Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Devon is a place on Earth (sorry!)

...and I just about got them learned, for a show depping with Utter Madness at Seaton Town Hall in Devon on Saturday night. I'd received an e-mail from Tony (vocals) a couple of weeks ago asking if I'd be available for the gig - I replied that I was, but then heard nothing. When I asked Ian (saxophone) about it at The Hilton gig last month he said something like 'oh yes, it's on, but that's all I know about it'. I eventually got another e-mail from Tony last Wednesday evening with the venue details, set list (2 x 45 minute sets, with several songs that I'd not played before - gulp!) and a musing along the lines of 'our drummer's got a slipped disc so if I can't find a replacement then we'll have to blow the gig out'. Thankfully a drummer was found (well, put it this way - I didn't hear that the gig was off!) and when myself and Jon (bass) arrived everything was set up and ready to go. After saying hello to regular keyboard man Richard (more about him later) I met Dan (drums) and Aaron (backing vocals, depping for Ray who normally handles the Chas Smash role in the band) for the first time. They're both in ska covers band Big 10 and from the first moments of the soundcheck it was obvious that they knew exactly what they were doing, and with everything sounding good a fine evening was in prospect.
Showtime is 8.30 so there's time for some chips and a couple of drinks before we made our way to the stage. From the moment I picked up my guitar it was obvious that something was wrong - high-pitched, almost ultrasonic feedback meant that a hearing aid loop had been switched on in the venue. We asked for it to be switched off, and a couple of numbers in that seemed to have happened, but it was clearly switched back on during the interval and remained on for the rest of the show, making my job trickier than it might have been - I had to make sure I turned my guitar volume down in between the songs, and be careful not to face my amplifier during the songs. Still none of this seemed to bother the audience who behaved as though it was the real Madness on stage, with much dancing and merriment throughout. I managed to start 'Special Brew' in the wrong key (yes, I know it's not a Madness song - the band added several songs by the likes of Bad Manners and The Beat to the set) which caused first shock and then amusement among band members - remind me to check that next time!

Much of Sunday was spent recovering from getting in around 3 a.m., as well as still feeling a bit out of sorts after the Zurich journey - recovery was so much easier when I was younger! Still it was a cracking evening at The Load of Hay, where the ever-wonderful Kris Dollimore gave another astonishing performance which showcased material from his new album 'No Ghosts In This House' alongside the established favourites. Highlights were many and varied although his version of Jimi Hendrix's 'Castles Made Of Sand' has to be seen and indeed heard to be believed. All of this in front of 20 or so people - if I hear one more person moaning that they've got 'nothing to do', 'nowhere to go' or that there's 'nothing happening locally' then I fear I will do something that will result in me ending up in prison... on a lighter note it Kris told me a couple of excellent stories, about working with Adam Ant, (Kris told him that he liked his jacket - when the tour was over Adam sent him it!) about how Johnny Thunders was playing Kris's Zemaitis guitar when he started to have a coughing fit ('I thought he was going to die while he was playing my guitar!') and how Dee Dee Ramone once phoned him up in his mum and dad's kitchen - a much funnier story than it would sound written here, honest!

After a busy Monday in the shop (don't forget to have a look at our 'bread song' video here - over 2,000 views so far!) it was time for The Price to return to Ruff Rockers for a rehearsal for this Sunday's gig. We've not played together since last May (the story why is on our website forum) and it took us a while to get going again but after a few songs we were starting to sound like a band again. Memories were strained as we attempted to remember some of the less obvious songs from our back catalogue, and there should be a couple of surprises in the show. Let's hope they're not surprises to us...

More rehearsing on Tuesday, this time with T.V. Smith. We're playing at The 100 Club on April 16th (I've never played there before - excellent!) and with his new album 'Coming In To Land' going to be available for the first time on the night we're going to be playing several songs from it - not sure how many yet, but we ran through a few to see what would and wouldn't work. He gave me an advance copy of the album to work from, it's playing in the background as I type this and it sounds absolutely excellent - I'm off to do my homework on the songs before getting together with him prior to the gig. In the meantime he's on tour in Britain playing a set of Adverts songs backed by Italian punksters The Valentines which should be unmissable. So don't miss it!
In the evening it was off to the Academy in Oxford to see The Stranglers with support coming from Wilko Johnson. Not a bad bill don't you think? As I found myself a vantage point in preparation for Wilko taking to the stage a cheery chap asked me what the first band had been called - I said that we should be able to get the name of the front of the bass drum when the kit gets carried off, as it was obscured by a monitor speaker at the front of the stage... ah there we are, Mike Marlin. The cheery chap said that he thought they were brilliant, one of the best bands he'd seen in ages - I decided not to tell him that I thought they'd been almost unspeakably bad, a tuneless sub-hippie dirge with a singer who should just stop trying to be a singer and a band who put so little into their performance that not one of them appeared to break sweat despite being under stage lights and all hearing hats, scarfs and jackets, and who all sounded so dull that they wouldn't have noticed if you'd blown the venue up around them; instead I just said 'Wilko Johnson's on in a minute, see what you think of him'. Well I don't know what he thought but I think it was a great gig from someone who finally seems to be getting the recognition that they deserve. Wilko was back on the Telecaster after using a Stratocaster for the last few gigs that I've seen him play (good!) and he sounded fabulous, assisted as always by the mighty Norman Watt-Roy on bass and an unnamed drummer (I wonder where Dylan Howe has gone?) as he powered through 30-something minutes of rocket fuelled rhythm and blues. And he looked great too, as these photos show... The Stranglers looked pretty good too, and they certainly sounded good, with the expected classics sitting alongside some of the more obscure tracks from their dim and distant past that even had some of the diehard fans scratching their heads in half-recognition. I first saw them over 30 years ago, and when I see them these days I always think 'I really must get myself one of their compilation albums one day' - and I'm right, I must. A great show.

Right - back to Utter Madness keyboard player Richard, who among his many attributes is involved with Glee Club UK. Now I must admit to not knowing very much about all things Glee-related, but somewhere during the course of Saturday evening I somehow agreed to record the guitar parts on his / the club's version of Bon Jovi's 'Livin' On A Prayer', despite being possibly the least qualified guitarist ever to attempt the style of playing required by the song. To this end I've been attempting to decipher the playing on the track (having heard it what feels like a million times today I'm almost starting to like it, although am I the only person who thinks it was lifted from this?) and leaving aside the fact that I don't have a talkbox handy I haven't done too badly. At least I don't think that I have - we'll all know soon enough...

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