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  • Valerios Calocerinos

Diary of a gig day (From the archives)

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

It has been said musicians will carry thousands of dollars worth of equipment to far away places to play for very little money - This is just the half of it.



DIARY OF A GIG DAY - Thursday August 9

4am - Wake up ridiculously early after about 4 hours sleep due to swapped shift at my day job as a social educator. The only times I wake this early is if I am traveling or in my younger days when my father would force me to get up to go fishing with him. Now anything before 9am is too early and un-natural.

5am - Being winter, and a motorcyclist, the ritual of preparing for a cold ride consists of a lot of tucking, layering, insertions (earplugs!) and eventually imitating the Michelin man. Feeling quite confident i have kept the cold out I set out for an hours commute to the other side of town on my trusty Honda CT 110 (known better as a Postie bike - Yes that's right, me big Val, on a Postie bike. (Laugh if you will.)

5.15am - I notice a cold wind getting in under my helmet where I didn’t tuck my balaclava into my neck sock... must soldier on.

5.55am - Arrive at clients house. Spend 5 minutes un-clipping, undoing, sliding off until my girth is back to its natural state and enter house. My toes are freezing and I need coffee.

6.00 am - Notice clients brother looking at me strangely before he leaves for work.

6.01 am - No coffee in kitchen

6.02 am - See my reflection and realise the top inside seam of my my balaclava has left a mark running from the tip of my forehead to the back of my head which looks like a pretty severe scar. Ah yes I remember this, I have freaked out many service station attendants with this before.

9.00 am - The ritual of preparing for a ride begins.

9.05 am - Home bound to get some rest (more sleep), maybe some practice in before gig.

9.30 am - Flashing blue light from out of no where at a set of traffic lights. I see that its a motorcycle cop so I assume my fellow motorcyclist is just doing a routine check. I pull over, he starts talking to me, I explain (with my helmet still on) that I can't hear him as I have earplugs in. I pull my helmet off, then balaclava, see a slight look of shock as he sees my ‘scar’ as I take out my ear plugs.

‘Do you know why I pulled you up?’ he says. In my mind I was saying ‘Yes, because you are lonely and feel like a chat and just like to get in the way of someones unusual routine, someone who is tired, cold and needs caffeine but no, I concede and just say ‘no, no i don’t, please enlighten me’

‘When you pulled up at the lights your front wheel went over the white line, technically that is the same as going through a red light.' Again, in my head I was saying ‘technically that's just an excuse to raise revenue so the state can waste more money on ridiculous things’ but no, I say ‘really?’ Trying to be as nice as possible while standing in the cold wind, hoping that being a motorcyclist himself and taking into consideration its a Postie bike for gods sake, hardly capable of creating any carnage on the roads. I am being a conscientious citizen riding this, its economical, no pollution and will not go over 85 KLM/H even then it needs a decent run up.

“that’ll be $397 and 3 points thank you very much”

9.40 am - I wave my fellow motorcyclist farewell as I start the ritual of preparing to ride again. My toes are freezing.

10.00 am - Ah home finally, by this stage the traffic fine has disappeared from my consciousness as these sort of things usually do for me. I am of the ‘final notice’ type. Mmm coffee, strong coffee. my toes are freezing. I don’t know if its a sign of getting older but this winter a hot water bottle has made an appearance in my house. Admittedly it was my wife who started the craze but I caught on after cold nights in bed trying to steal hot water real estate with my feet. It wasn’t long before we had matching his and hers. Marvelous inventions.

I had really only associated hot water bottles with the old and feeble but since owning one I believe I have even commented that if I had a pet, I would get one for it too. But I am no good with pets, even pot plants have a hard life in my place. I once killed a cactus.

10.15am - I am all set, Kettle is boiling, motorcycle gear off, pajamas back on, coffee grains looking good in the cup, cartoons on the tele and the cap is off the water bottle waiting to be filled to warm my toes on the couch. Chilling out before a gig, that's what I like. Kettle boiled, I make coffee all good so far. I start filling the hot water bottle but over pour the steaming hot water which lands on my thick sox (containing my still freezing toes) which then absorbs the heat and evenly distributes it over my pinkie and the next toe, which I don’t think has a name. I do that weird dance, you know the one, while trying to work out what my next step should be. I rip my sock of and run to the bathroom where I run cold water over my toes. Its too late. It blisters.

10.20am - I know there's cigarettes hidden in the house somewhere, I know all my wife’s hiding spots! My rule with smoking is never during the day and only on weekends. Of course I bust this rule all the time. I sit out side, have a smoke, enjoy my coffee, wince in blister pain and reflect on my marvelous morning. (Ed - I have given up and you should too)

10.25am - On the couch, feet on hot water bottle, time to relax. I can't relax, too much coffee, so I tend to my daily online duties, replies to emails, that silly Facebook thing, organise posters/ fliers dates for recording, changing dates for recording, contact venues, arrange rehearsals.

12pm - Time for practice. Today I work on thumb position, firstly from the Petracchi book and then loose myself in the first Bach cello suite. I’ll get there! Time passes quickly when I have my bass in my hands and before I know it, its 3 pm.

3pm - I decide to go for a walk to the local shops. I take a couple of cigarettes from the stash and head off. I go to one of my favourite cafes and have another coffee and spend the time on my pesky phone replying to emails and texts about recording times dates etc. 2 cigarettes down I head off.

3.30pm - I run into a guy I have worked with a couple of times. He tells me he is going to hospital tomorrow for something to do with his penis. I really wasn’t sure what it was all about. All I could really understand is, I've met a girl’, “(something?) of hers has fused with mine” “leakage” “I'm wearing a pad now” “insertion into the eye of my penis”,

“grafting” “day procedure” and “my mum seems to like her”

I bid him farewell and good luck still not sure exactly what his ailment was and not too sure if I should shake his hand, it was too late, I shook it when i first saw him and besides, that's what men do. Confused at why someone I barely know would share something quite personal, painful and disgusting with me I'll never know. But I have always been the ‘go to person’ for some reason among my peers for strange secrets, habits and ailments. Maybe its my non judgmental character, maybe its because people know I have a bad memory.

4.00 pm - I pack up my bass, leads and all the other gig paraphernalia

5.30 pm - Being a double bass player obviously I will not be riding the Postie bike to the gig. Being a sensible type of person I also have a car, a very old car. A 1969 VW Beetle, affectionately named Helga, in fact I like to think I own 2 pieces of motoring history. I don’t have a passenger seat in my car, otherwise it would be difficult to get my bass in there. I lug everything into the car and set off early because I have to help set up the PA for the night.

5.40 pm - Im away. I need petrol, may as well get a packet of cigarettes so I can have one or two and then give the rest to Pietro at the end of the night. This way I wont have any on me and wont smoke until the next time I see him. Traffic is bad. I'm heading to Paddington.

6.00pm - I can see the venue from where I am sitting idle in traffic, slowly crawling up the right turn lane. Why do these traffic lights only let 1 car through at a time.

6.15 pm - Still waiting in the right hand turn lane

6.25 pm - I have crawled a bit closer to the turn, should be my turn next. The lights go green, at the same instance as I put the pedal down my phone rings and my car stalls. I answer the phone as it is Mike, the support act, while trying to start my car. The lights have gone red and my car isn’t starting. I explain to mike my predicament but I think my voice was drowned out by the mass of car horns aimed at me. Now what?

I let the beetle rest for a minute or two and try again, the winding sound slows down and all signs of life fade away. I ring Pietro who has arrived at the venue with the PA not really for help but more of $%^# this, I’m going to be late, vent my spleen type of call.

Driving such a fine example of modern engineering I have never seen the point of belonging to any roadside assistance programs, to me they are just another form of insurance, which I also don’t really see the benefits of. I mean it was just a bullying system set up by the Romans right? and what have the Romans ever done for us? I weigh up my options and ring the NRMA. I am greeted by the usual automated answering system. ‘If you have children or pets locked in your car please press 1, If you are a member please press 2, if you are not a member please press 3’ 3 it is. I explain my predicament to the operator while half of Sydney’s commuters are being held up for dinner because of me. The nice lady explained that I would have to join and there were 2 levels of membership, one expensive one and one really expensive one, so without taking too much notice of the benefits of each I opt for the expensive one. I was then played a recording of the conditions of the legally binding agreement I was about to enter into. Riveting stuff.

More questions from the operator and my membership is done. One last question, credit card number? This could be messy, I give her the details and hope that my bank is kind to me today and lets me go a little bit over my limit. ‘No sorry, it didn’t go through’ The operator suggests if I know anyone else with a card she can ring. Yes, my wife. I give her the number and I wait patiently on the line while she tries to call. ‘Sorry there is no answer, do you want to try and contact her and I will call you back in 15 minutes”

I hang up.

6.45 pm Im about to call my wife and Pietro calls, ‘Whats happening man, where are you, we cant get the PA working’ Being an audio engineer and working out of rehearsal studios I was the go to guy in the band for the mysteries of setting up Audio stuff. I tell Pietro I’m working on it and should see him soon. I try to call my wife, no answer. I send a text in the hope that for some reason she will get that even though she doesn’t get the call. No reply. I then get a text from Pedro (not Pietro, we have Pedro and Pietro in the band) ‘Hey Val do you have a spare guitar lead, I'm on my way and forgot to bring one?’ I reply, no sorry, maybe ask Mike from the support when you arrive’

6.55 - pm I finally get through to Olga, she was in the shower. I get her credit card details and wait for the NRMA operator to call back.

7.00 pm - The traffic flow has thinned out and its only every second car that abuses me now so I don’t feel so bad. Pietro comes over for some moral support and a cigarette.

7.05 pm - Still no call back from NRMA so I recall. ‘If you have children or pets locked in your car please press 1, If you are a member please press 2, if you are not a member please press 3’ Now I wasn’t sure if I was actually a member at this stage as it was set up but just not paid so I took a risk and went with the ‘member’ option. Bam bah... wrong ‘I’ll just transfer you to the right area. The usual questions, the really informative recorded message, credit card details given and I am one step closer’

‘What is your location?’ I give the details. ‘I’m sorry our road side service assistants wont work on the car there because it is too dangerous, we will send a tow truck to tow you somewhere safe and then send for a roadside service assistant’

So now I wait. I take the opportunity to have a rest, blocking out the horns and abuse. Like an apparition I see flashing orange lights appear in my rear view mirror. Its the tow truck. I get out of the car and greet the driver. He asks me what seems to be the problem. With all the man talk I can muster about cars I say something stupid clearly indicating to the man I know absolutely nothing about vintage Volkswagen engines. Within a flash he has the car up on to the back of a truck for its journey to about 100 metres away. We dump the car at a spot near the front of the venue. The driver said a roadside assistant will be there shortly to help with the car. I unload my double bass and head into the venue.

Finally I get into the venue and am faced with a PA which refuses to work. Luckily for me, unlike engines, this is something I do know about and have the sound set up in a matter of minutes. By now I really need a drink. I do so. My phone rings and its the roadside assistant who is outside by my car. Great. I think to myself, he will fix my car and I can relax into the gig I have to play in about 30 minutes knowing I will get home tonight.

‘I can get it going mate, but the generators shot, you’ll just have drive home with out stopping otherwise you wont get it started again’ I explain to him that I’ve got to play a gig and wont be going anywhere for a couple of hours. He told me just to call again when I'm ready to leave and someone will come out, no problem.

OK great. We play, the gig goes really well and my mind is off all things auto for a while.

It’s around midnight now and as I am loading my gear into my car I am abused by a cyclist who nearly crashes into my double bass on the footpath. That was close, real close. I have a good relationship with my luthier but that is a call I just don’t ever want to make. I try to start the car in the hope that it will start but nothing at all. I can't load the gear into the car because the battery is under the rear seat and the roadside assistant will need to get to it and with the bass in there it will be impossible. I ring the NRMA and sit and wait, wait and sit.

1.15 am - The same man from before comes to help. Success, the car starts and he drives away and I pray that the car doesn’t stall while I load the bass in. Success is short lived and I travel about 3 Klms and the engine stalls. I attempt to roll for as far as I can down a little side street in an attempt to get closer to home. I come to a halt on a pedestrian crossing. Damn, I gave Pietro my last cigarettes. OK stay calm. My phone is almost out of charge, first thing ring Olga. No answer, she is already asleep. Next ring the NRMA back. I am a member now so the automated service is a bit shorter.

1.40 am - I wait and pace in an attempt to stay warm and eventually after about an hour the tow truck appears. I watch as my poor old car is hoisted onto the tray like some kind of anaesthetised animal you see on documentaries being taken somewhere for some weird medical thing. My little white bug was definitely in need of some type of internal work. The friendly tow truck man who seems to have an odd wandering eye that is sometimes looking in a different place to his other eye is friendly enough and luckily a smoker. He no doubt notices the double bass in the little car and cleverly deduces that I am a musician therefore must share his penchant of theme songs to television cowboy series of the 60s. I don’t. He very unselfishly proceeded to serenade me the entire journey home, not once did he consider the notion that I have had a challenging night. But it was his domain and if this kept him going through the night then so be it.

2.50 am - We drop the bug at my mechanics workshop. My phone is dead and I need a taxi to come and pick me and my gear up. I walk to a nearby hospital where luckily there is a working pay-phone. It must be at least 20 years since I last used one of those I thought to myself.

Let me explain to those of you who have read this far who are not double bass players the intricacies involved in booking a taxi with one of these instruments. You may be thinking, ‘oh if you can get a double bass in a 1970 VW Beetle surely any sedan will do’.

Yes usually, but a lot of taxis have a security plastic wall between the front and back seats and even some station wagons have a wire wall between the rear compartment and rear seats so neither of these will do. Being this specific to a call operator at 3am can be trying for both parties but luckily I manage to speak to a sympathetic operator.

There must not of been too many of these specific types of taxis on the road that night and as I sat there waiting in the cold and dark with my double bass and no cigarettes I reflected on my night and the early morning I had ahead of me.

3.30 am - Like a beacon I see the light of the taxi scanning the numbers of buildings as it makes its way up the street. I could tell that the driver understood my predicament as soon as he laid eyes on me. I loaded my gear in without issue and prepared for the almost final journey of my night. I bid farewell to my little German battler with the scribbled note under its windshield wiper, although I knew no note was necessary as my mechanic knows this old girl all too well and she has payed him many a visit.

Taxi drivers, well the ones I get anyway, always seem to be of the philosophical type, usually Middle Eastern or Greek, In Sydney this is a pre-requisite and I like it this way and the gentleman with the bushy mustache and cool hat offers some words of wisdom.

Finally I make it home and the last leg of my journey lays before me. I live in a unit and have a big double bass and my gear to carry up the stairs. 2 trips later, with much banging of various items on stair railings and fumbling to open doors with full hands I am home.

Olga wakes up and asks me how my night was and I think about what the wise taxi driver told me just moments before after learning my plight.

“Don’t think about it too much because you will stress and too much stress no good”

But I do think about it, write about it even.

EPILOGUE

The car is repaired and as all things vehicle related it it runs into the many hundreds of dollars. Only weeks later when about to leave for another gig much black slippery liquid could be seen spreading under the car whilst trying to start it. Again, she is lame. Once more after another trip on the back of another tow truck I am given the sombre diagnosis. A cracked engine casing. The call is up to me shall I turn off the life support or empty my quickly depleting savings on keeping this old classic junker on the road. Luckily Helga is thrown a lifeline in the way of a young enthusiastic (and obviously rich) friend of the mechanic who also sees the beauty in Helga amidst her surface rust and torn interior. His plan is to restore her to her former glory and offers me a respectable sum to take her into his good hands.

I never saw Helga again after that but I still think about her whenever I am loading my double bass into Olga’s nice new black German car.







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