The minstrel in the gallery.

Scattered, apathetic applause fades to a background engine-note of exchanged banalities, punctuated with chokes of harsh laughter. The minstrel straightens up from the bar, rolls weary shoulders, drains his beer and signals the barman for another before picking his way through to the stage.
Kneeling to flick the clasps on a guitar case, the minstrel smells lemon oil, wood, an almost imperceptible spectre of old cigarette smoke and beer, the hours of care spent on the instrument almost enough to drown out the olfactory memory of a hundred stages, basement bars, dim pubs, church-hall parties.
The weight of the guitar around the neck is a burden familiar enough to bring comfort, like a calloused thumb rubbing across an old scar and as the minstrel looks up, out from the stage, his toughened fingertips return to the strings as if reunited parts of a whole.
Dimly lit in the reflection from the stage, the glow of mobile telephone screens and the dull luminescence of the exit signs, the audience are a shifting gallery of grotesques, masks rough-hewn from decaying wood, clumsily-fashioned golem-people; hollow things of dirt and clay, animated only by the words writ into their heads by faceless masters. An uneasy balance exists: the minstrel knows that without them he would leave empty-handed, his job is to entertain, stimulate, arouse and then placate them. He must achieve rapport with them, reach into their hearts and move them. On the other side of the coin, he knows that not one of them will give him their full attention for longer than a few seconds unless he panders to them, plays their requests and gives them cause to sing along; raucous and atonal. Should he chance his own songs, cut raw from the stuff of his soul and painstakingly finished over hours of solitary breaking and recasting, he will be met with vacant disinterest, even hostility. He must tread a careful path between their half-formed wishes for the trite, the universally popular or half-recognised melodies that will show them a glimpse of the wider beauty of the songs that they habitually ignore.
Muscle memory triggers the fingers into an automatic pattern across the frets, warming up, alerting the audience that things are about to start. He steps up to the microphone and utters a single syllable to check that he will be heard.
The chatter drops in volume a little, the sound and movement a momentary distraction. Fingers form a chord and he picks a soft, plaintive sequence of notes.
A hoarse voice cries out from a dark corner: ‘Play some Oasis!’
The minstrel continues to pick, and with a weary smile,  begins to sing.

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