Sunday, December 14, 2008

Andover express

2 sold-out Chicago Blues Brothers gigs in a row this weekend- always a good thing to be part of in my not-so-humble opinion:-

Friday's show was at The Lights Theatre in Andover- myself, Richard and Dave arrived around 4.30 (after a somewhat unexpected detour to Blackbushe Car Auctions- Richard likes it there!) to find sound guru Ian Bond nearly ready for us to soundcheck. It being the season to be jolly there's people away gigging elsewhere giving an unfamiliar look about the band- Roger's on keyboards, Chris makes his debut on drums and Mario's up front with another Chris who's also with us for the first time 'though he's worked with Mario on many occasions before. Having several dep's in the band can often be a recipe for disaster (see October's '...THAT much talent...' posting for an example of a show where it can all go badly wrong) and when my first conversation with Chris the drummer reveals that he's not seen a DVD or heard a CD and will be reading the entire show things don't necessarily bode well- which just goes to show how little I know as he plays the show with hardly any signs that he's only just met the band.

More about that in a minute. Firstly some stuff about guitars...

You may recall that my latest 'accidental guitar' (I don't go looking for them, they seem to find me! Honest! Well, ok, I happen to be in a guitar shop or on eBay when they find me but that's not the point..!) is a Fender Stratocaster aquired last month in a somewhat bizarre swapping incident somewhere near Coventry; with Bondy bringing along his Gibson Les Paul for me to pass onto Stuart the guitar repairman for some much needed repair work it seemed a good chance for me to take my Strat along for some mutual guitar nerdery. Ian bought his guitar earlier this year in the U.S.A. whilst on tour with Porcupine Tree- it's a black '70's Custom, a model colloquially known as a 'fretless wonder' due to it having very low, flat frets (if you're feeling brave check out for some background information and a review of a similar guitar- go on, you know you want to!) although in this case the guitar lives up to it's nickname a bit too much for Ian's liking so he's giving it to Stu for a re-fret. It's a great guitar that screams 'ROCK 'N' ROLL' from the moment you pick it up- it'll be interesting to see how it shapes up after Stu's worked on it. My Strat got a good revue from Bondy who it turns out hadn't intended to come back from the States with a new guitar but had found it in a shop and was powerless to resist- see, it's not just me that does it!

Back in the real world soundcheck turns into a rehearsal with beginnings, middles and endings being tried out and the setlist being mulled over left right and centre- we put some things in, leave some things out and arrive at a show worth playing. With the rest of the band off in search of food I retire to the bar to catch up on some phone calls before heading backstage to prepare for a 7.45 show. As our intro voiceover plays I follow Squirrel out onto one of the darkest stages I've ever encountered, nearly tripping over the monitor as I stumble towards my guitar. At the allotted moment I nod at Chris who counts in 'Peter Gunn'- no turning back now but it's sounding good and the audience are into it straight away with Mario and Chris bantering furiously and much merriment all round. At half time Bondy comes backstage, I ask him to see if the lighting man can put a bit more light on stage at the start of the second half- he does, but only just... still it's light enough for us to see Dave and Richard desperately changing their shirts at the side of the stage while we're already playing the first number 'New Orleans' so it's not all bad news!
Back in the bar afterwards I meet Ralph who loved the show, tells me I sound like Steve Cropper (cheers Ralph- it normally costs me a fortune over the bar to hear people say things like that!) and that his brother's a guitar teacher locally; people are asking for merchandise but we've forgotten it (!) which is annoying given the level of interest but I tell them to go on our website and to stay in touch through that. A fine evening.

After a suitably chaotic day in the shop- no time for lunch!- myself and the long-suffering Shirley battled our way through the wind and rain to Maidstone for another of our occasional Pizza Express shows. With everyone else already set up I sort myself out in world record time, opting to give the Strat it's first stage run-out in the process. When I go back to the bandroom everyone's tucking into pizza but there's no vegetarian one- being a moody old bugger (and, it has to be said, starving hungry) I decide to take various band members would-be-humorous comments personally and make myself thoroughly miserable in the process so Shirl and myself go next door to 'Earls' (I'm sure the pub's name changes every time we visit Maidstone!) for lager and peanuts- rock 'n' roll food! The Spurs vs. Man. Utd. game had just finished on T.V. and there's more than a few people in who are boisterous and a bit worse for wear but the atmosphere's good- there's a band setting up in the corner, the poster says they're called Eclipse 'though there must have been hundreds of bands called that over the years? There's a Deep Purple tribute band on there next week which suggests it's something of a 'rock' venue- it's certainly a noisy enough place judging by the time we spent there.
Back at Pizza Express it's a 8 o'clock show- we've done gigs there in the past when I've wondered if the audience knew what they were letting themselves in for but this time they were ready to go from the first song. Bev's in for Richard on sax and we start where we left off in Andover i.e. sounding a lot better than a band that's 50% deps should sound. At half time I get accosted by some people who ask if I'm also in a local band called The Chillbillies- they're really embarrassed when I tell them that I'm not- and who incorrectly guess that I'm one of the deps! I decide to cheer up and concentrate more in the second half... but the Strat feels good and sounds even better, and the band play a great show to scenes of mass hysteria that cheer me up (a bit!) at last.

As we leave the venue Eclipse are playing 'Foxy Lady' next door, it's stopped raining at last and we've got John Mayer on the car stereo for the way home- remind again why was I so miserable earlier?

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