Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Equally cursed and blessed

Back in the '80s and '90s I was in a band called The Price. We were a good band. Well, I thought we were, although I suppose it's always difficult to be objective about something that you're involved in. But we were also an unlucky band, particularly if you apply this criteria... someone once said to me that success in the music industry was like success in any field - you needed to be lucky. But they then qualified this statement by saying that for them it was the luck of meeting the right person or persons. Without that you could be the best in the World, but no one would ever know. That's quite a thought isn't it? If they're correct about this then put simply, we didn't meet them, which I guess by this definition makes us unlucky doesn't it? 
When things went wrong for us - and they went wrong for us all the time, or at least they felt as though they did - one of us would rather ruefully refer to 'The Curse of The Price'. The rest of us would normally laugh at this, or shrug our collective shoulders before wondering if it really existed. Well, I certainly used to wonder, and on a fairly regular basis.

On Friday night I wondered about The Curse of The Price for the first time in a while - odd, because The Price were nowhere to be seen at the time. The Upper Cut were making their latest visit to The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham, and a minute or so into our first number 'It's All Over Now' I was sure my guitar had stopped working for a second or two. No, it's ok, and sounds good... oh, it definitely went off there, but it's back on again now... oh now it's gone off all together. Bugger. 
We stopped the song as I fiddled with my leads. It came back on, but went off again. Hmmm... time for a 'we'll be back in five minutes' announcement and for me to look into the back of my amplifier to see if there's anything obvious wrong. The speaker leads were all connected, although the panel that fits them onto the speaker was loose so I used some insulation tape to fit it back on - not ideal but if it fixes the problem it should get me through the show. But as I turned the amp back on something told me that a bit of tape wasn't going to fix the problem. This could be serious.
And it was. 'Under My Thumb' shuddered to a halt as my guitar stuttered off, then on and then off again. Bah. At which point what happened next is what always happens next when this sort of thing befalls you at a gig - a very drunk bloke decides that he knows what's wrong and knows how to fix it. He doesn't and he doesn't, but that doesn't stop him telling you again and again that he does and he does. As I attempted to keep my temper he insisted that I needed to try my spare guitar. I'm sure he meant well, but he wasn't making things any easier. Against my better judgement we tried plugging my guitar straight into the P.A. but it sounded bad and I couldn't hear what I was playing. Terry suggested plugging my amp into another wall socket which I somehow knew wasn't going to make a difference; when I came back from a visit to the toilet they'd already done it, which annoyed me but as I couldn't turn time back there wasn't much that I could do about it. We tried a song but the amp malfunctioned again. That's it, the gig's over. Sorry. Big Al Reed and his chums tried in vain to convince me that it didn't sound that bad through the P.A. - but I'd had enough. Let's have a pint and then go home eh? So we did, but not before Sue the landlady had insisted on buying us a drink. What a nice lady she is.

I phoned Roger the amplifier repairman on Saturday morning - I explained what had happened to my ailing and up until this point usually very reliable Fender Blues Deluxe combo, he sounded suitably mystified as he usually does when a fault is explained to him over the phone but suggested that I get it over to him and he'll have a look at it for me. Good man. He asked if I have a spare? Well yes I do, but it blew a fuse last time I used it (here's the story) and although I'd left it running at home for several hours since then with no adverse effects I now had the curse of The Price to contend with... I decided to use my (spare) Blues Deville at the Price show that evening but to take along my Blues Junior as a (spare) spare - it wouldn't be loud enough on it's own but mic'd up it should be fine. It was still difficult not to be nervous though, and my morning at Balcony Shirts went slower than I would have liked as a result. 
The Price hadn't performed together in public since last March so some rehearsals have been in order. We got together at the start of August at Ruff Rockers in Uxbridge but things hadn't gone well - the songs sounded scrappy, and overall things weren't encouraging. After much discussion we reconvened at Ivy Arch Studios in Worthing a couple of weeks ago for something of a make-or-break session - we all agreed that if we sounded bad here we would considering cancelling the projected show at The Crown and Treaty, not least because it had been intended as a warm up show for our slot at The London Punk Weekender six days later, and that show had already been cancelled by the promoters. Thankfully the band sounded good - or maybe the studio suited us better? Either way we decided that the C & T show should go ahead, although we also decided to have a few hours warm up at Ruff Rockers on the afternoon of the gig. 
There's an old adage in bands along the lines of 'good rehearsal - bad gig, bad rehearsal - good gig'. As we wrapped up an undeniably good rehearsal twenty minutes early I decided that this was definitely not a time to mention The Curse...
We arrived at The Crown And Treaty around half past six; no sign of Big Tel and Dave with the P.A. yet so I wandered down to Galaxy for some chips and a bit of time to myself. I got back to the pub just as Tel and Dave were arriving - at which point I realised that I'd left my guitar effects pedalboard at home. I'm still not used to taking it with me... when I got back to the pub with it Tel was having trouble with the crossover on the P.A. - surely The Curse shouldn't effect him too? We soundchecked with 'The Man With The Smile' and about half of 'Turning Japanese', mainly because neither were due to be in our set, Tel's not happy but it doesn't sound bad to me. After us it's Scott's turn, he's performing solo as The Chilterns with a Guild semi-acoustic guitar and a harmonica, he plays fragments of a song or two before D.J. Chris starts D.J.-ing. People are arriving, the atmosphere is good - what could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it happens, nothing. Chris played some great music, Scott played well, we played a good set, my amplifier worked all the way through our show, everyone I spoke too really enjoyed themselves and as far as I know everybody went home happy. I certainly did anyway. That's a relief. In more ways than one.

And I spent much of today in a curse-free zone, rehearsing with T.V. Smith for this Friday's show at no lesser venue than Carshalton Water Tower. We sounded good so it should be a fine evening... oh hang on, what did I say earlier about good and bad rehearsals and gigs? Well it was wrong on Saturday and it'll be wrong on Friday too... 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Island life

First things first, and after much deliberation (certainly on my part) those loveable funsters The Price are reforming for a show at The Crown And Treaty in Uxbridge this coming Saturday 22nd September. Support comes from The Chilterns, D.J. Chris is spinning some discs (all of these people can be found in Balcony Shirts on a regular basis) and the whole thing starts at around 8.30pm with our group due on at quarter to ten for an hour-and-a-bit; the pub is open until 4am so you can always have too much to drink after we've been and gone. As always with The Price this could turn out to be our last ever show (!) so if you can make it along it'll be good to see you.

And talking of things that may well prove to be a mistake I have done the thing that no right-minded person should ever do - yes, that's right, like an idiot I've started a Facebook page. I've resisted this up until this point, not least because from what I've seen of it in the past I'll need to have at least half of my brain removed to fit in with the general level of intelligence that people seem to exhibit when leaving messages on it, but I guess we'll see how it goes. You can find me by clicking here - I don't know how long it'll be there for, but it's there as I type this...

Marc Bolan died 35 years ago last Sunday. I've been playing some T.Rex albums in the last few days, and they still sound like no other band - some of it is inevitably dated, but the best tracks are timeless examples of just how good pop music can be. 'Metal Guru' was the first record that I ever bought (as opposed to received as a present) and it still sounds fantastic - literally 'the stuff of fantasy' - to me. I remember that as a would-be punk rocker the news of his death hit me surprisingly hard; the scorched-earth policy that 'everything before Johnny and Joe didn't matter' was clearly a generalisation, and Bolan remains one of my favourite artists of all time.

After over 23 years there has finally been an independent enquiry into the Hillsborough disaster, and the findings have revealed what many suspected all along - lies, deception, tampering with evidence, more lies, more deception and even more lies by officials, police officers, the ambulance service and maybe (maybe!) even the government of the time. It's emerged that 164 witness statements were altered and up to 41 fans could have lived if help had been given - let's hope that this is only the end of the beginning, and now those responsible for covering up the truth will finally be bought to justice at last. 

In the meantime the latest Ruts D.C. show saw the band play at The Fermain Tavern on Guernsey on Saturday as part of The Guernsey Literary Festival with Linton Kwesi Johnson and Attila The Stockbroker.
After my antics on the way to our show in Croatia back in July I decided to leave myself plenty of time to get to Gatwick Airport for our flight to the island. With this in mind the long-suffering Shirley dropped me at Hillingdon tube station just after 7.40am. By 7.45am I was walking up to strangers and asking if I could borrow their mobile phone - yes, you've guessed it, I'd left mine behind... given this inauspicious start the rest of my journey went without too much incident, although finding the Gatwick train at St Pancras International wasn't as easy as it might have been - if there were any signs I couldn't see them, and doesn't anyone work at train stations anymore?
I arrived at the Aurigny Airways check in just as Dave and Molara were reaching the front of the queue - at which point I realised that I'd forgotten to print off my boarding passes for the flights. Bugger! 'Don't worry, they'll print one for you' said Dave cheerily - fortunately they weren't one of the airlines that charges you for this sort of things these days!
We went through security before deciding on breakfast at Cafe Rouge where Seamus soon joined us; the rest of our party (Segs, Pablo and Rob) were in The Flying Horse enjoying a different type of breakfast... initial 'oh my gawd the plane's got propellers' worries turned out to thankfully unfounded, and the short flight passed without incident. At Guernsey Airport we were met by Rob and Hayley who took us to The Les Douvres Hotel - whereupon checking through my gear I discovered that I'd forgotten my slide. This was getting silly! I try to leave a slide with each guitar, but had only decided to use to my Lemon Drop the night before and for some reason the case was slide-less. Bah! 
The rest of the band and crew went off for food but I was still full from breakfast (and still feeling the effects of an upset stomach a day or so before) and so stayed at the hotel to catch up on a bit of sleep, play some guitar and get a bit of fresh air. Rock 'n' roll eh?
Half past four and it's off to the venue (via Kendall Guitars to buy a slide - at least I can leave it in the Lemon Drop's case! Incidentally this is an excellent shop, and there was a poster in the window advertising a gig by a G'n'R tribute band called Guerns 'n' Roses...) for soundcheck. The Fermain Tavern certainly seems to be a popular venue, with pictures of Wilko Johnson and Nine Below Zero on the walls (excellent!) and a good stage and P.A. system. We've bought Rob with us to do our sound, he's bought a Roland Space Echo with him for the dubbier parts of our set which takes a while to get working to his satisfaction. I've got a Fender Twin Reverb which would normally have me rejoicing but n this case took a bit of getting used to - a bit trebley compared to some that I've used, or maybe I haven't used The Lemon Drop much lately? Dave was perturbed to find mould on the cymbals provided for him to use - apparently they came from a rehearsal studio situated in an old German bunker and 'it can get a bit damp in there'...
I'd not met Linton Kwesi Johnson before - I think I last saw him back in the 1980s, and he seemed to be a very nice if rather quiet chap; Attila was of course as irrepressible as ever, a very nice if not-at-all quiet chap!
With everything sounding good it's back to the hotel for some food and to get changed before returning to the venue to catch most of Attila's and all of Linton's performances, both of which were excellent but both of which highlighted an interesting audience dynamic - what you might call the 'bookish' part of the crowd consistently appealed for quiet from the 'rock' element who were warming up with beer and often rather loud conversation. Things got a bit heated on more than one occasion - eventually an uneasy calm was reached when the rockers moved towards the back of the room.
10.45 and Attila introduces us as a band that he first saw on the back of a flat bed truck at a Rock Against Racism rally, going on to say that things have changed a lot for the band since then. They have indeed... the show proved to be interesting for a number of reasons. The reggae-based material saw a full dancefloor and went down very well, whereas the punkier songs (like 'Back Biter') saw a more raucous response, mostly from the people who had moved to the back of the venue earlier in the evening. There was a bit of heckling here and there (Segs saw them off with ease!) and the show went well enough for us to play an encore ('H-Eyes' in case you were wondering) and to receive many compliments after the gig.
Sunday started earlier than I for one would have liked, as breakfast ended at half past nine and checkout was at 11 o'clock. At least that's when I thought that it was - the phone went in my room at 10.50 to remind me that checkout was at 10.30. I'd more-or-less got all my stuff together, but since we weren't due to leave for the airport until one o'clock that left quite a while to fill. I decided to have a walk around the area, which turned out to be interesting if a little perilous at times - the roads were often only just wide enough for two cars which meant some very careful manoeuvring by drivers (and often some very careful reversing if the road wasn't wide enough for both cars) and the occasional jumping out of the way by pedestrians (i.e.me!)
At the airport we meet LKJ in the queue, who tells us we 'mashed them last night'. This pleases us greatly! The man behind the counter tells me that I can walk my guitar on to the plane, but when I take my pedalboard to outsize baggage I'm told the guitar has to go too. Oh well. At security Molara gets stopped and has to empty all her bag out, which as you can imagine she's not too pleased about. I'm wandering about in the duty free shop looking at nothing in particular when I hear my name read out over the tannoy. This has never happened to me before but as I heard it I felt my nerves jangle - why do they want me to 'report to gate 4 immediately'? When I get there I'm asked if I'm carrying an outsized item onto the plane - as I was about to answer I looked out of the window to see my guitar being loaded onto the aircraft. Confusion reigns for a few seconds but everything seems to be ok in the end.
On the plane LKJ asks Segs where he buys his hats as the girl across the aisle from them comments on how cool they both look and a couple of seats from me a nun looks on quizzically. A good moment - or maybe that should be a God moment?  
As we wait at Gatwick Segs and myself wonder whether our instruments will be in the outsize section or will just appear on baggage carousel number 1 with everything else. As we debate their fate my pedalboard is one of the first things to emerge on the belt, followed by Segs's bass guitar. What feels like hours later the belt is empty and all our fellow passengers have gone on to bigger and better things but there's still no sign of my instrument - after a bit of deliberation I go to baggage enquiries with Pablo while Segs and Rob stay by the carousel in case it appears. The men behind the glass are helpful but resigned to filling in the large number of forms that are being liberated from a filing cabinet as they tell me that it's 'very unusual for anything to go missing from The Channel Islands'. This information is clearly intended to be reassuring but doesn't really make me feel any better. Suddenly Pablo's phone rings - Segs has got my guitar. It appeared on the belt just before the next aircraft's baggage emerged.
As I opened the case to check that it was still all in one piece I thought about the nun on the plane - she'd bought an enormous bottle of gin when they bought the duty free around. At that moment I felt as though she'd got the right idea.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


These two photographs show the stages that The Chicago Blues Brothers played on this weekend. The smaller indoor one was the scene of our performance at The Pheasantry in Chelsea, while the outdoor one is in London's Hyde Park and is considerably bigger, although as it turned out we probably had about the same amount of room at both shows... 

Friday evening saw our first show at The Pizza Express on The King's RoadWe'd been told that we could get into the basement venue at 4pm but there was a meeting there until 5 o'clock so I dropped my stuff off and walked back to The Saatchi Gallery. Many years ago I went through a period of visiting art galleries on a fairly regular basis (I think I thought it would do me good!?!) and I enjoyed my time here, although just under an hour was long enough for me, if you know what I mean. (Yes, I know, I sound like a complete heathen. Maybe I am!)
Back at the venue the troops were amassing - Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood, Squirrel on bass, Chris depping for Ian on keyboards, Steve depping for Marc on drums, Richard on tenor saxophone with Ian joining on baritone saxophone, Steve depping for Dave on trumpet and Tracy on vocals. Considering how little we've been together lately (these shows doubled the number for 2012!) it all went very well; we've played at The Pizza Express in Maidstone on quite a few occasions (that's where this year's other shows have been) which is normally good fun, and this one certainly was too although I for one was interested to see that the often-held theory about London audiences being reserved compared to other parts of the country being for want of a better word, 'proven'. Whereas the Maidstone audience is often up on their feet dancing Friday's crowd sat and watched throughout - they joined in here and there and certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, but you felt as though you were more 'on show' than at the other venue. Well, I certainly did anyway. Still I hopefully don't sound too cynical (ooh imagine that!) when I say that it was a good warm-up for the next day's show.
It's official - I'm an artist. At last!
When we were first told that we were going to be playing at The Proms In The Park I must say that found the whole thing to be 'amusing' in both senses of the word i.e. it made me smile and it was also an extremely unlikely (on the surface at least) place for the band to find themselves at. Actually it all makes a bit more sense when you see that the first part of the day featured theatre and tribute shows (Bjorn Again, the cast of 'Let It Be' etc) which we fairly obviously fitted into, while the latter part of the evening featured Kylie Minogue, Alfie Boe and Il Divo among others. This was pretty much a separate event to our bit and I was very much looking forward to seeing these acts (I'm not likely to see any of them anywhere else!) although as we'll discover things didn't quite go according to plan...
When I arrived around 12.30pm it was already getting very hot. It's often strange to see venues with no people in them, and Hyde Park (or to be more accurate, the part of the park where the shows are held) was no exception. As I walked towards the stage I became aware of the size of the area that we were going to be playing to - it was big. Very big. I've seen The Who here among others. Some bands play places like this all the time. The lucky buggers.
Our gear set up stage right.
Although the stage was the biggest one that I've ever played on (so far - let's be optimistic eh?) we actually only occupied a small part of it; as you look at the picture at the start of this posting we were on the far left hand end. This often happens at events such as these where several acts are set up on the stage at the same time, making for very quick changeovers between shows. We only had a short time to soundcheck, but with the mighty Ian Bond making a welcome reappearance behind the mixing desk things were sounding great in no time. The gates opened at half past two, and by the time Tony Blackburn (oh yes!) introduced us at exactly 5.15 (a good Who-approved time don't you think?) there were an estimated 40,000 people there to witness our 25 minute performance. And what they saw was, even though I say so myself, an absolutely excellent show from band and singers alike, with everybody rising to the occasion and a fine reaction from the audience. And then, suddenly, it was all over. We'd bearly finished 'Gimme Some Loving' before the afore-mentioned Mr. Blackburn had introduced The Gypsy Queens and we were taking our gear offstage. All the band seemed pleased with how it had went - there had definitely been some pre-match nerves floating around although you'd never have known from the performance. And me? I could have played all night!
The view from the stage
 at the start of our set.
Some of the band were off to play other gigs whereas the rest of us were looking forward to seeing the rest of the evening's proceedings. I walked out front to watch Bjorn Again - I was never the biggest Abba fan but was interested to see and hear them as they're one of the most successful tribute acts in the World. I was just attempting to use my phone to take a picture of them to put on this here blog when it rang - it was Big Al Reed. Was I busy? He was gigging in Amersham and Chris the keyboard player hadn't turned up, and he was of the opinion that it'd sound great with me and Bob his 'other' guitarist.

I thought about it for a minute. If I got myself into gear I could be there in an hour or so on the train, or I could stay and watch the rest of the evening's entertainment. So - what do you think I did?

Well it's obvious really isn't it? Three hours after playing to 40,000 people in Hyde Park I was playing to around 1/1000th of that number at a birthday party in a garden in Buckinghamshire with Al and Bob. Strange but true. Oh well - hopefully I'll see Kylie another time.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Jam yesterday (and maybe next month too)

Let's continue with the sad stuff - Dave Beal has died. I hadn't seen him for a few years, but remember him very well from his days promoting in Rayners Lane back in the 1990s. Along with Pete Feenstra and the late George McFall he worked tirelessly to promote live music in and around London - often in the face of no little adversity - and latterly he'd been involved with Club Ska as well as working with Los Pacaminos. I'll remember him as being a wonderfully enthusiastic man, whether he was expounding the virtues of the latest band that he'd booked to play or talking passionately about his beloved birdwatching, of which he had the most extraordinarily detailed knowledge. I'll also remember him as being a very nice guy.

Time for the first Flying Squad gig of the year, supporting The Clashed at Tropic At Ruislip on Friday night. I saw The Clashed at the same venue last year when they played with The Pistols - this show was better than that one, a 1 1/2 hour set that spanned the whole of The Clash's amazing career. They've still got things the wrong way round (the little chap in the middle sings like Mick, the tall chap on the end sings like Joe) but they made a good job of some very tricky material - it's hard to go from punk to funk and back again via reggae and rock but I thought they did it well. And even though I say so myself The Flying Squad played a very good show, with everyone on top form and a great audience reaction. We're back there in December supporting Dr. Feelgood which should be a very interesting evening, not least because we'll be obliged to learn an almost completely new set of songs - after all, we can hardly play 'She Does It Right' and 'Back In the Night' now can we?

The rest of the weekend saw two shows with Big Al Reed, the first of which was at The Royal Oak in Knowl Hill. It's a year since John the landlord first took the pub over, and comedian Adga Brown was also on the bill. Gigs with Al are always good fun if a little nerve-racking from my point of view since there's no telling what song Al's going to call up next - still it keeps me on my toes, as they say. Barring the odd 'how does this one go?' moment it was a good show, as was the gig at The Feathers in Chalfont St. Giles yesterday afternoon, which was distinguished by Al's mate Ekkie making an unannounced appearance with us by walking in through the front door playing saxophone, and the amusing (not to say astonishing) sight of Al's 84 year old mum dancing to several songs. I hope I'm as fit as she is at her age. Actually I hope I make it to her age at all!
We finished our last song around 7.30pm; after packing our gear away in record time we arrived at The Swan in Iver an hour or so later, where an open mic night was in full swing. Now I've always shied away from events such as this - the idea of jamming (maaan!) has always struck me as being far too hippie-ish for an old punk like myself to get involved in, although there are a lot of jam nights taking place these days and I'm often told that they're generally good fun and well worth going along to. This one is run by John who's an accomplished musician and guitar builder, and who has been cajoling me into coming along for quite a while. So it was then that Al and myself (accompanied by Tony on bass and Mark on drums) performed two songs which went down well enough for us to be asked to perform three more at the end of the session, the landlady approached Al with an offer of a gig, and I had a chat with the legend that is Les Payne - good stuff all round. I can't see myself seeking out too many similar events (although I suppose you never know - after all, plenty of people do!) but I enjoyed playing and I'll be making an effort to attend the next session (it takes place on the first Sunday of every month) on October 7th. 

In the meantime I'm playing at The Proms in Hyde Park this weekend - now that's a sentence that I never thought I'd ever type...