I took part in "Tesco Got Talent" again this year. I had made up my mind not to. I had my fun in the sun twice and it was only fair to leave it to some younger, hungrier talents whilst I could relax, not worry about soundchecks and enjoy a few nice pints of Guinness without the worry of fluffing my lines on guitar or vocals but....
The show was held in the venerable Kavanagh's venue, in Portlaoise, which has seen some top comedians and bands ply their trade over the years. So how did I end up performing here after all my promises not to? Well, nobody stepped forward, at all. It was frankly embarrassing that there would be absolutely no local representatives in the show, and a charity one at that, (Temple Street Hospital, a GREAT cause) so I said count me in. I had a week or two to prepare, usually I'd have a month or two, but it helped with the song choice. No time to learn anything new, so I decided on an original song "Strong". The song is a very personal one and I enjoy playing it but it sends me to "that place". Everybody has it, a song that makes you sad, gives you goosebumps or simply takes your breath away. But I was confident I could do it justice.
I walked in and was that early, I did my soundcheck straight away. The sound engineer was a nice guy. Had a few interesting stories to tell about musicians he'd met. Who was nice, who was otherwise....
He thought I was a seasoned pro as I'd completed my soundcheck. Quite the compliment! "You seem to know what you're doing, do you play live alot?" I said "Nope, I just get on with it, know what I like and treat the soundman nice." He laughed and said "In case I make you sound like shit?!" Clearly he'd heard that one before. The soundcheck was to my ears fine as regards to my guitar, Selena's tone, maybe a little trebley in hindsight but that was my fault, the settings were mine on the amp simulator. My voice? I started to sing but my voice croaked as soon as I started to sing the piece, my eyes welled too, so I defaulted and half arsed my way through an old Bryan Adams number off key and slightly rattled.
I left the stage, and sipped a guinness. Keeping to myself and waiting on my posse and wondering how the Hell I could do this. The crew appeared and it calmed me down alot. My better half knew I was nervous but I said it was healthy nerves - The kind that reminds you not to be an arsehole should you ever reach an elevated social standing. Nine acts were scheduled. I was sixth. Just after the raffle break. Time to get the pints in.
I studied each act as they performed. One exception aside, I won't identify as they were brave in the attempt and it was for a great cause, I felt all the other acts brought some real competition. I stood in a toilet cubicle calming myself down. "I can't sing this song, I'll start to cry" or "The crowd need to be perked up and you're gonna depress them." All negative thoughts born from my embarrassing soundcheck. But then, out of nowhere, my favourite Tom Waits quote appeared in my mind - "SING LIKE YOU'RE WINNING, PHIL."
The announcer called me up "....to perform a song he wrote, on a guitar he made..." (NO PRESSURE THERE) "....please welcome Phil McClean to the stage!" My wonderful gang erupted, thus forcing the rest of the crowd to comply. I wanted to introduce my song, explain it's genesis, and the people it was written for, may they rest in peace. I wanted to shout "Happy birthday to my little sister tonight" but I felt the more cynical in the crowd would see it as trying to gain favour with the judges. Hands shaking I started to strum slowly, just to calm my nerves. Then my cheeky side came out:
I played with two angels on my shoulders and near a dozen of them in the crowd who came to support me. I played as hard and as fast as I could, I wanted that crowd to have the time of their lives and to my song, not a cover, MY SONG! The first time I played an original song in public.
The raffle was fun and quite a successful one for our tables. The Missus and the birthday girl both getting a prize! I turned to my friend, Jonny beside me and said "I won't win anything here, I'm a cheerleader as always, but damn me I enjoyed that." I always feel I have to engage the crowd. I can't help it. Those people are there to be entertained and I was always conscious, that with some acts, the crowd can lose interest and talk over them. I can't stand it and will always make sure to clap along to those acts and give them their dues. It's not easy up there under those lights.
The lady stepped up on the stage to announce the winners after the raffle buzz had died down. I sipped my pint waiting to applaud the successful act. Silence. A pin drops somewhere. In third place "Phil McClean!" I nearly fell off my chair. I froze. "Do I go up?" I asked the people around me in disbelief. Jonny practically pushed me towards the stage. I stepped up and received my award, feeling like they were going to say it was a joke. The fact of the matter is, I don't generally win anything and I just received an award for performing a song I'd written. One of the judges shook my hand and leaned in "I'm really sorry, it was a split decision." "Fuck that", I thought,still elated. "It feels like I've won an Ivor Novello award."
With special thanks and fond memories to the two angels on my shoulders last night:
My beautiful Granny. A gentleman, Rorey.