Monday, August 30, 2010

They called it madness

I started this blog 4 years ago this weekend. Did I think then that I'd be publishing slightly disturbing photographs of entertainment industry professionals in someone else's indoor swimming pool? Oddly enough I probably did, if only because they don't have any swimming pools of their own...

The weekend featured 2 outdoor gigs, the first of which was a Chicago Blues Brothers show in the grounds ('garden' doesn't really do it justice) in the grounds of a large dwelling (again 'house' isn't an appropriate term) in Sutton Courtney near Abingdon. I'm not sure whether it was a corporate event or a jolly-up for friends and neighbours - it could even have been a bit of both - but there was a stage and P.A. set-up that would have done justice to a small festival and a marquee big enough to play football in, although to my knowledge nobody did. Pete and Mike were in the hats and glasses (and indeed in the swimming pool with trumpeter Dave) with Ian returning on keyboards after being away filming a live DVD in Denmark with Ray Davies. Squirrel's on bass, Ian's depping for Richard on sax and Bob from the Ali Mac Band was depping with us for the first time. We went for some food in the marquee just in time to catch the first set from a Bee Gees tribute act - I didn't catch their name but one of them looked a bit like Rat Scabies (sadly it wasn't!) and they were loud enough to cause some consternation from the band members sitting nearest to their speakers. By the time we started our first set at around 9.30 it was clear that many audience members were a little, shall we say, 'confused' - well the ones who spent most of our show on stage dancing certainly were... a surprisingly busy Bank Holiday Saturday in Balcony Shirts had seen me graze my right hand when I fell over running up the stairs (admit it, we've all done it!) which although only a small injury had resulted in enough blood to concern at least one customer (and if I'm honest, me!) and which came back to haunt me during my solo in 'Hard To Handle'. I touched the cut against the metal bridge of my guitar and the resulting wince-inducing moment was enough to make me play terribly out of tune for a few seconds. Well, that's my excuse anyway... Bob did very well especially considering that he'd not had much time to learn the songs (he took a DVD of the show on holiday with him - good man!) and the event organisers seemed happy with things which is always nice to see. Oh I broke my right hand thumb nail ('windmilling and being silly' again - will I never learn?!?) which was annoying as I'd been trying to grow it to help with fingerpicking - maybe it's time I got brave and bought a set of fingerpicks?

Sunday's show saw your humble narrator depping with Utter Madness for the first time in just over a year - that was in Belfast, this was in Sunderland. Richard (keyboards) and Tony (vocals) arrived just after 11.30 a.m. - with everything loaded into Richard's estate car and me safely installed in the seat behind the driver ('there's a child lock on your door' said Richard as I sat down) we set off on our epic journey. Around 2 p.m. we stopped at Donnington Services on the M1 where Richard produced a cool bag from which he bought forth seemingly endless amounts of minestrone, sandwiches and other refreshments. What a hero! (The long-suffering Shirley had sent me off with some cheese rolls which I didn't get chance to eat, but I've just had them now and very nice they were too. Thanks Shirl!) A thankfully uneventful journey North ended with us passing The Turbine Business Park just before 4.30, and pulling up in the backstage area in the shadow of rows of identical cars a few minutes later.
We're playing at the Nissan 'family day' which the company puts on for it's workers each year - Ian, Jon, Stuart and Ray (sax, bass, drums and backing vocals / dancing) were already on site as were about 100 or so people in a field that could have held thousands and probably would have had it not been so cold and windy. Mind you I'm saying it was cold and windy - judging by the number of people walking around in t-shirts I was either (a) mistaken or (b) a soft Southern ponce. Either is possible... I got myself some chips and gravy (oh yes!) and a cappuccino (just the drink for a soft Southern ponce eh? And yes, you've guessed it, the froth blew everywhere!) and watched a bit of ZU2 (pronounced 'Zoo Two') who did a very good job, especially considering that they had 50 or so people watching and listening to music that's normally played in venues that hold 50 or so thousand. Still at least the turbines were busy... no sooner had they finished then we were asked to bring our stage time forward an hour to 6 p.m. as people were drifting away from the site. Minor panic ensued on my part when I got locked in Richard's car (remember the child lock?) which I'd sat down in to sort out my stage clothes, although everyone else found it hilarious! Well - the wind blew just as I'd sat down! After the quickest set-up and clothes change in history (I hate rushing don't you?) we were on stage and into 'One Step Beyond' and my hands were so cold that it was difficult to hold my plectrum; by the time we got to a sticky-fingered 'My Girl' I'd warmed up a bit and was playing a bit better although I was aware that I could have done with a bit more revision on the songs. No one else noticed, or if they did they didn't tell me! Our shortened set was well received by the few brave souls still in attendance (you could tell how cold it was getting as the t-shirt wearers had disappeared!) and we encored with 'Our House' to cheery applause.
After the quickest get-out ever (I didn't bother getting changed as I hadn't been sweating!) we left the site just before our allotted stage time - strange but true! - and after a journey enlivened by various word games (rock'n'roll eh?) I walked back in through the front door exactly 12 hours (9-and-a-bit of which had been spent travelling) after I'd left. As I say, strange but true, and a good story to start my 5th year of blogging with. Stay tuned for further distractions, as they say...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lucky town

Coincidences are strange things aren't they? After watching 'Our House' with East and Big Tel (we watched 'Psychoderelict' this week - the plot thickens...) I recieved an offer from The F.B.I. Band to play a Madness tribute set with them in Sunderland this coming weekend. Since the only other time I've played this with them was just over a year ago some fairly serious revision is in order, much of which I've been attempting to do today. Their songs sound simple don't they? Let me assure you - they're not...

On Saturday The Upper Cut played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge at a party to celebrate Horsepower Hairdressing supremo Adam's 40th birthday. I went down to the venue with Adam last Monday evening after a day in the shop - as we sat with our soft drinks explaining to Noel the landlord how we were hoping the evening could go he had the look of a man that couldn't quite believe his luck. Was Adam really going to bring 50 or so of his biker buddies with him? Was he rather than the venue really going to pay the band?
By 9.30 on Saturday it was clear that yes he was and, well, yes he was - the place was well populated and I had an envelope with LEE BAND written on it. As we started with 'Dock Of The Bay' the evening was set to be a memorably excellent one, even if said song was dogged with bursts high-pitched feedback which almost threatened to clear the bar. It transpired that Terry the bass hadn't reset the volume controls from his previous night's gig - once he'd turned it all down a bit we were sounding good, and our first set even saw a bit of dancing from the locals. In addition to Adam's crowd there were a few familiar faces present, some of whom ended up performing with us - versions of 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and 'Sweet Home Chicago' featured Big Al on vocals and Pete from The Cane Toads on guitar (Al's an old mate of Terry the bass who sang in a local band called Midnight for many years, and Pete's depped in The Upper Cut for me and I've depped in The Cane Toads a few times) while 'All Right Now' included Martin on vocals alongside the afore-mentioned Pete (Pete's also in a band called Awaken with Martin - this is getting confusing!) In the meantime we played 'Johnny B. Goode' for Adam who certainly seemed pleased with the way things went, revealing plans for 'something a bit bigger' next year. He's clearly a man who knows how to throw a party so that should be an interesting evening... at the end of the night he wondered if anyone had a car with them as he wouldn't be able to take his present home on his bike - he'd just been given a 'God Save The Queen' print (the infamous 'Swastika Eyes' version) signed by Jamie Reid. Now that's a birthday present! Oh and Noel bought a drink for everyone in the band - looks like his luck was in doesn't it?

I dropped the print off at his shop on Monday morning. I'd grown rather attached to it by then.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All fingers and thumbs

In addition to beginning the long road to Balcony Guitars (the lads there want to open a shop called 'Leigh's Mad World Of Guitars'! Really!) the first 'no-gigs-this-week' week for a while included myself and Scott losing the keys to the shop on Saturday (if I told you where we found them you'd never believe me) and a Sunday evening viewing by East, Big Tel and myself of a DVD of the Madness musical 'Our House' (if I told you why we watched it you'd definitely never believe me!) I also had chance to catch the ever-amazing Kris Dollimore at The Crown in Leyhill last Thursday where he was as fabulous as ever, with a remarkable version of 'Castles Made Of Sand' standing out among an evening of standout performances.

The gap in gigging has given me a bit of time to do something that I actually don't get chance to do very often - practice (as opposed to play) the guitar. I've been promising myself that I'd spend some time with my acoustic guitar working on my fingerpicking and slide playing for quite a while now - Mr. Dollimore is something of a master of these styles, and when I mumbled to him something like 'I must get around to practicing some of that stuff' he replied enthusiastically 'yes, you must!' After discovering that we're both big fans of Rory Gallagher (especially this number) he went on to advise that I listen to John Fahey (a master of solo, or as he himself called it, 'primitive' guitar) among others. So sometime in the last few days I dug out my copy of 'Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes' (now THERE'S an album title!) along with '6 and 12 String Guitar' by Leo Kottke and 'Folk, Blues and Beyond' by Davy Graham (I'm ambitious if nothing else!) and got to work.
An hour or so later and your humble narrator was getting frustrated and not a little annoyed. I'm normally quite good at working out how to play things from recordings, but this stuff - well I couldn't get anywhere with it. It's not that I couldn't hear what was happening, it's more that I couldn't work out how to play what is often 2 or even 3 independent rhythms and melodies at the same time. And if that's not bad enough all of these players sing at the same bloody time. Bah! Still, no-one ever got anywhere by giving up so I kept playing... and playing... and playing... and eventually hit upon the idea that transcriptions of this music must be out there on the Internet somewhere (yeah, I know it's second nature to most people these days to 'google it', but I'm really old ok?!) and so launched myself into cyberspace in search of some help. It turned out that there's acres of transcriptions including some on the afore-mentioned player's websites. Excellent!
Well I've all but worn out a set of strings but I'm still not much nearer to being able to play anything other than a faltering version of 'Anji' and I could already play that! (If you don't know the tune or you've never heard it before then here it is; if you want some more from Davey Graham then try this and indeed this - Jimmy Page was listening carefully at the time wasn't he?!?) Still I'm making some headway with John Fahey's 'Some Summer Day' and have, since I stumbled upon something that sounded a bit like the opening riff, attempted to put together a solo version of 'Every Little Thing' by The Beatles. Like I say, nothing if not ambitious... but in addition to it becoming increasingly clear to me that the term 'primitive' is highly subjective I fear a career as an acoustic troubadour specialising in fingerbusting fingerpicking will always elude me although it's something that I'd like to develop in the future if only for the practice at playing something different. Then again, perhaps I should just stick to this sort of thing... and I haven't got around to trying any slide stuff yet. But I will. Probably. After all, did I really think I'd master an entire style in a few days?

I've got a gig this weekend. Good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The song remains the same

I don't know about you but I don't know much about Twitter; I believe young people and / or itinerant celebrities use it all the time to tell each other (and indeed the rest of the World's, er, 'tweeters') what they're doing at that precise moment in time. We have what I believe is called a 'feed' at Balcony Shirts, and last week Scott 'tweeted' (I'm getting good at the terminology if nothing else!) the following message:-

Is selling ukulele's in a t-shirt shop (a) weird? (b) good? (c) stupid?

Well I guess time will tell as to which answer is correct but, strange as it may seem, we are now selling ukuleles and other assorted musical instrument accessories in our Uxbridge shop. We're hoping to have some guitars in before long, and who knows where it will lead from there?
I must admit that, almost exactly a year to the day after my departure from Pro Music (I really must tell you what happened there mustn't I? Actually that reminds me, I spoke to someone the other day who said that they'd stopped going in there since the staff 'talk so much shit'. Hmm... perhaps we're starting this up at just the right time!) it was a strange feeling to be unpacking guitar leads and plectrums again - not a bad feeling, just strange. As I put together the counter display I couldn't help but smile. When we sold 4 (count them - four!) plectrums I couldn't help but smile some more. It's good to be back, if you know what I mean. Feel free to tweet that if you please; better still come in and see us - we'll do our best to talk sense.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Celebration day

Behold this photograph of the sign above the door at The Bulls Head in Barnes - I thought I'd include it here because (a) I like it and (b) I nearly got run over while I was taking it. Well - there were no cars for miles when I started!

Last Monday saw a return to said venue for The Ali Mac Band, or The AMT Band ('Ali Mac with a Twist') as Ali now calls this larger line-up version of his band. Sadly we couldn't get a full rehearsal for the gig - Ali, Simon, Bob and myself managed a couple of hours together at Simon's house a few days earlier - and that coupled with the low turnout and slightly odd sound (the monitors weren't too good and the overall sound seemed a bit 'muted') meant that overall it wasn't as good a show as our debut there back in March. Still I did get to meet Laurie who was running the gig in place of George who wasn't feeling too well; Laurie used to work as a backstage security man for Led Zeppelin and as you might imagine has quite a story to tell, none of which can be repeated here - suffice to say that in his opinion many if not all of the legendary tales told in books like 'Hammer Of The Gods' and 'Stairway To Heaven' had been as he put it, 'toned down for publication'. Oo-er! Oh and there was a bloke off the telly in the front bar but he didn't come in to watch the band - a bit of a shame, as we could have done with another audience member...

The Upper Cut had an excellent rehearsal on Wednesday, when we spent 3 hours at Bush Studios in Shepherds Bush ironing out a few shaky moments from the current set as well as attempting some additional material - our next gig is at The Dolphin in Uxbridge on Saturday 21st August which I'm looking forward to already, not least as it's Horsepower Hairdressing supremo Adam's birthday; if it's anything like June's 'Loose Goose' event it should be an interesting night... I took everybody copies of Big Tel's recording of last month's Load of Hay gig (and here is a clip from from East's film of the event, it's a bit dark but hopefully you get the idea) so we've all gone away to have a listen and see what else can be done to improve things. It's a good band to play in, which was reflected by Terry the bass's comment afterwards that it was 'great to be at a rehearsal when you're not clockwatching' - how right he is.

And it was an unusual gig last night, at Griddles in Uxbridge. Organised by Jon Davies a.k.a. Jonny Guitar (not sure I'd give myself a nickname like that but there you go!) to celebrate Aden the landlord's birthday it featured THE FRAUD SQUAD - myself and Andy from The Flying Squad with Jon guesting on guitar. After a quick rehearsal (another one!) at Jon's house it was over to the venue to get set up and await further instruction. I'd spoken to Andy 'Chicken Legs' Weaver earlier in the day (he's got a amplifier for sale if anyone's interested) who arrived just as we were about to start; Jon had quite a few friends coming along as did Aden - by the time we went on for our first set at 9 o'clock the place was getting mighty crowded with all the restaurant tables booked (it's a steakhouse-type of place although when they offered us some food it was great to see a vegetarian option of pasta, and very nice it was too) and plenty of people at the bar. Minor panic ensued when Andy's harmonicas fell off the amplifier that he'd left them on (we weren't THAT loud were we?!?) and Jon's guitar started emitting a rather unpleasant crackling noise (he should get that looked at! He also caused some consternation on Andy's part by using a wha wha pedal...) but overall things went well with our second set including the inevitable 'Happy Birthday' and our third (third!) set ending with a somewhat impromptu version of 'Honky Tonk Women' to the general approval of all concerned. A good gig.

At our AMT Band rehearsal Bob had remarked that his daughter's father-in-law had Motor Neurone Disease; when I said that my mum had suffered from it for 18 years he looked shocked and then apologised for having mentioned it. As we were leaving I told him that he didn't have to feel sorry... at the bar in the venue I asked him how things were going and he said that since last week's rehearsal the chap had sadly died. It was my turn to apologise...

It's my mum's birthday today - I really wish that she was still here to celebrate it. Happy birthday mum. Miss you.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Never trust a spotted dog called Stripe

I got an e-mail on Monday morning:-

Hello there Mr Blues, so it's true the soul destroyer is coming your way Saturday, look forward to it, hope all is good out there in Leigh's blog world - Dave

The Dave in question is Dave Finnegan, who played Mickah Wallace in The Commitments film way back in 1991. I did a stint in Dave Finnegan's Commitments a few years ago alongside several current Chicago Blues Brothers band members who at the time were performing as 'Sweet Home Chicago' in theatres up and down the country - after depping in that show I joined as it evolved into it's current incarnation. We did some great - no, make that great - gigs together although sadly it all ended around 4 or so years ago. However as the e-mail says, the man himself is back in our orbit again, for a show at Quickmoor Farm just outside King Langley. Originally a playback gig (i.e. several of the band playing along with backing tracks) it became a 'band gig' early last week, and with Marc busy elsewhere the search was on for a drummer - all the usual deps were already gigging meaning that I was asked to call Eric on Wednesday to talk through the songs prior to us meeting for the first time at the gig. And as the above setlist shows there were rather a lot of songs to talk through...

Thanks to the wonders of satellite navigation myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived at the venue around 4.40 p.m. - although rather peculiarly we did cross the M25 twice by 2 different bridges. Well, I think they were different bridges... we're playing in the barn, and host Jeff and Jacquie are very friendly as is Alistair the party planner. Mike and Matt have set their P.A. up (Matt tests it with a blast of 'Alternative Ulster' - excellent!) and Eric is sitting out on the patio leafing through the drum pad. Squirrel's set up and ready, Ian (returning on keyboards) arrives just as I get my amp in place, and Richard (just one horn tonight) and Dave F. are arriving later. Soundcheck is more of a rehearsal than anything, and we run out of time before we can play through everything although it's sounding good with Eric fitting in well. We've got The Pink Cottage to use as a dressing room (yeah, I know...) where I spend a bit of time with Eric going through some stops and starts. There's plenty of food for the band (hurrah!) and by the time Dave arrives the evening is in full swing with the guests arriving and the dogs of the house getting more and more excited - we're out on the patio outside The Pink Cottage (!) talking when a large Dalmation called Stripe comes over to investigate, sniffs everyone as dogs tend to do and then attempts to empty his bladder against your humble narrator's left leg. I jump out of the way just in time much to everyone's amusement including mine - I didn't think we'd sounded that bad... when we told Jeff and Jacquie of the incident she said something like 'right that's it, his balls are coming off' - again, I didn't think that we'd sounded that bad...

9.45 and it's time for our first set. The first couple of numbers are a bit edgy - 'Take Me To The River' goes a bit weird in the middle and no one had told Richard that we were playing 'Midnight Hour' in the key of Eb instead of C as we usually do in the CBB show - but once we got going we, for want of a better term, got going, and with Dave in good form up front a full dancefloor ensued for most of our set.
We're due back on in CBB mode at midnight, and I spend much of the interval hiding from Stripe and talking to Richard's son Joseph who seems to be doing very well on guitar - he'd bought along his Epiphone Les Paul which I'd restrung for him last week and was playing some very impressive Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin riffs. Good man! We're playing 2 x 45 sets with pudding being served at 12.45 a.m. - if you think that looks mad written down here it was even madder when it actually happened - and again there are a few odd moments here and there but overall Eric does a splendid job behind the drums, not least when we find ourselves playing a full version of 'Soul Man' rather than the medley which we normally feature it in. That well known Blues Brothers song 'Superstition' made an appearance in place of the 'Think'/'Respect' medley, and very good it was too. By the end of our second set there were still quite a few people wanting to dance and I suspect the evening continued (for a while at least) after we left.

We on the other hand arrived home sometime around 3.30 a.m. after the afore-mentioned satellite navigation device had taken us the wrong way on the afore-mentioned M25, without us ever going over the afore-mentioned bridges. Still, at least I'd given Stripe the slip.