Friday, August 15, 2008

One man band(s)

In my capacity as an internationally successful rock god guitar hero I'm lucky enough to spend a fair bit of my time on stages throughout the world basking in the often near-hysterical acclaim that my adoring audiences foist upon me. From time to time I occasionally allow myself to think about how, as I am a relatively shy person in 'real' life, it's a very good job that-

(a) hiding behind my guitar gives me a licence to behave in a manner that I wouldn't normally dare, and

(b) how lonely I would be if I didn't have my bandmates with me.

On the very rare occasions that I've gone on stage without a guitar and/or a band (I've introduced bands here and there, not least at the last few Price re-union gigs) I've always been struck with how ridiculous my voice sounds through the P.A. system, not to mention how blank my mind goes the moment I open my mouth to speak. As a result I've got a more-than-sneaking admiration for stand-up comedians (surely one of the loneliest jobs in the world; yeah, I know, tell that to a lighthouse keeper- but you know what I mean!) not to mention the classic guitar-and-voice performer in the Billy Bragg/Bob Dylan mould, both of whom go on stage with nothing to protect them from the baying wrath of the psychotic hoards that we artistes are obliged to face in an effort to scrape together what passes for a living wage in our sad little worlds, except their material and their ability to know when to stop. Then again I've just seen 2 shows by 2 very different solo performers, both of whom showed just what can be done if you know what you're doing...

On Wednesday night Henry Rollins took to the stage for a 'spoken word' show at The Komedia in Brighton not long after 8.30 p.m. armed only with a microphone; he left it nearly 2 and 3/4 hours later having covered subjects as diverse as travelling halfway around the world to see a Nick Cave gig, deputising for Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones on his radio show (his spoof revue of an imaginary Pistols show with Rotten in a matching skirt-and-handbag combination and Jones suspended over the crowd during the firework finale was one of the funniest things I've ever heard) and visiting Nelson Mandela's old prison cell. He spoke passionately of his work campaigning against world hunger one minute, then told a hilarious story about drinking unexpectedly strong coffee in a Lebanese taxi driver's house the next- and yet together it all seemed to make perfect sense. Having seen his Hammersmith show back in January (see 'Lost and found' posting) I was amazed at just how much new material there was in the show- how does he write/remember all that stuff? To describe him as a 'good talker' is a bit like saying that The Beatles wrote a few good songs. It was interesting to hear people coming up to him after the show with words like 'you're smaller than you look on the stage'- a testament to his larger-than-life stage presence methinks. An extraordinary performance by an extraordinary performer- and he'd put me and Shirl on the guest list! Hurrah!

Yesterday evening myself and the long-suffering Shirley, accompanied by Stuart the guitar repairman, traveled to the wilds of Buckinghamshire to see Kris Dollimore at The Crown in Ley Hill. I saw Kris play a solo show back in February last year (see the rather over-emotional '12 bar club blues' posting; I also saw him in the reformed Godfathers earlier this year as refered to in the 'Brothers in arms' posting) and have been raving to Stuart about him ever since; it's always a bit nerve-racking to recommend a guitarist to someone like Stuart who has worked for pretty much every well-known player in the world over the last 30-or-so years, but thankfully the mighty Mr. Dollimore didn't let me down. With his left foot stamping on a mic'd up board and his right foot playing a tambourine (I'm not making this up!) he played most of his '02/01/1978' album alongside blues standards and new original material and was utterly spellbinding throughout. Shirley's just told me that she could have watched and listened to him all night, and I know how she feels- whether on acoustic or electric guitar, or using a plectrum or fingers he played brilliantly. If there was a highlight then it might have been his version of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' reworked as an ominous instrumental, but he didn't put a note out of place all night. As we left the venue I said something like 'off home to practice then' to Stu- but I'll need to practice until doomsday to be able to play as well as he did, never mind being able to sing and tap my feet in 2 different rhythms at the same time. Wonderful stuff.

In these days of manufactured bands made up of reality T.V. 'stars', and pre-packaged brain dead indie kids thinking that they're 'angry' it's heartwarming for a miserable old fart such as myself to be able to think that there are still people out there that can deliver performances like the ones I've described here. I really must work harder at what I do- as Henry put it, 'my enemy is sleep'- as there's always more that can be done, and I for one will take inspiration from watching people like these; they'll never be fashionable or trendy, and they're plotting their own course through life to do what they want to do, what they have to do...

...and when I'm next loafing about moaning about my latest neurotic non-crisis, please remind me of what I've just written here!

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