I got a tax demand this week- I owe 'them' nearly £1,700. I've got to pay it by the end of this month or 'they' start charging interest on it. Last night I saw what some of 'our' taxes get spent on. And it wasn't a good thing to see...
First things first- Friday night saw The Chicago Blues Brothers play Portsmouth University. With Shirley's car out of action (it'd started playing up on the way back from the Southend show, gearbox problems apparently) we borrowed Stuart the guitar repairman's (thanks Stu- that's another drink I owe you!) and set out for the South coast; we'd only left the house 5 minutes when I got a call from Squirrel asking if I had a spare black gig shirt with me as he'd forgotten his. After nipping back to pick one up (and the jacket that I'd meant to bring but forgot) and putting some fuel in the car we made it down to Emsworth (we were staying in the Travelodge there) in no time. After checking in we set out for Portsmouth... well, actually we didn't as the Travelodge was on the opposite side of the A 27 to the one that we wanted to be on and we had to go nearly 6 miles in the wrong direction before we could turn around (Shirley- 'that's why we got it cheap!') I was last in Portsmouth a few years ago to see The Who; before that it would have been back in the early '90's gigging with The Price (we played there a few times with local heroes Red Letter Day.) It looks a lot different to how I remember it then with a lot of new developments springing up everywhere. We pulled up outside the Portland Building at the University just as Squirrel was getting out of his car. With Pete away and Mario gigging elsewhere we've got C.J. joining Mike in the hats'n'glasses; Ian's off gigging with Roger Chapman so new dep Roger is on keyboards, and Steve's in Marc's place on the drumkit- he played with us up in Leeds earlier this year. It's business as usual elsewhere in the band with Dave and Richard on trumpet and saxophone, Tracy on vocals, Squirrel on bass and your humble narrator on what Jimi Hendrix used to call 'the public saxophone'. It turns out that Roger played for Peter Green for many years (I knew I recognised him from somewhere!) and has also worked with the mighty Mick Green of The Pirates- no pressure on me then... we're playing a set of Blues Brothers songs then a second set of soul numbers in our occasional guise of 'Stacks of Soul', so soundcheck is more of a rehearsal then normal with Roger playing 'Green Onions' in G minor instead of the original key of F minor (don't say you never learn anything here!) and a run-through of the rarely-played (by us anyway) 'Hard To Handle'; if nothing else we realise that this maybe be the most echo-ey and therefore potentially worst-sounding room that any of us has played in for a very long time. Still hopefully it'll all sound a bit better with 500 or so people in it. After finding our 3rd floor dressing room Richard, Dave, C.J., Tracy, Shirley and myself decide to go out in search of food. I'm immediately glad that I bought that jacket with me- can it really be this cold in July? Tracy suggests going for a pizza as 'it's only quarter to seven and we've got plenty of time'- her watch had stopped, it was actually 8.25 and we were due on in just over an hour so we sat near H.M.S. Warrior eating chips and fending off seagulls. Back at the venue the college band are playing half of our set (bugger!) but at least there's plenty of people about and the scene is set for a good gig, which is pretty much what happens with the B.B's set going well, the 'Stacks' going even better (with the odd moment of confusion here and there) and we encore with 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love'. With all the people in the room to soak up some of the reverb the sound was much better than earlier- then again I'm not sure it could have got much worse.
The sound was much better at last night's gig. But it wasn't the sound that was the problem here- no my friends, the problem here was the people...
Last September we played a show at Odstock Manor near Stonehenge; if nothing else this gave me chance to rant and rave here about, among other things, the British class system and The Countryside Alliance. In it I also mused on my own hypocrisy at being at such an event- well, if that one made me feel hypocritical then I'm still searching for how this one makes me feel. At the moment- angry, helpless, downtrodden... normally I would do the 'who, what, where, when and why' bit where I say who we played for, where it was and so on, but for reasons that will become obvious it may be better this time that I don't. So- this was a wedding reception, the groom's Dad's a lord and we were in a tent somewhere in West Sussex. We met Squirrel and Roger outside- they told us there was no easy stage access and we'd have to carry our gear through the guests. As I walked through the garden no one moved out of the way to let us through- most were already too out of it to notice us. I was just putting my amplifier in place on the 'stage' (there wasn't a stage as such, we were set up on the ground at one end of the tent) when a twitching, red-nosed young man began telling us which songs he'd be singing with us. That'll be the groom then... I remember thinking that I should just hit him in the face with my guitar, but I reasoned that (a) he probably wouldn't have felt it and (b) I didn't want to risk damaging my guitar- well, not that early in proceedings anyway. Marc was back on the drum stool and with Richard gigging elsewhere new dep Scott was on sax; soundcheck went well with the sound very good considering the fact that tents can often be a bit of a lottery sound-wise. We had a room in the house to use for changing in- as we walked back though the garden Shirley spotted a river at the bottom; it's a shame that their wasn't a larger gene pool in the house. There was an extraordinary amount of open drug use- lines of cocaine on the tables, dope everywhere- ok, so I'm not exactly in The Rolling Stones when it comes to this type of thing but if you or I were caught behaving like this we'd be in a cell with a big hairy geezer trying to get over-friendly with us by now. This lot- well, they own the law don't they? We got to our room which was actually a thoroughfare to the downstairs toilet which, as you can imagine, saw rather a lot of action on a night such as this... we got some food (and I must say that they were very generous with this) and waited for showtime. Highlights were many and varied and the endless stream of mutant mummy's boys 'n' girls did provide us with some rather cruel amusement ('did you see the amount of coke on that bird's arse?') although on at least two occasions I nearly fetched my Telecaster to use for some facial re-arrangement. 'As you were' barked the groom as he stumbled towards the toilet. You've never got a Uzi handy when you need one have you?- although by then I think I'd have turned it on myself.
Eventually we get to play; the groom introduces us with a story (actually very entertaining) about how he saw 'The Blues Brothers' film and it changed his life, we play as well as we can considering the number of people walking up to us during the songs to say... something... I don't know what, but something... I must admit he sang 'Soul Man' very well (he'd obviously done it before) and he did a few other bits and pieces with us throughout the show although his performance was somewhat overshadowed by the girl who skidded to a halt in front of the microphone shrieking the words 'in the car park in 10 minutes, the first boy there can have me'- that'll be the bride then... when we finished Shirley came up to me to ask me to pack up as quickly as I could as she didn't want to spend any more time with 'these people'- I've never heard her say anything even remotely like that before. I carried my gear out to the car as thousands of pounds worth of fireworks exploded across the sky. We left and didn't look back.
Friday was American Independence Day. From what I saw last night getting away from 'Great' Britain might just have been the smartest move that anyone ever made. The hideous bunch of chinless wonders that I was obliged to spend a few hours of my little life with last night are the future, my future, your future... in a week where there's mild criticism of Prince William for spending £50,000 on helicopter rides to impress his girlfriend we still have no say whatsoever on what 'our' taxes get spent on- in my not-so-humble opinion that fifty grand could have been put to much better use (the National Health Service perhaps?) Then again it's just a drop in the proverbial ocean when it comes to what gets spent on The Royal Family, (the spellcheck on the computer put the capital letters on those words, not me. Interesting how we're indoctrinated sometimes isn't it?) or The House Of Lords, or on M.P.'s 'expenses', or the money that gets paid to the legal profession; meanwhile in every pub you go in there's someone raising their glass everytime they see the Queen on T.V. then banging on about how much of 'our' money gets 'wasted on immigrants' when as an island race most of are by definition immigrants ourselves. As a working class person I've got a lot more in common with an unemployed 'immigrant' who wants to work here (and so, let's not forget, contribute to our tax system) than I have with last night's odious gang of space-wasters who are unlikely to ever do anything other than take, take and take again from a system that guarantees that they- and therefore we- stay in exactly the same positions in the grand scheme of things.
And, worst of all, 'we' let 'them' get away with it.
Ah- it makes you proud to be 'British' doesn't it? Well- doesn't it?