Monday, May 24, 2010

Ghosts of princes in towers

I've just read the sad news that Steve New has lost his battle with terminal cancer. He was 49 years old. He was a fine musician and by all accounts a great character - witness Glen Matlock's comment that he died 'surrounded by family and friends, as always with Steve there were more birds than blokes there'. I loved the Rich Kids album when it came out, and the show they played back in January stands as a fitting tribute to the man. It's another sad loss to the musical fraternity.

Meanwhile, back on Earth after Earthbound...

Eddie and the Hot Rods have been one of my favourite bands since I first heard (and indeed bought) their 'Live At The Marquee' EP (for anybody young enough not to know that stands for 'extended play') way back in the summer of 1976. I first saw them a year or so later at Brunel University, and have seen them in various line-ups over the years. These days singer Barrie Masters is the only original member but they're still sounding good, and I for one was very pleased when The Flying Squad was booked to support them at The Beaverwood Rooms in Chislehurst (one of Pete Feenstra's many venues) last Thursday. Leaving aside the fact that as a musician I think it's great to play on the same bill as someone that you admire or have been inspired by I also thought they'd a band that we'd be compatible with in that their audience (mostly blokes my age!) would enjoy our Feelgoods - powered r & b - happily this turned out to be the case as our 30-odd minute set went down very well with all concerned as was evidenced by CD and t-shirt sales afterwards. The Hot Rods all turned out to be very nice chaps (I've known guitarist Richard for many years due to his involvement at The Square in Harlow) and played a fine set which included plenty of newer material alongside classics like 'I Might Be Lying', 'The Power And The Glory' and the inevitable 'Do Anything You Wanna Do'. There was even talk of us playing with them again - excellent!

Sunday it was time for the mighty Kris Dollimore to make a very welcome return visit to The Load of Hay. It had been the hottest day for ages which probably contributed to the low turn out - a dozen or so brave souls saw the great man deliver another extraordinary performance, with highlights including tremendous versions of 'Inner City Blues' (really!) and 'The Message' (no, really!) and some finger-busting instrumentals that moved East to comment 'it's like having Jimmy Page playing in your front room'. And it was. Support came from the excellent David Bristow who played half an hour or so of excellent blues despite his performance being hampered by a very noisy quiz machine - Grant the landlord turned the sound off in the end, and hopefully it hasn't put David off from returning in his own right in the Autumn. A fine evening although I sometimes wonder what you actually have to do to attract an audience these days? It'll be a long time before there's a better night of music than this and yet hardly anybody turns up to see it - maybe they were all at home moaning that they had nothing to do?

Talking of Load of Hay gigs Pete has written up his account of our recent Blue Five reunion show on his blog and East has put this clip of The Blue Five up on ETV; and before we leave Earthbound here is 'Man Down' from the brewery gig - I don't play the riff correctly once throughout!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not a bad day (or three)

Dear Jim

Please could you fix it for me to play 3 gigs in Yorkshire with T.V. Smith.

If possible could one of them be in a brewery.

Thank you very much

Leigh Heggarty age 48 3/4

In the small hours of this morning myself and the long-suffering Shirley returned from 3 days in Yorkshire - as far as I know Jim didn't fix it for me even if he did turn up at the first venue; he didn't come to the gig, he just sat in the restaurant looking miserable. Ah well, he missed a great night, in fact 3 great nights of EARTHBOUND, the annual gathering of TUTS (T.V. Smith's United Tour Supporters - I think that's the correct wording, I'm sure one of them will correct me if I'm wrong!)

Friday is not always a good day to be travelling on motorways - it can be really busy! - but our journey was pretty straightforward until an hour or so from Otley when our sat. nav. stopped working; we pulled into a service station and asked a nearby driver if we could try it in his car to see if we could work out what had gone wrong, and decided that the power cable was faulty as it wouldn't work in his car either. With no appropriate lead on sale in the service station shops we resolved to get one on Saturday and made the rest of the journey using the sat. nav on my iPhone and a rather curious papery thing called a 'map'... Dowgill House turned out to be an excellent bed and breakfast establishment on the same road as the venue (hurrah!) so after checking in we walked down to Korks at the allotted meeting time of 6.30 to find several TUTS (many of whom had come over from Germany for the event) already getting settled in. T.V. arrived with Tim (a.k.a. T.J. who organised much of the weekend as well as booking us some splendid accommodation - thanks mate!) and we set up and soundchecked without too many problems. We'd rehearsed up a fair bit of obscure material for the gigs (and T.V. had also prepared some new solo stuff - after all it is a fan gathering and they deserve to hear some different songs don't you think?) but only played the more obvious stuff at the soundcheck to keep the set a surprise to any TUTS with good hearing in the other bar!
The venue is in the back room of a clearly well-thought-of restaurant, and seems to be a thriving folk club on Thursday nights as well as booking the likes of Mike Peters and Ian McNabb on Fridays. There's a fair sized crowd in by the time T.V. goes on for his first (solo) set which goes down well and ends with T.J. joining him on vocals for 'Make Your Escape'. After a short beer break we kick off with 'No Time To Be 21' - I don't mind admitting that I felt quite nervous before we started as there were people in the audience that knew the songs better than I did (!) but after a few songs I felt a bit better about things. Our set was mostly songs we'd played together before and ended with the 'Adverts trilogy' of 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes', 'Bored Teenagers' and 'One Chord Wonders'; T.V. encores with 'March Of The Giants' (as requested by an audience member) then we play 'Good Times Are Back' to finish a good first-gig-of-three.

A sunny Saturday began with a big breakfast (lots of nice comments about last night's gig from the TUTS staying in the guest house - that's a relief!) before we packed the car and spent an hour or so wandering around Otley - I was pleased to discover that there's a fish and chip shop called Chip-In-Dales (you don't believe me? Click here! Excellent!) 'though Shirley found the market rather more interesting. From there it was a 40-odd minute drive (Shirl fixed the sat. nav. lead - get a grown-up to help you next time Leigh!) to the Elm Crest Hotel in Huddersfield to check in and to watch some of The Cup Final. Having been forewarned that there would be little if any food at the venue (lots to drink 'though!) we went to the local Co-Op to pick up some supplies (it's all glamour this rock'n'roll lark I can tell you!) before making our way across to The Elland Brewery, scene of the evening's festivities. Part-owned by T.J.'s mate Smit it's definitely is one of the more unusual venues that your humble narrator has ever found himself in; we were playing in the main brewing area alongside the vats where the beer is brewed and soundcheck wasn't quite as straightforward this time, lots of feedback 'though we got it sounding ok in the end. It's an 'invite-only' show and with all the TUTS present and correct the live music begins with Sam and Dean playing some eclectic cover versions ('Living Next Door To Alice' goes down particularly well!) before T.J. introduces T.V. who plays a set of both new and obscure songs kicking off with 'Earthbound' (appropriately enough) and including quite a few from his new 'Sparkle In The Mud' collection of '70's and '80's demo recordings. I'd not heard the new songs before - 'Complaints Department' stood out as being very different for him, almost reminicent of John Otway! Then it's time for me to join him - continuing the theme of the evening we play rarely heard songs from his back catalogue (including this one) before surprising everybody with a brand new song 'Man Down', the cognoscenti show their approval by doing the conga to 'Runaway Train Driver' (I'm not making this up - click here to see what happened in 2004!) and several join us on the mics for 'Good Times Are Back' which finishes our set to riotous applause. T.V. returns to play another new song 'Dawning Of False Hopes' solo although he surprises everyone (including me!) be calling me up to finish it with him, I don't know the song but play a few notes here and there as I attempt to work out the chord sequence. He tries to finish the set there but the TUTS are having none of that so he returns to play a wonderful version of 'Generation Y'. A great gig. I must have shook hands with virtually everyone in the place and when Shirley and myself eventually leave it's to a chant of 'Leigh-Leigh-Leigh' - now there's something that's never happened before! If I can get a recording of it I might use it as a ringtone!

Sunday started with another big breakfast amid more praise from the TUTS (I could get used to this!) many of whom seemed more than a little worse for wear... we gave T.V. a lift into Leeds where Shirley enthusiastically attacked the shopping centre before making our way to The New Roscoe. We're playing everything we know as a duo - 23 songs! - and T.V. came up with the idea of playing them chronologically which made for a very interesting set 'though we saved the afore-mentioned 'Adverts trilogy' until the end. With everything sounding good we retired to the bar - Shirley's on merchandise duty for the third time (she's getting really good at it!) and with the last of the special 'Earthbound' t-shirts (guess who made them?!?) alongside T.V.'s CD's and books on the table we're ready for the gig. A healthy crowd (including CBB-er Matt with his wife Rowena) saw what for me was the best show of the three. It's hard to pick a highlight but I remember thinking 'this just might be the best song that I've ever played' during 'Borderline' then looked out to see the audiences faces, all captivated by what just might be the best song I've ever played... I made a mistake during 'Runaway Train Driver' - T.V. careered across the stage grinning, shouted 'I know what you just did- and I don't care!' in my ear before just making it back to the microphone in time for the next line, an incident which somehow sums up the spirit of the performance. Afterwards I say thank you's and goodbye's to friends old and new - Klaus, Fleagle and Mrs. Fleagle, Wolfgang, Gabumon (archivist extraordinaire!) and many many more, all agreeing to keep in touch, to meet at gigs, all wishing that the weekend could somehow last forever. It's hard to put into words how I or indeed Shirley felt about our time with the TUTS - suffice to say it's one of the best weekend's work I've ever been part of, although I'm not sure 'work' is the right word to describe something that was so much fun. As we arrived home at nearly 5 a.m. we were both very tired but had just been part of something that we wouldn't have missed for the world. Same time next year? I hope so.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

'Thank you and goodbye'

So - did YOU vote for The Liberal Democrats in the general election because you wanted to keep The Conservative Party out of government? Did you really want to vote for The Labour Party but thought that nice Mr. Clegg seemed like the sort of person that you could trust, and that even though he was another ex - public schoolboy posh bloke like that not-quite-so nice Mr. Cameron he'd definitely back that grumpy old Mr. Brown in a coalition government?

Oh dear!

Don't worry, people like me won't blame people like you for the carnage that awaits society - you can blame yourselves for that - but should a situation like this occur again it might be a good idea to recall the words of the late great Aneurin Bevan -

'We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over.'

Good luck everybody - we're going to need it...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Deal or no deal?

Well there we are then - Britain has it's first hung parliament since the dark days of the 1970's. Personally I will never - never! - understand how a working class person can vote for The Conservative Party, since it seems to me that everything about them is designed to ensure that there's a system in place to keep us proles in the gutter where they think we belong - but it seems that millions got fooled again. And now of course the wheeling and dealing begins, as the the 3 main political parties disappear into a cloud of compromise in an increasingly desperate attempt to get as much power as possible at whatever cost to the few principles that they've still got left, after a general election that saw more deception and doublespeak than ever before.

It's not good really is it?

Friday night's gig wasn't too good either; The Bell in Ruislip has I'm told worked hard to lose it's reputation as being, shall we say, 'less than friendly' but I fear it's failed - there was trouble there recently and the atmosphere wasn't too genial the other night either as Youngblood (yeah I know we were called The 4 Faces last time but Mick the drummer was back for this one as he got us the gig so I'll use our old name here - keep up at the back there!) stumbled through 2 sets in front of ex-CBB'er Mario, a few laddish lads and the landlord's dog. As I stepped off the stage '5.15' by The 'Orrible 'Oo' came on the juke box - 'why should I care?' indeed, it could have been worse (just!) so maybe I should stop moaning and, as somebody once put it, shut up and play the guitar? There we are, I've shut up.

Click here for footage of another guitarist who should cheer up!

Surreal as it may sound there was at least one point in the last couple of weeks when it looked as though your humble narrator could have found himself doing a one-off gig in South Korea on Saturday night; as with so many of these thing it didn't come to pass which is a bit of a shame on several levels, not least as it deprives me of the chance to call this blog entry 'Korea Opportunities' or 'Seoul Man'... that said it would had to have gone quite a long way to have beaten The Chicago Blues Brothers show at The Grosvenor House Hotel in the surrealness stakes, as we were on with Stavros Flatley and the band of The Royal Scots Guards. Actually thinking about it now about the only thing that could have made it more surreal was if they'd appeared on stage together - sadly this didn't happen but I guess there's always next time?
Now I don't know about you but I don't follow all those T.V. reality/talent shows (you know the ones...) and therefore hadn't encountered Stavros Flatley before, but the descriptions that I was given beforehand were extraordinary, mostly along the lines of 'a Greek bloke and his son jump about and do mad Irish dancing'. Sounds just what I'm looking for... as I arrived around 6 p.m. after a busy day in the shop everything seemed to be more-or-less ready for action, with my old Laney combo already set-up (I'd came in on the Tube with just my guitar and stage clothes, Pete keeps my spare amp for situations such as these) and everyone else soundchecked and ready to go. It's the Mears Group May Ball and we're playing in (you've guessed it!) The Ballroom; we've got The Court Suite to use as a dressing room and it's a 'nearly-the-A-team' gig with Chris in for Ian on keyboards as he's away gigging with Ray Davies, with Phil's on the P.A. with Big Tel and Dave D.J.-ing. Stavros and son arrive just as the guards are readying themselves for action, the atmosphere is genial as Stavros signs autographs for all and sundry; I've never asked anyone for an autograph in my life and wasn't going to here until it occurred to me that it might be fun to get one for the shop - Stavros obliged and it's on our Facebook page even as we speak! After the guards band had been on (they did more-or-less what you think they'd do i.e. march about playing military music, an oddly incongruous site on a night such as this) it was time for 3 minutes of, well, a Greek bloke and his son jumping about and doing mad Irish dancing - a near riot ensued where I was watching with people clamouring for a better view and much merriment all round. Stavros took the mic for a few minutes chat, he seemed to be a very nice chap when I spoke to him and came over as such here, appearing almost bemused by the level of success that he and his son has attained. 'We only went on the show for a laugh' said he - whatever the merits or otherwise of what they do they certainly put a smile on a few people's faces on this particular night, which is pretty hard to criticise if you think about it... and we didn't do too badly either, with plenty of dancefloor action during our epic 2 hour set, with an hour or so from Big Tel and Dave bringing a highly successful evening to a close. It's strange - corporate events such as this are not always much fun from a band point of view as you're quite often a secondary consideration but this one was something of an exception, and all the better for it. But it did get a bit odd here and there - maybe that's why I liked it?

I liked Sunday's gig too, although this one also gets stamped 'odd' but for different reasons. For a start it was in Battersea; nothing too odd with that as such but the venue is a Gypsy jazz themed bar called (wait for it!) Le QuecumBar. (Yeah!) It's run by Silvia who describes it as 'the most expensive hobby that I've ever had'; with it's walls adorned with photos of everybody from Django Reinhardt to, er, Hank Marvin (a serious fan of the genre who apparently even turns up at their jam nights and is hoping to put out a gypsy jazz album one day) it's an unlikely venue for The CBB's even if we are using a previously untried format of live guitar and saxophone over backing tracks. Matt 'n'Mike are Jake 'n' Elwood, local lad Ian is on sax (you can see his house from the venue!) and during our soundcheck Ian and myself deciding to play seated on the stage with the BB's on the floor in front of us - I told you it was an odd gig. Mind you it's not as odd as (a) being asked if I know how to fit a dimmer switch on the stage lights and (b) actually fitting it. I didn't know I knew how!
The gig goes well especially considering that Ian and myself are unfamiliar with most of the backing tracks even to the extent of not knowing what key some of the songs are in; there's the odd mad moment (I hadn't heard 'Love Man' for a while!) but we get through it all reasonably unscathed with the BB's in fine form. We might even appear in the same unlikely format again one day. Odder and odder.

Oo-er - Gordon Brown has just resigned. Anarchy anyone?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hard to beat

So - Iggy and The Stooges play their seminal album 'Raw Power' plus assorted tracks from their back catalogue at The Hammersmith Apollo. Do I think :-

(a) that it's one of the greatest things that I'm ever going to see and drone on and on about things like 'the power of rock 'n' roll' before eventually descending into the usual over-emotional pretentious nonsense that I normally get sucked into at times like these?


(b) that they're a bunch of talentless chancers that shouldn't ever have made it out of the rehearsal room let alone to the stage of such a prestigious London venue, and then damn them all to hell for contributing to the destruction of 'decent' music like early '70's prog rock?

Well obviously the answer is (a) or something like it - but why?

When I first heard of Iggy Pop you couldn't actually hear Iggy Pop; pretty much every punk band name checked him and The Stooges as a major influence along with other near-mythical names like The New York Dolls and The MC5 and some even played their songs, but their records had only sold in very small numbers and were long since deleted (the same criteria applied to The Dolls and MC5) so there was no way of actually hearing anything by them. I remember Iggy teaming up with David Bowie to record 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life', both of which I heard and enjoyed although they didn't sound anything like the way people described The Stooges sounding; when I eventually got to hear them I realised that nothing - nothing! - actually sounded like The Stooges. You could hear how they'd influenced the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Damned (who respectively covered 'No Fun' and '1970') but you could only wonder how their primal riffing had sounded to people at the time of it's release, when self-obsessed naval-gazing 'musos' seemed to be more concerned with playing in an unusual time signature and singing a song about goblins than doing anything that might actually be relevant to what was happening in the real world, all the while looking down their noses at anyone who dared to suggest that what they were doing might be soulless and, let's face it, boring. Meanwhile Iggy and co. rallied the soon-to-be punk foot soldiers for the fight that lay ahead of them as when all else failed there was always The Stooges, the world's forgotten boys or as Iggy himself later put it, 'the band that never bit the weenie'.
Eventually it seemed like the whole world caught up with Iggy, who went on to have great solo success and to star in the odd (very odd!) insurance advert... and everyone caught up with The Stooges too as they reunited the best part of 30 years after they split up to perform and record together again - and of course people everywhere came out of the woodwork to say that they were the greatest, most influential rock 'n' roll band ever, that 'Fun House' is the best album ever released, that Iggy is the greatest front man of all time... yeah right, they'd have sold millions of albums and played in stadiums if that was true wouldn't they? Or would they? Leaving aside the fact that many of the people saying that they'd liked them all along actually had liked them all along (for example I spotted Nick Cave, Bobby Gillespie and Jarvis Cocker in the bar, all of whom are long-standing Stooges disciples) I personally think that bands like The Stooges remain outside of the mainstream for the very reasons that they were never there in the first place, there are just more people able to find them these days - and of course in The Stooges case Iggy's popularity hasn't exactly harmed their chances of reaching a wider audience. And anyway, The Stooges are one of the greatest, most influential rock 'n' roll bands of all time - right?

Last night support came from Suicide whose pulsing synthesiser drones and half-spoken vocal rants probably sounded even less palatable when they emerged in the early '70's that The Stooges had in the '60's. Frontman Alan Vega seemed to be having trouble with the smoking ban whilst keyboardist Martin Rev presided over a wall of throbbing noise whilst wearing a neon lit headband; as far as I could tell they played their first album through although I'm not sure how much difference the material made as the overall effect was akin to having someone tapping your entire body for 30-odd minutes whilst you're watching a strobe light, although it was actually much better than that description might imply. Probably.
9.30 and from nowhere The Stooges are on the stage and we're into 'Raw Power' almost before you can say 'that looks like Iggy Pop over there'. Guitarist James Williamson (replacing the sadly deceased Ron Asheton) looks like a rich bloke who's bought himself some nice guitars and amplifiers (probably because he is and he has!) but sounds like, as Johnny Marr brilliantly put it, 'how you would imagine Darth Vader would sound if he was in a a band'. Mike Watt and Scott Asheton hammer the bass and drums home, Steve Mackay adds the jazzy bits on the saxophone and Iggy, the street walkin' cheetah himself, spends almost as much time in the audience as on the stage and redefines the word 'hero' in the process. They play the Raw Power album through and it still sounds like nothing and no one else, just as 'Fun House' did in the very same venue 5 years ago; they follow it with 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', '1970', 'I Got A Right', 'Kill City', songs that sounded so out of place when they were first released - should that be unleashed? - all those years ago but now sound like the very definition of punk rock in all it's gory glory and in the process show why they were right all along. There are rock 'n' roll songs as good as 'Search And Destroy' but if there are any better then I can't think of them just at the moment, and if there's a more chilling line in the whole of popular music than 'there's nothing left alive but a pair of glassy eyes' (from 'Gimme Danger' in case you were wondering) then I've yet to hear it. Idiotically loud and intense from start to finish, it's among the best live performances that I or indeed anybody present will ever witness. That's how good it was, and that's how good rock 'n' roll can be. I'll stop now before I run out of superlatives. There - is that over-emotional and pretentious enough for you?

And, maybe best of all, no goblins were harmed before, during or after the performance.