, and in fact this was the first time I gave some extended and several short comedy bits a go in between songs and realised that I was ‘home’, that this is the missing element from shows. I had known I’d wanted to do this for ages, but it took me a long time to actually do it, but so worth it. Mind you, it wasn’t and still isn’t easy, as the following tales will outline, but this night it went smoothly and I got lots of laughs plus the songs went over well also.

Sat March 7th – Brunswick Hotel, Sydney Road, Brunswick

This was kind of my Hell gig. In actual fact there were several good things about the gig, one being that I got paid for once but as a whole the night was a stinker.

For starters I really put a lot of effort into promoting it as a CD launch to my friends, but weirdly, less of them showed up on this night than the usual smattering of random friends. This sounds so sad but it is in fact a sign of the age that my friends are at now – when you are twenty and you throw a CD launch, everyone comes, when you are 35, nobody really cares. Sad but true.

And the fact is, I don’t care either. What I mean is, I don’t care about getting my friends to come to gigs. What I care about is developing an audience of people who are interested in what I do enough to come and see it.

So I tried my best to be Zen about the no show factor and enjoy hanging out with the few people that did some along. I had to stay sober to drive home too, which in fact exaggerated my down mood, because not drinking when I am in a pub is frankly, depressing for me. I don’t know how people who abstain can even stand going into pubs at all, but that’s just me.

So yeah my hands were shaking because of non-calmed-down-by-beer nerves and then to really make it fun, some bogan up the back heckled me severely when I was trying on a comedy routine and I discovered that I need a little practice at dealing with that. I wasn’t upset, I just forgot where I was and the bit was ruined. Thankfully, unlike most regular comedians, I have cool songs that I can launch into and hide behind.

Friday March 13th – Vibe On Smith, Songwriters in the Round

In direct contrast to the last gig, my second go at Songwriters in the Round was a fantastic and nearly perfect gig. It just all went so smoothly, the songs, the comedy, and the guys I was onstage with were awesome too. I just want to replay that gig every night for the rest of my life.

Wednesday March 18th Ruby’s Lounge and Scarab Bar

Back to my local area, I started this gig to a massive crowd of Jeff the sound guy, the bartender and my best mate from when we were teenagers, Peter (who just suddenly appeared in my life again).

Thankfully by halfway through the set a few people did arrive who were keen enough and so I ended up extending my set to play the songs they had missed earlier. The music went well, but the comedy on this night went down like a lead balloon, except for the spontaneous comments.

Two girls gave me a piece of paper with some lyrics for me to sing. They were certainly very talented at songwriting I must say, and this was probably the best song of the night *cough*. Was a good laugh though.

After the set I hung out with the people who had been listening to my set and gave them all CDs. Then we went across the road to the Scarab Bar, a tiny bar that stays open late. I was relieved to discover that despite the way I had carried on there the other week (like a mad, hairy Irish boozehound) my arrival didn’t raise any eyebrows amongst the staff. I guess it’s just that kind of joint.

I got speaking to the band, and they asked me to get up and do a set, so being quite sober still (but not hand-shakingly so) I got up and did a nice little set and in fact the sound was lovely. It seemed to go down quite well, although again my comedy bits were off.

I then proceeded to hang around and get utterly smashed seeing as I was just up the hill from my house and all.

In the morning this excuse didn’t seem as convincing as it had the night before, causing me to write this song lyric:

An Interesting Life

It’s one thirty AM,

I’m at the Scarab Bar again,

Drinking and carousing with my new friends.


One and all,

None of whom I will recall,


When I’m writhing ‘round in pain.

It’s the cost,

It’s the price,

Of an interesting life.

You take off into the air,

Just like a plane.

You climb higher,

And higher,

Until your wings catch on fire,

Then you plummet,

Back to the planet,

Once again…

1 Comment on Rediscovering my Inner Cockroach: Dream Nights, Hecklers and Two-Bit Gigs

  1. Robin
    March 22, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Hi Seamus – you did another songwriters in the round thing! Great! We really enjoyed your performance at the first one.

    I don’t think it’s just non-young people who find it hard to get their friends to go to gigs – we find it all the time with people of all ages. Empty rooms because their friends have already been to so many gigs before.

    Keep it up!

    Cheers – Robin

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