When anxiety unexpectedly ruins your gig Featured

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Had the most horrible experience at a gig on Friday, and if I am being honest, one that has thrown me sideways all weekend. It’s been in the forefront of my mind ever since and I think.. I think… I’ve worked out what the problem was.

A little bit of background for those not familiar with my ramblings about the band. I play in a basic cover band, 5 normal guys playing the music that they like. We aren’t what you would call a Top 40 band as we generally refuse to play the songs that most pub crowds want to hear, and when we do give in and do a popular song, we make it our own. Basically, this means I get a load of opportunity to show off with various styles and quite a few elongated solos. Sounds kinda great doesn’t it!

I don’t consider myself to be a great player, but I can certainly hold my own in this band. Obviously, when I sit down with Tom Quayle I come away thinking I’m a complete novice, but relatively, in this situation, I’m good enough to be the sole guitar player in this cover band, playing the circuit we play. I’m confident about what I do and most of the time I come away quite happy - I always try to play for the song and try not to overtake the basic intention, just try to add to it, in my own way. So, you know, generally, it’s all a good experience for me (sounds like I’m trying to convince myself here).

Right, now all the background crap is over, here is what happened. We played two sets on Friday and the first set was great and the second set was utter crap. Not the band, just me. Everything felt wrong. I usually don’t suffer from any kind of nerves when playing – I’ve been doing this a long time - I just get up there and enjoy myself. I love my guitar and my gear in general – playing live with this band is my ‘comfy space’.

Looking back at it objectively (which is what I try to do with most things whenever possible), I can see the following things that happened. During the first set I played right at the top of my game, I was more than happy with it. My tone was spot on, my guitar felt like it was part of me and everything went well. We did our usual set and I think, in terms of my own capabilities, I pretty well nailed it. My musical barometers (the bass player and my wife) came up to me in the break and said it was all going rather well, and pointed out a couple of moments that really worked (I tend to improvise most stuff so you know, it’s a bit of a gamble). The people who were there and who were listening enjoyed it. So, thus far, it was all going swimmingly. The second set, from the moment I stepped up to make sure my guitar was in tune, my guitar felt like an alien in my hand. I honestly felt like I’d never touched it before and it just felt wrong. Absolutely everything about it wasn’t familiar to me. I felt like I was stood there on my own and sticking out like a big sore thumb, exposed as a complete fraud. To compound the issue, when I started playing it felt like my tone had changed also, considerably for the worse. When we finished the second set I couldn’t wait to get home, curl up in a ball and never think about it again. Yeah right. The reality is that I’ve been thinking about nothing else since. The thing that confuses me about this is that after the 2nd set my barometers said it was still great – just as great, but my wife did comment that she could see I wasn’t comfortable up there until it was coming to a close, when I looked more like myself. She said at some points I really didn’t look like myself and I was struggling, but my playing was on point.

When I got my guitar out of its case last night (I couldn’t bear to see it until then, which for me is unusual as I like to see it as I am around the house) it was exactly what I expected it to be. The action was how I like it and it felt like part of me instantly. I have no idea what made it feel different. Now, to counter the obvious questions - I don’t drink when gigging, so it wasn’t as if I had had one too many in the break, I don’t smoke anything I shouldn’t, I didn’t have any kind of bad experience in between, in fact, for the life of me, on the surface, I couldn’t think of anything tangible to give reason for this.

Here is what I think happened. I’m pretty certain that at the moment I picked my guitar up for the second set, something in my head said “NO” to me and I didn’t pick up on it. Generally, in my life, I quite often have an argument with myself about myself, and when my head says no about something I can identify it and move forward without too much stress – and yes, that is oversimplifying it immensely, but you probably don’t want to read about my process in full. What I didn’t do on Friday was identify this properly. The only way I can describe it – well, kinda, is like this. Have you ever been in a crowd and all of a sudden felt claustrophobic? Every been in a social situation and everything suddenly felt wrong and you have to leave for no apparent reason? It was like that – something was just wrong and everything around me was wrong and I had to get out, which I obviously couldn’t, so I had to stay and play. Now, I suffer from both of these feelings at times and I have learned how to deal with them both - I have things I can do to make sure I can overcome any sense of uncomfortable and move on. Trouble is, I’ve never had it on stage before in my comfy place, nor have it happen so sneakily and for it to have such a weird effect – basically, I just didn’t spot what this was. I don’t consider myself an overtly anxious person but I’m pretty certain I had somewhat of a subtle anxiety attack as I stood there. As usual with these things, there was no reason for it other than it just was.

OK, so what can I do to make sure I don’t suffer from this again. Well, right now I don’t really know. I can’t. All I do know is that it’s possible it might happen again - so I need to be able to identify it quicker and work with myself to contain it. As a 44 year old man with a fairly long history of ‘interesting emotional issues’, I’m in a position to work through most situations that come up (usually by talking to the people who can understand me, or as I am doing here, to total strangers) and I’m a long way forward from my lowest point in life, but I am aware that things like this can drag you down extremely quickly. I’ve learned, again, that when you are in your most comfy of places your head can totally mess with you and seemingly only do so for its own amusement. Should this happen again, I will be (hopefully) be able to identify it and concentrate on my space, my space within that space, and know what to do and how to bring myself through. There are focus things I can do, breathing things, internal headspace things, that help.

I do think that creative people, ‘artists’, are the most likely to suffer from issues such as these which leads me on to think I am going to have to write about this more, in depth, soon. I know there are a lot of people who are emotionally crippled by anxiety and I just can’t imagine what that must be like. What we see here is but a tiny snapshot, a token experience, one that (fortunately for me and those around me) I can deal with on my own.

Thank you for listening. I suppose that I should just shut up and play my guitar, and will do so. I’m only talking about this now because I’m pretty sure this happens to a lot of people,  and in more extreme situations, that happened to me. My relationship with the guitar is deeply personal and one that I treasure, I’m guessing that I need to be careful that I can’t let myself take away the thing I love the most from… errmm... myself. I'm lucky enough to have my guitar hanging on the way in front of me as I work, I keep looking at it and thinking "I love that thing" so I'm guessing as long as I'm thinking that, I'm still winning?

 

 

 

 

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