The last time I had a gig in Edinburgh it did not go well at all (playing for 45 minutes to an empty venue at 3 in the morning after an eight-hour drive, firing our manager, and returning to a hovel of a wasted apartment full of drunken actors, for which triumph the guitarist missed half of his family’s fortnight holiday in Devon), but when I was most recently in the city for other work I came away with an editorial team for a new book, buy-in for the project from a competing scholar, and the feeling that I might actually be getting somewhere in my chosen – albeit unpaid and as yet non-existent – niche in higher education. So I like my chances.

Showered, and packed for the road, drum stuff all in the hall, toddler car seat removed and indoors, I finish deflecting emails and make it to bed, wired and tired, a little before 2.00 AM. Waking with resentment and resolve at the 5.30 alarm, I make lunch and a flask of coffee before loading the car and heading to the bus stop at Brent Cross shopping centre where Andy the guitarist is waiting with Les Paul and backpack. We’re at the singer’s in under five minutes, and although “on his way”, he takes 25 minutes to get to the front door. Leaving London half an hour later than planned, I mentally shorten our lunch break. The drive is fantastic – motorway, sunshine, heavy traffic all heading in the opposite direction, time on our side – marvellous! I need to re-learn songs for the gig, so stick on the playlist, which sends the singer soundly to sleep – he lies down across the back seats, snoring and occasionally shouting at himself in Hebrew, awaking when we pull over six hours later, in Scotland.

I have to call the bank. Through to an “advisor” after ages on hold, the signal cuts out, and I try again. Ten more minutes… and I ask to extend my overdraft till I am next paid. A conversation ensues that confounds me – I can probably pay the rent without overdraft or the necessary money (?!), but the system has to decide. I ask what the system is, so I can perhaps work out the odds, but am advised that the system is “the system” and that we know not of what parts it is comprises, or how they function together: my rent may go through, or, equally, it might not; same for the overdraft application, which ends up being accepted, but won’t make funds available until after the rent leaves (or doesn’t). Delayed now by 40 minutes, and annoyed that I’ve held us up more than the singer, I advise my estate agent I may (and may not) have the money to keep paying for my family’s home. I face the M74 with irritation and a Whitesnake album, and set the cruise control for 76 mph.

The singer and guitarist arrive in Edinburgh well rested. I download an app to pay for parking and leave the car by the door of the venue – Bannerman’s. We pop in to find a chirpy young lady, all smiles and happy to help, her accent an intriguing blend of Scottish and northeastern European. She shows us upstairs to the band flat. We’re early for sound-check, and the bassist and other guitarist are still in their beds asleep, having arrived the night before. Wringing blood from a stone (my destiny in all bands), I glean from the bassist that we are waiting for the sound man to arrive. I buy a horrendous latte from the charming bartender, whip out my laptop, dive into some emails, and catch up on the office in London.

The sound guy arrives only 40 minutes late, and we head downstairs to the venue and its low, brick ceiling that does not bode well. My wedding ring splits under the weight of the amps in flight cases I’m carrying on top of one other to avoid multiple trips to the car and back. The friendly bartender has been replaced by a shorter, angrier lady who will not permit us free food or alcoholic beverages, but who really is sorry that the boiler is broken so there will be no hot water in the flat for at least another week. (She will later smile coldly as she serves me the greasy, expensive and lukewarm house cheeseburger shortly before we play.)

Set-up begins with a battered Pearl kit, exhumed, and dumped on the stage. After surgery with gaffer tape, felt and pliers, the cymbal stands are usable with caution. Of the floor tom’s three legs, two clearly work fine, and the bass drum’s rickety pins are cause for concern – our guy claims they “are never normally a problem”. Two beats into sound-check, and the bass drum is gliding across the stage, so the resourceful engineer brings breezeblocks to slow the drum’s migration toward the audience. Staggeringly, then, balancing the bog-standard sound of drums, two guitars, bass, backing track and a singer takes a further two-and-a-half hours, in this venue where the engineer works several nights a week. Every mic lead is changed at least twice, and one even gets re-soldered. And still the monitors sound fucking awful.

I struggle to keep down my burger throughout the gig, wishing we’d been warned that the food is appalling, costs too much, and is only be available when  the least conducive to rocking hard for 90 minutes. In every song that we play, the drums and bricks slide coyly away. I pull them back, they move again. I am ever hopeful that the sound man is paying attention and might produce, say, concrete or granite to help with this crap. He does not. During the hard-hitting work-out of Mama Kin the kick drum wanders so far that I pull a muscle in my thigh, the pedal comes off, and I finish up the song playing anything but Aerosmith on the floor tom, which duly collapses. Raging and livid, I walk around the kit, shouting expletives, throwing it back together with the grace and dignity of a marauding orc. The ride stand caves, and when the gig eventually ends I find a 3-inch crack in my Z-Rock crash. Looking forward to replacing the £300 cymbal, I regret again the overpriced, shoddy, veg-free dinner, and ruminate on the parking charges, rivaling central London, being levied on my vehicle while I pack up amid the gig detritus.

Before I can bring myself to lie down in the curtain-less bedroom upstairs, I take up the bassist on the offer of a Carling that she’d sensibly brought up from London and put in the fridge in the flat. Too sober after this, I head back downstairs to try out some Scotch – I mean, when in Rome… A bearded bartender authoritatively recommends the Ardbeg, which I purchase and sip to unwind. Fighting the urge for a second whisky, I instead wash my face with cold water and antibacterial hand-wash, brush my teeth, and pass out in my clothes.

6 hours later it’s a revitalising Edinburgh morning – sunny, chilly and fresh. I go for a run round this beautiful city, scoping it for places I can later have a wash. There’s a piper playing on the Royal Mile – I stop, call my mum so she can hear him too, and sprint back to the flat. Grabbing my laptop, I walk briskly to Pret à Manger, avail myself of the soap and warm water, sit down with a smoothie, sandwich, pastry and coffee, and get cracking with dissertation marking. Twenty minutes I want more coffee, so I order another with a second cheeky pastry. The cashier says I can have the cake free! I chow down, drink up, and get looking for evidence of critical thinking. Four extended essays later, we hit the road for Glasgow, arriving to find a one-way system, a team of helpful roadies, enthusiastic and capable tech crew, a fridge full of beer, a huge, comfy dressing room, and ample changeover time before a butt-kicking gig to a more than appreciative audience of drunk, rocking Scots. This is more like it!

 

 

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