My mate Lana was playing a spot at a showcase night in a bar in Hoxton so I thought I’d go along and support her, since it was down the road, and I’d never seen her performing solo with her guitar before, normally surrounded as she is by a crowd of adoring men clutching instruments of various shapes and sizes (usually very large). So I toddle up to one of those tatty dark little bars that only Hoxton can get away with and pay my fiver to the out-of-it looking woman on the door who seems a bit amazed – I see why when I get in. There are exactly two other people there, and one of them is on stage.
No sign of Lana – she’s probably crying in the toilet – so I go and buy myself a Corona which costs me another fiver, and sit in a darkened corner so as not to put the guy on stage off with the realization that he is now playing to two whole people. He seems to be in a world of his own anyway, and is singing a song about having a split personality – so I suppose that’s one extra person in the room. He plonks through his last number at breakneck speed and then announces that neither of his selves can stop to watch his fellow performers do their stuff (that’ll explain the other member of the audience) because there is an Arsenal match on, and disappears through the door like lightning.
Lana appears at this point and shamefacedly admits that she’s not actually on at 8, she’s on at 8.30, but she always says half an hour earlier to make her flakey mates turn up on time. She offers to buy me a drink to make up for the fact I’ve had to pay to get in, which is really lovely of her but suggests that the economy of this event is somewhat out of kilter.
Then the next act goes on and I am suddenly all in favour of the performers paying their audience to listen. This guy is from Hungary and delights in the sort of screechy electric guitar noises and moaning vocals that I can imagine Hungarian teenagers playing in their dark bedrooms before their mum calls them downstairs for a plate of noodles and boiled vegetables. Then he announces that a friend from Budapest is about to join him on stage – they haven’t played together for a year but they’re going to attempt one of their old songs and see if they can remember it. Evidently they can’t. Hungarian One covers by moaning more loudly over Hungarian Two’s ill-fitting chords. I’m sure it’s very heartfelt, but it’s also in Hungarian, so his audience, although experiencing considerable pain, is not sharing his. Lana lights another Marlboro. I lend her my coat because she’s freezing in her sleeveless top. Another of the venue’s charms.
At 8.25 Lana’s more savvy friends turn up, but the event is now running late, so they get to share our enjoyment of another act before Lana goes on. This guy is Belgian, and I start to wonder if Lana is exotic enough for this event. Belgian Guy’s first song is about how shit it is living in London, and how expensive the tube is, and his pain is as heartfelt as any of the Hungarian’s numbers, if not more so. Then he tells us he wrote his next number about his ex girlfriend who always complained he didn’t get up early enough in the morning. It’s called “You always complain I don’t get up early enough in the morning.” Then he announced his last number, which he wrote last week after his girlfriend finished with him, which was called “You’ve finished with me, you bitch.” The girl he’s come with shifts uncomfortably, possibly wondering what touching ditties he’s about to write about her. We note that another unfortunate feature of the venue is the spotlight on the soundman who has spent both of the last two acts staring into space looking pained.
At long last Lana’s up. A bit of chat with the sound guy, and she’s ready to go. But first she takes her shoes off and places her feet on the mysterious wooden box in front of her, gives it a couple of trial taps. To the audience: “Can you hear the cahon?” Nope. Nice look though, going barefoot on stage – very Woodstock. Lana’s put out that her South American percussion isn’t coming up with the goods – she was planning a bit of a one-woman-band effect – but she dives in anyway. “I was on my way to heaven but I got a bit lost… oh well, looks like I’m going to hell.”
Lana sings bouncy blues numbers with lyrics about being messed about by boys or being badly behaved generally. She’s got the audience in the palm of her hand, and not just because all six of us are her mates. She’s even managed to get the sound-man paying rapt attention, which I reckon is as objective a mark of quality you can get at a showcase night. One thing is abundantly clear from Lana’s performance – she doesn’t really belong playing the sort of let-anyone-on-stage-who-begs-hard-enough venues that make up what’s affectionately known as The Toilet Circuit. I give it a year before I’m showing off to distant acquaintances about how I saw Lana at one of her first gigs, at a tiny bar in Hoxton with no central heating.
Lana shimmies her way back to the table and I congratulate her on winning over even the sound guy.
‘Oh him – I told him we could all see him staring into space through the acts cause he was right under a spotlight.’
It’s that kind of attitude that’s gonna take Lana all the way to the top.