"To be or not to be" (in a wedding band).
April 15, 2023
...“that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous corporate gigs, or to take arms against a sea of weddings, and by opposing end them?” Shakespeare (mostly).
A story about Bernard Purdie, The Indie Rock rulebook, and a private conversation held in a travelling car that would give Tom Hardy in Locke a run for his money.
‘Name dropping’ story to begin with….
I asked Bernard Purdie after his Crawdaddy show in Dublin around 2003 what kind of gigs he was doing these days. He was there partially as guest of Irish Drum Academy, the drum school myself and Paul Cantwell set up in 1999 and we did an interview with him after his gig. He said “I do mostly weddings these days, and if you want a great wedding band, we could come over from the States at a good price!! He gave me his business card right there and then which I still have. I couldn’t believe one of the great funk drumming legends, originator of 'The Purdie Shuffle'
groove merchant with Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Steely Dan and many more of the greats, was willing and happy to do weddings. I had always been told it was against Indie Rock legislation and that you should never sell your soul to the wedding devil. I was told by Indie Rock advisors early on…no Djembes, China crashes, splashes, fingerless gloves, cymbal cleaner, or mandolins. And I had all of these, but I kept them hidden from them! But more importantly, doing a wedding or a corporate is forbidden, they said.
Fast forward to 2023 where we eavesdrop a conscientious drummer having a conversation with someone he knows very well, trying to justify selling his soul to the devil now and again.
“So, are you doing many gigs these days?” he said in the car at the beginning of a long drive.
“Yeah, loads" (always lie). “I’m out the door busy”, he replied.
“Do you ever do weddings ?”
“No (lie). Well… not for about 5 years. I used to for a spell around 2014-2018 for a bit of extra cash but tragically the singer took his own life and that was the end of that band. It was actually mostly a great experience because we were a sort of rock n roll style semi jam band and we were all good friends so it made it easier to deal with the less savoury aspects of wedding gigs.”
“Like people being rude, staff or wedding attendees thinking you are some sort of lower life species. There is a huge contrast between gig goers who adore your band and look up to you, and people who are at the end of a long period of procrastination and stress for their big life event and can often basically look down on you. Also playing jaded songs that you would never put on your own turntable. Ever.
And the endless droney speeches….
Having to wear stupid black trousers and black shirt and black shoes. Also the dangerous late night drive home, sometimes from places as far as Kenmare, Cong Co. Mayo, or even Belmullet, which is halfway to America. You might not get back til 4 am. I nearly crashed into a deer on the M50, a lost horse on a backroad, and a heap of sheep on a mountain pass. Not all on the same night obviously. And a big inflatable pig on the road up to my house! Unless I was so tired that I imagined that last one.”
Wedding band, my ass
“But it is easy money right?” I mean, playing 2 hours of music at a party with people dancing and celebrating, and getting paid a big wedge of money? Free sandwiches and cocktail sausages if you’re lucky?
“Yeah, I suppose. There was this thing called cash in those days which meant you could spend it all a shop without having to give half of it to the government, who would do things like not support musicians with it. That aspect was good. But food? Sometimes you wouldn’t get any food and you had to walk around the room during the break and try to pinch a potato wedge or a few goujons from an empty table before starting the second set. Operation Goujon. ‘Just wait til they go for a smoke, Larry, then you go in for some and I'll cover you”.
Now taking photos at a wedding is different. Here's one of my favourites that I did for a dear friend.
“Has there been any crazy nights, memorable wedding band stories?”
“Yeah, there was the time I travelled up to Castle Leslie Estate in 2016 with Brian Hogan who was transporting my drums in his van from our big Electric Picnic show the day before. It was time to set up the gear. We were due to play in 30 mins. We took the gear out of his van and I felt a sudden shudder of fear and suddenly felt the need to vomit and urinate and fart with worry. No hardware case for my drum stands.
“Fuuuuuck! Where’s the hardware case, Brian?”
“I don’t know, how should I know”?
“Ha, Ha, very funny”
“Seriously, it’s not here, look”!
“Oh my dear Jesus! Its not there! It must be still at the Picnic”. “Did you not…?” (Problem solving is often slowed by blame apportioning).
“It’s not my fault”, said Brian (which it wasn’t).
So we went around the little remote village beside the Castle in a panicked frenzy, going door to door, doing more worry farts, asking was there any drummers who could lend me stands and pedals. Nobody. I then tried to figure out how to play drums and cymbals with nothing to hold any of them up. “C’mon Dave, think” I said to myself. “Think? But I’m a drummer”!
So here’s what I did... I turned the bass drum down flat on my right side to play low bass notes and put the snare on the floor tom for a stand. I wedged the tom onto a drum case and tied it with a strap and then gaff taped an upright stick to a spare mic stand and put a cymbal on it. ‘Look at the fuckin state of that, Steve Gadd’, I said to myself. It was a miracle I had something to play! It was quite dark in the room thankfully and I was hoping nobody from the wedding would notice the unconventional set up.”
What did the other band members say?
Andy the singer was quietly fuming beforehand I think. But he was too much of a gent to show it. And afterwards Larry said, “That was actually one of the best gigs you ever did. Your drumming was actually really direct and simple for once!” “Take that Mo Tucker”, I thought.
It’s the type of story that would make sure no one would want to employ you again, don’t you think?
No, it’s the type of story that makes you know that you will never ever leave anything behind for a gig ever again! Now I do a checklist with a clipboard and a chewed pen like a Tesco warehouse employee.
“You seem not so proud of it, but there is a high level of drumming skill and stamina required for these wedding gigs, right?”
“No I'm not proud of it, it’s a dirty secret. I always pray that I don’t know anyone at the wedding. ‘Dave Hingerty, right?, didn’t you used to play drums with The Frames’? ‘No, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else. I’m an actor. Chris O Dowd is my name and I do the odd wedding for the craic’.
"No I wasn't playing drums at a wedding last week". Yeah. Sure you weren't, Chris.
"And I can’t let my Indy Rock N Roll friends know either. There are many people playing at the top level who won’t even consider playing a wedding or corporate event either. And I was like that for so long. I admire that. Just like, no. Won’t even consider it.”
“And what changed, David?” (that was the name of both of the drummers talking)
“Having to put bread on the table. Having to feed my children. Having to pay for locks to put on presses to stop the kids eating.
‘Have you ever done corporate events that you actually enjoyed?”
“Yes one with a free whiskey bar where we all got stotious by the end of the gig and they gave me a bottle of 12 year old Jameson with my name printed on the label to bring home. My 15 fluid ounces of fame.”
I think we all age 12 years doing corporate events.
“What do you say to your drum students about going for work in this area then?”
“I’d say avoid it as long as you can. And try to make sure it only takes a maximum of 20% of your music time and energy and that you also have a soul satisfying music life outside of it to balance it out. And maybe go in disguise and under a false name.”
“It is that its seen as an inevitable road for the less creative, or less fortunate, but technically assured musicians?”
“No, I know a lot of highly creative musicians that do them, its more to do with supply and demand; with there being so many musicians/drummers and not enough original bands that pay. There’s probably more musicians in Ireland then there is Chinese people in China. You just don't see the real numbers cos we never fill out the Census. And it feels like there’s about 8 or 9 gigs that we all have to scrap it out for. We have to take what we can get. We don’t all want to be cool and broke. “You can’t eat cred” as the fantastic Irish drummer Fran Breen once famously said.”
“So have you any weddings coming up?”
“No”, he said (lie).
“I haven’t time to be honest (lie). And I don’t need the money (lie).
I wouldn’t rule it out going forward I suppose”, he said, going forward. To do a wedding.
After the wedding on the way home….
“Never again” Dave said.
“Never say ‘never again’” the other Dave said.
“Always say never again if you are mortified or have lost some of your self-respect. Without going into the detail, it was a horrible experience”.
“All right now Dave, Don’t look back in anger”
“Oh, shut up”
“At least it was only 500 miles”
“Look on the Brightside, Mr., you’re still Simply The Best”
“Go and shiet”
“Only trying to cheer you up. That bad, was it?”
“Yes, that’s it, never again”.
“Don’t do it anymore then, Dave. I agree, It’s bad for your soul.”
“It’s rare enough that we agree on something so quickly, but I’m glad you feel the same way about it now.”
No answer. No sound. No one else around on the long drive home. My esteemed travel companion simply disappeared. Thank God. All he does is ask stupid questions…
He did leave a note on the dash mind you…it said
Don’t stop Believin’, Dave!