Monday, March 23, 2009

'It means that it's East's 50th birthday! Hurrah!'

Well- that was a very busy 5 days...

Wednesday 18th - The Chicago Blues Brothers in Epsom

I'd not been to The Epsom Playhouse before but everybody who had told me it was an excellent little theatre, and I'm pleased to say that they were all correct in their analysis. Unloading was a bit tricky 'though- Pete called just before we were leaving to say that we'd be best parking in the Ashley Centre car park next door and he was right (as usual!) which meant your humble narrator making 2 journeys with guitars, amp and stage clothes. Poor little me! As usual however the long-suffering Shirley was on hand to help, and since we managed to park on the second floor it was all pretty painless- perhaps I needn't have mentioned it here at all... it's an A-team gig with Marc returning to the drum stool; with this in mind we've got Ross and Tom along to take photos (for those of you making notes, Ross is Paul the shop guv'nor's son, and Tom is normally referred to in these hallowed pages as 'American Tom' and is engaged to Charlotte who is Paul the shop guv'nor's daughter. Keep up at the back there!) as we need some promo material with Matt in the line-up. In addition to this it's Dave the trumpet maestro's 50th birthday this month so a surprise 'cake 'n' presents from the band' moment has been planned for before the gig. Sound guru Ian Bond has bought along his recently-refretted-by-Stuart-the-guitar-repairman Gibson Les Paul custom for me to take to give to Stu for 'a bit of a tweak', and soundcheck is a relatively painless affair with everybody lying through their teeth to Dave...
Well if he had guessed that we'd planned anything then I'm here to inform you that Dave Land is not only a fine musician but may well be the world's greatest actor, as terms like 'gob-smacked' don't even begin to describe his reaction as he walked into the dressing room. 'You swines!' roared the great man, smiling so widely that I thought the top half of his head was going to come off. No time for too much madness though as we're due in stage in 15 minutes so the champagne will have to wait until the interval!
Halfway through our first number 'Peter Gunn' we all realise that this is the hottest stage any of us have been on for a while. Maybe it's hot in the auditorium too as the audience are quiet, Matt and Mike are giving it everything but it's not until Pete comes on (making a cameo appearence as the preacher in the gospel section of the show and also performing 'Minnie the Moocher in the second half) that things get going. At half time the safety curtain comes down and we stay on stage to do some photos, then go back to the dressing room for that champagne... in the second set things get going a bit more 'though even my old mate Andy C. (long-time musical collaborator and in the audience with his in-laws) described the audience as 'hard work'. Mind you all the theatre staff that I spoke to seemed to think that it'd all gone very well and the crowd had loved it so perhaps Epsom is conservative in both senses of the word?

Thursday 19th - The Chicago Blues Brothers in Milton Keynes

Now for a very different event, at the Mercure Parkside Hotel in sunny Milton Keynes. It's a corporate event for Argos and the evening will include one of the greatest tests yet of this writer's ability; I feel almost as though I've got to describe the indescribable. Oh well- let's have a go then shall we...

As I was due to be working with Stu at We Will Rock You in the morning Pete had taken my guitars, amps and stage clothes with him with a view to me meeting him after I finish at the theatre; to this end I arrived at Cockfosters tube station around 1 o'clock to find that it had changed a bit since I was last there and now has a slightly incongruous ornamental garden in front of the ticketing area. Weird! Having hooked up with Pete and Squirrel we negotiated the customary M1 traffic jam to arrive at the venue sometime around 2.30 where we find The Orchard Suite and meet Amy the event organiser, get set up and await the rest of the band. Pete's back as Jake and Tracy's away elsewhere but aside from that it's the same line-up as the previous night's show, and we're on with 2 comedy acts, The Raymond and Mr. Timpkins Revue and Richard Morton. There's 100 or so guests due, and the room's just about big enough for them on their own, so with a stage and DJ in it as well a crowded evening is in prospect. We've got The Oak Room to get changed in, but that's not available until 5.30 so we adjourn to the bar; I order a latte and the waiter brings it over with the words 'it's got a bit of a head on it, but I expect it'll be ok for you'... actually it's pretty much all froth and as such is not the nicest drink I've ever encountered, but I decide that the waiter had been attempting to be amusing as his comment is probably the type of thing that a weasel-faced little retard who's going to be stuck in the same dead end job for the rest of his Godforsaken days would find funny.
Talking of being funny I first saw Richard Morton back in the '80's when he was in The Panic Brothers; since then he's done all sorts of things including a lot of work with Jack Dee, much of which was recounted during his excellent 20 minute spot. On the other hand I hadn't encountered The Raymond and Mr. Timpkins Revue before- they do a lot of work in the comedy clubs and are a very difficult act to describe adequately here (follow the link above for some clips which will show you what I mean) as they're basically a visual act that uses props to act out lines from songs. Oh and one of them plays a Stylophone. They don't sound very funny do they? But they are, and they were!
9.15 and we're on to a typical corporate show reaction i.e. bemused indifference. But Amy, who like many people present has clearly been enjoying her company's hospitality to the full since the last time I saw her, is working hard at getting people up dancing, and by the time we reach the inevitable 'Mustang Sally' the evening's definitely a successful one. But it wasn't over yet...
At the end of our set I stayed onstage to pack my gear away- at these sort of gatherings there's almost always someone who thinks that if there's an unattended guitar on the stage then it's there for them, their mates, or them and their mates to play or attempt to play so I tend to put them back in their cases straight away before going off to get changed. This only took a few minutes but it was long enough for things back in The Oak Room to take an interesting turn... when I got there a young lady who had seen our set was making Mike a proposition- I won't go into details here (buy me a drink sometime and I'll tell you more than you'll ever need to know!) but it involved her giving him her room number- which he's clearly rather embarrassed by; actually 'rendered completely speechless' might be a better description of his condition. I must say it was one of the more, shall we say, graphic propositions that I've ever heard, and as such was made to him with most of the band getting changed in the room at the time. She left to allow him to consider things; Dave Land's comment of 'you've got to do it for the band dear boy, we need the Christmas party gig' did nothing to placate Mike horrified demeanour. True to her word she returned, ever more graphic than before, suggesting among other things that they use the table in front of them straight away- as the colour drained from Mike's face myself, Dave and Squirrel decided to leave at this point, 'though she followed shortly afterwards wondering what she had 'to do to get a shag in this place'... we went back into The Oak Room to find the table more-or-less as we left it, an oddly comforting sight under the circumstances although Mike looked traumatised.

After loading all our gear out I went back in to check if we'd left anything behind; as I left I saw the young lady in question going upstairs, presumably to her room. She wasn't alone.

Friday 20th - The Chicago Blues Brothers in Chesterfield

I spoke to Pete on the phone around 10 o'clock in the morning- had she really said that? Yes she had, she'd said all of that and more, much much more... thinking about it now I'm left with a odd mixture of feelings, on the one hand it was one of the funniest things that I've ever seen- and, with all due apologies to Mike, it was very funny- yet on the other one of the saddest, tragic even, I almost felt as though I was watching a car crash happen and I've always hated the way people slow down to look at accidents on the motorway. Of course none of this stopped us from considering the best way to wind Mike up about it!

In the meantime it's back up the M1 for a show at The Winding Wheel in Chesterfield, a city famous for 'the church with the twisted spire'. I'd never been there before but had heard a lot about said spire so hoped we'd be able to see it while we were there. Band-wise Matt and Tracy return, and with Pete and Richard away at another surprise 'Dave is 50' bash (this one organised by his wife Lynn) Adam and Ian are on trumpet and saxophone. To this end Ian arrived at our house around 12.45; from there we picked up Tracy and with the long-suffering Shirley at the helm headed back up the motorway to arrive in Chesterfield around 4 o'clock.
Well I'd wondered if we'd be able to see the afore-mentioned church but in the event we could hardly miss it as it's right on the main road into town. And what an odd sight it is- a bit like a giant ice cream cone that's started to melt then been frozen again; it must cause untold accidents as newcomers to the town take their eyes off the road to look at it. Amazing!
We pulled up outside the theatre just as Matt was walking up the alleyway next to it; he advised us of a car park around the back then said something like 'odd place this, everyone's got 6 fingers'. Hmm... after a bit of silliness with the one way system we parked up, loaded our gear into the venue in almost total darkness (they were focusing the lights when we arrived) and found the upstairs dressing rooms. In no time everyone's arrived and we're soundchecking- with a high ceiling and uncarpeted floors it's a echo-ey room but the mighty Mr. Bond gets it all under control as always (Matt sang the first verse of 'Fat Bottomed Girls'- who could he have been referring to?!?) Since it's an 8 o'clock show we decide to go to find some food- among the usual kebab shops and burger bars we find a Yates wine lodge in the shadow of the famous spire, and seeing it close up makes you realise just what a strange building it actually is. While we're in the pub Squirrel remarks on how busy the area will be when we come out; as he does so Tracy notices a couple who have clearly been busy in the bar for most if not all of the day. They leave a few minutes before we do, helping each other stagger through the double doors back out into the real world- I wonder how the spire looked to them?
Back at the venue it's a busy night for Shirley and Nadia (Ian the keyboard player's wife- there's a lot of Ian's in tonight's story!) as they're running the merchandise stall in the foyer as well as being on costume control backstage (Pete's wife Jayne normally handles the outfits but is of course away surprising Dave.) We play a good show which has them dancing in the aisles almost from the word go, and with Matt looking more and more comfortable with every show (and making at least one reference to 'Argos- the musical' during the band introductions) the mood is good throughout, as indeed it has been all week.

As we're leaving for home the streets are teeming with people, most of them young and somewhat under-dressed. I thought I saw the young lady from last night among them, but wasn't sure.

Saturday 21st - The Cane Toads in Frimley

And now for something completely different- depping with The Cane Toads at The Pine Ridge Golf Club in Frimley, Surrey. The show is at a joint 50th birthday party for Alan and Bob, in the very grand surroundings of The Baronial Hall. It's been the best part of a year since I last played with The Toads, so I joined them for a rehearsal on Tuesday evening during which I got the first chance to use the Fender Blues Deville combo that I bought last Autumn, along with the Gibson SG Classic I 'accidentally' bought last January (see the 'Lost and found' posting for the full, slightly bizarre story.) I'm pleased to say that they both sounded terrific, which is at least some rather spurious justification for buying them in the first place- was any needed of course... I also used what for me is a large number of effect pedals- a Dunlop Cry Baby wah-wah, a Boss CE-2 chorus and a Marshall BB-2 Bluesbreaker overdrive. I only use an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer with The CBB's as a boost for solos, and have never used lots of pedals, even though I'm a big fan of The Edge who seems to own every pedal ever made! Rehearsal went well- I managed to remember more of their set than I'd forgotten, if you see what I mean- and it was good to be playing some different songs for a change.
Thanks to the wonders of satellite navigation we found the golf club reasonably easily, 'though when we pulled up I was somewhat perplexed to see another band loading their gear in through the main entrance- fortunately they were playing in The Green Room at another function. As mentioned earlier The Baronial Room is as grand as it's name suggests, complete with a timber beamed ceiling and a suit of armour near the fireplace. We run through 'And She Was' by Talking Heads as a soundcheck, the room's a bit echo-ey 'though nowhere near as much as last night's theatre, and we're sounding good.
We sound good in the gig too- by the time we play the inevitable 'Brown Eyed Girl' there's plenty of dancing, so much so that my microphone stand gets knocked over (I just got my teeth out of the way in time!) and at one point I thought I saw broken dance on the dancefloor- fortunately it turned out to be a silver streamer from a party popper. Oh and I trod on the wrong pedal on more than one occasion, as well as leaving the overdrive pedal on for the second half of 'School's Out'- I'm not sure that any one minded (or even noticed!) but I think I've just remembered why I hardly ever use the damn things, and am unlikely to ever get offered a job in a U2 tribute band.

Sunday 22nd - T.V Smith and The Price in Uxbridge

This run of gigs ends locally at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge. It's been 15 months since The Price last played together- I gave them all a year off for bad behaviour!- so we were long overdue to get together again, and there's no better occasion to do so as it's East's birthday weekend as well as being a chance to play once again with the God-like genius that is T.V. Smith. It seems that being the person that books the acts at a venue has it's advantages...

Since we're playing acoustically we all arranged to meet up at East's flat at 4 p.m. for a rehearsal. Around 4.20 Huggy calls to say he's on his way; at 4.25 Paul's on the phone with the words 'I give up'- he's lost, but just around the corner, him and Huggy arrive together and Malcolm with his wife Jane are not far behind. After much hello-ing and catching up on things we start putting a set together- Paul's got a bewildering array of percussive devices, Huggy's using East's acoustic bass and Malcolm's in good voice. East has a couple of requests- one of our latter-day songs 'Matter Of Time', and the Mega City Four song '21 Again' which we played at our 2007 gigs as a tribute to the then-recently departed MC4 singer Wiz- he hands around the birthday cake as we run through them.
There's just time to go to The Pipemakers Arms for a Chinese meal before we head off to the venue. I set the P.A. up (maybe booking the acts has it's disadvantages too!) and say hello to T.V. who does a quick soundcheck as the audience starts arriving. We get set up, check everything works and start saying hello to people who we've not seen for far to long- The Uxbridge Lads, Eddie our old manager, Pete Kennedy who drummed for us when Mick left the band, Andy Knight... suddenly the place is packed and we're playing 'Standing In Your Way' which ends with tumultuous applause and it's going to be a great night. 'Crazy Times' sounds like a better song than I for one remember it being, and by 'She Belongs To Everyone' (written in the very last days of the band and not played live at the time) I'm thinking to myself that we really should do this more often...
Then, suddenly, everything stops. We're playing too loud, and we've blown the volume restriction device, when it comes back on we turn it down (a bit!) and restart the song. The sound goes off again during our last song 'So What About Love?' not least because the audience was singing along so loudly; we encore with The Buzzcocks classic 'Ever Fallen In Love' (or as East put it, 'Ever Fallen Down Drunk') which we hadn't rehearsed and probably last played nearly 20 years ago. And that's it- the show's over all too soon, a sure sign of a good gig- and this was definitely a good gig.
With all our gear shifted away from the 'stage' (i.e. the bit of floor where the acts play) I help T.V. get his guitar and microphone set up. As we're talking we say how we should have rehearsed something together, and he reminds me that I helped Cheap out once when their guitarist Mik was absent and made a good job of 'Third Term' that night, and we could always play 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'... as he says it I'm thinking 'am I really going to play 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' with T.V. Smith? Could that really happen to little old me?'
It takes a couple of numbers for me to get the balance between the guitar and vocals right- T.V. likes the guitar to be as loud as his voice, but still wants the words to come through- by 'The Newshound' it's all sounding good and going down well. I'm not sure that there's such a thing as a bad T.V. Smith gig but this was a classic, with songs from his latest album 'In The Arms Of My Enemy' next to old Adverts numbers and everything inbetween. Halfway through I bump into East just as T.V. starts 'My String Will Snap', we curtail our conversation as East heads back down the front... then I hear my name mentioned, I fight my way through to my guitar, say something like 'play another song Tim' as I try in vain to get the strap to stay on, he says 'I thought you were a professional' much to the audience's amusment. He plays 'Expensive Being Poor' and I've finally got the bloody thing to stay on the guitar but now I can't find where I've left my lead... he introduces 'Third Term' and I'm sure the chords didn't go like that last time I played it with him- then again that was 2 decades ago and a lot's happened since then. He says something like 'follow me for the intro' and starts 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'- and there I am, playing one of the greatest punk rock songs of them all with the man that wrote it. I've only mentioned it a couple of hundred times since (!) but I'll never be able to say just how much it means to me to have done it. An unforgettable evening.

So there you have it- as I say, a very busy 5 days. Reading back through what I've just written here makes me realise how very lucky I am to do what I do, which is why I don't take any of it for granted- and I never will.

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