Saturday, June 23, 2012

'Have you seen who we're on with?!?'

Well I may not have too many gigs at the moment, but at least there's something for The Chicago Blues Brothers to look forward to in September - let's hope this one doesn't get cancelled...


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Back to the future?

Well at least one good thing has come out of all the recent gig cancellations - I've had chance to watch the recent season of 'Punk Britannia' programmes on BBC4. (Yeah, I know, that's scant consolation for not playing, loss of earnings, feeling as though months of work on the 'Cool Britannia' show has gone to waste, sleepless nights and probably lots of other bad things as well - but I'm trying to find something good about the last few weeks ok?!?) Generally I've found them to be excellent - it always seems to me as though everybody involved has a a slightly different take on the same story, but I suppose that's inevitable if you think about it. It goes without saying that it was wonderful to see the T.V. Smith documentary 'We Who Wait' at last (it's been many years in the making) and I thoroughly enjoyed 'Evidentally... John Cooper Clarke' and the reshowing of the 'Arena' documentary on Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex which I don't remember seeing that again since it's first showing all those years ago. But the best show for me has been 'Punk Britannia At The BBC', a compilation of various appearances between 1975-80. Highlights were many and varied, but seeing The Lurkers on 'Top Of The Pops' performing 'I Don't Need To Tell Her' had to be the best moment for me, not least because like the X-Ray Spex programme mentioned above it's a clip that I don't think I've seen since it's original broadcast. (I can't find it on YouTube so instead here is the same song live on 'Revolver' around the same time - great stuff!) The Ruts looked pretty good too!

Once again some Cool Britannia shows bit the dust this week - this is getting depressing! As so often happens in life when something new starts to go wrong you find yourself going back to something old (maybe I should take up philosophy full time?!?) and this weekend saw your humble narrator gigging with The Chicago Blues Brothers for the first time since January, and with Dave Finnegan for the first time since way back in 2010
They (whoever 'they' are) say that you should never return to the scene of a crime and maybe 'they' are correct, but the fact that the only two CBB shows this year have been at The Pizza Express in Maidstone is a measure of how little work there is around at the moment. Friday's show can't quite be described as a crime but it certainly wasn't one that I for one will look back on particularly fondly. With the venue less than half full (it's often sold out when we appear there) and the band (I'm on guitar with Pete and Mike as Jake and Elwood, Ian on keyboards, Squirrel on bass, Marc on drums and Dave and Richard on trumpet and saxophone) suffering from a severe lack of match practice it was a less-than-classic performance - but realistically it could hardly have been much else.
Last night was a bit more enjoyable, in a tent in the back garden of a very - make that very - big house somewhere near Kings Langley. We (Chris on keyboards, Richard on sax, and myself) were playing over backing tracks, although that was a long way from my mind as I went to plug my amplifier in and found that the allotted plug board was soaking wet. Having been lucky enough to survive the Jubilee gig earlier this month I wasn't taking any chances, and another board was found; whether a similar situation caused the power to fail completely during 'Try A Little Tenderness' is unclear, but thankfully it was the only negative moment in a great set from Dave. Matt and Mike had provided backing vocals (along with Pete) throughout, and they returned with us backing them for an hour of Blues Brothers and beyond - an good performance all round. 

Right then - no gigs this weekend because, you've guessed it, they've all been cancelled. 
Let's see what happens next...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Celluloid heroes

With the cancellation of Thursday's Cool Britannia show at The Beck Theatre in Hayes (it was the nearest one to me, shame that one had to go) I took the opportunity to catch a very interesting looking show at The 100 Club. Billed as 'Scabies and James play ''Damned Damned Damned''' it not surprisingly featured founder members of The Damned Rat Scabies and Brian James playing the band's first album and other material from around that time. The audience was something of a punk-spotter's paradise, with T.V Smith deep in conversation with Rat Scabies, Tony James looking as though he wanted to be recognised, members of The Members (if you see what I mean) talking to all and sundry and Gaye Advert and Brian James both having their photos taken with what seemed like half the audience. Anticipation was high as showtime came around, and as 'Neat Neat Neat' roared out from the stage it seemed as though a good if rather noisy show was in prospect. Vocalist Texas Terri and a bassist who's name I sadly didn't catch (he was very good though) gave it everything, and Scabies and James sounded terrific. The Damned are all too often dismissed as 'cartoon punks' but in my not-so-humble opinion they've released some brilliant records, and their first album remains one of the all-time great punk albums and indeed one of the most influential albums ever. From lesser-known tracks to the inevitable encore of 'New Rose' this performance did nothing to lessen that legacy. Great stuff.

Friday should have seen a Cool Britannia gig at The Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage (it's a nice theatre, shame that one had to go) which left your humble narrator with something of a dilemma. The Upper Cut had a gig at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham, which as I thought I was busy I had asked Pete to do in my place - however I had become available, so what happens now? I know musicians who would have for want of a better term 'taken the gig back' but I found the thought of that to be uncomfortable to say the least. On the other hand as it's 'my' gig it could be argued that I should play it. See what I mean - tricky isn't it? As it happens it was Pete who came up with the solution by suggesting that we both do the show. With no rehearsal possible we managed a few minutes discussion just before we started - I did a few numbers on my own then he joined in for the rest of the evening. As you might expect there was the odd mad moment here and there but overall I thought it worked very well. Audience requests included 'Whiskey In The Jar' and 'Bargain' (obviously we played neither) and a chap who had something of a resemblance to Michael Jackson seemed intent on talking to Terry throughout most our second set, despite the fact that he was singing for much of it. He seemed happy enough which I guess is the main thing?

Cool Britannia were due to be in Croydon on Saturday night (The Fairfield Halls! Shame... ) so I decided to go up to The 12 Bar Club to see T.V. Smith - it'd be nice to see him play rather than to be standing next to him while he's doing it! Balcony Shirts was suitably busy despite the rain and I wasn't feeling too good when I got home - when I woke up at nearly 8 o'clock I realised that I wasn't going to the gig. Bah! Oh well, time to revise some songs for the next evening's performance at The Millfield Theatre in Edmonton where a Cool Britannia gig had managed to survive the maelstrom of cancellations and postponements. It was a good show overall although personally didn't think I played very well; in my defence your honour the chronically out-of-tune solo at the start of the show was due to what seemed to be one of those annoying little flies that you get at this time of year zipping across my field of view and then landing on my hand as I went to play. And my chronically out-of-tune backing vocals in the next song were due to me having a coughing fit just prior to singing which I fear was caused by the same fly - urgh! That aside I feel it was the best show that we've done so far - if only we had a few more...

Yesterday evening I journeyed across town to The Queen Elizabeth Hall on The South Bank for a night of music entitled 'London On Film'. Hosted by noted film critic Mark Kermode and featuring The BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Robert Ziegler it may not seem to be the most obvious evening for me to find myself at, but the news that Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck would be joining the orchestra meant that I had to attend. 
It had been ages since I last saw an orchestral concert, and I'd all but forgotten what an extraordinary experience it is to be in a room with so many musical instruments. Amazing. Something as familiar as 'The James Bond Theme' suddenly becomes a living, breathing art form before your very eyes. Well, I think it does anyway. Over-emotional? Maybe - but one of the reasons that I like music so much is that even after all the years of watching and listening, and all the fantastic shows that I've been lucky enough to be part of (both as a performer and as an audience member) it still has the ability to catch you out when you least expect it.
During the interval I realised that there were rather more Who t-shirts in the audience than I had at first thought - I hadn't for one minute thought that I'd be the only fan there, but there certainly weren't as many in the foyer earlier. (Ok ok, I can hear you - 'they've taken their jumpers off you silly old fool'...) There was definitely an air of mounting excitement as the evening progressed, and as Kermode introduced the final selection of the evening electric guitars appeared on stage the intensity level leapt. Townshend and Beck emerged from the side of the stage and the polite, reverential applause of the rest of the evening gave way to the hoots and hollers of a rock concert audience, to the obvious disquiet of the more regular patrons on the venue. Mobile phones captured the Kermode / Townshend interview for prosperity, before PT announced the two pieces to be played - 'Quadrophenia' ('in a sense, the overture') and 'Love Reign O'er Me'. For the first the rockers sat slightly awkwardly in front of small amplifiers (a Vox for Beck and I think a Lazy J for Townshend) with their guitar on their laps, listening intently, waiting for the opening piano chords of the second tune... suddenly Beck's playing the melody as only he can play a melody as Townshend impatiently fiddles with his amplifier before joining in with the descending lines in the chorus. The Who t-shirts are leaning forward, willing the music to get louder as the orchestra turns the synthesizer lines of the original recording into the string sounds that I for one had always imagined them to be. It sounds incredible as it builds and builds and builds, and we realise that we'll all remember these few minutes for ever. Then, suddenly, it's all over - the last chord prompts a few flourishes from Townshend and hysteria from the Who t-shirts. The audience - all of them - goes crazy. An extraordinary, magnificent performance.

And it's all on YouTube already!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Singing in the reign (sorry!)

So - what happened? Where did it all go wrong?

Well as far as The Last Jubilee Festival is concerned it all depends on who you believe. The Black Flag website raises a number of doubts about the promoters - but somehow I feel as though the truth won't emerge for a while yet. In the meantime I can't remember being as disappointed by a show being cancelled; the band was sounding terrific and we were all really looking forward to getting out in front of an audience. Still plans are afoot for Ruts D.C. to be on a stage somewhere as soon as possible - more news as and when I have it, as they say.
As for Cool Britannia - well to be honest it seems that tickets just aren't selling. Whether it's due to The Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic Games, lack of publicity or the fact that no one seems to have any money these days isn't clear, but we've got a great show and the band is playing well - I for one hope that the show rises again in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime I found myself at Tropic At Ruislip on Sunday night to see The Members supported by The Jetsonics. As I arrived I bumped into Members bass player Chris who told me that he'd been trying to find a phone number for me as he was going to invite me along to play a few songs with the band. I'd have loved to have done this, but in a weird way this seems to sum the weekend up for me - I'd depped out a gig with The Upper Cut on Friday (I thought that I had a Cool Britannia show) and a Cool Britannia show on Saturday when I was due to be on Bath with Ruts D.C. (I'm told that former Awaken guitarist Pete did a fine job in both cases) and I could have played them both. It feels a bit like things are all going wrong at the moment... oh well, let's hope John Cooper Clarke was wrong for once and that things will get better. Still it was a good gig from The Members - Rat Scabies fitted in well (I'd not seen him with them before) and 'The Sound Of The Suburbs' sounded like the classic that we all remember it to be. The 4 or 5 songs that I caught by The Jetsonics sounded good, and Tropic At Ruislip remains an excellent venue that I really must make the effort to visit more regularly.

And having managed to avoid the Jubilee celebrations for pretty much the entire long weekend I joined my buddies The Upper Cut earlier today to play at a party in Windsor Street in Uxbridge. This all came together in the last few days, and I don't mind admitting that it was a difficult one from my point of view as I've never been a fan of The Royal Family and find the hysteria surrounding the current anniversary at best baffling and at worse offensive. However in the end I decided that I like playing the guitar more than I dislike the monarchy - and anyway, all my other gigs have been cancelled... sadly it rained for much of the afternoon which made it a rather perilous situation from our point of view as this picture taken by the venerable East shows -

The Upper Cut drive a lady in pink trousers into a frenzy with their wild and crazy brand of beat music.
- yes, that's right, we're in the middle of the road. Don't worry, they'd closed the street off... but as you can see we were playing in the open air and as we all know, electricity and water don't mix; by a couple of songs into our second set it was getting too dangerous to continue playing, which was a shame as it was a very enjoyable event to be part of. I for one was amazed how many people were there and how much fun they all seemed to be having (I really must cheer up mustn't I?!?) including the Balcony Shirts team (the shop is a few yards to my right in the above picture) and most if not all of the other shopkeepers. East told me later that a lady had got up out of her wheelchair and danced - could it be that we'd somehow performed a miracle and healed her? Or was she just recuperating from an injury and felt well enough to stand? I guess we'll never know...
After we'd stopped playing Andrew the vicar (that's St. Margaret's Church behind us) set 6 white doves free which somehow added to the rather surreal nature of the day, while we packed up and went to the Queen's Head. Well, it seemed like the thing to do... and talking of the Queen's head, is this a Banksy or isn't it? 

Queen bitch. Or something.
Either way, it made me smile.

Friday, June 01, 2012

What a difference a day makes

I had a really good day on Wednesday.

I spent much of it with Ruts D.C. at The Music Complex in Deptford rehearsing for our upcoming appearance on Saturday at The Last Jubilee Festival at Bath Racecourse. We put together a one hour set that included some early Ruts material alongside new songs and ranging from punk classics to dub workouts, and even though I say so myself, we sounded great. Great. We were all looking forward to Saturday with an almost manic enthusiasm. That's a wonderful feeling to have at the end of a rehearsal. That's a wonderful feeling to have full stop.
The next few days were looking good - Cool Britannia gigs at Leamington Spa and Stevenage on Thursday and Friday followed by the Ruts D.C. show on Saturday. If you're going to have a job then that's not a bad job to have. As I left the studio I was tired (we'd also been in there Monday and Tuesday and it's a long way to Deptford!) but also elated - I'm playing in the band that I used to watch all those years ago, playing those wonderful Paul Fox guitar parts alongside new music that I'm contributing to. Who'd have predicted that?
And the day wasn't over yet. Wilko Johnson was playing a free show at Rough Trade East to launch his new book 'Looking Back At Me'; on the phone to the long-suffering Shirley I debated whether or not I should go along. Money is tight and it's been a long few days. Her view was simple - it'll be a great gig so go along, get yourself the book, stop worrying. Ok Shirl, I will... she was right as usual, it was a great gig, preceded by an introduction by co-author Zoe Howe (her husband Dylan drums in Wilko's band, alongside the inimitable Norman Watt-Roy on bass) and a very funny talk from the man himself. The band played a short set before they signed books, posed for photographs and generally made a lot of people very happy. It was a fine thing to see - after many years of slogging around Wilko seems to finally be getting through to a larger audience. There were many more people there than at the 'Oil City Confidential' launch show the year before last, and judging by the number of people that I saw singing along there's been a lot of catching up going on. As I left the shop I felt hungry, tired and for want of a better word, elated. I'd spent the day playing with Ruts D.C. and the evening watching Wilko Johnson. How much better does a day in my little world get? Excellent.

I had a really bad day on Thursday.

In the morning I received an email telling me that most of the Cool Britannia shows had been cancelled, including the two due to happen this week. Later in the day I was told that The Last Jubilee Festival wasn't happening either. Bugger.