Last night saw the first Chicago Blues Brothers gig of 2009, at no lesser venue than The Cliffs Pavillion in Southend. The evening was a charity (should that be 'chairidee' mate?!?) event for The Southend Fund- to this end the mayor was present- and one of the main beneficiaries of the evening was the local branch of The Motor Neurone Disease Association. Having lost my mum to this dreadful condition nearly 8 years ago this was something that I'm obviously very pleased to be involved with- but more about that later.
The long-suffering Shirley and myself left home around 2 p.m. with a view to arriving in Southend for half past three. Somewhere on the M25 Shirley suddenly turned the radio down- should the car really sound like that? Is it the engine, or the tyres, or just the road surface making that noise? Not having the best hearing in the world and, it must be said, knowing about as much about cars as I do about making a souffle (i.e. nothing) I wasn't really the best person to ask but since there was no one else present I'd have to do... so it was that your humble narrator found himself getting out on the hard shoulder to check for flat tyres ('yeah they look alright') and smells of burning ('yeah it smells alright') as the juggernauts hurtled past- it's amazing how fast they're going when you're standing nearby isn't it? Resolving to get the car checked out as soon as we possible and observing the signs warning us that there was Japanese Knotweed nearby (no I'm not sure either) we continued on our merry way, arriving at the venue at the allotted time of 3.30. It's a 'nearly-the-A-team-gig' with Mario and Mike as Jake and Elwood, Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums, Tracy on vocals, Ian on keyboards and Richard on saxophone with Steve depping for the absent Dave on trumpet. Pete's on hand to direct operations and make a cameo appearance (as 'Taxi' Cab Calloway singing 'Minnie The Moocher') and his wife Jayne is on costume co-ordination. Dave's on the lights, Rod and Sam are manning Ian Bond's P.A. (the man himself being off on tour in Germany) and we'd originally planned to film the show for possible DVD release, but with Dave unavailable the idea was shelved- just as well from my point of view as we'll discover shortly... after saying hello to all and sundry I remark to Squirrel that the last time I was in the building was when I came to see Blondie with former CBB driver Bob Newcombe and his wife Barbara; he looks rather forlorn as he tells me that Barbara died suddenly before Christmas, asks Pete if he knows what happened yet but he doesn't, I say that I remember her asking the guy standing in front of us if he'd move over a bit as she was only small and couldn't see, and how she once told me that she thought I was a better guitarist than Wilko Johnson and that I spent ages trying to persuade her that I wasn't, and that she was always very hospitable whenever I was at their house- I must give Bob a call.
With Marc not due until later one of his pupil's Matt is on hand to set his drums up- he jams 'Whole Lotta Shaking Going On' and 'Steamroller Blues' with Ian, Squirrel, Pete and myself as a soundcheck while we're waiting for the rest of the band to arrive. My guitar sounded a bit 'weak' for want of a better term, but I decided that it was just me getting used to the sound onstage; I asked Rod and Sam how it sounded back at the mixing desk and they both thought it was fine so I decided it was just me. With the rest of the band all present and correct it's time for fish and chips before running through 'Funky Nassau' and 'My Girl', I'm still not sure about the guitar sound but the band's sounding good which bodes well for the show.
We're not on until 8 o'clock so there's plenty of time for a drink in the front bar before returning backstage to find that we've got a visitor- former CBB and now T.Rextasy drummer John Skelton with his lady Trina, it's great to see him again as he regales us with stories of his recent appearance on 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' (he appeared- somewhat disguised it must be said- in the 'identity parade' line-up when the panel had to pick out Slade drummer Don Powell) and more besides.
In no time it's showtime- there's a new shorter intro tape (yeah I know it's not a tape- but 'intro CD' never sounds right to me!) and me and Squirrel aren't sure where it ends and we begin but Marc starts 'Peter Gunn' right on cue. The BB's come on to rapturous applause and 'Midnight Hour' is rocking along well- but was that a crackle that I just heard from my amplifier? No, of course it wasn't... well I don't think it was... wait a minute, there it was again... no, it's ok, it sounds fine- I think...
By the last number of the set 'Knock On Wood' I'm sure that the sound that I just heard was a crackle, and a rather loud one at that. In the interval I wait until the venue's as empty as it's going to get before going out onto the stage and trying the guitar- it sounds fine, maybe I'm just imagining it after all?
Three numbers into the second set and I'm definitely not imagining thumping the top of my otherwise reliable Fender Blues Junior combo in a desperate attempt to stop the distorted buzzing that had started emanating from it- you know, like you used to hit the top if your television when the picture was flickering? It seemed to do the trick for a while, and I soon worked out that if I stayed away from the lower strings and stuck to playing higher up the neck it didn't seem to be quite as bad- but in the end it was making the most appalling noise whether I was playing or not! With 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' sounding like The Velvet Underground drastic action is called for, Pete finds a D.I. box (a device which allows you to plug directly into the P.A. system rather than use an amplifier) which after a false start or two finally does the trick and even though it's not exactly the greatest guitar sound ever it's infinitely preferable to the row that was coming out of my amplifier. By the end of 'Gimme Some Loving' the place was going wild and we encore with 'Riot In Cell Block no. 9' and 'Jailhouse Rock' to scenes of madness and mayhem- it might have been a bit of a nightmare for me but it was a great show to start the year with.
Afterwards Shirley and myself go back out into the bar to get a drink and to see who's around. Pete's out in the foyer, he calls us over and introduces us to a young couple called Vicky and Neil. I'd seen them in the audience sitting a few rows from the front, both wearing bright red Motor Neurone Disease Association t-shirts. During 'Minnie The Moocher' Pete had dedicated the song to Jim Storey who had recently died of MND; he was Vicky's dad and Pete's brother Des had been one of his carers. He had MND for 6 months; Pete tells them about my mum, they look like they're going to cry, I almost feel as though I should make some sort of profound statement- but there's nothing much to say. It's a strange feeling to meet someone for the first time and feel for want of a better word a 'kinship' with them. People always say things like 'I know how you feel' when something bad happens to you (I certainly heard it enough times in the weeks after my mum left the building, along with things like 'she's gone to a better place'- one particularly patronising local council official earned themselves the reply of 'if you really believed that you'd kill yourself now' which went down very badly indeed...) but in cases like this it's almost the only thing that you can say. My mum had MND for over 18 years- her and Jim both know how THAT feels...