I very nearly deleted what I took to be a junk email from GAK (Guitars, Amps and Keyboards) without reading it, but fortunately skimmed over it before doing so and noticed an offer that seemed too good to be true - free guitar restringing with a free set of coated Martin strings, between 11 am and 4 pm on Sunday 22 March. Booking a slot was advised but I wasn't sure whether I could even make it by 4 pm so I didn't book, and instead, when I found myself free to go over to their shop in Brighton's North Laines this afternoon, I did so and sweet-talked the two American guys from Martin Guitars into agreeing to restring my guitar if I was prepared to wait for those with booked slots to be done first. I love my guitar with a passion, but hate restringing it in equal measure, so I was more than happy to hang around, chatting with other guitarists and answering various messages on my phone until they were able to fit me in. And so it was that the big friendly giant from Pennsylvania not only restrung my lovely Larrivee guitar, he also fixed the loose pickup socket, and he and his companion chatted with me about their restringing tour of the UK and about guitars in general and Martin and Larrivee guitars in particular - and didn't charge me a penny! I'm well happy, I can tell you, as the guitar was in sore need of new strings and I'd been putting it off and putting it off - not realising that if I put it off long enough, this heaven-sent opportunity would come my way from an email I very nearly didn't even bother to read.
What makes a good gig good?
I've played a lot of gigs in my time, some memorable because they went so well, and others that would have been best quickly forgotten, but which sadly remain equally vividly etched in my brain. But the gig that stands out in my mind above all others was one I hadn't really expected anything from as I hadn't known exactly what the evening would hold when I was invited to perform there. It was a spoken-word event, where they always had a musical act in the middle. Because the emphasis was clearly on poetry rather than songs, I assumed the music would be more like a break during which the poets would chat among themselves until the real stuff began again. But how wrong could I have been? During the first half, it was just me and the poets in the back room of the pub, with some of them reading their own work aloud, or their favourite poems by the greats or the not-so-greats, while I waited for my turn during what I still thought of as the interval. However, when the break came and it was announced that I would be singing in five minutes, the door opened and in walked what seemed to be a mass of people - admittedly mainly friends of mine who had been drawn there by the fact that I no longer lived locally, so this was a rare chance to see me perform around those parts. Before I knew it, the room was packed, with room only to stand or squat on the floor around my feet! The chill of the formerly empty room turned to the excessive warmth of so many people closely packed in a small room, and the buzz as they had all come in turned to the hush of anticipation as I began my first song. From then on it was every singer songwriter's dream come true - a packed house with everyone hanging on my every word, responding appropriately at every change in emotion in the lyrics. There were people in front of me, to both sides of me and behind me, and I became like a wandering minstrel, moving among the crowd, turning this way and that, and everywhere I looked, people had the same rapt expression on their faces. It everything I could have hoped for and more. Sadly, I had to wrap up my set all too soon as there were more poets to be heard. But as soon as I finished, people - including poets - came forward to talk to me and - yes! - buy my CD! Then, just as quickly as it had filled, the room emptied of those who had come to see me, and we were back, on the whole, to me and the poets again - but they didn't seem to mind, and as for me, I was floating on a cloud of wonder and joy at what had so unexpectedly turned out to be my best-ever gig.
How different from many pub gigs, where, no matter how loud you sing, the hubbub of people talking at each other is always that much louder and more intrusive. For me, though, even if only one person is talking, it's energy-sapping as there's the deflating awareness that, as a singer songwriter, my heartfelt words are being completely lost on at least one person in that room. It's soul-destroying, draining, and leaves you feeling at best flat at the end of the evening, and usually determined never to play in a pub again. Until the next pub gig comes along, of course, and you hope against all hope that this one will be another pin-dropper. But a quiet pub gig is such a rare beast that it's unlikely. What I know above all else is that, even if it's never repeated, that one priceless gem of a gig was one to be savoured and treasured. And it truly is.