Thursday, December 08, 2011

One step backwards, two step forwards

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of it's noisiest authorities insisted on it's being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only'
- 'A Tale Of Two Cities' (1859) by Charles Dickens

Back in the Middle Ages it was illegal to use the musical interval of a tritone in a composition. Medieval ears liked to hear perfect intervals when listening to music (for an explanation of the musical terms used in the ranting that follows then please click here, and I apologise in advance if I'm even more pretentious than usual in the next few paragraphs) so the sound of a flattened fifth was considered to be the most dissonant of them all as it split the octave exactly in half and therefore was as far away from home as could be imagined. Some (so-called) learned folk found the sound so offensive that they named the interval in question diabolus in musica - the 'devil in music' and wanted anyone who used it in a composition to be put on trial for witchcraft. It sounds crazy, but, incredibly, it's true.
Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1960s and the sound of the flattened fifth has been picked up by those well-known purveyors of witchcraft The Jimi Hendrix Experience whose classic single 'Purple Haze' starts with a tritone between Bb on the guitar and E on the bass; soon after Black Sabbath are using it in songs like 'Symptom Of The Universe' and 'Black Sabbath' itself, and bands like Metallica and Slayer use it extensively to this day, with Slayer even going so far as to name one of their albums 'Diabolus In Musica'. I suppose heavy metal musicians and indeed fans like the idea of being allied to Satan and all his little wizards although as far as I know no one involved has ever been put on trial for witchcraft; I must admit I always thought was a rather extreme thing to suggest for simply putting two musical notes next to each other, but what do I know?
Well I thought it was a rather extreme thing to do until sometime around 9.30 pm last Wednesday, when I found myself gripped by an unreasonable desire to inflict pain, torture, painful torture, even death on Phil Collins and Lamont Dozier for writing 'Loco In Acapulco'. If you've got five minutes have a listen to it here and tell me if I'm being unreasonable. You might disagree but I cannot for the life of me work out how The Four Tops, one of the greatest Motown acts of all time, managed to get involved with such unspeakably unlistenable tosh. Or am I wrong? Is it actually better than classics like 'Reach Out I'll Be There', 'Standing In The Shadows Of Love' and 'Bernardette'? What do you think? There's not a flattened fifth in sight but as far as I'm concerned it's proof that The Devil exists. No punishment is too great for anybody who had anything to do with the production of this song. Kill 'em all! Now! Argh!
In case you were wondering what I was up to as I contemplated such murderous violence, I was on stage with Pete and Matt (Jake and Elwood) and Richard (saxophone) playing a Chicago Blues Brothers playback show in front of a room full of people who couldn't have cared less whether we were there or not. I've more or less driven from my mind where we were and what we were doing there, and I have absolutely no idea why we were playing the song in question as it's got about as much to do with the Blues Brothers as, say, 'I Can't Help Myself'. Mind you we played that as well. As I put my guitar down at the end of the show I thought to myself 'that was my least enjoyable show of 2011'. And it was. It was horrific. The only thing that got me through it was the thought of the next two nights with Ruts D.C....

...which thankfully didn't let me down. (I don't know what I would have done if they had!) The Bournemouth Academy show was great but the London show at The Forum in Kentish Town was something else again. We'd bought 'In A Rut' into the set at Bournemouth - when we ran through it at the soundcheck we got a round of applause from The Alabama 3 members and crew who saw it, which bode well for the performance of the song that evening. The show was the best one so far, but the next night pushed things to greater heights; with the venue pretty much full before we went on we started well with 'Whatever We Do' followed by two songs from the new album 'Mighty Soldier' and 'One Step'. Molara's fine vocal on 'Jah War' got a great reaction from the dancefloor before a medley of a new song 'Smiling Culture' and the old Ruts classic 'S.U.S.' led us into 'Fools'. Next it's the afore-mentioned 'In A Rut'; Segs had invited Ainsley (who sings on some of the new album) to join us for the middle section which you can see here - he's very good isn't he? We prefaced 'Babylon's Burning' with a short section from 'Weak Heart' - as I put my guitar down at the end of the show I thought to myself 'that was my most enjoyable show of 2011'. And it was. It was terrific. Does that mean that I've just proved that God exists?!?

Back to basics on Saturday night, with The Uppercut returning to The Dolphin for the first time in a while; the evening marked the 24th anniversary of Noel and Bridie first taking the pub over, and was a suitably wild 'n' wacky affair. We hadn't played together for a while (they'd played some shows while I was away in Dubai with Pete depping on guitar) and so were a bit loose here and there but the energy of the performance more than made up for the odd mistake. Well, I think it did... Noel took to the microphone towards the end of the evening to thank everyone for coming and then to lead everyone in what he referred to as 'the universal football song', 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. A cracking evening.

My third Sunday afternoon gig in four weeks (I don't think that's ever happened before!) saw myself and Big Al Reed return to The Feathers in Chalfont St. Giles. No sign of the chap with Tourettes Syndrome this time (apparently he'd been out the night before) but everyone there seemed to enjoy our efforts despite Al suffering from a bad throat. He's invited a mate of his called Barry along to play a few songs on slide guitar - when I asked him what he was going to play he didn't really know as he was not used to playing solo, and would I like to join him on lead guitar? Of course I would... as he started the first song I realised that I had no idea what he was going to play, or indeed if he was able to play at all - fortunately he was excellent, and it was really good to play some blues with him.

With Christmas looming it's all systems go at Balcony Shirts, meaning that I've been in the shop every day this week. But The Uppercut were out again last night, at The Six Bells in Brentford celebrating bass maestro Terry Peaker's 60th birthday. He'd invited a lot of his musician friends along, many of whom got up to play a song or two - it all got a bit chaotic in places with far too much hippie-ish jamming for my not-at-all hippie-ish liking, but everything went well and Terry was well pleased with the evening.

So there you have it - in the course of this posting I've played my best gig of the year, my worst gig of the year, and proved that God and The Devil both (probably) exist. Not a bad week's work then...

No comments: