Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Distant relatives

I have just - just! - returned from playing four shows with Ruts D.C. :-

Not a bad evening's
After a suitably long 'it's-Friday-afternoon-traffic' journey with new face Mark behind the steering wheel we arrived at The Brudenell Rooms in Leeds around 5pm. We're on with T.V. Smith (who I hadn't seen since our duo gig at The 12 Bar Club before Christmas - we're playing our first show of this year at The New Cross Inn this coming Saturday - and who has been on tour in Europe with The U.K. Subs for the last few weeks) and Louise Distras (who was also on The 12 Bar Club show and who has also been on tour in Europe) so there's a fine evening in prospect. We're set up and soundchecked in good time - I'm putting my guitar away and talking to T.V. and Louise when I sneeze, sneeze again, then look down to see blood at my feet. Time for a nosebleed then... Louise helpfully fetches a handful of tissues and I spend T.V.'s soundcheck sitting on the stage trying to stop the blood flow. Dramatic eh? Actually it was pretty horrible, at one point literally streaming out. Urgh! Meanwhile the rest of the band went to check in at our hotel while the nosebleed eventually stopped and I watch Louise's soundcheck before setting up our merchandise stall. Chris the promoter opened the doors at 7 o'clock and people began arriving straight away - T.V. Smith mega-fan T.J. says hello and fellow Wilko Johnson obsessive Alan turns up with his two sons and presents me with a DVD of Wilko in Japan in 1992 and a 1995 tour programme (top man!) while the wonderfully-named Paul Newman asks me if The Price will be playing anywhere this year. I wonder if we will?
Just before 8 o'clock I bump into Louise who says 'I hope I don't break any strings' as she's making her way towards the stage; she doesn't but she does play an excellent set as does T.V. Smith. Then again, he usually does. By the time we went on the place was all but sold out, there's people dancing from the off and the show goes brilliantly. After encoring with 'In A Rut' and 'H-Eyes' we return to the dressing room but the audience is still going crazy and we somehow find ourselves back on stage - but we've played everything that we know, so what shall we do?
We'd had a rehearsal on Thursday evening during which we tightened up a few songs and began looking at other material that could possibly find it's way into the show. One of the songs that we tried was 'Generations' a song Segs recorded with Joe Strummer and Rat Scabies under the somewhat unlikely name of Electric Doghouse. We all agreed that it was definitely one to bear in mind for the future - unbeknownst to us the future was only one day away... it could be argued that in these days of YouTube it's not a good idea to play a song that you don't know, but we did it anyway! How did it sound? Like this...
After the show Mark and myself do a roaring trade on the merchandise stall and Dave and Segs signed old albums and singles, not-quite-so-old CDs, posed for photographs and made a lot of people very happy. I was even asked to do a couple of photos myself!
My first sight of Bewley's Hotel (I didn't go there earlier, remember?) included a couple of likely lads with their trousers around their ankles outside the main entrance. Friday night in Leeds then... Seamus and myself decide that we want to see what's going on so get a couple of drinks amid sights and sounds of great drunkenness and jollity from stag parties, hen parties and parties generally. A couple of chairs away from us a chap slides off his seat onto the floor a bit like a cartoon character might, he's out cold and his friends can't wake him up - suddenly the atmosphere changes and the hotel staff summon two paramedics and a voice over the tannoy asks us all to move out from the bar into the entrance hall. A few minutes later two of his friends are helping the now-just about-upright man towards the lift - 'we've never had a night like this!' says the barman cheerily as we hand him our glasses and chaos resumes all around us. Later we take the lift to the 4th floor where we're sharing room 441 - as the doors open there's a large upturned plant pot in front of us with flowers and soil everywhere. Why do people do things like that?

The next day begins in a leisurely manner that's very welcome after the previous day and evening. After breakfast we check out at midday and by 2 o'clock we're arriving at The Sporting Lodge Hotel in Middlesbrough. After checking in (Seamus and myself get room 122) it's time for some food - I get an excellent arrabiatta pasta which I just about finish before my nose starts bleeding again. Urgh!
It's only a short drive to The Georgian Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees and we're loading our gear in not long after 5 o'clock. Steve the promoter has got a couple of lads to help us carry our equipment (hurrah!) and we've got Green Dragon Studios to use as a dressing room. Soundcheck is a bit more involved than on the previous evening with the drum sound posing a few problems for our soundman Nick but he eventually gets everything sounding great. 
Support comes from The Clashed who I met last summer when The Flying Squad played with them; they've still got Joe and Mick the wrong way around (as you can see here) and they still do a good job of recreating the sound and the fury of The Clash, which is much appreciated by the rapidly-arriving crowd. The show has sold out in advance which usually bodes well for things but in this case it felt as though it all took a while to get going - we start with three reggae-based songs which I don't think was quite what the audience was expecting. There was a chap standing right at the very front wearing a white Ruts logo t-shirt who didn't look too happy until our fourth song 'Backbiter' when he suddenly bursts into life, as did many of the people around him. It was definitely harder work than the previously evening although as you can see if you watch the show here it all came good in the end. 
As I'm putting my guitar away a chap comes over, he's says that he really enjoyed the show but wondered if he seen me supporting The Ruts in Middlesbrough back in the day, wearing glasses and playing rock 'n' roll songs. He looks disappointed when I tell him that it wasn't me but was a chap called Auntie Pus (who incidentally has just written this blog piece on last week's Bristol show. Thanks Julian!)
I always wanted to be
 a tourist attraction!

It's a 5-ish hour drive to the next show so we set out at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning. 'Snow capped peaks to our right' says Dave as we pass through some spectacular scenery on our way to Dundee. We stop at a motorway service station where we see a poster for the gig in the tourist information display - excellent!
We arrived at The Reading Rooms just after 5pm. (Again! It's always 5pm!) Promoter Jim is a massive fan of the band and was present at a legendary Dundee gig back in 1979 when Segs and Malcolm let him and his friends in through a back window. There are only a few tickets left and he's hopeful that the gig will be a sellout which makes the already good mood in the band even better. The P.A. is superb and the sound is absolutely excellent - Dave and myself jam on 'Lust For Life' for no other reason than 'we just started playing it'.
I'm behind the merchandise table again as Jock Hart arrives, he's a big fan of the band (as you can tell from this review that he wrote of the evening) and it's good to see him again. Business is brisk and I sadly spend much of the support set by The Spitfires presiding over a merchandising frenzy although I managed to see their last few songs including a version of 'Career Opportunitiesand I thought that they sounded great. A difficult band to follow, but follow them we do with a storming performance, one of the best that we have yet played. Afterwards we sell umpteen CDs, run out of Ruts logo t-shirts and meet people who say that it was the best show that they've ever seen by anybody ever. A successful evening's work.

It was another early start yesterday as our last show of what Dave called our 'tourette' was at Eric's in Liverpool. I thought breakfast finished at 10.30 but it actually stopped half an hour earlier meaning that I ate a bowl of muesli standing up looking out over The River Tay as clearing up went on all around me. 
I spent a fair amount of the journey to Liverpool drifting in and out of consciousness - the last few days were catching up with me! We stopped at Lockerbie Service Station for food and fuel (Nick pronounced his burger as 'a mistake') and found our way to Liverpool in good time (can you guess what time we arrived?!?) with Mark reversing into Mathew Street from North John Street with great aplomb. It's a long load-in as we have to walk our equipment past The Cavern and down a seriously steep flight of stairs into the club. As we're setting up I say hello support band Biteback's guitarist Richie who also plays in The Crows, he says how much he's looking forward to the evening and I tell him he's not the only one...
After soundchecking I went upstairs to call my cousin Steve (my phone wouldn't work in the club) who lives over the water in Birkenhead and who is coming to see us play. Or is he? He's got no money, not even enough for the train fare to Liverpool but he's waiting for his next door neighbour to come in as he's going to lend him the cash. When I ask him how much he needs his answer of £6 seems barely believable. I think about how often we all squander money (well, I certainly do!) but if you've got nothing then even a small sum of money seems like a fortune. I tell him I'll call him back in a while to see how he's getting on - in the meantime we walk through the city to The Holiday Inn opposite Lime Street Station. We're checking in as Molara meets a couple of friends who are coming along to the show. Hmm... he looks familiar... she introduces me to 'Jamie' and I realise that it's Jamie Reid - I mumble something about how much I like his work to which he smiles and says that he's really looking forward to seeing the show. Excellent.
As I walk back towards Eric's I call Steve - it's not going well, his mate still hasn't arrived and time is getting on, I tell him to get a cab over to the top of Mathew Street where I'll meet him and pay for it and his return fare home but he gets upset saying that he doesn't want charity, I tell him that it's not charity it's family and that he can pay me back sometime if he wants to and then I'm getting upset too... by now I've walked past the turning to the venue and along Duke Street towards the Ferry landing stage and I'm looking out across The River Mersey and can see the lights of Birkenhead over the water, he's only over there but he might as well be on another planet, neither of us knows what to do but he says he'll call me back if his mate turns up. I stand on the landing stage looking across the river - me and my brother Terry grew up with Steve and his late brother Gary, they were more like our older brothers than our cousins and as I stand there I can remember a thousand things that we've done together. I feel helpless; I also feel very alone. Bugger. I walk back up the hill, past The Liverpool pub near James Street Station where Steve's train would come in, past a bus queue, back up Duke Street, feeling like I didn't know anything anymore... then as I turn into North John Street my phone suddenly rings - it's Steve's girlfriend Lizzie who says that his mate's come home and lent him some money and he's getting ready to come out to the gig and will be with me in a half hour or so. Amazing! Steve comes on the phone sounding like he's won the lottery and saying that everything's ok and he'll see me soon. Thank God for that... by the time I get to the club I'm in a much better frame of mind, as I'm about to go downstairs a chap asks me what time the band are on, as I tell him 9.30 he spots my Bored Teenager badge that T.V. Smith gave me on Friday night and we're all smiles as we both agree how great his latest album is. What a difference a few minutes can make eh? As I turn towards the club I see Phil from Louder Than War who apparently was standing there all the time. I really did have other things on my mind didn't I?
8.30 and Biteback take to the stage. It's their first show as a four piece, the young lady on rhythm guitar looks a bit reticent at first but things soon get going. They play 'English Civil War' (it was definitely a weekend for Clash cover versions!) which fits in well among their own material and they go down better and better as their show progresses. Then I spot a familiar figure in the doorway - it's Steve. I don't remember the last time that I was so pleased to see someone.
'And I... wanna be...
9.30 and we're on - the place isn't full but there's definitely enough people in to make it work (the show was slotted in at the last minute and as Ethan at the club put it, 'it's a Monday night and the day after St. Patrick's Day') but what they lack in numbers they more than made up for in enthusiasm. The show is a bit looser than the others with lots of storytelling from Segs and Dave coming out to the front of the stage to thank everyone for coming and to introduce the band. Overall it's a great show to end this run of gigs with, and in the dressing room Steve tells me that he really enjoyed it which means everything to me. Then Jamie Reid came over and asked me if I'd like him to sign my guitar - I'd half-jokingly said it to Molara earlier and she'd arranged it with him, meaning that I might well have the only Jamie Reid signature model Les Paul in existence. Strange but true. Then it's time for Steve to catch his train home, we blather at each other like kids, share a hug and then he's gone. I'm so glad that he made it along.
With everything packed away it's time to go back to the hotel - or is it? Phil asks me if I fancy a drink so we adjourn to The Grapes for an hour or so. As a young man plays guitar and sings over backing tracks in the other bar and Beatle - hunting tourists take endless photos of the walls he asks about the last few days - I say that I must have shaken 100 hands and heard the words 'I've waited over 30 years for this night' almost as many times. You don't know how lucky you are sometimes do you?

This morning I was in the hotel shower, thinking about how great the shows and the last few days had been, what the music means to me and to the audience, the mixture of emotions that the previous night had bought out in me - as I rinsed the soap off my face I opened my eyes to see blood on my hands. Another nosebleed. Back to the real world. You don't get something for nothing do you?  


Musky03 said...

Great post Leigh. And a boon for the punk rock face spotter! Keith Leveve, Dave Barbe, Auntie Pus and Jamie Reid, not a bad tally for one week..... Oh and Tim too.


Musky03 said...

I meant Adrian.