I was saddened by the news that Malcolm Allison has died. I remember him on telly when I was a kid, back in the days when football managers wore fedoras and were allowed to smoke huge cigars during the game. And Solomon Burke died too - he was great wasn't he? I thought of him during The Chicago Blues Brothers' performance of 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' last Thursday, as three screaming teenage girls tried to pull Pete and / or Mike into the audience. I hope the great man would have approved... we were playing at Wymondham College in Norfolk, at an event organised by trumpeter Dave Land who teaches at said establishment. I'd travelled up with dep saxman Jimmy Cannon, who I'd met just after 11 am outside Jacksons Lane Studio in Highgate - I'd gone up on the tube to meet him as Pete was taking my old Laney combo up for me to use so I'd only had to take a guitar with me - his first words as I got into his car were 'you don't happen to know where we're going do you?' It turned out that his sat. nav. had broken, leaving your humble narrator with the task of using a big paper thing with colourful diagrams all over it - it's been ages since I'd seen one if them, oh, what's it called? Oh I remember - a map... incredibly we arrived at the venue just after 2 pm, and with the P.A. all set up and the band ready to soundcheck I went over to Pete to ask him where my amplifier was - the look on his face told me that it was still at his house... after asking around a Marshall combo was produced from one of the music rooms and it was soundcheck time. We were playing in the sports centre and the sound was, well, terrible - very echo-ey and indistinct, not to mention rather loud. As I looked out from the stage at the basketball hoops on the wall opposite it reminded me of the gigs I used to go to at The Sports Barn at Brunel University all those years ago. Some of them sounded pretty bad too... in the meantime there time for a rehearsal with the dancers who were joining us for several numbers, as well as the 20 (count 'em, 20!) of Dave's pupils who are joining us for Minnie The Moocher. It all sounded better after a while - or maybe I was just getting used to it? After soundcheck there was an informal workshop where the college's music students had some time to ask the band members questions - I was surrounded by guitarists, most of whom seemed to be able to play much better than I could at their age (and that's not false modesty, they really could!)
In addition to the usual suspects on stage Dave had arranged for a very special guest to join us - Roberto Pla on percussion. Being the sad man that I am I was aware that he'd once worked with Joe Strummer, who he described to me as 'a sweet man' which was good to hear; mind you he also worked with Motorhead in the film 'Eat The Rich', and the mere mention of their name bought a broad smile to his face. He's an extraordinary player, and it was a real pleasure to be able to spend a bit of time with him, and indeed to play some music with him.
We've got a squash court to use as a dressing room - really! - and with the venue rapidly filling up the mood is good, not least because all those people in the room should soak up some of the echo. The gig began at 7 o'clock - 10 minutes into it I looked out to scenes reminiscent of 'A Hard Day's Night' with teenage girls (and indeed boys) screaming, dancing, trying to get on stage - I am of course a serious artist who could never normally condone such trivialising of my life's work (ahem) but I'm bound to say that I absolutely loved it. With a couple of hundred people in the sound had improved no end (thank God!) and the 20-trumpet version of 'Minnie' really was something to behold. A great gig.
The idea of spending Friday evening in Croydon might not be everybody's idea of a good time but on the evidence of the show that I played there with T.V. Smith last week a rethink is definitely in order. The Scream Lounge is a fine venue, and given that the evening also featured ex-Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp this was a night that I'd been looking forward to for quite some time. The gig was organised by Tony a.k.a. Fleagle, a long-standing member of the TUTS ('T.V. Smith's United Tour Supporters') and all-round good bloke - myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived to find him and Sharon a.k.a. Mrs. Fleagle on the door and quite a few people already in the venue. By the time we'd said hello to T.V. and got some drinks from the downstairs bar (which itself is another venue) it was more-or-less time for Dave Sharp to start. I remember seeing The Alarm sometime in the 1980's and it was obvious then that he was a great player, but he's now re-invented himself as a solo acoustic performer and sounded absolutely excellent. Some great original songs alongside a version of Little Feat's 'Willin'' had me thinking that if an early-era Bob Dylan had come from Salford he'd have sounded like Dave Sharp. How cool is that? I spoke to him and his manager Mike after the gig and they were both really nice chaps and very passionate about what they're doing which, considering The Alarm were a stadium-straddling rock band was great to see - I've met people who have had a fraction of the success that Dave's had and they've been jaded and miserable about the whole thing. And if that's not enough he's interested in playing at The Load of Hay! Top Man!
As I was setting up T.V. remarked how good Dave's show was and added 'maybe we should have rehearsed!' Well maybe we should but I'm not sure the evening would have been much better from our point of view, as it was one of the best shows I've played with him. That said it was not without a couple of amusing incidents - TV. began introducing 'One Of Our Missiles Is Missing' with a story about 'going around blowing up rich people's bomb shelters' - as he was talking I remember thinking something like 'this doesn't sound quite right', and sure enough it didn't, as he was talking about a totally different song! I must find out which one as it sounded really good... then he broke a string during 'Expensive Being Poor'; as he got a new one out of the packet he said 'normally I'm the one that has to think of something to say when this happens, but tonight it's Leigh's turn to be humiliated'! And it was - I've got very little idea what I was going on about other than (a) T.V. thought I sounded like Dick Emery at one point (which gave me chance to say that I met his son once - bizarre but true!) and (b) T.V. announced that if he had a time machine he would go back in time 10 minutes so that he could play 'Walk The Plank' in it's correct place in the set (we've been playing shows that feature his songs in chronological order) which struck me as an interesting thing to say, as if you had a time machine you could go anywhere at any point in history... I received an e-mail from Fleagle the next day that referred to us as 'The Morecambe and Wise of Croydon so I suppose we must have been entertaining if nothing else! (Here is the story from the TUTS point of view - I always did enjoy a good lurk...)
Saturday saw the first Upper Cut gig since August, at The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green. Myself and Roger (drums) arrived to find the 2 Terry's (vocals and bass) more-or-less set up and ready to go; I was surprised and indeed delighted to see 2 old Price fans in attendance - local lad Colin Gibbons (some very famous faces lived near him!) and arch Godfathers disciple Andy Knight, and it was great to see them both again. They both seemed to enjoy our efforts, as did the locals, some of whom danced which is a hitherto unseen occurrence in the venue (well, unseen by me at least!) but most of whom roared encouragement which is always a good thing to be met with. I thought we played well but sounded a bit, for want of a better word, 'subdued' - both Terry the bass and myself thought our instruments sounded as though they didn't have any treble to the sound, and Roger wasn't happy with how his drums sounded either. Mind you both Colin and Andy said it sounded ok so maybe I'm getting a bit over-critical. (Oooh, imagine that!) We're there again next month - and why not?
After 3 nights playing 3 gigs with 3 different acts (and Friday and Saturday in the shop) I spent a fair bit of Sunday asleep. I guess it's an age thing! Still I made it across to Tropic At Ruislip in the evening to see Pat McManus, and I'm glad that I did as it was a chance to see a bona fide guitar (and indeed violin) hero in a local venue. He's a great player with every trick in the book (playing the guitar behind his head, leaning it against the bass drum to play slide, right hand tapping - you name it, he can do it! I found it a bit too 'rock' for my tastes, although there was no denying his prowess or indeed the musicianship of the rest of the band; that said the highlight for me was his acoustic tribute to Rory Gallagher although the encore of 'Black Rose' ran it close. A good gig by a fine player - although when it finished I half expected George McFall to appear next to me asking what I thought and to take me over to meet Pat (they were good friends) but of course that was not to be. A sad moment in an otherwise enjoyable evening.
Last night saw the last CBB gig for a while (nothing now until December - what's gone wrong?!?) at The Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire. I met dep saxman Ian (another one!) at Willesden Green tube station - the Nest cafe intriguingly offers an evening class in 'Laughter Yoga' - and we arrived at the venue in good time to soundcheck. Steve's depping on drums (I played an F.B.I. Band gig with him once before but it's his first outing with us) and he proves himself to be extremely adept - we're playing in The Carden Suite at the Annual Bathroom Conference of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (I'm not making this up, honest!) and we've got The Bridle Room in The Saddle Suite (or this!) to use as a dressing room. I've got another Marshall combo to use, it's not the most appropriate piece of kit for what we do (they're generally more suited to heavy rock) but it sounds pretty good to me. After a meal in the brasserie (steamed vegetable pudding - excellent!) 'it's hurry-up-and-wait' time - we go on just after 10 o'clock for what turns out to be a definitive corporate event, with most people going to the bar as soon as we start although by the end there was a good few on the dancefloor and we even got an encore, something of a rarity at these gatherings.
On the way to yesterday's gig I received a phone call offering me some work in this show - our singer Matt got a similar call and it looks like he'll be doing next month's gigs although sadly I won't, partly as rehearsals start next Tuesday and I physically don't have the time to get the 32 show songs learned, and partly because, well to put it bluntly, I'm not a good enough guitarist to play this stuff. Well, I don't think I am anyway - I could practise forever but I doubt that I'd ever be able to play the solo in this song, let alone this one. When I said this to some of the lads in the band yesterday they all assured me that I'd be ok and that I should do the shows which was really good of them (thanks boys if you're reading this!) but let's face it, I haven't got the hair for it. And I definitely don't have the trousers... maybe it's not the band for me after all? Still with very few gigs in the diary I can ill afford to turn work down - but I just have and I feel terrible. Terrible.
There are times when I'd swap some I.Q. points for a bit of confidence and this, my friends, is one of those times...