If you’ve been gigging for a while, you’re bound to have a collection of horror stories, whether they are tales of the transit van, dressing room or stage. As this is a blog on live sound, here are a few of my PA horror stories. Feel free to add your own!
The ever louder monitor
From the first number to the last, my monitor speaker gradually got louder and louder. No-one at the desk seemed to be aware of this, possibly because they weren’t there. By the final number, coincidentally one I was required to windmill a huge power chord on, it was so loud and distorted that I felt like Marty McFly.
The radio mic
No-one who’s ever seen Spinal Tap ever believes this one, but at a gig in Nottingham my radio mic seemed to be on the same frequency as the local taxi company’s radio. Periodically, I would be interrupted by calls for a pickup on Lenton Boulevard.
(incidentally, this very same gig was the location of another horror story. Upon arrival, we found that the owners dog had left a rather large deposit in the middle of the floor. The owner was called, and after berating the dog he fetched a chair, placed it over the turd… and left)
The pro setup.
Having been assured that the venue had a PA numerous times, upon arrival it became clear that it was a karaoke system (and a small, portable one at that). The tech-spec request for Shure SM58s had gone unnoticed, instead we were provided with the plastic mics that had been supplied with the system. I got a red one.
We weren’t expecting those
At a pub that, it became clear, had little experience of live music, we arrived with our small PA. There didn’t seem to be anywhere obvious to set up, and when we asked, we were told “I wasn’t expecting you to bring those big boxes”. “Pardon?”, says us, “without them we’re not going to be heard at all in here” (it was a large, busy, chatty bar). “We thought you might wander around the place and play” was the response.
New Years Eve. Duo booked for entertainment. Upon arrival, we ask where to set up. We are told our entire performance space is currently occupied by glass-fronted fridge, which would be moved for us after the diners had finished. Not only was this space woefully inadequate for two people and a PA, the fridge still contained the same solitary piece of cheesecake that was there when we arrived, 5 minutes before out scheduled kick-off time.
I mentioned this one before, but on more than one occasion the supplied PA has been a pile of stands, cables, speakers and flight cases piled up in a corner, with no-one at the venue with a single clue as to who will arrive to set it up nor how it works.
Upon setting up my mic, plugging it in, and handing the other end of the XLR cable (industry standard mic cable) to the ‘sound man’, I received a puzzled look. “Never seen anything like that before!”, he said cheerily.
What does this button do?
Small gig, nice little PA set up for us on arrival. A very quick plug in and line check, and off we go. Then the PA operator spots the digital effects on the desk. Wow, it really had a lot of them. He tried them all, all the way through the gig.
A bicycle made for 2Kw
Not a horror story at all, but worth a mention. A festival stage powered by bicycles, which as a very sound and fun idea. People pedal, and the sound system keeps running. Worth a mention due to my musical partner Ian Emmerson, in the middle of a particularly loud version of ‘Ace of Spades’ during which the PA could be heard to be struggling a bit, screaming (still in his best Lemmy voice) at a bunch of terrified children, “PEDAL! PEDAL FASTER!”