Monday, December 06, 2010

Good times are back

A good gig for The Upper Cut at the Load of Hay last night, a bit under-attended (well it was cold outside and in, at least until Grant the landlord lit the fire) but great fun nonetheless. And it had been a good 3 days before that, playing gigs in Wellingborough, Ipswich and Shoreham with T.V. Smith. Here's what happened - well, here are the bits that I can remember, it seems ages ago now...

It being busy times at Balcony Shirts your humble narrator did Thursday morning behind the counter before buying a mobile phone charger (you always forget something don't you? Well - I do!) and heading off on the Metropolitan Line towards Kings Cross Station. Progress was slow but steady (anyone would think it had been snowing! Actually most people that I spoke to in the previous few days didn't think I'd make it as far as the train let alone going anywhere on it; why do we always think that everywhere grinds to a halt just because the media says it does?) and I was there around 20 minutes early for a projected 'about 1.45' meeting at St. Pancras with the man himself. I was just spending far too much money in The Camden Food Co. when T.V. arrived, and we were on the 2 o'clock Corby train with a few minutes to spare. My guitar wouldn't fit in the overhead racks (surely it's not that big? come to think of it my bag wouldn't fit either - maybe the rack was small? Mind you T.V's guitar fitted! Help!) so the nearby unreserved seat 53 became it's resting place for a journey that saw some beery blokes attempting to explain why their tickets weren't in order to a clearly unimpressed inspector (one of them said 'don't worry mate that's mine' when my guitar fell out of the seat; when I said that he didn't have to worry as it was actually mine he said 'well, you've got to try haven't you?' I despair of people sometimes) but was otherwise uneventful. As we stepped off the train at a freezing cold Kettering Station T. V. smiled and said 'welcome to the T.V. Smith touring experience'. Excellent!
We were originally booked to play at Sawyers in Kettering but sadly the venue has just closed; however promoters Bambi and Trina (both members of the excellent 'urban rail punk' band Eastfield) found an alternative venue in the shape of The Horseshoe Inn at nearby Wellingborough. Bambi met us at the station and we went back to his and Trina's house where support act and Blyth Power guitarist Steven Cooper was already present and correct. A couple of hours of coffee and television followed (I nearly typed 'Coffee and T.V.' there! Ooops!) with England's ill-fated bid to host the 2018 World Cup caused particular merriment, not least when Martin Peters said 'I'm gutted' just as T.V. said 'he'll say ''I'm gutted" in a minute'. As the commentator put it, 'the paint's hardly dry on the announcement yet!'
6 o'clock and with Trina staying at home nursing a bad leg it's off to the venue for the rest of us. The poster behind the D.J. booth said 'THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES' and although they seem to put bands on regularly at the venue it seems unlikely that they're of the punky variety. 'There'll be no one here so I'm applying the 5 pint rule' says Steven cheerily as he ordered his first drink, promising 4 more before his appearance - T.V. and myself soundchecked with 'Third Term' (T.V. noted that he was plugged into P.A. channels 2 and 6 - 'half a crown') before Steven sets up his amplifier ('I've hired it for £6!') and I walked down to the nearby kebab shop for some chips in a pitta bread. Well - you're allowed to eat stuff like that when you're on tour!
9.15 and with considerably more people in that he'd anticipated (many of the old Sawyers crowd had made the journey) Steven rather unsteadily took to the stage for a fine if rather, shall we say, loose set of original material. 'Am I slurring my words?' he asked smiling broadly; 'I was the 60th Whiskey Priest, the umpteenth Blyth Power guitarist at least' - now there's a chorus that only he could write! He also referred to T.V and myself as 'Jedward' on a number of occasions...
10.15 and we're on with 'No Time To Be 21'. We'd not had chance to rehearse together so had decided to stick to our 'chronological set' of the last few gigs, and with only a few moments of madness it all went rather well. I'd hoped to use my MXR Micro Amp pedal to boost the volume of my solos but that had refused to work at the soundcheck (good job I'd tried it then as it had worked fine at home) so I used the tried and trusted 'hit the stings harder during the solos' method - still I use it all the time when playing electrically so I'll have to either fix it or buy a new one. Bugger! Our set finished with the 'Adverts trilogy' of 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes', 'Bored Teenagers' and 'One Chord Wonders' to plenty of applause and at least one cry of 'awesome' from a younger audience member. A good first gig of 3.

I woke up the next morning at 10 o'clock, though I think that I'd have slept a lot longer if I hadn't set an alarm. I'd taken a sleeping bag and there were 2 quilts on the bed since there was no radiator in my room - I wasn't cold in the night but I guess with that lot on I shouldn't have been! When I went downstairs Bambi was loading footage of our gig onto his computer; whilst doing so he showed me some Sawyers footage, it looked like a really good venue but as he said, 'it's time to move on' Let's hope it works out for them in Wellingborough.
'What was going on at the end of 'Gary Gilmore' last night?' said T.V. rather pointedly; well I don't know so let's have a look at the footage... one too many riffs from the guitarist. It's a fair cop!
A thankfully recovered Trina dropped us at the station at 1 o'clock ('one down' said T.V. as we walked away from the car) where we learned that our train was delayed by 15 minutes. This gave us time for coffee and a scone (punk rock eh?!?) before heading over the bridge to catch our train back to St. Pancras. Yes, St. Pancras - strange as it may sound it's easier for us to go back to London then up to Ipswich than to cut across country directly. Given my storage problems on the way there we opted to use our reserved seats as luggage space and sit in nearby unreserved seats - T. V. produced a book written in German as I caught up on phone calls. From St. Pancras we made our way to Liverpool Street via the Underground where we checked the departures board - ominously there was no platform indicated for our train - and stocked up on caffeine. At 3.25 and with our train due in 5 minutes there are still no clues as to where we're leaving from - an announcement says that the 3.30 train is about to leave from platform 10 and panic grips the assembled multitude. Somehow we get on board just as the whistle blows - as the train pulls away I make vain attempts to store my guitar on the crowded carriage, eventually (almost) wedging it in a luggage rack with my bag and sitting as near as I can to it so that I can keep an eye on it. We had reserved seats elsewhere on the carriage (mine was C60 - one for the cassette users among us!) but the ensuing chaos meant that things had descended into a free-for-all with people saying things like 'there are no reserved seats on delayed trains' as they elbowed people out of their way. As I say, I despair of people sometimes... 'welcome aboard the delayed 15.30 train to Norwich' said a cheery voice, before saying something about 'signaling problems at Ipswich'. At least he had his seat.
As we pulled in to Ipswich Station T.V. phoned the venue to tell them that we'd arrived. He came off the phone with the words ' look out for the blue Escort'. Outside the station the snow was thicker than we'd seen up until this point on our travels, and there were cars, taxis and buses everywhere in a 'it's-nearly-5 o'clock-on-a-Friday-evening' state of near-emergency. We managed to signal our presence to the blue Escort before it got caught in the chaos, and we arrived at The Steamboat Tavern a few minutes later where Val the landlady showed us to our rooms (to be precise she showed me as T.V. has played and stayed there many times before) then offered make us some food which we were both very grateful for - it had been a long time since the scones.
Soundcheck time - Rikki from Red Flag 77 is running the gig, and also on the bill is the splendidly named Ed Ache (yes!) and local poet Rowan. I lent Ed a lead so that he could use an in-line guitar tuner, and with him due on at 8.30 we're given a stage time of 9.45 with Rowan doing a set inbetween our 2 acts. With quite a few people in Ed in onstage on time, he's got dreadlocks down to his knees and uses a ukulele for the first few songs and an acoustic guitar for the rest, both of which sound like a chainsaw as he roars through his material with great energy. 'Here's another song about having no money, it's called "£12.50 a day" - he's going down well and the atmosphere is good with a great evening in prospect, when suddenly the lights go out, the P.A. goes off and the initial audience cry of 'Whay-hay!' is replaced by confused murmurings. I look out of the window at the flats opposite, there are lights on so it can't be too bad - or is that emergency lighting on the stairs? Bar staff with torches eye the fuse box warily as Val produces a bewildering amount of candles and people wonder if they can still get a drink or not. Ed carries on singing then Rowan bravely begins his set, gripping his pint glass like his life depended on it as people struggle to hear him. Meanwhile people are asking how come the lights are still on in the toilets as T.V. and myself wonder what to do - do we go on or do we wait to see if the power returns? We're at the bar speculating furiously when there's a sudden burst of light, then darkness again, then light again with another cry of 'Whay-hay!' - people start blowing candles out as we get ourselves ready to play. 'No Time To Be 21' ends to relieved applause, it's all going to be alright and everything's going great until 'The Suit' when the power suddenly dips for a split-second, then again a few seconds later, no 'Whay-hay!' this time but we get to the end of the song in one piece. 'Runaway Train Driver' sees a conga around the pub (Val banned them from going outside as it was too dangerous!) and the Adverts Trilogy sees more than a little pogoing. Great stuff, although I can't help wondering what I would be typing if the power hadn't come back on...
After the show it's time for a drink, and with Me First and The Gimme Gimmes on the Cd player everyone seems relieved that it all went well in the end. T.V. and myself sign birthday boy Stalkie's gig poster as an 'are Gogol Bordello any good?' debate begins and Rikki attempts to tell us about his 'other' band The East Town Pirates - 'we get called ''The East End Pirates'', I mean what's that all about, do people think we're going to go "da da da da daa daa daaa" then shout "OOO AH ME HEARTIES'?'

Saturday began with coffee and Marmite on toast - a good start. T.V. sits changing his strings as we talk through the day to come - catch the train down to Stratford, then from there T.V. is off to do a late afternoon solo gig in Hove before meeting myself and the long-suffering Shirley in Shoreham for our evening show there. Baz gives us a lift to the station, it's busy as Ipswich are at home to Swansea but we get there in time for the 12.08 to Stratford - which is of course delayed to 12.30. A man asks me if I'm 'on the fiddle' as I'm getting my ticket out, I misheard him and thought he'd said something about the football but he points at my guitar case and looks pleased with himself. I smile and join T. V. on the platform, pausing to read the 'leaf fall update' by the ticket machines - it seems that they've 'implicated an extensive line side vegetation management programme' which I guess means that it's not leaves causing all these delays then... on the platform the '2010 Timetable Change Surgery' notice sits next to the 'New Footbridge and Lift' information which thanks us all for our 'support and co-operation while we undergo the enhancements'. Hmm...
With the platform full of Swansea City fans our train arrives in the nick of time.It's not too full so we anarchically choose seats in coach F instead of our allotted coach C (punk rock eh?!? Mind you T.V. was now reading Steve Ignorant's book so maybe anarchy really was in the air...) and, passing through T.V.'s birthplace Romford on the way, arrive at a busy Stratford Station without any problems. The Central Line train back into town is full as quite a few of the other lines aren't running due to maintenance work (how annoying is that every weekend?) and I'm very relieved to meet Shirley at West Ruislip Station where we make a detour to drop some posters off at The Bell in Ruislip for the upcoming Upper Cut show there this Friday before coming home. A shower and some food are both much needed from my point of view, and at 6 o'clock we leave to wind our way down to Shoreham. As we pull up outside the Duke Of Wellington it's pouring down with rain, we're steeling ourselves to get indoors as quickly as we can when a bedraggled Attila The Stockbroker arrives on a bicycle carrying a violin. We go inside to find him and T.V. ordering drinks, the pub has an excellent selection of real ales which Attila is something of an expert on. We set up and soundcheck in no time, and Peter from Peter and The Test Tube Babies arrives just as we finish. I attempt to describe his band to Shirley but give up after telling her the title of their first album... by the time we go on there are a few people in including ex-Blyth Power guitarist Wob who I'd not seen for ages abut who now works behind the bar at the pub. Attila is right at the front for most of our set singing along, he joins us on violin for 'Lion And The Lamb' and 'Runaway Train Driver' in the middle of our set and 'One Chord Wonders' at the end, he speaks emotively about how T.V. inspired and continues to inspire him, eventually persuading T.V. to play 'Not In My Name' to end a great gig, in fact a 3 great gigs which I'll remember for a very long time. And talking of remembering things...

I was at an Attila gig sometime in the late '80's, I think at the Mean Fiddler Acoustic Room although I could be wrong there; Attila said something like 'I'm going to play a song by one of Britain's greatest ever songwriters' before performing 'The Suit' on mandola. One of the people I was with asked who T.V. Smith was - I turned to them and said words to the effect of 'you must heard of T.V. Smith, he was in The Adverts, a great songwriter, a genius in fact...' and as I said it I realised he and Gaye Advert were standing right behind us. I think I managed an awkward hello and then said 'well - you are!'

He doesn't remember it happening, but I do. I've just played 3 gigs with him, and as I say, I'll remember them too.

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