Sunday, May 25, 2008

Austin City Limits

Last time I mentioned that I wouldn't be available on Friday to help Stuart the guitar repair man rescue the guitars of 'The Jersey Boys' as I was gigging elsewhere. I was actually back up in Norfolk- at the Caistor Hall Hotel just outside Norwich to be precise- playing at a charity event organised by our trumpeter Dave Land's wife Lyn, in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the local Quidenham Children's Hospice. We were playing in our (very) occasional guise of 'Stacks of Soul and Blues'- a bit like last month's PTX show, but with Pete and Mike sharing the vocals. Sadly we're without Tracy this time (absent due to her Dad being unwell) but it's the usual suspects apart from that (Dave 'n' Richard on trumpet 'n' sax, Squirrel on bass, Ian on keyboards, Marc on drums and your humble narrator on the instrument that the mighty Ian Hunter so memorably described as 'my 6-string razor') along with a couple of other acts booked by Dave for the occasion (more about them in a minute) and a charity auction with Pete and Mike attempting to wring a bit more money out of the assembled multitude.
Myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived at Caistor Hall sometime after 2 p.m. to find that (aside from Dave) we were the first ones there. We'd left early anticipating Bank Holiday traffic, only to find that, at least on the route that we'd taken, there wasn't any. We checked into room 422- a quick check around revealed that (a) the skylight wouldn't open and (b) the shower wouldn't work properly (the hose kept falling out of the clip thingy that you put it in when you're showering. You know the bit I mean? Of course you do! It's really hard to describe isn't it?) The skylight was the only source of fresh air in the room and it was a very warm afternoon meaning that it was about 200 degrees in there (really! I'm not exaggerating... well to be pedantic I probably am but you get what I mean don't you? Don't you?!?) and very stuffy. Repeated attempts to open it with the big stick provided resulted in abject failure so I got my courage up (it's really hard having no confidence sometimes!) and went down to reception to complain- they said it 'should' open but they'd see about getting someone to look at it, and the shower while they're at it, we're fully booked tonight otherwise we'd move you to another room but we will get it all fixed for you. That's nice of them.
With band members arriving we get set up on the smallish stage in The Barn. There's one of those very annoying volume restricting devices which cuts the power to the stage (i.e. turns your equipment off) if you go into the red for too long, then re-instates the power (i.e. turns your equipment back on) after a pre-determined period of time, usually a few seconds; like virtually every other band that ever encounters such a unit, we ran some plug boards from the dressing room to the stage and plugged into them, therefore bypassing the unit completely. Naughty naughty... oh well.
Time to get ready for the evening meal. Shirley looks as lovely as ever (aah...) and, for the first time ever in my little life, I'm actually wearing a bow tie. Really. Well, it's a 'black tie' event and I thought I should make an effort for once... so in what I decided was a suitably anarchic move, I got a black shirt and a white tie- punk rock eh? Actually I didn't feel anywhere near as awkward as I thought I would. Perhaps I should dress like this more often?!?
Downstairs in the bar there's a flute trio playing- they sounded very good but I didn't get chance to hear them play for very long as I wanted to go out onto the patio to hear the duo playing out there. Dave had introduced me to Jasper a bit earlier in the day- he teaches at the same collage as him; playing a Gibson L-5 guitar and accompanied by Mike on double bass they played pretty much every jazz standard that I could think of, and quite a lot that I'd not heard before. Jasper played chords that I'll never be able to pronounce, let alone play, 'though if I lived near him I'd be badgering him for guitar lessons even as we speak. They began sometime around 7 o'clock and were still playing at 9.30 as our meal drew to a close; their set included everything from 'Blue Moon' to 'Masquerade' (which included a quite snippet of the theme from 'The Sweeney'- excellent!) via 'Chitlins Con Carne' by Kenny Burrell, all played superbly. Chris the toastmaster put it perfectly- 'in an age of mediocrity, it's a pleasure to hear musicians such as these'. And I had to go on after this guy! Help! Fortunately there was the auction to contend with first- I decided that this would confuse the audience sufficiently as to prevent people comparing my efforts to Jasper which made me feel a bit better. Pete and Mike made a great job of it- Pete made a heroic attempt at restraint with the words 'good evening ladies and gentlemen' before bellowing 'I SAID GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMEN' and becoming the Mr. Showbiz that we fans know and love, and Mike played the straight-man-with-more-than-a few -funny-lines. The only item unsold by the end was a free hire of 5 dress suits for a wedding (!) with everything from balloon rides to Chris de Burgh tickets sold (!!) and Dave Land buying at least one item himself.
The scene is set for a good show and it doesn't disappoint- lots of dancing and general mayhem down the front with 'Long Train Running' sounding particularly good and some very strange things going on in the horn section; both Ian and Pete ended up on trumpet at various points of the show 'though from what I heard Mr. Land's job is more than safe...

Saturday morning and it's checkout time. The room had cooled down sufficiently to enable us to sleep but it was already getting hot when we left it (10 a.m.) and the shower worked even though you needed a spare arm to hold it over your head- no one had turned up to look at either problem. After a bit of haggling (and a lot of help from Mrs. Land among others) we managed to get some money back which, without wishing to sound too miserable, I think we deserved. There's time for coffee and goodbye's before we set off in the general direction of Dartford where I'm gigging with Austin in his duo Liquid. We're not due there until 7 p.m. but Shirley's realised that Dartford's not far from Bluewater shopping centre, and that I've just been paid...
Some of you may have noticed that I regularly mention somebody called 'East' in these hallowed pages, usually in connection with a hangover or loss of memory. Or both. A quick look at The Price website (link at the top right of this page) will reveal his real name- but the reason that he's named after a point of the compass (which is quite weird if you think about it; I'd never really thought of it like that before and it is quite weird isn't it?) is all to do with, you've guessed it, drinking. Sometime around (gulp!) 25 years ago myself, himself and 2 others (ha!- an in-joke there for the 1 or 2 of you that might get it!) were on our way to Lowestoft to attend a party given by 'Wake Up!' fanzine editor Dave T. As we passed the sign for East Bergholt somewhere on the A12 one or other of us said something like 'here Steve, your surname's Holt- you should call yourself Eastberg'- and by the end of the weekend, that's what he had become. Ah- the innocence of it all... anyway, proof were it needed that I could do with growing up a bit comes with the unbridled glee that I felt when I phoned him up with the words 'Morning- Eastberg Holt, or rather, East Bergholt here'. And it was- slap bang in the middle of Constable County and a really nice little village; both Shirl and myself agreed that we should spend a bit more time in East Anglia someday. From there it was down to the M25, across the bridge and to Bluewater shopping centre for a couple of hours retail therapy (I nearly bought a 23 dvd set of 'Columbo' for only 40 quid- looking back I can't quite work out why I didn't!) before setting the controls for Dartford Social club.
Another Austin gig, another one-way system with nowhere obvious to park outside the venue (this always seems to happen!) Eventually we managed to park, as instructed by the club guv'nor, on the pavement (it was a very wide pavement, if you know what I mean) around by the side door. After loading in and setting up it was time for a drink and a 'what songs shall we play?' conversation before going on for the first set at the rather early time of 8.15; a couple of old rockers in the corner kept calling out for 'Paranoid' (Austin didn't know what they were talking about) and I suggested doing a Rolling Stones song as they were a 'local' band (Austin didn't know what I was talking about) but we got through the first set without too much danger. Half time at gigs like this means bingo (Shirl had a go at the bingo, only needed one number for a full house. Oooh!) and a raffle; by the second set the old rockers had started shouting for a Deep Purple song (I suggested that we play 'Smoke on the Water' which he has a backing track for- Austin didn't know what I was talking about) and virtually everybody got up to dance to 'Angels'. We might have kept them there if Austin hadn't insisted in following it with that well-known Pink Floyd dance floor classic, 'Wish You Were Here'.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in the wrong game.

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