Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tonbridge 2, Harlow 1

What do you think of sat. nav.'s? They're clever aren't they, if a little sinister- 'they' can know where 'we' are at any time can't 'they'? We've only had one for a short while and they're certainly useful enough- when they work that is...

Thursday and the long-suffering Shirley are on our way to Tonbridge (not Maidstone- but more about that in a minute...) for 2 Chicago Blues Brothers shows over 2 nights at The E.M. Forster Theatre. The afore-mentioned sat. nav takes us straight there- the disembodied female voice says the words 'you have reached your destination' just as a sign advising us to turn right for the theatre appears in front of us. Aren't sat. nav.'s brilliant?!? The theatre is actually part of the Tonbridge Boys School which I'm told is the second most expensive private school in the country at £28,000 a year (I wonder what the most expensive one is then? Someone mentioned Eton which was met with a derisive 'Slough Grammar?' from John the theatre boss.) The novelist E. M. Forster attended the school, hence his name adorning the theatre- and what an excellent little set-up it is, with facilities to rival many of the 'real' theatres that we find ourselves playing in. It's small enough for us to use Mario's P.A.- when we arrive he's more-or-less set up and ready to go. It's the first A-team show for a while; Mario & Mike are Jake & Elwood, Squirrel & Marc are on bass & drums, Dave & Richard are on trumpet & saxophone, Ian's on keyboards, Tracy's on vocals whilst your humble narrator opts for his white '60's Classic Telecaster instead of his Baja model (you can't have too many now can you?!?) Pete's on hand to direct operations, and soundcheck rather unusually consists of Squirrel singing 'Some Kind of Wonderful'- I'm not quite sure how that happened but it sounded pretty good to me.
8 p.m and with the theatre looking to me to be about 3/4 full (with 70 or so in the audience- it's open to 'real' people rather than just the school boarders and staff) it's showtime. Shirley and Nadia (Ian's wife) watched us on the T.V. in the foyer- they were on merchandise duties both nights- and both said that it was a good one; it certainly felt like it from where I was standing with the band sounding good and Tracy winning friends and influencing people amongst the teenage lads in the front row.
Since we're doing 2 nights we can leave everything in place overnight; although it's not that far from us Shirley and myself decide to stay away for the night, and to that end get ourselves a Travelodge in... Medway, 20 miles away. Why? Because we were originally told the gig was in Maidstone, that's why. I won't bore you with the details but the agency involved may or may not have been to blame... armed with the Travelodge's postcode we set the sat. nav. and get going. Before long we're winding our way to the middle of nowhere along roads barely wide enough for one car let alone two, and it's been ages since we've seen a street light, and surely this can't be the way... suddenly the disembodied female voice says the magic words 'you have reached your destination'- and there, incredibly, is the Travelodge. Aren't sat. nav.'s brilliant?!?

Er, no, actually they're not. Well, they weren't the next day when, in attempting to make our way to Tunbridge Wells for the day we ended up a few hundred yards away from The Dartford Tunnel. Not good, 'though amusing in hindsight- and proof, were it ever needed, that you shouldn't switch your common sense off just because you've switched a piece of technology on...

Friday night's show is even better than Thursday's, with the sold out audience getting into it from the word go and everyone on stage rising to the occasion accordingly. Afterwards there's a near riot around the merchandise desk with Shirley and Nadia doing a roaring trade and one chap telling me and Marc that we'd just played the best version of 'Sweet Home Chicago' that he'd ever heard. A fine evening- hopefully we'll be back there sometime next year.

Saturday saw a 'real' theatre show, at The Playhouse in Harlow. Back in the '80's and '90's The Price played a lot in Harlow, mostly at The Square which was one of the best venues of it's type in the country at that time. It fell into disrepair in the meantime 'though it's getting back to full strength which is good news; it's now co-owned by Richard Holgarth who was the sound man when we used to play there and is now also guitarist for Eddie and the Hot Rods and John Otway. He couldn't make last night's show as he was busy at his own venue (that's a damn good excuse for not being able to be somewhere don't you think?) 'though he did call over to say hello and to remind me that we've 'got to get The Price up here again soon'. Hmm.. better phone the lads then...

Harlow seemed a very long way away around 4.30 in the afternoon when Shirley and myself, along with several hundred others, were standing on the forecourt of Uxbridge Civic Centre in the midst of a security alert. With rumours of a bomb scare abounding the truth was somewhat more mundane- it often is don't you think? Someone in the 'Madhouse' clothes shop in The Chimes shopping centre had turned a heater on (odd behaviour considering that it was such a lovely day) and, since it was dusty as it hadn't been used for a while, it set the fire/smoke alarm off; somehow within minutes this became a full evacuation of the centre. Shirley works in the centre and her car was parked in the car park so all we could do was wait... it was 5.30 before we were allowed back in; fortunately the M25 was clear for once.
I hadn't been up to Harlow for a while and hadn't been to The Playhouse before so once again it's sat. nav. time. This time it took us a rather obscure back road route through some of the less appealing areas of town before thankfully delivering us right outside the venue (I knew sat. nav.'s were brilliant really, I never doubted it for a minute, honest!) where Tracy is leaning out of her car window talking to a rather nervous looking chap- it turns out that he used to follow The Moody Blues around when she was singing for them and she'd not seen him for years. Meanwhile Pete's on the phone directing us to the car park around the back of the venue where one of the theatre staff takes forever to unlock the barrier to let us in. Ian Bond is back on sound man duties (he's been away in The U.S.A. with King Crimson- call the prog rock police immediately!) and with Mario and Richard off gigging elsewhere Bev is on sax with Pete back in the hat and glasses. The rest of the band have already soundchecked so I get set up, check it all works and head to the bar for a large lager.
It's a 7.30 show and, with the band well warmed up after the Tonbridge shows it's an energetic performance all round. It's also longtime C.B.B. fan Mike's 52nd birthday (that was him who helped us negotiate check-in at Stansted during our South of France adventure last week) and he got up on stage with us to sing 'Funky Nassau' (brave man!- as he put it to me afterwards, 'it's a sea of faces out there') which he made a pretty good job of considering he'd never done anything like it before. Pete got into a highly amusing conversation with a young lady near the front at the start of 'Do You Love Me?' and Mike gave a heartfelt dedication to his grandparents who were in the audience and celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary that day. A great gig.
Afterwards in the bar I meet up with Steve Drewett and his lady Claire. Steve was the guitarist and songwriter in The Newtown Neurotics (later known more simply as The Neurotics) who I used to watch all the time in the mid '80's and who The Price did quite a few gigs with back in the day. On the phone to him earlier I'd mentioned the security alert in Uxbridge; in the course of our conversation he reminded me about a show that we'd played together at Brunel University in 1987 when there was a bomb scare after our set and we all ended up out in the car park at the time that they should have been going on. They went on to play one of the best shows that I ever saw them play.

Home time and thanks to our sat. nav. we end up on the A10 near Hoddesdon. That can't be right... but it is, it put us back on the M25 a couple of junctions nearer to home than we would have otherwise had been. Once again I'd never doubted it for a minute, honest- but how come it didn't take us there that way?

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