Monday, December 30, 2013

The end of the pier show

Well considering that it's the holiday season I've had a busy few days. I prefer that to having nothing to do though - don't you?

When last we spoke I was just about to leave for a Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks show at The Crown in Cowley. Gigs at this time of the year are always a bit of a lottery - they can go really well or be something of an anti-climax. (Some might say that the same situation applies to Christmas!) This one was definitely more of the former than the latter although from my point of view it was somewhat coloured by the fact that I'd been for an end-of-year-drink at The Queen's Head in Uxbridge with the Balcony Shirts team. I only had a couple of beers (honest!) but it seemed to hit me harder than it might (drinking during the day can be a bit perilous can't it?!) and I felt that I didn't play very well as a result - mind you no one else seemed to think that there was a problem so perhaps I was worrying over nothing? (Again!) We certainly went down well which I guess is the main thing.

I spent much of Christmas Day in the company of Wilko Johnson, Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe - I'd bought myself the recently-released 'Live At Koko' DVD for Christmas and had saved it to watch on the day, and I must say that it was well worth waiting for. A live DVD of the great man has long been overdue, and this is an absolutely superb release that captures the band in all their not-inconsiderable glory. Brilliantly filmed and well recorded, it's a fitting tribute to the mighty Mr. Johnson and his band.

The Upper Cut have played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge many times, including the last two Boxing Day evenings; I was a bit surprised when Noel the guv'nor asked us to play again this year as I thought he might have wanted a different band this year but I'm pleased that he did as it turned out to be a very memorable evening. Back in the 1990s Roger (drums) Terry (bass) and myself had a rhythm and blues band called The Informers with singer Bryan Byford - the band dissolved when he and his wife Judy moved to Ireland and none of us had seen them for around 15 years, so it was a great surprise when they turned up at the gig. Bryan joined us for 'Shaking All Over' and 'Baby Please Don't Go' and sounded in fine voice as did Big Al Reed who sang 'Hoochie Coochie Man' with our singer Terry on harmonica; we were a little shaky to begin with (we'd not played live for a couple of months) but all pulled together after a couple of numbers and our show ended with much dancing and merriment all round.

The next day (Friday I think - am I the only person who loses track of what day it is at this time of year?) saw Utter Madness play The Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mere. When we arrived the tide was out, and there was definitely something rather bizarre about driving along the pier in the dark with no water either side of us. The venue itself was rather bizarre too, with a stage and PA system set up among the fairground amusements. Very strange. With it being a blustery and rainy evening we all wondered if there'd be anyone at the show, but over 200 people turned up. Excellent! Our two 45 minute sets of Madness and ska classics got the general approval of all concerned, although our surrogate Suggs Tony thought he heard someone shout 'you're the worst Madness tribute band ever' at one point. I didn't hear it myself so am going to say that he was mistaken... and anyway, we were good!

And yesterday Big Al and the band played a 5pm show at Ye Olde George in Colnbrook. There have been no gigs there for a few months as it's been undergoing a refit, and I must say that they've made a very good job of it. We made a very good job of our show too, playing 3 sets and then being offered more money to play for longer. Oo-er! A good 'last-gig-of-the-year' for the band, and with shows already booked into the middle of next year it's looking good for The Blistering Buicks.

Ok - I've got to spend the rest of today going through the songs for tomorrow's New Year's Eve gig with Mr. Tibbs at The Greyhound in Chalfont St. Peter. I did some work on them on Saturday, and there are the best part of 40 songs to be played - better get on with it then...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Teenage depression

Sad news - Dave Higgs has died. As guitarist with Eddie And The Hot Rods (and principle songwriter for the early part of their career) he helped bridge the gap between pub rock and the souped-up rhythm and blues of Dr. Feelgood and the punk power and perfection of The Sex Pistols, and as such it could be argued helped to change the face of rock music - no mean feat if you think about it. I bought their 'Live At The Marquee' EP (remember EPs kids?!?) when it came out and can honestly say that at that point I'd never heard a record like it - an energy overload with Higgs's brilliant guitar work driving it all along. The show I saw the band play at Brunel University in Uxbridge way back in 1977 remains one of the most exciting musical performances that I've ever been lucky enough to witness (here's the band with one of Dave's best songs 'The Beginning Of The End' from around the same time - great stuff!) and 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' is a genuine rock classic. Cheers Dave - it wouldn't have been the same without you.

Coincidentally I saw the current lineup of Dave's old band at Oceana (an unlikely type of venue for such an evening, it used to be the 'Bailey's' nightclub) in Watford last Tuesday evening, as part of a 'dream bill' that also included Nine Below Zero and Wilko Johnson. The Hot Rods were as great as ever, with Barrie Masters in fine voice and the band matching him blow for blow. When they encored with 'Get Out Of Denver' it almost felt as though the headline band had been on - but no, 20 minutes later it's time for Nine Below Zero, another band that I saw play an incredible Brunel show back in the day. I think they played eight encores, and when we came out it had been snowing - not quite nine below zero outside, but enough for an old (then young!) romantic like me to remember forever. With Brendan O'Neill on drums and Brian Bethell back in the fold Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham gave a masterclass in rhythm and blues, with original songs easily holding their own next to the old classics and Feltham's harmonica sounding as amazing as it ever did. I'll bet I wasn't the only person who dug out their copy on 'Live At The Marquee' the next day... and what can I say about Wilko Johnson that I haven't said before? The man continues to defy medical science and is still delivering the goods. Wonderful stuff. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I saw him at Brunel University too. Perhaps I should have just moved there?!?

Wednesday night I rehearsed with Mr. Tibbs - I'm playing with them on New Year's Eve at The Greyhound in Chalfont St. Peter and as you can imagine there were quite a few songs to look at. There won't be a chance for another rehearsal before the show so time was at a premium, and while we managed to play through most (but not all) of the material that we're intending to play I can still see myself having to do a bit more homework before the night...

On Friday I found myself at The 12 Bar Club with Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes. We'd gone into town to spend a bit of time in The West End as it was Pete's late brother Dave's birthday in the week (I played guitar at his funeral, you can read the story here if you like) and the area was a great favourite of his; when I saw that Pope were playing we decided to end our evening in Denmark Street. I was always a fan of The Chords, and hoped that Chris Pope's latest band would be in the same vein - I'm pleased to say that they were absolutely excellent, loud and brash and with great songs. And if that wasn't enough they ended with 'Maybe Tomorrow'. I'll definitely be looking out for them in the future.

I played my first show with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks since mid-November on Saturday night, at The Three Mariners in Bagshot. I managed to spend a bit of time on Friday afternoon running through some of the songs, and I'm very glad that I did as I still had the odd blank moment. It's weird - it's only been a few weeks since I last played with the band, but given what I've done in the meantime it almost feels like a lifetime ago. Nevertheless it was a good show, not least given the fact that Al had been in hospital earlier in the week with an injured leg and so was in a fair bit of pain throughout the show. I thought that he did well to get through it at all.

Talking of bands that I haven't played in for a while - The Upper Cut gathered at RnR Studios on Sunday afternoon to rehearse for our upcoming Boxing Day show at The Dolphin in Uxbridge. A most enjoyable 4 hour session saw us running through a fair bit of our repertoire, as well as learning a couple of new songs and tightening up arrangements of some of the older ones. It's always a great band to play in, and it's a shame that we've not had many gigs lately - let's hope that we can get a bit more work next year.

And last night I went to the jam night at The Three Wishes in Edgware. I haven't been there for a month or so as I've been away gigging, and it was interesting to find myself being blanked by a couple of people - surely they're not jealous? Ooooh... I really must write a piece on jam nights one day!

Right - I'm off to play at The Crown in Cowley with Big Al and the boys - have a happy Christmas y'all...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'Back to life, back to reality...'

The Damned at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge, December 5th 2013
'Information is not knowledge, 
Knowledge is not wisdom, 
Wisdom is not truth, 
Truth is not beauty, 
Beauty is not love, 
Love is not music, 
Music is THE BEST'

                           - from 'Packard Goose' by Frank Zappa

So. How do I even begin to sum up the last 2 1/2 weeks in a few hundred words? I suppose that the short ideologically unsound answer is - I don't. there are so many magical moments that I will remember forever (and quite a few that sadly I won't - what on Earth did I say to that oh-so-beautiful girl in The Red Squirrel after our Edinburgh show?!?) but unfortunately I don't think that I have the writing skills to convey them here. Suffice to say that while I'm not going to say outright that it's the best musical adventure that I've ever been involved in, the fact that I've even considered saying it probably tells you all that you need to know. Still, let's see what comes out next...
Ooh look -
it's the size of a door!

Firstly, the shows. Without exception they were all very enjoyable from a playing point of view, and in some cases were absolutely extraordinary. Wolverhampton was a mid-tour highlight - there just something about that area, which has given us so much wonderful music over the years (Led Zeppelin, The Move, Slade, Black Sabbath, The Wonder Stuff, The Idle Race and many many more) that always seems to be conducive to a good show. We seemed to fly from the very first moments of the very first song (possibly fuelled by Ruts D.C. - branded Werther's Original - infused vodka that our good friends Annette and Phil presented us with before the show) and things just got better and better, with the last few songs seeing scenes of audience hysteria that wouldn't have been out of place in 'A Hard Day's Night'. Then again thinking about it pretty much the same thing happened the next night in Edinburgh (without the vodka, that had all gone by then!) and at quite a few other shows. Amazing.
And then there was The Roundhouse. My day began with a trip to Denmark Street to buy a replacement valve for my amplifier (one blew the previous night - I got through the show but felt like I was on tiptoes throughout, if you know what I mean) and ended with my dad meeting Dave Vanian. Strange days indeed. In the meantime we played one of the best shows that I can ever remember being part of - and then the next night in Manchester was if anything even better. And did we really finish the last show of the tour in Northampton by both bands together playing 'Merry Christmas Everybody'? Yes, incredibly, we did. Me playing guitar with The Damned? Who'd have thought it eh?

The Damned crew -
a fine body of men,
with very strange hands.

And talking of The Damned - what an absolutely amazing band. I've always been a fan (except perhaps for their mid-'80s non-Captain Sensible phase where it all got a bit too Goth for my not-particularly Goth tastes) and these shows have reminded me just how great they really are. Yes they had a shaky start in Bristol (in-ear monitor problems I'm told) but they rarely if ever slipped up for the rest of the tour. Dave Vanian remains The Prince Of Darkness, one of the great frontmen of the punk or indeed any other era; Captain Sensible is a woefully underrated musician and songwriter who kept up a consistently high standard of playing ever night, and with Monty, Stu and Pinch matching them every step of the way I've come away from this tour with even more respect for them as players and people than I started it with - and that's saying something. And their crew (from left to right in the accompanying photo)guitar tech Jon, sound man Martin, lighting wizard Todd and drum tech Alex, not forgetting Chris the tour manager - are some of the friendliest, most helpful people that I've ever encountered in the wild 'n' wacky world of rock 'n' roll. They're good to drink with too...
This is Jed.
Be afraid -
be VERY afraid...

...which brings me on to the audiences. I've shaken so many hands, heard so many tales, been in so many photographs (I never ever thought that people would want to have their picture taken with me - amazing!) and shared so many laughs that I'm really not sure how to make sense of it all. Maybe I should stop trying to find some sort of higher meaning to it all (I'm really not sure that I am, but you know hopelessly emotional I get about this stuff!) and just say again what I said earlier - that this tour has given me so many magical moments, whether it's the looks that I saw on people's faces as I looked out from the stage, speaking to fans from behind the merchandise stall (and at this point I must say a very big thank you to Jed, the high priestess of The Damned's merchandising, for all her help - if I don't she'll probably wallop me! - and to Mayumi who does the good Captain's merch) or having many-a drink with people in the venue bar or a local hostelry. I guess I'll always be a fan at heart, and so will never tire of hearing people's stories of when the first heard the band on The John Peel Show, or when they saw them first time around with Malcolm and Paul, right through to their thoughts on what the band is doing now. I've always said that I'm very lucky to be able to play music of any kind, and I'll keep saying it for as long as I'm able to say anything at all.

So what next for Ruts D.C.? Well we've got some German shows coming up in February, and before that there are new songs to work on. Excellent. And for me - my next gig is with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks this coming Saturday at The Three Mariners in Bagshot, and I'm really looking forward to it. No, really, I am. It may not be playing in front of thousands of people at The Roundhouse, but there will be people there who want to be entertained, and we will be doing our best to send them all home happy. And I want to go home happy myself, and hopefully I will - because music is good. Oh yes my friends, music is good.

And in case you thought that I made it up, here is 'Merry Christmas Everybody' from the Northampton show - that's me on guitar on the very far left. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Where am I?' 'In the village...'

Have you ever seen 'The Prisoner'? Of course you have. You know the opening sequence where Patrick McGoohan / number 6 wakes up in what he thinks is his home but then looks out of the windows and discovers that he's somewhere that he doesn't recognise? Well I know how he feels...

As you may be aware Ruts D.C. are currently supporting The Damned on their U.K. tour. We've been travelling on two tour buses (us and the crew on one, The Damned and co. on the other) with 12 bunk beds on each. We generally leave the venue at 2 am and travel through the night - meaning that you wake up somewhere new each day. To begin with I found this rather disorientating, but it's amazing how quickly you adapt to it. Well, I've found that I've adapted quickly, to the extent that as I write this I'm wondering how I'm going to return to a 'normal' life. Mind you, I don't really have a normal life, so I think I'll stop wondering how I'm going to return to it... but a few people have asked me how this touring lark all works, so I thought I'd have a go at writing about it here. The day generally goes something like this :-

Wake up. That's a relief, as it means that we got there in one piece.
Clamber out of the bunk and attempt to find your clothes. They're exactly where you left them last night, but where was that? You could do with a bit more light sometimes; well I certainly could - either that or I need to get some glasses that I can actually see though instead of the ones that I've currently got.
Time for some breakfast. This generally involves stumbling into town (I've often teamed up with Captain Sensible's guitar tech Jon) and trying to find some food that you like the look of and, maybe more importantly, can afford. As a namby pamby poncey vegetarian this often means that I eat too many eggs (and we all know what that can cause now don't we children?) and / or beans on toast (and you know what that can cause too...) Hardly the end of the world, but you do find yourself wishing for something different sometimes. Still there's always the porridge at Yates's - which reminds me, have you ever noticed how many of the young ladies who work behind the bar in Yates's have tattoos on their hands? You haven't? Maybe it's just me.
With load-in due at one o'clock most afternoons you then (depending on what time you got up of course) have a choice. I generally try to have a look a round town (is there a guitar shop? There go the wages!) as it's nice to get an idea about where you are, and then see if the venue is open; there's no shower on the bus but there's usually one somewhere backstage. I generally try to have one as soon as I can - there are a lot of people in the buses, and most if not all of them will want to use it at some point. In the meantime you can read, go back to sleep, make phone calls, catch up on emails, try to write a song, have some more food, hurry up and wait...
The Damned soundcheck usually starts at 4pm. I tend to check my guitar and equipment around this time, and if necessary change the strings (perhaps it would be better to do that earlier in the day Leigh, it might stay in tune better during the show?) as well as checking that all the leads on my pedal board are plugged in and in good shape. Our soundcheck is at half past five so I've got a fair bit of time to check things over, which is good as you don't want things going wrong during the show. We've been going on between 7.45 and 8pm each night, so after the soundcheck is over there's time to get changed for the show (if you're getting changed for the show) and work a set out, unless we're using the same one as the previous show. I'm pleased to say that the gigs have been going really well for us, and after in-ear monitor problems somewhat scuppered their first show of the tour in Bristol The Damned have been on top form with their shows getting better and better. I've always been a big fan, and this tour has done nothing to change that. Nice chaps too.
After their set I generally find myself behind the merchandise stall; Dave, Segs and Molara have been joining me to sign stuff and talk to people, and sometimes Captain Sensible shows up too. Good fun. Meanwhile the crew (Martin, Jon, Alex and Todd) put the gear away and into the respective tour buses and trailer, then if there's a local hostelry open it's time for a drink or two. And why not?
2 am and the buses leave for the next venue. Time for some sleep before the theme from 'The Prisoner' plays again... 

And don't forget that Dave and Segs have been writing a daily tour diary for Louder Than War; it's also on the band's Facebook page which you can find here...

Monday, December 02, 2013

The story so far - so far...

'It's all glamour this touring lark' thought Leigh as he sat attempting to superglue his glasses back together. 'Shouldn't a guitar hero like me have somebody to do this for them? And for that matter shouldn't I be able to afford a new pair?'

Actually I didn't think anything of the sort. It was just another unlikely thing that I've been surprised to find myself doing over the past five days on The Damned / Ruts D.C. 2013 British tour. Expect the unexpected, as the old saying goes.

The Damned and indeed their crew are all very nice chaps, and after a sticky start in Bristol (Dave Vanian's in-ear monitors failed for the first three songs of the show meaning that he couldn't sing until they were fixed) they've been playing brilliantly. And our 50-ish minute set has been going down very well with all concerned - I was particularly pleased with Captain Sensible's comments to me after the aforementioned Bristol show ('your tone is immaculate - you're playing's shit!' I've taken it as a compliment!) and the next night in Portsmouth ('load of bloody rubbish!') especially since he spent much of our set in Leamington Spa on Saturday heckling Segs from the side of the stage. All good humoured stuff (I hope!) and a fair indication of the overall atmosphere of proceedings. I've been putting a daily photo up on my Facebook page, Dave and Segs have been putting reports up on Louder Than War (they're also on the band's Facebook page here) and there's already a fair bit of stuff already appearing on the Internet (for example here are three songs from Portsmouth from YouTube, and here's an audio clip of 'In A Rut' from last night in Buckley) so it's all going well. Today is a day off in Leicester (we're at The Academy tomorrow) and I've treated myself to a hotel room to have a break from the tour bus (the bunk beds on the tour bus are just about / not quite big enough for someone of my height!) and to spend a bit of time working songs that I've got to learn for a New Year's Eve gig depping with Mr. Tibbs (we never close!) In fact I'd better stop typing this and get on with that - more news next time...