My first wife was a Blue Peter Presenter. It was a fine TV ‘day job’ enabling me to stay at home, practice my guitar and bake cakes.
During one of our rare and brief encounters during those heady days, she fell pregnant. This became national news, and nine months later, Jem arrived kicking, screaming and demanding:
“More about ME!!”Ripple dissolve to present day, and we receive a lovely invitation to celebrate the 80th birthday of the legendary Biddy Baxter, who was Editor in charge of the BBC programme at the time when Teen was famous and Jem was almost.
The auspicious and sacred BAFTA is chosen to host this event, and after a small prompt from (still) my first wife , Jem (the B.P. Baby) is asked to sing a few songs.
It’s a few days now since we’ve returned from a great tour so we’re pretty well ‘chopped up’ and feeling Ok about a few tunes with very little fuss.
‘Would it be possible to do a short soundcheck sometime that day to make sure all would be well?’
‘Of course’.So guitar and Ukulele in hand we dutifully turn up to do what normally takes us 10 minutes, and as they say, ‘Bobs yer Invoice!’
We are immediately greeted by a sound engineer who is testing the hired P.A. System.
What is coming out however is the sound of hellish distortion, fuzz box vocals, indecipherable audio tones and a furious banging as he continues to hit both microphones as if this will rid the system of their apparent impurities.
“Two, two, two!” (We think he is saying)
It gets worse.
“Do you have any cables?”
“No! Two, three, testing!”
“I thought you were providing a PA system.”
“Yes, but I only do cables from here to here, two, two,”, pointing at various boxes and terminals as if this would explain it.
“Is there a reason why it’s only coming out of one speaker?” I timidly ask.
“Oh is it? I hadn’t noticed. I think I need to call head office…….Would you like to discuss it with my Boss?”
Ok so now we are 30 minutes into this sonic- torture which still hasn’t given us a clean sound, or any kind of balance; Certainly nothing close to a soundcheck and I’m starting to lose it. Or as Jem calls it: ‘Dad’s getting ‘Rock and Roll!’
We’ve had too many gigs in the past where they’ve invite a technician from the Academy of Deaf Sound Engineers, and someone who is incapable of knowing which knob to turn, button to push and often uses the mains plug as a fader! And when you’ve just returned from a great tour with a real sound engineer with great hearing and brilliant mixing skills, it just adds insult to ‘road kill’ injury.
We are a simple set up; At most, 2 microphones and two DI boxes. How wrong can you get this? And in this case, the lovely host and guest of honour is paying a substantial amount of cash for this pile of second rate audio crap.
“We can bring back a mixer that works for tonight!” He offers.
“But what about our soundcheck which is NOW?”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” (Cue cleaning out ears with large shovel!)
Then it is suggested that someone takes a picture of the mixer so we can recreate the fader level positions for the event later.
HELP!!!“Have you a cable to check the other DI? Hello? Any chance of…….? I think he’s gone!”
So there I am, scrabbling around in a pile of spaghetti trying to find an appropriate cable to get Jem’s Ukulele to work, while she is trying to keep the peace with the event organiser, (who is brilliant btw) and disguise the fact that her Dad is calling this engineer a complete Twat and generally having a complete breakdown.
Embarrassment is generally in the air, and the soundcheck is abandoned for a decent coffee next door at Costa.
Who knows what will happen? But we know it will be ok, because we’re good at what we do. People will also have had a glass or two, and there will be forgiving smiles when we sing Happy Birthday to the guest of honour.
I think this deserves more for future reference, as my rant isn’t quite complete… But for now, we simply hope for the best and that the few songs we do play are clear, audible and pleasing to the ears of the invited esteemed guests.
We return later in the day and casually employ the services of the head waiter to turn on the mics, wait for us to plug in our simple instruments, and then raise the master faders on the mixing desk, situated behind the stage(!?) to the previously agreed ‘photographed’ levels, and hope for the best.
‘Praise The Lord, no feedback!’
So far no one has been maimed, hurt, punched or injured….. But there is definitely still time.
More on the sound-rant and P.A. conundrums in future Blogs. Meanwhile, check out some fab merchandising by way of Albums 1, 2 and 3 all available here in the shop, also on Jem’s website and on iTunes.