Sometime around 10p.m. Wednesday evening my mobile phone rang. It was Dave Ruffy. He has played (and indeed will yet play) drums for all sorts of people, but I first met him when he was playing in The Ruts. He explained the situation- there's a rehearsal tomorrow afternoon with Henry Rollins who's singing for The Ruts at the upcoming benefit show next Monday and Paul's not feeling too good. Would I be interested in standing in for him?
I suddenly felt very excited indeed.
Thursday morning at the theatre and it's audition time again. The standard is very high, as though these are the only people still left in the race. That said, if I hear 'Who wants to live forever?' again I might well decide that I definitely don't... after a quick bite to eat and the almost compulsory visit to the HMV shop I was off on the District Line to East Putney where after the odd wrong turning I eventually found The Courtyard rehearsal studio. When I said that I was looking for The Ruts the chap in reception just said 'studio 2- Rollins is already there'. And he was, standing up and extending his hand towards me as I walked through the door with the words 'hi, I'm Henry'. With him in the studio lobby was Dave Ruffy, Segs, Jim the sax player and, inevitably, Mark Wyeth. I walked through into the studio; there was Ruffy's Gretsch drum kit, and to it's right laying on top of an Ampeg bass amp was Segs's old Fender Precision bass. To the left was a Marshall combo for me to use and in front was a stool with some bits of A4 paper on it- the top one had the words to 'West One (shine on me)' on it. I got my Les Paul Junior out of it's case and plugged it in just as Segs and Dave came into the studio with Henry close behind. I was about to play some music with them.
I suddenly felt very nervous indeed.
'How are you with 'Staring at the Rude Boys?' asked Segs. I said something like 'I'll have a go' and played the opening riff. 'Oh, you know it.' he said, almost dismissively. 'That's good. We'll have a listen anyway'. 'Yeah, I wanna map the songs out' said Dave waving a piece of paper around, 'make sure we've got the arrangements right'. Henry sat as the song played over the P.A. making notes, checking lyrics, singing along. Then it was our turn. 'Not too fast' said Dave, tapping out the tempo on his hi-hats. I played the riff, him and Segs joined in and Henry started singing- I was in The Ruts with Henry Rollins on vocals. And it sounded good, and it got better the second time through. Then we put our instruments down. I waited for one of them to say something like 'can we just try one without you Leigh' or 'can you sort yourself out or you'll have to leave'- but they didn't. We just thought of another song to try, put the original version on through the P.A. mapped it out, made notes, checked lyrics, sang along and then played it. It sounded good first time, and got better the second time through. It was fantastic- literally 'the stuff of fantasy' as far as I was concerned.
We had a break and I found myself talking to Henry in the lobby. I blurted out words to the effect of 'I can hardly believe this is happening' and he just smiled and said 'me neither'. And there we were, both Ruts fans, talking about hearing them for the first time, lowering our voices whenever Dave or Segs came within earshot in case they heard us talking about them. Henry told me how he'd interviewed the great sax player Sonny Rollins once- he was amazed to hear him say that he felt that he was just about getting the hang of his instrument, that he still had so much to learn and was always on the lookout for new players, new sounds, new ideas- as Henry put it, 'you've got to stay curious'. An extraordinary thought. Then it was back to 'work', playing songs that changed all our lives in one way or another, and, even though I say so myself, playing them very well indeed. We went for a drink afterwards, at The Ship in Wandsworth. While we were there I received a 'how's it going?' text from Andy C.- I sent back something like 'can't talk at the moment, I'm down the pub with Rollins and The Ruts'. He sent one back saying that he hated me. Sorry Andy... I told Henry I saw Black Flag in 1981 supporting The Damned at The Lyceum in London- he smiled, 'December 6th, with The Anti Nowhere League'. 'Charge were on first' I replied, 'we missed the last train home, had to go to Heathrow Airport. And I thought it was the 7th!'. He laughed- 'You might be right!'. And then, suddenly, it was all over and we were all on our way home with only handshakes to remember it all by, a few short hours that I will never ever forget, and it'll sound even better when they play with Paul on Monday night. See you down the front.
Sometime around 10p.m. Thursday evening my mobile phone rang. It was Ian Richards. He has played (and indeed will yet play) saxophone for all sorts of people, but I first met him when he played in Dave Finnigan's Commitments with me. He explained the situation- there's a gig tomorrow night at The Dover Street Wine Bar with the F.B.I Band and their guitarist can't make it. Would I be interested in standing in for him?
Normally I would have felt more excited than I did. It's a funny old world sometimes isn't it?
-Henry gives me a mention in 'dispatches'. Amazing!!!