Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A day off? What would I do with a day off?

I had a day off today.

Well, of course I didn't. I spent most of it (so far) learning songs for a gig that I'm doing with Mario this coming weekend (which reminds me- I must find out where it is!) and attempting to recover from the last four days. Here's what happened-

SATURDAY- Chicago Blues Brothers at The Village Hotel, Maidstone.
A 90-minute performance at Roger's 50th birthday party in the Forest Suite; a 'not-the-A-Team' gig with new dep Andy taking Marc's place on the drum stool, Beverley & Steve in for Richard & Dave on horns and Tracy away on holiday meant that the soundcheck was more of a rehearsal than usual, 'though we did find time for a blast through 'I'm A Believer' which I don't recall us ever playing before. We had the Rowan Suite to use as a dressing room, where panini's went down well with all concerned. Some went for a sauna, some went to the bar (guess which one I chose?) before a show that went pretty well all things considered, 'though there were, shall we say, a few tempo issues... Shirley and myself had been invited to stay with keyboard player Ian and his soon-to-be wife Nadia after the show- we were all due to be in the Essex area the next night so it made sense for us not to drive all the way back here then all the way back there the next day. What didn't necessarily make quite as much sense was staying up until 6 a.m. drinking- but we did it anyway.

SUNDAY- Lindsay's birthday party at Club Riga, Southend.
I woke up at 12.30 p.m. I don't sleep in that late very often; then again I don't wake up feeling like I did then too often either... a somewhat blurry afternoon followed with a call from Squirrel around 4 o'clock causing much merriment from the bassman as I attempted to recall the events of the previous night/morning's over-indulgence. He'd arranged a surprise birthday bash for his wife Lindsay that evening featuring Roy Hill (he was briefly in The Strawbs- Lindsay helps run their website) and The Good Old Boys (West London rock 'n' roll heroes- Lindsay runs their MySpace page) at the excellent Club Riga in Westcliff near Southend. I remember how I'd felt when me and my brother put together a surprise party for my dad's 65th birthday- if he felt as nervous as we did then he hid it very well. The look on her face when she arrived confirmed that he'd managed to keep it a secret from her; Roy Hill played a short, excellently surreal set while The Good Old Boys gave a typically fine performance 'though I must say it was rather strange to see them play so far away from home with so many familiar faces in the audience. Oh and Squirrel probably won't thank me for mentioning his line dancing- but I just have, so sorry mate. - Lindsay's party get a mention!

MONDAY- The Cane Toads at The Village Hall, Chalfont St. Peter.
It's early afternoon in the shop. Mike, a perspective new staff member, is attempting to serve a customer and my mobile phone's ringing. So- do I help Mike or answer the phone?
'I'm closing down the internet'. Andy sounded serious. 'What, all of it?' I asked, attempting to lighten the moment. 'Yes. All of it.' His reply was if anything even less humorous. This can only mean one thing- someone's put photos of FAT FREDDIE and BRIAN MAYBE out in the public domain. And they have. The bastards!
Off to Chalfont St. Peter then for a dep gig with local rockers The Cane Toads. It's Martin the singer's birthday and spirits are high. The Village Hall turned out not to be a village hall but was actually a pub- a better situation I feel- which took a bit of finding, not least because we were looking for a village hall rather than a pub. I last played with them back in December last year and had managed to do a bit of revision for what turned out to be a very enjoyable gig, with another attempt at 'Sweet Child O' Mine' (that's two Monday's in a row!) among the songs that I'd not played with them before. A fine evening- and they got offered another gig at the pub too.

TUESDAY- Buddy Guy at The Shepherds Bush Empire.
Arriving early at the shop I found a bored looking teenager leaning against the wall outside. That'll be the work experience lad then. I said something like 'Hello mate, my name's Leigh', and he just looked blankly at me. He eventually made a noise that sounded a bit like 'Ben'. And we've got him with us for nearly two weeks... he came alive when he met Mike 'though- within seconds of meeting the pair of them were having a shredding* competition in the corner. It might have been nice if they'd done a bit of work or served a customer but I guess you can't have everything. Towards the end of the day my old schoolmate Tim came in to buy a guitar for his son Tom and bought with him a picture of the two of us when we were both eleven, the same age as Tom- I didn't recognise myself.
A day such as this needs an antidote and fortunately it had one in the form of Buddy Guy who was playing at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Despite the best efforts of the Central Line myself and Shirley got to our seats in the first balcony just as support act Foy Vance was taking to the stage. It's hard to describe what he does here- he uses sampling to create vocal and guitar loops which he then plays along with. He reminded me of Tom Waits which is no bad thing- well worth catching again methinks.
I'd never seen Buddy Guy before and he certainly didn't disappoint in any way- with a guitar sound that could politely be described as 'blistering' he gave a magnificent performance that was riveting both musically and visually. There's always an odd contradiction here for me- so many of the blues players are also great showmen, which I often find to be at odds with many of the lyrical themes; somehow Mr. Guy got the mixture just right. At one point he walked offstage still soloing, only to re-appear in the downstairs audience (cue pandemonium) for a couple of verses; he then disappeared from our view before suddenly walking right past me (I was sitting on the right-hand end of a row) still soloing. Incredible. He sang a verse from the front of the balcony, then walked back past me with the words 'where's the way out, man?' A great moment.
Back on stage he spoke of how the young British bands of the 1960's had bought people like him to our attention over here, then told of a young man playing in New York at that time who went on to 'blow everyone away', played the introduction to 'Voodoo Chile', sounding exactly like Hendrix, not a bit like him but EXACTLY like him because of course this is where Jimi got it from- and at that point it hit me, this is where 'it' came from, here and from Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Albert, B.B. and Freddie King and so many others, these guys are the real deal, THIS is the blues. And I shed a tear. And I just shed another one as I typed that. A fantastic show.

*For those of you lucky enough not to know, 'shredding' is a term often used to describe the high-velocity, high-distortion playing of the likes of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and that well-known comedy of errors, Yngwie Malmsteen. For what my opinion's worth- whilst I appreciate the virtuosity of the players involved, and the amount of work that goes into getting to that level of competence, I personally think that players like Paul Kossoff, Jeff Beck and, yes, Buddy Guy say more with one note than the average shredder says in their entire career. Put it this way- no shredder ever moved me to tears- well, not of emotion anyway...

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