On Friday, I was up and out early: to go into town and meet a very tired and jetlagged namesake (who shall, as previously posted, be referred to as troUSers) who had flown in from the States.
It still felt novel meeting him again: it always seems to have been the case that I bump into someone I know in town when I'm on my way to the station to get him, and Friday morning was no exception. The friend said to me, what are you up to then?, to which I replied along the lines of, well, I'm just about to meet up with someone who's got the same name as me and who has flown in from half way across the planet, AND we're playing on the same stage tonight.....long story.
We took a cab back to my flat, I popped out to the shops to get some milk, meanwhile troUSers immediately fell into an obviously much-needed deep sleep and remained that way for the next four hours. Which was fine in any case, it meant I had time to make a few last-minute musical adjustments on my laptop, and to let my latent OCD tendencies come to the fore as I sat and checked (and rechecked) my leads, connections and various bits of equipment.
Now, when I first agreed to do this gig, it was quite a (much-needed) step outside of my comfort zone. Firstly, I needed to do a lot of work to ensure that I had enough music ready to actually play in the first place. Secondly, the last time I did a live performance was the first time I'd done it on my own and I was incredibly nervous - I drank large and equal amounts of beer and water, and spent a lot of time pacing up and down. Thirdly, when I sent confirmation to troUSers that I would be playing, he made a suggestion.
We should do a collaboration!
This was a great but verrrrrrry scary idea: it would involve elements of risk and of things potentially going wrong, since it would mean we wouldn't really have any time to rehearse. I emailed him, what do you have in mind?.
He asked me if I could build up some beats and loops based on a track on his album, and see if we could make it into quite an epic.
I replied and - bearing in mind my initial anxieties - told him that not only would I work on it, but that I wanted him to collaborate on one of my songs as well (mentioned in an earlier post), which would be for him to do vocals on my version of Roxy Music's In Every Dream Home A Heartache.
So, fast-forwarding again to Friday afternoon, troUSers woke up at 4pm, which left just enough time for us to eat and for him to listen to the backing I'd done for his song (thankfully he loved it) and to run through Every Dream Home to get his vocal cues in the right place.
Then we were over to the venue along with a number of other friends who were also playing on the same bill and who had done the bulk of the work for arranging the event itself. Setting everything up was straightforward and, during the soundcheck, troUSers and I had a run-through of his song that we were going to perform together. This was the first time we had worked directly together on it, but it sounded good. I was playing guitar with most of the strings tuned down into a very low open tuning which meant I could also manipulate the various sounds and textures on the laptop to help build or reduce momentum based on what troUSers was singing and playing.
I thought I might be freaked out by the whole idea of being on the same stage as him, since it was such an unlikely prospect, but I realised it was absolutely fine, it felt easy and natural, and our ideas seemed to gel.
He'd also asked a friend of mine, a singer with a beautiful voice (who plays in the band who were performing on the same bill as me and troUSers), if she would share vocals on a couple of his songs: watching them perform a few verses from these songs during the soundcheck brought a real lump to my throat: a combination of two amazing voices, soaring harmonies and the very fact of them singing together for the first time and clearly delighting in the results, was a very powerful thing for me to experience.
Everything was set up and ready, we sat around and had a couple of beers: I realised though that, while I couldn't exactly say I was relaxed, then I was actually very calm and composed. We opened the doors around 8pm, and my main concern at this point was whether we would have many people coming to see us. Apparently the posters advertising the gig had drawn some interest since people were intrigued by the prospect of two musicians playing on the same bill on the basis that we had the same name, despite living in completely different parts of the world.
What was interesting was that most of the people who did turn up weren't familiar faces to me: there were a number of friends who I'd expected would be there, but it felt quite reassuring to see plenty who I didn't know at all. In a way it felt like it took the pressure off me: if I didn't know most of them, I could hardly know what their expectations were. Thankfully a good number of people did turn up (we made a profit!) and what was notable was that there was a really nice atmosphere, it was buzzing practically from the word go.
The first band went on. They explained the story behind the whole evening and how troUSers had got in touch with me all those years ago and how it had culminated in this evening - which in itself got a round of applause, so it felt like we were off to a good start. They're singer-songwriters who do very simple, beautiful and hauntingly melodic songs. They performed really well and got a great reception. After they finished (which left me half an hour before I was due to take the stage) I felt a stab of worry: musically, my stuff couldn't be more different to theirs, being largely electronic and laptop-based. Would people be receptive to it in any way, or would they vote with their feet?
I felt as though I should explain how different it was going to be, but I realised that it would seem as though I was making apologies for my music which would be quite undermining.
But. At 10pm, the allotted time, I got on stage and when the dj stopped playing I got everyone's attention. I held my camera up and said I was going to do "before and after" photographs: I told everyone to smile, I took a picture of the whole audience, and then just got on with it. I set the laptop going, adding and manipulating various sounds and textures over the beats and loops I'd pre-programmed. It's amazing how much of a confidence booster it is when you hear your own music coming through the onstage monitors at a very loud volume: it sounded good to me, the sound engineer had set everything up brilliantly, and I was able to completely relax and enjoy the moment.
The only error I made was in forgetting to take a chair on stage with me: it meant I was either standing hunched over the laptop and various other bits of equipment, or kneeling down behind it. I did remember to take a pint of beer on stage with me though, so obviously my priorities weren't completely out the window..
My first track lasted for over fifteen minutes, changing half-way through into a very mesmeric, motorik Krautrock-style piece: I thought, if people are prepared to sit through the first 5 or so minutes, then I've got them where I want them. And that's what happened. I got a great response, and people were also dancing. At the end of my own songs I invited troUSers up on stage and we did In Every Dream Home. He belted it out with his incredible voice and, being the mischievous soul that he is, he sang it with slightly different timing, just to keep me on my toes. It was spot on though and we got a rapturous reception. I then took my "after" photograph of the audience, and there are just as many people on it as were in the "before" one.
Finally, shortly after 11pm, troUSers took the stage and performed his own set. He has a penchant for unusual but finely structured melody which along with the combination of memorable and unconventional lyrics, and that voice, makes for very striking and slightly eerie songs. It was great to watch him play with the arrangements as he went along too, he has a real sense of the ebb and flow of the moment and of the response of the audience, and he tailors his performance expertly.
I have photos of groups of people in the audience watching, utterly rapt, some smiling, completely mesmerized. My friend joined him for the two numbers that she was singing with him: it was heart-stoppingly beautiful, not to mention amazing since they'd only ever previously performed them earlier at the soundcheck.
Eventually, I was called back onto the stage for his final song. I got the right settings on the laptop and got my guitar ready. TroUSers introduced the song, but said, hang on - I'm just going to run through a plan with my namesake. He whispered in my ear, just keep it going, make it as epic as you can, and by the end of it I'm going to have everybody joining in - which was to be no mean feat given that he sings this particular song in Bulgarian!
I started the laptop, a repeating bass note, and troUSers began singing and playing over it. As his voice rose, I began triggering the various beats and loops to match the momentum that he was gaining. I then built up my guitar playing, all the time watching and listening to mirror the pace and the feel of what he was doing. Several minutes later I was thrashing out huge, deliberately dissonant open chords in d minor and he was locked into it, bellowing out his huge voice and actually managing to get people joining in. Once this was achieved we gradually lowered the momentum and drew it to a natural close.
We got an astonishingly good reception, immediate and very loud cheers and applause. Just before we left the stage, we shook hands and hugged.
Afterwards, so many people - familiar or otherwise - came up and talked about how good it was, and what an amazing atmosphere there'd been to the whole night. I couldn't agree more, and I don't see how it could possibly have been any better than it was.
This is the best thing I've done in a very long time, and I've spent so much time expressing my gratitude to the people who made it happen and who were part of it.