by Tom Harrison (guitar)
Nerves can be the bane of any musician’s performance, and most people are probably lying when they say they don’t get nervous on stage. Have you ever had that voice in your head saying ‘don’t mess up’ over and over, and then you do screw up, or just freeze for no reason? We’ve all been there.
As a guitar player in a band I am required to get up onstage and play songs we’ve written to any number of people watching whether it’s one man and his dog or to a sea of 5000+ humans etc. Along with the crowd watching your every move there’s the added element of something going wrong (something usually does). People watching us have had the amusement of seeing me fall into the drum kit, break guitar strings, a bass collide into my face, drop my guitar yet thankfully catching it as it made its descent towards the ground, and finally smash my guitar into the venue ceiling mid guitar swing…so I’m quite surprised that the bloody thing still works! Lets also not forget the fact that live music reviewers are usually watching, and they can go onto potentially crush you and everything you’ve worked hard for in word form online if you’re not to their liking. So that definitely ups the nerve factor.
Back to crowd numbers I have been lucky, and unlucky enough to experience both extremes. Of course it was the 5000 human crowd at Alexandra Palace that my nerves were going crazy at. I was full on bricking it. We had rehearsed a lot for this show, but nothing could prepare you for a crowd that size. I remember there was a point in the first song where I just froze and didn’t play my guitar where it should have been played. Great start…not! However after the second song I was having an awesome time. Having rehearsed the set to within an inch of its life I eventually went onto autopilot mode and stopped worrying about everything. I’m pretty sure it was the adrenaline that gave me a kick up the ass and made the performance that more energetic.
Several years and gigs later I feel a lot more at ease on stage. Experience on the road has definitely helped however I’m not a robot and nerves will never go away, you just have to learn how to over come them. So I think the best ways to deal with any nerves in my experience is to:
Just like Brian Fontana once said in Anchorman “60 percent of the time, it works every time”…so this isn’t exactly a quick fix for anyone out there, but it makes me feel a bit more at ease before walking onstage.
Doing some exercises, jumping on the spot, star jumps, lunges etc. makes me feel good and helps gets rid of any unwanted adrenaline. However it’s a bit awkward when you’ve got no room backstage because you’re sharing Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs with 4 other bands and all their empty gear cases. So in that case a cheeky beer or two will have to do. If I mess up on stage I just have to tell myself that most people probably won’t have noticed or indeed of cared that I hit the wrong pedal in the pre chorus. Obviously I don’t want to be a sloppy guitarist but just don’t sweat the small stuff! I’m in a band because I want to write music that people can connect to and it’s amazing when you see fans of your band singing every last lyric back to you. However not all gigs are like that but when you do come across those ones then it feels that extra bit special, and makes you wonder why you were worrying about anything in the first place.
I think you almost need some form of anxiety or fear because if you ever get to a point where you start feeling nothing and walk on-stage as if it’s no different than going for a walk in the park (i.e. it’s just another day, another venue), your audience is probably not going to get the best performance you have to offer.