Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bank holiday broken guitar blues

Well- did you have a good Bank Holiday weekend? I certainly did...

Friday and it's time for The Chicago Blues Brothers to visit another beer and jazz festival, this time in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace- grand surroundings for what turned out to be an excellent event. Steve's depping on drums (Marc's playing at Blood Brothers in the West End) and Pete's in for Mike who's on holiday but other than that the A-Team's on duty, and everyone's in good spirits despite the slightly unpredictable (maybe that should be 'typical bank holiday') weather- sunny one minute, blustery the next 'though we managed to avoid any really heavy rain, at least while we were there. There were no backstage toilets (is that legal?!?) which meant a trek off site every time such facilities were needed, but we had some food (Pure Pies- excellent!) and drink (not valid for lager- bah!) vouchers which lightened the atmosphere no end. East accompanied the long suffering Shirley and myself to the show, a recipe for chaos if ever there was one (East at a beer festival!) although in the event he confined himself to complaining about the price of the pies- then again he told me the next day that he had gone out to the pub after we'd dropped him home... We generally tend to play one long set at these type of gatherings but this time we went for two 'theatre format' sets which judging from the audience reaction seemed to do the trick. Steve coped manfully despite having no music to follow, Richard inadvertently pulled the mains cable out from the back of Squirrel's bass amplifier during 'Knock On Wood' (which caused a fair degree of consternation from them both as they tried to work out what had happened) and Matt played some excellent harmonica during 'She Caught The Katy' and 'Flip Flop and Fly'. I used my white '60's classic Telecaster which tends to be my 'usual' guitar for CBB gigs, and it sounded great through my Fender Blues Deville combo, although there were a couple of moments where I thought it didn't sound quite right- a bit bassy, like I had both pick-ups on instead of just the bridge pick-up... I decided that it was just my ears. Overall a good evening's work, and we'll hopefully be playing at more events like this next summer.

Saturday and it's off to Cobham Hall (part of Cobham Girls School- cue 'with my reputation' gags) for a show with The F.B.I. Band at Dave and Lori-Ann's wedding reception. It's my third show in a month with Tony, Ian and co. (Utter Madness in Belfast, Blues Brothers UK in Horndean) and tonight we've got Jon on bass, Richard on keyboards, Jim on trumpet and James in at the eleventh hour on drums. We're in a splendidly ornate but inevitably rather echo-ey hall- we've not got long to set up and there's a rather worrying banner above our heads with the words DJ BI-GUY TWIDDLING KNOBS AT AN ACADEMY NEAR YOU emblazoned upon it (I'll leave you to wonder what the accompanying photograph looked like- the groom has changed a bit since then!) Halfway through our first set and my solo in 'Sweet Home Chicago' definitely doesn't sound as it should- bass-y one minute, treble-y the next. What's going on? My guitar seems to be changing pick-ups of it's own accord?!? Good job I bought my Relic Stratocaster with me as a spare...
Halftime and as we're queuing up at the Party Doctors bar Richard compliments me on my lead guitar playing (top man!) so I tell him about the somewhat satanic spontaneous pick-up changing and he says that it sounded great. Maybe I should patent it? James's hi-hat pedal collapsed at the start of 'Do You Love Me?' so Tony filled in time by commenting that it was the first gig that we'd done for ages where there were more Ladies toilets than Gents- 'well, it is a girls school...' James coped well with being thrown in at the deep end considering how unfamiliar he was with much of the material (when he saw the words 'Sweet home' on the setlist he thought that we were going to play 'Sweet Home Alabama'- good job we checked that one don't you think?) and judging by the amount of dancefloor action the wedding guests certainly enjoyed themselves which is always good news.

Sunday and I'm up early to try to fathom out what's wrong with my guitar. It was modified by Stuart the guitar repairman not long after I bought it to include a 4-way switch rather than the usual 3-way that they're usually fitted with (there's loads of stuff out on the Internet about this sort of thing but if you're feeling brave you can click here for a page from a Telecaster discussion forum that gives a pretty good idea of what's involved...) and opening it up there was nothing obviously wrong; after spraying the switch and pots with switch cleaner I'd succeeded in dislodging the neck pick-up live wire (it must have been loose!) which I soldered back on but the problem's still there which can only mean one thing- time to dig out my old Telecaster Custom for the next couple of gigs and call Stuart to discuss tactics.
Tonight's is a very different gig to the previous night- at The Suffolk Showground in Ipswich, at a N.A.S.C. car rally. The long suffering Shirley got myself, Richard (just flown in from a gig in Glasgow with Gloria Gaynor) and Tracy to the showground at 3.45 pm; as we pulled up at the back of the cowshed where the gig was taking place (yes, you read that bit correctly) the band onstage were playing 'Squeeze Box' to a few dozen people in a venue that could easily hold 1,000. The sound is even more echo-ey than last night's show, but we have sound guru Ian Bond on hand to help us conquer the dodgy acoustics. As we couldn't do anything on the stage until they'd finished (obviously!) we wondered of for a look around and to find the rest of the band. Marc's back on drums and Mike's joining Pete in the hat'n'glasses, everyone's in good humour amid the funfair, fast food stalls and the inevitable parade of amazing vehicles (I remember the Ford Anglia being bigger than that when I was a lad!) as well as former CBB (and now T. Rextasy) drummer John Skelton who was there with his girlfriend Trina- it's always good to catch up with him on his Bolan-based adventures.
Back at the venue soundcheck sees Squirrel and myself attempting 'Telegram Sam' with Ian on drums (don't think we'll be bothering John and co. too much!) as well as a fair amount of time spent sorting things out in what is a very difficult building to get a good sound in- as always Bondy gets us all sounding good although both Squirrel and myself are amazed (and indeed amused) at how loud we were playing on stage. We normally get told to turn down!
Time for some takeaway Thai food (3- yes, 3!- Blues Brothers with loudhailers ride by on a golf buggy publicising our show) before retiring to our tent to hurry-up-and-wait for showtime. We're on at 9.30-I go back onto the stage to turn my amp back on and check my gear's ok- the place is packed with over 1,000 people which bodes well for a good show. Mike's back from holiday and sporting an impressive suntan, and Bondy's telling me tales of Porcupine Tree tour rehearsals as well as inviting me to their upcoming Hammersmith show. It takes a few songs for things to get going but get going they do, with giant balloons going from audience to band and back again, and people calling out for their favourite numbers. Suddenly Pete gets called across to the side of the stage where he's told that we've only got 5 minutes left even though we've still got 6 or 7 songs left to do- someone calls out for 'Rawhide' so we play it before 'Shake Your Tail Feather' brings an abrupt end to our set. A quick encore of 'Gimme Some Loving' and that's it. Weird.
(It turns out that we were only down to play for an hour but we thought we were to be on for 75 minutes; we couldn't play for longer as it was time for the karaoke. Oh well.)
With everything packed away Shirley rounds Richard, Tracy and myself up and we leave for home. The rest of the band in a hired van being driven by Pete which it stalls as he goes to pull away.

Monday morning and I'm on the phone to Stuart the guitar repair man, who finds my tales of automatic pick-up selection both amusing and intriguing. 'Sounds like it needs a new switch' is his verdict, 'Sounds like I'm using the Custom again tonight' is my reply. To this end I restring it and get things ready for our first theatre show for a while, at The Swan in Worcester. It promises to be an interesting show as we're using back projections for the first time, as well as filming the gig with a view to putting together a promotional film of the show. Pete's due round in the van at 12.30; just after 12 he rings to say that there are problems with the van's EDC unit (no, I don't know either!) which mean that he can't take his foot off the clutch when the vehicle is stationary for fear of it not starting again. As he sounds rather wound up I decide against the 'what are we going to do when we get to the venue?' question (never mind the 'what are we going to do after the show?' question) and instead hatch a plan for Shirley to drive me out onto the main road where I can load my gear into the van without it needing to negotiate any smaller roads. The plan works well, and our journey is uneventful (although we did see this person- apparently they're quite well known? They must be famous as they've got their names down the side of their van, and Pete had heard of them...) until Richard asks if we can stop at a service station on the M40; Pete stays in the driver's seat looking worried, Richard returns with a burger. There's a nasty looking accident on the A449 into town 'though it doesn't look like anybody's been too badly injured, and the sat. nav. finds the theatre through the Worcester backstreets much to everyone's amazement.
Bondy's still getting set up when we arrive so I decide to walk back into town with Richard and Mike for a look around. We find 7th Wave Music where we're told that we're 'the second, third and fourth customers of the day' (Richard buys a cowbell, I buy a guitar strap- we must have felt sorry for the guy behind the counter!) before making our way back for soundcheck. When I go onto the stage to get set up I see an enormous moon projected onto the wall at the back of the stage, it looks amazing 'though I can't quite work out how it fits in with our show? (Rather well as it happens...) The film crew are busying themselves with all manner of expensive looking equipment (they're film students, one of whom lives next door to Pete!) and with Bondy at the helm we're all sounding good.
It's an early show as we're part of The Worcester Festival and we've got to finish in time for the fireworks- I'd wondered if people would be out as early as 7.15 but as we start 'Peter Gunn' the venue's all but sold out and it's a fine show to end the weekend with. Matt and Mike were reunited as Jake and Elwood with Pete making a couple of cameo appearances, (if you've seen the show then you'll know the ones!) and afterwards all of us admitted that it was hard not to spend the entire show watching the back wall rather than facing the audience, such was the excellence of the projections behind us. Mind you it took my mind off the fact that we were being filmed... if this show is anything to go by then there are exciting times ahead. Excellent!

With the sky alive with light and sound we loaded our gear out and collectively wondered if the van was going to start. It did. Good. That's a relief. In fact it ran so well that when we pulled into a service station on the M42 for some fuel I for one had all but forgotten that there had ever been a problem with it. 'I wonder if they've got any chilled drinks' said Squirrel as he rather wearily regarded the enormous CHILLED DRINKS sign.

I went into the Gents toilet- one of the taps was jammed on full, and the warm air hand drier didn't work.

Well if that's not symbolic then I for one don't know what is...

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