In many ways, it is dealing with one’s psychological problems in front of people. They say that everyone who gets on stage does so to confront, or suppress, some mental dichotomy. For my own part, I am a natural show-off but I have absolutely no confidence. I hate the way I look yet I spend most of my life posing. I can play the guitar to an adequate level but I don’t like to do it in front of people in case they think I’m shite. When we did our first gig on the 14th of September 2004 at The Haworth Arms in Hull, I told exactly no-one, because I didn’t want anyone to turn up. The line-up that would take the stage that night had been together for seven weeks. It was idiotic to do a reasonably big venue so early. I expected a few stragglers from work that Andy had told, and the crowd that the headlining acts would bring in. I was absolutely terrified even to get on stage in front of those people, even though it’s so much easier to perform in front of strangers. As it turned out Danny had told Jamie, Jamie told Cousin Devvers, and Cousin Devvers told everyone. Eventually about forty people that I knew were in the audience on top of the fifty or sixty already there. Petrifying.
I had been at work that day, washing pots, making lasagne and frying chips. Everyone knew we were doing a show, yet until a week or so earlier, no-one had given a toss. They had made their derogatory remarks and told us that we were deluding ourselves. Until this one new girl who looked like an alien supermodel with her cheekbones and eyes and personality managed to whip everyone into line and demanded that they march down to the Haworth. At about four o’clock that afternoon, they all man-handled me into the corner of the prep area with their questions. Are you nervous? What if you forget your words? What outfit are you wearing? Yeah, that really helped.
What outfit are you wearing? It hadn’t even crossed my mind. I got home from work at about six o’clock. I ran up to my room and pressed play on the video (I didn’t have a DVD player in 2004) in the hope that whatever was in there would distract me. It was the tour video of Suede’s Dog Man Star album. Anderson wore a fitted white shirt and tight black trousers. It looked pretty cool. I had the same in my wardrobe. I put them on. I’d been drinking heavily for the previous three or four months, so my hair was short, as it always is when I’m on a bender, as if on some sub-conscious level the neatness of the appearance would mask the excessive behaviour. I looked okay. It would do. I hadn’t eaten all day in an attempt to prevent any on-stage stomach problems and I’d drank nothing but coffee. I threw my guitar into its bag and wandered out into the drizzle to wait for my cab.
When I arrived at the Haworth the nerves really started to overwhelm me, especially when I saw so many people I knew filing through the doors from my vantage point at the top of the stairs. Shindig were headlining, it was their show and we practiced in their studio. I can’t remember who was on second, then there we were, at the bottom of the poster, no logo yet, just SAL PARADISE in bold capital letters. We did the soundcheck, which when it becomes part of the routine turns into the most boring experience anyone can go through. That night however, it was just something else that caused my heart-rate to fluctuate. We did a verse and chorus of Hate and Regret. It struck me that I could hear my voice coming back at me from the other end of the room. It was a decent P.A. I picked up my pint of Tetley’s, and wandered over to the emergency exit door, which was open. I stood on the fire escape and lit a cigarette. Then another. And another….
The stage fright had now become all-consuming and desperate. Only one experience in my life could equate to it and that was from when I was about eight years old. My father had taken me for my first swimming lesson and I was absolutely petrified of the water. I did not want to go in that swimming pool. I stood there practically wrestling with my dad at the side of the pool while the rest of the class and the instructor looked on, slack-jawed. Eventually he got me changed and took me home. I can’t swim to this day. And that night at the Haworth was the same. I did not want to go on that stage. I was stood on that fire escape shaking as I chain smoked. But why? This was not running across no-mans-land in the First World War. It was not the fire fighters running into the Twin Towers on 9/11. It was a 22 year old kid snarling a few punk songs at a crowd of about eighty people who, in two hours time, would be too pissed to remember whether we’d been any good or not anyway. I’d seen Phil Wilson do it God knows how many times. Matt Edible too. And they did it by themselves. Solo. Without the band to fall back on. My Dickie’s satchel was at my feet. I knelt down and pulled the setlist out that I’d so lovingly typed up the night before.
HATE AND REGRET
I CAN SEE A BOY
And then, at the bottom of the page, I’d handwritten a quote, in that pretentious, wish I was in The Manic Street Preachers-way that I would do on every single setlist we ever had.
“I’m looking to open people’s eyes. I’ll fail, but in the process I’ll get self-satisfaction. And a minority, a strong minority, will listen.” Scott Walker
Your head is full of magic when you’re that age.
As I contemplated ringing the bar from my mobile to tell them in an Irish accent that I’d planted a bomb, Berry stuck his head round the fire door, drumsticks in hand.
“You ready?” he said. I suppose it was now or never.
I tried my best to swagger over to the stage, but it probably looked like I was walking to a bus stop. I looked at Andrew, who had already strapped his bass on. I looked into his eyes. It had been our idea. Just me and him, from the start. Leigh’s guitar was red. Danny’s was blue. Here we were. I closed my eyes, held the mic for dear life and counted 1-2-3-4. A screaming cacophony emanated from behind me and I didn’t open my eyes for the next twenty-five minutes. It seemed like thirty seconds.
We came offstage to good applause. Even some cheers from the work lot. I wasn’t shaking anymore. I bought a pint and a shot while the rhythm section had their first ever traditional after-show hug. We dropped our gear off at Danny’s brother’s house round the corner and walked to Piper to get lashed. We stood there, all five of us, euphoric after putting on our first ever show. It felt good.
Little did we know that it felt as good as it ever would.
Allen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 23 month-old daughter whose favourite band are The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by anyone ever. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx