I have not been in front of an audience this large for over a decade.
I had forgotten the sense of disorientation that sweeps in when you first walk out. The naked exposure that comes from being the focus of attention under those powerful lights. Regular gig-goers probably don’t appreciate that the man on stage can really see nothing of them – certainly to start off with, anyway. A few dim faces in the front row, some shadows – but that’s it. That’s why musicians like dry ice so much – it lessens the exposure. That, and the psychological barrier of a mic stand.
It takes me a few seconds to adjust. I feel vaguely undressed in this situation without an actual guitar in my hand. Again – more psychology. But I tell myself that there is nothing to be afraid of.
In many ways this is my natural habitat.
“And a big hand, ladies, gentlemen and children… for our willing volunteer!!!” cries Bippo the Clown.
But in so many ways it is not.
There is a small ripple of applause around the big top. Bippo the Clown is unsatisfied with this, and calls for more, which he gets. Bippo the Clown always gets what he wants.
I cannot say that I am a particularly circusey person, although I have been once before when I was about 5 years old. Having volunteered to bring the Toddler and her friend this afternoon to see what it was all about, I resolve that one day, in some way, she shall pay.
It is a very good circus. There is a man who spins plates, another man who walks along a wire, and a girl who does all sorts of lithe things on a flying trapeze. The animals all look happy and healthy and not like they are trained with electric prods. They give performances of varying competence. The Shetland pony walks around the ring and then stands on a stool, which is very clever for a Shetland pony, and makes all the children go ‘aaaah’. At the lower end there is a small terrier who unfortunately brings to mind the time when Short Tony insisted that his dogg could do tricks.
I resolve to mention this to Short Tony when I get home. If a career change is required, he will be able to join the circus with his dogg.
The clown rubs my stomach. He is desperate to find something amusing about me, so he is clutching at straws to imply some imagined rotundity.
At times like this you basically have two choices. You can stand at the back and snarl, or you can throw yourself into things and be a good sport for everybody’s entertainment. I am getting used to the spotlights now, and see the children’s faces ringside.
“Now – our volunteer is going to be our new clown!!!” cries Bippo the Clown.
“What?!?” I snarl.
At the back of my mind is the nagging thought that we are half way through the circus and there have yet to be any custard pies.
“Now – I want you to do exactly what I do,” exclaims Bippo the Clown, running front of stage and jumping around like a loon.
The audience goes wild with laughter. I stare around the auditorium. There is a short pause. I trot front of stage and jump around like a loon’s awkward younger brother.
The crowd laughs sporadically, apart from the LTLP, who is hooting like an owl in a BMW.
“That was very good,” lies Bippo the Clown.
I shrug, modestly. Clowning is clearly in my blood. It is good to have made a contribution to everybody’s day, and now I will sit down and resume eating my jelly babies.
“Would you like to see some more?” cries Bippo the Clown.