Instrument of Torture

Today’s story is not for the faint hearted or those of a nervous disposition. If that includes you, then before you turn away I want you to know this. Despite the gut wrenching disappointment about which I’m going to write, yesterday also contained a tidal wave of support and encouragement. In the last 24 hours I’ve been described several times as brave, cool and fascinating. Taking risks is uncomfortable, it’s meant to be that way and is therefore not for everyone. And that’s OK. The next best thing to taking that risk is to encourage those around you who are brave, cool, fascinating, scared and stupid enough to try. And that’s vital.

There’s a line in Xtc’s Sergeant Rock that says, ‘Sometimes relationships don’t go as planned’. I agree – sometimes love is complicated, particularly when there are three involved. In this case the three are me, my guitar, and my stage fright. Yesterday, I lost.

I took myself off to my London Underground busking audition feeling both excited and nervous. I know the songs I’d selected like the back of my hand, my practice sessions have gone well, the sun is shining and all is right with the world. I arrived at Charing Cross underground station in plenty of time and via a series of friendly, smiling LU staff I arrived on a disused platform far below the ground. It was a little chilly, and the reception from people was warm and encouraging. I filled out all the paperwork, had my interview then was invited to practice and warm up on the platform. I was enjoying the experience.

‘Next please!’ came a voice from around the corner and I walked through to give my audition. The panel of three people asked me a few questions – we shared some smiles and then they asked me to perform. The panel chose the song London Calling, which I have heard, played and sung only about a gazillion times. I looked down the platform and in my mind’s eye I saw a ghostly train exit stage left and disappear down the tunnel. I turned to face the panel and….nothing. It was as if I’d left the song on the train like a piece of lost luggage, it had vanished. I stood there in awkward silence racking my brain for the opening line and the harder I thought, the faster the ghost train rolled, putting more and more distance between me and the song. It wasn’t coming back and I reluctantly told the panel I’d completely forgotten the song. Cue awkward laughter.

We moved on and I delivered Folsom Prison Blues to a good standard, my shattered nerves not withstanding. And a few short minutes later, it was over and I emerged blinking into the sunlight again. I will learn my fate in a few weeks time. Will this adventure go any further? I doubt it. If I were on that panel I wouldn’t give me a licence based on that performance.

Later in the afternoon, I took solace from reading an excellent post by Steve Boese titled, “I Want To Hate These ‘Lessons Learned’, But I Can’t”. In the post is a reference to risk, “…staying at risk throughout your career, or at least engaging with as much risk, fear, or even unknown as you can manage. Safe is safe, and while it (sometimes) means ‘secure’ it often turns into ‘boring’.” Despite my disappointment, I agree with this sentiment, or to put it another way:

‘You won’t succeed unless you try’. Strummer/Jones – Clash City Rockers

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

11 thoughts on “Instrument of Torture”

  1. You got out there, you got up, and you had a go. That’s more than many could ever hope to achieve. What did you learn? It’s too early to say, I imagine- but when it comes to you I hope it will be powerful, valuable and rewarding.

    I always preferred Folsom Prison Blues, anyway. Let’s hope the panel do, too.

  2. I’m struggling just to remember a sequence of notes – feel brain dead! I’m up to lesson 3 on guitar – one less than the guitars I now own – maybe I’m going about it the wrong way round!

  3. A while back, I was involved with a community group and different people took it in turns to lead a prayer. At a large gathering, I volunteered and went completely blank. It was a piece, like you, that I knew the complete ins and outs of. These things happen for a variety of reasons.

    Who’s to say that doesn’t happen all the time in auditions? Who’s to say the panel know how to spot talent? Who’s to say the panel can see potential? Who’s to say there’s not a second round? Who’s to say you have any reason to think differently? Who’s to say you shouldn’t be the one to proceed until apprehended and live by your motto faithfully?

  4. You had the guts and the character to get the second song out … that says more about you than pretty much anything IMHO

  5. Don’t be too down hearted – you did more certainly than I could have done (or indeed what most of your readership are capable of). You are courageous, prepared to make the effort, tenacious – ready to pick yourself up after apparent failure and give things another go – realistic and blissfully human. An example to us all. They would be mad not to offer you the opportunity

  6. Thanks folks, I appreciate all your comments. I’m reluctant to think too transactionally about all this but your collective feedback leaves me wondering if and how I should be trying to make all this flow back to business impact. I’m not sure of that and I am sure that the journey is worth it. Cheers – Doug

  7. Hi Bob

    Oops, forgot your name is Doug 🙂

    Loved your description of the day – I actually feel a poem/song about the Ghost Train of Charing Cross coming from you one day.

    Great courage, not only on the day but the continuing sharing of your adventure. Fingers crossed that the panel recognises talent and brilliance.


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