Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Neurotic outsider

Colin Dredd, bass player with The Newtown Neurotics, died last week. I saw The Neurotics (as they were also known) play many times and our group The Price shared the bill with them on quite a few occasions - their uncompromising left wing stance ensured that (a) they achieved virtually no mainstream recognition as the terror of the Thatcher years unfolded all around them and indeed us, and (b) people like me loved them. Colin (real surname Masters) was always friendly, approachable and ready to talk to anybody about anything - it always seemed to me that he simply adored everything about being in the band. He will be missed by everyone who knew him and - I'd like to think - remembered by everybody who ever met him.
And Mac Poole died after a long battle with cancer. He will it seems always be remembered as the man who turned down the job in Led Zeppelin, but he drummed with great distinction for many acts in the succeeding years. He depped with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks several times, and I'll remember him as a great character with a rock 'n' roll story for every occasion. He was a heck of a drummer as well.

Ruts D.C. played two gigs over the weekend, the first of which saw us visit Italy for the first time. Arriving at Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 at the not-too-early (for once!) time of quarter to eight in the morning I met up with Dave and Segs, checked in and after a less-than-straightforward journey through security (shoes off, belts out of trousers, hand baggage unpacked) we launched ourselves enthusiastically at breakfast. We're playing at The Sottotetto Club in Bologna at an evening organised by Bologna City Rockers - I'd not played in Italy before so I'd been looking forward to this show for a while. Our first flight took us to Paris  - no, I'm not sure why we didn't / couldn't get a direct flight either - where we renegotiated security (shoes off etc) before flying to Bologna where we were met by the Bologna City Rockers team who took us to The Hotel Astor. After checking in an abortive attempt at finding a coffee shop followed (it seems that they close during the afternoon) after which we headed to the venue where things were ready for soundcheck. I had an excellent Marshall JCM 900 half stack (oh yes!) while Segs had a not-quite-so-excellent Ampeg set-up - it sounded bad from the word go so while Dave struggled with a faulty hi-hat clutch some anxious-sounding phone calls were made... eventually a gentleman arrived with another clutch, and after fiddling with the bass amp he announced that it was set in stereo mode, flicked a switch and everything sounded great. After soundchecking we walked over to a nearby bar where we were interviewed for the Bologna City Rockers radio show (or to be more accurate Dave and Segs were interviewed as the questions were about the original band) after which Lorenz took us to the La Perla restaurant where a frankly mind-boggling amount of food was provided - I'd been told that Bologna's nickname 'La Grassa' means 'the fat one' and refers to the local cuisine, and on this showing it wasn't hard to see how it got it's name. (Incidentally I can't find a website for the restaurant but it's highly recommended, if only because it serves a 'Metro Pizza' which we're told is 1 metre wide! Maybe next time!) By now it was nearly 10 o'clock but since we weren't due on until after midnight we decided to go back to our hotel for some much-needed rest. Well, it was certainly much-needed in my case.
Lorenz got us back to the venue for around 11.15 - there were people everywhere, and with the front part of the club resembling a record fair with vinyl, CD and t-shirt stalls all doing a roaring trade it was clear that this was going to be quite a night. Klaxon took to the stage just as we got to the dressing room, their set included a fine version of The Clash's 'Garageland' which is never a bad sign. We start with 'Something That I Said' and with the venue packed with people the sound has changed which prompts Segs to ask me to turn up as he can't hear what I'm playing. His mic stand collapses during 'Mighty Soldier' which causes much amusement, not least from him; by the middle of our set things are well on course for a great gig with people singing along with both the old Ruts songs and some lesser-known Ruts DC material. 'West One (Shine On Me)' triggers a mini stage invasion, 'Love In Vain' gets an almost football crowd - style singalong and the new song 'Secondhand Child' is greeted like an old friend. 'Staring At the Rude Boys', 'Babylon's Burning' and 'In A Rut' clearly are old friends to all concerned and the final encore of 'H-Eyes' finishes a great - make that GREAT - show. Afterwards there are numerous record covers for Dave and Segs to sign while a man who in my imagination resembles a Roman Centurion has tears in his eyes as he tells me that he'd 'waited 35 years for this show'. Amazing. 
Meanwhile the DJ is spinning old ska and rocksteady records (yes, records!) and no one is going home, we stay for a while before being reminded that we've got a plane to catch in a few hours...

My alarm goes off at 7am. Bugger. Three hours sleep didn't feel like nearly enough. Oh well. I have a shower then meet Dave at breakfast, there's no sign of Segs so Dave goes to knock on his door, he returns after no response so I suggest he calls his room from reception. Segs answers him with the news that he 'thought he'd heard some banging when he'd been in the shower'. Our taxi takes us to the airport where we attempt to pre-empt security by removing our shoes and belts first. It works - good. From there it's yesterday in reverse - there's time for a quick coffee at CDG before gate K53 takes us back to Heathrow where after a bit of 'how do we meet the bus?' shenanigans we hook up with Bob the soundman, Rhiannon the merch girl and James the new-to-us driver and set the controls for Cheadle Hulme where we're closing The Strummercamp Festival at Manchester Rugby Club. No, I'm not sure why we didn't fly to Manchester either... I guess ours is not to reason why sometimes?
We arrive in the Strummercamp backstage area just as Barnstormer are playing a, well, barnstorming set. Attila The Stockbroker dedicates a song to Colin from The Neurotics, they were old friends of course and he's got a picture of him taped to his mic stand which is a nice touch. Meanwhile we meet Phil and Mike from Bug who are lending us their guitar and bass amps for the gig, they played the day before and by all accounts got a great reception, to the extent that Phil has been stopped by people wanting to buy merch so many times that he's taken to walking around with a bag full of it! After finding out what time we need to be backstage to set up we take the only possible course of action under the circumstances and go to the bar, where it's clear that a lot of people are looking forward to our show. No pressure then... Dave and Segs go off to do another radio interview while I use my meal ticket to get a jacket potato - rock 'n' roll eh?
We return backstage in time to catch the last few songs by King Kurt who sound as great and indeed as mad as ever; the tent empties while we're setting up but fills up to capacity by the time 'S.T.I.S.' kicks things off once again. There's dancing from the word go and everybody is on top form - 'Secondhand Child' gets another good reception which as Dave says 'means a lot to us', and we encore with 'Brand New Cadillac' for Joe Strummer amid scenes of no little audience pandemonium. Afterwards the organisers go on stage to thank the audience for coming but it's us that should be thanking them - it was a real pleasure to be part of such a great festival.

These two gigs were bookended by two shows with Big Al and co., the first of which took place on Thursday at The Sunningdale Lounge in Sunningdale. I'd been rehearsing all day with Ruts D.C. so felt quite tired by the time I got to the venue but it turned out to be an enjoyable show with several new-to-the-act songs (they're old numbers, we didn't write any of them!) alongside the usual crowd pleasers. But if I was 'quite tired' on Thursday then I'm not sure what word describes my condition during Bank Holiday Monday's 5pm show at The North Star in Iver. Let's go for 'out on my feet' shall we? I got home less than an hour before I had to leave for the show - I played the gig, but I'm not sure how. I don't think that I played too well, and I was pretty wound up, especially when some fat drunken oaf kept on saying that he wanted to get up to sing 'Mustang Sally' with us... I think the contrast between successive shows sometimes gets the better of me, or something... perhaps I should call everyone to apologise... in fact I might do that now... hmmm...

Monday, May 18, 2015

The thrill is gone

We live in strange times don't we? Well I think that we do - another 5 years of Tory (mis) rule have arrived seemingly by accident, or at the very least against the run of play; anyone who dares to question anything that they say and do is labelled at best a troublemaker and more likely a loony lefty revolutionary ready to take the 'great' out of Great Britain. Most of the country didn't vote for them of course, but that hardly seems to matter - millions struggle to keep a roof over their head and put food on the table while The Royal Family casually add another member who will live with all the luxury and opulence that they've come to consider 'normal'. For what my opinion is worth I think that the very existence of The Royal Family is an insult to the working people, indeed the working class of the country, but I guess that just makes me a loony lefty revolutionary troublemaker. If you're lucky enough to have a job then you're not supposed to have a opinion, if you're lucky enough to have a opinion then you don't deserve to have a job; in the meantime former contestants on television talent contests are now considered to be 'artists', the winners are referred as 'legends' while others are now presenters or indeed judges on said programmes. A self-fulfilling prophesy? Maybe... 
If B.B. King had have showed up on the set of The X Factor he'd have lasted a few seconds at best - too old, too heavy, not able to sing and play guitar at the same time, not even trying to dance, all of which means that he will have to be content with being remembered as one of the greatest and most respected blues guitarists of all time. His playing is literally the stuff of legend - yes, legend - with sad men like me spending their entire lives trying to get even near to it. We all bend strings, but no one bends a string like B.B. King. Did he invent it? Well probably not, but as he himself once observed, nobody did it before him. And then there's that vibrato - often imitated but never equalled, it almost redefines the term 'industry standard'. As an artist - yes, an artist - he stayed true to himself and his music throughout his long and illustrious career, and as such should be seen as an inspiration to musicians everywhere. There is thankfully a huge amount of superb live footage, most of which confirms his graceful greatness and total commitment to his music, so here is a clip of 'How Blue Can you Get?' recorded at Sing Sing Prison - somehow he even looks cool hitching his pants up doesn't he? What a player, and what a man - we are sadly unlikely ever to see his like again. R.I.P. B.B. - and thanks.

It's been a busy few days in mad-guitar-land, starting with a show by The London Sewage Company at The Dublin Castle in Camden Town. I'd not played there before and so was particularly looking forward to the evening, which turned out to be highly enjoyable despite there being hardly anybody in the audience. It had been raining heavily all day which probably had an effect on things, and it's often the case that a big show (we played at The Shepherds Bush Empire last month) is followed by a much smaller one. Still we played well and we're back at the same venue on June 4th for another show in what could well turn out to be a monthly residency for the band. Support came from The Uppercuts (Oooh! That's a dodgy name for a band!) and Dirt Royal (both of which were excellent) and earlier in the evening I found time to visit The Rock 'n' Roll Rescue shop next door - time to donate some of those books that I haven't read for ages methinks!

Two Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks gigs saw the band return to The Riverside Club in Staines on Friday night before heading up to the previously uncharted territory (that's uncharted by us - other people have been there!) of The United Services Club in Dunstable the following evening. Both shows went well although I for one wasn't sure that they would - the first one was rather sparsely attended while the next night had a real 'go on then, impress us' feeling about it from the moment we arrived. However I'm pleased to say that in both cases the band rose to the occasion, playing with plenty of energy while Al's showmanship soon had the people on our side. Indeed both gigs saw plenty of dancing and general merriment which is always a good thing to see.

On Sunday I (re)joined my old mates Neck for a how at The Cursus Festival in Dorset. With no chance to rehearse with the band I'd worked on the songs on my own, and I'm glad that I did as the projected set list was changed on the day when the band got to the site. This sort of things happens a fair bit as it's always good to react to what's happening on the day, and when we realised that there was rather a lot of cider around (I'll leave you to think about the implications of that development... got the idea?!?) we changed the set to be a bit more, shall we say, danceable... it was a tactic that worked too, as our show saw a great amount of jollity from the assembled multitude, and an excellent time was had by all.

This coming weekend Ruts D.C. are playing in Bologna (I've not been to Italy before so I've been looking forward to this show for a while) and at Strummercamp at Manchester Rugby Club - Bologna and Cheadle Hulme has to be the most unusual and indeed unlikely back-to-back gigs that I've ever done! In the meantime it's Pete Townshend's 70th birthday tomorrow - when push comes to shove he's my favourite guitarist of them all, so here is some incredible footage of The Who at The 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival touching musical heights that few if any will ever approach. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

' 'Smell The Glove' is here...'

Ruts D.C. with 'Love In Vain' - at last!
Well last night promised much, and I'm pleased to say that it delivered much more, as 'Love In Vain - The Story Of The Ruts and Ruts D.C.' by Roland Link was finally unveiled after many years in the making. Edited by Paul Trynka and published by Cadiz Music and Sosumi Records it really is an amazing piece of work - I know you'd expect me to say that, but I'd like to think that I've still got some level of objectivity here... mind you, if you'd told me a few years ago that there would be a time when I'd be asked to autograph a book then I'd probably have told you that you'd gone completely mad - but it happened last night. Incredible. Said event took place at The Islington in Islington where Ruts D.C. played an acoustic and electric set, participated in two Q & A sessions with the afore-mentioned Messrs Link and Trynka and met what felt like the entire audience. And I'm going to say that every moment of it was enjoyable - and that's a great thing to be able to say.  

The previous evening The Upper Cut played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge. We'd rehearsed at Bush Studios in Shepherd's Bush the previous evening - this coupled with the fact that we've been playing regularly lately (well, regularly by our standards!) and that it was Big Al's birthday (he bought down quite a few family and friends) meant that we were on fine form throughout. Such was our enthusiasm that I managed to cut a finger by windmilling and being silly - I really should watch things like that shouldn't I?

Once again there's a busy week in prospect, meaning that once again blogging time is limited. The London Sewage Company play The Dublin Castle in Camden Town on Thursday, I'm joining Neck at The Curcus Festival in Dorset on Sunday and there are a couple of Buicks gigs in between - how on Earth am I going to find time to read Roland's book?!?  

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Islington... and on... and on...

There's not been much time for blogging this week, what with the Bank Holiday ensuring that none of us know what day it is - or maybe that's just me? 

I had three gigs to keep me out of mischief over the weekend - The Upper Cut played The Salmon And Ball in Bethnal Green on Saturday night (the audience included several cheery gents who went to school with members of The Small Faces and two very good-looking young blonde ladies who indulged in some rather, er, exhibitionist dancing) whilst Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks played a private party in Wendover on Sunday afternoon (the marquee in the back garden just about kept the torrential rain out, to the immense relief of all concerned) and a Bank Holiday Monday early evening show at The North Star in Iver where the layout of the pub meant that most of the band played to a substantially-sized pillar. I also managed to get along to The Feathers in Rickmansworth on Sunday night after our gig to see another splendid performance from The Razors, and worked in Balcony Shirts on Saturday and Tuesday - but now all roads lead to Islington where Ruts D.C. are playing a show at The Islington on Saturday evening as part of our successful PledgeMusic campaign. Well to be pedantic, not all roads lead to Islington as I'll be at The Dolphin in Uxbridge the previous evening with The Upper Cut, but you know what I mean I think... the band will be playing acoustic and electric sets, there'll be a Q & A session with the band (which will also include Roland Link, author of the about-to-be issued-at-last book 'Love In Vain - The Story Of The Ruts And Ruts D.C.') chaired by Paul Trynka and it has all the makings of being a night to remember. I'd tell you some more about it but to be honest that's all I know. No, really, that is all I know about what we're going to do - which is why we're rehearsing tomorrow...