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Road Tales, #5: Full Body Contact Rock’n’Roll

14th May 2004

Performing live on stage in a heavy rock band can be a physical sort of undertaking, what with all the leaping around and general showmanship associated with the genre.  You need to be in reasonable shape to do this night after night, and some guys are regular gymnasts on stage.

The typical rock stage has lots of heavy gear on it, from the amps and drums to risers, trusses, stage monitors and various extra hardware and staging.  From time to time, a body in motion will come into contact with one of the aforementioned heavy bits, and quite often-frail human flesh is no match for aluminium, wood or reinforced fibreglass.  There are a few things that can (and do) go pear-shaped in the course of a gig, and here’s the two most likely to crop up...

The most common ‘stage accident’ is simply falling over.  You go for a stylish move, and the guitar lead just happens to wrap itself around your left ankle as you step into the spotlight.  There is absolutely no way to maintain your rock star composure after landing on your ass, so you had best develop a healthy sense of humour about it.  Make no mistake – if you perform on stage, you will sooner or later obey the laws of gravity.

Next is the close second runner to Newton’s little gem… The collision.

There are heaps of great things to run into while cavorting around a stage.  Monitors, stands, drums, lights, staging and other band members are just the more obvious things.  I know this, because I have come into forceful contact with all of these items at one time or another.

One of my earlier and more novel collisions happened at the Floreat Hotel in Perth, where I was performing with my band Flash Harry.  The year was 1982, and I was quite a limber young man, capable of great feats of gravity defying derring-do.  Towards the end of the set, I leapt in the air to emphasise a big chord, not realising that I was standing under a low section of ceiling that hung over the back half of the stage.  My gazelle–like spring was rudely interrupted by a solid piece of angle iron, which collected me across the back of the skull as it bravely protected the flimsy panels that made up the majority of the stage ceiling.

I landed back on stage not really having a clue of my whereabouts, function, or name.  According to reliable sources, I finished the last song leaning on the keyboard player’s piano, put my guitar down, stepped off stage and passed out.  A short ambulance ride later, I was undergoing CT scans for a suspected sub arachnoid haemorrhage (briefly, they thought I’d ruptured one of the layers around my brain – yummy, huh?).  Needless to say, rock musicians are made of stern stuff, and I did not suffer any bleeding brain layers – simply a nasty headache, a tale to tell, and a lot to live down at the next Floreat gig.  The road crew had the last word on the matter by being sweet enough to nail a pillow to the ceiling and steal a sign from a building site, which advised all and sundry that this was a hard-hat area.  Bastards.

That was one of my two post-gig trips to the emergency room.  Most mishaps, of course, don’t result in hospitalization.  The odd gash or other soft tissue trauma is par for the course when you insist on prancing around an area full of immovable objects.  There are some things that, I have noticed, seem to be more likely to bring one undone, so I take this opportunity to offer my quick list of things to avoid whilst beating the boards:

*Guitar leads make excellent rollers when you step on them the wrong way.  A great way to become airborne for all the wrong reasons.

*A cymbal has an uncanny way of getting your complete and undivided attention, when you accidentally take one too many steps back from your mic and cop the edge of one in the back of the head.

*Lead singers who think it would be a neat idea if you sang the next line, and shove their mic in your face as you step forward.  The resulting split lips are one reason I write so many instrumentals.

*A good stage roadie will dart onstage, fix something, and dart off again unseen.  This is good, because the audience don’t notice anything has gone (or nearly gone) wrong.  This is also bad, because an invisible roadie is a one-way ticket straight down when you fall over one.

Stay safe, and I’ll see you all at the Janet Jackson benefit gig for the tragically addicted to body jewellery (as if! – Ed)

Graham Greene


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