It’s 12:17 and a car is on fire.
Chris, our drummer, and I are on route to pick up our bassist Travs from the deepest, darkest wilds of west London. We are currently at a standstill on the A-something-or-other and the (thankfully) empty car next to us is on fire. Firefighters look on with the helplessly professional nonchalance of people that are sure, “Yes, that is definitely a fire.”
We’re due on stage in Stafford at 7:30, with a requested arrival time of an hour before. When a promoter asks you to arrive at 6:30, you can extrapolate from that the options available to you:
- You need to arrive at 6:30
- 6:00 if you want to be in any danger of being invited back.
- 7:29 if you think you should actually be higher up the bill.
I am haunted by a teeny, tiny, soul crushing anxiety every waking minute, so I’ve plotted our arrival for 5pm. And even then, my anxiety thinks we’re cutting it fine. An atypical 3-way argument ensues whereby Chris insists everything will be fine, my anxiety scoffs, and I sit in the middle trying not to annoy either of them.
But it’s 12:17 and a car is on fire.
Friday shows halfway up the country are a problem. I’d estimate that of the bands currently on the scene, 98% of them have full time jobs. Call Me Malcolm are certainly not trail blazers with our catching unicorn-esque dreams of being able to pay our rent. So on Fridays, we work.
In and of itself, work is not a problem. But Friday shows five hours away result in days something like this:
- 8:00 am : Arrive at work for your pre-arranged 3 hour shift. Proceed to complete 8 hours worth of work if you want to be in any danger of being invited back.
- 11:00 am : The driver living furthest away from target venue begins picking the other 4 members.
- 12:00 pm : Drive 5 hours to said venue, where possible avoiding vehicles that are on fire.
- 5:00 pm : Arrive at the show 90 mins early as per anxiety’s demand.
- 5:10 pm : Load in, soundcheck, be nice to the sound technician, set up merchandise, where possible avoiding anything else that might be on fire.
- 7:30 pm : Play show. Don’t f**k it up.
As we watch the former Volkswagen cleanse itself of demons, we see drivers less concerned about the relative intactness of their vehicles pull 180s on the grass verge and head back towards the M25 in the hopes of a journey less flame-y.
Which is a misguided sense of progress. Everyone knows the Highways Agency sets the Heathrow junction on fire every Friday at 1pm.
Paranoid my anxiety is about to go feral and bite me, I distract it by recalling the last time I crapped myself in public; the equivalent of throwing a stick for an overeager puppy. It’s not a mental health technique I’d necessarily recommend, but it normally gives me 30 seconds before anxiety returns to the matter at hand and pisses on the carpet.
Through some semi-furious Google Mapping, I conclude that once we navigate this disaster, it’s a quick scootch onto the M40, then north to freedom. And the M6. Everything is probably fine.
It’s 4:42pm on the M6, and we’re stationary. The cars are less burnt, but we’ve been parked so long a traffic warden starts checking for tickets. We’re so close to the car in front we can smell their chips. None of us have eaten since food was invented. Travs has a bag of Werther’s Originals, but I’m suspect about their relative nutritional value. I consider fashioning a spear from sharpened drum sticks and gaffer tape and catching the traffic warden for dinner, but I’ve been in the car so long I feel a bit crampy.
At this stage, we’re in serious danger of looking like a band that thinks it should be higher up the bill, so I message the promoter for the 17th time this hour with the latest update:
Still stuck on M6. Send Papa John’s.
It’s 5:27. We’re out of Werther’s Originals and the traffic warden was already eaten by a malnourished Eddie Stobart driver. We’re 2 hours from the venue. I stare long enough at Google Maps the screen becomes 1s and 0s, plotting routes, bypassing traffic. Anxiety, so often a foe, kicks into top gear. If we take the next exit, followed by a left, two rights and ride the hard shoulder of the M-whatever-the-hell then we’ll be there in time to maybe even write a setlist. I am a genius. I am Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. At which point I proceed to worry Chris is an FBI agent orchestrating this entire ordeal.
I message the promoter again:
Will miss soundcheck. Sorry. Please don’t kick us off the bill. Sorry. Drummer is a secret agent. Also sorry.
Anxiety takes the wheel and starts listing worst case scenarios:
- We miss our set time and get bumped off the bill.
- We’re stuck on the M6 forever. This is our life now.
- At some point in the future, people will be subjected to these lists as a contrived framing device for an article.
I begin to worry I will lose my hypothetical future audience if I describe any more traffic jam, so I vow, when I eventually write this story, to cut to more action.
It’s 7:21. We’re parked and running to the venue, struggling with enough gear to prove I skip leg day. There’s no way I would’ve caught that traffic warden, I spend too much time on the elliptical. We burst into the venue, yelling apologies to anyone in earshot, throwing equipment at the stage, concussing a nearby sound tech.
But the headliners have only just finished sound checking.
“You guys just finishing?” I pant, leaking an amount of sweat one could only describe as excessive. My demeanour is somewhere between ‘I’ve just run up twenty seven flights of stairs’ and ‘Someone put this animal down, there’s nothing we can do for him’.
“Yeah. All yours. Have a good show.”
Anxiety has many downsides. An ineptitude in social situations involving anything more than talking to myself in a mirror. A propensity for imagining large bears on stage. But worst of all, an occasional failure to conceive of issues outside my own. I hate it, but it’s part of the set menu.
The headliners, along with every other band on the bill, having taken half days, done round trips picking every member up from every corner of their respective counties, skipping meals and leg days, were also stuck in traffic. We all had terrible days on our way to the office.
Some days, it’s worth remembering that if you made it through without your car on fire, you can chalk it up as a win.
Everything is probably fine.
Article written by Lucias Malcolm of Call Me Malcolm fame. If you enjoyed this, read Lucias’ other article There Is A Bear On Stage: an equally amusing account of social anxiety.
Call Me Malcolm are one of the premier ska-punk bands around. After the success of their album I Was Broken When You Got Here last year, I’d strongly recommend booking them for a show sometime soon.