It happened gradually. I just began stopping in there and got to know the place and the staff.
My local had been Bodega which was a wholly different beast – more like Cheers with gigs. The regulars there were my mates but really it was a venue.
The Cross was a place to go just to be there for the place itself – anyone could be there. I remember once sitting at the garden bar and Dylan Moran came in and asked if this seat was free and I said yes but the birds are dropping stuff at the moment. He laughed and found another spot and got pelted.
As I said, the staff became my friends and over the years they became family. They invited me on some of their junkets – a fishing trip, a night at the Cake Tin in a corporate box to watch the Hurricanes. The list is too long to mention everyone but Vee, Laura, Sarah, Malky… came to be close and really important in my life.
When I was working on The Hobbit I would visit there every night after work to unwind and to revisit reality – great memories.
Though I must have been drunk there many times, I’ve never been outrageous or difficult or a pain in the arse in there – way too much respect for the place.
We arrive lugging in the gear. I’m pretty nervous – it’s been years since I’ve done a ninety minute gig and I’m concerned that my voice and fingers won’t last the distance. There is a Saturday night crowd there buoyed up by our great win in the cricket World Cup. Ben gets me a really good vocal monitor sound and that is key for me. We are trying out a bunch of new songs and a new guitar sound but I don’t want to play too loud – it’s not that sort of gig.
There’s not a big audience there but they are important people to me. I’m totally straight and sober and have a lot to concentrate on so instead of doing the entertainer thing, I decide to just close my eyes and try to conjure up the songs. I have a list of 25 or so at my feet and the order is dictated by way the set evolves. The first part of the set with the Telecaster I know could be better – I’m feeling guilt and shame that I’m under rehearsed and my guitar sound is not up to what I am capable of. Les has a great bass sound going and Malky is doing his intricate fills but it seems like we are not really in sync.
Drenched in sweat my long hair becomes a liability, strands keep finding their way into my mouth and salt water drips into my eyes. I remember looking up at the wall clock and see there is still an hour to go. We slowly pull ourselves together and by the time I get out the Gretsch I’m much more in control and no one has walked out. Again I pull back on my usual feedback-thing I have with the Beast Girl and just play her sweet and simple – just play through the chord changes and don’t overdo the solos. The new delay pedal, it turns out has a display that doesn’t light up so there is a lot of guesswork involved in the settings – it was visible in our daytime rehearsals. By the time we get to Your Body Stays I’m feeling slightly OK about the gig and then it’s all over.
We lug out the gear and back at the bar I’m blown away by the reaction of the staff that had never seen me play before. I know full well that we can do so much better but it turned out to be a very fulfilling night. Generally at a gig someone drives the bus – it could be any one of us on the night.
Saturday night it was definitely the songs…
The Ghost of Electricity –War Stories by Jon McLeary is a new initiative at Off The
Tracks, a series of stories and reflections from painter, writer and musician Jon McLeary