When To Cancel

I just canceled a concert in Muenster. I don't normally cancel concerts but I'm feeling sick and tired this week, literally ill with some virus that's going around, and when the venue called me earlier this afternoon they said: "So listen, Paul, thought I'd let you know, we've only sold two tickets so far..."

And normally, you know, I wouldn't be that fazed. I'd be like, well, people are gonna show up. It's not unheard of for there to be no tickets pre-sold right up to an hour before show time and then in trickle thirty or forty or fifty people. Sometimes those sleeper concerts, where it seems on the surface of it that nothing is about to happen, they can be the best concerts of all. I've lost count of the number of times I've turned up to a venue and the owner looks at me, then looks at their shoes, then says: "Um, sorry to say this, Paul, but um, maybe no one will come."

And I'm always like: "Have a bit of faith, dude/dudette, people will come...."

And I'm usually right. Like 95% of the time.

But today, when the dude called, told me about the two tickets and all, I said "You know what, let's cancel it. Let's do it some other time. Besides I've been sick all week and I could use the rest."

And it's true. I can use the rest. My vocal chords will be especially grateful if I don't have to sing my lungs out tomorrow night in Muenster. In fact my whole career could use the rest tomorrow. I've been testing out my vocal chords all week. Sunday?  Forget about it. Monday - little better, lots of groans and grunts and breaks in the vocal delivery. Laborious. A Grind. Tuesday I eased back cos I'd done so much testing on Monday. I did some vocal frying, think Bill Clinton meets Elmer Fudd. Then yesterday i spent an hour on guitar sitting in the sunlight singing at half volume or less, than after a nap spent another hour on the piano, raising the volume a tad on the vocals but nothing athletic.

And then today, the day before the gig I started out with a voice that wanted to go sideways and coached it over the course of an hour or so to something that I thought, given another day's rest, might result in a passable performance in Muenster. But it was six of one, half dozen of the other. Would I make it through the concert?  Would my voice?

So we agreed we should cancel. Find another date maybe in Autumn.

A couple of years back, though, I would probably still have driven the 500 km to Muenster, leaving home at 4.00am so I could get through Frankfurt before peak-hour at 7.00am, so I could then get to the halfway point, 250km from Muenster by 7.30am and take a two hour nap in my car so I could then hurtle along the autobahn and be at my hotel by 1.30pm. Enough time to then have a good long nap, three or four hours, before I would then wake up, shower, and do a sound check a couple hours before showtime at 8.00pm.

Cos that is what it takes for me to put on a great show. I got to be rested. Mainly cos I'm relying 101% on myself and nobody nobody nobody else. I don't even take a train to let the train drivers take some of the load. No. I go by car, alone. I go by car because I got to take all my shit - my three guitars, one ukulele, box of cables and microphones, my mixing desk and cables, my two 300watt powered speakers, speaker stands, mic stands and my clothes and my ironed stage shirts, and my guitar stand and my sleeping bag in case I need to take a nap and it's minus 16 out.

And when you travel by yourself - ie: you personally are driving every inch of the journey yourself - and you do your own bookings, and you manage your own touring, and you got to book the hotels and mail the posters and write the bio and send the infos and the photos and you got to write the songs, melodies and words, and come up with the chord charts, and the arrangements, and you got to teach yourself the recording programmes, the ones more powerful than the top studios even from like a decade or two ago or even less and it fits entirely into your tiny, silent mini-mac that takes up exactly the same space on your office desk as a small plate of mixed cheeses, and you got to play the guitar into the mic that you yourself sourced from someplace, that is plugged into the mixing desk that you decided to buy and that all plugs in the back of your Apple cheese platter with one single tiny plug and then you got to sing into another mic that you sourced and bought and learned how to best place, inside the room that you yourself have decorated with rugs and hangings and a vocal mic anti-reflection shield, and when you are doing all that stuff yourself you have to have to have to be protective of your stage performance. You've got to surround that motherfucker with some serious space and reverence.

You got to first off practice your pretty little ass off every day of every week and never ever take a holiday or a sabattical and you are gonna lose friends over that, let me tell you, and you are going to annoy neighbours and alienate loved ones even though what you do is putting food on the table and gas in the tank or life in the battery pack.

So that's the first and foremost thing - getting as good as you possibly can and continuing to improve upon it and perfect as much as you can. And then, when you have done all that other stuff - the researching, the bookings, the driving, then you got to got to got to make sure that before each and every show you ever do you are well rested.  Cos only when you are well rested will you be at your best on stage. If you are just 1 or 2 or 5 percent off it makes a difference. You sell 5 CDs instead of 12 or 15 or 20. Maybe 65% of the audience decides they will come back to see you again next time you are in town instead of 80% who will mostly bring friends along with them next time you are in town.
That can be the difference between playing to 40 people and 100 people - just that 1 or 2 or 5 percent that you were off because you were not sufficiently rested - cos you didn't plan ahead, cos you left home too late and had to rush, cos you didn't factor in the predictable traffic jams en route.

Now this is the stuff, the minutiae, that make a very real difference not just today, but next tour.
At some level it becomes about the mathematics. If I was to drive to Muenster tomorrow morning and play at the venue tomorrow night okay there might be 25-30 people in the end. But there might be four, or just the two who already had tickets. Playing to four people is almost impossible to do. Adrenalin does not kick in. Playing to four people is like hanging out your wash. Nobody needs to see that, and it's heavy and its hard and everyone agrees never to risk witnessing it ever again.

So I'm glad to have finally arrived at this place in my head. The place where I don't feel I HAVE to prove anything to God or Jesus or my parents or school chums or the good people of Muenster by driving 500km in sub zero to play a tiny concert. I would LOVE to do it, sick as I am, but I don't HAVE to. So this is where I've arrived at. This place in which care, self-respect, thoughtfulness and common sense take precedence over that desperate need to reach somebody with my little songs.

This is especially hard to do this week because this week in the midst of my virus and my moaning and grunting I've come upon a whole series of revelations to do with my songs, my music, my performance level, my technique, my approach, my onstagiosity. And I'm keen as shit to put these revelations into a live show in front of actual people. I'm champing at the bit. Muenster will not be the debut of the new me. But next week a little place outside Frankfurt will be. And every show from that point on is going to be as exciting as all get up, let me tell you.

Every song has it's own unique power. This is the lesson I've finally learned this week. This lesson took me longer I guess than most people because I've written so very many songs. So many, in fact, that no individual song has ever really blossomed in my mind. Just more business as usual. Imagine every one of those 1200 songs not with it's own title but catalogued and referred to by number. "Here's song # 203," for example.   They're all just more songs to me, or they used to be.

But then this week, somehow, I was able to begin to get a sense of their individuality. They're all unique. This dawned on me in a great flood, like a bursting dam. And I've never been so thankful ever before in my whole life. Thankful that I never once lifted my head from my workbench until 1200 songs had already been written. But now I've lifted my head and I can hardly believe what I've done. And this, dear friends, is what I now am so keen to present to my little cafe crowds. Individual songs. Each with its own, unique heart beat.


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