Confessions of an expat – One night stand

For the itinerant musician, or a traveller who can play, the open mic night can be the key to acceptance in a new community. You get up and do your thing – it’s only about three songs so you wheel out your hits and don’t have to worry about pacing a set. Give ‘em the good stuff and leave the rest to their imagination.

I used to run one of these in Grand Turk. Some weeks it was just me and the drummer who used to bring his djembe every week even though I had never actually invited him to. And there was also the local masseuse who would sing two or three to my guitar accompaniment. Bringing someone else on for a few minutes breaks it up a bit, particularly when most of the audience have seen you before several times.

Other weeks there would be holidaymakers who wanted to strut their stuff. As the host, to be honest, you want them to be quite good but not that good. Not good enough that the crowd notices they’re better than you. Unless it’s an actual star, a professional.

So, Thursday night at a bar in Coronado, Panama. The host, a singer-guitarist,  is about my age, which means he plays the same sort of stuff: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and any song of the 60s and 70s that sounds okay with one voice and an acoustic.

Based on my experience, I amble up and tell him I’d like to do a few, and I’m surprised when he refers me to a list of 10-minute slots between 7 and 9. They will all, he tells me, be taken. I put myself down for 8pm and sit down to listen to the cast of thousands.

He’s right: there are all sorts of people there and many of them want to play – or at least sing, because there is a karaoke option.

The host does his stuff, more relaxed and mumbly than is advisable in my opinion, and he’s wearing headphones, which probably makes him sound good in his own ears but doesn’t tell him what it really sounds like in the room. And then from a group of young teenagers, two girls get up and do Gimme Gimme Gimme by Abba. Then one sits down and the other gives us an Edith Piaf song, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regrets) complete with the French singer’s piercing, tremulous vocal styling. Impressive, certainly, but where did she learn this and why? I discover later that a local singing teacher gets all her girls to do it.

There’s a 60-something visiting Canadian woman who has obviously sung before, and in the absence of a musician who knows her material, does it acapella, slapping her thigh by way of percussion as she belts out Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz.

Then there are two teenage boys, one a nifty guitarist, who give us Stairway to Heaven (up to but not including the solo) followed by something 21st century that I don’t know. It occurs to me that the performers (who are getting younger as the evening draws on) are going to find themselves doing the closing slot when they may not be up to it. For this reason (I think) I go up and change my time to 8:50, so I’m closing the show.

This move is welcomed by a woman putting her young son’s name on and clearly nervous about the headline spot. She accepts my earlier one gladly and her eight-year old makes what may well  be his public debut in the safety of 8pm to 10 past.

Finally I get up, hoping the guitar is decent, which it is, and the sound balance is okay too. I’ve written down five song titles but reject two as I’m up there. Suddenly, without my trusty repertoire list, I can’t think what to do, but pick one that I like playing and  it goes okay anyway.

After a lifetime of gigs, many  requiring me to take sole responsibility, I’m still slightly nervous about doing ten minutes at an open mic. As ever,  I’m buzzing with adrenalin afterwards and unable to sleep, so I stay up late, drinking rum and listening to music.

As you get older, you have to keep testing yourself, making sure you’ve still got it. You can’t bow to youth just because it’s young people. The older stuff is still valid and the kids have to earn their place. After all, why does Mick Jagger keep doing it? It’s not like he needed the money.

Ref! On Moses and exhaustion

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

That’s about it domestically, then. No, she hasn’t kicked me out, Dave, very funny, I’m talking about the football. After the Cup Final, yes. Funny, isn’t it, you feel like you have to call it the FA Cup Final these days , whereas in the old days there was only one cup final and it was the football one at Wembley in May. Now they’re all over the place: other sports, women’s versions…

Anyway, it wasn’t a bad end to the season, particularly for the Chelsea-bashers who like to see them get beaten. They were all talking about how lethargic the Blues were and how great Arsenal were, but I don’t  know if lethargic is the word. They were exhausted because of the season they’ve had, and they didn’t actually need to win the cup because they already had the Premiership and a place in the Champions League next season.

They’ve been playing above themselves for nine months. Great players and great manager, but they still had to dig deep to get the job done, and the Cup Final was actually something they could have done without. I reckon Victor Moses’ performance summed it up. He’d been going like a one-armed paper-hanger all season, doing two jobs and charging around when really he’s an attacking midfielder, so the tackle he got booked for was just him saying he’d had enough and why did everyone keep having to have a go.

Then the dive in the box, same thing. I reckon he was quite glad to get sent off in the end. I don’t even think he’ll be so keen to do that job next season; we might have seen it all this time, he’s given everything he’s had.

Yes, Baz, seriously, I know you’re a bit anti-Chelsea yourself, but put yourself in their position. Liverpool bugging them for a few months and then Spurs took over. It’s like the rest of the league was doing a relay against them. People even started feeling sympathy for Man City, who I reckon are the least likeable club now.

Arsenal? Good for them. They’ve had a hard time and whether Wenger stays or goes, he’s got another cup to think about. And the club’s got the Europa League next time, which Man U and Chelsea have both shown is worth winning.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a blue cocktail. Blue Curacao and lemonade with a shot of vodka and a squeeze of lemon. No, Dave, it’s not a poof’s drink, just because it looks nice. You stick to your cloudy pints of ale but some of us have emerged from the swamp. The primeval swamp, Baz, where human life apparently came from. Nobody really knows, it’s just another unproven scientific question, like whether Messi or Ronaldo is better.

One thing that is for sure, though, is that we’ve had some good football this year. Spurs have been great and if they’d started like they finished they’d have won it. The point is, can they keep the team together and win something next year? Everybody wants Dele Alli. Walker’s off almost definitely. Lloris could be. Kane’s not going anywhere, but they’ve got to either keep the nucleus or build a new one around him. And Pochettino, yeah, Dave, if the manager goes, that could be the worst thing of all.

City have to rebuild, United have to breathe some life into their football, although Mourinho’s such a grinder that he won’t be bothered as long as they get results. Liverpool have to hang onto Coutinho and bring in some real big guns, but for the last I don’t know how many years they’ve been buying people you’ve never heard of even if they’re quite expensive. Same with Arsenal.

So yes, Baz, that’s it for the summer apart from the Champions League final next week, but there’s no English interest in it, so I don’t even know if I’ll watch. There’s cricket now, gents, and we’re quite good at that now. Pity the Spanish and Italians and Bayern Munich don’t take that up. We’d murder them – for a few years, at least.