Monday, 21 July 2014

Air Guitar

On Saturday night I tried my hand at Air Guitar!

First off I'm sure most of you know what it is but for those of you who might be thinking "what is Air Guitar?"

Simply put: Air Guitar is the act of playing an imaginary guitar along to rock music.

OK now we have that all cleared up, your next question is probably "but surely you've done that before?"

Well yes, although my "dancing style" is normally more pogoing - jumping up and down - in nature than pretending to play a guitar, yes of course at times I have certainly found myself pretending to play an invisible guitar. However, doing so in the safety of your own bedroom is one thing, while doing it onstage in front of a room full of strangers is another thing entirely.

So here's the thing. Last Tuesday I was up late googling random things that I could do for the Year31Project - as I do from time to time - when I suddenly thought "Air Guitar, what about Air Guitar. I'm sure there is a World Championships or something." So I googled it and there is. The only thing is that it's in Finland. So I google Air Guitar UK Championships and amazingly not only do they exist but they are taking place in just a few days.

So I think about it for about all of two seconds and completely on a whim, I think why not, just go for it. There is an open entry and it is free to enter. So I start to fill in the entry form.

The first thing I have to do is think of a stage name. After very little thought I go with 'The Frightened Rabbit' on the premise that doing this is going to take me right out of my comfort zone. Yes I'm used to being on stage but this is up there with Karaoke and so it's quite possible that I will just stand there like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Next I need a style. I leave this blank as I have no idea what my style will be. Other than rabbit in headlights. Maybe I should have put that?

And finally I need to decide on my influences. They mean real guitarists not other air guitarists who have influenced me right? Either way I don't know? I've never done air guitar before. I try to think of cool guitarists but have a mind blank and can only think of one... Jimi Hendrix (the coolest of them all). If I put that down do I have to try and live up to Jimi Hendrix? "Quick try to think of a rubbish guitarist instead!" I can't so I just go with Jimi Hendrix. I pause for a second... and then press SEND.

And so there and then - 10mins after confirming it's existence - I enter myself into the Air Guitar UK Championships 2014. Which lets not forget are happening in 4 days time!

The next few days are insanely busy for me! On top of working I have the preview of my Edinburgh show on the Wednesday night and the Premiere for my short film Letters on the Thursday night.

Then just before I go to bed on the Thursday night I receive an email from Danny - The Midnight Moses - Robertson (Artistic Director and 2008 UK Champion) asking me what song I will be performing to and if I can send it to him asap!

WTF! Is this really happening? I hadn't heard anything for a couple of days and so I assumed that I had entered too late and there were no spaces left! But it appears that I have assumed wrongly and they're expecting me to compete in two days. What should I do?

What I do is ignore the problem and wait for it to go away. Obviously! While I'm at work on Friday Danny sends me a couple more messages. As I haven't replied to the first few he sends one more asking if I entered myself or if some friends had entered me for a joke. I have an out! But do I take it?

No this is the Year31Project and although I am scared to death at the thought of doing this, I have to do this! After all I am on a quest to try as many new things as possible. I have talked myself back into doing it but I have a problem.

I need a song! First up I sought suggestions on Facebook. Obviously! Thank you everyone who offered suggestions. There were some very good ones but none that I felt comfortable with. Next I spend hours trawling through youtube and dancing around my bedroom - which is mostly furniture and my bike and not a lot of floor space - like a mad man, before finally settling on Four Kicks by Kings of Leon. I chose this song for three reasons. 1. I already own it. 2. I know it well. 3. It has some heavy rhythm sections, a good solo and also some time to rest in between. Here is the video. Have a listen and you'll know what I mean.

So it looks like I'm doing it. I've sent off my track. I absolutely have to do it! Well I could just not turn up but I'm not going to do that.

Now there is another small problem. I need a "persona". At first I was just going to go along dressed as myself and jump around like a loon. In many ways that's exactly what I did. However, for a couple of reasons I felt the need for a "costume". Firstly, if I look less like me it might help me to feel more relaxed. Also although I'm not sure what to expect, I think the other competitors are all going to make a big effort? I think this not least because there is a changing room available for competitors. A changing room? People will be changing? Then maybe I need to think about changing too?

Therefore after work on Saturday I headed to Poundland where I bought a long wig and a stripy tie:

And here I am. 'The Frightened Rabbit"

I'm ready to go. I have a name, a persona, a song and I don't have a routine exactly but I've had a little practice. I'm still feeling a tad nervous but also a lot more relaxed than I was.

I then fall asleep. It's the middle of the afternoon but it's been a long week. When I wake up I have a new problem, a terrible pain in my right hip. Have I pulled something practicing? Is it psychosomatic? I think about pulling out. I'll give it a miss. Stay in and watch the telly. I have a legitimate excuse. I can barely stand up! But no, I'm not pulling out. I'm doing this. I didn't pay a whole £2 at Poundland to pull out now. I take some pain killers, get changed - not into the wig just yet I hasten to add - and head for the tube.

The event is taking place at the Boston Music Room in Tufnell Park.

It takes me around 30mins to get there. When I arrive I'm hungry and nervous as hell. I go and buy a sandwich and eat it at a bus stop over the road from the venue. Stalling for time. I finish my sandwich - taking as long as is humanly possible - and I think about heading across the road but I'm too scared. So I think about heading home again instead.

I only found out about this at the last minute - very little planning went into it - and so unfortunately no one could come and support me. I'd dragged my friends out twice that week already. Standing there contemplating going home I couldn't help but think I'd be more confident with someone there to metaphorically or physically hold my hand. However, in truth, being on my own is actually a blessing in disguise. It means that I have to talk to new people!

I pluck up my courage again, cross the road and knees trembling I enter the venue. I've come too far to turn back now!

Inside I find the organiser Danny and introduce myself. He shows me downstairs to the backstage changing rooms. There are plenty of people already there. There not all downstairs but there are 15 competitors in total. 10 of which - including myself - signed up before hand and 5 who have signed up on the night. I don't meet all 14 other competitors but all of those that I do meet are all really cool and relaxed, warm and friendly people. A nicer a bunch of odd balls - I say that in the warmest possible way and knowing that I was one of them - you could ever hope to meet. Some of whom have been doing this for years and other who are doing it for the first time just like me.

The event

The excellent host for the evening was comedian Richard Sandling:

The three judges were (right to left)
Two time UK Champion: Gabi 'The Hoxton Creeper' Matzeu.
Three time and current UK Champion: Thom 'Wild Thing 37' Wilding.
And occult comedian and historian of Heavy Metal Andrew O'Neil who was the Simon Cowell of the judges (and/or was taking it and himself a bit too seriously?)

Who were scoring on a 4.0 to 6.0 system and were looking for:
  • Technical Merit - Does it look like you're playing some kind of guitar?
  • Stage Presence - Are the crowd going wild, putty in your hands?
  • Airness - That essential, transcendent, indefinable quality that all air guitarists strive for.

Here is a group photo of some of the competitors:

The very receptive and much larger than I had anticipated audience:

Here are some rules:

and basically during the first round you pick your own track to perform to and then the five competitors with the highest first round score perform again, only this time to a secret track. This is where you really separate the wheat from the chaff!

And finally here it is, the all important giant pick trophy that we would be battling for:

And if that isn't enough on it's own! As well as a bottle of Champagne and the right to be able to say that you are the best Air Guitarist in the UK. The Champion also wins a free trip to Finland for the Air Guitar World Championships, where they will represent the UK!

Of the first timers there were a few good stories. There was a very drunk Irish guy who was on his (second) stag do and in his own words had been "stitched up" by his mates. There was a girl called Jenna who was doing it for a similar reason to myself. Similar to the Year31Project but a year earlier, on her 29th birthday Jenna asked her family and friends to suggest 30 challenges that she has to complete before her 30th birthday. Taking part in the Air Guitar UK Championships was part of a challenge her brother had set her to "become a World Champion at something". That is what I call a challenge!

Now although some of the first timers - me not included - were quite good you could definitely see the gulf in class between the newbies like myself and those that had been competing for the last 7 or 8 years (in some cases).

The five finalists were made of four experienced Air Guitarists and one new comer:

Now as you can see from the photograph. Unfortunately that one new comer in the final wasn't me! No I wasn't very good. I'm not sure where I placed. I don't think I came last but neither do I think I was anywhere close to getting into the final. My first two scores were fairly respectable with a 5.0 and 5.1 and then the final score from the mean ass judge was 4.0! Which is the lowest score you can receive! A tad harsh don't you think? Well the lovely audience certainly thought so and gave his score a good BOO! (I have since found out that the final score was actually 4.9 haha)

So unfortunately I don't have a hidden talent for Air Guitar. Which considering I can "kinda" play a real guitar I suck at playing an imaginary one. Here I am doing my thing:

During the scoring I was praised for my energy. At the time of competing - I think I was 10th on - one judge said "for energy that was one of the best performances we've seen" which is pretty cool. However, although I had lots of energy, apparently I had little to no technique haha which is fair enough. After all this is something I did on a whim, something I've never done before and something I had little to no time to prepare for.

So I'm not going to grumble. The final judge was overly mean but there were also plenty of competitors that were head and shoulders above me! Not least the very worthy winner 'A Boy Named Sue'.

Now this is how it is supposed to be done (and this was to the track she hadn't heard until on the night and so hadn't prepared for!):

'A Boy Named Sue' Air Guitar UK Championships 2014

Ok so it is official I suck at Air Guitar but more importantly I had a truly amazing time! It was so much fun!!! I met lots of lovely people. Saw people who are genuinely talented at Air Guitar! & potentially saw the next Air Guitar World Champion performing?

I left feeling completely inspired, glad that I had signed up and then had the balls to go up on stage and 100% sure that I will be back next year. Quite possibly to perform again - who knows with a bit of practice I might push for a place in the final? - and if not I will definitely be there to watch.

And now for the moment you have all been waiting for. Here is the video of me "performing":

Year31Project Air Guitar UK Championships


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