Life Begins at the Hope
A drummer's-eye view
Well, it's finally here. The gig that we've been working towards for so long. And, despite the many gigs I have under my belt, tonight I'm somewhat on edge. Because tonight, for the first time in a good few years, is a debut performance.
And what a debut. I've played in tribute bands for the last few years, but this is different. Because this is XTC.
When you play the tribute circuit, people aren't coming to see you. They're coming for a night out, and you just happen to be the entertainment. Perhaps, if they've seen you before and liked you, or if they just like the act you're attempting to clone, they might come to see you rather than go somewhere else. But they're out purely to have a good time, what matters to them is that they've gone somewhere.
But tonight I'm tributing a band who are not well known on the tribute circuit. Or indeed at all. If people come and see us tonight it's because they very specifically came to see us. To hear songs played live which they will not hear anywhere else. To see if we can do justice to the band that gave us those songs. Tonight we are playing to fans. Fellow fans. They actually have a personal stake in what happens tonight. Just as we do.
OK, quit with the navel-gazing already. I'm nervous. 'Nuff said.
The music venue part of the Hope and Anchor is the downstairs bar. One might be tempted to describe this room as being the size of a shoebox, provided you could find a sufficiently small shoebox, but this would then leave you the challenge of finding suitable words to describe the stage. Matchbox springs to mind. So does postage stamp.
And onto this we somehow have to fit four musicians and all their gear. Hmmm. Stripping down my kit isn't an option, so I squeeze (what? What do I mean, "isn't an option"? What kind of a question is that? Look, it just isn't, OK? Deal.) Where was I? Oh yes. I squeeze into the back corner as best I can, which thankfully leaves just enough space for the guys to get their amps on, so everything's OK. (What? How am I getting in and out of my kit? Well, obviously I've left enough room to do that... errm... somewhere... look, that's my problem, OK? Stop asking stupid questions.)
Once we've got everything set up, we strip our planned three-song soundcheck down to two half-songs, then get out of the way so the support bands can set their gear up. Back upstairs I spend a lot of time looking out for a bunch of friends who are planning on being here. Wondering when, or indeed if, they're going to make it is not helping my nerves just now.
The pub begins to fill, and Dan begins distributing flyers. It's reassuring to find some people have already printed their own from the website. It's also scary.
It gets scarier as I head downstairs to catch the support acts, and find myself being stopped by several people to ask what's in the set. None of them know me. None of them were here for the soundcheck. But they all know I'm in the band, because they've seen my picture on the website.
We're on a tight schedule tonight; if we go onstage any later than 10:15 we won't have time for the entire set. This gives us barely 10 minutes after the second support act, so as their set draws to a close I get ready for a quick changeover. Within five minutes I'm seated behind the kit, wedged in tight, there to remain until the gig is over. OK, so could someone pass me my water bottle please? Thank you, and my setlist...
Our intro tape, Dan's XTC megamix, plays us in, and as soon as that finishes it's showtime. We kick in with the frenetic Radios In Motion which, with little or no warm up, is a hellish opener. I'm concentrating on keeping up the breakneck pace without faltering, but I can just feel the amusement of the crowd at Dan's demented Andy Partridge vocals. This is reassuring, I tell myself. This is going to work.
The medley of Life Begins At the Hop, Mekkanik Dancing, and This Is Pop ensures the pace won't be dropping anytime soon. ...Dancing is a song I've discovered only recently through being in the band, and it's quickly become one of my favourites to play. It locks quickly into a tight groove, and for the first time this evening I forget about worrying whether this is working and start to just seriously enjoy myself.
A ring of spotlights surrounds the stage, so from the drumstool I can't see anyone. My bandmates are silhouetted black against orange, and beyond them the front row of the crowd are a faint blur of orange against black. The only time I can see the guys is when they turn around to laugh at my mistakes, or away from the audience as they wince at their own. So I don't see much of them at all. *cough*.
Mostly I'm just concentrating on getting the drums right. The kick and snare are mic'd, but nothing else is, so the only way to make the drums sound right is to abandon any pretence of finesse and just pound them until they bleed... or I do. Though since most of tonight's set is Terry Chambers material this doesn't present too much of a problem.
Earn Enough For Us requires a somewhat more relaxed feel, and just about gets it. Complicated Game and No Language In Our Lungs slow the pace a bit (thankfully), before Ball And Chain kicks the energy levels back up.
Ed switches to acoustic, and Dan to bass for Senses Working Overtime. They stay that way for Dear God, with string section courtesy of Ed's guitar synth, and then a deceptive acoustic lead-in to Mayor Of Simpleton. This song has given us trouble from day one, and it's only in the last few weeks that it's really come together, so it's a relief to hear it come off smoothly tonight. Then Dan and Ed switch instruments again for the inevitable Making Plans For Nigel.
But if there's a standout memory from this evening, it's when Mick picks out the opening chords of Respectable Street, and the crowd sings the opening sections back at us, just like the crowd on the live performance on Transistor Blast. For a moment it's less like playing a gig, more like being among friends.
Generals And Majors brings the main set to a close, but no sooner have we finished than we're back on stage for a blistering version of Sgt. Rock. And then, after a few hasty words with the management, it seems we have time for just one more, so we finish with Are You Receiving Me.
And that's it. Game over.
After we come offstage it's amazing how many people take the time to congratulate us on the performance. "Terry would have been proud", someone tells me. Still breathless, I can barely manage more than brief words of thanks. It's just too overwhelming.
I'm a relative newcomer to XTC, and I've only started to become a hardcore fan since joining this band. And it's been thoroughly enjoyable to be able to play these songs live, and to do so before such an appreciative audience. But for Dan this is the fulfillment of a dream, one which he has worked very hard to bring about. So as I drive homeward down the motorway leaving London behind me, it's a touching close to the evening to receive a text message from him which simply reads, "thank you." You're welcome, mate. Believe me, it was a pleasure.
Adrian Ogden, 23 Sep 2002. firstname.lastname@example.org