It’s been a year of extremes for keyboard player Matt Jones as a touring member of Beady Eye he’s seen the world and played the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony. In his band The Murder Barn – who release EP Gotta Good Man on 5 November – the venues have been somewhat more humble. In this guest column, he explains why a gig is a gig…
It was one of those weird, out-of-body occasions, where you suddenly catch yourself, jolt back to reality, and realise that you’ve been staring at Brian May‘s hair for ages. Lost in the endless curls of rock history, each strand a unique piece of musical DNA. If you were to hold just one lock and splice it down the middle, the rings within would pour forth the secrets of the musical ages like an ancient tree. This was how I found myself in on the 12 August 2012. The occasion, the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games.
I play keyboards for Beady Eye, and that evening we were going to perform Wonderwall for the 80,000 people in the stadium, and also half a billion viewers around the world. It’s the biggest audience I’d ever had to perform for. No pressure then!
Alongside Beady Eye, I also play in a number of much smaller bands. My main project is The Murder Barn. Within a week of playing the Olympic Stadium to most of the planet, I’d also had the great pleasure of playing in front of around 100 people at The Bull And Gate. Quite a leap I assure you…
The premise of this blog is to primarily highlight the differences between playing these huge and small gigs, but thinking about it, there are so many. From the two articulated lorries full of back line, lights, PA, and monitors we use with Beady Eye, to the two Ford Focus’ (is that Foci?) we ram with gear to get to The Murder Barn gigs. From the three balanced meals a day provided by the wonderful tour caterers, to the dirty kebab devoured after a night playing the fleapits of London town. From gear that works, to gear that works when it can be arsed.
The Olympics closing ceremony was actually one of the longest days on record, if only because the run through that we had all turned-up early for, never actually took place. So having arrived at 11am, we didn’t actually end up doing anything until we got onstage at 10pm that night. Which is a lot like playing a shitty gig in Camden where you turn up at the load in time pedantically stipulated by the arsey promoter, having been assured that you will get a soundcheck, only then to find out that in a fit of panic they’ve added two more bands to the bill, and your soundcheck has now been superseded by the opening band going on at 6.30pm.
Anyway, back at the Closing Ceremony, having been informed that we weren’t needed until later on, the twilight hours kicked in. These are the hours that fall between the soundcheck and the gig. Stadium or club, those hours can really drag, and are sometimes very hard to fill. Read a book, get on the bus and watch a film, have a nap, get something to eat, or enjoy a refreshing pint of ice cold lager, you do what you can to pass the time. I fancied the latter.
However, it was at this point I discovered that LOCOG wasn’t quite as stupid as its acronym would have you believe. There was to be no booze backstage for the artists until 10pm that night, our stage time. Gutted. Having sat around for much of the day, and needing to do something, it was time to have a wander around the Olympic park. A few of us went out for a scout about, and happening upon the concession stands ringing the stadium, we realised that they were open.
Specifically, the bar was open. We approached wearing our full compliment of official passes, and upon reaching it, we were gently informed that they were prohibited from selling booze to artists, and no amount of discussion was going to change this fact. LOCOG had most definitely done its homework. There’s nothing worse than a bunch of pissed up musicians to entirely fuck up your well laid plans. So we did what any self-respecting human would do in these circumstances, we removed our passes and moved onto the next bar.
Clutching our newly purchased drinks, we walked up the steps into the stadium itself. I find most venues around the world are shot through with history. It seeps out of every wall. From Brixton Academy to the Bowery Ballroom to the Dublin Castle, all these places have seen some spectacular action. And obviously having spent the two weeks previous to the closing ceremony glued to the Olympics, the stadium didn’t disappoint, despite it’s relative youth. I could still imagine the crowds were there going mental when Mo Farah et al had served up that Super Saturday.
So we sat down just above the Olympic flame to drink in the atmosphere, at which point, Roger Taylor rose out of the ground (as he does) in the centre of the stadium, thumping out the beat to We Will Rock You. Brian, and his amazing hair, joined in playing his iconic guitar solo, and as he did a little shiver went down my spine. The length of time we’d been sat around that day had numbed me to what we were there to do. Suddenly it was all very real.
As gigs draw closer, your body starts giving you little nudges. Small moments of excitement course around the body. These aren’t nerves. It’s just your body gradually building up the adrenalin you need to perform. People always ask if you’re nervous before you go onstage because they see you unable to sit still, air-drumming, or fidgeting. But this misses the point. Nerves are for the under-rehearsed. Nerves are for teenagers having their first kiss. Nerves are for dentists’ drills, or long haul flights. But they’re not for gigs.
Gig’s, large or small are a rush. They’re our raison d’être. That’s when you feel at your most vital. It’s the reason we all do what we do. Getting onstage in front of ten, or ten thousand people, always elicits the same response from me. I feel alive. I feel like I’ve come home.
For more head to Themurderbarn.com.