Friday saw The Chicago Blues Brothers visit Shottle Hall in Derbyshire (on Derby Day!) for a 40th birthday party show. Joining the regulars (myself, Squirrel, Marc and Richard) are Steve on trumpet and Chris on keyboards (both of whom have played with us several times before) and 2 new inhabitants of the hats and glasses, Tony and Guy. And yes, they're really called that... I'd spoken to Tony on the phone a few times and agreed a provisional set of songs; when I met them at the gig we sat down for a while to discuss tactics before repairing to The Hanging Gate to meet the rest of the band. We're due back at the venue for food at 8.30 so there's time to put 2 50-odd minute sets together, including a few songs ('Sweet Soul Music', 'Land Of 1,000 Dances' and '634-5789') that go way back to the days of Dave Finnegan's Commitments.
We're playing in a marquee at the back of the hotel, it's a movie-themed evening so there's people walking around in fancy dress (Richard - 'you see a few sights at these sort of evenings don't you?' Yes Richard, you do!) and a jovial atmosphere prevails. Our dressing room is rather, shall we say, rustic - there are swallows nesting in the ceiling! - and the food is a buffet often found at gatherings such as these; your humble narrator is therefore seen enjoying bread, rice and potato salad while everyone else piles their plates high.
We were supposed to go on at 9.30 for two sets but ended up going on at 9.45 for one epic 2 hour show. I'm trying out a potential new purchase - a Fender FMT Telecaster currently put up for sale by Andy from The Flying Squad. I could do with a spare for CBB shows as my old Custom is starting to get quite valuable, and Andy lent me the guitar to try out on stage. Maybe I should have chosen a show other than this one as there's rather more to think about than usual, but Tony and Guy proved themselves to be very capable in pretty much every area, not least being utterly fearless when it came to audience participation - I don't think we'd been onstage for 5 minutes before they were out in the audience bantering with all and sundry. This kind of behaviour is fraught with danger from the performer's point of view (that's why most of us don't do it!) and while for the most part the 2 BB's were on top of the situation referring to the chap in the Batman costume as 'Fatman' proved to be something of an error - he came up to the stage and triumphantly replied 'I might be fat but at least I know the words to the songs'... overall it was a good, well received show with only the odd moment of madness - the best way to put it is to say that we went one way and the brothers went the other a couple of times! Oh and everybody in the band liked the guitar (including me) so it looks like Andy's made a sale.
Sunday's show was one that I personally had been really looking forward to since The Flying Squad were first asked to play it a couple of weeks ago, since the main act featured one of my all-time favourite guitarists - Gypie Mayo. Probably best known as the man who faced the daunting task of replacing Wilko Johnson in Dr. Feelgood he then went on to play in The Yardbirds, and if those two facts aren't enough to put him firmly in my 'top ten guitarists list' (I must work out who the other nine are one day!) then I don't know what is. It was an interesting booking for The Squad on a number of levels, not least because we were obliged to miss out the Feelgoods material from our set (there's no way I was going to play them in front of the man himself! And it would have been even weirder to play the Wilko-era songs wouldn't it?) although that wasn't the main issue... since last month's gig with Eddie And The Hot Rods Andy and myself have found ourselves without a band for the gig (I'll spare you the gory details - one of the worst things about being in a band is what happens when people have to leave) and therefore something of a dilemma - do we do the show or not? And if we do the show, who do we do it with? After much wondering we decided to try to put a line-up together and play the gig - to this end I asked Squirrel if he'd be up for it on bass, and I'm pleased to say that not only did he make himself available but he also suggested some other players - Chris Teeder who deps on keyboards in the CBB show, and ex-CBB and now T.Rextasy drummer John Skelton, who both declared themselves available. Andy and myself ran up a list of a dozen or so songs, made up some CD's which we gave to the lads and looked forward to a quick rehearsal on Sunday afternoon followed by a great gig.
Things are never simple though are they? On Thursday afternoon John called to say that he's got problems - a recently broken finger and dislocated elbow (ouch!) were still causing him problems and it would be 'madness' for him to do the gig. But don't worry (what, me worry?!?) he had just the man for the job - do I know Geoff Britton?
Yes, that's the guy, he's heard the CD and is up for the show.
What, really? He does know that there's next-to-no money in it (we're only the support band after all!) and the band's not exactly a household name.
Yes, he just wants to play.
Oh, ok then!
So it was then that I found myself in the car park of The Hanging Tree on the phone to Macca's mucker (ha!) sometime around 7.30 on Saturday night (yes, that's right, the night before the gig) talking to Geoff for the first time. He seemed a very nice chap and very much up for the gig - we arranged to meet at the venue around 5.30 the next day to talk through the songs. Nothing like leaving it until the last minute is there?
It's just gone 6 o'clock on Sunday evening when this very unusual line-up of The Flying Squad all meet for the first time; we're standing near the side entrance of the venue near where Geoff has parked his van, I've got a guitar and we're running the starts and stops in the songs. Everyone's in good humour and after about 10 minutes we realise that the best thing to do is just to get on with it. Meanwhile the main band are arriving, and as I go back into the venue I see the unmistakable (to me at any rate) figure of Gypie Mayo at the back of the hall. I'm shy at the best of times but when it comes to meeting people like him I'm really shy although I have met him briefly a couple of times before and he seemed to be a really nice bloke. Squirrel goes across to say hello - he told me afterwards there'd been a moments hesitation and then a cry of 'Squirrel' from the great man, they were certainly chatting like old mates (Squirrel played on the same bill as The Feelgoods many times when he was with Lew Lewis, and was on the Oil City Sheiks single 'It Don't Take But A Few Minutes' with him) every time I saw them together in the next few hours which was good to see.
We're on just after 8 o'clock, for a 40-ish minute set that seemed to fly by, a sure sign that things went well. And indeed they did - there were a few moments where a bit more (or indeed any!) rehearsal would have helped things along, but overall it was a really enjoyable show.
How did we sound? Like this!
As I'm putting my gear away Squirrel comes over with Gypie who he introduces to me as 'a big fan' - now there's an understatement! My memory of him as being a nice bloke is thankfully correct, and he goes even higher up the 'Leigh's Top 10 Guitarists' chart by telling me how much he liked my solo in 'Dirty Water'; this may not look like much written here but I'd need the rest of time itself to be able to say how much that comment means to me.
The main act are calling themselves The Wolftracks although they're probably better known on the circuit as The Band Of Sceptics; they're led by Pete Sargeant who described himself to me as a 'psychedelic guitarist' and they normally play music that's more in that vein although as a big Howlin' Wolf fan he decided to do some gigs to honour the 100th anniversary of the great bluesman's birth. They certainly did what they set out to do, playing a set of songs that had me resolving to get my Howlin' Wolf albums out (and I have, and they sound great.) And Gypie played brilliantly, with all the same energy and power as I've ever seen him play with whichever band he's in. Fantastic. Damien McCabe did a guest spot singing 'Little Red Rooster', I'd not seen him for ages and it was good to catch up with him again.
After the show I go over to Gypie and tell him how much I'd enjoyed his playing, he seemed genuinely pleased with the compliments and went on to say that he doesn't gig much these days as he can't be bothered with band politics (I know what he means!) but that he'd really enjoyed the show. I tell him that I'd heard that he'd been playing jazz, he laughed as we both recounted our attempts at playing what is a notoriously difficult style of music for a rock 'n' roller to hold their own in, he says that you have to know The Real Book backwards and we both agree that we'll never manage it. Still we do what we do. And for a few minutes there the great Gypie was my mate, he knew my name and everything - it's things like that that keep you going sometimes.
Now - time for a 'Leigh's Top 10 Guitarists' chart don't you think?