I’ve played quite a few gigs in my time – some of them good, some of them godawful. Obviously, while I’d like to pretend that every gig I every play is super-brilliant, the reality is sometimes very different. For the record, here are the highs and the lows. Feel free to add your own experiences in the comments.
- Big Chill 2006: Playing 4 gigs in a weekend (Bussetti, Digitonal, The Shadow Orchestra and festival founder Pete Lawrence’s Chilled by Nature project). I was even featured in the Channel 4 documentary about that year’s festival and got a free massage. A real high point.
- Playing KOKO with Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics earlier this year. A staggering gig – the place was packed and the calibre of the musicians was amazing. Mulatu is a living legend, and it was a privilege to play with him (especially given that he’s played with Alice Coltrane before – he was kind enough not to compare us).
- Bussetti’s last stand at the Luminaire in Kilburn. Another sell-out, with a fantastic audience of friends all singing along. Blogged about here
- Playing at the Sperm festival (no sniggering at the back!) in Prague with Digitonal. My first harp gig outside the UK – I borrowed one for the occasion from a local harpist who didn’t really approve of what I was doing with it. It was a real eye-opener to see how European audiences respond to electronica (awed silence during, deafening cheering and applause after) Short blog here (perhaps dwelling too much on the Becherovka)
- InselSommer 2009 with Sunday Driver: Our first European gig, and the re-debut of tabla player Goshi.
- Singing Carmina Burana in the Albert Hall when I was about 15, as part of a massed schools choir. Awe-inspiring sound, and a spine-tingling piece of music.
- A concert featuring 17 harps in St Albans Cathedral. Probably sounded like the world’s biggest broken musical box, but it was a great experience to play with that many harpists, ranging from tiny kids to grownups.
- Playing at the Edinburgh Mela in 2008 with Sunday Driver – our biggest audience to date (at that time). We played for an hour without the harp, which was a milestone, and a massive confidence boost.
- Going on tour with Digitonal – playing at Sage in Gateshead was a particular highlight. Getting to bum around on a tourbus and pretend to be a rock star was also great fun (though coming back home and going to work in an office afterwards really sucked). Blogged here and here
- Playing at Bestival 2006 with Digitonal – a fantastic and very surreal gig, despite nearly knocking myself out on a low beam as I got up on stage. That may have made it even more surreal. We were on stage at 3am and I was wearing a bizarre feather mask to deliberately freak out the people who had taken too many drugs.
- Playing in “9 lessons and carols for Godless people” at the Hammersmith Apollo in December 2008 with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra, as backing band to Jarvis Cocker among others. Hanging around backstage were Richard Dawkins, Ben Goldacre, Ricky Gervais and Mark Thomas, to name a few. I was utterly star-struck all night, especially when I got to chat to Jarvis in the green room.
- Playing with the Shadow Orchestra at the Off the Tracks festival in 2008 and 2009. It’s just a lovely little festival with a fab audience.
- Playing with the Grand Union Orchestra at the Corn Exchange with Sunday Driver a good few years back. At the time, it was the highest profile gig we’d ever done and it was an amazing experience.
- Playing at KOKO with the Beaufort scale – an ecstatic audio-visual spectacular, even though I only played in two tunes.
- Playing a solo harp gig in the garden at a private party, and only finding out I had been perched on a manure heap afterwards. Then grabbing my harp covers out of the bushes where they were stashed, only to find someone had pissed on them.
- Playing with Sunday Driver at a tiny festival outside Cambridge, to an audience consisting of the sound engineer, a small dog, and a really REALLY stoned guy.
- Playing at the Battle of the Bands at Anglia Ruskin University with Sunday Driver. It was a horrific gig that we still joke about. I hadn’t realised we’d started a song, and was busy blasting out a very bad version of Three Blind Mice on the recorder (to soundcheck the mic). One of the judges walked out mid-set.
- Playing with Sunday Driver singer Chandy in a bar in Soho. A woman in the front row was talking so loudly I couldn’t actually hear myself playing.
- Sunday Driver at the Good Ship in Kilburn a couple of months ago. I was exhausted and had a little tantrum trying to find a parking space. The gig was alright, except I dropped my clarinet just before we started and cracked the mouthpiece in half, rendering it unplayable. Had to do the whole set on the bass clarinet, which was tough.
- End-of-term summer concert circa 2001 with the Cambridge harp society. Not only was I woefully underprepared, but as soon as I started playing there was an almighty thunderstorm, which drowned out my poor playing. Still, I got a massive round of applause out of sympathy.
- Sunday Driver at the Barfly in Camden. Shit sound engineer, howling bass feedback throughout the gig. What was worse was that I had finally managed to persuade loads of people to come and see us, and it sounded so bad even I felt like walking out.
- Willow Walker homeless charity gig in Cambridge with Sunday Driver. Homeless people shouting at me to “Fuck off with your fucking posh instrument” etc etc, the sound was TERRIBLE, I had a fight with our bassist and cried all the way home on the verge of quitting the band.
- Playing a solo gig at a Secret Cinema event at the Hackney Empire last year. It was a really fun event, but I only got paid £50 for the gig, it cost me £7 to park for 2 hours, I was 5 minutes late getting back to the car so I got landed with a £40 parking fine. Net profit = £3. FAIL.
- My first ever solo harp booking back in 1996. I had no idea what I was doing and basically just played arpeggios for an hour. I still feel a bit guilty and ashamed just thinking about it. Luckily, I have improved dramatically since.
- The last night of the Digitonal tour at Audio in Brighton. Just as we were starting to play in the bar upstairs, someone waltzed around shouting “The Bays are on downstairs!” (we were on tour supporting them). Cue a massive rush for the exits as we played to an empty room.
Weirdest gig ever
- This one. A Church, unlimited orange squash, and an unusual use for the New English Hymnal.
So how about yours – leave your best, worst and weirdest ever gig stories in the comments.