18 Aug The Best Gig of My Life (so far)
There are the truly great, impossibly lovely gigs at the top. They often have nothing to do with music. If July 23, 2001 was not the very best gig I’ve ever been a part of, it surely ranks way up there. More than that, it always will remain at the top.
I didn’t really join The Discounts as much as I started playing every gig with them and never stopped. The list of who has played in that band is very long, but it’s always anchored by Neil Conway. Neil is one of the smartest people I know, maybe because his imagination is so wild.
One night in the summer of 2001, we finished a gig at The Ship and I made my usual English exit (i.e. leaving without saying good-bye, a common trumpeter trait, just get me the hell home). The next day Neil called me and said “the guy from Star Trek gave us a $100 as a tip!”
Really, who among us hasn’t been there?
Colm Meaney was in Newfoundland filming Random Passage and evidently he ended up at our show paying us the equivalent of 20 cover charges. I regretted leaving before getting the chance to meet him. I loved The Commitments especially, let alone Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
A few days later, someone called Neil saying that Colm was keen to hire The Discounts to play the wrap party of the production a few hours away in Trinity, NL at a bar called Rocky’s.
“I’ll call you back right away” said Neil.
Neil called me asking what I thought we should charge. We had never charged anything for a gig before. Coming face to face with our lack of self worth was the opposite of empowering. I blurted out $1500! This was an astronomical sum to a 22 year old. That was apparently more than fine and instantly the feeling of “I should’ve said more” set in, familiar only to those in the creative industries. We would be given a place to stay for the night and copious drinks. Off we went. Neil, Duane, Curtis, Aneirin and me.
The Discount-Mobile picked me up last in Mount Pearl. Duane and Curtis’s Cavalier was duly ruined putting THE DISCOUNTS on each side with duct tape. The drive out was entirely memorable. Jokes, girls, music (I recall a lot of Herbie Hancock), and all that goes with perfectly reckless youth. Describing the conversation without destroying many reputations is impossible.
Bear in mind, we had no real idea what time the gig started, how long we would play, or where were actually staying. ERRATA: I just found the poster for the gig and posted it, which says we started at 10pm. Nothing was confirmed. The only thing we were told for certain was that, quite seriously, Colm does not like to talk about Star Trek. So don’t bring it up. Even that amazing episode where Chief O’Brien was sent to a prison in his own mind.
We arrive in the late afternoon at Rocky’s where Colm meets us, already quite merry. He got a long head start. I could tell because of how often he told us we were ‘effin’ brilliant. Beer in one hand and exactly 15 one hundred dollar bills in the other he says to Neil “shall we settle up now?” Neil thought it would be better to settle up later, thereby increasing the chances for a tip based on performance. I think that’s what happened, but the blur set in fast.
When bands are being interviewed and they are asked “what kind of music do you play?” the answers are rarely satisfying. I don’t know if that’s because the question isn’t a good one or if bands haven’t thought enough about the answer. Maybe they are afraid to commit to liking something to align themselves with it. Suffice to say, I have no idea what kind of music The Discounts play. I’ve been a part of this group for nearly two decades. We have rehearsed less than 10 times, ever. I am unclear of the title of almost all of our songs beyond “does this start like this?” or “is this the Eb one?” And it never matters. The word ‘funk’ gets thrown at us, but I hate that word. Calling something funky is like calling air breathable. Funk is more an attitude than a specific musical gesture, in my opinion. Maybe our combined attitude of committing to each other and the audience in a way to keep them moving makes us a funk band.
Let me be clear. This is not an exaggeration, and it is key to understanding the majesty of this event. Colm Meaney did not just pay for drinks for the band, or just for the cast and crew. The entire tab was open. He paid for the merriment of the entire town of Trinity. All were welcome and all came. After a solo, and we took very long solos, I would gesture to the band that I was free to get a drink at the bar for anyone.
“Get me a case of India” said Duane.
“Triple whiskey. See if they’ll give you a triple whiskey.” yelled Curtis.
I returned to the stage with six India, in the box, and two triple whiskeys.
I can’t tell you if our music was great or not. I think it might’ve been pretty good on that night. But it was a serious Newfoundland party and I know that people had fun regardless. When he was not ensconced in conversations with people about Star Trek, specifically that very episode where Chief O’Brien was sent to a prison in his own mind, Colm was dancing and generally being the best employer ever. He signed dozens of autographs, including a paperback of The Commitments for me. Always dancing, laughing, and friendly. Colm was best kind.
By fluke, this gig took place on Neil’s birthday. A raucous jubilee in a beautiful town with no cares in the world. No one saying “play a slow one” or “turn it down.” Any gig, musical or otherwise, where you’re getting paid to be yourself is a day to cherish. We were whoever we were.
And we were drunk. At one point, the triple whiskeys fought back and Curtis fell forward in a daze onto his kit. Colm saw this, pointed, and laughed so hard I wondered if he planned it. He did not. That was the last note of the night. We brought Curtis to the safety of The Discount-mobile, whereupon Colm sat on top of the vehicle and we got this amazing photo taken. I wish I could find it. ERRATA: IT IS FOUND! THANKS NEIL!
Curtis spent the rest of the night alone in The Discount-mobile, in hindsight an extremely stupid idea. Myself, Neil, Duane, and Aneirin ambled off…somewhere. I remember I slept in a room with Duane, possibly in a chair. The next day was quite rough with sharp pains behind all of our eyeballs. We were given the opportunity to explore the movie set and take our time all day. Some of the pics taken ended up as an album cover. You can see it and hear a pile of rare music by us and other NL groups here. Note my sealskin sash.
We decided to stay another night and had already begun a second night of hijinks when, for a reason I don’t recall, we all said ‘shag it, let’s go home.’ Maybe it was to see a show, or a girl. No idea. But I’m glad we did because what happened next is something I still think about every few weeks. As we were driving back home in the pitch dark, someone had to take a leak so we pulled over. There were no highway lights or other forms of light pollution. We looked up into the sky into the clearest view of the cosmos I had ever seen. We laid on the bonnet of the car for a very, very long time just staring into everything. Each of us had $300 in our pockets and nothing to do the next day except tell people about the stars.
Our bassist friend Josh Ward had a part time job at the Admiralty House Museum, which had it’s own FM frequency to advertise itself. As we neared town, we tuned in and heard Josh’s recorded voice, but evidently the computer crashed because his voice was staggered and cut up into a groove I wish I recorded. We were the only people to see those stars from that place at that time and the only people to hear that groove at that time.
This is the first summer in ages where The Discounts haven’t performed. Here’s an accidental live record from 2012. It sounds a little like the best gig ever. But only barely.