Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'You think they might have finished building the venue before they hired it to us...'

Time for the first Ruts D.C. shows of 2013, at The 200 Club in Newport and The Fleece in Bristol :-

It's Friday not long after 1pm, and the doorbell has just gone. A familiar figure can be seen through the frosted glass... 'punk rock insurance' says John 'Segs' Jennings of Ruts D.C. offering his right hand. I shake it and smile - 'not today thank you'. Behind him is Marc the driver who I meet for the first time, in the van is Nick the soundman (the rest of the band - Dave Ruffy on drums, newly-bearded Seamus Beaghan on keyboards and Molara on vocals - are making their own way) and it's only a few minutes before my gear and myself are on board and we're on the road. We wend our way along the M4, stopping at Reading Services for sandwiches and petrol - Segs walks over to someone he obviously recognises, greets them with a hug and then comes back smiling - 'Life on the road eh? That's Dave Barbarossa'. And it was.
Handouts and passes
for the shows.
Leaky roof and
Banksys not pictured.
We arrived in Newport just before 5 O'Clock, and at The 200 Club quite a while after - the sat. nav. let us down at the last minute, meaning that a very precarious bit of reversing up Stow Hill was seriously considered before we opted to call the venue and go around the block, arriving at the venue (eventually!) by rather more conventional methods. Ziggy and John of Death Or Glory Promotions are putting on both nights, and arriving at the club it's clear that neither of them are happy with things. The roof is leaking in several places, not least over the left side of the stage making the show a somewhat dangerous proposition. Attempts are being made to fix the problem but it's obvious that there's a lot to do before showtime. We ask where the dressing room is and are shown a small alcove that's cordoned off from the main room by a curtain - not ideal as Seamus discovers when he puts a shoeless foot down on the soaking wet floor, but no one complains. It's a case of 'let's get on with it' - so we do. All things considered our sound check goes well (although Seamus is rather precariously placed a bit nearer to the edge of the stage than he'd like in a attempt to avoid any water landing on him) and we leave support bands Criminal Mind and Foreign Legion to set up while we go off in search of some food. We find The Queen's Hotel where 2 meals for £6.59 is too good a deal to miss. (It's all glamour this rock 'n' roll lark I can tell you!) We linger a while then decide to go back to the van to run through a few songs and check some backing vocals. (See what I mean!) We walk past a club called Six Feet Under which is advertising an intriguingly-named night called The Love Surgery (!) before arriving back at the bus and playing for 20 minutes or so, which we all agree was well worth doing.
10pm and we're ready to go - an hour-and-a-quarter it's all over bar a not-inconsiderable amount of shouting. It was a good show (especially considering the risk of possible electric shock) but we all agree that the best is yet to come. Meanwhile I join Marc behind the merchandise desk while Dave and Segs sign all and sundry for all and sundry and I'm approached by a lady who asks if could have my plectrum and then tells me that I have 'magic fingers' - you can do your own punchline if you like... as we're getting ready to leave John asks me if I've 'met Keith yet'? When I say no he takes me over to a unassuming chap who turns out to be ex-Clash and Public Image Ltd. guitarist Keith Levene. Excellent!
We're staying at the Bristol Filton Holiday Inn which should only be 30 minutes or so from the venue but with part of the M4 closed it takes a bit longer than it should. When we arrive we find that breakfast closes at 10.30am, we don't have to check out until 2 in the afternoon and the bar is still open. Result! Beers are bought and Dave treats himself to a bottle of wine; he looks very pleased with himself until he discovers that it's 'corked' (one for the 'Fawlty Towers' fans there!) but the barman changes it for a more expensive bottle straight away. The mood is good and we're all looking forward to the next night's show. It's good when that happens.

I managed to (ahem!) leap into action in time to catch breakfast, and I'm glad I did as it was excellent. I'm sharing room 104 with Seamus who finds 'The Professionals' on TV which we both find highly entertaining and indeed amusing. By the time 2 o'clock comes around we're all ready to head into town where we find The Fleece open so we load our gear in - at which point Dave discovers that he's left his drum mat in Newport. Bah! He heads off to get it while the rest of have a couple of hours to fill before sound check. I decide to go off into town in search of a Banksy or two - I look one up on my phone, programme in the street name and start walking... and walking... and walking... no one I ask for directions seems to be from Bristol ('I'm from Cardiff!' was one particularly brisk reply) so after probably the most indirect route ever I eventually find it. I then realise that there's one quite close to the venue so decide to look for that one, which turns out to be much easier to find.
Sound check is a simple enough affair and takes little time, after which Dave and Segs go off to do an interview with Andy Peart (accompanied by Adrian who writes the splendid Aural Sculptors blog) from Vive Le Rock magazine while Marc and myself set up the merchandise table and people begin arriving. A chap comes over and introduces himself as Steve, and then tells me that he saw The Price at this venue supporting The Lurkers in 1990. Amazing! Then an ecstatic Dave comes over with an original Ruts fan called Steve and his son George who have just presented him with two scrapbooks - they look like they have pretty much every article on the band from the time along with press releases and more. An extraordinary collection and a great thing to have.
Criminal Mind are on again with Ruptured Life as first support, both of them play well although I spend much of their sets doing a brisk trade behind the merchandise table and talking to quite a few audience members who are have 'waited 30 years' for our show. No pressure then...
All the band felt that this would be a better show that the previous night (not that there was much wrong with that, but you know what I mean) with the nearly-sold-out crowd getting going from the word go and the band reacting accordingly with a tight, powerful performance. That said it wasn't all good news - someone threw a can at the stage which landed at my feet just as we finished 'Back Biter' (I didn't think that it was that bad! Actually you can see the can arrive at the very end of this footage from the show...) which is the sort of thing that I for one had hoped had stopped happening years ago, but that was the only negative thing about the show. Afterwards it's even busier on the merch and I meet Auntie Pus a.k.a. Julian who is a friend of Dave and Segs's from way back when and someone who I saw support the original band on a couple of occasions.  He seemed to be a nice chap (I spoke to him a couple of times back in the day and remember that he was ok then as well) and was very complementary about the show, which is a nice thing to hear from someone who was there originally. A great weekend's work.

You can read Adrian's review of his evening here... and there are four more Ruts D.C. shows coming up this week, it's Leeds on Friday, Stockton-on-Tees on Saturday, Dundee on Sunday and Liverpool on Monday then there's a week off before an album launch party in Birmingham at the end of the month - full details are on the band's website. Oh yes!

Sunday evening it was up to Koko in Camden for the second and last London show of Wilko Johnson's farewell tour. Viv Albertine was on first and Eight Rounds Rapid on before the main attraction - both were excellent but Wilko and the band (joined by Slim on accordion for a couple of numbers) were just amazing, one of the best shows I've ever seen them give. As with Wednesday's show there was no mention of his illness, although he did look somewhat overwhelmed by the intensity of the crowd's reaction at the end. And why not? He's given us, the audience, so much over the years so he deserves to be treated like a hero at this stage of the game. A wonderful performance from a great musician - if that turns out to be the last time that I see him play then that's a fine show to remember him by.

And last night it was off to G Live in Guildford to see The Stranglers supported by The Godfathers. Myself and Big Andy arrived at the early hour of 4pm - I left him at the venue autograph hunting while I walked off into town in search of Andertons musical instrument
shop. I decided to have another go at using my phone rather than asking a local person where the shop was, and incredibly it led me straight to the front door. I hadn't been to Andertons for ages, it's always been a good shop and has a very impressive amount of equipment of all types - I managed to heroically restrain myself with the credit card, although the fact that none of the many assistants took any notice of me even when I went up to the counter to ask one of them about something that had caught my eye may well have contributed to my restraint.
I've always been a big fan of The Godfathers since seeing them back in the 1980s. Tonight they played a fair few songs from back then as well as showcasing some material from their new 'Jukebox Fury' album, and sounded good although 'If I Only Had Time' went a bit wrong in the middle and there were a few odd moments here and there which prompted anxious glances between band members. It was good to see my old mate Dave on drums (he's in The Sex Pistols Experience who I've depped with on several occasions) and the band certainly went down well so perhaps it was just me. 
What can be said about The Stranglers that hasn't already been said any number of times? They are an absolute institution in more ways than one, with some of the most fervent followers that you'll ever encounter (from what I can gather the band often recognise many of the people in the front row at a lot of their shows) and a back catalogue packed with classics. I last saw them a couple of years ago - they sounded good then and they sounded good last night too, but I have a feeling that they normally do. A fine evening all round.

Right - time for some more Ruts D.C. gigs...

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