Well clearly I have got a lot of time on my hands if the length of the last posting is anything to go by... I might not be playing much myself at the moment (although we did have an excellent Flying Squad rehearsal the other night with plenty of new material ready to be performed- better get some gigs then!) but it's given me chance to get out-and-about to some other people play.
The Friday before last- the 19th if you're counting- saw The Kast Off Kinks visit Tropic at Ruislip. Featuring 3 of The Kinks (click here for the story) and including Chicago Blues Brothers keyboard king Ian Gibbons they played a fine show lasting the best part of 2 hours to a very appreciative audience; you forget just how many great Kinks songs there are until you hear 20-odd of them in a row don't you? Guitarist/vocalist Dave Clarke did an excellent job filling in for the Davies brothers, and it was great to see the venue so full- in the days of disappearing gigs it shows that there are still people out there that want to hear live music, which is good news all round methinks.
The latest Acts Less Ordinary show at The Load of Hay went well- both Rob Power and Mr. Kite played good sets to a small but enthusiastic audience (it had been a very hot day) with Rob's cover version of Blur's 'End Of The Century' giving him chance to mention the (then) upcoming Glastonbury Festival just one more time (I think he managed to say the word 'Glastonbury' more times that The BBC will during the whole of this year's coverage!) and Mr. Kite playing their spiky pop songs in what they called 'stripped down' mode (i.e. not as loud as usual.) They sounded pretty good to my ears 'though I'm sure bands used to play longer sets back in my day...
It's my birthday next month which can only mean one thing- yes, it's The Flying Squad at The Load of Hay. Well- I'm booking the gigs so the least I can do is get one for myself! I can't see us in 'stripped down' mode though...
Last Wednesday (24th) it was time for a very different event- an evening to celebrate the publication of 'Malayan Swing', the latest book from drummer-turned-author Pete Haynes. Organised by the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth (now there's a name that's been absent from these hallowed pages for a while) and taking place at The Edgar Wallace public house just off The Strand (the same place as the launch party for his first book 'God's Lonely Men') it was as we Sherlock Holmes fans like to say, a singular evening that among other things featured Pete reading extracts from the book. I'd travelled up on the tube with him and he was very nervous about reading; we decided it would be good for him to read part of the plot synopsis from the back cover to set the scene before reading selected chapters. The book looks at the world through the eyes of Aiden, a care in the community patient let down by the system that should be looking after him, and as Pete himself says it's not the happiest of tales- it's undergone a few changes since I read the first draft of it over 10 years ago but in my opinion it's a brilliant bit of observational writing. It's been published by London Books which is the brainchild of 'Football Factory' author John King (didn't I once write an album with him?!?) and fellow writer Martin Knight, both of whom attended the event, along with Garry Bushell who I remember from his writing for Sounds music magazine in the '70's and '80's 'though he's done rather a lot since then... as with anything put together by Mr. Wyeth there was the odd rather surreal moment, not least when Mark compared Pete's writing to the gospel according to St. Matthew (yes you read that bit right- he also played a tape of cricket commentaries by John Arlott in the car on the way home...) but overall the evening was pronounced a success by all concerned- let's hope Pete's book is too.
And then Michael Jackson died.
It's weird when a really famous person- and let's face it, Michael Jackson definitely qualifies as 'really famous'- dies isn't it? You think you know them as they're in your life all the time, on the the internet, radio, T.V. etc but of course you don't know them at all. I first remember him in The Jackson Five all those years ago, singing 'Rockin' Robin' on Top Of The Pops- he was a little lad like me then, I've changed a lot since then although I don't think I've changed quite as much as he did... I can't say I was a big fan of his music (although it was obviously very good, just not really a style of music that I personally enjoy listening to) but rather like when Richard Wright died last year I can appreciate that his death will effect a lot of people in the sense that they've literally grown up with him. For anyone under the age of 40 he's been a successful high profile performer for all of their lifetime, which is an extraordinary thing to consider, especially in these famous today / obscure tomorrow times. There's been a lot of talk in the media about how he was 'hounded' after various allegations were made about his private life, and about how this might or might not have contributed to his fragile condition and therefore to his demise- but surely it's the very same media that hounded him and that are now self-righteously reporting on how badly he was treated?
And Farrah Fawcett died- I remember her from when I was a lad too! No, I didn't have that poster on my wall, but I knew a lot of people who did... but I also heard from Andy Peart that Steven Wells has died- Andy and myself interviewed him for 'So What' fanzine in the mid-'80's (he frightened the life out of us!) and I spoke to him at a couple of gigs after that; no I didn't know him but yes I did meet him and also saw him live a few times in his ranting poetry days as Seething Wells when his performances were controversial but never less than thought provoking. (Click here to read Attila the Stockbroker's excellent tribute to him.)
Hmm... they say it comes in three's don't they? But who are 'they'?
Last weekend I saw 3 very different blues performers, starting with the wonderfully named Chicken Legs Weaver at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge on Saturday. I first saw CLW supporting Wilko Johnson at The 100 Club a couple of years ago when as a trio they played an excellent set of garage-y rhythm and blues; here though we just had mainman Andy Weaver armed only with a guitar and a mic'd-up wooden box which he stomped on with his left foot- John Lee Hooker would have been proud! I got there in time to give him a hand soundchecking (he comes in the shop now that he's moved down from Sheffield) and it was interesting (not to say amusing) to see the looks on the faces of the Saturday night regulars more used to hearing 'Brown Eyed Girl' than 'Back Door Man' as Andy powered his way through 2 suitably raucous sets of original songs and old blues and folk material; since we play 'John The Revelator' in the Chicago Blues Brothers theatre show it was particularly good for me to hear it being performed in a style closer to the original recordings. I can't help thinking that it would have been better suited to a Sunday evening (and I'm not just saying that because I book 'em, honest!) but it was all good stuff nonetheless- and I changed his top E string for him when it broke. I really must have a night off sometime!
Meanwhile on Sunday myself and the long-suffering Shirley saw a very different blues gig, featuring B.B. King and John Mayall at The Wembley Arena. I'd not seen John Mayall before- no, I'm not sure why either- and whilst I can't exactly say that I was disappointed I found that the songs were all a bit overlong for me with everyone getting a solo in every number. They were all brilliant players (and I mean brilliant- check out Mayall's website for names, history etc) but it just got a bit much after a while. Maybe I was expecting a bit too much... then again it went down very well so what do I know? On the other hand I thought B.B. King was absolutely tremendous- after 2 instrumental numbers from the band (somewhere between a soundcheck and a warm-up) B.B. came on to a rapturous reception (his entourage helped him to a chair in front of his amplifier- well he is 83!) and launched straight into a stinging guitar solo that began with one of those notes that we all try to play but somehow only the mighty Mr. King can achieve. For the next 2 hours we were in B.B.'s world- with the band following his every move he went from song to song, solo to solo and story to story and kept the audience enthralled throughout. At the end of the show he was helped to his feet whilst throwing plectrums into the crowd; he then put on his hat and coat and left the stage- now that's how you finish a gig! A masterful performance from a true legend of the blues.
And talking of legends it was back to Wembley again last night for a gig that I'd been looking forward to for quite a while- oh yes, it's time for Spinal Tap. It's interesting to note that if you're in a band you almost have to like Spinal Tap- if you don't then you get accused of every artistic crime under the sun, from taking yourself too seriously as a musician to pretension and beyond. As such they've become something of a barometer for rock musicians to measure their antics against- I've lost track of how many times I've heard somebody say 'it's all getting a bit Spinal Tap' when things are getting a bit bizarre. It's easy to forget just how funny the original film is, and the impact that it had when it first came out- suddenly every second rate heavy metal band stopped sounding 'not bad' or 'ok' and just sounded silly. For that if nothing else we should all be grateful.
Support came from The Folksmen who looked rather familiar... I've not seen 'A Mighty Wind' so am not sure of their involvement in the film but their set was a suitably peculiar affair which ended with an excellently odd version of 'Start Me Up' to the general bemusement of all concerned. Meanwhile the bar ran out of beer (how 'Spinal Tap' is that?) and excitement grew by the second... there's 'backstage' footage on the screens of the band allegedly preparing to come on stage, followed by the promo film for 'The Majesty Of Rock'- and then suddenly there they are, the band that made it ok to like and indeed to laugh at heavy metal. All the classics were performed with increasing absurdity, to such an extent that when Keith Emerson joined them for 'Short and Sweet' ('it's called that because it is neither...') and Justin Hawkins and Andy Scott both played bass on 'Big Bottom' it actually didn't look anywhere near as ridiculous as it should have... but the oddest moment for me was spotting my mate Paul Dinnage playing drums alongside Gregg Bissonette on the afore-mentioned 'Big Bottom'. I sent him a text message- 'Hello from block B row 13 seat 50!' I've just talked to him on the phone, he's an old mate of Gregg's and had provided the drumkit for this and the band's Glastonbury show; Ex-Style Council sticksman Steve White was supposed to be playing but had elected to watch the show instead so as the song started Gregg told Paul to pick up a set of sticks and join in! Excellent! (Click here for video evidence- that's Paul standing to Gregg's left.)
So- that's a week-and-a-half of gig watching for your humble narrator, and very good it was too. Now it's time to get back to playing...