Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Eat up - you're at your Auntie's!'

My Auntie Emma died yesterday. My Dad called me on my mobile phone while I was working in the shop - when I saw on the screen that it was him I knew it was bad news. Well, you do, don't you? She was fine (well, we thought she was) when we saw her last July, but she became ill before Christmas. While we were with her Shirley took a picture of me with her in her front room - I was thinking about posting it here but don't want to look at it just yet. She was my Auntie Emma, and I'm going to miss her. I miss her already.

Meanwhile back in mad-guitar-land it was a roaringly good evening on Friday when The Upper Cut made a welcome return visit to The Dolphin in Uxbridge. When Roger and myself arrived a serious-looking game of pool was in progress - not a good sign as the band's set up where the pool table is - however a few seconds after the game ended the table was swiftly moved and we were able to set our gear up with no problems. A fair-sized audience witnessed a boisterous performance that blew last's Friday's show out of the water, with a fair bit of dancing not least during a hitherto unperformed encore medley of 'Sweet Little Rock and Roller' and 'Johnny B. Goode' - someone kept shouting for the latter so we played the former as we often do and Terry sang a couple of verses of the latter. Someone asked me where the toilet was during the guitar solo in 'You Really Got Me' and Big Al sang 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and 'Sweet Home Chicago' - as Terry put it, 'that one made up for last week's one didn't it?' How right he was. And Dave from Balcony Shirts turned up along with some of his Action And Action bandmates - when I saw them in the shop the next day guitarist Luigi remarked that as he was watching us he wondered 'is that me in 20 years time?' A good question - if you'd have asked me during my time in The Price whether or not I'd, for want of a better term, 'end up' playing cover versions in a pub I'd probably have defiantly replied with some nonsense along the lines of 'NEVER! I'M A SERIOUS ARTIST!' and then gone home and hated myself for even considering the prospect of doing something like that (I was a barrel of laughs in those days!) But it's not a bad place to have ended up, and it's a good band to have ended up in, or it certainly is when the gigs are as good as this one was. Great stuff, and we're back there in May...

And we were back in Norfolk last night, for a Chicago Blues Brothers show at Caister Hall. When myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived the rest of the band were set up and ready - it's a 'nearly-the-A-team' gig with Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums, local lad Dave on trumpet (the show was at a party for his friend Julie's 40th birthday) with Ian depping for Richard on saxophone, Ian returning on keyboards and Pete and Mike in the hats and glasses. We played in the same hall a few years ago - I don't remember the door to the car park being alarmed then but it certainly is now, as it went off as we opened it... and I don't remember there being a volume restriction device then but there certainly is one now (apparently a neighbour has been complaining about the noise - I'll send him the bill for the damage that my amplifier sustained when it was switched on and off quickly by said device shall I?) which turns the power off for a few seconds if you exceed a pre-set volume limit. We managed to avoid setting it off in our first set but it went off twice (during 'Long Train Running' and 'Respect' in case you were wondering) in our second set of party (i.e. non Blues Brothers) songs - apparently they set the threshold lower later in the evening. It would have been nice if they'd told us... other than that it was an enjoyable if slightly loose performance - we don't play together as much as we used too - perhaps best summed up by the moment where Mike's comment of 'I think we might be becoming a bit predictable' was met by Dave's reply of 'I knew you were going to say that'. Enough said!

In between sets I sat on my own in the dressing room, thinking about Auntie Emma. She hadn't seemed to be ill when we last saw her a mere 8 months ago, and now she's gone. She'd said then how she thought she'd had a good life, always with people to love and who loved her. I reflected on Luigi's thoughts earlier in the day, just before I got my Dad's phone call. I'm lucky to be able to play the guitar, whoever I 'end up' doing it with. I get sad, frustrated, even angry sometimes when there isn't much gigging going on (April is looking very quiet at the moment...) but that's because I enjoy playing so much. On our way to the gig we'd stopped to get something to eat - as we sat in the cafe Shirley said to the waitress how beautiful the sunset looked through the window, and the waitress wearily replied that she was always too busy to notice things like that, and that 'I ignore everything out there, what with the traffic noise and everything'. But we (and indeed the waitress) were lucky to be able to see that sunset, and I think Auntie Emma would have liked it too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surprise surprise

I was correct with my 'no gigs this week' assumption until Wednesday morning when I got a text message from Upper Cut singer Terry asking if I was free on Friday as there was a chance of a gig for us. Heroically resisting sending back 'I'm not free but I'm cheap' (sorry!) I instead sent a 'yes-where's-the-gig?' reply and awaited further instructions. After a short period of time (presumably while Terry waited to hear from Terry the bass and Roger the drums, then got back to the agency who was booking the gig) I got the 'it's on' message along with the news that it was a return visit to After Office Hours in Barnet. This was a bit of a surprise since we only played there last month, and since it wasn't exactly our greatest ever performance (we were too loud and there wasn't much of an audience) I for one wondered if we'd get another show there - still with everyone available it was perhaps a chance to make amends for last time. Then, on Friday morning I got another text message from Terry to say that there had been a mistake and the gig was actually at Sweeney's in Ruislip. Well, at least we found out before we all went to the wrong venue...

Upon arriving at Sweeney's I remembered that the only other show that we'd played at the venue (also a short notice event) had not been particularly enjoyable - the audience didn't take much notice of us and there was a fight in the interval. This time the audience didn't take much notice of us (or so we thought at the time) and there was a fight after the show (nice variation on a theme don't you think?) Still it was good to see Stuart the guitar repairman and Pete from Awaken, both of whom left after the first set (we played 2 sets, the first from 10 - 11 p.m. and the second from 11.30 p.m. - 12.45 a.m.) saying that it was nowhere near as bad as we were thinking that it was. It turned out that they were probably correct as we were asked for contact details by 3 different groups of people who were interested in booking us for private parties so maybe we were all being a bit negative? But it felt like hard work, not least when a young man stumbled up onto the stage saying that he'd just split up with his girlfriend, and she'd turned up there tonight, and could we play 'that Bryan Adams song, you know the one, the one that goes ''der-der-der-der-der-dum'', it'll be the only thing that might win her back'... and some lads asked for Oasis, and some more wanted something by The Kings Of Leon, and there was another request for some Bob Dylan, and, and, and...

We didn't play any of them.

Still in a burst of 'let's-go-out-and-get-ourselves-some-gigs-at-places-that-we'd-like-to-play-at' enthusiasm myself and Terry the bass spent yesterday evening visiting 2 venues that had been recommended to us by friends in bands. First stop was The Sportsman in Croxley Green to catch the first set by Awaken - with Ken and Russ busy elsewhere Dave is depping on bass with the legend that is Mac Poole is on drums. There's a million things that could be said about Mac who was in Warhorse among many others - put his name into Google and be amazed! They sounded good and were going down very well when we left - I'd like to think that my guest spot on 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Play That Funky Music' (yeah, those 2 songs again; Pete very kindly bought a longer guitar strap along for me to use - I'll bring an even longer one along next time!) at the start of their second set contributed to the positive reaction although I think they were doing fine without me. From my point of view it was the only time I've ever faced an audience wearing a jumper (I forgot to take it off!) which didn't seem to hamper my playing too much - I might have to try it again!
From there it was off to The Kings Arms in Harefield to see the second set from Midnight, a West Drayton - based soul band who have been going in one form or another since the 1980s. They feature a 5 piece horn section (alto, tenor and baritone saxes with trumpet and trombone) and include Big Al Read on vocals and alto sax (not at the same time obviously!) Al's an old mate of Terry's who's got up and sang with The Upper Cut a couple of times; I don't think he wasn't in the band when I last saw them - mind you that was about 20 years ago! Their set was enthusiastically received by the assembled multitude, and rightly so as they sounded excellent. And I'm not just saying that because Al got us a gig there, honest!

I've got 2 gigs this week. At the moment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Back on the streets

Well my phone didn't ring, but as the computer clock clicked over to 14.50 'City Of The Dead' by The Clash was playing on the Balcony iPod. No really it was... and how sad is it that Gary Moore has died. I saw him play a few times, notably at the '50th Anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster concert in 2004 at the Wembley Arena where his version of Jimi Hendrix's 'Red House' stood out among an evening of standout performances. He was a fine musician who always gave 100% to every show - no, every note - and he's a great loss to the World of the electric guitar.

Talking of electric guitar - the absence of gigs for your humble narrator means that there's been chance to get out and see a few gigs in the last week or so, although oddly enough most of them have been at The Half Moon in Harrow. Last Friday (the 4th in case you're taking notes) Awaken played a fine show in front of an enthusiastic audience that even managed a bit of dancing in the second set; all such behaviour stopped during the 2 songs that I played with them (since you've asked they were 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Hard To Handle' - Pete has offered to get a longer guitar strap for me if I borrow his guitar again!) but I enjoyed myself all the same. Saturday I met the aforementioned Pete at the venue to catch the riskily-named Beaver (do your own punchline!) powering through 2 sets of harder rocking material than the previous night had featured, but no less entertaining all the same. I've known Clint the guitarist since my days in Pro Music (remind me to tell you what happened there one day... actually someone said to me the other day that 'no one goes there now that you don't work there as it's staffed by kids that don't know what they're talking about'. Surely that can't be true - can it?!?) and he's a fine player - he wasn't too happy with his performance as he had an ear infection and couldn't hear out of his right ear (I know the feeling!) but I thought he played well. I must try to catch the band again.

Wednesday evening I was down at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge to set the P.A. up for David Ferrard; it was a show organised by some Brunel University people (I never did really find out what was going on!) and when I got there around 7.45 they were pretty much ready for the show to start - maybe the students all go to sleep earlier these days? After a (very) quick set-up David performed 2 sets of folky originals mixed with a few Robert Burns songs (the students didn't seemed to have heard of him!) and American traditional numbers reflecting David's Scottish and American heritage. In true folk club tradition there were a few floor spots (where an audience member gets up and does a song or two) including a couple from Brunel lecturers whose prowess behind the microphone clearly caught their students unaware. A good gig - and the Acts Less Ordinary gigs start there again on Sunday 27th February with The Noisy Boys (as one local wit put it, 'they are neither noisy, nor are they boys...') with more to follow. With that in mind myself and East retired to the bar after David's show to discuss the possibility of a Price show there in the not-too-distant future - yes, we could be going to do it again just one more time...

One of the latest batch of Balcony Shirts proudly states 'Real Men Bake Bread'. In a moment of inspiration Scott (it's his design) came up with the idea of writing a song that would teach the listener how to make their own loaf (he does things like that!) which meant that first thing on Saturday morning Balcony Shirts became Balcony Studios as your humble narrator sat behind the counter of the The Custom Bar recording his Telecaster onto Scott's Pro Tools equipped laptop. The plan is to make a video to go with it, put it on YouTube and, well, take over the World. It sounded good so why not? Well, realistically there are any number of reasons why not, but I'll let you know how we get on. The day turned out to be a busy one, with probably the most unusual request coming from a young lady who had a t-shirt made to wear on an upcoming episode of 'Total Wipeout' - on the front it said 'THE BOY BASHER', on the back 'IS BACK' and I for one wasn't about to wind her up.

For the evening it was back to The Half Moon in Harrow to see The Bolaji Blues Band. Ken from Awaken is on bass and I've known guitarists Danny and Dave for quite a while but had never managed to catch the band before - I arrived just as they were starting their first number 'Worried Life Blues'. They sounded good and they're all excellent musicians, but I found that most if not all of the solos (and therefore the songs) went on rather too long for my liking. As I say the playing was terrific (the keyboard player hadn't played with them before - you'd never have known) and at it's best it all sounded fabulous - but at other times it reminded me why I like punk rock so much. Then again I found out later that they normally have a saxophone player who couldn't make the gig so they extended the guitar and keyboard solos to make up time so maybe I should stop moaning... Pete from Awaken got up with them for the last 2 numbers and to my surprise they invited me too get up too, but I declined the offer - I'd had far too much to drink by then! It turned out to be a good decision as they then played 'Rambling Man' - I'd definitely had to much to drink to get that one right!

No drinking last night (well, not too much!) as it was time for a gig with The Ali Mac Band at The Bulls Head in Barnes. The last few gigs with Ali and co. have been in an extended format, but this time I joined the standard line-up of Ali on vocals, Bill on bass, Hud on drums and Simon on guitar - I've depped for Simon with Bill and Hud before but this was the first time we've all played together. When Ali told me about the gig I was keen to be involved as George McFall had run The Stormy Monday Blues Club there for many years; it was the first time that I'd been back there since his untimely death last year and I wasn't the only person who kept expecting him to walk in... it being Valentine's Day there weren't too many people in attendance, but those who were there saw an excellent performance. Ali sang well, Bill and Hud were as solid as the proverbial rock, and Simon and myself must have been doing something right as we were getting applause after each guitar solo. That's never happened to me before! A great gig all round.

Back down to Earth - no gigs this week. Bah...

Sunday, February 06, 2011

10 years gone

I guess you know that you're old when you find yourself saying things like 'when I was a lad...'

When I was a lad I used to really like football. It used to be good didn't it? I was a Liverpool fan then, and I'm a Liverpool fan now, although I don't think I really care too much about the game these days - and not just because the Red Army aren't the team that they once were. After the Wayne Rooney 'is-he-isn't-he' transfer debacle last year my Dad, who began watching the sport since the 1940s said to me that the game was 'finished' - with Liverpool buying Andy Carroll from Newcastle for £35 million and then selling Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50 million it's hard not to agree with him. There are homeless people living on the streets within a few hundred yards of the grounds of all the afore-mentioned clubs while mind-boggling sums of money are thrown in the general direction of players who have worse haircuts than the down-and-outs. Even if they don't score all season they will still be paid more each day than most people in this country earn in a year. I could rant on (and on) here, but instead will direct you to this classic appraisal of the situation courtesy of the ever-excellent Daily Mash - many a true word spoken in jest, as the old saying goes.

From the ridiculous to the sublime - I'm a big fan of Stanley Unwin. You remember Stanley Unwin don't you? Of course you do, he was the old chap who spoke in that wonderfully mad way that, as my Dad will recall, I literally fell off the settee laughing at as a youngster. He sadly died a few years ago but now he's back - sort of... an anonymous blogger has started where the great man left off, and if you click here you can join him 'from the grale beyonders, sprinkly wise worms in the earlodes of the human specie'. He's also on Twitter which has to be read to be believed. Deep joy!

Meanwhile the occasional ongoing obituaries continue - John Barry died last week. He might not have written The James Bond Theme' (or did he?) but he wrote some fantastic music for most of the other Bond films and many more besides. And back in January Gerry Rafferty died, as did Mick Karn - sad losses all. I've got the same birth date as Mick Karn, and I'm 50 this year - it doesn't seem 40-something years since I was falling off the settee laughing at Stanley Unwin, but it is. Time flies as they say. Another old saying, also true.

My mum died of Motor Neurone Disease 10 years ago tomorrow. It doesn't seem like 10 years. It doesn't seem any time at all. A year to the day after she left the building I somehow found myself alone in the house; at 2.50 p.m. (the time that she died) I stood in the front room where her motorised chair used to be, trying to work out how I felt. I remember feeling sad, lonely, and yet oddly relieved that her terrible suffering had been finally bought to an end. I looked out into the back garden where me and my brother used to play as kids, and remembered an able-bodied woman out in the sunshine with her family. A good memory. A better memory.

Suddenly the phone rang. Back to the real World Leigh...


'Hi! Is mum there?'

I nearly fainted.


'Are you ok? I just called to talk to mum, is she there?'

'I think you've got the wrong number'

'Oh Sorry!'

If my phone rings at the same time tomorrow, I'm not going to answer it!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Things can only get better

This posting is several days late - read on to discover why...

It feels like ages since The Chicago Blues Brothers last theatre show - probably because it is ages since the last Chicago Blues Brothers show! - and sadly circumstances mean that there's not likely to be any more in the foreseeable future. However before I get too maudlin let's say that it was a fine night on Friday at The Courtyard Theatre in Hereford, although the day itself was not without incident. I received a text message from Tracy the night before checking what time she was due round the next day (her and dep saxman Bob were coming round to us where Pete and co. were going to pick us up in the minibus) and to say that she wasn't too well and would see how she felt the next day - sad to say she was too unwell to play the show which meant that Pete made an unscheduled appearance on backing vocals. Overall the show was a thoroughly enjoyable affair with the near sellout crowd up for it more-or-less from the first notes of 'Peter Gunn' and the band rising to the occasion accordingly. Well, all the band except me because I played terribly. I'm not sure why - maybe it was an off night or something, but I made a bad error early on (the rising riff in 'I Can't Turn You Loose' is played 3 times there Leigh not once!) and followed it up by a shaky solo in 'She Caught The Katy'. Things got a bit better as the show went on but overall I was disappointed with myself. Bah! In the meantime the rest of the band played brilliantly; Bob hadn't played sax with us for something like 4 years but sounded superb, Dave was as great as ever on trumpet, Chris was depping on keyboards for the absent Ian and sounded excellent and the rhythm section of Squirrel and Marc were as solid as they normally are - all good stuff apart from my hamfisted attempts at the guitar. Oh well... it had been a good journey up there - Friday afternoon journeys can be difficult but ours went very smoothly, with one stop for what I believe is these days referred to as a 'comfort break' - I didn't get one because there was a bloke in there for ages and I got bored waiting 'though from what everyone said facilities were a little 'basic' so maybe it was for the best! Somewhere on the A436 a yellow car had gone through a wall - it looked like it had been there for a while (no airbag - looks like they got away with it' said Bob sternly) to the extent that it almost looked like a work of art. When we got to Hereford I sent a text message to Shirley to tell her that we'd arrived safely - she sent me one back to say that a workman in our road had cut through a cable so we now had no Internet, television or landline phone. Bugger! (Now you know why this posting is late - it was fixed yesterday!) Phil had the P.A. up and running ready for us, and soundcheck went well although it's one of the very few times that I've ever asked for the guitar in my monitor to be turned down. Well, it was deafening! No one else could stand in front of it! It was an 8 o'clock show so there was plenty of time for some food, and for me to meet up with my old musical ally Simon who moved down to the area a year or so ago. I've played in several bands with him over the years, and he was in The Barflies who made their one and only appearance at Big Tel's 50th birthday bash a couple of years ago. It was great to see him again.
As previously observed the show was a very good one aside from my poor playing although quite how a mobility scooter ended up being ridden across the stage by Pete at the start of the second set and by the B.B.'s in 'Funky Nassau' is something of a mystery to me... after the show there was time for a quick drink with Simon who said that he thought I sounded like Buddy Guy! I must play 'terribly' again!

Saturday was the busiest day at Balcony Shirts for a while - it always is when you've been up late...the journey home had been enlivened by a stop at the afore-mentioned 'basic' service station - the guy behind the counter wouldn't let us in as it was late so Pete angrily led us all back to the bus! We stopped at the services down the road instead... oh and the yellow car was still there in the wall. Maybe it was supposed to be there?
After finishing at the shop it was home for a quick snooze (I'm old ok?!?) before getting my guitars together for the evening's Upper Cut gig at After Office Hours in Barnet. As Roger the drummer and myself neared the venue Terry the singer called to say that we were to load in at the front of the pub rather than through the back door like we have done every other time - it was a bit dodgy on the double yellow lines but we got the job done, and all agreed that it was a bit less precarious than using the steps around the back. After setting up Terry the bass observed how there were a lot less people there than we've had for our previous shows there - I guess it's the end of the month and the Christmas credit card bills are in?
9.30 and our first song 'Sweet Soul Music' was greeted by the site of people moving away from the stage and the manageress frantically gesturing to us to turn the volume down; a couple of songs later a glass fell off the P.A. speaker column and broke - it shouldn't have been on there, but maybe we were a bit loud! We limped to the end of set without too many other adverse incidents; the second set was much better with a bit of dancing from the (few) people present, and I played a bit better than I had the night before which was something of a relief.

No gigs this week - time to practice then, or watch telly, make a phone call, go on the internet...