Behind the mic

Not at DP's bar any time soon. Pity.
Not at DP’s bar any time soon. Pity.

People stared at the makeup on his face,laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace. The boy in the bright blue jeans jumped on the stage. Lady Stardust sang the songs of darkness and dismay. And it was alright, the band was altogether, yes it was alright, the song went on forever and it was out of sight, really quite Paradise. We sang all night, all night long.

David Bowie, Lady Stardust

Ok, doing stand-up poetry (yes I know it’s not real poetry) gigs on the Suffolk coast isn’t quite like heading the bill at the Hammesmith Odeon and I can’t quite squeeze into that off the shoulder Mr Fish dress but now I know the feeling that the song was about.

For fifteen years I did business presentations. I did the Powerpoints, memorised the subject, which was usually marketing research and the details and results of the job we’d done for the clients and got up there on my hind legs. I got a bit of a reputation for being at every conference and it was true. I loved it. It was hard work in a way that a coal-miner or a farmer wouldn’t recognise. We’d fly in somewhere and with my favourite client that owned and launched satellites I’d be picked up by car from my house and driven to the airport. We’d fly Business class and get a decent taxi to a hotel the other end. I hadn’t been to any five star hotels as a guest before that. I got to know them in Amsterdam, Sydney, Hong Kong, the places you see advertised in the Financial Times. We’d get changed, shower, do some sight-seeing and shopping, and do the presentation. Afterwardsyou were expected to party. And talk. And be sociable. Until as the host you were the last man standing. Next day there would be seminars to lead, lunch, sightseeing, presentation, dinner, party. Last day was sightseeing, lunch, airport.

At all times you were expected to look as if you were enjoying yourself. Drinking was encouraged and it was fabulous restaurant bars and free (because the client was paying) five star alcohol. You were almost expected to get off your face, civilly and happily. And God help you if you failed to show for an event the next day.

It was an old-fashioned world and it took its own toll. One person I knew got stage-fright. He got so nervous about presentations that the only way he could do them was to lie down behind the stage curtain before it went up. Otherwise he’d hyperventilate and get the literally paralysing cramps that stop you breathing to regulate the oxygen in your blood which works, but it makes you feel as if you’re having a heart attack. And yes thanks, I’ve had that happen twice in my life, but never because I had to go on stage.

But I still get just a bit nervous before I go on. Always it’s half-way through the previous act, the one before I go on. I get that stomach-clamping feeling and something happens in my neck and I have to think clearly. We were at DP’s in Aldeburgh last night, a nice, friendly place and crowd. I knew lots of people there, I’d played to them before, some were saying how much they were looking forward to my stuff. But it still happens.

It cripples some people. The way I deal with it works for me. I just have a chat with myself, in my head. I say to myself what a friend used to tell her show-jumping daughter. You don’t have to do it. Really. If it’s really that bad, just don’t do it. Nobody’s going to make you do it. It’s perfectly ok. They’ll get by without you, don’t worry about that. Just don’t do it.

And then I tell myself to just shut up. If I wasn’t going to do it there wouldn’t have been any point coming here.

So you get your stuff in order. Feel the mood in the room and decide what you’re going to do to fit the mood. Walk forward, turn to face them and smile. It’ll be ok.

“Some people think that poetry should rhyme but there’s more to words than that…”

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