Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cry baby cry

Yesterday my brother Terry came into the shop, with his 14 year old daughter Anna. When I asked Anna how she was she looked blankly at me and said 'tired'. 'What will you do when you're old like me?' asked grumpy old Uncle Leigh. Anna just shrugged her teenage shoulders. 'Be old and tired instead of young and tired?' I offered hopefully. No answer. Oh well. Meanwhile her Dad was playing the opening drum riff of 'Moving Away From The Pulsebeat' by The Buzzcocks on the electronic drum kit in the corner. Anna looked from him to me and back again, in a manner that suggested that she was now bored as well as tired.

A few hours later I knew just how she felt...

I'm on a tube train, on my way to Greenwich where The Chicago Blues Brothers are playing at the Greenwich Jazz & Beer festival (no, really!) in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College. It'd been a good day in the shop, not least because Saturday boy Ian has bought a new guitar- well, a secondhand new guitar if you see what I mean. It's a Fender '52 re-issue Telecaster which he bought off regular customer Clint (aren't the customers supposed to buy stuff from us, not the other way around?!?) and he'd bought it in to put some new strings on it. Clint's in a band -the somewhat worryingly named Beaver- and used to own not one but two of Pete Townshend's old guitars (have a look at for, amongst other things, pictures of the now-sold Townshend axes.) He gave me one of John Entwistle's plectrums earlier this week; I like him... anyway Ian's guitar's excellent (I might have bought it myself if he hadn't!) and the day proved to be an enjoyable one although as I sat on the train I reflected on how I shouldn't really work in the shop on gig days (Shirley's always telling me off!) as I was nearly falling asleep. Still I've got the latest copy of 'Record Collector' magazine' to read and the train's not too crowded for once.
Then, suddenly, things changed. At Wembley Park approximately 100 people got into our carriage, among them 2 men, 2 women and a small boy of maybe 3 or 4 years of age who sat on the seats around me. The boy was clearly bored and/or tired, although he chose a slightly different way to deal with this than Anna had earlier- he was jumping up and down, screaming his head off.
'Now now, be good' said one of the women, presumably his mother.
'WWWWWWAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!' said the small boy as he ricocheted off one of the men and into the other woman.
'Are you Ronaldo?' said the other man, in a manner that suggested that he may not be the most intelligent person that any of us will ever encounter. 'Well, are you? Are you a little boy who cries when he can't get his own way? Are you Ronaldo? Is your name Ronaldo?'
'Don't worry' said the woman who was presumably his mother, 'you can have a McDonalds when we get to Liverpool Street'.

Liverpool Street. That's where I'm getting off. Oh God.

Approximately 250 years later I got out at Liverpool Street. Only articles on how to plan a tour of the musical landmarks of Memphis and The Jam's earliest recordings had saved me from cracking up completely. I remain convinced that the 2 men and 2 women hadn't seen me at all, and that little Ronaldo had only known I was there when he careered into me. Actually he might not have noticed me then either. If I'd have heard any of them say 'he'll be ok when we get to the Greenwich Jazz & Beer Festival' I'd have woken up in prison this morning. One of the men had managed to calm little Ronaldo down a bit by letting him punch them in his stomach (not a bad idea!) but he'd still managed to drive me, and I suspect most of the other inmates of the carriage, almost totally insane. As I stumbled towards the Central Line I consoled myself with the thought that, well, at least the rest of the journey can't be as bad as that... then, as I was on the 'down' escalator I became aware of a strange, almost inhuman sound- and it was getting louder...

It's a busker. In a kilt. He's playing the bagpipes. The bloody bagpipes. It sounds like someone fighting their way out of hell. As I reach the platform the girl in front of me says 'I'm losing the will to live'. The guy next to her looks delirious. Come to think of it, the entire population of the platform look delirious. I suddenly find myself thinking 'if little Ronaldo and his mates show up then I'm throwing myself in front of the train'- except there isn't even room to commit suicide properly, as the platform is dangerously full of people attempting to escape the terrifying noise. At last, a train arrives. It's beyond full. It doesn't matter, I- we- must get on it. We do. Just. There's so many people on board that the driver says that some people will have to get off or the train's not going anywhere. No one moves. People start shouting for those nearest to the doors to be reasonable and get off, there'll be another one along in a minute. In the background I can just hear the bagpiping busker going into yet another tortuous crescendo, as can can everyone else who's crammed onto the train. No one moves. Just as I'm readying myself for little Ronaldo's arrival the doors close and the train moves off. I would have breathed a sigh of relief, but there wasn't room.

After this the views of London and The River Thames from the Docklands Light Railway seems like a visit to heaven. Sometime around 7.20 I finally make it to the backstage area where everyone's getting ready for an 8 o'clock show. Pete's back from holidaying in America and joins Mike in the hats 'n' glasses; Marc and Squirrel are on drums and bass, Roger's depping on keyboards, Tracy's on vocals and Dave the trumpet is joined by Ian on sax for the first time in quite a while. Ian Bond's back on the sound desk, ably assisted by Rod- I get set up and venture out front in search of lager, (an odd choice at a beer festival you might think; then again as it says in the foreword of the classic novel ''Fahrenheit 451''- 'if they give you lined paper, write the other way') then it's almost immediately time to get changed (in the back of Bondy's van- this showbiz lark is all glamour you know) and get on stage for what turns out to be an excellent show with a thousand or so people getting into the spirit on things pretty much from the word go (the industrial strength brews being served may have helped!) After our allotted hour of Blues Brothers material and with Dave and Tracy leaving for a late gig elsewhere we carry on, playing pretty much anything we (Pete keeps coming over to me for song suggestions- I think he may have still been jet-lagged!) can think of- 'Land of 1,000 Dances', 'Long Train Running', 'Hard To Handle', the inevitable 'Mustang Sally'- finishing with a rock'n'roll medley that may have lacked a certain amount of technical accuracy (I'll leave you to think about that one!) but more than made up for it in energy. I managed to drop my plectrum during a guitar break and, with Pete trying to hand it back to me, all but pulled the fingernail off my index finger by attempting a sub-Wilko Johnson thrash at the strings. Next time this happens I really must remember that I always put some spares on top of my amplifier... with The Thames behind us we encore with 'Take Me To The River'- when I go back afterwards to put my gear away a young couple call me over to the front of the stage and tell me I'm a 'guitar hero'. Crikey!

On the way home Pete phones me to say thanks for 'getting him through the show'. From the DLR train window London at night looks stunning, a riot of colour reflected in the water below. Even the memory of little Ronaldo and the bagpiping busker can't ruin that moment for me.

Just in case you're wondering- I didn't change carriage to escape from little Ronaldo and co. as the train was really crowded by then and I decided that it was better to have a seat rather than to try standing with a guitar and a bag of clothes; and anyway, as I'm sure you've worked out for yourself, if I'd have moved then I'd have had nothing to rant about here...

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