Sunday, March 29, 2009

North and South revisited

After last Sunday's euphoria it's back to basics with another 3-in-a-row from The Chicago Blues Brothers:-

9.30 Thursday morning and Brian from Vans For Bands pulls up outside the house; in no time we're loaded up and on our way to Richard's. We're all off up North again, this time for gigs in Hexham and Newcastle- Pete's on his way to Heathrow (he's off to Brussels where he's depping with The F.B.I. Band) and calls to say that he'll see us at Richard's for a quick coffee, which he duly does. After picking up Tracy we journey across to Duxford to meet up with the rest of the troops and head up the A1. It's the A-team- Marc and Squirrel on drums and bass, Dave and Richard on trumpet and saxophone, Ian on keys, Tracy on vocals and Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood- and despite a few sniffles here and there (Tracy in particular suffering from a cold) the mood is good and spirits are high. Having been out for a drink with East the night before (well- we had to warm down from the weekend didn't we?!?) I was flagging a bit, and managed to get a bit of a snooze on the way 'though I woke up just in time to see The Angel of the North. I know lot of people don't like it, even considering it to be a waste of time and money but I always enjoy seeing it 'though I'm not really sure why- maybe I've always liked the idea of having a folly?!?
We arrived at The Queens Hall in Hexham around 5 o'clock. It's a great venue which I think we last played at around 3 years ago (i.e. before I started this blog) and with sound guru Ian Bond all set up and ready we're get sorted out and soundchecked in no time. It's an 8 o'clock show so there's time for some food in The Exchange Cafe at the front of the building- an excellent little place whose generous helping of chocolate cake proved to be too much for Bondy!
The show starts as always with 'Peter Gunn' -I've managed to get my guitar strap twisted and can't get comfortable (the twist is right on my shoulder- see how I suffer for my art!) but the crowd are up for it right from the start making for a fine evening's work. During the gospel section a young lady in a wheelchair watching from the end of the front row gets up to dance with the help of the person with her, leading Matt to rather loftily proclaim himself to be Jesus- or maybe that should be Jesus Blues? Oh and Tracy had couldn't stop laughing during 'Natural Woman'- I think it was something Richard was doing?
After the show it's off to The Holiday Inn Express next to The Metro Centre. We should get there before midnight so hopefully the bar should be still open- Bondy instructs me to get him 'a large red wine' if it looks like closing before he gets there. The first thing I see as we walk into reception is a handwritten sign proclaiming BAR CLOSES 2.30. which perks everyone up no end; in the event many of us are still there at that time...

Breakfast finishes at 9.30 in the morning, and most of us make it down before then 'though by the time I get there (9.25-and-a-bit) there's no cups or plates available. Undaunted I stumble around in the hope that some will magically appear; I'm on the point of deciding that I wasn't hungry anyway and that coffee doesn't really wake you up when a young lady emerges from the kitchen with some. There's a bleary face or two at the table (including mine!) but as there's a few hours spare until we're due at tonight's gig it's time to order a taxi...
The previous evening I'd mentioned to Bondy that I'd done a bit of research and discovered that GuitarGuitar (a well known shop in this area- can you guess what they sell?) was not far from the evening's venue; immediately a plan was planned resulting in myself, himself and Marc (drummer visits guitar emporium shock horror!) arriving at said shop around 11 o'clock. And what an excellent shop it is, with over 600 guitars on display (they're moving soon to a large premises which will allow them to display over double that amount!) and an equally impressive amount of amplifiers, effect pedals- in short, everything a sad man like myself would need to keep them busy until their hangover subsides. My bloodshot eyes fell upon a Steve Jones Les Paul at about the same time as Bondy spotted a second hand Marshall 100 watt amplifier- in no time your humble narrator is worrying the neighbours with a combination of the two. Next Bondy got his eye on a very old looking Les Paul which our new friend George tell us is a 'circa-1952' Goldtop model which had been 'standardised' sometime in the late '60's (there's lots of information about this sort of thing out on the internet, but basically- the early Les Paul's had a 'trapeze'-style tailpiece as opposed to the 'Tune-o-Matic' bridge that appeared on the later models, as well as P 90 pick-ups rather than humbucking types; early guitars were often modified to resemble the late '50's/early '60's Standard model guitars which became popular after production of them had ceased) and which sounded great even though the modifications had clearly not been carried out by an expert... I also tried a Fulltone OCD pedal which I'd heard great things about and wasn't disappointed by 'though I heroically resisted buying it (I actually went back there later before soundcheck and tried it again- it sounded great but as always with this sort of thing the 'do I really need it?'/'is it any better than the one that I've already got?' questions come into play, along with the 'can I really afford it' equation; I decided that I didn't, it wasn't and I couldn't...) and against all the odds we all left empty handed.
Meanwhile back in the real world we've all got work to do, namely at The Journal Tyne Theatre. What an amazing place this is- a grade 1 listed building that we first visited last February, and it really feels as though you step back in time as you look out from the stage and see what I would imagine all the music hall performers saw when they performed there. There's enough time while Bondy's setting up for me to walk around the corner for a look at St. James' Park and Chinatown as well as for a visit to Wagamama and the afore-mentioned return to GuitarGuitar- I must walk, and indeed eat, really quickly! Soundcheck goes well, after which myself, Mike, Marc and Matt adjourn to The Bodega where we win a fiver on the quiz machine. Excellent!
The show is if anything even better than the previous night's with Matt getting booed for mentioning Sunderland (you don't mention Sunderland when you're in Newcastle!) and Tracy almost made it all the way through 'Natural Woman' but burst out laughing right at the end. What's going on here?!?
After loading out it's time for the long haul home; we took a break at the Stibbington truckstop, a foreboding place at 3 o'clock in the morning where Tracy raised an eyebrow or 2 behind the counter by proclaiming herself to be 'from waistline control', and Brian's observation that 'there's something heartening about seeing a very large man eating a very large plate of food at this time of the day' struck me being as oddly profound. As I was first in I'm last out; as we come into Uxbridge we pass The Crown and Treaty and Brian is highly amused to see 'about 20 or so old skinheads' still in there at 4.35 a.m.- I tell him that odd as it may seem it happens quite often, which it does.

The third show of this threesome was another return gig, this time at The Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone. Strangely enough we played in Newcastle the night before we played here last year (see the 'North and South' posting from February '08) so maybe the 2 theatres are linked? Ian Gibbons is away gigging with the Kast Off Kinks so Roger Cotton returns on keyboards, other than that it's the same line up as the last two shows although everyone looks a little bit wearier than they normally do. As Roger last played with us before Christmas soundcheck soon becomes a mini-rehearsal after which he joins myself and the long-suffering Shirley in the search for a cup of coffee. We eventually end up in the nearby Nando's where we ask if we can just have a drink rather than a meal- we're told it's ok but when we order we're told the coffee machine's broken, and there's only fruit tea... feeling as though we're on Candid Camera Rog and myself settle for hot chocolate 'though Shirl does the decent thing and gets a glass of red wine.
Back at the venue it's a 7.30 show- as we're getting changed I write the keys for the songs on Roger's setlist. It's a great little theatre and the show's nearly sold out so an excellent gig is in prospect; Roger starts 'Think' when we're all expecting 'Looking For A Fox'- Squirrel saves the day by starting '...Fox' on bass rather than keyboards (Roger has never heard the song; oddly enough I haven't either, I just learned it from recordings of the show when I joined. Maybe I should search it out someday?!?) In the interval I go out to the bar to meet up with Rob, the rep for Strings and Things who's been to the shop a few times and come along to see what I do when I'm not behind the counter. He looks a bit shell-shocked, saying what a great show it is- perhaps it was better than he was expecting? The second set starts with Roger realising that he's left his setlist in his jacket pocket in the dressing room- I mouth the keys across the stage at him amid much merriment, and he plays brilliantly with his solo in 'Green Onions' sounding particularly fine. Matt did the splits, Tracy more-or-less kept a straight face throughout and it's a great gig to end the weekend with- but all the shows have been highly enjoyable, in 3 excellent venues that I hope we return to in the future.

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