Thursday was good, Friday was better (if surprisingly costly) and Saturday was even better than that. Here's why:-
Thursday- with Stuart away for the day I wanted to make an early start at the theatre to make sure I got everything done; that said the stage isn't normally open until around 10 o'clock so I got there around that time to find men in hard hats everywhere and Rob the stage manager asking me to use the under stage crossover rather than walk across the stage as there's rather a lot of work going on there at the moment. So I could have got there earlier then... and there's not a lot of light up in the guitar area as it's cordoned off by a partition (presumably for safety reasons) which is going to make things difficult; oh well, the sooner I start, the sooner I finish... after changing 6 sets of strings it all looks ok. I clear up and pack away, then do one last guitar check 'just in case'- and realise I've missed one out, it's been played a lot judging by the colour of the strings and the amount of (urgh!) sweaty fingerprints on it. One set of strings later and it's back to pre-crash condition- that was close, and, in my odd little mind, strangely dramatic. I left the theatre with visions of strings breaking or jumping wildly out of tune on the first chord of the next show, text messages appearing on Stu's phone complaining of incompetence in the string changing department, angry posts on Queen fan forums ricocheting around cyberspace wondering what on Earth had happened to the opening of one of their sacred songs ('I bet some idiot didn't change the guitar strings. Don't they realise how important Queen are?) and calling for my head to be exhibited on a spike at Traitor's Gate.
All of this madness seemed a long way away and a long time ago as I arrived in Northwood for a 2 o'clock osteopath appointment. There go the wages then. Actually Jeremy the osteopath seems to be a really nice bloke, talking of seeing the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd during his student days in Brighton whilst attempting to rehabilitate my ailing back. I stumbled back to the tube station thinking that, yes, actually it does feel a bit better these days and that if I'd bothered to do those exercises that he gave me last time it would probably be a darn sight better still.
Friday- the first Chicago Blues Brothers gig of the year, in the rock'n'roll capital of the world, Weybridge. After an unusually easy journey (Friday afternoon on the M25 is not known for it's 'easy' journeys) Shirley and myself arrived at the hallowed confines of The Oatlands Park Hotel to find Ian the sound man setting up the last bits of his gear- he's bought a lot of new equipment that he's using for the first time tonight including in-ear monitors for the singers. Pretty soon everyone's there- Pete'n'Mike are Jake'n'Elwood, Squirrel's on bass, Ian's back on keyboards, Tracy's on vocals, Richard and Dave are on sax and trumpet and Marc's on drums- he depped with us last year and now is in the frame as a 'permanent' member. With this in mind sound check is actually more of a rehearsal for Marc (though we did find time to jam on 'No Woman No Cry') and a general 'is there anything anybody wants to run through?' session- with everything sounding good we retreat to the Cedar Room, our home for the next few hours. Joe the driver's on the internet looking to book a holiday and pizza's are being ordered; everyone's catching up with each other amid a mood of general optimism as Pete talks through the plans for the next few months.
Me? I'm feeling a little, for want of a better term, 'lost'. Tonight, at The Shepherd's Bush Empire, it's the premiere of the film of last year's Paul Fox benefit gig. As I've written in earlier posts, I was involved- suddenly I feel like I should be there and be part of the evening, but of course I can't be. I'm playing the guitar tonight, it's what I do, it's what I always wanted to do, it's all I ever wanted to do and that's great- but if I hadn't seen Paul play all those years ago I wouldn't be able to do what I can do now. I go for a drink with Shirley, she listens to me bleating away, non-crisis after non-crisis, the usual rubbish that she's heard so many times before; I decide that actually I should be out playing tonight because it completes the circle in an odd sort of way, from the kid in the crowd to the guy on stage and back again, and that's alright...Back in The Cedar Room, Richard's on the internet, on Ebay to be precise; I remark to him that I've been looking at guitars on there, actually one in particular, a Gibson SG, here let me show you... suddenly I've bought it. Really. No, really, it was a bargain, honest. There go the wages. Again. In a desperate attempt to justify it I tell Shirley it's like the one Paul Fox played the first time I saw The Ruts, and it is, it's the same colour and everything, I'll play 'Staring at the Rude Boys' on it when I get it, from the kid in the crowd to the guy on the stage and back again and that's alright...
Meanwhile back on planet Earth, it's show time. We're playing at a Burns Night celebration for the McCarthy and Stone company and we start with 'Peter Gunn' and it sounds great- we're playing well, it's like Marc's always been with us and Ian's new gear sounds even better than Ian's old gear and that always sounded brilliant. By the 4th song the dancefloor's full and it stays that way for pretty much the whole evening, a great start to our year.
In the car on the way home I got a text message from my old mate and former Blaggers guitarist Steve Perry- he's been at the Empire show and tells me Henry Rollins gave me a name check from the stage. 'How cool is that?' asks Steve. I didn't feel quite so lost anymore.
Saturday- back in the shop. There's only myself and Adam available today, and he can only be there from 11-3 so hopefully it won't be too busy. It starts well with a visit from old friend and fellow guitar bore Paul Cope who, in addition to considering the way that I've just described him to be a compliment rather than an insult (as indeed would I!) bought himself one of the new Fender Super Champ XD combos. It sounded superb when he played through it, so good in fact that I'm considering getting one myself. There go the wages, assuming that there are any left. Again. When Adam leaves I close the shop for a while and go over to The Coach and Horses to meet Stuart and to get something to eat; he's with Pete from The Cane Toads who finds the 'I've bought a guitar by accident' story suitably hilarious. I get back to the shop and there are 8 or 9 people queuing outside. Oh dear.
I finally managed to get the front door closed around 6 o'clock; East has arrived and, pausing only to pick up a bag of crisps and some chocolate- rock'n'roll food!- we set out for The Hammersmith Odeon (I still call it that, don't you?) where Henry Rollins is doing a 'spoken word' show as part of his 'Provoked' world tour. This basically means that he comes out on stage and talks. And talks. And talks. I've not seen much footage of Bill Hicks but I get the impression that what he used to do; I guess our equivalent over here is someone like Billy Connolly? Anyway I've been in occasional e-mail contact with Henry since my Ruts'n'Rollins rehearsal session back in July- I contacted him via his website to thank him for mentioning me in 'Dispatches' and to my amazement he not only replied but has kept in touch since as well as promising to put me on the guest list for his London show on the next tour. That said I was still half expecting to be told that I had to buy a ticket by the box office person- but no, there in an envelope with my name on it were 2 tickets. Hurrah! East and myself celebrated this momentous occurrence in our little lives by, you've guessed it, going straight to the bar where we bumped into punk rock heroes T.V. Smith and Gaye Advert; while talking to them we were joined by Esso from The Lurkers who'd come up with the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth and his wife Patricia, and while talking to them we met Sarah Pink, promoter of the Paul Fox benefit gig who promised to see if she could get us into the aftershow party. Am I a ligger or what?!? T.V. mentioned that he'd nearly phoned me to ask how to play 'Babylon's Burning' which he'd been asked to perform at the previous night's show. I thought back to how I'd felt the night before... strange...
Henry came on stage at 8 o'clock and started talking. And talking. And talking. He left the stage just after 11 o'clock, having spoken for just over 3 hours on subjects as diverse as playing a priest in a film to sheep living in George Bush's head (!) and was absolutely brilliant. 3 hours talking is a lot of talking- think about how long it would take to read out, say an averagely sized magazine page; not very long- maybe 2 or 3 minutes at the most?
Around halfway through the show someone sat in the up-until-that-point vacant seat next to me with the words 'didn't you used to be in The Ruts?' It was Segs. 'Don't worry' I said, 'you haven't been on yet'- and almost immediately Henry started recounting last summer's Islington gig; he talked of his first encounter with the band through buying their first single because he liked the title ('that's me- I'm in a rut') and what their music meant to him then and still means to him now. He spoke of receiving an e-mail from Mark Wyeth asking if he was interested in singing with the band at the show, of contacting Segs and Dave to see how serious they were about the gig ('if it's only 99% then I'm not interested') and then, incredibly, mentioned me a few times (called me a 'consummate professional'- I'd put that on my CV if I had one!) before telling the story of the show and his subsequent feelings about Paul and the band. It was strange to sit there hearing the story being told from the stage- like it meant that was all really true or something?
The show ended and the house lights came on. I stood up- my legs ached from sitting down for so long. Sarah appeared in front of me and handed me 2 passes for the after show party, and a few minutes later there we were, in a bar that the likes of you and me never normally see (East- 'this place is bigger than my flat!) with 40 or so others, drinking lager out of plastic bottles and pondering the last 3-and-a-bit hours. After about 20 minutes Henry arrived and began working his way around the room; he's smaller than you think as famous people often are (East- 'I'd never have recognised him!') but a big presence if you know what I mean. He caught my eye and came straight over, shook my hand, thanked me for coming, I introduced him to East and we both blathered something about how great the show had been, he commented on how much it takes out of him and then got collared by someone else who wanted to introduce him to someone or other, said he'd be back in a minute 'though I didn't think he would be- but, just as we were thinking of leaving him came over again, said he'd been told that there were people outside waiting to see him to get things signed and he didn't want to let them down but if I ever saw a poster or flyer for one of his gigs and wanted to go to it then just to e-mail him and he'd put me on the guest list. Then he shook my hand and was gone.
We stayed for a few more minutes (East- 'did I mention that Gaye Advert bought me a drink?') then left. When we got outside there he was, surrounded, shaking hands, posing for photos, taking as long as it took to give the people what they wanted. 'A thoroughly decent man' said East, which I would think is another term for 'hero'- wouldn't you?