23/11/2012 11:03 GMT | Updated 23/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Don't Drink and Jive: Why Alcohol and Performance Do Not Make Cosy Bedfellows

Most of us will be familiar with the magical properties of an espresso martini. It slides down the oesophagus with graceful conviction; your pupils flare and you feel suddenly buoyant. In summary, you are a god. Moments before you might have been lackadaisically prostrate atop a chaise-lounge, but one sip of the caffeine-laced libation will release you from your torpor like an athlete catapulted from the starting blocks.

The point I am trying to make - with exhausting prolixity - is that alcohol, in moderation, can make us feel indestructible. Sadly, it also makes us act like hubristic morons. Now, such behaviour might be permissible socially - in fact, a dose of decadence can be healthy - but it is hardly appropriate for the stage. As the age-old adage warns us, 'confidence comes before a fall'.

Do not fear, it is not my intention to start proselytising from my ivory tower of teetotalism. On the contrary, I speak with the unfortunate benefit of hindsight. It always galls me that most of us appear to be gifted hindsight, rather than foresight. Hindsight, as my dad would say, is like an ashtray on a motorbike; it is entirely useless.

In the spirit of openness therefore, allow me to make a confession: during my penultimate year at university I decided, post-examination, to visit one of my favourite watering holes to sink a few palate-cleansing ales. This might seem like a perfectly ordinary activity but there were two factors that reaped my undoing. Firstly, I was booked to play a gig that same evening and, secondly, the watering hole in question was hosting a festival of beer. Other than mammary glands and technical gimmickry, there are few things that will corrupt a man's soul as much as a beer festival.

Predictably, I stumbled, staggered, and stammered my way through a performance that would have made Shane MacGowan cringe.

This maladroit display culminated in an ungainly attempt to destroy my equipment, at which point the sound engineer scooped me from the stage as if I was a rag-doll. At this juncture, Sid Vicious would have hurled obscenities, Zac de la Roche might have incited revolution, and Jim Morrison would have probably hiccoughed and waved his willy.

What did I do?

Let me tell you - my cheeks flushed crimson and, like any other cripplingly polite young man, I attempted an apology that was reminiscent of a stuttering Hugh Grant. To say it was an embarrassment would be the understatement of the century. By the end of the ordeal, I think even the sound-man might have been feeling sympathetic, for he eventually reached across and patted me paternally on the shoulder. No matter, my fate was sealed and I was an object of raillery for the remainder of my studies. Needless to say, I learnt my lesson. It's a shame that the same cannot be said of members of my peer group.


There is a lot of myth making around artists who, moments before delivering the performance of their careers, were lying catatonic in a pool of their vomitus. I am not disputing the authenticity of these stories, but I will say that they represent rare moments of clarity. Far more frequently, shows are cancelled because the artists are simply too intoxicated to play. How many times have we witnessed singers who can't even remember their own names, let alone the lyrics of their own songs? In any other form of performance art, this kind of infantile rebellion would be unacceptable, yet somehow it is glamourized in the music industry.

For my own part, my pre-performance ritual now consists of mineral water, cashew nuts and mildly homo-erotic petting of my fellow band members. I don't feel the need to rid myself of inhibitions prior to a gig because, in all sincerity, the stage is one of the few places that I can be entirely myself, warts and all. If you can't amplify your neuroses and insecurities at a show then, frankly, what's the point?

Forgive me, after that outburst, I think I ought to retire to my local cocktail establishment for a rip-roaring knees-up. I do hope negronis are on the menu...