Wheaton’s Way

Band memories and supporting local music

If you were anywhere in the vicinity of Macabuca on Saturday, you would have heard the sweet sounds of live music wafting along on the Caribbean breeze (I am such a poet).

Epic Day Entertainment and Sound Solutions joined forces to produce BAND AID, a concert that ran from 2-10pm and featured a heady mix of local musicians and singers playing everything from Latin to soca and rock tunes.

The event was created to raise money for Caymanian entertainers who are struggling in these COVID times, and to remind the public of how many talented performers there are on the island.

Those who choose the spotlight for their careers are a hardy bunch. There are highs, but there are also lows, and if you’re not in the top tier of bands who can cancel a performance if they spy one brown M&M in a bowl backstage (Van Halen – and shout out to Eddie, RIP), you don’t always get the respect you deserve.

Back in the ‘90s, I was the lead singer of a band called No Significant Features, and then I moved to another group called EXIT, which took me into the early ‘00s (I think I made it that far – the spirit is willing, but the memory is fuzzy). Over those many years, we enjoyed our fair share of successful gigs; ones that could have been better; and a few absolute doozies. If you’ve been an entertainer for any length of time, chances are you’ve got some stories to tell.

At one memorable event in town, EXIT was playing on some sort of flatbed wooden platform at the end of a street. With the surrounding businesses closed at that hour, it was pretty dark, which meant we could barely see the decent-sized holes in the stage where the wood had broken away. Setup was interesting. Every one of us, at least once, nearly ended up with a leg through the floor.

The late, great Charles ‘Greggie’ Gregory was trying to run his sound board with only the aid of a flashlight held between his teeth. How he managed, I’ll never know.

Another delightful night I recall was a celebration at Landmark (now Sharkeez) for which we were hired. We had no stage, so we were at the same level as the punters. From the first note, an already inebriated crowd advanced upon us, full pints in hand.

It might surprise you to learn that guitars, amplifiers and microphones are not as keen on liquid refreshment as human beings. To protect the gear, I attempted to get the onslaught to stay back, but it was like trying to command the direction of the very sea and I was no Moses.

Three songs in, I had already suffered a beer shower and it was clear that unless we started playing some soothing Johnny Mathis, things were only going to get worse. A set list devoid of ‘Misty’ and ‘Chances Are’ made the decision for us – we had to accept defeat and end the gig. “The show must go on”, is a lovely sentiment, but if you feel like the Blues Brothers and there’s no chicken wire to protect you, it’s time to say “Uncle!”.

No Significant Features got booked for an event on the Emerald Eyes party boat. We had to get our equipment to the upper deck – no easy feat – and used a generator for power.

The movement of the waves made it interesting – I had one hand on the mic and the other on the railing – but it was going along fairly swimmingly (mirth) until some bright spark decided to dump the excess water out of one of the drinks coolers, all over the deck.

Everything we were using and holding was plugged into electricity, and we were at the bottom of a very slight slope from said cooler. We leapt into action as the flood headed towards us, and managed to wrench all cables from outlets, just as the fat lady was warming up her vocals. Amps were lifted and carried to safety. It was the last boat gig for a while.

We’ve shown up to a venue to find a shoebox-sized stage awaiting us, or a single umbrella to provide cover for a four-piece band. I personally have had to sing through a guitar amp at least twice because our PA system went on the fritz halfway through a set.

On those rare occasions when we got access to a professional sound system and engineer, it was a thrill. I remember we once played to a handful of people at the Lions Centre, which would have been a disappointment had it not been for Howie Tipton as our engineer that night. Made us sound and feel like a million bucks.

All the stuff that goes on behind the scenes of a performance is work, believe me. The muscles on that drummer’s arms? They aren’t just from playing; they’re from carrying equipment – upstairs, downstairs and across unforgiving terrain. Roadies are often a luxury bands can’t afford.

When EXIT used to play at Chelsea’s (which became Obar and is now Seven Mile Lounge), I had to decide whether to carry speakers, a PA head, monitors and a bag of microphones and cables up the wide front stairs – three flights – or up the narrow back stairs, which were an obstacle course of broken bar stools, but only one flight.

I was pretty slim back then – maybe I’ve just realised what’s missing in my workout routine.

You might wonder why anyone would deal with some of the challenges that musicians do, but it’s simple – they love playing and performing. It’s a passion, it’s a thrill; and when audiences respond, there’s no other feeling like it.

Anyone who has been in the industry can sit down with their peers and swap those great stories – sharing tales of amazing gigs, or when they got to jam with one of their idols – or laughing together about those countless ‘Spinal Tap’ moments to which they can all relate.

Cayman is one of those places where someone can make a living as a musician, DJ, singer or entertainer, but at the moment, it’s pretty rough. Thankfully, some local bars and resorts are doing what they can to support as many acts as possible, and hopefully the public will do the same.

It was great to see the turnout for the BAND AID event and watch people really responding to all that terrific music.

Such initiatives are really important, because these folks don’t just live to play; they play to live.

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