After my last disastrous visit, and a year or so had passed, I was finally asked back again to perform at the venue where my keyboard fell off my stand mid-performance. The event organiser, Graeme, had recovered enough psychologically from my previous visit, and whether it was some kind of ‘confront your fears’ therapy, or whether he simply chased the thrill of danger, he asked me back for a concert as part of my new tour.
The tour date arrived and I set up for the show, being very deliberate about my keyboard stand and making sure that it was stable and secure - I didn’t want any surprises this time. I sound-checked and had set up my merch table and started looking for ways to make the venue even more ‘vibey’ for the concert.
I remember as a kid, being in a band with some of my school friends and hiring lighting rigs and smoke machines - whatever we could get our hands on to create a cool vibe for the venues where we’d play. Mostly, back then, we’d be playing for other kids birthday parties. We had the band name “Strange Brew” which I’ve since found out was pretty much the band name for every other school-mates band in Australia at the time.
I’ve loved chasing a great vibe for a concert, whether it’s a quirky venue full of lounge chairs and coffee tables, or whether its using lighting to create a great vibe. Having a cool vibe makes it a memorable experience.
So when I realised that I’d set up a bit earlier than expected, I couldn’t help but look up at the old fluorescent lights in that church hall and wonder how we could make the place more concert-friendly and attempt to give it a ‘cool vibe’.
“Hey Graeme,” I asked. “You wouldn’t happen to have any lights to put up, bro?”
I should take a moment to describe Graeme for you. He is one of those people who uses his whole body in conversations. Each word is accompanied by arm swings and gesticulations. He, himself, is a very gifted singer, guitarist, drummer and instrumentalist. He has untamed curly grey hair which also joins in any conversation with bouncing and swaying enthusiasm. Graeme loves giving people driving directions, complete with gestures. He is highly intelligent and yet just shy enough to usually build a complicated music and microphone stand structure to hide behind when he performs. As you can imagine, Graeme is one of my great friends.
He swung his gaze around the church hall, his eyes returning to an imaginary spot on the stage. As his hands moved through the air as if conducting, Graeme moved towards an access door to the under stage area.
After enough time had passed that my attention span had almost forgotten about ‘chasing the cool vibe’, Graeme reappeared with an ancient looking spotlight of some description in his hands. The metal was of some mysterious origin and it was coated in many years worth of dust and spiderwebs. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking about creating a groovy environment for my concert, but it was something. We decided to plug it in.
It’s around now that I remember yet another visit to this particular venue. I mention it because on that occasion, it became apparent to me that the old church hall venue had quite a quirky power setup. After we’d set up the sound system on that instance, the bass player and back-up singer experienced a mild electrocution of his lips. Apparently the microphone had gone ‘live’, and not just in a performance sense. He was a determined chap and continued to sing into the electrically charged microphone from a distance far enough away where he stopped being electrocuted. It was into this same power grid that we plugged this mysterious light into from under the stage.
The light was pretty heavy, and we couldn’t immediately find a brace substantial enough to hold it. In the end, Graeme placed it on a small table. He plugged it in and the light came on without any difficulties at all. Unfortunately, it shone with the brilliance of a thousand suns. It seared through my skin, making my face translucent and showing each vein in detail like some kind of biology museum piece. The glare was such that I couldn’t see my hands and it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to perform as I couldn’t tell where my keyboard was. I waved to Graeme to move the light further back from the stage.
After many repositionings of the light, it was eventually set up near the back of the hall and pointed towards the stage from there. It was situated just in front of the side entrance to the hall and not far from my merch table. The light wasn’t just lighting the stage anymore - it had now formed an illuminated division between the darkened grotto of the back of the hall and the eye-watering brilliance of the front of the hall.
With the light’s new position, I could at least gauge where my keyboard was on stage as I played it, even if I couldn’t see beyond the edge of the stage in front of me. In addition to the epic glow, the light was casting off a fierce heat. My skin tried to break out in a sweat, however the light immediately baked up any moisture before it could form. My lips started to chafe. All this with the light many metres away near the back of the hall. In the end I withdrew to the darkened back of the hall, which involved passing through the sheer brilliance and ferocious baking heat of the light and then plunging through into the cool darkness beyond.
Time passed and soon people started to filter into the hall through the side entrance. Immediately, they noticed something different from previous times they had attended. I pitied the old and feeble folk who didn’t at first notice the source of the dazzling light and went to walk past it to the other side of the hall. Hands would rush upwards to try and block the light which had seared into their brains as they passed. I’m pretty sure some of them had some sort of instant radiant sunburn as a result. They stumbled off to their chairs to gather themselves.
Graeme and his musicians kicked off proceedings as I watched from the darkness at the back of the hall. As they squinted towards the crowd, I was amazed that they could play such great music whilst suffering such glare. It was around this time that Graeme’s intricate microphone and music stand setup protected him greatly from the harmful rays.
When electricity starts to burn something, it puts off a very unique odour. It was this very scent that I became aware of as smoke started to appear above the light. A few of us gathered around the light to confer.
As subtly as possible, trying to not interrupt proceedings too greatly, we unplugged the light. It was like turning off a million suns. The music seemed to go on, however the room was swept into darkness - this while the overhead fluorescent light strips continued to shine feebly above.
The audience let out an involuntary ‘Ooh’ of relief. A peace settled about the room as people started to regain confidence that they could survive the concert and starting building hope again.
It was into this sense of communal optimism that I was soon introduced and went on to perform my songs.
After the concert had ended, I went onto social media to try and identify the light which had burned so brightly and which had impacted us so greatly that evening. It didn’t take long before a lighting expert chimed in to tell us that this was a particularly bright light which was designed for micro bursts in stadium concerts. I now remember seeing one or two used at a Stryper concert in my youth.
Now I await the next invitation to that old church hall and hope that I might somehow visit them without endangering lives or being a laughing stock. I can still smell the smoke.
PS. I have been back and have become part of the truly delightful family there. They don’t let me leave without jars of wild honey and chocolate cake being pressed into my hands. I look forward to returning!