Thursday, 2 October 2014

It's not the size that counts

When I first started writing this blog of mine, kit was king. The more speakers the boy had the more respect he could garner from his peers. And man did we have respect.

When one of your number works for a leading musical equipment retailer, then the sky’s the limit. And I mean there is no limit apart from what we are able to stuff into our tired trailer. And in that CJ could cram a quart into a pint jar, well that is a LOT of space available to satisfy our egos.

At one point Guitarist Aaron & I were carting around five 4 x 12” speaker cabs, one 4 x 10” speaker, one 2 x 12” speaker, a bass practice amp and a small 10” guitar practice amp…….just in case. The amps were even heavier and Aaron’s Marshall alone could make a Sumo wrestler blush with shame. If any of that lot decided at some point to topple (and it had happened to us on several occasions), there could be fatalities. I have to confess I didn’t really want to look as flat as Wilily Coyote after he had been introduced to the Acme one tonne weight by Roadrunner.

It was also getting to be a genuine drag carrying all this kit through the most inappropriate walkways and inebriated punters, upstairs and down, to get to the stage and then, when on our last brain cell at the end of the night, fight our way back through the well-oiled crowd to get back to the wagon. Also, it was beginning to take longer and longer to set our stuff up. We were often soaked through with sweat and covered in grime before we had even begun to tune the guitars. Taking it down became a 45 minute chore that we were beginning to resent, especially at 01:00am in the morning.

You have read before of my egocentric longing for a world class road crew. However; bands of our status do not elicit the aid of road crews. In the early days we had helpful mates that would accompany us from gig to gig. But after a decade of solid gigging they had wandered off into the distance, bored of sitting in some lonely corner clutching a pint of something cold that was never intended to be green, listening to the same old music they had heard since about 2008.

Then, on one occasion many years ago I witnessed a band that had no equipment or speakers on stage apart from the drum kit and the guitars themselves. I was really impressed as it was an enormous sound from no discernable source.

I mentioned this to Aaron and he informed me that they would have been using in ear monitoring with the guitars going through a kind of DI box that went straight into the PA and that could give all the effect of plugging into a huge bank of Marshalls or, if is your want, a single Vox AC30.

The in-ear monitoring was right out from the start. At the time it cost in the region of £2,500 per set, we would need three and we are poor lads from the South of Bristol, we couldn’t raise that kind of money.

The DI (Directional Input) boxes were another matter. Not that expensive at all. So I enquired of the lad if these would be a possibility for us as a band. The look that was given, along with the expression ‘NO!’ encouraged me to never and I mean NEVER raise the subject again. Such was the depth of Aaron’s rejection of the subject that I was quickly made to realise that nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, was going to stand between our Axe Man and his ‘stack’.

Years came and went, backs became increasingly in need of Deep Heat and fairly intensive back rubs. The audiences got smaller, the venues became fewer and farther between and the need to cart around the same level of kit as Motorhead was clearly becoming absurd.

Then, one day, that glorious day that I shall never forget, that still brings happiness to my heart and a tear to my eye every time I recount the tale (I’m welling up as we speak), Aaron arrived at our house ahead of our collection by CJ and the trailer with two small boxes under his arm. One about the size of a lap top, the other the size of a paperback novel. My enquiries as to what were in these boxes was met with a ‘you’ll see’.

When we arrived at the venue I was greeted with a sense of dumb shock when we threw open the doors of the trailer. It was half empty.

“Where are all the cabs?” I demanded to know in that incredulous tone that would suggest I was dealing with idiots, and very forgetful and careless idiots at that. “And where’s my bass amp?

“We don’t need em” was the chirpy reply from our erstwhile guitarist.

Now I knew that Aaron had been under the usual enormous amount of pressure that is the obligation of the new father to withstand. I should know, I’m Aaron’s dad, and my grandson is the spitting image (if a considerably shorter and cuter version) of his old man in look and personality. But as I stood there bereft of amplification with a pub full of beer fuelled music lovers already becoming impatient at the lack of rock anthems of ear splitting intensity, I came to the conclusion that my son and heir had well and truly ‘lost it’. The lights were on but Jimi Hendrix was most definitely NOT at home.

“We don’t need em because we have these”, said Aaron as he proffered the two small boxes for my sceptical inspection. “They are DI’s”.

And that was it, the beginning of a new era. Out of two boxes, the bass version being smaller than my lunch box, we produce a glorious noise that is every bit as powerful as from the mountain of speakers that were going to reduce us to stooped and broken old men well before our time.

I have never been so pleased. Okay sure, it doesn’t have quite the same visual resonance of the rock pose affront the mighty stakes of sound, but to be honest, the majority of our audiences would not know the difference if it leapt up and bit them, as they still drunkenly inquire of us if we had included any Kylie Minogue in our set, blissfully oblivious to the expense and effort that goes into putting a first class rock outfit together for their boozy entertainment.

And the best bit. We were back in the car within 30 minutes at the end of the night…..and the only damage to our fragile rock damaged bodies was CJ’s knee, Aaron’s RSD to his wrists and a torn tendon in my left heel (yes it was THAT great a night). But no back ache, no cut knuckles from unrealistically narrow door frames and no trying not to crush some Doris in insanely high heels and a skirt so short as to summon the stares of the dead, let alone any bloke with a pulse, that will just not ‘get out of the flaming way’

That my friends was a great rock & roll lesson in life, for which it took well over 40 years to mature into

Size does not always matter………no matter what your guitarist may tell you.

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