If you go back to the 'December 2006' section of this blog you'll find me rambling on about The Ruts. As some of you may know guitarist Paul Fox has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and last Saturday saw the first of 2 benefit concerts arranged to help him through this difficult time- this one was at The Crown & Treaty in Uxbridge and featured Foxy's Ruts alongside Max Splodge, The Riffs, The Bobs and The Dub Cats. A couple of days earlier I had a conversation with my old sparring partner Mark Wyeth, the gist of which was 'are you (i.e. me) available to play with us (i.e. Foxy's Ruts- he's their bassist) on Saturday?', the idea being to give Paul chance to 'play-or-not-play' depending on how he felt at the time. I thought about it a lot- maybe a better word would be 'agonised'- but to cut a long story short found myself in a rehearsal room early Friday evening with Mark and Laurie (Paul's son who plays drums in the band) awaiting the arrival of Mark the singer and, possibly, Paul himself. Mr. Wyeth's making frantic phonecalls- Paul's not feeling too good and Mark was last seen around 4p.m. 'paralytic'. So the 3 of us ran through what we could- songs that I'd played along with on record so many times when I was learning to play but had never performed with a band, somehow dragging them from my memory as best I could. I feel awkward at the best of times but this was a bad one- playing songs with the son a man too ill to play them himself. Strange days indeed. But it sounded good and, maybe more importantly, it felt good. I was pushed for time as I was due at Big Tel's birthday party- I left with some very odd thoughts in my mind.
After a suitably busy day in the shop (Paul popped in with his girlfriend- 'all set for tonight then?') I went straight to the Crown & Treaty where I was greeted with the words 'which group are you with?' from the lady opening the door. I mumbled something about 'helping Paul out' and her rather aggressive manner softened somewhat- in fact she knew my name and knew exactly why I was there. She introduced herself as Billy and ticked my name off on the 'Ruts guest list'- now there's something I never thought I'd ever appear on... after a quick soundcheck from The Dub Cats it was our turn; I nervously plugged into Mark's Marshall combo and played a few chords- suddenly the room seemed to fill with people with Paul and Max Splodge among them, Mark the singer apologising to me for his non-appearance the previous evening, all the other band members seeming to look straight at me, or through me, or something... Laurie counted in 'H-Eyes'- and suddenly it was over almost as soon as it had began with everyone in the room applauding, Mark the singer shaking my hand, Max shouting 'you're sacked Foxy' and the biggest sense of relief I can ever remember having after doing something as everyday to me as playing a song.
Amazing. You don't know how much something means to you sometimes do you?
Shirley and myself arrived back at the venue (we'd gone for something to eat) just after 9 o'clock. The Bobs were nearing the end of their set and the pub was very busy indeed. I said hello to Mark from the Uxbridge lads, Andy Knight, Monty who used to be in The Clinch, Andy Woodstock... was there any one in the building that I didn't know? Hmm- no pressure then... out the back the 2 Mark's are on the merchandise stall, doing a roaring trade; Max Splodge is on next, then there's an auction, then we're on. There's a good atmosphere which gets even better as Max plays. The auction is, if anything, even more entertaining than his set, getting madder and madder as it goes on, culminating in the hilarious site of him trying to work out who the cartoon that he was trying to sell was actually supposed to be (it was a signed Richard Branson caricature- it didn't sell). When he'd finished I went up on to the stage to set my gear up; I looked around, everyone seemed to be looking at me quizzically, as if to say 'who's that? It's not Foxy. WHO IS IT THEN?' A couple of people even got up on stage to ask... then, at last, we're on. Suddenly the place is packed, almost dangerously so, with Mark introducing 'H-Eyes', Laurie counting it in, and the riff seems to come from nowhere but it's me that's playing it, and Mark's singing 'you're so young you take smack for fun' and the place is going wild and we're going wild and then it's over and the applause (thank GOD for the applause!) is deafening, I'm nearly as relieved as I was after the soundcheck and 'Something That I Said' is next...
Then, suddenly, there's someone next to me playing guitar. I thought the band knew him, the band (it transpires talking to them afterwards) thought I knew him- he managed to thrash through a couple of numbers before someone stopped him... then Mark says 'where's Foxy?!?'- and there's Foxy, on stage to a hero's welcome, 'Staring at the Rude Boys' coming out of his guitar and sounding great. And it's coming out of mine too- I'm in The Ruts. Kind of. But it feels great anyway, and 'Give Youth a Chance' feels even better, then 'Babylon's Burning' is the classic that we always knew it to be, and it can only be 'In a Rut' to finish with, Paul's soloing like the whole audience wants him too, Max Splodge singing, everyone singing- and it's all over. The end. Paul can't play any more- but we can, we have to or there'll be a riot so it's 'Human Punk' and then it really is all over. The end. We did it, I did it, we all did it. Incredible.
2.30a.m. and I'm drinking with Clive from Jonestown. I hadn't seen him for years. We gave him a lift home sometime after 3- he didn't know where he lived. Great bloke. Great night. Great... everything, really.
The second benefit show is next Monday at the Islington Academy; The Price were supposed to be playing but we aren't now- it's still a good bill 'though!