Sunday, October 28, 2012

Satellite, Pretty Vacant, Did You No Wrong...

And now for something completely different - The Afton Satellites at The Half Moon in Putney on Wednesday evening. The venue has changed a bit since I was last there; always a great place to see a band, it's still pretty good but it's now brighter, more... touristy if you know what I mean. Then again it nearly closed a few years ago so it's great to see that it's still in business and putting live music on regularly. The Afton Satellites an interesting bunch - formed by ex-Hamsters bassman Andy Billups they feature Gary Fletcher from The Blues Band on guitar and bass, Tom Leary on fiddle, Ray Brown on vocals and Andy's nephew Matt Billups on percussion. They also have Chris Teeder on keyboards who played on the ill-fated Cool Britannia shows earlier this year and who deps with The Chicago Blues Brothers Band on a regular basis (he's playing with The Flying Squad in this clip - now you know what I was doing at the gig!) They reminded me of The Band both musically and because of the amount of instrument swapping going on - plenty of 'this one's from my solo album' moments made for a varied set, and with cover versions as varied (some might say bizarre) as 'What A Wonderful World' and 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' it was definitely a good first gig for the band. And it was great to see Chris play - I've done many shows with him over the years but hearing him from the audience perspective reminds me that I'm very lucky to play in bands with musicians of his calibre. 

Talking of playing in bands The Upper Cut returned to The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge on Friday evening for what for me at least was a rather strange show. The previous few days had seen me attempting to clear my right ear of a bout of earwax that had developed around the time of the Ruts D.C. show in York last weekend. Sadly my ear was still blocked throughout the show which made it difficult for me to hear exactly what was going on (obviously!) and which resulted in some rather peculiar guitar work and indeed backing vocals from your humble narrator. There was also the slightly odd situation created when Hughie the D.J. asked me for a setlist so that he wouldn't play anything that we were likely to perform - and he then played several of our songs, and even played 'Babylon's Burning' in the interval. Very strange. As I said to a couple of people after the show 'I just couldn't get hold of that one'. And I couldn't. Still it all went down well with the assembled multitude and we're back there next month (on Friday the 23rd since you've asked) so we must have done something right.

And last night saw the fifth annual Paul Fox tribute night (or 'The Paul Fox Social Club' as it's less formally known) which this year was held at The Ruislip Social Club (also the home of Tropic At Ruislip) in, you've guessed it, Ruislip. A highly enjoyable evening featured The Dirty Strangers, The DubCats, Scabies And James and The Moonstompers and raised a substantial sum for The Michael Sobell Hospice at Mount Vernon Hospital. I must admit that I'd feared that I might get a bit of stick from the Fox fans but the only real incident occurred when I was introduced to a ridiculous hippie who said something like 'so you think you can fill Foxy's shoes then do you?' No, actually I don't, and that's not what I'm trying to do, but I don't think that there's much point in trying to explain that here... still it was good to see The Dirty Strangers again (I don't remember when I last saw them, but it wasn't this century!) but somewhat inevitably the highlight for me was a blistering performance from Scabies and James - Texas Terri great on vocals, Austin rock solid on bass, Rat Scabies as astonishing as ever on drums and Brian James re-affirming his place as one of the definitive punk guitarists - which didn't go down too well with some of the attendees, many of whom seemed shocked and even horrified by the band. It seems that even 30-odd years later punk rock can still offend the hippies. Good!

No gigs for your humble narrator this week. Bad!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New York

Well I may not have played any gigs myself last weekend but I did manage to get out to see a couple of very-different-from-each-other shows...

Friday night was punk night at The Peel in Kingston courtesy of Rat Scabies and Brian James playing 'Damned Damned Damned'. I saw them at The 100 Club back in June which was a great night but this show was if anything even better, despite James breaking a string a couple of songs in and his replacement guitar having what sounded like a problem with the jack socket. None of this stopped his playing sounding like an air raid - which brings me to the ever-amazing Mr. Scabies, who battered the hell out of his kit as he only ever does, and distinguished himself by counting as least one song in with the words 'one-two-three-GO!' Texas Terri handled the vocals well, Austin made a good job of the bass parts (and I managed to find his name this time, when I bumped into him outside!) and the audience loved every minute of it, as did I. Great stuff - and they're playing at the upcoming Paul Fox tribute night as mentioned in last week's posting, which should be one to remember.

On Saturday evening I ventured across to Tropic At Ruislip to see Irish guitar hero Pat McManus. As I arrived support band The Southern Rogues were roaring through 'Walking By Myself' - they played material by the likes of Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher but also had a few of their own songs which is always a good thing to see. And Pat McManus was as good (actually thinking about it he was probably even better) as when I saw him at the same venue two Octobers ago, still a bit 'rock' for my tastes but he's an undeniably excellent musician and one that I'm glad that I made the effort to see again. His band are pretty good too!

Only one gig for me this weekend, but what a gig it was, with Ruts D.C. at Fibbers in York.

We had a rehearsal at The Music Complex in Deptford on Friday afternoon - Segs had just flown in from America (he'd been back in Britain about five hours when we started at midday) and Dave had been away on holiday so it took a while to get going; that said we ran through our hour-and-a-bit's worth of live material as well as trying 'Dope For Guns' as a perspective addition to the show so we didn't do too badly. 
The journey up to York from London took us about five hours including a couple of coffee stops. We had a splendid eleven seat bus which gave me plenty of space to change my guitar strings on the way up (I really must be more organised mustn't I?!?) and for everyone to have a bit of room to themselves meaning that when we arrived at Fibbers the mood was good and spirits were high. 
We pulled up at the backstage area and those of us who hadn't been there before (including me) were immediately confused by there being two venues right next to each other. To the left it's Fibbers while to the right it's The Duchess which was playing host to Hazel O'Connor - a bit of a shame that the two acts were playing on the same night don't you think? Segs was just telling me that they'd played together at The Nashville Rooms (apparently the evening was interrupted by nazi skinheads) when Hazel herself came over and recounted the same story, adding that she'd got the part in 'Breaking Glass' after her performance that night. Interesting!
With everything soundchecked it was off to The Golden Fleece with Matt from The Chicago Blues Brothers (he lives nearby) for a pre-gig drink before going back to the venue to meet up with Jennie from The Rebellion Festival and Pascal Briggs and to see a few numbers from the support band Copasetics who sounded good, with some excellent trumpet work complementing their ska sound well.
9.15 and it's showtime - we sound very different with some people in the room (some venues are like that, I'm not really sure why) and it takes a song or two for us to adjust to things. Well, it certainly took me a while to get used to it...  by the time we got to 'Staring At The Rude Boys' (roughly the halfway point of the set) things were really taking off - as we left the stage after 'Babylon's Burning' the place was going wild, and we encored with the afore-mentioned 'Dope For Guns' before finishing with 'In A Rut'. It was maybe not quite as euphoric a performance as the Birmingham show earlier this month, but the comments from people afterwards made me realise just how much the songs mean to people, and how excited people are to see Ruts D.C. back on the stage.
From there it was back to London (amid much jollity including Dave showing us how a monkey peels a banana - really!) where we met the long-suffering Shirley at South Mimms Services around 3.30am (it's been a while since myself and herself been there at that sort of time!) and I spent much of today asleep. Rock 'n' Roll eh?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Take no heroes, take only inspiration...'

I have just - just! - returned from The Old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane, where Pete Townshend has been promoting his recently-published autobiography 'Who I Am'. He was interviewed by Will Hodgkinson, participated in a question and answer session with the audience and signed many-a copy of said publication.

I arrived at the venue at almost exactly 6.45pm, fifteen minutes before the event was due to begin. I'd walked a quick walk from Aldgate tube station as I didn't know how far along Brick Lane I was going to have to go; as I passed Rough Trade East on my left I saw a large chimney with TRUMAN written on it in front of me to the right - a good sight. The Old Truman Brewery is another one of those undeniably impressive buildings that would probably have been demolished by now if someone hadn't come up with the idea of using it for something other than the job it was originally intended for, and walking in you have to think that it's a good job that they did. To the right was a Waterstones stall piled high with books, to the left an audience of maybe a couple of hundred with a small stage in the centre facing the assembled multitude. I bought a book (you just knew that I would didn't you?!?) and found a seat next to a studious-looking chap who looked to be making short work of The Times crossword. A live recording of The Who could just be heard over the massed mumbling. Good.
Around ten past seven a ripple of applause found it's way around the room as a young lady attempted to introduce the evening. Sadly her words were hardly heard, as as her microphone either let out a wall of feedback or didn't work at all. This situation continued throughout the first few minutes of the Townshend / Hodgkinson exchange which annoyed large sections of the audience (which I think is rather ironic, given Townshend's pioneering use of feedback on guitar, and indeed the row that his band were capable of making!) although things were more-or-less sorted out (PT apologised for being late as he'd travelled by train meaning that there was no time to check the microphones) in the end. The interview went well and was very interesting, with Townshend giving some typically involved answers and swearing a bit too much for the people in front of me - again, a bit ironic don't you think? After 45 minutes or so of regaling us with tales of Moonie and The Ox, his ongoing relationship with Roger Daltrey and more it was time for questions from the fans - again the microphones went wrong, again Townshend didn't scrimp on the answers - before the previously calm and genial audience became a seething rugby scrum hell bent on destruction. This could only mean one thing -  yes, it was time to get your book signed... confusion reigned for a few minutes as no one seemed to be sure where Townshend would be sitting - I found myself near the back of the queue (I always seem to find myself near the back of the queue!) as order was restored. Judging by the number of people in front of me the Waterstones stall had clearly been been very busy - as we shuffled our way towards our quest people wondered if he'd sign all the books or if he'd get bored and leave early. 
After a half an hour I was a few people away from the front of the queue. The staff were friendly, asking us to have our books open ready at the title page and smiling cheerily as we all complied. I gave my (open) book to the gentleman to the left of where Pete was sitting and suddenly I was face to face with the man himself, the nearest I have to a hero. Oo-er... he looked up at me, smiled (a bit) and signed the book with a black felt pen and a large flourish. Excellent. He looked up and smiled (a bit) again and I suddenly thought that I could say something like 'hello Pete, I'm Leigh, you're the reason that I play guitar, no really you are, and I play guitar with Ruts D.C., you know, Segs and Ruffy's band, you used to know Paul Fox as well didn't you? Can we have some gigs with The 'Oo please?' I decided against this (a wise decision don't you think?) and instead said 'brilliant, thank you'. He said 'thank you' quietly and smiled (a bit) again as he gamely shook my hand.

I walked away, putting my book back into the Waterstones plastic bag provided as I did so. I then realised that I was dying for a pee. 
On my way to look for the toilet I bumped into Mark of Monkey Picks fame. After exchanging hellos he asked if I'd got my 'bit of scribble'? 'Yeah' I said, rather more nonchalantly than I thought I would. And why not? They (whoever 'they' are) say that you should never meet your heroes, and 'they' may well be correct. And I haven't met mine have I? - well, not really anyway. But I'm well pleased with my book. I might even read it one day!

Friday, October 12, 2012

'We're opening a branch of cycling shops in The Channel Islands...'

No gigs this coming weekend for your humble narrator, a situation that would usually have me moaning and groaning (imagine that!) but since I've been lucky enough to be part of some great shows lately I'll use this posting to cover some other subjects that have been rattling around in my warped mind lately.

It's been all go at Balcony Shirts, and with good reason as the new website has finally been launched. It's been a long time coming but the hard work has definitely been worth it as you can see if you click here; there have been new shirts designs appearing alongside things like vinyl coasters and condiment crayons (I'm not making this up, honest!) and to this end your humble narrator has been busy writing website copy for the newer items and beyond. And that's not all - Scott has penned another Q.P.R.-centric song, this time in honour of recent signing Ji-Sung Park. It's on YouTube even as we speak - that's me on the multi-tracked guitar solos!

Ruts guitarist Paul Fox died five years ago this month. Five years! Where does the time go?!? The annual tribute gig is being held at Ruislip Social Club (home of course to the excellent Tropic At Ruislip club) on Saturday 27th October. There is also a benefit CD (the event is always in aid of The Michael Sobell Hospice) featuring various artists, many of which had a direct connection to Paul. To this end The Price have contributed 'So What About Love?' which was one side of a single (the other side was 'Between The Lies' in case you were wondering) that Paul produced for us way back in 1989. Full details on both the CD and the show can be found at, and it promises to be a very special evening - I might even go along myself... and talking of Paul's old band these three clips from last weekend's Ruts D.C Birmingham show have surfaced on YouTube, and we're playing Fibbers in York this coming Saturday which I'm really looking forward to.

50 years ago The Beatles released their first single 'Love Me Do' on the same day that the first James Bond film 'Dr. No' premiered in London. The twin worlds of popular music and film would never be quite the same again. Listening to 'Love Me Do' now it sounds basic, simplistic even - were this band really going to release 'Revolver' less than four years later? Yes, incredibly, they were. And then there's Mr. Bond - the hard drinking, womanising one-man army saving the World from the bad guys while delivering punchlines that most stand up comedians would be proud of. And didn't people used to smoke a lot in those days?
I don't remember either events happening (it was not long after my first birthday) but I do remember both Bond and The Beatles being for want of a better word 'omnipresent' during my early schooldays and beyond. And incredibly they still are - there's a new Bond film 'Skyfall' on the horizon, and the ever-controversial 'Magical Mystery Tour' has finally been officially released on DVD. It seems we still can't get enough of the Fab Four and whoever-it-is-that-plays-Bond-these-days - and I for one doubt that we ever will.

And what better to way to end this posting than with something that I haven't done for a while - yes, it's the return of the caption competition. Here's a photo that I took while away in Guernsey back in August. That looks a bicycle in that tree doesn't it? That's because it is! If you can think of a caption for it then please leave it as a comment. There are no prizes (as usual!) but it might be a laugh...

Monday, October 08, 2012

So THAT'S how they got their name!

Big Jim Sullivan died on Tuesday. In a career that spanned over fifty years he played on countless recordings for any number of artists as diverse as David Bowie and Englebert Humperdinck (his Wikipedia page has a mind-boggling list of records that feature him - take a look here and be amazed!) He pioneered the use of effects like wah-wah and talk box, was involved in the development of Marshall Amplifiers, gave guitar lessons to Ritchie Blackmore, taught Jimmy Page to read music (Page became known as 'Little Jim' when playing sessions in the 1960s to differentiate him from Big Jim - they appeared on many records together) and may well have owned the first Gibson Les Paul in Britain. And if all that wasn't enough, we was from down the road from us in Uxbridge. You may not have known his name, you almost certainly won't have known his face, but you've definitely heard him play - a true guitar great if ever there was one, he leaves behind an extraordinary contribution to British guitar playing and popular music in general.  Cheers Big Jim.

Two gigs for your humble narrator this weekend, the first of which saw The Upper Cut make their latest visit to The Dolphin in Uxbridge on Friday. With heavy rain all evening I for one was fearful of a low turnout but the pub was filling up by the time we went on at 9.30, and the scene was set for a good night. It wasn't all plain sailing however - we went to start our first song Terry the bass signalled that he was in trouble, with no sound was coming from his instrument; a process of elimination revealed that his guitar lead had failed so I found him one and we were off into an even better gig than last week's Harefield bash. No new songs this time (we always try to play something different at regular venues but time constraints meant that we didn't get time to rehearse for this one) but we pulled out some older  songs that we hadn't played for quite a while, and by the end there was a full dancefloor and an offer from Noel and Bridie to play at their 25th anniversary party later this year. Excellent! Oh and my Blues Deluxe sounded great - apparently the fault was a dry solder joint on a PCB that was causing the channels to switch indiscriminately of their own accord; since I had the volume of the channel that I wasn't using set to zero this had the effect of turning the sound on and off. Very strange!

But if that was a good night - and it definitely was a good night - then Saturday took things to even greater heights, as Ruts D.C. ventured up to Birmingham for a gig at The Hare And Hounds. I must admit I spent much of the journey North drifting in and out of consciousness (it'd had been a late night and I'd been working in the shop all morning... I must be getting old!) although I did wake up in time to hear Seamus exclaim 'Did you see that road name? It's an anagram!' as we passed Sarehole Road...
Mick the promoter is a friend of Dave and Seamus having put The Duplicates on several times, and he's an absolutely splendid chap who distinguished himself by taking orders for curry when we arrived and then driving off to get them himself. Top man! 
With Nick behind the mixing desk our soundcheck went well, and with people already arriving spirits are high. Support band The Cracked Actors got things off to a good start - nothing to do with David Bowie (sadly!) but very good all the same. I spend a bit of time behind the merchandise desk during their set - from what people are saying they like me have been looking forward to this show for a long time...
By the time we go on at half past ten the place is so full that we can hardly get to the stage. It doesn't take too many songs before it's clear that this is going to be a night to remember for all concerned, and when we finish our show there are people literally queueing up to to shake hands and say thanks. One guy tells me that my guitar sounded great and then says that he had been 'waiting 30 years to hear those songs' - I just say thanks and then say something like 'I've been waiting that long to hear them too'. And I have. Well - haven't we all?
Dave called early Sunday afternoon. He'd been at the venue until 3 am talking to people, he couldn't believe the reaction that we'd got and labelled the show 'a triumph'. It's hard to disagree.

What better way to finish a fine weekend's gigging than to go to The Swan in Iver on Sunday evening for this month's open mic night. Myself and Big Al Reed teamed up with Bob Pearce on drums and Tony Eden on bass to deliver a five song set to the assembled multitude, and very good fun it was too. I also enjoyed seeing Les Payne playing some acoustic songs - he told a great story about meeting John Lennon in Germany in 1961; apparently Lennon was less than friendly, claiming that he would make it in the music business before Les would. 'And he did' said Les with a smile, adding 'and that's why they spelt their group name with an 'a' instead of an 'e' - ''Beat Les''...'

Well I don't know about you, but I really hope that's true!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Twin towers

Well it's been a busy few days for your humble narrator in mad-guitar-land, but first things first - I was saddened to hear of the death of Andy Williams. His brilliance as a singer is surely beyond dispute - indeed the word 'singer' hardly does him justice - but I remember him from 'The Andy Williams Show' when I was a lad, with The Cookie Bear and him shouting 'NOT NOW, NOT EVER, NEVER!' when the bear asked him for milk and cookies each show. It was funnier than it looks written here, honest! And talking of funny, Herbert Lom died last week - his extraordinary portrayal of Inspector Dreyfus in the 'Pink Panther' films was one of the funniest things that I'd ever seen when I first saw it way back when.

Time for another reunion, and this time a unexpected one. Back in the mid-1980s I did quite a few shows with Pete Turner, then the owner of local musical instrument emporium Thames Valley Guitars, as part of an acoustic guitar duo called The Blue Five. Pete was a bit older than me (he still is!) and liked some very different music to the racket that I usually listened to; one day we were in the shop talking when for no apparent reason Pete handed me an acoustic guitar and began playing some chords on another and I, more by luck than judgement, joined in. We played for several minutes before a customer came in and we obviously had to stop so that Pete could serve them (!) Both of us liked what we heard, and this led to us getting together at his house one afternoon - that same evening we made our way down to The Load Of Hay which at that time was home to Uxbridge Folk Club. If I remember correctly we played one of Pete's compositions called 'Jackie's Tune' and the old classic 'Basin Street Blues' - this began a somewhat unlikely musical alliance that sporadically continues to this day. (Here is a clip of us playing at the L of H back in 2010 - our first gig this century!) He was up in Uxbridge on Thursday morning, and it was great to meet up for some coffee and some 'do you remember when...' moments, not least when we walked around town trying to remember what shops used to be where and what that pub used to be called. Great stuff. Pete mostly plays percussion these days, notably with Silvia Nicolatto and The Anglo-Cornish Project which from what he says seems to be going well. 

It's always good to be gigging with T.V. Smith and Friday's show was no exception, being part of his annual Earthbound gigs which T.V. plays for 'T.V.'s United Tour Supporters', also known as The TUTS. I was lucky enough to be asked to play at the 2010 shows up in Yorkshire, last year's took place in Germany and my show with him this year was in the splendid surroundings of Carshalton Water Tower.
I stumbled out of Carshalton Train Station around quarter to five in the afternoon. After a few minutes attempting to find a friendly passer-by (there wasn't one!) I decided against my better judgement to use my phone to find the venue. I found the postcode on the website - so then, left out of the station, left again then left into West Street... as I walked around the block wondered if I could have just turned right out of the station? As I passed the footpath to the station (bah!) I heard someone call my name - it was Shaun, who told me that the venue was further up the road but that The Hope was only a couple of hundred yards away... there we met up with Tony a.k.a. Fleagle the promoter (well, he organised the weekend's shows!) and various TUTS - T.V. was playing in a marquee in the garden the following evening, and it was obvious why the pub has just been named by CAMRA as one of the best pubs of 2012, it's really friendly and just 'right' if you know what I mean.
After a couple of drinks (only a couple, honest!) Shaun showed me around the Carshalton Ponds (very interesting) before making our way to the Water Tower - as we arrived T.V. was setting up his merchandise and the scene was set for a fine evening. Also on the bill were The Dirty Spoons who theoretically were supporting but were going on after us so that everyone who had travelled over by train (like me!) would be able to get home before the last train went.
After a quick soundcheck we agree to go on at 7.45. Our 26 song set takes in material from all of T.V.'s career, from The Adverts to the present day - I've gushed in these hallowed pages on quite a few occasions about how I feel about playing his songs, so this time I'll just say that every one was a reminder to me that he's simply one of the very best songwriters of them all. (See for yourself, as here we are playing 'Good Times Are Back' - excellent!) And I really enjoyed The Dirty Spoons too - a line up of banjo, mandolin, violin, bass guitar and washboard put on a fine show, and even included a version of T.V.'s 'The Lion And The Lamb'.  

Saturday evening saw The Upper Cut return to The Kings Arms in Harefield, and with my (previously) trusty Blues Deluxe combo still in the menders it was another job for the Blues Deville. Last time I played at the venue was back in July with Big Al Reed and the Cardiac Arrests, when Al's amp (a very expensive Egnater combo) went wrong; this time I thought I heard a few crackles here and there from mine but decided that it was just me getting paranoid... the band were a bit loose to begin with and took a few numbers to get going but by the time we started our second set we had a very active dancefloor, including a rather intoxicated young Irish lady who kept trying to talk to us during the songs. I always find it a bit weird when this happens - don't they realise where all that noise is coming from?

I don't mind admitting that I felt a bit bleary on Sunday morning - it's been a while since I did two late gigs in a row along with a Saturday in Balcony Shirts. Still no time to worry about that, as it's off to The Feathers in Chalfont St. Giles for an afternoon gig with Big Al Reed. When we arrived the pub was all but deserted, and we were told that there'd been 'a bit of trouble'... details were sketchy to say the least, but we decided to delay starting in the hope that a few people would arrive, and to play mainly without backing tracks (i.e. just on two guitars) in the hope that it might suit a 'quieter' venue than we're used to. All in all things went very well, with Ekkie joining in on sax here and there, the unsuspecting Pete from The Cane Toads being pressganged into joining in on a few songs, and even a few people in the audience by the end...

And last night saw that rarest of things -  a short notice Chicago Blues Brothers show. (Come to think of it CBB shows of any type have been pretty rare this year, but maybe we'll talk about that another day...) This one took place at The Guoman Tower Hotel which I last visited back in October 2008 (sometimes this blog comes in really handy, I'd never have remembered that otherwise!) and featured Pete and Matt in the hats and glasses, Dave and Richard on trumpet and saxophone, Squirrel on bass, Steve on drums, Tracy on vocals and, for the first time in quite a while, Roger on keyboards. Overall it was a pretty standard corporate show - it ran late meaning an appointment with the last train home (we - myself and the afore-mentioned Pete from The Cane toads who had come along to check the show out as he's doing some depping for me this Autumn - only just made it!) and I'm convinced that everyone there had forgotten that we'd played a minute or so after we'd finished our last song. Oh well, I guess every show can't be a T.V. Smith show, or indeed a Ruts D.C. show - we're in Birmingham this weekend, which should be a good one...