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!

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