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Things to do when you’re on your own in a pub before a gig - 04/11/2012

As I write this I am sitting on my own in a pub before a gig. It’s 3rd November 2012 and tonight I’m playing at The Rose and Crown in Cleckheaton. By a bizarre twist of fate, too wild and fantastical to describe, I have arrived 2 hours early. Yikes.

Playing in places where I know people is brilliant, but being on the road all the time means this doesn’t always happen and I often find myself sitting in pubs and venues on my own waiting to play. If you are of a sensitive disposition, you may already be biting your nails and shuddering at the thought of billy-no-mating your way through Friday and Saturday nights in PUBLIC. What do you do? How do you avoid looking like a nutter? Well fear not my sensitive friends, in this blog I’m going to share with you some of my top tips for things to do when you’re on your own in a pub.

1. Fiddle with your phone. Yes, I know – it may be obvious and a bit transparent, but it can be very helpful. Try saving up the texts you need to reply to, and the emails if you’ve got a smart phone, and get working. There’s nothing like being productive comrade, and the pub people with their large groups of friends might think you’re texting the people you’re waiting for. Or at the very least they’ll assume you do know people, even if they can’t actually see them.

2. Take up smoking. True, it is very bad for you but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. If you can manage to become a heavy smoker, the amount of time you’ll spend walking between your lonely table and the door will give you an air of the ‘man/woman about town’ – so much to do, so little time!

3. Talk to the pub people. This can seem risky, but don’t panic - start with something neutral like the area, the beer etc. Check the volume of your voice to make sure you’re not shouting, and avoid gripping onto sleeves/trousers/skirts to steady yourself. This technique can be really effective and might result in real friends! It combines well with the smoking technique, and is great if you’re there for a gig. Get it in early that you’re playing and zowie - you’ve explained your current isolation and chucked in a discussion topic in one fell swoop.

4. Meditate. This is probably the most advanced suggestion on the list, and should only be tried if you are good at mediating in the first place. Find yourself a nice comfortable seat, and get into your zone. Once you have become one with your environment, you will see that there is no difference between you, the pub people, the beer, the furniture, etc. etc. and you will no longer be there ‘on your own’. The other pub people might not see it this way though, unless they have achieved a similar state of oneness, and this is quite rare in my experience.

5. Hide or disguise yourself. This will require you to visit the pub you plan to be a billy-no-mates in ahead of billy-no-mates time. Scope the joint out for hiding places – can you get into that weird little cupboard in the corner? If you wore dark clothes, could you roll underneath a bench seat and remain undetected? Ask yourself questions like these and if there are no suitable hiding places, take a photo of the wallpaper and find an outfit that matches it. If you opt for this approach, do not break cover under any circumstances, and definitely don’t go and buy a drink. Just wait till everyone’s gone home, then slip out as quietly as you can. This technique should not be used if you are there to play a gig.

Well, I hope that helps. If you have any suggestions to add that I have not considered, which is pretty unlikely, you can send them to jake@jakemanning.com where I will review them and if they pass my considerably high quality threshold, shall post on here.

Finally, do not, under any circumstances, sit on your own at a table with your laptop out writing a blog. You’ll look like some kind of anti-social Starbucks moron laughing like a drain in the face of everything that is good about pub culture.

Early musings on a portable life... - 28/07/2012

The coolest term for it is a “Troubadour”! The slightly less cool, but definitely still aspirational one (if you don’t include the dodgy race reference) is “Minstrel”. Still registering as cool, but with creeping negative undertones are “Vagabond” and “Drifter”. And then we’re into the realm of tooth-suckingly less appealing terms like “Vagrant”, “Hobo”… and “Homeless”?

So, in the words of the great Jackie Chan in his 1998 classic “Who Am I?” - who am I? I think I may just be my Great Grandad.

Towards the end of his life, my Great Grandad sold up and spent his last years staying with friends and family, using money from everything he’d sold to contribute to the various households he visited, usually for six months at a time. I first heard about this a few years ago, and to be honest, I felt a bit sorry for this elderly troubador/minstrel/vagabond/drifter/vagrant/hobo/homeless guy who’d sold everything he’d worked so hard for and ended his days moving from household to household.

Then a few years later in September 2011, I found myself and my improbably large amount of boxed up stuff needing to find somewhere to live. My sister and a friend offered me a room in a flat until I could get sorted.

With no other plan in sight, I accepted this generous offer, and launched into an all-out stuff-selling strategy, to slim me down to flatmate size. I ripped through my boxes and was genuinely surprised to find I had spent much of the last five years collecting masses of useless crap. I shoved as much as I could up on Ebay and held a free jumble ‘give-away’ for everything else. Soon I had lost enough weight to fit into my new home… suit…

I suddenly felt ‘portable’. I had whittled down my belongings to a car load of stuff, and it dawned on me that it didn’t really matter where I lived. A few conversations later and I had a string of temporary homes and lodgings set up that would see me through till March 2013 (I am blessed with incredible friends and family)!

There would be downsides to this lifestyle: it would be hard to create new lasting friendships, a normal job would probably be out of the question, and there would be no indulging my maverick flair for interior design. But on the upside, the potential for adventure would be high, I’d spend more time with the people I love, and I could finally take my music on the road!

It’s early days for this portable life, and if I have the tenacity and the luck to last the distance, maybe I’ll eventually be able to call myself a Troubadour. But so far, it has been a brilliant adventure and one of the best decisions I have ever made. My Great Grandad was definitely on to something!

PS If you have a spare room/couch/floor, the email address is jake@jakemanning.com :-)

Boom and bust in Birmingham - 14/06/2012

If there’s one thing the travelling guitar player needs, it’s the ability to be a good guest so that those kind Samaritans on whose floor/sofa/spare bed (lush!) you’re crashing, might one day allow you to come back and do it again. That and a guitar. At this present moment, I was good for the former.

If you read my last blog, you will probably still be reeling from the dizzying height of the cliff we were left hanging on: my beloved Seagull had taken a sudden swoop into early retirement.

It wasn’t just a lack of things to fiddle with that had conferred a sense of urgency on the no-guitar situation, it was the very present reality of a gig that coming weekend. My guitar had been decommissioned the Friday before the weekend I was currently standing in. Anybody worth their salt will tell you that meant I had a week to find my new guitar. Yes I could borrow one for the gig which would allow me to take my time finding a new guitar, research the hundreds of models available, save up a bit more money, make sure I make the right choice etc. etc. But what a boring bloody blog that would be!

So I leapt into action, like a monkey into a fruit fight.

[The next bit is actually a bit too boring to write about, so just imagine your humble blogger in an 80s style music montage doing some frantic internet research, making phone calls, experiencing brief moments of despair, and ending up crashed out in a nest of papers, takeaway boxes and beer cans]

After that? I went to Birmingham.

Twelve strings are not uncommon, but most shops tend to only stock a couple, and though after such a busy montage, I had an idea of the guitars I was most interested in, I also knew that I had to play them before laying down the readies. Living in Loughborough at the time, Birmingham was the closest place with a decent selection, so I headed off first thing Monday morning, played about 15 different 12 strings in about 8 different shops, and by 5pm, I’d made my decision.

It was the first guitar I’d played at the first shop I visited – Guitar Guitar on Hagley Road. It was the first thing I saw as I walked in, bleary eyed and anxious. It looked beautiful [imagine now some slow motion, soft focus camera work], it was easy to play, it sang bright and clear, it was twice my upper price limit, and by 5.30pm – boom! It was mine.

I’m not going to tell you the price I paid because it is unrefined. But rest assured, I have been swallowing hard, and desperately trying to earn money ever since. On a positive note, I absolutely and completely love this guitar, am playing more now than I ever have before, and am being challenged by the way the guitar is built to write different and interesting tunes. And anyway, if you’re a musician, is there anything more important than your instrument to spend your money on? And I am a musician. If only to justify this final argument.

Oh yeah, it’s a Taylor.

And the gig went great.

This bird has flown - 07/05/2012

The prognosis was not good.

I’d taken a trip to Sheehan’s music shop in Leicester to show my trusty Seagull S12 workhorse guitar to Pierre, the Luthier there, because the action seemed to be getting bigger and the tuning had started going out towards the top of the fret-board (for non-guitar nerds, the action is the distance between the strings and the fret-board, and like an assailant in Double Dragon - the bigger, the badder).

When I opened the case, Pierre sprang like a cat to the root of the problem, “Oh, it’s a twelve string!”. Apparently all but very expensive twelve strings should be thought of as ‘perishable items’ (yikes!). This is due to the huge tension down the neck of the guitar from all those extra strings. “Basically”, Pierre enlightened me, “the strings will slowly tug the neck of the guitar forwards, raising the action as it goes, until it is basically unplayable”.

He then pointed out several other visible consequences of having 12 metal strings trying to yank your head into your toes, each of which my guitar demonstrated admirably, and none of which was better news that the bent neck. Pierre then discovered the main thing which was not better news than the bent neck.

He asked me if I had noticed a crack along the head-stock (non-guitar nerds, this is the bit on the end with all the pegs). I told him that yes, I had indeed noticed this. Well it turns out that this crack is not actually a “flap of inconsequential laminate trim that has always been like that”, but in fact, the head-stock slowly breaking in two. “How long have I got?” I asked, “It might snap right now, it might snap a year from now” Pierre replied as he handed me back my trusty Seagull S12 workhorse.

I took my guitar and held it like a Shepherd whose faithful sheepdog lay dying in his arms, but might snap at any moment with tremendous force, and possibly slice his fingers off. Pierre said he would not work on the guitar even if I wanted him to.

So - I learned that the action and tuning were definitely out, that twelve string guitars are perishable (and so you should probably never buy an old one!), and that I need a new guitar.

I’m not sure how Pierre has come across in the telling of this tale, but it’s important to say that he is a fantastic guy and an excellent Luthier - his refusal to work on my guitar was because it “would have been like robbery”. He could have probably stung me for a ton if he wasn’t such an honest fellow.

I did ask him as I left, how long you could expect to get out of a twelve string. He said that unless you spend a ridiculous amount of money, you’d be lucky to get ten years out of one.

I took my poor old thirteen year old Seagull home and slackened the strings, which will never be tightened again.

Is this the end of Jake’s Minstrel Wanderings?! Tune in same time, same place for the next installment of this nerve-shattering saga!

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