Super-sub bass

Published May 28, 2018

The BBC hosted their replacement for the absent Glastonbury festival this weekend, putting on four huge shows across the UK and welcoming the great and the good of the music world to play at them. There was far too much content to enjoy in one weekend, so I’ll be perusing the iPlayer for at least the rest of this week and maybe longer.

Crowd cheering at a gig, stage obscured by smoke

One performance that did stand out, however, was the Manic Street Preachers on Friday. I’ve been growing more and more fond of this band, from a sort of “mild indifference nodding at the occasional tune” to a more steady “well I need to listen to the entire back catalogue asap” situation.

The band were scheduled to perform in Belfast but unfortunately had to go on without bassist Nicky Wire due to a family emergency. All best wishes to him, of course, but I found the situation entirely intriguing. They went on instead with a super-substitute bassist, who did a stand up job under what must have been huge pressure.

The guy was adorable, in his efforts to ignore the limelight and just get through the songs without making any errors, rarely making eye contact with the band even, and stubbornly ignoring James Dean Bradfield’s efforts to give him any credit for turning up. I loved it.

But it got me wondering all sorts of questions about what went on behind the scenes. Do you just have super-sub instrument players waiting to go on? Was he a bod that just knew the sets and could step up without a second thought? If that’s the case, who then does the job he would ordinarily be doing? Also curious if it’s his own guitar, if he brings it along with him wherever he goes, if he ever jams with the band in their downtime.

It was also interesting to ponder how this was a unique set of circumstances that wouldn’t have worked out if it was any other way. If it was James who couldn’t participate, then presumably they would have to call the gig off. The super-sub bass didn’t appear to sing, didn’t even have a microphone, so presumably if there were bigger backing vocals required, again, they would have had to rethink. And also… at what point does it not become fair to go on?

For example, if I was going to see U2 (that’s a big if, trust me), and the Edge wasn’t there, I’d want my money back. It can work sometimes if you replace them with someone more famous - I know Chris Martin of Coldplay has done some super-subbing as singer in the past - but for the most part, people want to see who they came to see. I guess also it’s more relaxed at festivals than a specific artist’s gig. This way, there’s a huge bill of people and you’re unlikely to be there just for the one band, but even so, at what point does a band not still be the band as advertised?

Just some thoughts, no answers, and in this particular instance it didn’t seem to harm the set too much to have a competent, if slightly less flashy, bassist hammering out the notes.

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