Monday, November 29, 2010

Green is the colour

Two posts in a row get a comment. Excellent! Thanks Snaggletooth - it's always nice to know that the people who read this blog are far far wittier than the guy writing it... and it's good to see 'Socialist Worker' warming up for next year's festivities with an article that reminds us all just how lucky we are to be part of the 'Big Society'. Or not. And then there's The Daily Mash - well, like I said last time, just because something is an easy target it doesn't mean that it shouldn't be hit...

Well it seems that it's not just the gigs that I play that clash - this Friday I'd like to have gone to see Slim Chance at the 100 Club, and Saturday The Newtown Neurotics and Attila The Stockbroker played at The Gaff, not to mention The Lee Ryder Band (featuring Upper Cut drummer Roger) at the Load of Hay. Mind you this gives me chance to mention something that bought a smile to my face for obvious reasons - there's a Facebook campaign to make 'Kick Out The Tories' by Harlow finest the Christmas number 1. Now that's got to be a good idea hasn't it? Click here to get involved... but it was a roaringly good night on Friday when local-lads-made-good Awaken played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge. Myself and East stumbled through the front door in a 'oh-gawd-my-glasses-have-steamed-up-'cos-it's-so-cold-outside' haze just as 'Free Fallin'' came to a close, with Martin the singer saying 'hello Philip - oh sorry Leigh' as I made my way unsteadily to the bar. Pete's on guitar, Ken's on bass and with regular drummer Russell off with a bad knee Drew's depping on drums. A few songs into their second set Martin said something like 'We're going to get our friend Leigh up to do a couple of songs with us after this one' - I thought Pete had been joking when at halftime he said it would be good to get me up to play. He let me use his very - make that very - nice Les Paul; when I put it on I realised that he uses a much - make that much - shorter guitar strap than I do which felt really awkward although the guitar was so good to play I didn't notice after a while. Martin introduced 'Sweet Home Chicago' then said 'over to you Leigh' - after that it was 'Play That Funky Music', and after that it was back to the bar. I was just getting going! Still the return to the bar saw much merriment with myself and East eventually leaving sometime after 2 o'clock in a state of no little confusion...

I woke up at 8.30 Saturday morning realising that (a) I'd forgotten to set an alarm, and (b) I didn't feel very much more sober that when I went to bed. Not good frankly. I must stop doing that! Still all things considered I didn't feel too bad although was flagging by the end of a day in the shop that was more than busy enough to take my mind off my rather fragile condition. No time to worry about that though, as myself and former Price manager Eddie were off to The 100 Club (let's face it, I couldn't have gone 2 nights running could I? Actually my mates The Sex Pistols Experience were there on Sunday so I could have gone to that too!) for a tribute night dedicated to the memory of the late and undeniably great Mick Green who sadly died earlier this year. And a cracking evening it was too, with spirited performances from The Animals (drummer John Steel was snowbound up in Newcastle so Dylan Howe depped) and a predictably brilliant Wilko Johnson (joined by Johnny Spence on vocals for 'Going Back Home', a song Wilko wrote with Mick Green) ushering in the main event of the evening - The Green Brothers. Mick's sons Brad on guitar and Lloyd on bass were joined by drummer Mike Roberts and Johnny Spence on vocals for a blast through some of the best loved Pirates material. And 'blast' was very much the operative word for a thunderous performance with Brad reproducing his dad's guitar parts with unnerving accuracy and Spence in full Sweeney villain mode throughout. At one point he said that Brad had only started playing in January, which if true is absolutely astonishing - maybe that's when he started taking it seriously but I think he must have picked one up before then?!? But it was weird to see so many of Mick's mannerisms both while he was playing and at the end of the gig when he shook hands with members of the front row just like his dad used to. A great evening, and a fitting tribute to Britain's greatest rock ' n roll guitarist. And The 100 Club is still one of the great London venues - surely it's not going to close?

And now for something completely different, as Squirrel and myself braved a journey to Birmingham on Sunday evening to catch a show at The Alexandra Theatre by - wait for it - Marc Almond. Yes it does look like it just said 'Marc Almond' doesn't it? As often happens the explanation is a simple one - Dave Ruffy is on drums, and invited us to the gig. Oh and Carl who plays bass for The F.B.I. Band (who both Squirrel and myself have depped with) is in the band too. And I have to say - and I'm only going to say this once - it was a great show; not really my type of thing but you can't deny Mr. Almond's considerable stage presence and indeed vocal prowess, despite suffering from laryngitis. A fine version of Scott Walker's 'Jackie' closed the first half, and the night ended with a brace of solo and Soft Cell hits. A good gig all round. No really!

Right- back to work, or to be exact, an Upper Cut rehearsal due to start in just over an hour. We're playing at The Load of Hay this coming Sunday (5th December - Terry the bassman's birthday gig!) and I've got 3 gigs with T.V. Smith (details on his website) before then. That's more like it!

Monday, November 22, 2010

God only knows

Well I certainly wasn't expecting the comment that the last posting received - is that religious spam? I actually thought someone might have a go at me - reading it again I'm not sure that they didn't! And yeah, I know it's a cheap shot to have a go at the Royal Wedding, but just because something's an easy target it doesn't mean that it shouldn't be hit. Which reminds me, Lord Young has become the latest top Tory (a bit of a contradiction in terms?) who's had to resign after his remarks regarding the 'so-called recession'. Remind me again why any working class person thought that it would be a good idea to vote Conservative?

Ok, more moaning - I tuned into one of the music channels that we all seem to have on the T.V. on the other day to be confronted by the sight of the excellent - maybe that should be formerly excellent? - Roy Wood in seasonal mode. Could the man who wrote all those great songs with The Move and Wizzard really do a medley of 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' and 'Wombling Merry Christmas' with those rock gods The Wombles? Sadly he could, and even more sadly he did. Awful. Awful. But not as awful as the next song, 'Firework' by Katy Perry. The combination of intelligence-insulting lyrics and banal half-finished sounding music might actually be the worst recording I've ever heard. It makes 'Mull Of Kintyre' sound like 'My Generation', and Keane sound like The Clash. I would have switched channels or left the room but it was so terrible that I felt as though it was something I needed to endure as some sort of bizarre rite of passage before I could listen to something decent. Even the bit in the video where her chest emits sparks couldn't rescue it. Totally and utterly appalling.

Then again, what do I know? I'm supposed to be a musician but I'm only playing a grand total of 2 - count 'em, 2! - gigs this month, and one of them was a short notice 'can-you-lot-fill-in-for-a-band-that's-cancelled?' show with The Upper Cut on Saturday at After Office Hours in Barnet. Our first set saw dancing in the first song and a fair amount from then on in - a guy out of the audience kept asking us if he could sing 'Brown Eyed Girl' with us - Terry the singer let him have a go and he made a reasonable job of the bits he knew; sadly for the rest of the time he was reduced to roaring 'I DUNNO THE FARKING WORDS TO VIS BIT' which his mates found hilarious. Maybe it was? I'll never know why people like him do this sort of thing to themselves. Mind you I'm not entirely sure why people like us let them. Still, a good gig overall and we were offered a return date next month which I sadly can't do as I'm gigging with T.V. Smith that night. It's always the same isn't it? - none for ages and then 2 come along at once...

Sunday it was time for a return visit to The Load of Hay for the ever-excellent Kris Dollimore. Since his last visit he's been spending a fair bit of time playing out in France (click here for a clip of him on French T.V) as well as recording a new album which judging by the new songs played at last night's performance will be his best yet. In a new departure he used a looper pedal to create drone effects during some of the songs, which he'd been apprehensive about before the gig but I thought sounded terrific particularly on 'The Mercy Man'. I've never seen him do a bad show but when he pronounced himself happy with his performance I knew that this one had been outstanding. Wonderful stuff - I think he could have made even 'Firework' sound like a classic. Well maybe not, but you get the idea.

Right, time to stop moaning (for once!) and to get practicing some guitar. When there are not too many gigs about it's important to stay match fit for when the phone rings. Assuming it does of course...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The more things change, the more they stay the same

So - there's going to be a Royal Wedding. That's nice.

In these days of cuts 'n' clampdowns the putdowns are obvious, so I'll stick with the 'Socialist Worker' headline from all those years ago :-


I thank you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From Breakspear to Bethnal Green

And the obituary column continues - my mate Tony has died. I met him through Stuart the guitar repair man, he was a very clever chap, a bit of a boffin who worked at the BBC, played some guitar and liked motor sports among other things. Shirley and myself went to his funeral at Breakspear Crematorium last week and she realised that she knows his son Richard through her work. Stu tells me there might well be a memorial gig for him with donations to Cancer Research UK, and there's an interesting idea for people to play his guitars rather than their own. I'll do my very best to be at that one.

Talking of guitars (for once!) the excellent Steve Simpson (aided and abetted for some of the show by his brother Bruce on guitar and mandolin) gave a splendid performance at The Load of Hay last Sunday. He's playing some shows with the reformed Slim Chance in the not-too-distant future which should be well worth catching as well as continuing to play with Roger Chapman (we're thinking of playing the Family classic 'Burlesque' in The Upper Cut - Steve showed me the 'correct' way to play what is a very tricky song on guitar. Top man!) but it always seems to me that his solo shows are a chance for him to play what he wants rather than what he plays as part of someone else's act. Highlights were many and varied 'though I have to mention his version of the Meal Ticket song 'Golden Girl' (here is a recent version that also features fellow ex-Meal Ticket man Willy Finlayson - good song don't you think?) and the Bob Dylan song 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' as standout songs. A fine performance.

Sunday night gigs for the rest of the year feature the wonderful Kris Dollimore this coming Sunday (21st) then The Upper Cut 'pre-Christmas / Terry the bassman's birthday' gig on December 5th followed by the legend that is John Otway on December 12th - that's not a bad line-up is it? And my fellow blogger and Blue Five member Voltarol is on the radio at 8.45 tomorrow evening playing some of his beloved Brazilian music - click here to join him!

An interesting Wednesday saw your humble narrator accompany Stuart the guitar repair man (him again! - now there's a name that's been absent from these hallowed pages for a while; remind me to tell you why sometime...) to Westmount Music, a new instrument shop in Marlow Bottom. Paul the boss seems a nice chap, and the shop's an interesting mix of stuff so let's hope they can make a go of it. I was left thinking was that they should play some music or show some DVD's in the shop as the atmosphere was a bit 'cold' although maybe that was just me? In the meantime it was off to visit Miles (a longtime customer of Stu's who features in this posting among others) where we dropped a guitar off and where I, after a look at his rather mind-boggling collection of instruments, somehow ended up taking one of his guitars back with me with a view to possibly buying it off him. How did that happen? 'Try it at your gig on Saturday' said he cheerily. Ok, I will... from there we made our way to a farmhouse near Cobham for a visit to Electric Wood, the home of Wal bass guitars. Stu worked for them a few years ago, and Paul the luthier had asked him to come across to have a look at a MIDI bass that wasn't working properly - while he looked at that I spent a bit of time in the spray booth where a badly damaged 1959 Gibson Les Paul Special was being refinished. All very interesting stuff - no, really, it was. Well, I liked it!

The Good Old Boys returned to The General Elliot in Uxbridge on Friday evening, and gave a suitably boisterous performance in front of a suitably boisterous audience. The twin guitar attack of Pete and Simon sounded as excellent as ever, Hud and Nick didn't put a foot wrong all night and Alan sang as well as I've ever heard him - and if you ever wanted to see Nick Simper play 'Hush' then here's your chance. Afterwards East and myself ended up discussing life, the universe and everything with Hud, who regaled us with tales of touring Christian venues in America with Rick Wakeman and much more besides. As I stumbled off homewards at (gulp!) 2.30 a.m. I said something along the lines of 'I've got to be in Balcony Shirts in 6 1/2 hours' (well, that's what I intended to say; it probably sounded more like 'I'f gotta being Bacony Shirs in sis anna haf ours'. Mind you, East understood me although we can only wonder what his reply of 'Warrghh!' was actually intended to be...) and realised that maybe, just maybe, we should have left when the band finished at midnight as we'd originally intended...

Considering the previous evening's antics Saturday at Balcony Shirts could have been a lot more difficult than it turned out to be, although judging by the increase in customers Christmas is definitely on the horizon - mind you I did have to have a sleep pretty much as soon as I got home. All this 'getting older' stuff isn't all that it's cracked up to be I can tell you... still it was back to The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green for the latest Upper Cut gig, and a very enjoyable one it was too - we went on after the boxing for 2 well-received sets with much dancing and general jollity, although I did wonder what was going on when a large chap walked past carrying a tall blonde lady over his shoulder... I used Miles's guitar for the first set and mine for the second - the general consensus was mine sounded better (it should, it's a lot more expensive!) but that the other one could be a good addition to my guitar army. Oh well - there go the wages. Again. Perhaps I should sell something first... hmm... I'll have a think over the next few days...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

'Vinyl Rules!' Episode One - The Chairs

Proof (were it needed) that I've had far too much time on my hands this week comes with the news that I've bought myself one of those turntables that allows you to convert records into mp3's which you can then make into CD's, put on an iPod and probably do lots of other things with that I'm not clever or indeed young enough to know about. I've been thinking about getting one for a while, as there are quite a few records in my collection that are sadly unlikely to ever emerge on CD and this seemed to be an obvious way for me to transfer them across to the digital world. It's also a chance for me to re-discover some of these recordings, and in doing so it occurred to me that it would be fun to write about them here. So let's start with a band that could have been, and indeed were contenders - I refer of course to The Chairs.

I think I first saw The Chairs at the late and much-lamented Fulham Greyhound (well it's certainly lamented by me although I can't find much on the Internet about it!) sometime in 1988. I guess they were supporting someone but I can't for the life of me remember who, a fact which amply sums up the impact that they had on the evening. They were simply tremendous. I'd been a huge fan of much missed Medway magicians The Prisoners who I'd seen many times and who I always thought should have been massively successful, but here was a band who had all their best elements (great songs, loads of energy and a Hammond Organ that sounded like the loudest and therefore greatest thing on Earth) but who somehow seemed to be an altogether more commercial proposition. They looked good, sounded great and such was their overall brilliance that I somehow overcame my innate shyness and struck up a conversation with one of them, who directed me to their larger-than-life manager Jim - I left for home that night with a copy of their first single and a masterplan that somehow meant that The Chairs and The Price were somehow going to take over the World together. I may have been a little drunk...
The next morning (afternoon?!?) I played the single - the A-side 'The Likes Of You' was brilliant, the b-side 'Something's Happening' was if anything even better, and the band were clearly as wondrous as I'd decided they were the previous evening. By the time their second single came out (the magnificent 'Size 10 Girlfriend' / 'Cut 'n' Dried', probably my favourite of their releases) they'd established themselves as a popular live act and were in hot pursuit of a record contract. Over the next couple of years this became something of an obsession within the band, as there always seemed to be a label or labels interested but no one would bite the bullet and sign them. I remember singer / guitarist / songwriter Paul Sullivan once saying to me words to the effect of 'all that matters is us getting a record contract, we can work everything else out from there', which is a measure of how much it meant to him. Their third single 'Honey I Need A Girl Of A Different Stripe' / 'I Can't Say I'm Sorry' kept up the pressure, as did their live shows which continued to be superb although by their fourth and last single 'Crestfallen' / 'Sometimes It Takes A Hammer' I remember thinking that the atmosphere in the band had changed - the music was still excellent but the mood seemed somehow darker. And then, suddenly, they were gone, leaving just 4 singles and an almost limitless amount of potential that appeared to evaporate almost overnight. Paul went on to play with The Crowd Scene and The Liberty Takers as well as making some solo acoustic appearances but I'm not sure what he (or indeed the rest of the band and their mercurial manager Jim) gets up to these days. I hope they're all still involved in music, but in the meantime there are any number of unreleased songs that remain in the memory banks from live shows - 'Boys From Slumberland', 'Brave Little Soldier', 'All I Need To Know' (inspired by Albert Goldman's controversial book 'The Lives Of John Lennon' - Paul's a huge Lennon fan, and judging by this song is not too enthusiastic about the book) and 'Neck Of The Woods' among them as well as a cover of Elvis Costello's 'Beaten To The Punch', all doubtless destined to remain unheard unless a retrospective compilation magically appears.

Well I've made my compilation from the singles and I've hardly stopped playing it since - 20-odd years on they sound as great as ever. It's good when that happens. Sit on that music!