My first foray into performing in a busy venue – a talent competition

Derek’s Story

Some of the most common questions that musicians are asked are often about their earliest memories of performing, or about what drew them into the world of performance as a child.

Well, I don’t have many stories about singing in front of relatives as a boy (though an old reel to reel tape of me singing “Daisy Daisy” at 2 years of age exists somewhere!) but I think my most formative experience was taking part in a talent contest at a caravan park when I was 14.

I had only just started learning to play the guitar and had a cheap steel-string acoustic guitar that felt a bit like playing a cheese grater and wore blisters on my fingertips.  I bought myself an electric pick-up from my paper round wages that clipped into the soundhole on the front beneath the strings and, when plugged into my dad’s radiogram, made an unholy electric guitar-like racket!

So, one summer I found myself on holiday at Combe Haven Caravan Park in St Leonards on Sea (near Hastings) with my mum, younger brother, and baby sister.  I saw with excitement that there was to be a talent contest for kids and teenagers in the main entertainment hall – it was a big space, always pretty full in the evenings when singers performed, so it was an exciting prospect to play there myself.

I got my mum to put my name down and practiced hard over the few days before the contest, fingers blistering and bleeding like crazy.  I worked on a nice easy three-chord song called “Tell Him” by Hello, which was pretty catchy and often on the radio. Here’s a link to the song if you’re interested.

So, on the afternoon of the contest, everyone turned up to rehearse with the house band, who were backing all the contestants.  As I recall the other contestants were all solo singers (there was one pretty girl I had a mini crush on), and one young lad recited a poem by Kipling.  The guys in the band were lovely to everyone, they plugged my guitar in, told me to start my song and they would jam along. 

As I noisily commenced whacking chords, the bassist shouted to the keyboard player, “It’s in B flat”, which rather took me aback because I was playing in A!  (Guitarists reading this will have worked out that my guitar must have been tuned a semitone sharp – these were the days before electronic tuners and so forth.)

So, that night I nervously made my way to the venue with my family, lyrics circling through my head, fingers throbbing from all the extra practice I’d done.  I can’t remember how many acts were on before me, but all of a sudden it was my turn.  The compere was a friendly middle-aged guy, who enthused the audience, “This is Derek, and he’s got an electric guitar” and then I was off…..

A 14-year-old me performing at Combe Haven with the house band. The bassist is behind me and you can just see the keyboard player’s right hand. The chord I am playing was apparently a B flat!

After everyone had performed, I think the judging was done by asking the audience to vote, though I couldn’t swear to that.  Anyway, the compere announced second place to the pretty girl singer who I liked (and never had the courage to talk to).  She took to the stage and was awarded a certificate and a “goody bar” (honestly..!).  I was just wondering who had won when I was amazed to hear my own name.  In a daze I made my way back onto the stage to collect my prizes – a certificate, a “goody bar” (which turned out actually to be a Mars bar!) and a voucher for £1 (yes, that isn’t a typo – £1!) to spend in the campsite shop. 

After this experience, I never looked back and became addicted to playing on stage and the fame and fortune that goes with it.

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