On performance anxiety (December 2009)

tracey thorn & al doyle

Saturday morning in London. I’m on a sofa bed in the flat of my friend Al Usher. Tonight we’re playing our first DJ set together as Partial Arts and despite our combined age of seventy-two years and hundreds of gigs under our belts we’re nervous as hell. As we play each other music, trying to get a handle on how things might work tonight, Al’s fourteen month old son Yann is babbling happily in his play-pen. Tender in years, he is curious about everything, scared of nothing.

I dreamt last night that I was in the studio producing New Order and they were messing about, blocked, stuck. And I didn’t know what to do. It’s a cousin of a regular anxiety dream where I have to perform a concert and I don’t know the songs. Next Wednesday that dream could come true. I have to play keyboards for a webcast promoting Tracey Thorn’s forthcoming album. As producer I know the songs backwards and yet having to perform in front of people, even a few friendly ones, makes me feel physically sick. Only my love for the record and the knowledge that Tracey will be even more terrified made me say yes in the first place. Solidarity outweighs fear.

As you do things repeatedly you imagine that repetition and familiarity will bring confidence and calm. That age and experience form a bullwark against anxiety. Tracey has performed at Glastonbury. I have DJed at Love Parade. Shouldn’t that give you license to be a little blasé? Not a bit of it. As you get older the stakes seem higher. I tell myself that fear is an index of giving a shit – scaring is caring – but that doesn’t make the frequent trips to the toilet any more enjoyable.

I’ve just finished a mix CD for Kompakt. It is my third and yet it took me twice as long to make as the others combined. The knowledge that I have successfully accomplished it in the past is no comfort. Rather it makes the prospect of doing it again scarier. It’s as if I’ve completely forgotten how I achieved what I did before, as if that was another person. Will I live up to expectation? Can I pull it off again? When will someone tap me on the shoulder and say “Sorry, son. You’ve had your time. Grab your things and come with me”. When will the game be up?

One Response to “On performance anxiety (December 2009)”

  1. Wayne C says:

    Good to know that even someone with your success still has insecurities – so there’s hope for the rest of us! :)

    “This entry was posted on Thursday, December 31st, 2009 at 11:59 pm”

    Great way to ring in the new year, I guess!

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