Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy holidays!

You join your humble narrator in a post-Christmas (purple) haze of YouTube clips and scribbled chord sequences as he attempts to learn the songs that he's playing on New Year's Eve- I'm guesting with Price bassman Huggy's band Sweeney (isn't there another band called that?!?) at Buckinghamshire Golf Club. They're playing some really good numbers so I want to get them right!
As December arrives people often say things like 'I bet you're getting really busy with gigs now aren't you?' Well you might think so but it's not always the case; I think that with the advent and subsequent popularity of karaoke coupled with the fact that many acts have slimmed down to a duo-with-backing-tracks rather than a band it's now quite a hard time to be a gigging musician; 'though the last thing I'm going to do is sit here complaining- I'll leave that to everyone else... this year your humble narrator has managed to stay reasonably busy (for once!) to such an extent that the last week or so has been a bit of a blur...

Friday 18th I depped with The F.B.I. Band for the first time since September, at a Christmas party for Boehringer Ingelheim at the Bracknell Hilton. It's an event that the band's played at for the past 3 years 'though with upcoming redundancies this might well be the last one; joining the ever-present Tony (vocals) and Ian (sax) are Jon on bass, Paul on drums, Gabriel on trumpet and after a somewhat impassioned phone call from Tony on the previous Tuesday ('you don't know any keyboard players do you?) we've got the excellent Dave Dulake on keyboards. I met Dave several years ago and he struck me as a good person to contact for the gig as we'll be playing a mixture of soul, Blues Brothers and Madness material and Dave scores very highly on all accounts. Oh, and he runs a pub which is always a good sign...
Myself and the long-suffering Shirley made the journey through a snow-covered Windsor Great Park (which looked amazing) and arrived at the venue just as Tony and Ian were setting up the P.A. system- we're playing in The Wentworth Suite and have time to set up, soundcheck and run through a couple of songs before it's time for food. 'Welcome to the F.B.I. Band Christmas party' said Tony waving his lager in the air as Gabriel and Paul blew up those long balloons that fly off into the middle distance when you let go of them- no, I don't know what they're called either but you know the ones that I mean don't you? A suitably festive atmosphere meant for a well-received show that saw Tony battle his way through the set despite has voice gradually giving out ('I had a cold a week ago and it seems to have come back') to such an extent that by the end of the show he could barely speak let alone sing. As we were leaving the alcohol seemed to be taking it's toll on some of the party-goers- one young man appeared agitated as he loudly described himself as being 'like an octopus'- an evocative image I'm sure you'll agree.

Saturday 19th saw a Youngblood gig in The Elizabethan Barn at Ferny Hill Farm near Barnet. We were playing at a horror themed 25th wedding anniversary party (hmm...) and when Terry the bass and myself arrived it was cold, dark and seemingly deserted- calling Terry the singer revealed that we were at the wrong part of the farm which was something of a relief as it looked like the sort of place that gangland executions might have taken place at. Mick had set his drums up underneath a ghostly apparition, I had an upside down hanged man above my head and the bar consisted of cans of beer floating in a bath which also contained a skeleton in a deep sea divers outfit. Excellent! We were due to play 3 30-minute sets and the first one started earlier than expected as the belly dancer was late (yes, you read that bit correctly!) It was cold- so much so that I had to walk around with my hands in my pockets while we were waiting for the heaters to warm the place up for fear of my hands being too cold to be able to play- see how I suffer for my art? It warmed up a bit as people got into the evening with a fair bit of dancing ensuing though this might have been due to some of the cake on offer... a good night all round even though it started snowing just as we were loading our gear back into our vehicles at the end of the evening. Real horrorshow don't you think oh my brothers?

It was Chicago Blues Brothers time again on Monday 21st and Wednesday 23rd, the former being our last visit to The Pizza Express in Maidstone this year. With Ian back from gigging with Ray Davies and Marc returning from panto ('oh yes he is!') it was the first A-team gig for a while; with the weather still pretty rough Shirl and myself set out early, not least as we'd seen on T.V. how Operation Stack had effected traffic in that part of the country. In the event our journey was uneventful until we got to Maidstone itself when an articulated lorry clipped us as we waited to change lanes. When he eventually stopped and got out the driver's first words to us were 'which part of my lorry did you hit?'- when we pointed out that we'd been stationary when the incident occurred and so it was probably him who had hit us he looked disappointed to say the least. Silly boy.
The gig itself was an odd one- it being only a few days before Christmas you might have expected something of a raucous evening but it was probably the most restrained audience that we've ever played to there. That said we played well and there was a fair amount of dancing by the end of our show so maybe I'm being a bit over-critical?
Mind you if that was an odd gig the one in Wolverhampton 2 days later took things to another level. In no lesser venue than The Civic Hall (the 'home of rock' according to the poster at the side of the stage) it was a Christmas party organised by Beacon Radio (more about that in a minute) and it took Richard, Ian and myself (joining us on baritone and alto sax for a rare 3-man horn section with Dave and Richard) a mighty 3 1/2 hours to battle our way up the M1 and M6. We parked in Corporation Street and phoned Pete to come out and let us in- since it had been snowing Richard and Ian readied the snowballs which were duly dispatched as the stage door opened; sadly the first person through the door wasn't Pete but was a burly security man who fortunately saw the funny side... Bootleg Abba were doing their stuff as we loaded our gear in, they sounded ok to my 'I-never-liked-Abba-much' ears. With Marc off elsewhere Paul is back on drums and Pete is in for Mike in the hat and glasses; when Bootleg Abba finished their set I went on to the stage to set my gear up, only to be told that there was another band on, they featured the radio station boss and were called Bad Radio, I said to the stage hand that I'd get off straight away- his reply of 'BOSTIN'!' reminded me which part of the country we were in. (If you're wondering what on Earth I'm going on about click here.) As they began their first song I realised that they were aptly named- then again it's the 'as a matter of fact I do own the company' moment... with things running late we opted to play one set rather than the two that we'd originally planned, and a strange set it was- onstage sound wasn't brilliant (very echoey and indistinct) which contributed to some timing discrepancies here and there although it all went down well with much merriment all round which I guess that's the main thing?

It's rare to have a gig on Boxing Day but this year I depped with The Cane Toads at The Half Moon in Harrow. With regular band members Malcolm (guitar) and Bruce (drums) away elsewhere original drummer Russell joined myself, Pete (guitar) Ken (bass) and Martin (vocals) in two 45 minute sets of rock covers in front of a small but appreciative audience who included my new friend Mick who's in a band called Harmonica Lewinsky (oh yes! I'd put a link here if I could find them; I did however find this chap, this band and indeed this band- I guess it's too good a name to only be used once!) and a Scottish gentleman called Swindell who is a bagpipes instructor. I like this venue!
Incidentally Russell, Ken and Malcolm used to be in a band called The Attendants who were well known in our area when I was a lad; plans are afoot for them to make an appearance with The Price at some point in the not-too-distant future- remember where you heard it first!)
And if that wasn't enough last night The Flying Squad played their final gig of 2009 at The Load Of Hay in Uxbridge. (Sometimes booking gigs at a venue really does have it's advantages! Incidentally the extraordinary John Hegley will be there on Sunday 10th January...) We were a little loose in places- it's been a while since we last played- but all agreed it was a good way to end our year. And it was great to see some friendly faces, not least legendary Price fan Mark Delderfield (a.k.a. 'Mark-from-the-football-club') who bought along a collection of Price videos dating all the way back to 1988-91, most of which I've never seen. It'll be very interesting to see what they look like!

So that was Christmas- well it was from my point of view anyway. I'm sure I had a day off on or around the 25th but can't really remember...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anger is an energy

Public Image Ltd. (Pil) were never the easiest band to like. A brilliant eponymous first single was followed by an album 'First Issue' which could politely be described as 'challenging'; it's follow-up 'Metal Box' was if anything even more uncompromising and the third 'Flowers Of Romance' blew away pretty much any fans of the lead singer's first band who were still gamely hanging on in the hope that he'd return to a sound that approached that band's former glories. Me? I loved the first single (I bought it in it's mock newspaper sleeve) but struggled with the first album (I bought it anyway) 'though I made more sense of the second album (which I bought in it's original, er, metal box format) and I liked the title track of the third... as the 1980's progressed they moved through various line-up changes with the aforementioned lead singer as the only constant member, releasing some excellent singles and some fine albums along the way before winding up in 1992. Against most if not all of the odds they've just reformed for a series of live performances, one of which I saw at The Electric Ballroom in Camden Town last night. Opening with 'Public Image' and playing for over 2 hours they (John Lydon, Lu Edmonds, Scott Firth and Bruce Smith) touched all parts of the band's catalogue in a fine set which showed the diversity of their material, from the synth-pop of 'This Is Not A Love Song' to the near metal funk of 'Death Disco'. And Lydon was, well, Lydon with all that that entails- with a voice that literally went from a whisper to a scream via all points in between and an unrivalled line in dealing with the inevitable hecklers and missile throwers ('you are in a house of friends here, do not make yourself into an enemy') he remains a total one-off, as brilliantly captivating as the band itself. It really wouldn't be the same without him, and after Pil's performance last night it wouldn't be the same without them- let's hope they don't leave it 17 years before the next gigs...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friends reunited

2 good gigs from the ever-improving Youngblood this weekend- Friday at The Bell in Ruislip Gardens and Saturday at The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green. The Bell is a local gig for me and always had a bad reputation for violence 'though these days this thankfully seems to be a thing of the past. Terry (vocals) and Mick (drums) played there several times when they were in The Chevrons and they certainly seemed to have something of a following there which contributed to a rather boisterous evening which included some very well developed ladies showing off their dancing skills (I'll leave you to think about that one for a minute shall I?) and an extremely drunken lady telling us her life story in an attempt to get us to play 'Valerie'. We didn't know it (although we now know her life story!) so we didn't play it... The Misty Moon show was the better band performance but to a smaller audience (it's always that way round!) 'though it did include the 'very-drunk-man-in-a-bright-red-jacket-who-thinks-he-can-sing' (haven't had one of them for a while!) whose rendition of 'Ain't No Sunshine' had to be heard to be believed; we also had audience requests of 'The First Cut Is The Deepest' and 'All Shook Up', both of which we gamely tackled 'though I'm not sure we did them justice. Oh and Terry the bassman provided on of the evening's best moments by answering Mick's observation that his car needed washing with the brilliantly mad comment 'I never wash my car- so it never needs washing.' Hard to argue with that one don't you think...

On the other hand Thursday saw the next installment of the ongoing saga that is 'The Chicago Blues Brothers go to Switzerland', this time to play at The Durachpark in Schaffhausen at a corporate event for Unilever who have an office in town (although I remember Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight when I was a lad.) With Marc off in panto ('oh no he isn't' etc) and Ian still away with Ray Davies we had Chris depping once again on keyboards and my old mate Paul on drums. I first met Paul back in the mid-'90's, and got back in touch with him after I saw his unscheduled appearance with Spinal Tap earlier this year; when it became clear that we were going to need a drummer for this show it seemed a good idea to put him up for the job, and to this end we met up a couple of weeks ago to give him a DVD of our Hayes gig from a year or so ago (a bit risky since the show's changed a bit since then but it was the only one I had!) so that he could learn our material. (Rehearsals? Pah!) The long-suffering Shirley dropped us off at Heathrow at 7.15 a.m. (why does it always have to be so early?!?) where we checked in (I don't remember getting my return ticket at outbound check-in before?) then went through security to meet the rest of the troops in the departure lounge. A relatively uneventful flight was enlivened no end by us being able to watch take off and landing on the in flight televisions via a camera at the front of the aircraft. I'd not seen this before although I'm told it's quite commonplace these days- what will they think of next eh? The take off was... well, mad is a good word for it I think- you really get a feeling of the speed the aircraft reaches just before the horizon abruptly disappears from view, And the landing was extraordinary- as we descended through the clouds towards Zurich Airport a small reddish light appeared in the centre of the otherwise grey screen (so grey that I wasn't sure if it was switched on or not!) which gradually metamorphosed into the runway lights (Squirrel- 'well you wouldn't miss those would you?') They got larger and larger before they eventually filled the screen, an oddly comforting sight as we touched the ground. Sadly the return take off and landing went, for want of a better term, unbroadcast which was a shame since I'd liked to have seen the approach to Heathrow although since it was foggy we probably wouldn't have seen anything anyway. Oh well- there's always next time.
Once on the ground Squirrel and myself had a problem locating our guitars- having walked around for ages trying to find the outsize baggage section we eventually spotted them sitting next to belt 22 where the rest of the baggage from the flight had emerged. With everything (and indeed everybody) in one piece we met Marcel the driver and loaded everything into the minibus for the journey to the venue. Marcel had made up a CD to play on the journey as he thought we might like it- I'd just recognised 'Lawdy Mama' by Cream when half the band (possibly rather ungratefully) called for it to be turned off. The 40-odd minute journey passed in a bit of a daze from your humble narrator's point of view (the early start was beginning to catch up with me!) and we arrived at the venue to be met by Ronnie the promoter and CBB supremo Pete who had flown out the previous day to get everything sorted out for the show. The stage had a large image of Al Capone suspended behind the drums (why?!?) and petrol pumps and speed limit signs everywhere- soundcheck showed that Paul had certainly got the hang of the 'Midnight Medley' (4 songs for price of 1!) and 'River Deep, Mountain High', and with everything sounding good (including the excellent Fender Hot Rod Deville provided for me to play through) we went to the dressing room for some takeaway pizza (excellent!) and to draw up a plan for the rest of the day. Since we weren't needed at the gig until 8.30 we went to our hotel to check in (I'm sharing room 121 with Paul) and to catch up on some much needed sleep before all meeting at 6 p.m. for some food.
When we returned to the venue things were clearly in full swing, with an act that I think were called Beatz on stage- they're similar in concept to the 'Stomp' theatre show in that they hit lots of things very loudly, in this case to the bemusement of much of the audience, many of whom were dressed in 1930's style clothing (I'm not sure where the Blues Brothers fit into that but at least the Al Capone picture makes a bit more sense!) By the time we went on at 10.15 the free cocktails were clearly doing their job judging by the audience reaction which was a bit muted at first but seemed to get going as our set went on. Paul did a fine job- he's very self-critical but it's a hard show to walk into with no rehearsal and all agreed that he did a fine job. A quick encore of 'Jailhouse Rock' and 15 minutes after leaving the stage we were already on our way back to our hotel, one of the quickest post-gig getaways that I've ever been part of. Al Capone would have been proud of us!
Back at the hotel Paul and myself decide that even though it's late and it's been a long day there's still time for a drink (there's always time for a drink, or if there isn't there should be!) and so make our way to the downstairs bar which thankfully is still open. We reflected on our first show together for over 10 years, and Paul observed that his last live show was at Wembley Arena (the Spinal Tap gig) with the one before it at The Nag's Head in High Wycombe; we laughed at the fact that my next one was to be at a small pub in Ruislip less that 24 hours after the one that we'd just played and what a strange set of contrasts this job often throws out. Paul said how he doesn't get to play live anywhere near as much as he'd like (he teaches drums privately and in schools) and I reminded myself how lucky I am to be able to play as often as I do- although I didn't feel quite so lucky as I got up at 5 a.m. for the flight home...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Happy birthday Tel!

It was my little brother Terry's birthday last week, and what better present could an old punk like me get an old punk like him than a ticket to see The New York Dolls at The Forum in Kentish Town on Friday...
Support came from The Urban Voodoo Machine who in addition to having the scariest drummer most of us will ever see (he's green!) include ex-Godfathers guitarist Paul Ronney (he played in one of the later line-ups) and ex-Blubbery Hellbellies accordion man Slim in their ranks. They're a very visual act, and describe themselves as 'bourbon soaked gypsy blues bop 'n' stroll' which strange as it may seem is a pretty good description of what they get up to on stage. Well worth keeping an eye out for methinks.
The Dolls kicked off just after 9 p.m. with a chaotic 'Looking For A Kiss' (you'd think that the P.A. would have been switched on when they started wouldn't you? Well- it wasn't!) before blistering versions of 'Cause I Sez So' and 'We're All In Love' made it obvious that we were going to see a classic gig. 'Yeah London' drawled David Johansen as he took off his scarf- yeah London indeed... no one drawls like Johansen and no one teeters quite so close to the edge of chaos like The Dolls- Sylvain Sylvain (Johansen- 'London's own Sylvain Sylvain; let's say his name backwards shall we- oh, it's Sylvain Sylvain') counted in 'Pills' which ground to an almost immediate halt when his guitar malfunctioned, then seconds later he counted it in again as if nothing had happened. And when a guy got on stage and danced around between Johansen and guitarist Steve Conte the band just laughed; I've seen incidents like these send primadonna ain't-never-beens into a petulant frenzy but The Dolls hardly seemed to notice that anything untoward had happened. In my not-so-humble opinion The Dolls play some of the greatest rock'n'roll any of us will ever see or hear. It really is magnificent stuff- and Conte signed my copy of his latest album when I bumped into him by the merchandise stall. Top man!

I'd originally had no gigs this weekend and had intended to go to see local heroes The Cane Toads at The Old Fox in Ickenham on Saturday evening, but I received a call from old drumming mate Roger Brewer earlier in the day to see if I was available to play guitar alongside him in The Lee Ryder Band at The Sportsman in Croxley Green. Much as it would have been good to see The Toads (I'm playing with them in a few weeks time so could have got an idea of what songs they're playing these days!) in my world it's always better to play than to listen... myself and Roger arrived just as Lee (vocals and guitar) Vince (bass) and Paul (keyboards) were loading their gear in (their regular guitarist is Simon who also plays in The Ali Mac Band among others, and who I depped for last week in that band- weird!) I set my amplifier up in front of the entrance to the gents toilet ('don't worry, they close it during gigs' said Vince, adding 'and anyway, it's obvious that it's your territory isn't it?' Hmm- let's hope so, and let's hope there's another toilet somewhere in the building!) and then joined the rest of the band for a tactical discussion. The Lee Ryder Band don't bother with silly things like rehearsals or setlists (good boys!) so it's follow-the-leader time with Lee asking us if we know a Peter Green song called 'Love That Burns'- Vince mumbled something like 'is it a good idea to start with a song we don't know?' Good question- but we did it anyway! I used my Gibson Les Paul Standard for the first time in ages which took a bit of getting used to- it's quite a bit more powerful than the Telecaster I use with the CBB show and feels a lot different too. I used a Marshall BB-2 Bluesbreaker pedal in the first set as a volume boost for solos but it made things sound a bit compressed so I switched to my MXR Micro Amp for the second set which seemed to do the trick. I'd not met Paul before (and if you've not either you can click here to find out how he usually occupies his time!) and thought he played some excellent solos, and Lee himself was on fine form throughout a highly enjoyable evening with the only really odd moment from my point of view occurring during 'Little Wing' when a guy walked past me and climbed over my amplifier on his way to the toilet...

Last night saw Kris Dollimore return to The Load of Hay for his second show there this year. Since then he's released a new album 'Now Was The Time' (some of which was recorded in his cellar!) which is every bit as good as his first release '02/01/1978'; he arrived just as I was setting up the P.A. system (I book occasional Sunday night shows there, the next one being John Hegley on January 10th) and it was great to be able to spend a bit of time talking with the man himself. The first time I remember speaking to him was at a Godfathers gig at The Town and Country Club back in the mid-'80's when I think we discussed Zemaitis guitars- he played one at the time, the lucky lad! These days he's playing an old Gibson 330 electric and a new Martin acoustic, both of which sounded fabulous during a show that was even better than the one back in May. Showcasing a fair few tracks from the new album he also played a cracking version of 'She Does It Right' (slower than the original, with a much bluesier riff) and his own extraordinary instrumental arrangement of 'Jolene' which he's considering renaming 'The Bastard Son Of Jolene' as he's changed it so much! As with last month's Attila gig I heard every excuse imaginable from people who couldn't/didn't come along ('I'm going out for a curry', 'I'm at a jam night' etc) and like then I despair of people who complain about how there's never anything to do but who didn't make the effort to see what turned out to be one of the best gigs that I've seen this year. Oh well- it's their loss, as they say... he'll be back at the same venue in around 6 months time- let's see what excuses they come up with then shall we?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fair exchange?

A fine gig last night, depping with The Ali Mac Band at The Drill in Worcester Park. Myself, Ali (vocals) and Bill (bass) managed a quick rehearsal without an unavailable Hud (drums) where we ran through the band's two sets- I'd depped with them before (click here for the story of a particularly eventful gig that I played with them last year) 'though this was the first time I was due to play with them for a whole evening rather than just playing a short set. The Drill might be a candidate for the 'scariest pub name ever' award (can you think of any genuine pub name that's scarier?!? Leave a comment if you can!) but it turned out to be a friendly place that's trying to get established as a live music venue and as such is well worth supporting methinks. (Hmm... I wonder who else I could play there with..?) There were a few dodgy moments not least during an unscheduled attempt at 'Sweet Home Alabama' (they've clearly heard a completely different version to the one I know!) but overall it was a great gig.

And it was an excellent jaunt up to Inverness on Wednesday where The Chicago Blues Brothers played a very enjoyable show at The Eden Court Theatre. As we (the A-Team with Chris depping for Ian on keyboards) amassed for breakfast at Luton Airport we speculated on what sort of flight awaited us given the almost biblical weather conditions that had befallen much of Scotland and the North of England over the previous few days. I was stopped by security as I'd forgotten to take the change out of my pockets- perhaps I'd been distracted by being asked to take my boots off, or maybe I was a bit nervous of the upcoming flight? In the event it could all have been a lot worse, especially considering the 'bumpy weather' warning issued by the captain as we began our decent; then again maybe the stunning rainbow visible over the water as we came in to land took our collective minds off the severity of the wind as we landed. Pete picked up the minibus and with Mike donning a hat that prompted Matt to dub him 'The Laird of Primark' we set off for the local Travelodge. We arrived to find only one room ready and with Tracy flagging (she'd flown in from South Africa the day before and was due to leave for Germany on Friday- other people's lives eh?) she opted to take the available room and see us at the theatre later.
We arrived at The Eden Court just after midday. As we pulled up we saw Phil loading in his P.A. in the pouring rain- he'd left the day before to drive up from Nottingham and 'couldn't believe' how far it was. As I headed into the venue with my guitar and bag I discovered to my dismay that my left boot was leaking- don't you just hate it when that happens? We're playing in The Empire Theatre which was soon to feature 'Jack and the Beanstalk' as it's Christmas pantomime (cue cries of 'oh no it isn't') and much of the scenery could be found backstage- I saw both Richard and Dave separately observing the giant's costume with a 'what mayhem could I create with this?' look on their faces- in the event neither of them did, at least not while I was around. With soundcheck not due until 5 o'clock there's plenty of time available to us- after lunch in the restaurant (10% off for performers- excellent!) most of the band opted to go to see 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' at the venue's cinema, but I rather wildly decided to brave the weather (it had stopped raining when I left!) and go for a walk. The River Ness looked to me to be a bit higher and faster flowing than perhaps it normally is, but I took the opportunity to catch up on a few phone calls as I walked alongside it- the rain didn't start again until I was nowhere near anything that even resembled shelter, but that always happens doesn't it? Well, it does to me!
Soundcheck went well with none of the monitor problems evident at the Dunstable gig (well, not to many of 'em anyway!) although I'm sure I heard Chris playing the chords to 'Killer Queen' at one point (never a good sign in my opinion!) and with the best part of 700 tickets sold the scene was set for a good night. The show's going well when I hear a whistle from the side of the stage to my right during 'Hold On, I'm Coming'- I go over to Pete who tells me that I'm too loud on stage and could I turn it down a bit. Bah! I must admit that I'd struggled a bit during the soundcheck as the amplifier that I'd been provided with (an excellent Fender Hot Rod Deville) was a bit powerful for the situation (it's a 60 Watt valve combo, I normally use a Blues Junior in theatres which is only 15 Watts but more than loud enough when put through the P.A. system) but I ended up with it turned down so low that I could hear the strings of my guitar louder than the amplified sound! Fortunately Phil put some guitar in my monitor so that I could hear what I was playing without it being too loud out front. (If you can't hear what you're playing it's easy to break strings by hitting them too hard!) It felt a bit like a waste of a fine amplifier, but it's the overall sound that's important don't you think? The show went very well indeed with many band members wishing we could have an audience like this one at every show- then it's a mad dash to the Jeera Indian Restaurant where Pete had booked a table for the band. I didn't have anything myself (I don't like eating late at night) but judging by various band members reaction (and by some of the online reviews!) that may have been a wise decision... back at the Travelodge Matt asks me if I fancy 'swapping that guitar of yours for some Stella Artois and having a drink' which sounded oddly appealing in a mad sort of way- I must have been tired! I'm sharing room 209 with Squirrel, there's no bed linen for the sofa bed so I go back downstairs for some- the night porter tells me that the rooms had all been booked as double rather than twin, and by the time I get back to the room to tell Squirrel he's already asleep. I don't blame him- it'd had been a long day.
Thursday dawned a lot brighter than Wednesday had ended. We got to the airport at 9.45 to check in for our 11.35 flight, and with few if any vegetarian options available at the cafe I went to Starbucks for a coffee. As I sat there I realised that I'd normally be sitting in Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road with Stuart the guitar repair man at 10 o'clock on a Thursday morning, a slightly surreal moment which hopefully made for an amusing text message to the man himself. Security's tight- my bag gets searched (nothing too embarrassing, honest!) with other band members also getting the once-over, and the flight home was thankfully uneventful despite the severity of the wind as we walked out to the aircraft. As I say, an excellent jaunt- and we're off to Switzerland next month! Hurrah!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

From 'W(h)icker's World' to 'The Gong Show'

I was sad to hear of the death of the great actor Edward Woodward- I remember him in 'Callan' when I was a lad, and he played the lead role in 'Breaker Morant' which is one of my all-time favourite films 'though I guess he'll always be best remembered for his extraordinary performance in 'The Wicker Man', not least because of that scene with Britt Ekland...

Time to catch up on the last few days in mad-guitar-land:-

It was a funny old night last night, when I wended my weary way across to Northwood Hills for the launch night of Stompbox, a new shop specialising in guitar effects pedals although from what I can gather they're hoping to move more into selling instruments in the new year. (Didn't I used to work in a shop that did that? Hmm...) The event actually took place a few doors down from the shop in Woody's Bar- I was given a goodie bag as I arrived which momentarily distracted me from the appalling version of 'Killing Floor' emanating from the stage. Was it really necessary to have a bass solo? And was that really my old mate Paul on drums? Oh dear... (incidentally if you're interested you can find a really good version of 'Killing Floor' here, and another one here; it's a pity these idiots hadn't heard them as they might have put them off trying to play the song, or if we'd been really lucky, any songs...) Both the guitarist and bassist kept telling us which instruments they were using to get their 'great sound' (their description, not mine) with- at least we all know what to avoid buying now. Their unrehearsed 'performance' featured more overplaying than pretty much any show I've ever seen (never play one note where ten will do eh lads?) and did nothing to disguise their contempt for the music (as though it was all beneath them if you know what I mean) as they proved time and time again that sarcasm is indeed the lowest form of wit- or maybe they weren't being sarcastic enough? At the start of the last song ('Alright Now' in case you were wondering) the bass player made a 'joke' about 'not having much to do in this one' (there's no bass in the verses) and then came in with a badly played slap bass line before his instrument went wrong- like I say, at least we now know which ones not to buy.
The main band of the evening were The Tin Spirits who featured the excellent Dave Gregory of XTC on guitar. I'm a big XTC fan, and after the cretins that preceded them they sounded all but magnificent with 'The Mayor Of Simpleton' sounding every bit as good as I remember it. I was hoping for more from Swindon's finest but after they followed a Genesis song with a Yes song we (Stuart the guitar repair man, Pete from The Cane Toads et al) decided that we'd had enough and opted for a visit to The Half Moon in Harrow where Pete thought there might be a trad jazz band playing- sure enough The Bearcat Brawlers were on after the football although their drummer had got fed up with waiting and gone home. Pete introduced me to Al the cornet player who's over 80 years old- it turned out he might well have been one of the youngest members- excellent! Oh and he also introduced me to my new friend Katrina who books the bands there- she's from Dublin, her surname's Hegarty (only one 'g'- I told her my lot are greedy) and she'd like to book The Flying Squad and Youngblood sometime soon. A funny old night as I say...

Time for some live music of a rather higher quality; if you've seen the popular television programme 'True Blood' then you've no doubt heard the theme music but if not, check out 'Bad Things' by Jace Everett- it's a brilliantly haunting piece of country rock that should be better known in it's own right. The man himself (aided and abetted by the excellent Dan Cohen on occasionally-malfunctioning guitar) played a low-key show at The Water Rats in King's Cross on Tuesday evening and very good he was too; with a splendidly grim line in between song comments ('this is not an image, it's a personality disorder') and a voice that reminded me of Johnny Cash one minute and Mick Jagger the next (strange but true!) he gave a great performance that made me resolve to find out more about him and make sure that I catch a full band performance if they come over here. The support act Honey Ryder were worth a look too, with two acoustic guitars combining to great effect and a girl singer that was so good looking that I almost didn't notice how obvious some of the lyrics were. And I saw my old mate Pete Hobbs for the first time in ages- he now has long grey hair and a beard that gets him called Santa at Christmas and Gandalf the rest of the time. Excellent!

Sunday and Monday were spent in Merseyside as the long-suffering Shirley and myself took my Dad up to visit our family. Shirley wanted to go on The Mersey Ferry and I hadn't been on it this century (!) so much of Monday was spent over in Liverpool alternately marvelling at the new architecture and (in my Dad's case at least) ranting about how inappropriate they looked next to the older buildings. I did the 'Beatle-tourist' bit and went to Mathew Street for the first time since the 'new' Cavern Club opened (my Auntie Joyce assures me that it's 'exactly the same' as the old one, and she should know) and Shirl set her sights on a return visit to the recently-opened Liverpool One shopping centre. And it was good to see some of the family again for the first time since my cousin Gary's funeral 'though it was strange to see his brother Steve without him by his side as they were almost inseparable, like 'proper' brothers if you know what I mean. My Auntie May (his mum) showed us the last picture taken of him just a few weeks before his death, he was smiling- but then again, he usually was. And my Auntie Emma is 83 and fitter than all of us! How does she do that?!?

Two very different gigs on Friday and Saturday, the first of which saw The Chicago Blues Brothers return to what's becoming a regular haunt for us, The Grove Theatre in Dunstable. Chris is on keyboards as Ian's away in the U.S.A. with Ray Davies but other than that it's an A-Team gig; monitor problems plagued the soundcheck and indeed the first half of the show- as we started 'Peter Gunn' the keyboards were literally deafening in Squirrel's monitor (well, that's what they were from my point of view, they must have been all but unbearable where he was standing) and when he and Tracy sang in 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' their voices were so loud in my monitor that they nearly knocked me over. It all seemed ok by the second set although I can't decide whether that's because the levels were adjusted or if we just got used to it... that said the evening went very well 'though we were a little loose in places (I guess we've not been playing together enough lately sadly) and the audience reaction was enough to convince even the most sceptical band member (i.e. me!) that it had been a good gig.
The next night saw a very different and indeed unexpected show. East and myself were in The Load of Hay on Thursday evening (well- we had to drop off some posters for the upcoming Kris Dollimore gig; that's our excuse anyway! And we forgot them so we'll have to go down there this week too! Hurrah!) when Grant the landlord came over to say that the act that should have been playing on Saturday had lost their voice and did I have any ideas for a replacement? Leaving aside the obvious 'how did they tell you?' gags (sorry!) I had a bit of a think about it before sending Terry the Youngblood singer a text message... so it was then that while everyone else was watching 'The X Factor' in the other bar myself and himself found ourselves setting up a P.A. system and scribbling song titles on a piece of paper trying to come up with 2 45 minute sets to be started less than an hour later. He rather gingerly produced a harmonica- 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You' and 'Baby What You Want Me To Do' were added to the list immediately. I rather wildly suggested 'Stay With Me' as 'about the least likely song to be performed on just an acoustic guitar' (it went straight on the list as did 'Alright Now' for the same reason) and as we began with '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' I don't mind admitting that I was wondering if we'd bitten off a bit more than we could chew but all things considered it went very well- we even got a request for 'anything by Gong' from a particularly enthusiastic (if rather misguided) chap who spent half of our first set bellowing things like 'you've gotta come down here, they sound like they should be playing Wembley' into his mobile phone and most of the second set asking for Led Zeppelin songs. Terry sang excellently and Shirley got him back to West Ruislip station in time for his last train home- definitely the mark of a good gig don't you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Commercial time

People keep telling me that I could/should 'monetise' this blog i.e. earn a bit of money by selling advertising space on it; in some ways it's a nice idea (it does take quite a bit of time to do and I'd theoretically get 'paid' for writing it) but overall I've decided it's better to remain independent (for want of a better term, although I have started adding labels to the posts now that I've realised what they're there for!) and rather self-indulgently continue to occasionally mention things that I think are worth checking out.

So- time for a couple of adverts!

Back in the 1980's The Price often found ourselves on the same bill as The Neurotics- that's if we weren't in the audience- and one of the shows we supported them at has just been made available as a download here; it's a fabulous performance recorded at Brunel University in April 1987 and is highly recommended if you're a fan of the band. And it's my fault that it exists at all, as I was the person who asked the soundman to record the show (yeah I know it's bootlegging- but when you hear it, you'll thank me for it!) Great stuff, and a reminder of what a fabulous live band they were; they're reuniting next month to play a tribute show in memory for Steven Wells (details here) which should be well worth catching, but in the meantime get the download- you won't be disappointed...

And talking of The Price- if you've bought yourself one of our splendid new t-shirts (you haven't? Shame on you!) then I'm sure you've thought to yourself 'I wonder where they got these made'. Well wonder no longer, as Balcony Shirts have just opened a shop in Windsor Street in Uxbridge. Stocking everything from trapper hats to desert boots, and having a new 'British towns & cities' t-shirt in honour of Ickenham which includes the slogan 'the pump don't work 'cos the vandals took the handles' (yes!) they're hoping to have a section devoted to t-shirts and CD's from local bands- so if you haven't got your Price t-shirt yet, you may well be able to get it there soon. Hurrah!

Monday, November 09, 2009

From vibrators to stockbrokers

Well- that was a busy 4 days in mad-guitar-land...

it was time for a Flying Squad gig in previously unchartered territories, supporting The Vibrators at The Beaverwood Club in Chislehurst. It's a gig promoted by Pete Feenstra who I first met sometime back in the 1990's when I was playing in The Flame; he promotes at a lot of venues- have a look at his website to see what I mean- and has done a lot of work in keeping live music happening at a time when it wasn't a particularly fashionable thing to be involved with. Bearing in mind that it was Guy Fawkes Night myself and Andy (vocals) set off early, but I don't know how early we would have to have left to avoid the traffic chaos that we encountered in the course of our 3 1/2 (yes, three and a half!) hour journey...
We'd just about got out of town when Dave (drums) called to warn us against using the M25 as it was at a standstill from junction 10; we got to junction 12 before turning off and trusted the 'avoid congestion' option on the sat nav. which did a pretty good job until we neared Wandsworth Common where there were literally thousands of people on the streets, presumably on their way to a fireworks display. Traffic was at an almost total standstill and it took quite a while for us to discover the reason why- the cars couldn't move as there were so many people were on a Zebra crossing. Surely a policeman or even a lollipop lady could have prevented this from happening? Or would that be too simple?
We eventually arrived at the club not long after 8 o'clock. Fortunately Dave and Mike (bass) had been there for a while and were all set up and ready to rock- by the time I'd said hello to Eric on the door (I hadn't seen him for 10 years or more!) and introducing myself to Al the soundman I had something like 15 minutes to set up for an 8.30 start. Easy! Soundcheck consisted of checking that my amp worked (it did) and Al telling us that he didn't think the monitors were working properly (he was right, they weren't.) It took a song or two to get used to the sound and to get going for want of a better term, but we played well and went down a storm with the audience.

How well did we play? Click here to find out!

And The Vibrators were excellent too- they're another of those bands that an old punk like me watches and thinks 'oh I'd forgotten about this one' rather more times than he thought he would. With frontman/guitarist Knox still recovering from an accident ex-Members guitarist Nigel Bennett was the sole 6-stringer and very good he was too; he also did a good job of remembering the time I saw him play 'Babylon's Burning' with Ruts D.C. at The Fulham Greyhound all those years ago when I spoke to him afterwards. A top evening- and it didn't take us quite so long to get home (thank God!)

Friday and myself and East (who's asked me to mention that he was called a 'horny little devil' by not one but two ladies at last weekend's Bucks Golf Club show- well, he was wearing a pair of red horns for much of the evening...) spent the evening at The Dolphin in Uxbridge checking out The Side Project. They're a band made up from students at Brunel University who are interested in playing at The Load of Hay so we went along to see what they were like. Maybe the best word to describe them is 'quiet' as they didn't use a P.A. system (they sang through their amplifiers!) 'though anyone who plays 'Dreaming Of You' by The Coral is alright by me- I guess that means they get a gig then...

Saturday saw something completely different- a gig at The Old Bell in Enfield for a new band consisting of your humble narrator on guitar, my old mate Terry on bass (we played together in The Informers sometime in the 1990's) and ex-Chevrons Terry on vocals and Mick on drums. Currently rejoicing under the admittedly rather ironic name of YOUNGBLOOD we've managed a couple of quick rehearsals before this short notice gig came in. With a set that makes the most of Terry's excellent voice (somewhere between Rod Stewart and Steve Marriott in my not-so-humble opinion- yes, that good!) we managed to get held up on the way to the venue by, you've guessed it, a large number of people on a zebra crossing (presumably going to a bonfire party?!?) and we definitely need a bit more rehearsals if this gig was anything to go by (a couple of songs ground rather unceremoniously to a halt amid some confusion) although there was still a lot to enjoy (let's face it, if it had been really bad I wouldn't have mentioned it here!) and it'll be interesting to see how it all shapes up over the next few months.

Sunday and it's time for another Acts Less Ordinary night at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge, and they don't come much less ordinary than Attila The Stockbroker. John (his real name- yes I was a bit disappointed too!) was in fine form especially considering that he and his wife Robina have spent a great deal of time recently caring for his mum (who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease) and step dad (who's been diagnosed with bowel cancer and has recently broken his hip.) Indeed myself and himself spent a fair amount of time in an in depth discussion on the subject of caring for our mums (I spent years with my mum when she had Motor Neurone Disease) at various points throughout the evening.
East (yes, the horny little devil himself) was at the bar for much of the gig and reported 'jaws dropping' at strategic points during the show; this happens a fair bit at Attila's gigs- as the man himself says on his MySpace page, 'I don't mess about. I've got lots to say and I'm out there saying it' 'though the person who said to me that they thought he was 'politically incorrect' had surely got their wires crossed although I guess it depends on what you consider to be 'correct'! We could have done with a few more people in (don't come moaning to me that there's nothing to do when gigs like this are happening!) but it was still enough of a success for Grant the landlord to invite Attila back for a return gig next year. Excellent!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Denham United

Two very different shows this weekend-

Friday it was off to the Black Country for a CBB show at Andy's 30th birthday party at Brookfield Farm near Wolverhampton. With Richard flying in from a gig in France with Martha Reeves (lucky lad!) myself and the long suffering Shirley were traveling up with Tracy- sadly traffic conspired against her meaning that she was something approaching 2 hours late meeting up with us, resulting in a will-we-make-it-time-for-the-gig race against time. Thankfully luck was on our side and we had a clear run until only a few miles from the venue- at which point our sat. nav. sent us in completely the wrong direction and we had to call for help. 'It's got a big white sign outside saying STUD FARM' offered Matt helpfully- well we'd definitely have noticed that, so we were definitely lost. Eventually a young lady who worked at the venue talked us in on the phone, and we arrived at about the same time as the first guests- rarely a good sign if you're in the band... after a quick (very quick!) set up there was time to sample the buffet before throwing ourselves at a 90 minute set at the rather early hour of 8.15; sadly it was one of those shows where the guitar seems to feel heavier than it normally does, and where try as we might we couldn't get through to the audience. Maybe they were more interested in the upcoming karaoke, or maybe we were just on a bit too early- who knows? We left for home less than 4 hours after we'd arrived- it was that kind of night...

On the other hand- Saturday saw the first PTX gig for some time, at Buckinghamshire Golf Club in Denham at a halloween party that's also a birthday bash for my mate Cliff- that's how a bunch of herberts like us came to be playing at it! The Pete Tobit Experience is, shall we say, a loose gathering based around Pete and whatever song he decides to sing that night (!) and soundcheck saw us running through a few songs that we'd not played before (it normally does!) as well as discussing which songs from the CBB theatre show could be corrupted to suit our needs as a 5 piece. Pete's on vocals and acoustic guitar with Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums and Ian on keyboards; he'd missed the previous night's gig as he'd been playing in The Kast Off Kinks (Chris depped for him) and, odd as it may seem, he ended up on stage with one of his band mates at this gig too... in total contrast to the previous night's show this one saw the audience ready to rock more-or-less from the word go- our first set was mostly songs from the theatre show whilst the second saw us reaching into somewhat less familiar territory, not least when Mick Avory joined us to sing 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion'- he was a guest at the party and performs the song with The Kast Off Kinks, and Ian suggested he did it with us. Excellent! In the meantime 6 foot tall women dressed as fairies mingled with men who looked as though they should have been in 'The Long Good Friday', and by the time Big Tel and Dave wound up the disco at one o'clock it had definitely been a good night all round.

Time for a quick advert- this coming Sunday (the 8th if you're counting) Attila The Stockbroker visits The Load of Hay in Uxbridge. It should be a great night!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Had me a real good time

I saw The Faces last night!

Well, to be precise I saw 3 of them- Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Ronnie Wood- who with Bill Wyman on bass played 3 songs at The Royal Albert Hall at the climax of an evening in aid of The Performing Rights Society For Music Members Benevolent Fund. With their former lead vocalist unavailable Paul Carrick sang 'Cindy Incidentally', Andy Fairweather Low sang 'Ooh La La' and Mick Hucknall sang 'Stay With Me'. For a fan like myself it was a great thing to see as in their original incarnation they'd broken up long before I started venturing out to see bands, and it had been a pretty good night all round- fine performances from artists as diverse as jazz guitar hero Martin Taylor and former Spice Girl Melanie C. and with a hilarious performance by Rick Wakeman ('Eleanor Rigby' in the style of Sergei Prokofiev!) being a rather unlikely, not to mention surreal, highlight. But in the end it was all about The Faces and their gloriously ramshackle rock'n'roll riot- they're one of my favourite bands ever, and it was fabulous to finally see something approaching a reunion. Excellent!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

'How many fingers am I holding up?'

Have you ever been to Norwich? It's one of those places that always gets a reaction from people when you tell them you're going there, often along the lines of 'look out for 6 fingers on their hands'- in fact 2 people used more-or-less exactly those words to me. A bit unfair perhaps? Maybe... then again we played 2 shows at The Playhouse Theatre on Thursday and Friday, and after the first of them we had the dubious pleasure of meeting a couple of the locals after the show, and if they're anything to go by all the sniggering asides that you get when you mention the place could well be justifiable...

The long-suffering Shirley got myself, Richard and Tracy to the theatre just after 5.15 pm; we play here each year with a dance troup as part of local lad Dave's support for various local charities, and when we got there the rest of the A-team were all present and correct and everything was more-or-less ready to go. Soundcheck included that well-known Blues Brothers classic 'No Woman No Cry' as well as running through the songs that the dancers were joining us on so that they could practice getting on and off stage at the allotted times. Dave had also got a local crew in to film proceedings so they were setting up at the same time- by the time we'd done all that needed to be done there's not much more than half an hour to showtime- and it's a... well, an odd show. The audience seemed quite reserved initially, which is often the case although it seemed that no matter how hard Mike and Matt tried there wasn't much of a reaction to be had. It took a bizarre second set incident to lighten the mood- Richard's radio microphone stopped working at the start of 'Natural Woman' (the battery ran out!) so he went to the front-of-stage mic for his solo, but just as he started playing the mic stand began to collapse, meaning that by the middle of the solo he was on his knees attempting to play into the microphone and Tracy was in fits of laughter unable to sing when it was time for her to come back in. As often happens this sort of incident lightened the atmosphere and the gig took off from there. Bizarrely while Richard and Tracy were turning into a comedy double act Dave was kicking a door backstage in frustration at the mic going down and having just discovered that he'd got a parking ticket! He had to go to hospital next day to see if he'd broken a toe! Oh and the smoke machine got jammed on at one point meaning that we all disappeared into a fog that wouldn't have been out of place in Victorian London. Strange but true- but not as strange as the incident in the bar afterwards...

Myself and Shirley were sitting with Mike, Tracy and Ian and his wife Nadia when we were joined by Matt who'd been for a drink with an old friend of his; they'd come back along with a couple who were friends of Matt's mate (I can't recall any of their names- or maybe I've driven them from my mind?) who seemed a little peculiar... in fact as the mate of Matt's mate dropped his trousers exposing himself I realised that not only were they a bit peculiar, they were also... just searching for the right word here, and I'm in a good mood so it's not easy to come up with... oh, I know- SCUM. I'll spare you the gory details of what took place as she joined in (and no, I didn't count her fingers!) but when he looked as though he was going to move towards Shirley things got serious- Matt made a comment to him along the lines of 'there's a lot of water around here and you're going to be living in it in a minute' as I looked around for something to hit him with (I have to watch my hands you know!) He backed off, did his trousers up (and before you ask, yes I am well aware of how weird this looks written down!) and then tried to introduce himself and shake hands with me. I tried to make joke along the lines of 'I'd rather not if you don't mind, I've just seen where your hands have been' (and no, I didn't count his fingers either!) but he persisted, leaning closer and closer across the table at me. In the end I said something like 'why on Earth would someone like me want to shake hands with someone like you?' which he clearly didn't like; I don't think I'm a particularly violent person but for a split second I nearly stood up and whacked him, but I could see that Shirley was getting upset and so decided that hitting him wouldn't solve anything. But sitting here typing this now, I don't mind admitting that I almost feel angry that I didn't clobber him after all. So- does that make me a violent person? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't- but if any one deserved a broken nose it was that idiot.

He nearly got one too- Matt told me the next day that he'd been contemplating giving him exactly that. From what I saw it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke...

It was the sort of incident that winds you up all the next day- well, it did me. Still it was good to have a few hours to wander around town- there was an exhibition of Beatles photographs but £5 to get in seemed rather a lot for what we were told was 'only a small exhibition' so we didn't go (told you I was wound up!) but we did hear a busker playing some excellent jazz guitar and see a sign advertising a 'husband creche' at the Sir Garnett Wolseley pub which raised a smile (we nearly went there for something to eat but it looked horrible so we didn't!) along with Shirley launching herself at the local Primark and me nearly buying a box set of mono Beatles CD's- well, I felt bad about not going to the exhibition!

5 o'clock and it's back-to-the-venue time; Matt got behind the drums and we attempted to play Joey Ramone's version of 'What A Wonderful World' (You've not heard it? Shame on you! Never mind- here it is!) with limited success and to a mixture of horror and bemusement from passing band members. It felt to me as though there was an air of 'lets-make-up-for-last night' among the band members, and right from the first number that was what we did, playing a great show which I'm really looking forward to seeing footage of. In fact I enjoyed it so much that it almost made up for the incident the night before, although the word 'almost' is very important in that last sentence...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oil City Confidential

And talking of Dr. Feelgood- I saw 'Oil City Confidential' at The I.C.A. in London last night. Directed by Julien Temple and with some extraordinary live footage amid interviews with all the main players, it's a fantastic film for a fan like me and a pretty good one even if you're not, mainly because of Wilko Johnson's extraordinary onscreen antics- talking after the film Temple suggested that a petition is started to get Wilko to present 'The Sky At Night' when/if Patrick Moore ever retires; suffice to say that it's one petition that we should all sign...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Studio tan

Yesterday saw The Flying Squad visit Roundel Studios in Kent to record 3 songs under the auspices of Roger Cotton. A fine time was had by all, and the results should be available on CD at the band's next gig- we're supporting punk legends The Vibrators (really!) in Chislehurst next month and details can be found here...

In case you were wondering, the 3 songs recorded are the Dr. Feelgood / Wilko Johnson classic 'She Does It Right', 'That's It, I Quit' (a Nick Lowe song also recorded by The Feelgoods) and 'Police Car' by Larry Wallis which I remember buying all those years ago on Stiff Records and which I heard again earlier this year on one of those free CD's that come with magazines these days; back in March we were on our way home from a gig in the early hours of the morning and Brian the driver and myself were listening to said CD when 'Police Car' came on- about 20 seconds into it we both said 'what a great song, someone should do a new version of this'. So we have! (And here is a great clip of Mr. Wallis himself playing it...) 

It's been a while since I was last in a recording studio, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. Time to record that album that The Price should have recorded all those years ago then?!? Excellent!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pictures of matchstick men

Bloody hell I'm tired. And I think I'm getting a cold. Not good, frankly.

I've just (just!) got in from today's re-stringing session at the theatre with Stuart the guitar repairman, which included a visit to The Jersey Boys where your humble narrator got to re-string a Jerry Jones Baby Sitar. Now there's something you don't get to do everyday! Well, I don't anyway... we also dropped a guitar off at Avenue Q (Stu had repaired it for noted guitarist Andy Jones) before stumbling home, or in Stu's case off to the pub. (Good man!) But today's not the reason that I'm so tired...

Yesterday saw the first Chicago Blues Brothers theatre date since the end of August, and it's a great one to come back with- at The Lyric Theatre in Manchester which is part of The Lowry Centre on Salford Quays. Myself, Richard (saxophone) and Tracy (vocals) made the journey North without too many problems, and arrived to find Old Trafford quiet, which was something of a relief since the venue is very close to the football ground and if there'd been a match on we might never have got to the theatre! Sadly there wasn't time for a visit to Lou Macari's Fish and Chip Shop (now there's a name for older football fans to conjure with) as we were running a bit late- we arrived to find everybody else ready to soundcheck. It's an A-team gig- Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood, Ian on keyboards, Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums and Dave on trumpet, with Pete on hand to direct operations as well as making a couple of cameo appearances (more about that later) and his wife Jayne on costume control. Phil's behind the mixing desk, and he's not having a very good day- there are problems with the monitors which will take a while to sort out so we leave him to it for a while and have a look around. The Lowry Centre is a very impressive place- sadly there wasn't time for a look in the Gallery (although it's amazing how many people say things like 'anybody can paint like that' when the name Lowry is mentioned) which was a shame... it was also rather a shame that in my haste to extract my phone from my pocket to answer it I dropped it on the stone floor and cracked the front. Bugger! I didn't have the money to buy a case for it when I got it, but I definitely should have got one in the meantime. Oh well- another lesson learned?
Back on stage it turns out that one of the amplifiers isn't working so I haven't got a monitor which makes hearing Ian's keyboards a bit tricky- we turn them up in Squirrel's monitor which isn't to far away from me. There's not much time left to sort things out as the door's are opening soon as there are over 1,000 people coming to see us...
Back in dressing room 21 there's a visitor, and it's someone that none of us have seen for a while- Dave Finnegan. It was great to see him again after several years of not being in contact (myself and various other band members were members of Dave Finnegan's Commitments- Dave played Mickah Wallace in the film) and he was on fine form. And the band was on pretty good form too as we played a great show especially considering that we've not played together much lately. (In the dressing room afterwards Ian commented that he'd forgotten a couple of things; Marc said that it didn't sound as though he'd forgotten any of the good bits...) Talking of forgetting things Pete had forgotten has stage trousers meaning that he made his appearance as the preacher Rev. I.C. Delight in jeans (I thought it looked alright!) and the back projections that we first used in Worcester back in August looked even more amazing this time. An excellent gig- it's good to be back in show business!

It's a long haul home 'though, with Richard doing a fine job behind the wheel and your humble narrator drifting in and out of consciousness on several occasions; at one point I came round to hear an extraordinary version of 'Wild Horses' on the radio- all 3 of us were astounded when the DJ said that it was the new single by Susan Boyle- you know, the woman off of that TV show? I'd never heard her sing before, but judging by this recording she certainly has an amazing voice.

Tracy was asleep in the car when I made Richard a cup of coffee at some time after 3 a.m.- we both agreed that it had been a great night, and that it was going to be a long day today. Judging by how I feel at the moment, we were both correct...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'I love that dirty water...'

Me and my big mouth- as soon as I say that I'm doing two gigs with T.V. Smith the second one of them gets cancelled. Bugger! What's that saying about counting chickens? Still it was a great gig last night at The Dirty Water Club at The Boston Arms in Tufnell Park where we supported the excellent Goldblade (T.V. has been with them for most of their current British tour; he invited me to join him for the London and Brighton gigs but the latter now features the magnificently named Anal Beard rather than ourselves) with Johnny Casino and The Secrets opening the evening. The Boston Arms is a great venue (The Price played there which shows how long it's been going!) and The Dirty Water Club puts on some fine music, and is something of a labour of love for the organisers and as such seems to me to be well worth supporting. (Rather a spurious justification for buying a venue t-shirt don't you think?!?)

When myself and Big Andy arrived Goldblade were about to do their soundcheck; T.V. arrived just as it began, and commented that John Robb put as much energy into the soundcheck as a lot of people do during a gig. True- he certainly doesn't pull any punches... then it's our turn. As I'm playing a few chords for the soundman I realise that I'm actually feeling quite nervous, we play a verse or two of 'Good Times Are Back' and I almost don't feel as though I know it even though I was playing along with a recording of it only a few hours earlier. As we leave the stage to make way for Johnny Casino and The Secrets T.V. says something like 'a couple of odd chords in there- was it me?' Yes that comment was very diplomatic and no, it was definitely me... I mumble something about feeling more nervous before soundchecks than gigs as Johnny and co. warm up in the background.
We're due on at 10 o'clock and by 9 the place is filling up nicely- good to see Max Splodge along with punk promotess Sarah Pink as well as the legend that is Gaye Advert (soon to have an art exhibition in London- details on her MySpace page here) among the familiar faces. J.C. and the band are on at 9.30, they play great trashy rock and roll and go down well- afterwards I say to Johnny how good I thought his guitar sounded and he replied ' a 345 straight into an AC30, you can't go wrong with that.' He just might be right!
Just after 10.20 it's our turn, and as we kick off with 'No Time To Be 21' I'm still not feeling right 'though I've no idea why; as we get to the first chorus people are moving towards the stage, singing along and nodding approval (thank God!) as they do so. The song ends to tumultuous applause and suddenly, instantly, I feel better. Weird! From then on it's 40-odd minutes of acoustic mayhem with T.V. on top form and the audience response getting better and better. After we play three Adverts songs ('Gary Gilmore's Eyes', 'Bored Teenagers' and 'One Chord Wonders' in case you were wondering) a guy comes up to the stage, he looks a bit out of it and is shouting something at us but we've already started 'Good Times Are Back' and can't hear him. (T.V. was accosted by him later- apparently the gist of his message to us was 'when are you going to reform The Adverts?' Hmm- he might have rather a long wait on that one!) We finish with 'Runaway Train Driver' and the place goes mad. Remind me why I was so nervous again?
No sign of nerves from Goldblade who delivered a thunderous performance with John Robb as deranged a frontman as you will ever see and the band (with only one guitarist rather than the usual two) and audience with him every step of the way. Halfway through their set I go over to see T.V. on the merchandise stall where he's doing a roaring trade; I get my hand shaken by all and sundry and am told it was a great gig by virtually everyone. I really must try to cheer up before shows!

As we're leaving I grab a few words with John Robb- I tell him how I was the rehearsal guitarist for the Ruts/Henry Rollins gig two years ago (he was the compare for the show) and we speak of what a fabulous night it was. As we're talking about it a couple of chaps come over, I recognise them but can't place them- it turns out that they were friends of Paul Fox and that they saw me playing with Foxy's Ruts at The Crown And Treaty in Uxbridge a couple of weeks before the Ruts 'n' Rollins show, and that they're organising a tribute night for Paul (the 24th of this month at The Breakspear Arms in Ruislip in case you're interested) and would like me to come along. I say something about not being 'in with the in crowd' (I stopped any involvement with Foxy's Ruts when they decided that they wanted to continue using the same name after Paul had died; I might have lost a friend or two in the process but I think I made the right decision) but they tell me that I'm in with the in crowd as far as they're concerned and they'd like me to be there. It might not seem like much written down here but it's a subject that's caused me a lot of upset over the last couple of years so it's good to be invited along. I might even go!

It's been a funny couple of months, what with losing the work at the shop, not too many gigs about, money too tight to mention, insecurity replacing what little confidence I have- but nights like last night make it all seem worthwhile As he was leaving T.V. shook my hand and said that he hoped we'll do many more shows together. Perhaps the good times are back, as someone once sang...

And our Adverts trilogy is on YouTube- click here for acoustic punk rock nirvana! Hurrah!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

'Down in the city, just Hoople and me...'

I remember seeing Mott The Hoople on Top Of The Pops in their mid-'70's heyday- I liked the music and I always thought that they looked... cocky if you know what I mean. I thought they were great. And I remember looking at the cover of their album 'The Hoople' for ages one day in a shop in Uxbridge trying to decide whether or not I could afford to buy it or not, after all I liked the singles but didn't know all the other tracks on it and what if it's terrible and I don't like it, 'though I liked the cover but you can't buy an album just because it looks nice can you? After all they're expensive compared to singles, and anyway there's a new T.Rex album out and if I'm going to buy anything it should really be that one shouldn't it? Oh I don't know- if only I could get them both, and all the other albums that I've been looking at today...

Nothing's changed- I still spend ages in record shops (when I can find them!) wondering what I can afford to buy. Isn't there a saying, something like 'show me the boy and I'll show you the man'?

They'd finished long before I'd started going to gigs so I didn't get chance to see them although when I was in The Flame we supported Ian Hunter one memorable night in the mid-'90's; they've just reformed for 5 shows at The Hammersmith Apollo (it's the Hammersmith Odeon!) where I saw them play last night, and very good they were too. In the entrance hall before the show familiar faces were everywhere- Bobby Gillespie, Paul Simonon, legendary Mott fan Mick Jones, all testament to the band's influence on subsequent rock musicians, and the air was heavy with anticipation. Original drummer Dale Griffin was reportedly too ill to play (although he came out for the encores,) but with Martin Chambers behind the kit they looked as cocky as ever and sounded a lot better than many thought they had any right to. The older album tracks kept the audience waiting for the singles for over an hour before Hunter sat at the keyboards and led the way into 'The Golden Age Of Rock'n'Roll', 'Honaloochie Boogie' and 'All The Way From Memphis'- judging by the reaction all were well worth waiting for- with encores of 'Roll Away The Stone' and the inevitable 'All The Young Dudes' (a rumoured appearance by David Bowie didn't happen sadly) upped the hysteria level before 'Saturday's Gigs' sent us all home happy. A fine show.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Down on the farm

The long-suffering Shirley and myself have just (just!) returned from a much needed break in sunny Dorset, hence the lack of blogging for nearly 2 weeks. It's been a fine few days, not least when we went into the Town Mill Cheese Mongers in Lyme Regis (I like cheese, ok?!?) where we were greeted with a comment about 'dead pigs noses'... I was wearing a Blockheads t-shirt, and it turns out that my new friend and cheese monger Justin 'did a bit of work' with Ian and co. back in the late 70's. Excellent!- and proof were it needed that Leigh's mad world of guitars never really closes, it just goes on holiday occasionally... but now it's back to Blighty and to work- 2 gigs this week with the mighty T.V. Smith (oh yes!- details are on his website) as well as rehearsing with The Flying Squad for an upcoming recording session and getting things together for a new venture with bassist and old mate Terry Peaker. Good job I've just had a holiday!

Last Saturday it was all the way up to Low Farm in Dewsbury for a Bootleg Blues Brothers playback gig at a wedding. I travelled up in a hired van with Big Tel and Dave who were P.A.-ing and D.J.-ing for the evening, with Big Tel doubling on sax during our performance. After a 3-and-a-bit hours journey up the M1 we arrived to find Pete (Jake) on hand to direct us to a parking space,and to tell us that Mike (Elwood) was sleeping off the effects of the previous night's festivities- they'd been to regular BB Matt's wedding in York- in the car. Good boy! I must say that when he emerged he certainly looked as though he'd had a good night...
There was a duo playing when we arrived, everything from 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' to 'Dueling Banjos' ('name any Beatles song and I'll give you a tenner if we can't play it' said the one without the hat; I thought of going for 'Revolution 9' or 'The Inner Light' but they seemed like nice enough chaps so I went for 'I'll Cry Instead'. They kept their tenner.) We're playing in a structure that's probably best described as a series of interlocking teepees (!) with the girls from Weddings and Wellies bringing food and drink through from an adjoining tent. As we're setting up it looks as though the bar's been open a bit too long for some people- one guy is shouting (he probably thought he was just talking) about how he's a 'party animal' (half right!) and how everyone else is 'boring' (or just bored by him perhaps?) except for him and his mates, they eventually get more drinks and go outside to watch the bride and groom having their pictures taken in a cart that's being pulled along by a tractor... it's around 5.30 when the first fight starts 'though it's more of a scuffle really, two girls shout and swear at each other as half-hearted attempts are made to hold them back and no one looks too concerned. By the time we've done a soundcheck there's been a more serious incident out in the nearby lane- I went out to get my stage clothes in from the van to see a large shaven-headed man throwing punches and insults at all and sundry, there are quite a few people involved but it ends with the man and his entourage roaring off down the lane, turning the area into a near-dustbowl in the process.
As it turned out I needn't have bothered bringing my clothes in as there was nowhere to get changed so we all ended up doing so in the back of the van. It's all glamour this showbusiness lark I can tell you... by the time we're on for our first set the atmosphere's better- Tel and myself struggled manfully with some unfamiliar songs from Pete and Mike's playback set, many of which stretch the Blues Brothers brief to near breaking point. I was particularly grateful for Big Tel's collection of percussion bits'n'pieces during 'Loco in Acapulco' (is there a worse song than this? I can't think of one- can you?) and there's a full dancefloor by the time we hand over to Dave for the interval. The Weddings and Wellies girls came out to dance to 'Love Shack' as the hog roast was unveiled (potatoes and coleslaw for me again then!) and everyone seems happy... suddenly the party animal from earlier is back, careering and lurching his way towards our equipment, Tel retrieves the microphones as Pete takes the saxophone of it's stand and I move my guitar out of harm's way- with nothing to amuse him there he grabs hold of a girl in a blue dress who'd been standing by the dancefloor and picks her up, he staggers around for a second or two until he looses his balance and she lands on her back with a thud, her head bouncing slightly as it hits the dancefloor. Pete is among the people who go to her aid as the party animal goes back to the bar, no doubt he's forgotten what he'd just done and is wondering what all the fuss is about? She's shaken but not stirred, asks Dave if he'll play a Girls Aloud song for her which she sings along while dancing rather unsteadily...
Our second set sees a perilously full dancefloor and the BB's brief abandoned totally- either that or I missed 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' in the films? (I certainly missed most of it on this occasion as the battery in my Bad Monkey pedal went as I trod on it at the start of the guitar solo and I spent the rest of the song trying to change it- I must remember to change these things more often!) Meanwhile the party animal is back near the bar, he's the one throwing punches around this time but picks the wrong guy and they both go outside followed by their respective followers and I wonder if I'm the only person who hopes that he gets what he deserves. (Yeah I know that's a nasty thing to say- but if ever someone deserved a black eye it's that fool.) Meanwhile our set ends with 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' after which we leave Dave to keep 'em dancing and go back out to the van to get changed. We're told it 'all went off'' out in the lane- don't these people care that it someone's wedding (presumably one of their friends) that they're ruining?

We're all packed up and on the road home not long after 1 o'clock; we stop at the Watford Gap services on the M1 for a coffee and to reflect on the finer points of the evening's work, it's recently been renovated and looks a lot different from the place I remember visiting as a youngster when my Dad used to drive us up to Merseyside to see our family. It had been a long haul but somehow we found the good points among the bad- then as we left there was a large rat on the ramp leading back down from the service station to the car park. It was definitely time for a holiday.