So this weekend, me and Sparky dusted off the two-man set and played a couple of gigs and it was lovely.
We’d rehearsed about enough, and I’d practised enough (he doesn’t seem to need to) that we played with a minimum of errors.
We got the sound right, and although where we were it had a bit of an odd reverb, it seems that the mix where people were was good.
I only introduced one new song the week before the gig (and whilst Sparky was working in the US) and it only had three repeated chords, so we stayed friends.
Playing live music at “do’s” is tricky. As the five-piece rock and pop covers band Not Now Cato, we’ve done it enough that I think my view has validity. Basically, if you’re looking for a band for your private party, think through this.
- If your invitees (and therefore our audience) aren’t expecting to be coming to a gig, then don’t book a loud rock band.
- If you haven’t seen some or all of your invitees for a while, then they’re here to chat with you, so don’t book a loud rock band.
- If your venue has more than one room, so relatives can escape to a quieter space, then don’t book a loud rock band.
- If the weather is lovely and it might be nice to stand outside, then don’t book a loud rock band.
Whenever someone asks if we can play their wedding/birthday/divorce party, we run them through these issues (because we’ve typically done more parties than them).
When it works, it’s joyous, and I’d like to think that we add to the occasion. When it doesn’t, we work hard to fix it for the folks who persevere. We’re playing two weddings this year and we’re confident that both couples know what they’re doing.
And so to solve the problem of being too loud, we created a portable act. Fatzorro & Sparky is me and him, playing pop songs that Cato can’t or won’t do (too cheesy; too dull) or ones that Cato does and that we can slow down and make more Radio 2. We fit in smaller spaces, play quieter and with a wider bandwidth of music and set up and break down quicker. In five years, we’ve got a healthy five hours of songs that we can pull off, some better than others. I have to do more cognitively, so I’m definitely way less euphoric than the bloke I play in Cato.
But there’s a new challenge to this set-up that’s not present with the full band.
With Cato, the worry at private functions is that we chase people away because we’re too loud, and so we play to an empty room.
With FZ&S, the problem is: we’re so discrete, people stay and ignore us.
Now, if you hired, say, a string quartet, you’d be fine with folks chatting away whilst they played the four seasons, the hamlet song and that one from the advert with the kid pushing his bike up a hill.
But because pop music kind of needs an audience in order to make sense, it can look a bit absurd to see two blokes playing to the backs of a room full of people who are catching up whilst they’re at the same event.
And of course it’s a shame when we do something that we’ve rehearsed and it comes off and there’s no-one to notice except us.
But the music isn’t ours. Modern parties prioritise live music over a jukebox (even as Playlists make it easier and easier to curate a soundtrack that tells your distant friends what your taste is (and therefore what kind of person you are)). We’re doing our hobby, and in the same way that no-one would ever pay to see me play cricket or eat pizza with my shirt off, I don’t really need an audience to make me enjoy playing guitar and singing. Of course it’s more fun when the two go together, but it’s inessential.
So this weekend:
Wedding Anniversary and birthday for a lovely couple, with a familiar group gathered to celebrate. We played beautifully for two hours and at the very end people danced. We had to add extra imaginary verses to our only dancy song. Lovely stuff. (And as a bonus, we suspect that people who only noticed us at the end will think that we were that good all through the night).
Today (Sunday) a leaving Do at my cricket club, for free. A weird split/irony/paradox created. People who know me weren’t that bothered to pay attention because it’s my band and they know me. People who didn’t know me assumed that we were a regular paid-for band and typical of what you’d expect at a party in 2017. So we played for a couple of hours and it was only at the end that we got any interest at all. Again, we played really nicely and it feels like we’re getting better (the trajectory is definitely more important than the location at this point).
Both of them were, in and of themselves, probably the best performances that we’ve given. Not the most exhilarating maybe, but technically good and adding to our skills and competence.
And a measure of how little impact we had on our audience is that there’s not a single photo of us playing so far as I know.
One of us loves that we are the string quartet: we provide a background of pop songs that you know whilst you get on with your party. One of us is a bit grumpy that people can ever ignore live pop music.
You’d be surprised if you knew which of us was which.
(Unless you know Sparky).
I had a blast. My fingers, unused to physical work, are ready to fall off later this week.
I hope we can do this a lot this year. It’s fabulous fun.
You should try it.