Sunday, February 01, 2009

Take your pick

Two in a row for The Chicago Blues Brothers this weekend:-

Our first theatre show of the year took place on Friday evening at a new venue for us, The Millfield Theatre in Edmonton, North London. Regular readers (assuming of course that I have any) may recall that with the help of a malfunctioning amplifier I'd managed to reduce our last performance to something that sounded uncomfortably like outtakes from the first Jesus and Mary Chain album; to guard against this re-occurring I'd delivered said Fender Blues Junior combo to Roger the amplifier repairman a few days earlier. He's a great bloke (think Monty Python-loving eccentric rock'n'roller and you're along the right lines) who's very good at his job, which makes it something of a worry to say that he had the amp switched on for two days and, you've guessed it, couldn't find anything wrong with it. No noises, buzzes, crackles or hums- nothing. After discussing tactics with him it was decided to replace the output valves and their seatings (the bits they plug into) as they were, as he put it, 'a bit loose' and see if that did the trick- after all, we couldn't leave it as it was could we? When I got round there to pick it up on the way to the gig (nothing like leaving things until the last minute is there?) he said something like 'it's still fine'- and it was. Hopefully...

Arriving at the venue sometime around 3 p.m. I was met by sound guru Ian Bond triumphantly holding a Gibson guitar case. Back in December he gave me his recently acquired Gibson Les Paul Custom to pass on to Stuart the guitar repairman for re-fretting (see the 'Andover Express' posting for the story) which I'd bought with me to return; whilst in America over Christmas he'd bought a new case for it as the one it came in is about to disintegrate. To say that he was pleased with Stuart's work would be a considerable understatement- and rightly so as the guitar's turned out splendidly well. It's an 'A-team gig'- same line-up as last week's Southend show but with Richard back on sax- and the mood is upbeat, which is always a good thing to see. To combat potential amplifier hell I've also got my old Laney combo with me, which is strategically placed behind the Fender one so that I can change them over quickly if necessary. I spent the soundcheck waiting for any untoward sounds, none of which arrive 'though it felt as if I was walking across a minefield. I remember Ben Elton doing a comedy routine once about 'Captain Paranoia', the voice in your head that says things like 'you look guilty' as you walk past a policeman- I think The Captain was sitting on my amp for the entire evening...
With soundcheck over it was off to the bar to meet up with the legend that is Brian Kotz. Fresh from the previous night's visit to a glam rock club (if you ever meet him ask him to tell you about the time he met Marc Bolan- priceless!) he lives locally so it was great to be able to invite him along. It's an 8 o'clock show and there's a good crowd in although we all agree that it takes them and indeed us a while to get going. With Captain Paranoia still very much in the building I find it hard to stop worrying about my amp going into meltdown and as a result I don't think I played particularly well so I was relieved when Brian told me that he enjoyed the show. He also commented that the last time that he heard 'Riot In Cell Block no. 9' in a seated venue was on the 9th November 1975 (Dr. Feelgood at The Hammersmith Odeon in case you were wondering) which means he keeps his title as 'rock'n'roll memory king'. A excellent evening's work, and my amp seemed to be ok- which was just as well because as he was leaving Pete reminded me that I'd need both amps tomorrow night too as I was also playing 'some jazz in the foyer'...

...which I'd completely forgotten about! It's two years since we last played at The I.C.C. in Birmingham, and I remember it being a vast hall with most if not all of the audience at the other end propping up the bar; as with last time it's a corporate event for Seddon and as myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrive Pete and Mike are loading their P.A. system onto a baggage trolley with a view to taking it over to the foyer so I give them my Fender combo then take the Laney along with my guitars, leads and clothes into the Hall 3, the CBB gig venue. With Richard off elsewhere Bev's on sax, and Pete's in the hat'n'glasses in place of Mario; Ian Bond greets me with the words 'I thought I heard a crackle last night' so I say a quick hello to Captain Paranoia before setting off in search of the dressing rooms. After waiting for what seemed like forever for the lights to be sorted out we set up (in the dark- why do they always turn the lights off as soon as they've got them working?!?) and do a quick soundcheck after which Pete, Mike, Dave and myself walked through the hall (they had Scalextric tracks set up and everything!) to the foyer to get set up directly opposite the large REGISTRATION sign for our show there. We're playing along with backing tracks and there's just time for a 'what songs are we going to play?' discussion before the evening gets underway with 'Moondance'. It's not false modesty to say that I'm not much of a jazz guitarist- it's something that I've always wanted to get more involved with but I never seem to have enough time to devote to what could politely be described as a 'big subject'- but if you've ever wondered what it sounds like when an old punk like me is allowed to run amok on such classics as 'Let There Be Love' and 'Swinging on a Star' then this was your chance to find out... and for all my incompetence I was once again reminded what a fabulous musician Dave Land is, he played the most superb trumpet and flugel horn parts to every song that even my hilarious attempts at joining in couldn't ruin. Mind you we must have done something right as we were told when we finished that people were standing listening to us rather than going in for dinner which was in danger of making the evening run late!
As we were packing our stuff away an unassuming gentleman came over to say that he'd enjoyed the music, and to ask who's Telecaster that was on stage. It turned out that he was Stuart Seddon, the chairman of the company; I showed him my Baja Telecaster that I'd just been playing, he put it on and commented that the strap was 'long enough to be Jimmy Page's' so I asked him if he wanted to do a song with us later- he laughed but Pete cajoled him into saying yes. With Captain Paranoia temporarily silenced (my amp had been fine- I've got it on in the room with me now as I type this, not a sound thank God!) we make our way Spinal Tap-style through the corridors (we decided it was best not to walk through Hall 3 as dinner was just starting) to the backstage area where some excellent food was being served for our benefit. From then it was hurry-up-and-wait time (it often is at these events) so Shirley and myself decided it was time for a visit to the foyer bar. There was a classical piano recital in The Symphony Hall (see the 'hall plans' on the I.C.C. website if you're interested in how this all fits together) which sounded great from where we were sitting and so must have sounded incredible in the hall.
Back in Hall 3 it's time for the speeches so we're on in a few minutes. Pete hands round some handwritten set-lists which he tells us have too many songs on them but we'll start with what's written and see how it goes- and it all goes remarkably well with people on the dancefloor more-or-less straightaway and Stuart the boss joining us for (you guessed it!) 'Mustang Sally'- his first words to me were 'shit, I'm too pissed' but he did a pretty good job all things considered and at the end he asked me if he could keep the plectrum he'd used as a souvenir.

No one's ever asked me that before! Excellent!

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