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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

My Top 20 List of What I Hate Most about Guitar Concerts

The perils of performing and how to avoid them

I have frequently been asked by students and guitar players for advice as to the stage craft of everything to do with playing in public. I have been reluctant to give it for a simple and selfish reason: that anything I say could be held against me about the way I carry on myself although I am the first to admit I am not perfect! As long as you bear this in mind, and because I have learnt so much from observing others' mistakes, I have decided at last to speak on this matter.

Here below is my not always serious list of negative comments, together with a score for hate factor out of ten and advice for improvement. I have written it in a chronological sequence from the artist's walk onto the platform at the beginning, to his triumphant withdrawal from it at the concert's conclusion and his subsequent dealing with fans.

Allow me to set the scene: the hall is full. There is an excited buzz of conversation. Old friends and acquaintances greet each other, yet to take their seats. The house lights begin to dim. Everyone hurriedly sits down. Lights now focus on stage centre. The conversation is stilled and an expectant silence replaces it.

1/ On in a flash
The artist walks onto the stage the moment the lights have dimmed.
Hate factor: 5 / 10
Advice: wait, create more tension and expectation. Count slowly to six and then walk on.

2/ The artist's appearance
He (not usually she) is dressed casually, with ill matching top and trousers, and scruffy shoes.
Hate factor: 6 / 10
Advice: do not confuse casual informal with elegant casual. Take sartorial advice, and not just from your mum or girl-friend who adore everything you do.

3/ The artist walks to centre stage
Aided and abetted by the inappropriate clothing, I can scarcely suppress a laugh as I perceive the artist walk more like a penguin than the graceful mammal we humans claim to be.
Hate factor: 6 / 10
Advice: look at how singers walk on because they have good training in this. Watch yourself on video however painful! Take advice.

4/ The artist sits down
Instead of launching straight in, he starts tuning the guitar. Why? Has it gone out of tune in the ten seconds that have elapsed from the last-minute tuning back stage? The tension goes out of the hall, and members of the audience sit back just when they should be on the edge of their seats.
Hate factor: 8 / 10
Advice: tune up to the last moment before walking, or waddling on. Don’t use brand new strings if you can help it.

5/ The artist begins to play
You would think that from now it would be plain sailing. But no, the first note is preceded by a nasal sniff and the rest of the piece punctuated by loud breathing, and yes, do I hear some humming too? All this is often complemented by face-pulling worthy of a medieval prisoner recollecting a tortured time spent in the Tower of London.
Hate factor: 9 / 10
Advice: relax and enjoy yourself. Keep your emotional reactions away from your face. The pit of your stomach is a better place, and it's invisible.

6/ The artist stands to take applause
At the end of the first item he stands to take applause although you wouldn’t think so from his stance. Feet apart, he leans over so far that he seems more interested in checking whether his flies are zipped up.
Hate factor: 5 / 10
Advice: check your flies before the start of the concert, not during it.

7/ The artist plays item 2
More endless tuning before the start....what´s more, why is it so loud? Is he hard of hearing?
Hate factor: 8 / 10
Advice: speed up your tuning. Practise at home tuning quickly.

8/ The artist tunes up between movements
Why? It sounded fine to me. And again, why so loud? It ruins the mood.
Hate factor: 9 / 10
Advice: If you have to tune, especially now, do it quietly.

9/ The artist stands to take applause again
This time, certain that his flies are done up he stares glumly at the audience. Suddenly at the last moment, he leans over alarmingly, as before.
Hate factor: 0 / 10 - I am not annoyed at all, it is the funniest thing I have seen since I last watched one of Buster Keaton´s silent movies.
Advice: look up, not down.

10/ The artist plays item 3
Yet another tuning session beforehand which this time sounds more like a total mechanical overhaul. He pulls and yanks at the strings, and just when I think he has finished he starts all over again.
Hate factor: 9 / 10
Advice: yank if you must in private, but in public treat your strings with respect.

11/ The artist speaks
He has a voice, but what a voice! Cracking with tension and unscripted, he launches into a boring speech delivered in an unintelligible monotone full of hesitations and repetitions.
Hate factor: 10 / 10
Advice: contemporary fashion dictates that the artist must “relate” to the audience by speaking to show “he is human”. This of course is all a load of rubbish. Nevertheless, we are all stuck with this assumption, and that includes me. Speaking to the public is an art in itself which needs thought and practise. It should be clear, informative and entertaining.

12/ The artist leaves for the interval
I am getting ready to laugh again at his bowing, but this time he only leans forward enough to check his shoe laces. That´s better, but where is the smile of thanks for the waves of applause?
Hate factor: 5 / 10
Advice: show your gratitude with a smile. Whether you think it is deserved or not is your business not the clappers' whose clapping deserves your grateful acknowledgement.

13/ The artist returns for part two
Now feeling more confident, he springs onto the platform and nearly trips on the last step. He proceeds as if nothing has happened. This of course is pure Groucho Marx.
Hate factor: 0 / 10 - not annoyed at all for this show could become a great comedy act.
Advice: turn all stage mishaps to your advantage by smiling or laughing or making a funny gesture.

14/ The artist begins to play, part two
Similar factors to part one begin to work their magic or not: loud tuning, silly speaking, awkward bowing and more.
Hate factor: 5 / 10
Advice: take care otherwise your audience will begin to think you are odd rather than endearing.

15/ The artist speaks again...and again
As he becomes more relaxed, his mouth goes out of control. What’s he saying now? I can’t make out a word of it, and those in the front who can, look bored.
Hate factor: 9 / 10
Advice: look at your audience, do they look interested and entertained, or are they fidgeting and restless?

16/ The artist reaches the end
Believing that a final bow must be worthy of the name, I now watch the back of his head as he cranes forward. He holds this ridiculous posture long enough for me to study every uncombed hair on it.
Hate factor: 0 / 10 - this bowing is an art form all of its own.
Advice: not sure whether he should keep his present style or not – it is so hilarious. Since you would be horrified if anyone thought this of you, you might decide to go to great lengths to improve it.

17/ The artist plays his first encore
Anxious to prove himself in his party piece and dreading the humiliation of going home without having done so, he steps out too quickly.
Hate factor: 9 / 10 - the audience sees straight through this artifice.
Advice: hold your nerve. Take a bow without the guitar, return backstage, count to ten and return to play.

18/ The artist plays his second encore
With the audience nicely warmed up, he now blows it by playing the wrong piece.
Hate factor: 5 / 10
Advice: think this one through. Do you want your audience keen to get home for a cup of tea, or do you want them jumping up and down with excitement screaming for more?

19/ The artist retires back stage
The last applause over, he goes back to the dressing room. He starts to change into his ordinary clothes in a hurry to catch last orders in the pub with his mates who have come to the concert. A member of the audience shyly knocks on the door. Our artist opens it with his unbuttoned shirt hanging out of his trousers.
Hate factor: 9 / 10
Advice: wait, the show isn't over until the last punter has left the theatre. You the artist are the first in and the last out.

20/ The artist signs autographs
With his shirt tucked back into his trousers he steps out to greet the hordes of fans screaming for autographs and a photo. “Sorry, I don´t have a pen, do you?” says he, quite unprepared. As for the photo, why did he allow theToilet sign to show in the picture, and why oh why is he looking so serious?
Hate factor: 7 / 10
Advice: bring a nice pen and check the photo background. This is show-business time: hug your fan and smile.

So there you have it, my top 20 list of pet hates. Classical artists, not only guitarists, have a lot to learn from singers, dancers, actors and even rock artists. The show is not just about playing the music. It´s a lot, lot more than that.

To watch:
Films by Buster Keaton, who never smiled whatever the circumstances

Films by Groucho Marx in the Marx Brothers, who turned a silly walk into an art form

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 5 May 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1191 .
© 2019.

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