The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment, as related by session ace Mitch Dalton. This month: Strike Up The Band!
At some point in what might be described loosely as a ‘career’, a guitarist’s thoughts turn to the idyllic notion of writing, arranging and performing his own music and presenting it to rapturous audiences in prestigious venues across the land. This fantasy often manifests itself half-way through recording a cat food commercial, in the midst of a TV variety show or even when becalmed on the M25 calculating the approximate number of hours late you’re going to be for the gig.
In short, it seems like a good idea at the time. But before plunging into this putative world of creativity, self expression and fulfilment, ask yourself this inconvenient question: why are so many bandleaders a tad, well... grumpy? Is it nature or nurture? Were they born with a metaphorical silver baton in their collective foul mouths or did the tinsel ’n’ glitter lure of Showbiz somehow turn them into sociopaths whose one remaining buddy is Jack Daniel’s?
Let’s take an alliterative look at the root cause of the misanthropy behind the music, the angst beneath the adulation and the breakdown behind the beat.
First off, you’re gonna need a hip combo to back you, daddy-o. For the sake of your sanity, you will be advised to restrict yourself to two or three top sidemen in your very own groove machine. In my experience the ideal number would be none, but this is rarely practical.
Having hired the best available talent in their price range, you may consider that a day of rehearsal can only enhance the experience for audience and band alike. However, there’s little point in performing an availability check too early, merely to be disappointed later. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you request collective free dates in the month before the gig. If you’re lucky, you’ll find two days that fit. Thus encouraged, you choose one and book a prestigious rehearsal establishment with free parking and an intermittently functioning coffee machine. And a snip at £10 per hour. You email confirmation to your paid accomplices.
Within 30 minutes, the bassist texts you with minimum remorse to announce that has he has just taken a session on that morning. You put the kettle on and rebook your chums and venue for the one remaining day in the merry month. Next morning your keyboard genius colleague shares the news that he must be away by 5pm at the latest that day. Consequently, you arrange to cram the two three-hour sessions into one day by foregoing a formal lunch break and bringing a bag of Value Sandwiches, to be distributed to the needy on an ad hoc basis.
A week later, your drummer rings in a panic with the news that the superstar guitarist with whom he’s touring has added an extra date in Holland on the very day of your modest entertainment. With but a token addition to the greyness of your receding hairline, you repair to the telephone for no more than a day and a half, hire a willing replacement, mail the music and CDs in advance of the rehearsal and continue with the remainder of your life. Which at this point consists mainly of writing and arranging new material in every spare moment, formatting it in Sibelius with the aid of a 10-year-old child and printing it out, should your computer happen to be on speaking terms with the malevolent device residing beside it. (Top tip: Never underestimate the time it takes to stick all those pages of A4 together. And the quantities of paper and tape involved. Laugh if you must. But ignore me at your peril.)
Fast forward to the great day itself (we’ll omit the reaction of your colleagues at rehearsal to those agonisingly wrought tunes, which is not dissimilar to the distaste one sees when the cat has dragged something unpleasant into the house; apparently, your master works are all too difficult, too easy, too complex or too lightweight often simultaneously).
Somehow, after weeks of stress, the pieces of the jigsaw stumble into place. Parking. Set-up. Soundcheck. A bite to eat. And finally. The gig. Where you discover that you have forgotten entirely how to play the guitar; you appear to be reading unplayable music beamed from another planet, and those hilarious links between tunes die in the air the instant they escape your quivering lips.
Don’t say you weren’t warned. I’ll be back next month. Meanwhile, here’s Lottie with the news and travel in your area.
apparently your master works are all too diFFicult, too easy, too complex or too lightweight
Mitch ponders the premise of forming one’s own band to play one’s own music