Anxiety, live gigs, and why I continue to plug in and play…

There were signs of hope and encouragement for many of us in the UK this week. Hope that our children can settle into a normal school life again. Hope that we can meet up with friends and family soon. Hope that shops, pubs and restaurants will soon open again. Hope that we can give our close family and friends the biggest hugs and squeezes in recorded history. Hope that we can get our wild and rugged hair cut again!

For me, another positive is being able to play live music again. For those of you who don’t know, I play guitar in an acoustic duo (Lux Bay – www.luxbaymusic.co.uk ) and we (as in me and Becci – the ridiculously talented singer who makes up the other half of Lux Bay) are hoping to gig again this summer for the first time since October 2019. We certainly hope so as we are desperately missing it.

The only downside to this for me is that it reintroduces another potential anxiety trigger into my life, though thankfully not a major one. The issue is that I experience some anxiety at every single gig we play. I’ve read many interviews with major music stars, with pretty much every one of them having stated that they feel anxiety ahead of live concerts, with many actually suggesting that this is a good thing and it would be a little strange not to feel this way. However, for me, it always goes back to those good old inner voices chipping away at me: there are a lot of people here; they’re clearly focusing on me and my every movement, even prior to the gig; they’ll pick up on every slight mistake; they’ll be judging who I am based on how I look. The same old thoughts, the same old issues…

It’s always worse for me when setting up, particularly if that is in a situation when there are people who are in the room. I feel even more vulnerable and conscious of watching eyes at times like these; the same feelings and thoughts that I’ve mentioned above. It isn’t too bad if the room is empty though that isn’t always feasible, particularly when playing the odd pub gig, as we tend to. Those feelings of anxiety are then carried forward into the gig itself. When starting our set, particularly the first 2-3 songs, those same thoughts occur. They’re looking at me (obviously, dummy – they’ve come to watch Lux Bay play…); they’re focusing solely on me and judging me; they’re listening to me above Becci and waiting to pick out any duff chord or note. Quite ridiculous thoughts, really, though ones I find difficult to shake.

But then something magical happens. 2-3 songs in, I start noticing that people are clearly loving what we do. If it’s one of our more laid-back sets, say a wedding ceremony or wedding breakfast, I see that people are quietly singing along, or acknowledging us with a gentle nod of the head and a warm smile. If it’s one of our more upbeat acoustic sets, say a pub gig or our popular wedding set which fills in the time between the wedding breakfast and the evening party, I see people dancing, singing, and having a good time. It is during these moments that the anxiety disappears. It just completely fades away. That’s when I really settle down and start enjoying myself.

Truth be told, I firmly believe that setting up is more angst-inducing than the gig itself because I feel exposed. Wide open. There for all to see. My guitar acts a comfort blanket and a focal point for others to hone in on. It is my equivalent of Captain America’s shield. It is my first line of defence, it protects me, and I’m heavily reliant on it. I do feel a different person when I have it strapped to me – certainly more confident and I don’t feel impostor syndrome creeping in when I play. It is one of the few times in my life where I do feel comfortable in saying I’m pretty good at something. I’m not the most technically gifted guitarist in the land though I’m certainly good enough to play in what is seemingly a highly-regarded duo whom many people enjoy watching (the words of others, by-the-way – I would never feel comfortable in describing us in that way!).

So, why continue playing live when it does stir the feelings I’ve mentioned above? Quite simply because I love it. I live for music – after family and friends, it is the most important thing in my life. I always listen to music and I love playing guitar. Becci and I adore seeing people having a fantastic time, during the most important day of their life in the case of weddings. It’s a feeling we find difficult to describe. We love seeing smiling, often slightly tipsy faces! We love seeing groups of people, in some cases complete strangers, fling their arms around each other, throw their heads back and sing louder than we do! We love seeing people remembering, if only for a few hours, that life should be celebrated. Also, as I’ve said many times previously, I will not let these issues define who I am or what I do. One of the two main reasons I started this blog, in addition to sharing awareness of ‘everyday mental health issues’, was to spread messages of positivity, hope, and defiance. The positives far outweigh the negatives in this instance – I will never stop playing. I hope I never stop enjoying it. So, bring on the live gigs and hopefully I’ll see you at one of them sometime soon.

As always, thanks for reading, stay safe, and please do try to be kind to others and to yourself.

Best wishes and take care.

Mick

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