Friday, January 11, 2008

Bar Bad Nobbery

Yesterday evening was one that will have me cringe and giggle in equal measure for a while to come.

I was booked to play a paid ‘busking set’ at a posh bar in Brighton. I played here before Christmas and had a lovely time. However when I arrived last night, to a bar of three old men, the manager was understandably reluctant to pay me quids to entertain just that old trio. I sat, had a pint and waited for some punters to come in to fill the place out a bit.

By the time there was about twelve people there, I bullied him into letting me play. I decided to keep my set familiar, intimate and non-confrontational given the small turnout.

I was enjoying playing the music, and the banter was decent. I was having a discussion about Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and his free range chicken campaign with a couple at the bar. Turns out we’re all for it, just wish that it was possible to buy a free range chicken at Sainsbury’s for less than a tenner.

A couple of old fellas that were sitting to my immediate left were getting involved, singing along to some Beatles and Dylan songs. It turned out one of them, Phil, was celebrating his birthday. He was being particularly vocal and kept correcting me if I sang a wrong verse, or deliberately changed the words. At first it was kinda funny (if a bit bloody pedantic) but after a while his heckling got more personal and downright nasty. I explained that words are not really a strong point of mine – in so far as my respect for the songs I’m singing is not always apparent. I tend to butcher them somewhat, making up verses about what’s going on in the room or in my head. Fair enough, sometimes it all falls a bit flat, but on the whole, people tend to understand what’s going on and go with it.

This guy was not impressed. Turns out he is a bitter old musician himself. And he was quite a lot more drunk than I had first imagined, getting increasingly abusive and critical. He was flailing his arms about and repeating phrases at me while I played: “Do you know the words or not?” and “You’re shit”. It’s fair to say he was distracting me. I was trying to play for my audience who may have actually been enjoying the act, but it was hard to get past this dark chasm, this quicksand of negativity.

The manager eventually asked him to calm down a bit, and watch his language. Phil had been referring to himself as a cunt. While I was in no position to disagree with his exclamations, it was way too aggressive and quite disturbing.

"I've been a cunt all my life. Why should today be any different? It's my birthday!"

I felt a bit stuck. This wasn’t a stand up gig. I wasn’t there to put him down, to battle his wits. I was there, essentially, to play a bit of music to a very quiet and relaxed room. Usually in this situation there is a crowd to get on your side, and the dickhead in question usually shuts up when they realise they’re being a tit and no one agrees with their opinion. It wasn’t like that last night. This guy knew he was a tit and just wanted to be a tit for my benefit.

I had been on for about 45 minutes so I decided that I was going to take a break. Before I did so, I sang one particularly cutting verse to our friend Phil’s face. With a sweet smile I sang some rhyme directly referring to him being obnoxious and rude and wanting to spoil everybody’s fun. He put his middle finger up at me and told me to fuck off.


To think he was probably having a nice quiet birthday pint before I turned up and managed to get inside his pores and somehow extract everything wrong about his world.

Everything wrong about the world, personified. I should use that on my promotional material.

The manager chucked him out and barred him (at quite a substantial risk to his own health). Phil went kicking and screaming. It was all very ugly. Thankfully the manager was satisfied that I had done my bit and I had kept him perfectly entertained. He couldn’t, however, bring himself to pay me the agreed amount, given that there was no point in my doing a second set. By this point the bar was looking pretty empty.

I think most people there had felt a bit soiled by the whole experience of watching some curly-haired show-off get paid to wind up a middle aged guy on his birthday and make him so angry that he would call himself a cunt and get himself kicked out. And barred.


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