Monday, July 28, 2008

A tale of two Stevies

Earlier this year there was talk of the Chicago Blues Brothers playing some shows with ex-Booker T and the M.G's guitarist (and the man responsible for composing much of the music we play) Steve Cropper. Sadly this now seems unlikely- maybe next year?- but Stuart the guitar repair man, in the course of one of our many conversations about all things guitar related, asked me what I would say to Cropper upon first meeting him. Without thinking too deeply I replied 'Hello Steve- I'm you at weekends'.

Stuart found this very amusing.

I was two Steve's this weekend, 'though as we'll discover there wasn't too much chance of me mixing them up...

This is often thought of as the quietest time of the year in shops such as ours, but clearly no one had told the customers of Pro Music of Ickenham, who provided us with one of our busiest Saturday's for some time. (It always is when you want to get away on time!) I wasn't due to be gigging in the evening (which was one of the reasons I was working in the shop) but on Thursday I received a call from Dave a.k.a. Paul Crook of the Sex Pistols Experience offering me a gig with them up in Staffordshire; with Shirley's car out of action it seemed unlikely that I'd be able to do it but she got the car back from the garage on Friday, just in time for me to be able to say yes. Having finally managed to escape from the shop we pulled onto a thankfully clear M40 just before 5.45; when we stopped in at Warwick services for some petrol Shirl said something like 'is it me or is that smoke coming from under the bonnet?' Hmm- it does look like it doesn't it? Since I know as much about cars as I do about mountaineering (I've never been mountaineering) nervous phone calls were made to those who claim they know... it's probably just oil burning off. With our minds at rest (although I wasn't too keen on the word 'probably' myself) we continue our journey, which takes us to junction 6 of the M6 toll road in search of The Cottage Of Content (that really is it's name!) in Chasetown. We ask a brightly dressed girl at a bus stop for some help- 'well' she says, in that accent, 'you go down there, then you go down there, then you don't go down there but you go down there...' We're eventually told that it's near the police station which against all the odds we manage to find; outside The Uxbridge Arms there's a spiky-topped chap wearing a Sex Pistols Experience t-shirt, he's just been down to the venue to buy his tickets, it's half a mile down that road over there, he asks us if we've seen them before, they're really good- he looks a bit worried when I tell him that I'm in the band, (I find myself saying things like 'don't worry, it'll all be alright, I don't look like him but I can sound like him, honest'.) We pull up outside the venue just as the rest of the band arrive back from the Chinese takeaway, it looks rough with pot holes in the car park and punky types everywhere, Shirley's a bit worried but if I've learned anything it's not to judge by appearances- it turns out to be one of the friendliest pub venues that I've ever played in, (have a look at for more information, it's well worth a visit if you're in the area and fancy somewhere a bit, shall we say, different) which was just as well considering the level of mayhem reached during our set...
Soundcheck ('No Feelings') goes well- there's only a small P.A. but the room's only big enough for maybe 200 people so that's ok 'though there's no stage which means we're on the same level as the audience which could prove to be a bit perilous if they start dancing... Shirley's safely ensconced behind the merchandise table (t-shirts, DVD's, Sid style padlock-on-a-chain's, Nancy style gun-on-a-chain's, even Sex Pistols Experience mugs!) and we're on at 10 so there's time for a drink or two before the fun begins. We're in a room upstairs as the intro CD starts- when we get downstairs we're amazed to find that the place is so full that we can't fight our way through to the stage before the CD's ended. We start with 'Pretty Vacant' and the place goes wild, there's people knocking into the microphone stands and falling over into us even before the first song's over. The inevitable happens during the 4th or 5th song as the dancing gets too much and the P.A. stack on Kid (Nigel) Vicious's side comes crashing down and knocks him for six- he just sorts himself out, makes a well-known gesture to the audience and carries on as if nothing's happened. Johnny (Nathan) Rotter's giving as good as he gets with the crowd who love him for it, showering him with beer (at least, I hope that was what it was. I had to wash my Les Paul in the morning!) We play punk rock classic after punk rock classic, finishing with 'Anarchy In The U.K' before encoring with 'No Fun' to scenes of total hysteria. Shirley sells what seems like mountains of merchandise and the scary bloke with the big Mohawk haircut from behind the bar insists on kissing both her and me goodnight (I wasn't about to argue with him!) before we wend our way back to the M6 toll road and sanity. A great gig. they're currently on tour in Brazil!

Sunday's show was never going to match Saturday's for madness but it was still good fun, being a Chicago Blues Brothers gig at a festival at the Grays Beach Riverside Park in Essex. Steve's depping on drums, Ian's in on sax and Mario's back in Jake's shoes with Pete on hand to co-ordinate things. When we arrived there was a local band on- very 'metal', not really my type of thing- and it's very warm and sticky, not the best weather for gigging in but better than pouring rain I guess. We line check around 5.30, (whereas in a sound check a band will try a song or two, a line check involves making sure each instrument works and that the player can hear themselves and the people around them in their monitor if they have one- a fairly common occurrence at events such as this) I'm using a Fender Twin combo which is a bit loud and rocky-sounding for the soul Steve's stuff (the punk Steve from the previous night would no doubt have loved it!) but barring the odd bit of monitor confusion things go pretty smoothly for us. Around 6.15 The Elderly Brothers take to the stage; I'm in what passes for a good mood in my little world today so I won't be too nasty here- suffice to say that they weren't the greatest band that we've ever shared the stage with, 'though it's also fair (and a bit worrying) to say that they weren't the worst either... oh and they started with 'Gimme Some Loving' which we generally end with, 'though I can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing?
With the intro tape playing we walk up the steps onto the stage and ready ourselves. In the distance I spot Pete behind the sound desk as we're about to start. Suddenly Tracy says 'I can't see anything', and neither can I- someone's turned a smoke machine on, and a very effective one it is too, much to the horror of the horn section among others. It clears quickly enough (luckily it's an outdoor gig!) and the show's a good one with plenty of audience participation and Steve doing an excellent job behind the kit, 'though Pete came backstage at half time expressing the view that some of the songs were a bit slower than we normally play them; clearly Steve took this onboard as the second set included 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' played at a tempo that would have done The Ramones (or indeed The Sex Pistols) proud!

So- Cropper or Jones? Which one won?

At the risk of sounding as though I want to have my cake and eat it while I'm sitting on the fence in the middle of the road (!) I have to say that from a guitarist point of view they're so different from each other that it's all but impossible to directly compare them. The Sex Pistols Experience are a very successful tribute act because they're very good at what they do- it may not be everybody's cup of tea but no one can say that they're not an astonishingly accurate recreation of Johnny and the boys, and in many ways it's the ultimate rock 'n' roll guitar gig. And our C.B.B. show is pretty good too! We're playing music by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin- how much better can it get than that?

Thanks Steve. And thanks Steve. My weekends just wouldn't be the same without you.

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