Monday, July 26, 2010

7 x 7 year itch

Well, look what I bought myself for my birthday. One for the collection methinks... in the meantime it's been a good birthday week:-

Myself, Shirley and my Dad spent Monday Tuesday and Wednesday up in Merseyside. We dropped my dad off in Bromborough (he was staying with his brother George and his wife Joyce) before we journeyed through The Mersey Tunnel to spend 2 nights in Liverpool. We'd hoped to do a spot of Beatle-related tourism on Tuesday by going on The Magical Mystery Tour but it was raining so hard that we couldn't get to the bus stop. Really! It was like something out of The Bible! Shirley took advantage of the situation by spending much of the day in the Liverpool One shopping centre (she bought 4 umbrellas!) although we did at least make it to The Cavern so I guess that's something. We also managed to spend some time with various family members which is always a good thing to do. My Auntie Emma is 84 in September, and she nearly reduced Shirley (and if I'm honest, me) to tears when she said that she'd 'had a wonderful life - I've been so lucky as I've been loved all my life, there's not always been much money but that's not important if you've got people you care about and who care about you is it?' Indeed.

Thursday morning and it's back to work (as I rather euphemistically like to think of it) with Stuart the guitar repair man, attending to the 'We Will Rock You' guitars at The Dominion Theatre. For once there wasn't too much to do which is unusual at this time of year - sweaty hands can wear strings out very quickly - although now I've said that we'll probably be there all day next week... after a few hours at home it was time to return to London to see Wilko Johnson at Rough Trade East. (Yeah I know I could have stayed up in town but I'd have had to spend about 5 hours looking around. It could have got expensive!) I'd not been to the shop before (and hadn't been to Brick Lane for many years - how can all those curry houses make money?!?) and I must say it didn't disappoint, with an amazing selection of stuff - in addition to picking up 2 'Oil City Confidential' DVDs (I got a copy for East as well) I found a copy of 'Ou Est La Maison du Fromage?' by the mighty John Cooper Clarke for a mere £5.99. And they gave me a Rough Trade badge as well. Excellent! And talking of excellent things Wilko was, well, excellent, giving a cracking 45 minute performance to an ever more appreciative audience. Norman Watt-Roy was as mind-boggling as ever on bass, Dylan Howe played a rock-solid drumkit, and Wilko played his old Black Stratocaster (I think it's the one that he used to use when he was in The Blockheads?) which he seems to be using all the time these days. Where's the Telecaster gone? Afterwards he signed DVD's for all and sundry, and looked increasingly awkward as he did so - by the time I got to the front of the queue he looked to me like he'd more-or-less had enough. I've spoken to him here and there over the years, sometimes at (fairly) great length, but this encounter was to be brief; when he asked me what I'd like him to write I said 'put anything you like' - so he did! Mind you he wrote 'UBIQUITY!' on East's copy so maybe I got off lightly?

Friday night should have been reasonably straightforward - an evening at The Laurels in Ruislip where I was due to play a couple of songs at a jam night. Leaving aside the fact that I've never actually played at a jam night before this one was rather different than the usual type of gathering as it was organised by Andy and Jon Tuck, 2 brothers who played in The Flame with Nikk Gunns and myself back in the late '90's/early '00's. Jon's getting married soon and decided to have a jam night instead of a stag night - top man! So far so good, but sometime in the early part of the week The Upper Cut were offered a (very) short notice gig at Sweeney's in Ruislip, which, as luck would have it, is about 100 yards from The Laurels. You can see where this is going can't you...
9.15 and we're all set up and ready for a 10 o'clock start; myself and Terry the bass walk down the hill to The Laurels where Jon, Andy and co. are playing 'Vertigo' to the general approval of all and sundry. I say hello to Nikk who tells me that 'we're on after this one' as 'Basket Case' begins in the background. E-mails have been e-mailed and everyone knows what songs they're playing - as we ready ourselves I realise that there's a Flame re-union on the horizon, albeit with the addition of Steve on guitar... I'm just about to start the opening riff to this song when Jon says 'oh, you do know we're tuned to E flat don't you?' No, I didn't - but I do now! (If you're wondering what I'm rambling on about here - and I wouldn't blame you if you are - then here is an explanation. Don't say you never learn anything here!) After a swift tune-up (maybe that should be tune-down!) Nikk asks me to tell him where the vocals start (never a good sign!) but I'm more worried about whether my guitar will stay in tune... he disappears before our second song (this one in case you were wondering) so Ray takes over on vocals - and that's my appearance over. Nikk re-appears for 'It's So Easy' but I've got to go as it's 10 minutes to showtime at Sweeney's...
As I re-tuned my guitar I looked around the bar - the atmosphere isn't exactly hostile but it isn't exactly friendly either. Our first 2 songs are met with indifference and one of the bouncer's tells us we're too loud. It feels like it's going to be a long night, although after a few more songs there's a bit of dancing and by the end of our first set we're getting a fair bit of applause so maybe it's going to be alright after all? I go to the bar and given how busy it was a few moments earlier it's surprisingly easy to get served - I soon realise that most people have gone outside to watch a fight... a young lad tells me it's his birthday then asks if he have a go on the drums - it's tempting to say something like 'it's my birthday too, can I have a go on your girlfriend?' but I heroically resist the temptation (for once!) And anyway, he didn't have a girlfriend, or at least didn't have one with him. Roger gives him 30 seconds or so behind the kit, he soon runs out of ideas and leaves the stage, just as another guy asks Terry if he can have a go at singing... our second set gets a more positive reaction although it still feels like it's hard work. They'd originally wanted 3 x 45 minute sets from us but in the end we did 2 hour long spots which we just about had enough material for - an attempt at 'Stand By Me' was rather more successful than 'Sweet Home Alabama' although both went down very well. Not the worst gig we'll ever do (hopefully!) but not one to shout too loudly about either, although since we played through midnight I guess it was the first gig of my 50th year? Hmm - maybe it wasn't so bad after all?

I was saddened to hear of the death of snooker legend Alex Higgins on Saturday - I remember him on 'Pot Black' when I was a kid when he always seemed to me to be so much more, shall we say, interesting than the other players. We need more characters like him in the World don't you think? In the meantime it may be better to consider Saturday night's Chicago Blues Brothers gig in Hitchin as the opening salvo in this year's musical journey. Shirley and myself arrived around 6 p.m. to find most of the band congregated in the driveway of a large house - we're playing in a tent in the garden at Mike and Denise's wedding blessing. Chris is on drums for the first time in ages, Pete and Mike are in the hats 'n' glasses and Chris in on keyboards - when the speeches end we take our gear through and get set up. Richard's bought his son's Epiphone Les Paul for me to check over (it's exam time on Monday!) so when we're all ready to rock I have a look at it - there's nothing too much to do although the strings were getting on a bit (as indeed am I!) so I change them for him. Our first starts with 'My Girl' and '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' (their first dance was to a slow song so Pete decided that they might stay on the dancefloor if we played something similar. It worked!) before we moved on to familiar CBB territory. Chris did a great job on drums despite the fact that (a) it was a very - make that very - bouncy stage and his drums were moving around all over the place, and (b) the string holding the wires on his snare drum in place came undone and he was unable to fix it until the interval. After a break of an hour or so (during which much food was consumed) our second set went even better than the first, although the moment in 'Sweet Home Chicago' where Pete got them all singing 'Happy Birthday' to your humble narrator was, for want of a better term, humbling. A good gig. That's more like it.

And last but by no means least, Sunday saw The Upper Cut play at The Load of Hay in a 'it's-the-day-after-Leigh's-birthday' gig. East filmed it, Big Tel recorded it and I didn't play a single song correctly all the way through. Bugger! Still it was great fun, and definitely worth the headache that I'm currently battling my way through. I'm 50 next year. Now there's a headache to look forward to...

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