Ready for a cliché? Here’s one. Encores. Gig encores, in the rock’n’roll universe. The band reach the end of their scintillating set – the drummer powers down for one last smash, the singer jumps off the drum riser, the bass player… moves his left hand up the fretboard a few inches – then it’s all: “Thank you Hatfield! You’ve been the best audience since… Stevenage yesterday evening! Good night!”
Except it isn’t “good night”. The audience know it. The guy operating the lights knows it. The bar staff know it. Hell, the band knew it an hour before the gig even started, as two extra songs have been written on the set lists. Like a child who suddenly needs a crap five minutes after lights out, it’s not “good night” at all, but “au revoir”. And we’re not even in France. The band pile back on, beers in hands, to trot out a couple of old favourites and perhaps an ironic cover version (it was at this point that Nirvana developed the habit of fusing their “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Boston’s “More Than A Feeling”, the wags).
So: a totally predictable, trite, centre-of-centre showbiz convention, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. A handful of bands throughout rock history have deliberately flown in the face of this obviousness: Joy Division, the Sex Pistols, The Stone Roses… Jesus and Mary Chain refused to do encores even when the audience were threatening to burn the venue down. But generally speaking, most bands are happy to go along with the pantomime, irrespective of how rebellious their image is.
Fink, the band I hit things for, are usually quite happy to do an encore. Often it’s just one song, sometimes two if we’re feeling energetic, if the crowd are nice and Fin’s voice is behaving itself. On one or two occasions we’ve been asked back a second time. It’s a very strange feeling, trying to wind down in your dressing room while the crowd are going batshit crazy back in the auditorium: two minutes in, you’re thinking, “Ah, they’ll get tired in a minute.” Three minutes: “Okay, I think it’s sort of maybe dying down now.” Five minutes: “Fuck! What else have we got to play?” Both these times, we committed the cardinal sin: playing a song we’d already played that evening. Ugh! The horror, the horror. Like Eurovision winners, it’s never as good the second time: slightly faster, slightly messier, slightly less in tune – slightly drunker. Five albums into our career as Fink, we thankfully have enough songs these days to ensure it doesn’t ever happen again. We can bash back on stage and race through one of the oldies, provided we remember the chords and Fin remembers all the lyrics (see: rendition of Sorry I’m Late at the Blue Frog, New Delhi, December 2012).
There is, however, one situation in which an encore is definitely not such a good idea. Frowned upon, in fact, by just about everyone in the venue apart from the audience cheering for it. And that situation is a festival. For a festival to be a success, it must run on time. Rather like a commuter train network, one little delay can lead to another, and before you know it, a ten minute delay has turned into a half hour shit-show. You might think: well, it’s a festival, the whole thing can run half an hour later into the night, can’t it? Not really, no… and there are all manner of (admittedly, quite boring) reasons for this: noise curfews, staff knock-off times to name but two. Basically, a band suddenly deciding to go back on for one more song at a festival can provoke no end of teeth-gnashing and filthy looks from the technical crews, the festival organisers and – most of all – the band going on next. You do, of course, have the option of pulling your set up early and leaving enough time for a stage-managed encore; but that, as we say in Hackney, isn’t quite cricket.
Why am I telling you all this? In the last few weeks there has been – I wouldn’t quite say a torrent, let’s call it a steady trickle – of comments on the dear blogs and social networks along the lines of “Shame Fink didn’t come back for an encore”, “The crowd asked for more, but were to be disappointed” – even “Fink refused to do an encore” – all concerning our appearances at festivals. At one place, we actually received a volley of boos when it became clear we weren’t coming back. We can’t be cross about this – it’s a lot nicer having people complain you didn’t play more than complaining you played for too long – but it’s worth setting the record straight. At festivals, the only people allowed to do encores are the headliners, and only then if the local council aren’t about to switch the power off. There are exceptional circumstances when the stage manager is totally chilled-out about timings, but these are rare. We get booked for an hour (or whatever it is), we play for an hour. We try and squeeze in as much as we can. Then it’s over. We’re thrilled that you wanted more; come to a headline gig, and we’ll give you some more. But please try not to picture us in a luxurious velvet-lined Portakabin, sipping ice-cold Veuve-Clicquot, laughing, slapping each other’s backs, listening to the sound of the baying hordes outside and bellowing “Nooo!! They shall not be allowed another song!” It simply doesn’t happen.
For one thing, festivals always forget the bloody Veuve-Clicquot.