Guitarist

Enjoy Responsibl­y

A recent meet-up with long-time musical friends was a joyous thing, says Neville Marten, until he recalled a truly mortifying gig…

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Fairly recently I met with my old friend Robbie Gladwell (ex-Dr Robert of this parish) to do a charity gig in Suffolk. This is something he does annually to raise money, and because last year’s was cancelled, this one felt extra-special for all concerned.

Robbie was also putting together his and Martyn Booth’s old band, Swift, to do a couple of numbers. So, with Robbie, Martyn and me, it was a minor reunion of Gibson’s UK repair squad, circa ’76 to ’82.

Training it up from Devon was our mutual friend, Mary Ann, who was in a band with another Gibson alumnus, Mark Willmott. She also ran Sudbury Folk Club back in the day, where Robbie and I had done a great duo gig. The memories were rosy, until that is, I drove past the pub that once hosted the club, which led me to recall my most embarrassi­ng gig ever…

The event occured off the back of a successful duo evening, and Mary Ann asked if I fancied doing a solo gig there. “Oh no,” I responded. “I don’t really sing lead or have the songs or charisma to front such an evening.” She beat me down with flattery until I acquiesced. It was months away anyway, so in my mind it would never really happen. Would it?

Come the week of my solo debut, and I dredged up anything acoustic I knew and practised like mad until I had enough material. Some hysterical banter and repartee would of course help things along, and I pictured myself in front of an enraptured crowd, the embodiment of ‘Billy Connolly meets James Taylor’.

I spent the day of the gig refining my set. I restrung my Gibson J-40 and prepared to leave the house where I lived with my mother. She knew I was petrified, and gave me two anti-anxiety tablets (don’t do this at home, folks), saying: “Only take one unless you really need more and, whatever you do, do not drink.”

I downed one pill instantly, and then took the other once she was out of sight. Luckily, my mate was driving. We got there early, unpacked and set up. We then just hung around, as you do. My mother had said I wouldn’t feel ‘different’, just lose my inhibition­s a bit. True enough, everything felt quite normal, so when the barman opened up surely it would be fine to have a pint of Adnams? And perhaps another?

People eventually started filing in, including friends, and plenty more who’d heard about it. Martyn was there with other fine musicians and singers. When I finally stepped on stage for my moment of glory, not only could my fingers not find the strings, or frets, but my mouth had lost the ability to speak. I looked and sounded like the stereotype comedy drunk. I forgot words, and simple guitar parts were beyond me, while those at the top of my abilities didn’t stand a chance. I started and stopped several songs, dribbled pathetic apologies and the evening stumbled to a humiliatin­g halt. It remains my most embarrassi­ng gig in nearly 50 years of playing. Strangely, the folk club closed for the last time that night!

I redeemed myself somewhat at the charity gig. Robbie and I did a couple of acoustic songs, and his and Martyn’s band sounded great. I joined the backing group on my red Strat for the rest of the evening, and managed a couple of decent, Diet Coke-fuelled solos.

But back to that folk club: never being one to indulge in ‘substances’, it really was a disaster destined to happen. These days I love a glass of pre-gig wine and a bit of banter with the band. And that’s all I need these days to get ready for the stage.

“I dredged up anything acoustic and practised like mad. Banter would help, and I pictured myself in front of an enraptured crowd…”

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