Friday, February 28, 2003

Hallo there,

Just a quick note - I don't know how to make a guestbook or anything like that, but there's one on the Assistant homepage, so if you'd like to leave a message you can do so by following the links below.

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jonathan x

Monday, February 24, 2003

On Wednesday 19th February 2003 Assistant became a figment of reality. It was one of the strangest and longest days in memory, actually, seeming to last forever as the day shifted agonising towards our set, and then to rocket by in a flash as though time was being stretched out like an elastic band and then pinged back fast into normality.

At around 11am I had a phone call from Ben, the thoroughly nice bloke who runs the Bootleggers Ball, telling me that, amongst other things, we’d be headlining the night, which came as a bit of a shock as we assumed that we would in effect be the third band in the scheme of the things. As it turned out, only ourselves and The Candidates played. Nevertheless all of a sudden the wait until we were on was lengthened yet further. Headlining would mean we wouldn’t be on stage until midnight. Which left plenty of time, of course, for nerves.

But it didn’t actually quite happen that way – all along I thought that I would feel terrible before the gig and fantastic during it, but I didn’t feel too bad – if anything more nervous on stage that off. When we started playing I didn’t relax instantly the way I thought I might - it made me think of being in a car and being unable to apply the brakes; one has to just keep going and turning the corners. But we didn’t crash.

After a really long day we met at the venue at 7pm, and carried out our first soundcheck; I suppose it was at this point that we were at our most panicky; the dynamics of am empty club are strange, cold, and a bit intimidating. Conversely Ben and The Candidates were welcoming and friendly. Once we were on stage and playing it felt amazing, actually, although again it’s a disorientating experience – the temptation, particularly, to put one’s head down and sing through the nose at minimal volume is great. But it doesn’t work that way – to make yourself heard you have to really project. Actually, credit should go to Andy here, who ripped through Bomba with gusto. Soundchecking Losin’ My Mind, with it’s glottal stops and half-spontaneous lyrics made me feel extremely silly, but the other band met it with it with warm, kind applause. Suddenly a cloud of nervousness was lifted, for which I have to thank them, and us, for it was at that point when I first thought ‘maybe we’re just like any other band, not something which will incite pity or embarrassment'. So I felt OK from there.

Yet the downside of soundchecking so early and playing so late meant that we now had three and a half hours to kill. Ali, once more showing a sensibility beyond his years decided to go home and relax. Anne-Sophie, Pete, Andy and myself, demonstrating a mentality symptomatic of our lifestyles, went to the pub, but not until we had met up with friends – Victoria, Sam, Andrew, Chris and one or two others. It was a comfort to know that there were people around who would treat us kindly, and good to see people like Chris travelling to Brighton to see us. Good work. Arriving at the venue we found further friends; Carrie, Jeanne, David from The Feline Dream and various other mates. Thanks for coming down to those people.

All the same the reality tends to kick in at this point and you find yourself thinking ‘my god, is this really happening?’. Several times throughout the night I found myself suddenly remembering that I would be onstage in a matter of hours where I had all but forgotten moments earlier.

The Candidates went onstage at about 11.15. We were lucky to have such a nice band to be playing with us; the singer even going so far as to intimate they were there to ‘warm up’ the crowd for us. The Candidates themselves were, I thought, very good – tuneful, classic indie pop with warmth and feeling. The singer in particular was charismatic and funny, a good frontman. They were at least as good as any number of bands in the limelight at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to play with them again, and maybe we could warm up their fans next time.

Once they finished there was a lull as we suddenly realised that in the following moments we would have to get ourselves together and prepare to play. I seemed to spend the entire next twenty minutes on the stage looking nervously at my guitar and out into the crowd, who had gathered in reasonable numbers around the stage. I still didn’t feel that nervous, but instead like a bit of an imbecile, awkwardly out front when I wanted to be tucked into the crowd. We didn’t know when to start. We got pretty much ready and then me and Pete went and bought a beer each. We must have been nervous by then because as I write this my stomach is churning a little with tension, remembering how it felt. Now I can feel my hands tingling a bit. But we got on stage OK and the music stopped. I decided not to say anything until the first song was over. And then we played It’s Alright.

Everyone warned me in advance that the easiest trap to fall into is playing too fast. And falling to me as it did to start the first song, I scrunched my eyes up and tried to play it slow. As the opening chords came out it sounded like I was playing them at half the usual pace. By the time the drums and bass had joined in I realised the pace was right. Which just goes to show how difficult it was keeping the songs under control. The song went well though – Ali curtailed the close as we had discussed, reasoning that although it’s tempting to be as difficult as possible, doing so in the first song when you’ve already dispensed with the idea of having a chorus may not be the most inclusive idea. So we cut it short, and did it right.

From there on in (for a while) it was pretty good. Losin’ My Mind we played a bit too fast but after that Bomba and Broken were much improved. Playing Get Away I thought to myself ‘This is probably as good as we’ve played’, and I think I was right – when we get this song right we sound fantastic. It's strange that this song seems to have just evolved into something without us directing it. I can't remember how it all came together, who suggested which chords, when the chorus acquired lyrics, how we managed to impose some kind of form onto it - but it works well. At the gig we gave this one everything we had. We sang and we smiled and we bashed at our guitars until they were thoroughly, hopelessly out of tune.

And had no tuning pedals to help us correct the problem. Obviously it’s common practice to have them but we didn’t really give it much thought and didn’t have time to get ourselves back in tune onstage. It was awkward. The remaining songs were done well enough but everything was accompanied by cautious glances between us as we tried to work out just how mis-aligned our de-tuned strings were. There was a definite loss of confidence. At the time, I felt we'd blown it. An over-reaction, judging by the kind and enthusiastic reports we got afterwards, but I felt a bit shaken and upset that the good start hadn't been maintained. It seemed so obvious too that it would happen, and that we didn't have the means to get it right felt so unfair. Of course, if we had brazened it out a bit more people might hardly have noticed, but...

It didn't matter, not really. Of the remaining songs Freaks in particular stood out as a song that'll just get better and better, and the rest probably sounded pretty good too, but for the fact that that feeling of confidence had gone a little; it does make a difference you see – it’s the difference between singing at full pelt and falling away, between really playing with conviction and abandon and going – to an extent – through the motions. But when we finished the crowd cheered, and it wasn’t long after that that we had time to think and realised 'fuck it, we enjoyed that'. And we can be much better next time. We will be.

And how does it feel being on stage playing? It is scary, but it is exhilarating. It is exciting, buoying, brilliant, but it needs confidence and it needs you to be able to say 'fuck it'; it can be a strain to stay on top of the momentum and a strain to keep your head. But god, it's fun.

Most of all, though, it's over much, much too soon.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

not having been that good at keeping up with my diary recenty, I feel like a guilty husband who has to return home to tell all. Okay, not that bad but I sympathise with him if he ever thought he had nothing more to say to his wife. Maybe that's what happens when you keep rehearsng without other diversions along the way. But I'm not saying that recent rehearsals have been boring or that any of my enthusiasm has dampened. Nevertheless, I was wondering what I would keep writing about the band and our slow march of practice sessions on this site, what I could say which wouldn't bore you (the hypothetical you) to tears, or worse, which would singularly fail to do justice to the giddy pleasure of being in our band. Despite the fact that we were just rehearsing and not playng live or recording, I haven't been bored. But finding the words to reflect this enthusiasm is very difficult. Maybe I find it easier playing guitar than I do writing? I don't think so, but all the same, where do you go when your diary becomes a weeping wife? Why do the boring keep these things? Why be reminded?

But (there's a but), there has been some news. So now I get to confess all, and finally write something interesting.

First (and best), Assistant will be playing our first ever gig at Casablancas in Brighton on Wednesday 19th February 2003. Details can be got from the Assistant website. The night is known as The Bootlegger's Ball, and is a new (and seemingly successful) Band Showcase night; three bands playing and running from 9.30 'til 2 in the morning. We don't yet know what time we are on but we've been promised a 30/40 minute set, which is really good, as it cuts down the problem of culling our set (of which more later) and means we have time to play a few songs. I don't know who else is playing yet either, but the increasingly in-the-public-eye Clearlake headlined last week, so I don't think we are dealing with quite the same level of amateurism as we did in our ultmately fruitless contact with The Toad last year. Pete went to watch the first night and noted all the (reassuring or panic-inducing?) signs - the sound is good, the evening was well attended. And we may be nervous but we are also ready, so I'm looking forward to it unashamedly, without reserve. About fucking time, too.

2. And bad news always follows good. Well, news which has sorrowful ramifications for the band anyway. Anne-Sophie, our dazzlingly continental keyboardist, has just got a job in Luxembourg. Of couse,this is jolly good news for her, but it means that she is leaving us, at least she is assuming that she does not come back to Brighton. In the hope that she will, we're calling it a sabattical. Who knows though - she'll be greatly missed, and not just coz she makes cool noises. This makes attendence at next week's gig doubly essential, I need scarcely hasten to add - if you want to see the five-piece in all it's angular glory, that is.

3. Not so much news, I suppose, but an update on rehearsals is probably due. Mostly we've been working on refining the set, although we've found time to do some more work on Freaks (now sounding really great) and Sleepwalk (complete with gorgeous intro and a bit less clutter). Trimming our songs down to a setlist has proved really difficult, of course, particularly when people have preferences. Pete and I were musing on how hard it must be to pull together an album. Nevertheless, we decided on a setlist consisting of...

1. It's Alright
2. Losing my Mind
3. Bomba
4. Broken
5. John Wyndham
6. Get Away
7. Tonight
8. No-one need ever know
9. Reasoned
10. Freaks
11. I want a cigarette.

Having said that, with one rehearsal to go... who knows. This time next week we may be playing a 40 minute bass odyssey.