Monday, April 30, 2012

Alternative arrangements

Time for the second of two gigs depping on bass with Department S, this one on Friday night at the loftily-named Great British Alternative Music Festival taking place at Butlins in Minehead.I took the (delayed) train from Paddington with Eddie and Sam while Mike and Stuart drove down with the drums and amps - by the time we arrived (after a £50+ cab ride from Taunton, which incredibly was the nearest station to the venue) they'd got our room keys and were making plans for soundchecking. We were the first act on Centre Stage, followed by Hazel O'Connor and Ex-Simple Minds while The Anti-Nowhere League, The U.K. Subs and Sham 69 were playing at Reds. As we got to the venue Hazel O'Connor and band were preparing to play 'Decadent Days', they sounded a bit untogether so maybe it's a new line-up? Our soundcheck went without too much incident, although as we were leaving the stage Mike looked out with the words 'this is a big room - I hope there are a few people in it when we're on'.
He needn't have worried - by the time we went on there were people everywhere. We played a better show than in Belgium earlier in the month, and the inevitable 'Is Vic There?' bought the proverbial house down.It's good when that happens. From my point of view I found it quite tough going - maybe I'm hitting the strings too hard or something, but I my right hand was really suffering by a half an hour or so into the set. If I'm going to play bass more often it's time for some practice to build up some stamina; either that or I've got to calm down a bit! That said I'd do it again any time that they ask as I've really enjoyed playing with the band.
By the time we'd put our gear away and got changed The Anti-Nowhere League had finished their set next door, a shame as I've always found them to be an entertaining bunch (either that or my brother playing their records endlessly when we were younger has brainwashed me!) and so would like to have caught some of their set. I did however manage to see a half hour or so of The U.K. Subs who sounded as reliably punky as ever as well as meeting up with T.V. Smith stalwarts Fleagle & Mrs. Fleagle and Steve The Fish (not their real names sadly!) as well as Fast Tony and the man forever known in Price circles as 'Mark-from-the-football-club' before going back to Centre Stage where Hazel O'Connor sounded much more assured than her soundcheck might have suggested that she would. Ex-Simple Minds sounded good but are not really my kind of thing, while Sham 69 (the 'Tim V' version of the band in case you were wondering) sounded, well, good but are not really my kind of thing. However with both bands it was amazing how many of their songs were recognisable even to the likes of me let alone to their fans. And I'm told that  the event was sold out with over 6,000 people in attendance, which just shows what a market there is for this type of thing these days

And you can click here to see some more photos from the show in Belgium earlier this month - excellent!

Saturday morning began with everyone meeting on the main concourse for some coffee before going up to the dressing room to collect our gear from where we'd left it the night before. As I was ordering my drink I heard exactly the same songs from Marillion and Catatonia playing in the background as had been playing the night before when I braved a veggie wrap from Burger King. It must drive the people who work there crazy, or maybe they just don't notice it after a while?
With the financial terror of another cab ride looming large we decided to catch a bus back to the train station, which proved to be a nerve-racking experience as the journey took over 1 3/4 hours rather than the expected 40 minutes. In the event we made it to our train with just 5 minutes to spare, which was fortuitous to say the least as the next one would have been in a couple of hours time. The lads took the train all the way to good old London town whilst I changed at Castle Cary for the Weymouth train where I met the long-suffering Shirley who had gone down the night before. We'd decided to have a couple of days away in Dorset, partly because we like to go there and partly because Wilko Johnson was playing the last show of his Spring tour at The Electric Palace in Bridport on Sunday night. 
The Electric Palace is, I think, an old cinema; it was certainly an impressive place with seats from about halfway back and a dancefloor in front of the large stage. Maybe the seats go all the way to the stage when they show films or have less dance-orientated bands on? Either way it had an atmosphere that a newer venue will never have, if you know what I mean.
Support came from Virgil and The Accelerators. I've seen a few very excitable reviews of this combo, most of which comment on how young they are and what a great musician Virgil is. Both observations turned out to be correct although he's a bit too much like Stevie Ray Vaughan (yes, be influenced strongly by someone, but draw the line at adopting the same mannerisms) to yet have an original style or sound. Maybe that'll come one day, but until then I'm sure that he and his band will be able to carry on doing what they're doing without too many detractors.
Opening with 'All Through The City' (the fact that it's the title of the very-recently-released Dr. Feelgood box set could be significant!) and 'If You Want Me, You've Got Me' Wilko Johnson was clearly not intimidated by what had gone before - indeed he and the band (the always-astonishing Norman Watt-Roy on bass and new-ish drummer Dylan Howe) seemed to be really enjoying themselves as they roared through their set with an infectious energy that had the up-until-that point seated audience on their feet from the word go. I don't remember the last time that I saw Wilko in a seated venue (if I ever have!) and I also don't remember the last time there were so many people turning up to see him - it seems that after years of slogging around in pubs and clubs he's finally getting through to a bigger audience. This is good news, and thoroughly deserved, as he's still playing with as much energy as ever, and you'll rarely see a better band on any stage, big or small. In a way it's a shame that it'll be unlikely that we see him in the smaller venues again, but when he gives a show as good as this it hardly matters. As a guitarist and a live performer he remains an industry standard - miss him (and his band) at your peril.

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