Monday, November 13, 2017

See You Up There!

Time for a belated report on three Ruts DC gigs the weekend before last, the first or which was at The Waterfront in Norwich. Support came from The East Town Pirates who I thought were very entertaining although I missed the second half of their set as I was summoned to a nearby pub by Segs where he was meeting Stiff Little Fingers bassman Ali McMordie. I walked in to find them both ensconced around a small table - if you'd have told me back in (say) 1979 that I would one day have been meeting up with them never mind being in a band with one of them then I don't know what I would have said... our show saw the return of my Marshall DSL100 amplifier after a repair at the factory, and without wishing to tempt fate I have to say that it sounded terrific. We also have a spare - hereinafter referred to as 'the Riverjuke amp'  as Harry, Adam and co. currently own it - but more about that in a minute. We played well although for me it was the weakest of the three shows - not bad, just not quite as good as the others, if you know what I mean.

The next day - Saturday 4th November, if you're taking notes - saw us journey across the country to Wolverhampton for The Midlands Calling Festival. There was time to check in at our hotel before making our way to The Civic Hall where Harry and Adam went in to set up our merchandise while Segs and myself walked the short distance to the Blooms clothes shop - we'd spotted it on the way there and Segs thought that it 'looked interesting'... he couldn't have been more correct - it was how I imagine tailor's shop would have been years ago, with a brace of cheery immaculately-dressed assistants with tape measures around their necks all only to happy to attend to your every clothing needs. It got a bit 'suit you' here and there - rarely a bad thing I'm sure you'll agree - and I loved it. I found a suit in the sale which I liked the look of, but as I said to the assistant, the trousers were 'a bit David Essex' (I like his music, but not the flares!) and I'd prefer three buttons while the jacket only had two - within seconds I was told that it could be altered and ready for collection the next morning. Sold! I must wear it on stage sometime soon... in the meantime we played a thunderous 45 minute set to the enthusiastic appreciation of the assembled multitude and everybody seemed to be very happy with our efforts. We'd decided to use the Riverjuke amp but to our dismay no sound was forthcoming - with only a short changeover between bands we decided to use the backline amp provided and resolved to have a proper look at it the next night in Wakefield

I'd not been to Warehouse 23 before, but it seems to me to be an excellent venue which is putting on a lot of very diverse entertainment, which is always a good thing to see. At the soundcheck we plugged the Riverjuke amp in again - still no sound. I set up my DSL 100 while Harry set about investigating - when he opened the amp up to his and indeed my astonishment he discovered that the four power valves were missing. Well, that would do it! It had gone to Marshalls at the same time as mine but they had clearly forgotten to put the valves back in after testing them. Doh! (Harry called them the next day and they have since sent a new set of valves free of charge, so hopefully all's well that ends well...) Thankfully my amp sounded great, and we went on to play what to me was the best show of the three. Again that's not to say that the other two were bad, just that this one just edged it. We're lucky, we play some good gigs - talking of which, it's just been officially announced today that we're supporting Stiff Little Fingers on their 'Down To The Bone' British tour next March. Once again, if you'd have told me when I was 18 that one day I'd be typing that sentence I don't know what I would have said...

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Life begins at forty?

'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols' was released 40 years ago last Saturday, on October 28th 1977. Many thousands, maybe even millions of words have been written about it, how knows how many bands formed on the back of hearing it, and it's visceral rock 'n' roll power remains undiminished four decades on. Or does it? Every so often I hear somebody repeating the tired old cliches like 'they couldn't play' and 'they were invented by their manager weren't they?' - all absolute nonsense of course, as one listen to the album proves. I played it on Saturday afternoon and it sounded magnificent. Mind you, it usually does.

And talking of magnificent albums 'Power In The Darkness' by The Tom Robinson Band is in my not-so-humble opinion one of the best records (I still think of them as records, don't you?) of all time. To celebrate it's 40th anniversary (hang on - wasn't it released in 1978?!?) Tom has been out and about over the last few weeks with his current band playing it in it's entirety - I was lucky enough to catch a performance by them at The 100 Club last Thursday evening, not least because the band were joined by the original TRB guitarist Danny Kustow for the last two songs ('Motorway' and 'Don't Take No For An Answer' - check out these wonderful vintage clips to see the band back in the day) of the evening. Kustow is one of my all-time favourite players, and it was fabulous to see him on stage again - I even managed a few words with him after the show (I'm shy at the best of times so talking to a genuine guitar hero took a lot of doing!) which meant a lot to me. The best part of a week later, it still does.  

When last we spoke The Upper Cut were about to play their last ever show - and what better place for us to play it at than The Dolphin in Uxbridge. To say that I had and indeed have mixed feelings about this is something of an understatement; I think a lot of the people I play music with, and whilst it's obvious that nothing can last for ever the band has had some great times over the last few years so it'll be sad to see it go - if indeed it does go. Considering we didn't have a chance to rehearse the band played well and there were no awkward moments - well at least there weren't until Noel the guv'nor checked that we were still going to be playing he and Bridie's wedding anniversary party in December. Hmm.. it seems we will be appearing there again next month... the next night Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks played a short notice (I got a text about the show during the Upper Cut's interval!) gig across the road at The General Elliot, a raucous evening which saw much dancing and merriment throughout a boisterous performance. The band played two good shows last weekend (in Burnham and Shepperton since you were wondering) and have plenty more where they came from in the new few weeks so there's lots to be going on with. 

This weekend it's time for some more Ruts D.C. gigs - we're in Norwich on Friday, Wolverhampton on Saturday and Wakefield on Sunday. We've been rehearsing today and in addition to running though our current set we've been looking at some ideas for new songs which hopefully will be recorded for a new album sometime next year. And that's not the only exciting thing that's hopefully on the horizon - but more about that another time... in the meantime I've got the rest of the night off so I think that it's time to play the Pistols album again. I've been playing it rather a lot since last Saturday - maybe you have too?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

'The skill in attending a party is knowing when to leave...'

So there I was, minding my own business on the main stage at Butlins in Skegness as Ruts D.C. were in the process of closing this year's Great British Alternative Music Festival - to my left Segs is flanked by Jake Burns and Kirk Brandon, behind me Dave Ruffy is on the drums and steering the ship in customary fashion while Stan Stammers is with me at my microphone; we're all singing 'if you're in a rut, you've gotta get out of it' - as the song ends Stan throws his arms around me and I shake hands with Kirk and Jake before the three of them leave the stage. We're about to slam into 'Babylon's Burning' when I allow myself a moment's thought - 'how the bloody hell did that just happen?' followed swiftly by 'and didn't Richard Jobson say that he was going to join in too?'
All in all it was a suitably surreal end to a wonderful run of Ruts D.C. shows. In the last month or so we've played all over Britain and Ireland and barring the odd mad moment or two it's been an absolute pleasure from start to finish. Our new friends Harry, Adam and Mike from Riverjuke have shown devotion above and beyond the call of duty (well I think that they have, they'd probably say that they're 'just doing their jobs') which has made the band's job immeasurably easier, and even though I say so myself we've played some really great shows. After a batch of gigs like these there's often one or two that stand out as being better or indeed worse that the rest, but I can honestly say that's not the case this time. Ok, maybe Aberdeen (where we were to say the least concerned that the P.A. system wasn't up to the job but which turned out to be a classic evening) and Cardiff (which saw my Marshall amp go wrong again meaning that I was in a less-than-cheery mood; thankfully the Riverjuke boys had thought to bring a spare and the show saw one of the best audience reactions of all) stand out, but not by much. Incidentally my amp's back at the factory for repair and I'm looking at buying the spare - there go the wages. Again. But maybe nothing tops the 'crikey, I'm on stage with members of Theatre Of Hate and Stiff Little Fingers' moment. Strange days Indeed. Most peculiar mama.

So - what now? Well Ruts D.C. return to the stage at the start of November so it was back to basics on Friday night when I rejoined Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks for a show at no lesser venue than Hayes Working Men's Club. Al was recovering from a minor operation on his left hand and so wasn't playing acoustic guitar (we usually start the evening with a few acoustic numbers) and so Pete and myself split the duties on his very nice Martin HD 28 - I really must get myself a good acoustic guitar one day... I'd spent a while revising the songs as I'd not played with the band for over a month and had restrung my Stratocaster accordingly - shame I'd neglected to try it through an amplifier as the volume pot had developed a fairly serious-sounding crackle when used. This sort of thing can happen when a guitar isn't played for a while, and hopefully will be cured with a squirt or two of switch cleaner when I get five minutes. (Thinking about it I should perhaps be doing that instead of typing this? Hmm...) And last night I went to The Hope And Anchor in Islington to see the debut performance by RiVeR who feature Matt on guitar - he writes the excellent Elvis In The Clouds blog and attends many of our gigs so it was good to go along and give him a bit of support. A highly enjoyable night saw your humble narrator chatting to quite a few people who had seen and indeed enjoyed Ruts D.C. on this tour, and one gentleman who recognised me as a member of Big Al's band. As I say, strange days indeed... but proof were it needed that you don't get something for nothing in this godforsaken life comes with the news that this coming Friday's Upper Cut gig at The Dolphin in Uxbridge looks like being the band's last ever show. Shame - but nothing lasts forever (sadly!) and we've had a good run so hopefully we'll go out on a high. What was that line that Michael Stipe said when REM split up? A lofty comparison perhaps, but a comparison nevertheless - let's we don't leave our dignity at the front door eh?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

70 not out

It doesn't seem that long ago that the name Wilko Johnson was everywhere. And it's not that long ago that it was, in relative terms at least, nowhere. Everywhere and nowhere baby... it's certainly been an unprecedented few years for the Canvey Island assassin, from his unforgettable appearance in the Dr. Feelgood documentary 'Oil City Confidential' and his subsequent 'who'd have thought it?' recruitment to the cast of 'Game Of Thrones' to his now-well-known diagnosis and subsequent cure from cancer it's been an extraordinary time. Last night he played a 70th birthday show at no lesser venue than The Royal Albert Hall. Strange days indeed. I went along with my good friend Pete Sargeant who was reviewing the night for 'Blues Matters' magazine - as we settled into our seats we reflected on how we - all of us - had got to where we were. Pete used to see The Feelgoods in the London pubs before they started making records whereas I missed the band with Wilko on guitar - I was a bit young, and anyway I didn't have any friends to go to see a band like them with. But however you look at it the band made an indelible impression on us both as they did with so many people.

Our evening starts by coming full circle (if that's not too much of a contradiction in terms) as Eight Rounds Rapid take to the stage. Simon 'son-of-Wilko' Johnson prowls around as Dave the singer tells us that his mate's a bit tight, but he's alright. They're a great band - see them in a pub or club and they'll blow your head off, but in The RAH they have trouble ruffling each other's hair. It's not their fault of course - this is simply the wrong venue for them, they're not loud enough and seem dwarfed by their surroundings. Mind you, who wouldn't be? After their set I bump into Cadiz Records supremo Richard England and Vive Le Rock editor Eugene Butcher. They're even more disappointed by what they just saw and are looking for a bar to drink away the memory in - there are enough of them to choose from but I can't help thinking that there isn't enough money in the world to get drunk here. 

Next up is Benjamin Tehoval, a one-man band who manages to operate an electric guitar, some bass pedals, a kick drum and his voice simultaneously and at the same time. He also manages to get much of the audience wondering what the hell he was doing there. When he was told that there was only time for one more song he played 'Like A Rolling Stone' - that's six minutes of our lives that none of us will ever get back again. Pete thought it was funny, I thought it was the sort of thing that only a hopeless hippie who was sufficiently self-obsessed as to not care about the rest of the evening would do. Oh well - it wouldn't do for us all to like the same thing now would it?

Next up ladeez 'n' gennelmen, The Bard Of Salford himself, Dr. John Cooper Clarke. As a long term fan of the great man I was naturally delighted by his presence whereas Pete took the opportunity to catch up some much-needed sleep. Well as I say, it wouldn't do for us all to like the same thing... among the unmissable moments he, er, missed was a previously unheard (by me at least) tale of our hero making enough money to hire a 'snooty butler' who he assumed would be available whenever his services were required; when he came in from a gig at 2 a.m. to find said butler wearing a 'wife-beater vest' and responding to his asking for 'a couple of rounds of Mickie Most and a mug of splosh' with the words 'your dietary requirements are no concerns of mine' he replaced him with a chimpanzee. Genius.

Interval time - looking around the venue it was all a bit... 'nice' if you know what I mean. Whilst it was impossible not to be impressed by our surroundings, having seen Wilko countless times over the last 40 (40!) years it was all a bit incongruous. For every rocker in t-shirt and jeans there seemed to be several people who looked as though they'd come straight from Harrods. Maybe they had? 

9.40 on the dot and it's time for the main event - Norman Watt-Roy looks out into the auditorium and mouths 'Wow!' as Wilko plugs in and 'All Right' crackles into life. 'If You Want Me, You've Got Me' follows before the always-excellent 'Dr. Dupree' slows things down a bit - but only a bit. There's already drops of sweat on the floor of Norman's side of the stage as they swing into 'Roxette' - and suddenly it's early 1975 and I'm calling my mum in from the kitchen as Dr. Feelgood roar through an unforgettable (for me at least) rendition of the song on 'The Geordie Scene', changing my life in the process. I didn't stop talking about it for days - to be honest I'm not sure that I've stopped talking about it much ever since. Here it gets the muted approval of the all-to-polite audience, as does the rest of the set - how often have the band played for over an hour to a fully-seated audience? It takes the final one-two sucker punch of 'Back In The Night'  and 'She Does It Right' to finally break the spell and get a few people onto their feet - the security staff who up until this point had been unsubtly stopping people from doing anything as anarchic as taking photos swung even more unsubtly into action, but at least there was a bit of atmosphere at last. As demands for an encore grew Simon's amplifier was set up and speculation as to who would be joining the band was rife - I doubt that few if any had expected that the special guest to be JCC playing Simon's barely audible Telecaster on 'Bye Bye Johnny', but that was what they got. As the crew readied themselves to take the gear off the stage the band returned once more, sending the security staff into meltdown in the process - 'Route 66' bombed out the last pockets of resistance, and everybody (except I suspect the afore-mentioned security staff) went home happy. 

Or did they? On the train home I reflected on what we'd all just seen. As previously stated I've been watching Wilko play live for four decades. I saw him on his first post-Feelgoods tour and I've watched him ever since through thick and thin, playing blistering, heart-stopping shows everywhere from  small, smoky, sweaty back rooms of pubs to large outdoor festivals and all points in between, in front of handfuls to hundreds to thousands of people - it's strange to see him now, after the trauma of the last few years, as a successful act playing bigger and bigger venues to so many people wearing his name on their chests. This wouldn't, indeed couldn't have happened at any other point in his career, and it's great that it's happened now - but has he lost something in the process? It was a great gig and an event to have been at, but I have a suspicion - indeed, a sneakin' suspicion - that he just might have...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Scotland Calling

Time for a quick progress report from North Of The Border, written at the times and in the places indicated, a little garbled here and there but left unedited...

Thursday 14th, 10.56 am, Room 52 at The Bothwell Bridge Hotel in Glasgow.

I like Scotland. It's a great country isn't it? and it's always a great place to play. We've got five shows in five days here this week - excellent. 
We - Ruts D.C. (Dave, Segs and myself) with our sound man Bob and merch girl Rhiannon - travelled up to Glasgow yesterday on the 12.30 pm train from Euston Station while our 'new' driver Harry (I don't mean that he's never driven before, it's just the first time that we've worked with him!) had made the epic journey North in his bus with all our equipment, stopping off to see family and friends on the way. He'd also dropped my ailing amp off at the Marshall factory on the way - it stopped working a few songs into our performance at The Undercover Festival in Margate last Saturday. Bugger! I'm hopeful that there's not much wrong with it as the lights were still on but there was definitely no one home... thankfully there was a spare amp available so the show continued (rather well as it happens) but it's obviously something that has got to be sorted out. 
Last night's gig at The Audio sold out - not bad for a Wednesday night eh? Ok, it's not the biggest venue in the World, but a sell out is a sell out... although I'm currently hampered by a deaf right ear (Earwax! Bah!) I think we played well - tonight we're in Dundee where we've played a couple of times before. I remember the first time being a great night while the second one was a slightly odd evening which wasn't too well attended (not much promotion apparently) and the support band played 'Staring At The Rude Boys'. Strange. Let's see what happens this time.

Friday 15th, 11.10 am leaving Dundee.

'It's all glamour this rock 'n' roll lark' thought Leigh as he helped Harry carry a speaker cabinet up the seemingly endless flights of stairs. As he stumbled breathlessly through the double doors leading into the venue he thanked gawd that the cabinet was on wheels while The Lurkers looked down on him from the wall near the bar. My heart's in the shadow - well it feels as though it's going to burst through my shirt to be honest. It's great to be in show business... there's a statue of Desperate Dan a few hundred yards away in the town centre - we could perhaps do with him here now. 
Five-and-a-bit hours later my heart once again felt as though it might burst through my shirt, only this time for a very different reason. We'd just played an excellent (even though I say so myself!) set at a very appreciative audience and all was right with the world. We added 'Tears On Fire' to the set, a tricky song to play but I thought that we did it well - we'd ran through it during a sound check that also included 'Suffragette City' and a new song called 'Innocent' which isn't finished yet but is showing great promise. The Beat Generator turned out to be a great venue (it'd be even better if it had a bloomin' lift!) and the riskily - named Invercarse Hotel was a nice hotel. It would have been good to have spent a bit more time there but the road to Aberdeen beckons. Get in the van Leigh - it's all glamour, this rock 'n' roll lark...

Saturday 15th, 10.42 am Room 217 at The Douglas Hotel in Aberdeen.

Victory from the jaws of defeat. That's quite a saying isn't it? I wonder where it comes from? It was used more than a few times last night, and not without reason - Drummonds is a good venue for any number of reasons (not least the girls behind the bar) but sadly the P.A. system isn't one of them. Bob is something of a wizard in my not-so-humble-opinion, and he needed all of his magical powers last night - a fraught sound check nearly fell apart when Segs uttered the immortal words 'we might as well just all get pissed, I can't hear a thing'. Not the best thought to have. 
Fast forward three hours and the place is packed  - The Media Whores are on stage and the sound is... ok... much better than earlier anyway. That's a relief. I wonder how we'll get on? 
Two hours later I'm wringing my shirt out in the dressing room. A great gig. A really great gig. Audience fantastic. Band sounded great. Thank Christ for that. From the jaws of defeat indeed. 

Sunday 16th, 11.31 am Room 304 at The Holiday Inn in Edinburgh.

It's our last day and indeed night in Scotland. Shame. These have been great gigs, with some wonderful moments.If you'd have been at La Belle Angele last night you'd have seen a brave attempt at '20th Century Boy' (Marc Bolan had died 40 years ago to the day) during an eventful rendition of 'In A Rut' which also the stage being plunged into total (and I mean total) darkness when the stage lights failed. Apparently there was a problem with the lighting desk - they also went off during  'Love In Vain' which resulted in more than a few, erm, jazz chords from your humble narrator. Let's hope that never makes it onto YouTube... the sound check also featured an unexpected incident when Psychic Investor Mark (during the PledgeMusic campaign for 'Music Must Destroy' you could become a Psychic Investor which meant that you could come to sound checks) responded to Segs's question 'any requests?' with the words 'Out Of Order' - I reckon that song was last played sometime in 1980 when the band was still The Ruts. We had a go. That's all I'm saying! We also had another go at 'Innocent' which I'm hoping will turn out to be a really good song; it might even make it to the stage sometime in this batch of gigs. Then again it might not - we played an 18 song set with a 3 song encore so it might be more of a case of 'what do we leave out?' rather than 'when do we play it?' Still that's not a bad problem to have. Maybe it's not a problem at all? 
Tonight we play in Falkirk. I've never been there before. We leave at midday so I'd better get my gear together.

Monday 18th, 12.35 pm on the train home.

Well that was a funny old night. It was an odd show to end on - we played well but the audience seemed rather subdued resulting in us thinking that we weren't going down very well. However as so often happens this wasn't the case - when we spoke to people afterwards many said that it was the best show that they'd ever seen at The Warehouse. And one person went further, observing that 'this is Sunday night in Scotland - everybody's been drinking since Friday afternoon'. Oh and The Bay City Rollers were apparently also playing in Falkirk last night, although I for one am not sure how that effected things. But however you look at it, it's been a pleasure to be in Scotland - but as previously discussed, it usually is.

So - was the Falkirk show any good? Click here to find out!

Monday, August 28, 2017

No Sleep 'til Belfast

Well - there you have it. It's all too rare that something lives up to it's promise quite as much as the weekend just gone, but I'm very pleased to say that this one did. It's good when that happens isn't it? Two Ruts D.C. shows supporting Stiff Little Fingers would be an exciting enough prospect at the best of times, but these really were great events to be part of. Friday night we supported them at The Academy in Dublin where our breathless 40 minute support set saw an amazing if unexpected amount of audience participation - we regularly see audience members singing along with songs like 'In A Rut' and 'Babylon's Burning', but to see the people joining in with 'Music Must Destroy' and 'Kill The Pain' really was a sight to behold. It set us up for an extraordinary night in Belfast where SLF celebrated their 40th anniversary with an open air show in Custom House Square. The Stranglers and The Outcasts were also on the bill, and with Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations Records DJ-ing it was an unforgettable evening all round. Well I say unforgettable - with poteen on the menu and our good friends Paranoid Visions on hand to help us, erm, celebrate the occasion things got a little hazy by the end. Still judging by the conversations we had with people at the airport on the way home we definitely did something right. Several people went as far as to say that it was the best night of live music that they had ever attended, and from what I saw and indeed felt I'm certainly not going to tell them that they were wrong.

Having played mostly festivals and support shows in the last few months we now set out on a series of headline gigs starting in Exeter on Thursday and Bristol on Friday - more shows have been added since this poster was produced (and indeed are still being added) so keep your eye on the Ruts D.C. Facebook page for more information. Sadly the Islington Academy show on September 2nd has been postponed until next year (!) but there is still plenty to look forward to. Well I'm certainly looking forward to it - if you're coming to a show then please say hello, and as always I'll be updating my Facebook page as regularly as possible as we wend our merry way up, down and around the length and breadth of Britain. See you up there, as someone once said... 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Hull and back

Since last we spoke Ruts DC have played shows in Hull and North London - both good gigs, with more to come as we shall see. Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks have also been out and about at The Farmers Boy in St. Albans (I'd not been there before, a great little venue) The General Eliott in Uxbridge (a suitably raucous local gig which got so hot that Al had to go outside for some air halfway through the second set) and Ye Olde Swan in Burnham (with fellow six-stringer Pete elsewhere I had to play his parts - I didn't realise that I had so much skin on my teeth) all of which reminded me how much fun it is to play with the band.

Back to Ruts DC - the Hull show took place last Saturday in the wonderfully-named Zebedee's Yard, which I believe is a car park when it's not a venue. We travelled up by train and arrived to find everything ready for soundcheck. There was just time to say hello to The Stranglers before running through a few songs then heading back to our hotel for some much needed food. We returned to find The Black Delta Movement on stage and the venue filling up nicely despite the rain, which thankfully stopped just before we went on stage. With only 45 minutes to play with we stuck more-or-less to the set we'd been playing on the Stranglers tour, with the addition of 'Suffragette City' which we dedicated to for local legends The Spiders From Mars. Although the rain had stopped it was still quite windy meaning that the sound on stage was a bit variable - we weren't sure if we'd played well but thankfully the audience reaction suggested that we had. We saw about half of the Big Country show (I hadn't seen them since back in the day and they sounded great - mind you, they usually did) before deciding to take our instruments and gear back to the hotel - we'd intended to return to see The Stranglers but somehow ended up drinking in the bar until 2 am. Well - it had started raining again, and we were thirsty... talking of which, last night we played at Urban Voodoo Machine drummer Gary 50th birthday party at Bones And Pearl Studios (another great name!) in Seven Sisters. 'Twas an evening of great jollity as you might well imagine - indeed it might be better if I leave the details to your imagination... go on, try imagining what went on... you're probably correct... but we played well, and that's the main thing. It only ever is.

This week we travel to Ireland for two shows with Stiff Little Fingers - as a long time fan I've been looking forward to these gigs since they were first announced. We're in Dublin on Friday before travelling up to Belfast for an open air show to celebrate SLF's 40th anniversary; The Stranglers (yep, them again!) and The Outcasts are also on the bill and with Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations Records DJ-ing the scene is set for a classic event. And after that we set out to play some shows of our own - but more about that next time.