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Smile & Wave Boys: My Guide To Successful Depping.

Firstly, what do I mean by "depping". It's the process of DUPUTIZING in a band or, to give it a much more official-sounding title, LIVE SESSION WORK. I would consider this portion of my job to be anytime that I'm required to temporarily play live: but knowing from the outset that it's not going to be anything permanent. Over the last 20 or so years, I've done my fair share of this ranging from playing acoustic guitar at a 'function', playing for an exam ensemble performance, pit band playing in musicals as diverse as The Sound of Music & We Will Rock You, and temporarily filling in the shoes of absent guitarists in other bands. And I really do enjoy it. There's a simplicity about depping that appeals to me. Learn your parts, turn up, play, go home. Easy.

The strange thing is that I enjoy depping but I DON'T enjoy playing live under my own steam. I know, that makes no sense, but it's true: I don't play live very often under my own steam. I must admit that (taken as a whole experience) it takes a LOT of convincing to get me in the mood to perform live as, well, me. When I'm in charge of my own projects - either "STEVE FLETCHER & THE ANGELS OF MERCY" or "THE BREADED CHURCHMAN" - it takes a great deal of motivation for me to want to step into the spotlight and say "look at me, it's Steve!". How ironic eh?!

But, with depping, there is a simplicity to it. Learn your parts, turn up, play, go home. You might be out of the house for maybe three hours? And all of the other stuff that I don't like about gigging seems to not matter. Why? Because it's not your responsibility anymore. You're not in charge. The only thing that rests on your shoulders is playing your parts the best you can. It's great.

And so, what have I learned about my DEPPING experience? Well, I'm going to list my findings, in no particular order, now...

1) LEARN YOUR PARTS BEFORE GOING TO REHEARSAL. This is a rule that I have lived my entire professional musician life by. Rehearsal time is NOT "learn the song" time. Rehearsal time is, shockingly, REHEARSAL time. It's the time that a band comes together to get their individual parts tightly wrapped up together to ensure that the future performance is as good as it can be. I've been in many situations where someone has entered the rehearsal room and said "Right, how does this song go?" I guarantee two things will happen: 1) everyone will give each other 'the look' and 2) that person will never be hired again.

2) REASSURE, REASSURE, REASSURE The band that you're temporarily joining will worry about how you're going to perform. It's to be expected: they don't know you. They don't know if you're going to 'take the money and run', as it were. So anything you can do to show that you're a) competent at what you do and b) are a reliable musician is absolutely essential. This includes knowing your parts (see rule one), knowing the lyrics, knowing the harmonies (if required), actually knowing everyone else's parts also helps as well, turning up first and leaving last, making sure your sounds are "the shit" rather than "just shit", making sure all your gear is functioning as it name a few things...

3) ADOPT THE MANTRA "YES, NO PROBLEM." This ties very neatly into rule TWO. There will be set list changes, songs will be added, songs will be dropped, parts may be altered, song keys may be altered.....sometimes RIGHT at the last minute. The band will turn to you and say "is this ok?" Do you fill them with worry? Do you turn to them and say, "Erm... I'm not too sure I can do that." NO! You say "Yes, no problem." It's like that old anecdote of actors where, if you're in an audition and are asked "Can you ride a horse?" Just say YES and then learn how to do it later. If you're a musician worth your salt then most of the changes I've mentioned above shouldn't phase you anyway.

4) YOUR OPINION IS NOT REQUIRED (AND USUALLY NOT WANTED!) You're not "joining the band". You're not there to get involved with dysfunctional band dynamics or anything like that. You're not there to take sides, you're there to do as you're told and get on with the job. I have been in situations before where two members are arguing about song parts and one has turned to me to say "what do you think sounds better?" At which point I had to hold my hands up and say (quoting Rodney from Only Fools & Horses) "It's nothing to do with me, I just sweep up and make the tea!" There is no way I'm going to take one side over another. If this sounds to you a lot like "being a robot" then you'd not be far wrong. You're there to play your parts and play them well. That's it.

5) CHEAT SHEETS ARE WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD We'd all like to pretend that we're "the man" when it comes to playing our instrument but when all is said and done you're human and we all have those moments where that one chord, lyric, riff, key.. whatever, just spontaneously disappears from our brains. Try to get yourself some plastic wallet folders, write out your songs and chords, and have them on stage with you. It's so easy to put a folder next to your floorboard and glance at it now and then. You'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

6) JOIN IN... OR DON'T There is, a multitude of different kinds of bands out there. One week the "depping" musician may find themselves in a wedding party band and the next week you may be in a musical pit band. One of these bands will require you to be the life and soul of the show, dance around, jump around and get the audience enjoying every moment of the show, and one of those bands will require you to sit down, shut up and invisibly play your part. Whichever it is, be prepared to "act accordingly". It's like you're playing a role: a character. Remember that the band you're temporarily joining may require nothing more than your playing skills, they may also require your "joining in" skills as well. If they're a band that jumps around and acts a bit silly then don't be that guy who says "Well, I'm not doing that!" Firstly, it makes you look like you're up your own arse. Secondly, you'll get a reputation as being up your own arse and probably lose work.

7) STAY IN TOUCH You'll find that you hang out, intensely, with this small crowd of people: they become your entire social circle, your family, your best friends... everything. You share good times, bad times, laughs, jokes, dressing rooms, toilets...everything. Just over a really short space of time. Once the job is over you'll go your separate ways and may not actually see each other for months, years, ever again. You're friends in music, separated by jobs and distance. But make the effort to stay in touch. It's nice!

8) BRING A BOOK There are so many times where you're sat around doing nothing: particularly with regard to pit bands. Musical theatre is a huge beast, relying on a huge amount of people working in tandem to pull it off. And you're only one of them. There are the actors, the dancers, the singers, the backstage people, the sound people, the lighting people, the dressers, the list goes on....oh, and there's you as well: sitting on your chair, crammed under the stage. During rehearsal, the director will invariably shout "STOP!", and be ready to grab your book, (unless it's something specifically to do with you or the band). But you could be waiting a while. I do find a book to be a more useful way of passing the time than a phone. With your phone, you're just aimlessly looking at nothing in particular. Whereas with a book you can 'get into it' and so you grow to actually look forward to these "STOP!" moments.

9) "THINK OF THE MONEY" MOMENTS I'm not going to lie, as fun as depping can be and as good a laugh as you have, sometimes it's work. There are times in depping where you think to yourself "what am I doing here?". Party bands have to hold up a big 'guilty' sign for this one. There was a particular time that I can remember standing in the gent's loos (which is what the 'dressing room' was), looking at myself wearing a bright yellow suit with neon shades, and knowing that within the hour I was going to be playing "Agadoo". All you can do is repeat the mantra "think of the money, think of the money." The simple truth with depping is that it's nothing to do with your 'musical career'. It's a job. You NEED the job. You're doing it for the money.

10) LEAVE YOUR EGO AT HOME I hope these rules have shown that, more than anything else, depping is a time where it's not about you. You are literally required to learn your parts, turn up, play, and go home: SMILE & WAVE. It's not the STEVE FLETCHER show. Yes you can (and will) have a laugh, craic, giggle, guffaw, jump around, and so on. But just don't be a prima donna.

And so, there it is. Thanks for reading. x

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