Sep 23

Jack of all Trades

Jack of all Trades

And make it look like you are just the master of one


So its been quite a week gigging wise.  I have done 10 gigs over the last seven days and was offered even more as the week wore on.  I realise I am fortunate to have so much work at the moment, the last few years have not been easy.  In addition to the global financial crisis our Island was hit by a series of political scandals which resulted in a number of arrests and detentions at the local political level and a few other higher profile scuffles that had been dragging on for years.  This really dragged us down and in a country with 26% average unemployment, we were pulling that figure down with a staggering 40%.

To say it’s been tough is a bit of an understatement, but I have managed to keep working throughout, with only a few dips in the gig list.  In order to do this I needed to be sensitive to other businesses and not be greedy, taking what money was offered and available at the time rather than insisting on a non-crisis sized wage. It was hard walking away sometimes with nothing, but I felt it worth at least trying to attract the very few people who were around as opposed to sitting on my sofa worrying about it.  I think that it paid off, I have more offers of work than I can deal with right now and many of those offers have come from people I helped out.  Others have increased my wage as their takings have increased and this also proves the value in loyalty on both sides.  One person I work for has had me gainfully employed in one or other of his venues since 1986 so that’s not bad is it.

My town, Costa Teguise, here in Lanzarote seems to have had a marked lift in its visitor numbers for some reason since the school summer holidays ended. The audiences are virtually child free and consist of mostly couples who can sit and concentrate on music without staring into a phone screen, scared to miss a single Facebook update.

The volume of gigs does throw up some issues that I wanted to have a little rant about, but it’s basically about being prepared.

Wednesday evenings I play in a hotel with a grand piano in the bar.  It’s a strange affair as the bar is basically a big-top like tent with seating for up to 500 people and this week it was full.  Being a tent though, it’s temperature can fluctuate quite a lot and this is bad new for the piano.  I start playing it as it is cooling down from the days sunshine and this week, two songs from the end of a set one of the strings slipped completely sending two notes madly out of tune – to the point they were unplayable.  We managed to get to the break and I lifted the lid off and grabbed my crank and rubber wedge.  I am far from being a piano tuner.  A good friend of mine is a fine piano tuner though.  He has helped me over the years by allowing me to sit in while he has tuned and not get too annoyed with my constant questioning.  So while the muzak was blaring out and with 500 people looking up at me under the stage lights, I crouched over the tuning pegs and managed to get the piano back to a playable state.

Monday night, without warning, a microphone cable ceased to work.  I had a temporary spare so the night wasn’t ruined, but I had a cable to repair.  I fished out my trusty gas soldering iron and it was also dead.  Full of gas and with a good spark, but no flame.  Tuesday I spent first trying to get the soldering iron working, which involved stripping it,  but I could not get the gas to flow so I ordered a new one. Then I set about the cable repair.  Stripping wire, tinning the joints, soldering all together then a round of strengthening measures using copious amounts of heat shrinkable sleeve.  Wednesday I just had the piano to deal with, then Thursday arrived and a speaker cable gave up the ghost – still without a soldering iron in my repair pocket, I made do using a tooth pick and some tape as my spare cable was also in need of attention.  So that brings me to Friday and another soldering session to bring the speaker cables and the spare back up to scratch.

I have been using an android tablet as the player for my backing tracks and a friend kindly made me a small plinth that sits on the piano top and looks a bit like a small music stand.  I like my Yamaha pianos sound and its lightweight portability, but it does tend to make the piano move about a bit while playing and this makes the plinth unstable as well as unreadable at times. I set about designing something that would clip to my mic stand and it’s almost finished, I just have some painting to do and it’s ready to go.

My trolley – hand-made and designed by myself and made from two different trolleys that were both only half able to do the job I wanted them to do – also developed a problem, at 11.30 pm in a dark street while getting my gear from A to B.  It was just a bolt had worked loose but it had done so as I crossed a drain cover and jumped ship at the most inconvenient time for me.  I got it back to B – my van – and repaired it easily the next day, but it was another thing to do that would keep me from my keyboard.

So basically my week has been taken up with many tasks that have nothing to do with making music. I needed to be able to carry out these tasks to get through the week.  If I couldn’t I wouldn’t have gotten paid.

I carry a small tool kit with me, basically a Swiss army knife and a soldering iron, but the knife does many things, I have even used it as a hammer once.  Gaffa (duct) tape is useful to have, as well as normal electricians tape, but everything extra adds weight, needs restocking and none of it may come out of the bag for a year or more, however the warped rules of the Gig Gremlin Overlord dictate that if you remove anything from your kit, it will be the very first thing you need the next night, so try to put up with carting it all around with you.

30 years ago, I couldn’t solder or tune a piano,  but the skills were easy to acquire. Most (I’ll leave it to you to decide what “most” means) guitarists can tune a guitar so how hard can it be to learn to pull the odd piano string up to pitch.  Cables will all wear out eventually, even static cables give up – as I can confirm after many summer seasons in a resident situation, sometimes for no reason a cable packs up mid gig.  So cable repair is something we get used to doing unless we are paid enough to throw away and buy a new one – I have never been paid that much. The quality of your soldering skills will directly reflect the frequency of cable failure and so getting this right will cut the trauma, practice is the key as with anything.

It’s also the end of the month so time to get the invoices ready (Accounts), check the dates for the coming weeks (Agency and PR) deal with the new enquiries (Secretary) update my gig list on this website (Webmaster) New tires on the van (Transport Manager) new songs (Recording engineer and producer) the list is as endless and tedious as anyone else’s day-to-day working life, but the fact is, we need to be competent at many things before we even think about practicing or playing a note.  And do you know what – there are STILL people who say  “huh, what a charmed life, two hours work a day and that’s it for you, I have to do 50 hours a week for that money”

To those people, my tooth is firmly thumbed.  I didn’t play football or go out with my mates as a kid, I stayed home most nights and played piano and guitar, soldered transistors, wrote music out, listened to more music than you can imagine, experimented with different styles, fiddled with gear, opened up amps to see what was inside, had my fair share of electric shocks, studied how drummers did what they do, eventually did gigs and learned to drive. Then I moved away from home and I had to learn to cook, wash laundry, iron shirts, present accounts, write invoices, go get gigs etc.   Nobody I know who is a musician does just “two hours a night and that’s it”

Not one of them.

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