Sunday, December 31, 2006

Brighton's Burning

In our next attempt to re-visit our punk rock pasts myself and my brother Terry made another journey down to the Concorde 2 in Brighton, this time to see Bad Manners supported by Foxy's Ruts among others. The 'Foxy' in question is guitarist Paul Fox; the 'Ruts' are his old group. And it's at this point that I have to go back in time rather a long way... schooldays in fact, and the day I raved on at my mate and fellow punk rock fan Mark Wyeth about this amazing band that I'd seen. They were called The Ruts and they were, well, amazing. They had a single out which I was going to try to buy at the weekend; if it's as good as they are it'll be, well, amazing. Or very good at least, great even. You've got to see them Mark, you really have...
20-something years later and a lot's happened since then. I've seen Paul play many many times in various groups and now even own one of his old guitars. Early on in the Price's illustrious career we supported his then-band Choir Militia a few times and he played with us here and there as well as producing one of our singles. And Mark has gone on to wave The Ruts's flag just about everywhere that'll let him (and probably a few places that wouldn't) even though he never did get to see them. Mind you he now plays bass for them which I guess is better.
More about them in a minute. Terry and myself arrived after a somewhat stormy journey, parked down on the seafront near the venue and spent ages watching the sea. It was raining and very windy and I had toothache which wasn't helped by the weather but none of that seemed to matter- the sea always fascinates me and, it turns out, Terry too. Eventually we tore ourselves away from it and made it to the venue in time to catch Max Splodge battering 'Two Little Boys' into submission. Local heroes The Fish Brothers were up next, good fun 'though I must admit we spent most of their set backstage ligging. By the time we went back out the front Kevin the promoter was on stage with some of Bad Manners treating the audience to an unusual version of The Police's 'So Lonely' and a suitably bizarre tribute to The Macc Lads who had been on some of the other dates of the tour. Very strange.
Then it's John Otway with solo renditions of 'Really Free', 'Beware of the flowers...' and an excellent new number 'You're Breaking Up' (mobile phone madness ahoy!) before he too was joined by some of Bad Manners for 'Bunsen Burner', 'Crazy Horses' and 'We Rock', all performed with his customary lunacy. Good stuff.
Then, at last, Paul and his boys- except they've got Bad Manners's drummer 'cos Laurie (Paul's son and their usual drummer) is ill. And Mark's got bass problems- it's miles out of tune which Mark the singer finds hilarious and Mr. Wyeth very definately doesn't... and 'Staring at the Rude boys' sounds slow, and 'Something That I Said' isn't much better, and 'Your just A...' has gone wrong in the middle and me and Terry are getting really worried... thankfully things improve and by 'Give Youth a Chance' it's all hotting up nicely; 'In a Rut' has the obligatory BIG DRUNK BLOKE on stage singing it in all the wrong places, 'Jah Wah' sees the Manners horns joining in and 'Babylon's Burning' nearly starts a riot. The encore's 'Human Punk' which maybe follows the live version a bit too closely but is still a song I never thought I'd ever see performed again. Talking to Paul afterwards he seems to think that this could all have a future- by what I saw and, maybe most importantly, by the audience's reaction to it, he might just be correct.
Bad Manners were always a band that I had a bit of a soft spot for. I was never a big ska fan 'though I really like The Beat (are they ska?) and some of The Specials stuff but I always liked the Bad Manners singles; also it's great that they're still going (did they ever stop?) even though I believe it's been 'Buster-and-some-blokes' for quite a while now. Still they sounded excellent- it'd been a long night and I felt the crowd was flagging a bit (I certainly was!) but they got everyone up and moving. All the songs you'd hope they play were there, though I particularly liked their version of Deep Purple's 'Black Night' (it works, honest!), and the final number 'The Can Can' saw much madness (if you pardon the expression). A fine evening 'though I'm a little concerned that Terry's trying to persuade me to go with him to see The Cockney Rejects there in February.

I think I may be away on tour then.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

'A Bentley at Twenty' and other stories

2 good gigs on the 2 days before Christmas is a nice thing to be able to write about:-

Saturday 23rd and the last 'A-team' gig of 2006 (we're playing on New Year's Eve but I've no idea who'll be in the group that night!) was a Christmas party in the wonderfully named Crook Suite at the Webbington Hotel and Country Club near Weston-super-mare. I'd never been there before but have seen it up on the hill when passing by on the M5. After a quick-ish soundcheck Pete suprises us all by handing round envelopes of cash- he was paying us for recent gigs and had ran out of cheques in his cheque book!
After the good news that we were all getting a meal at the venue (you sometimes do, you sometimes don't) we decided to do the decent thing and go for a drink at the hotel bar. Everyone's in good spirits and on fine form with John the drummer's stories of his early gigging in Essex being particularly entertaining, if rather unrepeatable in parts.
Gigtime and there's people up and dancing pretty much from the word go. We play a straight (i.e. there's no interval) 80+ minutes including a, shall we say, interesting version of 'Mustang Sally' which finds it's way into 'Jingle Bells' and 'Silent Night' and back out again. Good stuff.

Christmas Eve and myself and Gary are out with The Briefcase Blues Brothers (Mario & Matt) at Butlins in Skegness. We played with these boys a couple of months ago (see 'Depping Blues' posting) somewhere in Essex; this time the rest of the band's different- Kes (Kez?) is on bass and a different Adam from last time's on drums. When Adam and myself get into Matt's car he's listening to The New York Dolls- a good sign methinks, though playing me B.B. King's 'Live at Cook's County jail' on the way to the gig doesn't seem to help my inferiority complex... we meet the rest of the lads at the venue (Centre Stage) and get the beers in.
Now- the number of people who laughed when I mentioned that I was playing at a Butlin's camp on New year's Eve were only slightly outnumbered by the number of people who had major league hysterics when they found that it was in Skegness (everyone else just kind of shuddered) so it's with no little amusement that I can say that it turned out to be a really great gig- a bit loose here and there but any errors were more than made up for by the energy of the band and the reaction of the audience; this was probably the most 'up for it' Butlins crowd I've encountered which made for a highly enjoyable show. Afterwards there's time for a drink and a mince pie or 2 (nice one Kes) before a drive home accompanied by Billy Bragg on the CD player and good vibes all round. Happy Christmas indeed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Noise noise noise!

I went to see The Damned in Brighton on Monday night with my brother Terry. He's a big Damned fan and so am I 'though neither of us had seen them live this century ('not that big a fan then' I hear you cry- but I will explain myself in the course of this posting, honest!). For me their first album is one of THE great punk rock albums, with 'Machine Gun Etiquette', 'The Black Album' and 'Strawberries' not far behind although they're hardly 'punk' in the accepted sense of the word. And maybe that's why I like The Damned so much- having defined so much of what's now thought of as 'punk' with their earliest work they then went onto produce some of the most interesting and eclectic music to come out of any of the bands from that time.

Also, they were funny. REALLY funny. Well I think they were anyway.

Before we get to them there's 2 support bands to contend with. As we arrived The Texas Drag Queen Massacre are roaring through a number that I don't know the title of but that involved the singer (who's clearly, shall we say, aware of Marilyn Manson) waving a large hacksaw around whilst singing 'DISEMBOWEL YOU' at the top of his voice. Incredibly it's all much more entertaining than it appears written down here and the 4 or 5 songs that follow all go down well with the rapidly arriving audience. Good fun 'though I'm not sure I'll be buying the album, if you know what I mean.
The second band were even better, old punks playing Rickenbacker guitars (always a good sign methinks) and noisy cover versions of old soul songs. Sadly not only did they not tell us the name of their band but no one I spoke to at the venue knew it either. A vacancy exists in their PR department...
After a warning from the DJ that 'if there's any spitting or throwing things at the band then The Damned will walk off stage' (times have changed!) there's thunder through the P.A. and lightning from the lights before 3 shadowy figures walk on stage and (with an invisible guitarist) start 'Wait for the Blackout'. Suddenly there they are- Captain Sensible on guitar and Dave Vanian on vocals, ladies and gentleman, The Damned. And that's why I've, for want of a better term, lost contact with them over the years- they seem to me to be Vanian, Sensible and some blokes. The fact that Pinch the drummer's probably been there longer than Rat Scabies ever was is one that, as a Dr. Feelgood fan, I would do well to remember... and they're sounding great, if a little less chaotic than I remember them. 'New Rose' is almost thrown away as the second number with 'History of the World' inducing mass hysteria among the front row faithful. Then some newer material mixed with classics ('Neat Neat Neat' sounding particularly good to me) and obscure oldies ('Rabid over you' anyone?) with some of the old mayhem surfacing during 'Ignite' which threatened to go off the rails at any moment. Sensible's as entertaining as ever, ranting about Tony Blair and religion amongst other things and playing excellent, underrated guitar; Vanian's in fine voice and an even finer suit; the rest of the band play their parts to perfection. By the time they finished with 'Love Song' and 'Smash it Up' I've remembered why I liked them so much in the first place; by the final encore of 'Looking at You' they're one of my very favourite bands again. Excellent.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Birr blur

It's 2p.m. on Monday 11th December and I've just got in. I'm going to sleep after I've done this posting. Here's why:-

Remember I said there was to have been 6 gigs in Ireland rather than the 2 that we're actually doing? Well- as I understand it (sorry if I get this bit wrong Pete) the Cork gig was the one that the rest of the dates were built around so when they started to fall out of the frame a decision had to be made regarding the remaining shows; also we were to have gone over on the ferry with all our gear- something that wouldn't be economically viable with less dates. Eventually we decided to fly out to do the Cork date and the next night in Birr, hiring vehicles and equipment rather than taking our own. This however left us with a dilemma- what do we do after the Birr gig? If we stay the night in a hotel after the show that adds a lot of money to the weekend's expenses... the decision was made to book the earliest possible flight home- hence the 6.25a.m. take-off time- and after the show go to a nearby Chinese restaurant for a meal, heading to the airport in the small hours. With this in mind it was great to have a nice hotel room after the Cork show, and not to have to get up too early Sunday morning. We ended up leaving not long after midday; before long we'd confused the sat. nav to such an extent that we had to stop in Mitcheltown to buy a map... with our journey livened up by listening to the guitar-bass-and-drums backing tracks that myself, Squirrel and John recorded late last month (I hadn't heard them before- they're great!) we eventually opted to stop in Cashel for lunch before arriving in Birr just as it was getting dark.
Time for the bombshell- they've only sold 29 advance tickets. Not good- we decided to do the show because we'd been told it was selling well... mind you it turns out that Hazel O'Connor only sold 15 tickets and Honor Blackman sold an astonishingly low 12 so maybe in relative terms we weren't doing too bad? If that's not bad enough the P.A. man's playing 'Gentle on my Mind' to test the system and makes the profound statement 'I gave up on music when Elvis died' before reluctantly putting his hearing aids in.

Yes, you read that bit correctly.

Amazingly the soundcheck goes well- I've got a Peavey Delta Blues combo and Squirrel's got an Ampeg stack so at least we're happy- we check the middle section of 'Soul Man' which has been sounding a bit strange lately- mind you I always think that the original sounds a bit odd at that point, like they weren't sure what to play or something?
Showtime and there's a real 'let's get on with it' feel about things- which we do, turning in a good show to the 30 or so people in the audience. Still everyone there seems to enjoy it which I guess is the main thing?
An hour or so later we're in the restaurant and there's food and wine everywhere. At a lull in the conversation Pete suddenly says something like 'Well, as we've done the gig now I guess I'd better tell you- we could have been in Switzerland tonight'. It turns out that the promoter of last week's Swiss date had phoned this week to see if we were available to play at the opening of a shopping centre. We weren't- we'd agreed to do the Birr gig as we'd been told that tickets were going well. Ironic eh?
A somewhat bleary drive (during which we encounter the world's best looking policewoman) gets us to Shannon airport just before 3a.m.- amazingly there's quite a few people about, though most of them seem to be looking for seats long enough to sleep on. Me? Well it's a good chance to do some blogging, and to leave you with Dave Land's defining comment on the weekend:-

'A leopard can't change it's spots, but a leper can throw his hand in.'

And with that he apologised to all lepers present, and led the way to the aircraft.

Rock Opera

Hello and welcome to Shannon Airport. It's 3 a.m. on Monday 11th December and I've just found a London Underground ticket from yesterday that someone's left by the internet terminal. Our flight leaves at 6.25 a.m...

Friday 9th and, somewhat inevitably, it's 5.30a.m. and Gary and myself are on our way to Richard's house. From there we go to Stansted Airport to meet the rest of the boys and from there we go to Shannon. We're in Ireland for 2 gigs- we should have had 7 gigs in 8 days but, for reasons perhaps best left unsaid here, we've only got 2. Hmm... with the usual suspects on this trip are sound engineer Phil and merchandise man Joe. Everyone meets in departures and then, almost immediately, the fun starts. We've got too much baggage. Or something. That'll be 60-something pounds please.


After much redistributing of clothes and toiletries (there's still a restriction on taking liquids on planes) it eventually costs us £11 to get our stuff on board. Not good, but better than it might have been.
At Shannon we pick up our 2 hire cars and head off to our first gig. Or rather we don't, because one of the cars has got a faulty rear seat belt. After switching motors we set the sat. nav. for Cork where we're playing at the Opera House. This is going to be a good one for several reasons- we've nearly sold the venue out in advance which is always a good sign. Also one of my personal guitar heroes is Rory Gallagher who, although originally from Ballyshannon, is always associated with Cork- there's some great footage of him playing at the Opera House in 1987 and it's nice to think of myself playing on the same stage as the great man. If that wasn't enough the name Heggarty comes from Cork. A top evening in prospect methinks. After the latest round of sat.nav lottery we eventually find our way to the Brookfield Hotel and Holiday Village where we're staying the night. I was hoping to spend some time in Cork before the show but tiredness overtook me so I opted for a bit of sleep instead as did most of the band... we made it to the venue just before 4.30p.m. (passing EINSTEIN'S BARBERS on the way- I'll let you know when I've come up with a punchline) only to be told that there was a panto rehearsal until 5. (cue 'oh no there isn't' gags). But what a fabulous venue- it's not very often that there's posters for 'Orpheus in the Underworld', 'Tosca' and 'La Traviata' on our dressing room walls. Also among the photo's of previous productions was one of a pantomime including Tony Hegarty among the performers. Excellent. Whilst stumbling around backstage I got a call from Eddie Richards, former Price manager and all round good guy. The answer to his question- 'Meal Ticket'. I tell him about Wiz and he's shocked, stunned even.
Soundcheck time and I've got a Fender Deluxe 112 combo to play through. John's got a Pearl drumkit with a collapsing floortom that eventually gets gaffataped into place whilst Gary's struggling with what he describes as a 'kid's keyboard'. But we're sounding good and there's even time for a quick pint of Guinness before showtime. And what a show it is with the audience up for it from the first number and mayhem a-plenty by the last- in the words of the front-of-house manageress, 'they don't behave like this in Cork'. Joe does a roaring trade on the merch and we even sign a few autographs- Pete's right arm's numb from shaking, in his words, 'every punter's hand'. A classic night which myself and Michael end by visiting 'Joe Cashmans' pub near the venue. To quote Squirrel, they serve 'the best pint of Guinness I've ever tasted'- which, if you know Squirrel like I know Squirrel, is information well worth knowing. There's a signed photo of Roy Keane on the wall of the bar- Michael asks me who he is and says that someone said to him after the show that 'Roy Keane's got nothing on you'. Michael doesn't like football. Poor lad.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I've just had a call from long time friend and Price supporter Andy Peart. It was bad news. Wiz from the Mega City Four has died. He apparently had a head ache at a rehearsal at the weekend, ended up in hospital...

The first time I heard The Megas (as we used to call them) was when Andy played me their first single 'Miles Apart'/'Running in Darkness'. It was, and is, brilliant. At the time I was in no man's land- Malcolm had left The Price (see 'History' section of our website for the full gory story) and I was feeling pretty bad about the whole thing. 'Miles Apart', and seeing them live at The Sir George Robey in Finsbury Park changed all that. The first time I remember speaking to him was at a gig at The Greyhound in Fulham, a venue they played regularly around this time. He knew about by The (by then reforming) Price which amazed me; he was also amused when I remarked that he must be as big a poser as me as we both played a gold Les Paul Deluxe. The first gig we played with them was at The Barrel Organ in Birmingham- we were to be the first band on of 3 but the middle band The Milk Monitors were late (van breakdown I think) so we ended up playing for longer than we were booked for. Wiz told me afterwards that he loved it- that meant a lot to me I can tell you. We played with them quite a few times and I saw them play countless great gigs to an ever expanding audience. Highlights were many and varied but I particularly remember meeting them in Germany- we were over there on tour and noticed that they were playing on our night off in what was then East Berlin. We arrived at the venue just as they were unloading their gear- I can still see the looks of amazement that we got from them when they saw us. The last time I saw him was at The Hope & Anchor in Islington where he was gigging with his latest band Ipanema. He treated me like a long lost friend. A few days later I recieved a tape of demos- I hadn't asked for it, he just thought that I might like it (he did the same thing all those years earlier with an advance tape of 'Sebastapol Road'. Some people don't change do they?). I recognised the first song 'White Cat in a Snowstorm' from the gig as soon as I heard it on again; but you always remembered Wiz's songs. Well I did anyway.
And now he's gone. The news is still sinking in. I can't pretend to have known him well although I'd like to think that we were mates, particularly when our bands were playing together. The Megas had a drive and self-belief that I could only dream about- can still only dream about- but if they taught me anything it was that if you stick to your guns and believe that you can do something then, one way or another, you can. So one day maybe I'll write a song as good as 'Finish'. Or 'Ticket Collector'. Or '21 Again'. Or...

RIP Wiz mate, wherever you are- and thanks.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A bad day just got worse...

I'm in the shop today, the third day of 3 so far this week. It's a busy time of year as you might imagine- so starting the day by breaking my key in one of the padlocks on the outside shutters wasn't the best of starts. I had to hacksaw it off in the end so that I could get the front door of the shop open... as I was doing that a delivery man arrived with 3 pallets of stuff. While he was delivering that another one arrived with 4 big boxes full of guitars. I put up a 'CLOSED' sign but to no avail- people kept coming in. One of them told me one of the boxes was 'down the road' and it was- someone must have put it there for 'fun' as it's too heavy for it to have blown away. As I picked it up I found a delivery note- the stuff's not even ours, it's for a shop in St. Helens. And a woman's here to pick up her son's guitar, but she doesn't know which one it is, the receipt's in her bag somewhere but she doesn't know where and anyway, how come you don't know which one it is- you do work here don't you?

This may not be one of my better days.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Train time

'He shaped a lot of my thinking you know'.

I'm sitting on a tube train reading and I can hear someone talking rather loudly nearby. Mustn't look up. Well you don't do you?

'He shaped a lot of my thinking back in the the '60's. Mind you I'm more left wing than him.'

He's talking to me. I'm reading Bob Dylan's autobiography 'Chronicles volume one' and the man nearby is talking to me about Bob Dylan. I don't know him but that, of course, doesn't matter. Welcome to the wonderful world of travelling to gigs by train. Later in the journey I'll get people saying things like 'GIVE US A SONG MATE' and then laughing uproariously with their friends as I (paraphrasing John Lennon) reply 'you have to pay me first', all the while thinking to myself something like 'you've never got a gun handy when you need one'.

I like it really- as you can probably tell.

It's Friday evening and I'm on my way to Old Street on the tube. We're playing at (ahem) LSO St. Lukes- the 'home' of the London Symphony Orchestra when they're not at The Barbican. Sadly we're not on with them- we're playing a corporate Christmas party. I arrive just as the boys are loading in so give 'em a hand- the venue is- you guessed it- an old church, very impressive. As we're setting up we find we're doing 2 sets, finishing around 11.30 so I should be ok for the tube home. Excellent.
Then- almost by accident- we find that at 11 o'clock the barriers come down around the venue and don't come up again until 9 in the morning- not good... after a bit of negotiating by Pete we're down for one long set, finishing at 10.30 which, if we go into Isle of Wight mode (see earlier posting 'Watson- the needles!!'), means we should just about make it out of the venue in time. Soundcheck's not much more than a line check i.e. each instrument and microphone gets a quick blast through the P.A. due to lack of time for anything more. Good job we did it though- the battery needed replacing in Squirrel's bass. That would have caused trouble mid-gig.
A quick bit of food and a visit to The White Lion with Michael and Rick (depping for Gary on keyboards who's away gigging in Poland) and we're on- to almost total indifference. Ah, the corporate world- and the Swiss event had been so good. Ah well... still Rick started 'Shake your Tail Feather' in the wrong key (hilarious!) and some very strange things were going on in 'Mustang Sally' so it wasn't all bad news. Then the mad dash for freedom... we made it. Just. Not something to make a habit of!!

Saturday and I'm off to Essex. We're playing in Rochford town square where they're turning the Christmas lights on. When I get there the morris men are on and it's another 'Wicker Man' moment... there's plenty of people about and a good atmosphere all round. Also on the bill are Late Night Episode who feature Pete's son Adam on bass and Joe who drives for us on guitar. Last time I saw them they were a Busted/McFly tribute band working with backing tracks, now they write their own songs so I'm really looking forward to seeing them. Joe's got a problem though- he's trying to buy some fingerless gloves (it's cold!) and the best we can find are red ones from Boots. He buys them then asks the lady behind the counter for some scissors... with the glove on his left hand he starts cutting the tops of the fingers.

It's the scariest thing I've ever seen.

Meanwhile Sinbad the Sailor's turning the lights on (he's in panto locally. I think.) and then it's time for Joe, Adam and the boys. And pretty good they were too- any group that's got a song called 'Girls are weirdoes' and who cover 'Teenage Kicks' can't be all bad can they?
Then it's our turn. I'm using Joe's AC30 (hurrah!) so I set up and go backstage for a minute and there he is- ladies and gentlemen, John Saxon. John used to be in The Immediate with Pete and my old mate Paul Cope (see the 'History' section on the Price website) and he's come along with his wife Cathy; I don't think Pete and him have seen each other for nearly 20 years. Fantastic. Just fantastic.
Suddenly it's got colder. Much colder. I know this because as I've moved up the guitar neck during my solo in 'She Caught the Katy' my hand's touched the back plate on my Telecaster and stuck to it. Really. Richard's holding his sax up in front of the lights to try to warm it up. Michael's just told me that he thinks his sweat's freezing on him. But we're playing well, really well in fact, and the audience thinks so too. We encore with 'Jailhouse Rock' and take a bow. That's better. I talk to John and Cathy- they loved it, videoed some of it too. Excellent. We pack away and I go for a drink in The Golden Lion with Rick who gives me a copy of 'Essex Delta Blues Vol. II' which features 'Killing Time' by his band The Zoltans. (It's playing at the moment Rick, honest!).

Then I can hear a girl to my left saying 'my boyfriend gave me this black eye. Still the bouncers got him, gave him a right beating' to a lad she's clearly never met before. Meanwhile someone's pulled the communication chord. The driver's not happy, says he's calling the police. The girl's shouting 'make sure you're there when I get off the train babe' down her mobile phone and inviting the lad to a party with her. The communication chord's been pulled again. The driver's still not happy.

Me? I'm in New York with Bob Dylan. It's 1961, and it's a very good year.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Everybody's Happy Nowadays

To St. Albans then, to see The Buzzcocks. Big Andy was already there when I arrived at East's (or Steve's, if you prefer) for our 6.30 meet-up; U2 were on the DVD player and general jollity ensuing. Into the Andy-mobile and with a Jam bootleg for company we made it up to St. Albans in no time... which was just as well because when we got there Andy appeared to forget how to drive ('oh, they're traffic lights aren't they?') and none of us could work out how to find the gig. Eventually we found it- and what an excellent venue The Arena is. The first band were on when we arrived- I think they were called Age of Sin and I'm sure I heard one of them say that he had a 'day off school tomorrow'. Hmm... next up were Husk; our collective, one line revue- 'Husk- er, don't'.
9 o'clock and it's Buzzcocks time- Diggle with a pint of what I imagine was sparkling wine on top of his amplifier just waiting to fall off (it did), Shelley a little heavier that I remember him (mind you, who isn't?) and Tony Barber the archetypical punk bassist. Don't know the new drummer's name but he sounded fine. They started with 'You Tear Me Up' and 'Jerk' before a considerable number of what I assume were new songs. We're close enough to see the words STEVE DIGGLE written in felt pen on a piece of white gaffa tape stuck across the 'Marshall' logo on his amp- he's smiling a lot and winking at the girl in front of me (I hope!!). They sound great, just how they always did really. Most '2-guitar bands' work with the guitarists playing in different areas of the neck i.e. if they're playing say an 'A' chord one will play the open chord with the other playing a barred chord. Not so The Buzzcocks- much of their distinctiveness comes from the fact that Shelley and Diggle are both playing the same chord shapes much of the time. Interesting eh? Anyway things are really hotting up with 'Love You More', 'You say you don't love me' (someone really ought to do a cover version of that) and 'Moving Away from the Pulsebeat' when... they've gone. The audience is confused- where are all the singles? Suddenly a voice over the P.A. says something like 'this is a 2 set show, there will be an encore after the second set' so we all wander back into the bar.
10 minutes or so later and with little or no fanfare they're back with more unfamiliar material- Diggle sang one called 'Soul Survivor' which sounded pretty good but by now you got the feeling that most people wanted to hear something that they knew. Eventually we got our reward for being good- Diggle's into his third pint for 'Why She's a Girl from the Chainstore?' and he's getting madder and madder; East misses 'What Do I Get?' due to his umpteenth pint (!) and 'Fast Cars' sounds like it was written yesterday. By the time they encore with 'Harmony in my Head' and- of course!- 'Ever Fallen in Love...' they've won by miles; 'Orgasm Addict' finishes us (and them) off completely. Diggle's thrown his mikestand into Shelley's and jumped into the audience. If he'd grinned any wider the top of his head would have come off.

A great gig. Get a buzz, cock.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To Bath!!

I'm in the shop today. Pre-Christmas tension is rising- Fender have just been on the phone asking if they can deliver 2 pallets of guitars tomorrow.

Of course they can. I can't wait.

And I've just had my Andy C. on the phone (that's him next to me in the 'Price 2006 line-up' photo on our website). He's outside a secondhand shop in Bath. In the window there's an advert for guitar tuition from a local teacher. Beginners to advanced. Says he's 'ex-Dr. Feelgood, ex-Yardbirds'. That'll be Gypie Mayo then.

GYPIE MAYO! One of my HEROES! To the M4 immediately!!

I'm going to see The Buzzcocks tonight with East and Big Andy. Steve Diggle on guitar- punk rock guitar hero extraordinaire.

I've just checked the date at the top of today's paper. It's definitely 2006- but for a few moments there it felt like it was 1979 and I was seeing both of those players for the very first time. And it was a good feeling.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Not-so-Easy (to get through to) Jet

Ever tried to claim for damage to your baggage by an airline? Hard to get through to them on the phone isn't it? And that info sheet they give you- lots of things for you (as opposed to them) to do isn't there? Intimidating isn't it?

One might- if one was being cynical- think that they make it very difficult for you to claim...

Anyway, on to more enjoyable matters. After I'd spent much of Saturday afternoon and evening either dazed, asleep or feeling somewhat lost ('I should be out gigging! I don't know what to do!' etc) we spent most of Sunday recording backing tracks for an album that we're putting together to sell at gigs and on our soon-to-be-unveiled new website. Just the rhythm section today- myself on guitar, John on drums and Squirrel on bass with Pete on guide vocals (i.e. just singing along so that we know where we are in the song; him and Michael will add their parts along with the rest of the band at a later date). A very productive day saw us record 10 backing tracks which is good going by anybody's standards. I was using a Vox AC30 (thanks Joe!) which sounded superb and we all played live at a considerable volume with energy a-plenty and much good humour all round. A cracking day.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Swiss time line


4 a.m. My alarm just gone off. Bugger. Shouldn't have gone out last night.

5 a.m. Gary and myself are on our way to Richard's where we're meeting the rest of the band. From there we go to Luton airport and from there we go to Switzerland, for a show tonight in Fribourg. No, I don't know where it is either.

6.30-ish We're all checked in and ready to rock. Or to fall asleep. Or both. Squirrel's bass and my guitar have been checked into Outsize Baggage. More about that later.

7.35 a.m. Take off. Goodnight.

9 a.m. Land at Basel Airport. Or rather-

10 a.m. Land at Basel Airport. They're an hour ahead of us.

10.30 a.m. Leave the airport through the wrong exit. We're in France. We want to be in Switzerland. Help!

10.35 a.m. Leave the airport through the correct exit. Meet Anja and Roman who are looking after us whilst we're here. Have they got a job on their hands or what?!?

11 a.m. Check in at the Hotel Ibis. I've got room 204. Turn the T.V. on- the weather man's wearing a military uniform. Excellent.

11.15 a.m Sleep. Easily.

12.30 p.m. My alarm's just gone off. Bugger.

12.45 p.m. Leave for venue. Fall asleep on the way- wake up near a place called Wankdorf. Panic. Fall asleep again- wake up as Gary says 'look at that church in the field. First the sheep, then forgiveness'. Panic again, then (perhaps unsurprisingly) can't get back to sleep.

2.15 p.m. Arrive at the Forum in Fribourg, except that here it's spelt Frebourg. Oh well.

2.30 p.m. Meet the people from Swatch watches- it's their event that we're playing at. There's 2000 guests which means we're playing in a very big hall. Should be good.

3-ish Sound check. I've got a Fender Twin Reverb combo to play through which should sound great, but doesn't. May need an overhaul (the amp that is not me). Pity.

4.30 p.m. Go into town to find some food and look around. It's a splendid little town where no restaurants open until 6 p.m.- we're on at 7.30. Curses. Go for a drink instead. Not all bad news then.

6 p.m. Meal at restaurant at the venue. Swatch man gives us all watches. Hurrah!

7.45 p.m. First set. Dancing starts in our opening number, by the third the dancefloor's full and in 'Flip Flop and Fly' Michael dances on stage with someone he later describes to me as a 'mad oriental female'. The set ends with a near riot.

9.15 p.m. Second set. More mayhem. Encore with 'Jailhouse Rock' to audience scenes reminicent of those in 'A Hard Day's Night'. Excellent. Back in the dressing room they've given us low alcohol lager. And fruit salad. Healthy, but not necessarily what we were hoping for.

10.30 p.m. Go to put my guitar away but can't find it. Panic. Find it's already in it's case. Very helpful people the Swiss!


12.30 a.m. Arrive back at hotel. Sleep. Easily.

7 a.m. My alarm's just gone off. Bugger.

7.30 a.m. Breakfast. Piped dance music nearly induces dementia, particularly amongst members of the horn section.

8.15 a.m. Leave for the airport.

8.30 a.m. Arrive at the airport. Check in (Gary- 'oh no, they don't let you take guns on planes anymore'). Squirrel's bass and my guitar have been checked into Outsize Baggage. More about that later.

10.05 a.m. Take off. Can't sleep. Bugger.

11-ish Talk to Gary about our upcoming recording session, and about the time he was in a plane and one of the engines caught fire. Prefer the first part of the conversation.

11.45 a.m. Land at Luton Airport. Or rather-

10.45 a.m. Land at Luton Airport. Remember the time difference?

11.30 a.m. Collect baggage. Guitar case looks open. Or broken.

11.31 a.m. It's broken. Start swearing.

11.33 a.m. Complain. Fill in form. Continue swearing, then calm down (a bit).

11.45 a.m. Leave airport. It's POURING down with rain, and some bastard's put a bloody great hole in my guitar case. Not good, frankly. Resume swearing. Welcome home.

P.S. Someone's put a few clips from this gig on youtube- I've a horrible feeling that they think we're the real Blues Brothers! I haven't worked out how to put a hyperlink (I think that's what they're called- you know, the bit that you click on to go to another web-site) on here yet but if you put something like BLUES BROTHERS IN FRIBOURG into the 'search' bit of then you should find us. Excellent!

Monday, November 20, 2006

'Watson- the needles!!'

Monday 20th November 10.36 a.m.-ish and I've finally got a chance to look back on the past few days in mad guitar-land. Let's hope I can read my scribbly notes...

Last Thursday we played at the Worthing pavilion, a 'proper seaside building' as Malcolm described it. He used to be in a band with me, as did Paul. But more about them in a minute. We -Richard, Gary and myself- arrived at the venue a few minutes after the rest of the lads but just in time to help load everything in (curses!). Soundcheck went well with us running through 'Funky Nassau' which is set to return to the show after a considerable absence, and a bit of work on 'My Girl'- mostly tightening up the ending. Then it's upstairs to the dressing room to discuss tactics for the next few months and to look at some excellent new poster designs. Phone reception's not too good so I walk down the road to give Malcolm & Paul their 'where are you and where shall we meet' calls. Malc lives a few minutes walk away and Paul's on the train from Hove so it's time for some chips before meeting Malcolm and his mate Mark outside the venue. Paul's there in no time with Jack (his girlfriend Cathy's son) so it's off to the bar before showtime. There's a fair sized crowd and they're well into it pretty much from the word go- the sound's good, costume changes go well and we play one of our best versions yet of 'Green Onions'. I found myself to be quite nervous with my former (sometimes current- hello Price fans!) bandmates but when Paul raved at me about my selection of guitar hero poses (Poses? What poses?!?) I realised that I'd been worrying unduly; Malcolm wasn't so enthusiastic but he never is!
After everything's packed away the rest of the band's off for something to eat but I walk over to the pedestrian shopping area to meet my buddies in the Warwick pub. As I get there Malc's just started singing 'Somewhere over the rainbow' on the karaoke and he sounds great. Then again, he usually does.

Friday morning and breakfast's at a Little Chef just outside Littlehampton, opposite a large oriental-looking building. Strange... a mad drive in the heavy rain get us to Southampton in time to get the midday ferry to the Isle of Wight. I spoke to my Dad on the phone- both him and my Mum were in the Merchant Navy together and sailed from Southampton many times so it was a nice thought to be doing the same, albeit on a rather smaller vessel and on a considerably shorter journey. As we left we passed the QE2- I guess that if they'd been in the Navy now that's what they'd have been on.
Arriving on any island always reminds me of the scene in the Wicker Man' where Edward Woodward's character flies into Summerisle though thankfully that's where the comparison normally ends... then it's a drive across to Ventnor where we're playing at the Winter Gardens; it's raining and windy and the view from the venue out across the sea is magnificent. The P.A.'s set up and with the horn players off shopping it's time for a jam- with Pete on bass we run through those well known Blues Brothers numbers 'All Right Now' and 'Smoke on the Water' before a more serious bit of work on the 'My Girl' harmonies which even I'm involved in. Good fun.
Friday night was BBC 'Children in Need' night; this coupled with the weather and various other events on the island (including, bizarrely, a film premiere) meant that there was only about 50 people in the audience; incredibly the show went very well indeed with much dancing and jollity all round.
And now the fun bit. We were booked on the last ferry back to the mainland which left Cowes at 10.30p.m. and we finished playing at 9.15p.m. (theatre shows are often early in the evening). Astonishingly we made it- everything was packed up and ready to go by 10 to 10 including the P.A., an amazing achievement although not necessarily one to repeat again in a hurry! After a mad dash across the island and a few minutes spent in the queue for the chain ferry by mistake (that could have been embarrassing!) we were pretty much the only people on the boat home making for an oddly eerie journey back to Blighty.

Saturday was a bleary-ly busy day in the shop. Lots of time spent with Ian the Saturday boy assembling 2 cymbal trees to display Zildjian's on and plenty of customers to distract us. Great to see my old mates Paul O'Brien (who bought his Zemaitis electric in- one of the best guitars I've ever played- and is interested in a new amp), Pete Haynes (better known to the punk rock world as Manic Esso, drummer in local heroes The Lurkers), and Roger Brewer (drummer extraordinaire who I did loads of gigs with in The Informers all those years ago) though by the end of the day I felt like I was flagging a bit... no time to worry about that though as I'm off to see Robben Ford at The Mean Fiddler in London. Thanks to the usual tube train hilarity I was a bit late- by the time I met up with Stuart, Pete and Danny he'd just started. A good gig with bad sound- muddy, bassy, indistinct... and did the bass player really need 7-strings? Then again maybe I was just tired though all my buddies seemed to feel pretty much the same- a great shame since he's a terrific player.

Sunday I had a day off. I felt like I needed one.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I saw Motorhead in Oxford last night. They were, for want of a better word, fantastic. I first saw them in, I think, 1978 at Brunel University in Uxbridge, and they were fantastic then too. I've seen them a few times since then- Hammersmith Odeon, Forum etc- and, you've guessed it, they were fantastic every time.

It's nice to know that there are some things that you can rely on in life.

After an afternoon working on RADIO PRICE with Eastberg and Andy C. (most of which we spent rolling around in helpless laughter) myself and Andy travelled across to Oxford, parked up down a side road and walked into town. There's long hair, leather jackets and Motorhead t-shirts everywhere, a odd contrast with the rather sedate surroundings. Andy used to live in Oxford so knows it well, although as he led me up the worryingly-named St. Helens Passage I did wonder... however at the end and around the corner there's the Turf Tavern and an excellent pub it is too. Suitably refreshed we return venue-wards to meet up with Big Andy and his mate Gavin via the wonder of the mobile phone. The gig's at the New Theatre and there's time for a drink or two next door before going in.
9.25 and the lights go down to Lemmy's opening comments-

'How are you- alright? (audience cheers coweringly) We'll soon fix that...'

- and we're away with the first number, which I didn't know the title of. Like that matters. 'Stay Clean' was up next and by now I could feel the bass drum(s) on my chest every time they were played. Which was often. The sound's actually not that great- I know the words but couldn't understand them. The band are shouting at the monitor man and the crowd are subdued, or, more likely, shellshocked. (At the Brunel show I remember Lemmy turning his amp up several times until it was eventually on full- he still does that but now it's got MURDER ONE written on it and he turns the guitar amp up as well. Hope you're reading this Squirrel). But it gets better and by the time we get to a cover version of 'Rosalie' it's really taking off with Lemmy on good form as always ('here's a rock'n'roll song, to remind you all how good it used to be before hip-hop') and everyone playing well. By 'Killed by Death' the bass drums are loud enough to move the front half of my body; they finish with 'Iron Fist' and it's almost a relief. The encore's great- 'Whorehouse Blues' with Lemmy on harmonica and Phil & Mikkey on acoustic guitars that sound like they've been plugged straight into your ears, then the inevitable 'Ace of Spades' before 'Overkill' causes what might best be described as 'sensorary overload' with half a dozen strobe lights making you feel like your brain's come loose and the bass drums moving your entire body.

Motorhead. If they didn't exist we'd have to invent them. Fantastic.

For 3 out of the past 4 Sunday's it's been rock'n'roll central- The New York Dolls, The Who and Motorhead. It doesn't get any better than that for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some loud electric guitar to play...

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Imagine coming from Leatherhead. Everytime someone asks you where you live you risk getting in a fight-

'Where are you from then?'
'I only asked! What's your problem?' etc etc

Well I'd never been there before but the bits I saw of it looked ok. We were at the wittily named Leatherhead Theatre hoping- in my case at least- to erase the memories of the last few rather peculiar shows. After a few parking problems we're all present and correct and in the dressing room with Pete handing out cheques and revealing everything from recording plans to a name change for the show- as of January 1st we will be- fanfare!- The Chicago Blues Brothers. The general consensus of opinion is that 'Sweet Home Chicago' is a good name but doesn't really say what we do whereas the 'new' name makes it pretty clear... and there's already shows booked in that name for next year so we're off to a good start. There's also plans for t-shirts, CD's, hats & glasses- start saving now kids!!
Soundcheck time and I've got a new set-up to try- it's a Peavey 'Classic 30' combo with an Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 (it's short for 'Linear Power Booster'- you have to buy a pedal called that now don't you?). I always find it a bit strange playing through a new amp or pedal so changing both at the same could be a bit risky to say the least. But everyone thinks it sounds good (phew!!) though it's different enough from my old Laney combo to put me on edge a bit; add to that the fact that Karn, the manager of Pro Music (the shop I work at in Ickenham), is coming to the show and I'm finding myself to be unusually nervous.
Time to go to the pub then. The pub round the corner's called The Penny Black and is 'rough on a Friday night' according to the guy in the theatre box office. Michael and myself had no problems although it was only early... we rant and rave over the future of pop music (like we're experts!) for a half hour or so then head back to the theatre. Karn's arrived (gulp!) and everybody's ready to rock- which we do with no little success, a fine show all round with my amp sounding as good as I hoped it would and the LPB-1 turning it into a veritable fireball of sound for the solos. And Karn loved it too which was a relief- he's an excellent guitarist himself so his opinion meant a lot to me.

Mind you, if he'd hated it I wouldn't have even told you he'd been at the show.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Basildon (and on)

7.30 Saturday evening, just outside Basildon. A blindfolded man is led into a darkened room. Everybody knows why he's there, apart from him. The lights go on as the blindfold comes off. His face is a mixture of astonishment and horror. There's a loud bang. No going back now... the rest of his band play 'Happy Birthday'. Well I did my best to make it sound like something out of 'The Long Good Friday' but actually it's Glenn Sissons's 50th birthday party at the local leisure centre. His band are the splendidly named WHERE BEAGLES DARE (I think you'll agree that's a great name!) who are playing first, then we're doing our X-Commitments set. Amazingly Glenn knew nothing of all of this until they took his blindfold off- he thought he was going out for a meal. He was the bassist in The Illegal Eagles and has also played with Suzi Quatro and The Love Affair amongst others, often with our drummer John- hence our connection with him. I'd not met him before but he seemed a splendid if rather bewildered fellow. His band are good too- material ranging from U2 and Green Day to Squeeze and Joe Walsh with excellent harmony vocals from everyone in the band.
Our set was a bit... strange. Neither Squirrel or myself were going through the P.A. system so were obliged to play much louder than normal which didn't go down too well with certain band members. I must admit I rather let it ruin the gig for me which I'm really annoyed with myself about- I've done enough shows to know that these things happen sometimes but I still managed to blame myself which didn't really help my evening go well; and I've just had Squirrel on the phone checking that I'm ok so I must have looked pretty unhappy when I left.

Yeah, I'm alright. I was pretty unhappy when I left but that's mainly because I felt like I'd let myself down by getting annoyed about it all. After Wednesday's debacle in Whitehall (that sounds like a Sherlock Holmes story doesn't it?!?) I was looking forward to playing but, once again, things conspired against us. Ah well. We're playing in Leatherhead on Friday. That'll be a good one.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why-at-all? (a.k.a. 'Mr. Benn saves the day!')

Ok- after 2 great corporate shows we were due a rough one and here it is...

After a quick coffee with the legend that is Steve 'Eastberg' Holt to discuss the latest RADIO PRICE developments (see The Price website for details) I took a tube train into Charing Cross. We're playing at the Banqueting House in Whitehall at a trade union event sponsored by Thompson's Solicitors who, I'm told, are a well known legal firm. Among the likely guests are a Mr. & Mrs. Blair of Downing Street, along with other M.P.'s, journalists etc. In one of the earlier posts ('Up on the roof') I remark how we take our surroundings for granted- in that case St. Paul's cathedral; in this case Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, The Houses of Parliament... what a tourist I must have looked, wandering around with my guitar on my back.
The Banqueting house is opposite Horseguards Parade- we're playing in the hall upstairs. It's big- the ceiling must be 60-odd feet high (apologies to younger readers but I still think in feet & inches!), not good for sound... I meet up with the rest of the lads who all look a bit worried about things. As Squirrel remarked, 'you have to put a different head on' i.e. it's not a 'gig', it's something you're playing at. As if to underline this fact I spotted a suited lady walking towards the stage- she was looking at the drum kit like she was looking down the barrel of a flamethrower. You've guessed it, she's one of the organisers. She asks if we can put screens around it or cover it or something, we can't have people seeing it, these sort of things are fine at a pop concert but not in a place like this. We soundcheck- it's echo-ey, too loud, the drums sound like bombs going off, the suited lady looks suicidal as does Geoff (Jeff?) behind the mixing desk... we turn down but it still sounds bad... it's going to be a long night.
There's a jazz quartet playing before us; they're soundchecking at around a tenth of our volume when our suited lady friend asks the keyboard player 'does this have to be on the stage?' whilst pointing at his keyboard. At this point I decided it was time to leave.
You may be aware that in Denmark Street, just off Charing Cross Road, there's a very high concentration of musical instrument shops. What better way to cheer myself up than to spend some time there looking at things that I don't need, can't afford and will never own but that are nice to at least be in the same room as. And it works- sort of... somewhere in the course of my wandering around I manage to 'put a different head on' and decide to get back to the venue and get on with it. I'm lucky to be able to play guitar, to be in the band I'm in, to do what I do when I do it- it's just hard to remember that sometimes!!!
Back at the Banqueting House the evening becomes not only worthwhile but, for me at least, unforgettable. I'm back in the building a couple of minutes when I meet Tony Benn, the 'veteran' Labour M.P. and in my vastly bigoted opinion one of the most interesting political figures of our times. And what a gentleman he was- 'what do you do with yourself young man?' he asked in that unmistakable voice of his. Leaving aside the fact that anybody who calls me 'young man' goes straight onto my Christmas card list, it was great that he was interested in me- I wonder how many other politicians would have preferred to talk about themselves? I mumbled something like 'I'm a musician' and before I could say anything else he said 'Of course you know what happened here don't you? They carried King Charles the first out of the window and beheaded him. Makes you think doesn't it? Not that I'm in favour of capital punishment you understand'. All I could think of as a reply was 'don't tell this lot that or they'll do it to us' which amused him greatly- fortunately Gary came over and rescued me before I went completely mad.
Up in the main hall the jazzer's are doing their best but with only us clapping or for that matter noticing that there's somebody playing live music in the room it's something of an uphill struggle. Mind you as previously discussed that's the nature of a night like this- they're not there to watch a band. Still there's plenty of people in with lots of faces that we recognise- isn't that the bloke off of the telly that does the political stuff? And was that John Prescott earlier? Could have been... my Mum & Dad were at sea with him- I wonder if he remembers them? No sign of the Blair's either, though maybe that's just as well.
9.15-ish and it's our turn. And as we start 'Peter Gunn' half the people leave. As usual. But the ones that are there seem to enjoy our efforts- there's a bit of applause and, eventually, dancing. We even squeeze an encore out of 'em. Just. After packing away and loading out it's time for the tube home. Trafalgar Square looks even better at night and, if anything, is even busier than earlier. There's police outside the tube station- something's gone on, or gone off. As I walked through the station entrance 2 young ladies wearing witch's hats crossed my path.

I wonder if that's lucky?

Monday, October 30, 2006

...same as the old boss

The Who are my favourite group.

Back in the '70's, when I was at secondary school, I had a milk round. I spent much of my money on records, generally glam rock singles- the first I remember buying with 'my own money' was 'Metal Guru' by T.Rex which is still one of my very favourite songs. And the first album I bought was 'Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy' by The Who. For those of you that don't know (shame on you!!) it's a collection of their early singles and well known album tracks. I've still got it and it still plays (just!); I listened to it so much that I knew how long the gaps between the tracks were and could sing along with the songs as they started... my mates liked prog rock but I liked The 'Oo- they were faster, nastier and above all funnier. They were my friends when I didn't have any friends. They still are, sometimes. They sang about men who hadn't grown up. They sang about underarm deodorant. They sang about frustration, confusion, people who didn't know themselves- they sang about me. I started playing the guitar because I listened to them and thought 'I want to do THAT'. I liked The Beatles when other people liked Yes, I liked The Stones when other people liked Genesis and most of all I liked punk rock when other people wouldn't say the words let alone play the music- but I liked The Who the most of all. And I still do. I never saw them with Keith Moon on drums so some would say I've never seen them at all- but I saw them with Kenney Jones and loved it. I didn't see them in '89- I couldn't stomach the idea of Townshend on acoustic guitar with someone else playing electric for him- but I saw the 'Quadrophenia' shows in '96/7 and have seen them loads of times since. Now there's only 2 of the original band left of course- with a new album out which, as type this, I can't wait to hear. I haven't got the latest McCartney or Stones album. That says something.
I went to The Roundhouse in Camden Town last night to see The Who. What an amazing venue. I didn't go to the original Roundhouse but this is something to behold, a domed ceiling with lights all around it in what are probably best described as 'ever decreasing circles'. An extraordinary sight.
The Fratellis supported and pretty good they were too. They started with 'The Seeker'- don't know if they usually do that in the set?- which I felt could have wound the audience up but actually went down very well; the rest of their (short) set was generally well received though you got the feeling that most people were just hanging on to the place in the crowd by the end. Still they played their well known song- must find the title!- which even I recognised and finished with a song that had the middle bit from 'Hot Love' and ended with the riff from 'Children of the Revolution' so they can't be all bad.
Introduced by 'Johnnie Walker of Radio 2' The Who started with 'I Can't Explain'- Pete in suit, shades and stripey black & white hat, Roger looking mean as ever, the song 41 years old. Then 'The Seeker'- suddenly The Fratellis sound, well, silly- followed by probably the best 'Who Are You' I've seen them do. Astonishing guitar from P.T., the band rising to the occasion with him. Breathtaking.
And then, the 'new' songs. The much touted mini-opera 'Wire and Glass', 15-odd minutes of music, ambitious at this stage of the game even by Townshend's standards. Then 'Baba O'Riley' and 'My Generation' provoking a near-riot mid set... then another new song, 'Man in a Purple Dress', a furious religious indictment performed by just acoustic guitar and vocals. 'Mike Post's Theme', yet another new song, yet more acoustic guitar. Then a 'Tommy' medley- the 2 lads in front of me (I can call them lads, they looked less than half my age!) reacting to the opening chords of 'Pinball Wizard' as though they'd been given proof that life after death exists, 'Amazing Journey' running into 'Sparks' with Roger breaking the skin on a tambourine at the moment Pete hit the largest E chord any of us will ever hear, into 'See Me Feel Me/Listening To You' and the riot that nearly happened earlier is now all around me and I'm part of it...
Suddenly it's 'Tea and Theatre', the last song, the last new song, two 60-something year old men reducing the Roundhouse to rubble with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a teacup. No encore. You can't follow that. Like the first time I heard 'em, like the first time I saw 'em, all I want to do now is play the electric guitar. As good as I've ever seen anybody. As good as most of us will ever see. Gig of the year. Gig of the decade. Of the millennium. Of all time*.

Meet the new boss...

*well... you know what I mean!!

Corporate rock weekend (2)

Phase 2 of our campaign takes us to the rather splendid surroundings of Kingston Maurward College near Dorchester in Dorset, for a fundraising evening on behalf of the renal unit at the local hospital. Arriving a bit late with the long-suffering Shirley I find everyone else set up and soundchecked so I get my gear sorted in record time before finding the rest of the lads in the downstairs canteen- our base for the evening (they'd originally offered us, in Pete's words, 'a cupboard'). There's a tab at the bar (hurrah!) but no food (boo- and despite us being in a canteen!) so Pete and Shirley head off to the chip shop while the rest of us try not to go to the bar straight away. After they've returned with the food we have a tactical discussion along the lines of 'where does the act go from here?'- lots of good things said, lots to think about!
Gigtime then- and it's at this point two things are worth a mention. The first is the rather unusual nature of the venue- it's effectively an 'indoor tent' i.e. we're in a large rectangular room with (and I guess this is the best way to describe it) a tent set up in it. Sounds mad doesn't it? As the stage was at one end of it I've got the sloping bit of the tent on my head. Serves me right for being tall... the second thing to mention is that, it being a medical benefit evening, the place is full of nurses. A few doctors here and there but mostly nurses. Who have been drinking. A lot. The dance floor's full during the first number and stays pretty much that way for the whole show. And for the second night in a row things happen that cannot be recounted here.

So they won't be.

And for the second night in a row it's a great gig. Everyone plays well and Pete & Michael (the latter fueled by a bottled beer called 'Barn Owl'; when that ran out he had to have 'Old Thumper') are on top form throughout- a fine weekend's work.

As we're leaving Shirley tells me she was talking to 2 of the lads who worked at the venue. They thought she was about 25 years old which, as you can imagine, amused her greatly. As she was telling me this a rat ran out in front of us. A strange moment to end on... and what is it with her and rats?!?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Corporate rock weekend (1)

-in which your humble narrator spends 2 consecutive evenings attempting to entertain a lot of people who won't remember what they were doing when they were watching him.

Friday 5.30p.m. and after what felt like a particularly long day working in the shop I'm waiting for a tube train. It's been raining and the tracks are wet so the trains aren't running. It's only been a couple of months since it was sunny and the tracks were hot so the trains weren't running- funny old life sometimes eh? Eventually I make it to Victoria station and ask around for directions to the Victoria Park Plaza hotel where the rest of the lads are in the Indian restaurant next door. Not many people speak English, and those who do have never heard of it. After 30-something minutes I find it, all of 250 yards from the station.
After a couple of minutes ranting I calm down for long enough to find out that we're playing at a Formula 4 awards ceremony- should be interesting... after food it's pub time; heroically resisting the charms of The Elusive Camel we end up in the more, shall we say, traditional surroundings of The Lord Burleigh for what feels like a much-deserved drink.
Back at the hotel we ready ourselves for action- no horns tonight so Gary's playing all their parts on keys, something he does remarkably well. After the usual 'you're on in 5 minutes... er, actually they're still eating/presenting awards/watching a video of themselves' stuff we start with 'Green Onions' to the unlikely sight of people dancing- a rare event in corporate-land. It was around this moment that I realised that we were in for a good gig- not least because it seems that where there's up and coming racing drivers there's a healthy supply of extremely good looking young ladies (sorry Shirley if you're reading this!) many of whom are dancing in a rather energetic manner a couple of yards in front of us. Details are necessarily sketchy at this point although both of the young ladies who joined us on stage will stay in my warped mind for quite some time, albeit for very different reasons... as we finished with 'Sweet Home Chicago' the DJ put the first record on (I still call them records don't you?!? Much better than 'discs' or 'tracks' isn't it?) and they all carried on dancing. I wonder how many of them noticed we'd finished?
As I was leaving for the night bus Gary very kindly offered me a lift home. Good man; but it took us over half an hour to find his car. He'd forgotten where the car park was; if it wasn't for the fact that a limousine driver waiting outside the hotel had a map of the area I fear we would still be there looking for it. It was nearly 2 o'clock when I got home- it had indeed been a long day.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Back to work

I always think that we don't play many midweek gigs but we seem to be doing quite a few these days. Last night we found ourselves at the Weston Auditorium in Hatfield, a rather splendid theatre that's actually part of the university although not exclusively i.e. mere mortals like me and you are allowed in rather than it being 'student only' (I'm sure this is where they used to do the 'Sight & Sound in Concert' T.V./radio programme from, although it was Hatfield Polytechnic back in those far-off days). Pete's back from Las Vegas, Dave Land's back on trumpet, Squirrel's bought his family with him and I'm with the long-suffering Shirley- and what a jolly bunch we all are, with much hello-ing and good-to-see-you-ing all round... in marked contrast to the end of the last 'non-dep' gig in Kirkcaldy where it felt like the declaration of World War 3 would have been seen as a peaceful move.

This is good news.

Soundcheck comes and goes without too many hiccup's although when I first tried my vocal mic I sounded a bit like a robot which I obviously rather liked... then it's off to find the bar. Being a theatre show it's a 7.30 start which always seems really early to me but there's plenty of advance tickets sold so we should be in for a good night. With this in mind Pete's re-instated a couple of costume changes (I won't tell you what they are as it'll ruin it for you when you come to see the show!). Normally his wife Jayne helps him with them but tonight she's still jetlagged at home so it's down to Shirley who rather bravely takes her place in the wings ready for action. The show has the feel of being 'back to work'; the first half get the audience ready to dance, the second let's 'em get on with it. Everything from the medley's to the costume changes run smoothly- a good gig all round. At the end Pete suggests we all go out front to 'shake some hands' which we duly do, a nice end to a nice evening. Here's a venue that I for one hope we return to.

Talking of midweek gigs we've got another one next Wednesday which promises to be quite a memorable occasion. More news as and when I have it 'though from what I know about it so far we should all recognise at least 2 people in the audience...

Monday, October 23, 2006

New York, London and Matlock

The title of this post may well look like a particularly odd set of tour dates (now that I've said that I'll be doing them myself) but it actually refers to the bands I saw last night at The Forum (I still call it The Town & Country Club) in Kentish Town.

First up, The Philistines with Glen Matlock on bass. Back in 1992 when I was in The Price we played with Glen & co several times and I got to know him fairly well (it took me ages to recover from the first time he phoned me up!) although they were called The Mavericks initially- yes they had to change their name! Paul O'Brien was on guitar then, now they feature the excellent Ray McVeigh who used to be in The Professionals with Paul Cook & Steve Jones. And good stuff it was too with 'Suck it and See' from the days when we gigged with them amongst the newer material. They also resisted the old Pistols songs (they often play 'Pretty Vacant') which I guess would have been an easy way to get the audience on their side. McVeigh's guitar strap was so long that he could balance the guitar on his foot (I'm not making this up!) and Glen's came off in the first song (if you're reading this Glen we sell things in the shop that'll keep it on). Pity they were on so early.

8.30 and it's time for the Towers of London, 5 thin men with immaculately unkempt hair who could be brothers, but probably aren't. And what an excellent row they made, somewhere between Hanoi Rocks and Guns'n'Roses with all the right things in all the right places- sweary lyrics, gratuitously mad guitar solos and lots of clothes being taken off as early as the second number. It would be interesting to see them again to see how much was rehearsed and how much wasn't. Still, judging by the amount of blonde bombshells watching from the wings it looks to me that they'll get to where they want to go; I'm just not sure they've got the songs to go with the act and the attitude. But what do I know? Whatever I thought of them, I hope they don't care what I think.

And then my friends, The New York Dolls. From the moment David Johansen drawled 'when I say I'm in love you'd best believe I'm in love L-U-V' and the band crashed into the opening chords of 'Looking for a Kiss' it was an 'I was there' sort of gig. Everyone says they liked the Dolls back in the punk days but I'd never actually heard them. No one I knew had heard them, we'd only heard of them, mostly from reading interviews with bands who namechecked them as an influence (Pistols, Clash, Damned, all the punk bands basically). I saw Thunders and Nolan in The Heartbreakers and thought they were brilliant 'though I'm more than aware that there were good and bad nights... but what was amazing about this was how, with only 2 original members (Johansen and Sylvain, everyone else is dead, sadly) the SPIRIT of the band remained intact. It also struck me how some of the songs had a kind of 'darkness' about them, an amazing power that I also saw in Iggy and the Stooges at Hammersmith last year, and in The Sex Pistols at Shepherd's Bush in 1996 (2 of my favourite ever gigs). Suffice to say that as they played 'Jet Boy' and I found myself singing 'LIKE HE WAS MY BABY' at the top of my voice, they sounded to me like the best punk rock'roll band ever, playing the best punk rock'n'roll song EVER. And believe me when I say that I don't write those words lightly. It felt like a reason to play music, a reason to play rock'roll, a reason to be alive. Yes, they were that good. Really.

I love playing the music I play with the Blues Bros./Commitments shows but it's time to play some rock'n'roll again. I must make some phone calls... and find some time from somewhere!!

Outside the venue I saw the singer from the Towers of London with a beautiful blonde girl trying to wrap herself around him. I decided he's wasn't going to be waiting for the same 'rail replacement service' bus as me. And I was right. He wasn't.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Depping blues

I've referred to 'depping' quite a bit in these missives, most often in connection to horn players (e.g. in the previous entry); as I'm sure you've realised it's all to do with getting someone else to do a gig for you that you yourself can't do for whatever reason. Every so often I find myself in this somewhat murky world 'though last night was the first one for a while.
If you go back a few posts to 'Own Goal' you'll find a reference to Mario- he's 'Jake' in The Briefcase Blues Brothers. To cut a long-ish story short myself and Gary were invited to play with The B.B.B's last night at a birthday party in Ramsden Bellhouse, a village near Billericay in Essex. Mario sent me over a c.d. of one of their shows which thanks to our ever wonderful postal service only arrived on Friday leaving me only Saturday morning to give it a listen and learn anything that needed learning. As you might expect they play a similar set to ourselves- though some of the songs are in different keys which is always a potential minefield- to which they add a few numbers, ranging from things like 'Shout', and 'The Hippy Hippy Shake' through to less obvious songs, my personal favourite being that well-known Blues Brothers classic 'I wanna be like you' from 'The Jungle Book'. (Apparently Mario always sings it, what ever band he's in. Good man!). Sadly that wasn't on the c.d. so I had to find that one for myself... and here's where depping gets, for want of a better word, dangerous. If you know a particular version of a song well it's often hard to 'forget' that way of playing it if their version's a bit different.

As I discovered...

After the usual wrong turnings we arrived in Ramsden Bellhouse. It's a small village with some very big houses- I would guess the average house size in the road we were in to be about the size of the entire terrace that my Dad's house is in. We're in the usual BIG TENT in the garden. (Or should that be in the grounds?). I meet the rest of the band- Matt's playing Elwood, Kylan's on bass and Adam's on drums- and get set up. Gary's got an extra keyboard with him as he's also playing the horn parts making for a bit more gear than usual in his corner. We run through a couple of bits- intro's, endings, cues etc- and then it's time to go to the pub. No point mucking about rehearsing when we could be drinking- I like these guys! After a couple of drinks, some food and what might best be described as 'verbal rehearsing' ('watch me for the ending' etc) it's back to the gig. We have to park about half a mile from the house as there's so many cars in the area. Oh well, at least that means we've got an audience. There's a chocolate fountain, a champagne fountain and some gaming tables in the tent as well as a bar. Are they going to notice us?!?
10.15-ish and we're starting with 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love', quicker than we play it and with different bits everywhere. This wasn't on the c.d. either. Bugger! It puts me off a bit- come on Leigh, pull yourself together. The second song's 'Sweet Home Chicago'- I've played it loads of times, so why did I make such a mess of the intro? Argh! Then it's 'Midnight Hour- we play it in the key of C, they play it in E. Concentrate man!
As I say, it's been a while since I've done some depping and I'd all but forgotten how nerveracking it can be. Things settle down, oddly enough, on the numbers we don't play- a medley of 'Wipeout' (great drumming!) and 'Money' hots things up and 'I wanna be like you' is terrific fun. But we're not getting the audience- despite Matt and Mario's best efforts they're on the gaming tables, at the bar, everywhere but the dancefloor. It takes the inevitable 'Mustang Sally' with one of the audience on vocals to get them really interested and when the casino closes the dancefloor fills up accordingly and by then even the power going off can't stop it being a good show. Everyone in the band seems happy at the end of the show- if they did hear my mistakes then they're all very good actors!- and Mario asks me what I'm doing Christmas Eve as he might have a gig for me. Maybe depping's not so bad after all.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bath time

Last night's gig was, as Sherlock Holmes might have remarked, a singular evening for quite a few reasons. Here are some of them:-

Friday afternoon and we're on our way to Bath. The M4's moving reasonably well and we're looking forward to the show, not least because it's a place called The Priory- cue rehab gags a-plenty. I'm in the car with Mike Hyde- he's depping for Pete (away in Las Vegas celebrating one year of marriage) and I'm on the phone to Squirrel who's in the bus with the rest of the lads. It seems the P.A. boys are there already and tell us the room we're playing in is a small one- 'about the size of a front room'. They've taken a full P.A. and a 40 channel mixing desk with them which, if what they say is true, could be seen as overkill. 'If you're there before us, check they've got the right room' says Squirrel, in a voice that could politely be described as 'shaky'.
Arriving in Bath it's time for the latest round of Sat. Nav. lottery. After going round in circles for a while we opt for the 'let's ask that bloke over there' option which turns out to be rather more entertaining than even I was hoping as he's probably the local acid casualty ('I don't really know where I am at the moment') who let's his dog jump up at the car a few too many times than he should have (Mike wasn't happy!)and leaves us more confused than ever. To confirm this we go the wrong way down a one-way street- every car in Bath suddenly comes towards us- re-trace our steps (if you see what I mean) a bit and eventually spot Squirrel outside The Priory which turns out to be a very well-to-do hotel with a car park full of giant cars and people smoking. Perhaps it is a rehab hospital after all- albeit one that's hosting the wedding reception we're playing at.
Well if this is the size of a front room then the P.A. boys have got very big houses indeed- though putting a mixing desk that's the size of a double bed into it does restrict things a bit I suppose. As I walk in I hear the words 'good musicians don't need mixing desks' from a man who I decide is something like the head waiter... I do the decent thing and retreat to the Gents where I decide that the local acid casualty had the right idea. Either I'm seeing things or there's a Brazilian football shirt signed by Pele on the wall in a frame. Now there's something I've never seen in a hotel toilet before. I took a picture of it on my phone- it really was there, honest.
Soundcheck time and things actually sound pretty good. And the horns have arrived- Ian Richards on sax and Matt Winch on trumpet depping for Richard and Dave respectively. Time for some food and to find out if we've got a room to change in. Oh, we can use the spa changing rooms can we?. Ok. We head down to the spa to find the girl on reception is (a) the best looking woman in the world and (b) at a loss as to what we're doing there. Eventually we're allowed to use the changing rooms though by now she's on a rowing machine which causes us all to walk into each other rather a lot.
Back upstairs and it's nearly showtime. But hang on a minute- isn't the lighting rig going to burn that large and rather expensive looking oil painting that it appears to be touching? It gets moved but will reappear in our story before long... the happy couple have their first dance to 'Let's stay together' by Al Green (good choice) and then we're on. As 'Peter Gunn' kicks things off we realise the lights are right in our eyes (Oh good) and, of course, the dancefloor's cleared. But we're playing well and people are getting into it which can't be bad although that guy right down the front seems to be getting into it a bit too much; he manages to stay on his feet until 'Hold on I'm coming' when he falls into Matt's music stand sending paper and beer everywhere and bending the stand in the process, much to his understandable annoyance- although his comment afterwards about billing the guy for it might be a bit optimistic. By 'Knock on wood' it's all getting a bit weird with Michael's comment that the guy he's got up to sing with us looks like Buddy Holly (he wore glasses so I suppose I do too!) giving me and John a chance to go into 'Peggy Sue'. And then, during 'New Orleans', it all goes dark. Yes, you've guessed it, the lighting rig's been knocked over. Oh well- at least that means the painting's safe, at least until it's put back up again.
After the show we go down to get changed to find that the best looking woman in the world's gone home. Boo hoo. And if that wasn't bad enough all our stuff's been moved out of the changing room and dumped in the spa reception area. Some people might have stolen a towel or two in protest...
After a final look at Pele's shirt it's roadtime again with (Mr.) Sting on the radio telling us all about his new found prowess on the lute (why doesn't he just leave us all alone?!?) and Steve Lamacq (I wonder if he'll ever answer his phone to me again?) plugging an upcoming documentary on The Damned as a horrific-looking accident closes all but one lane of the M4. As we're nearing home Mark Lamarr plays 'The power is yours' by The Redskins. It's 1.30a.m. and it sounds fantastic.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Real life

It's Thursday, 3.45pm-ish and I'm nearing the end of 4 'normal' days i.e. working in the shop as opposed to running up and down the motorway looking for an audience. Somewhere in the course of those 4 days a Squier Telecaster electric guitar has 'gone missing'- in other words it's been stolen. I'm not exactly sure when; I was showing a guitar to someone this morning and noticed it wasn't where it should have been. And I'm not exactly sure how, although it was near the door and so I suppose it was among the easiest to take- I would only have needed to be distracted for a few seconds. I spoke to Karn (the manager of the shop) and he was great about it- 'don't blame yourself, it could have gone at any time' etc. But I do blame myself. In fact sitting here now I feel terrible about it, as guilty as if I'd taken it myself. And there's some prat of a kid trying out the electronic drumkit who will never know how much, just at this moment in time, I hate him. I wish he'd shut up. Or that I had a gun. Or both. Thank God for U2 on the DVD player; at least I can try to listen to that.

Tomorrow night we're gigging in Bath, Saturday in Billericay. Back to the motorway.

I can't wait.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Take the high road (again)

People often say to me- 'Leigh, your wild'n'wacky rock'n'roll lifestyle must be wonderful. All those women and drugs, all that money and acclaim; how on earth do you keep your feet on the ground?' And I often say something like:-

It's 6a.m. (again) and the long-suffering Shirley is dropping myself and Gary off at South Mimms services (again) to meet the boys in the bus (again) to go up to Scotland (again). This time however there's only 4 of us in the bus (myself, Gary, Squirrel and John) as there's more gear to take with us this time; Pete's taking Michael, Dave and Richard up in his car.
Yes, Richard. He's coming with us after all- Amy Winehouse's rehearsal's not until Monday. That's a relief. Of a sort.
Anyway with Squirrel at the wheel we begin our epic journey North through some rather nasty patchy fog (is there such a thing as nice patchy fog?) before through the magic of mobile phones we meet up with Pete & co. at a service station somewhere in Durham (I think!) for some much needed breakfast and to listen to Richard telling us that he'd rather be with us anyway. Or something.
By now the weather's improving by the second as is our collective mood- upon spotting the burger van we stopped at last time we went up to Scotland we decide to stop there again (wild'n'wacky huh?) for a coffee and a break from being in the bus. Suitably refreshed we make the rest of the journey to Greenock without too many incidents though the fact that I think I slept through quite a lot of it certainly helped things, from my point of view at least.
On arriving in Greenock first thing is to find where we're staying (the Travelodge behind MacDonalds- rock'n'roll eh?) and check in before making our way to tonight's venue, the Arts Guild Theatre. As we stop at a set of traffic lights by a paper shop we notice a hoarding outside a newsagents for The Greenock Telegraph proclaiming 'FOUL STENCH HORROR' in huge letters. Suitably impressed we arrive at the venue and set up. It's a nice venue but the sound's not too good- and we've got these guys again tomorrow night. Hmm... I'm off for some chips and a bit of head clearing.
7.30 and it's showtime. We're not playing badly but the sound's conspiring against us- Pete says 'good evening' and we realise all the vocal monitors are off. Not good. There's feedback, there's levels going up and down- what's going on? At halftime we're all pretty fed up; instructions are issued and things improve in the second half with Pete getting a young lad up out of the audience to help him with the introduction of 'Do you love me?' and a generally better feeling all round. It all goes down well so maybe I should just stop moaning.
Everyone's off for a curry but being the miserable tortured artist that I am (!) I decide to go back to our hotel. After a long phone conversation with Shirley (she's been to Watford today and seen some handouts for our upcoming show in Hertford. So we'd better do that one then.) I turned on the T.V. to find an excellent documentary on renowned jazz nutcase Sun Ra. 'I wasn't born man, I was abducted by aliens' proclaimed our hero whilst wearing a pharaoh's hat. Excellent.

We're leaving for Kirkaldy at 11-ish so it's a nice leisurely start to Saturday. Everyone drifts vehicle-wards around the alloted time with tales of varying levels of regret at the visit to the curry house. Most got away with it but there was some suffering- which was actually why I didn't go. Without going into too many details I don't like eating that late at night- I like it while I'm eating it but am not so keen on it in the morning... anyway it's a lovely day and we don't need to be at tonight's venue until 4.30 so we decide to go to Edinburgh for a few hours.
On arriving we park up near the castle. There's a farmer's market on which as a vegetarian isn't too much good to me but I found a porridge stall which was superb- heroically resisting 'Scotch Whisky porridge' I went for 'single cream and brown sugar' which was magnificent. And I know that might seem like a bit of a overstatement to apply to a carton of porridge eaten with a plastic spoon but, well, I guess you had to be there.
Last time Michael and myself were in Edinburgh he distinguished himself by buying not one but two kilts. This time he bought himself a guitar amplifier. His wife must hate me. However this was a serious bargain, a Vox combo at virtually half price from the Sound Control shop in the Grassmarket. I tried and was very tempted by a Peavey 'Valveking' combo (my Laney combo that I use with the band is showing signs of suffering) but got told off for playing too loud.

Too loud! In a guitar shop! Surely that's not possible?!?

I might just put that on my C.V...

After a pub meal it's back to meet the rest of the lads and to set the controls for the heart of Kirkaldy. So we're back over the Forth Bridge into the 'Kingdom of Fife' and through some spectacular scenery before winding our way to 'The Larn Town' itself (no, I don't know what it means either) and tonight's venue The Adam Smith Theatre. The auditorium on the 2nd floor but there's a lift (phew!) and everything's set up in no time. But storm clouds gather in the soundcheck- more problems with monitoring means that it's a 'one-minute-I-can-hear-you-the-next-I-can't' situation which doesn't bode well for the show.
Time for a walk then. Some of the lads are off in search of chips but myself & Michael spot 'THUNDER ROAD'- can it really be a Bruce Springsteen theme bar? Well, sadly not but it's good fun all the same, the classic 'Hard Rock Cafe' impression that seems to everywhere these days. Large pictures of Rotten and Hendrix cheer me up no end although a silver disc for 'The best of The Platters' seems a bit out of place. And am I the only person who finds cashpoints in pubs to be rather a worrying concept?
The venue's nearly sold out and it's time for action. And you've guessed it, the sound- on stage at least- is all over the place. Mine and Gary's monitor's not on, and then suddenly the world's loudest trumpet roars out of it. John's is so loud he's faced it away from him. Pete & Michael are struggling; Michael even all but trips over at one point. At halftime the feeling is very bad indeed. Amazing then that not only is the second half infinitely better but we're re-booked on the spot, something I for one would never have predicted.
Hometime and the lights on the Forth Bridge turn it into a work of art. Phones are going, apologies for heat of the moment comments are everywhere and all roads lead to South Mimms services (again) where we meet Shirley (again). It's 6a.m. (again). She's been watching rats in the car park. Rock'roll eh?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Own goal

Wednesday night and we're at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Marlow for our latest attempt at entertaining the corporate masses- in this case the finance company G.E. Money. Apparently this is a very big company (the long-suffering Shirley seemed impressed anyway). After saying hello to everyone- including new P.A. man Mario- it was time to load in and set up before the slightly peculiar nature of the evening revealed itself to us. We were to play an instrumental and 2 songs as everyone arrived for their meal at 7.30 then do a 80 minute set at 9.30, with a meal in between. Very odd. Ah well... ours is not to reason why as someone once said. After our soundchecking we retreated to our changing room to discuss tactics and recall the previous run of gigs- generally agreed to have been a success, especially Squirrel's antics with the whiskey on the way home. As the great man put it- 'I just couldn't bear to leave it behind'. Meanwhile England's football team put in another unforgettable performance (against Croatia) on the T.V. in the corner; Neville's own goal went in just as we were getting ready to go through to the hall to perform.

In hindsight this could be taken as a sign of things to come, as we'll see...

We kick off (sorry!) with 'Green Onions', suitably extended to allow the 'delegates' to take their seats (some great soloing from Gary) before Pete & Michael join us for 'Hold on I'm coming' and 'Gimme some loving' to the predictable confusion of all in the hall. Then it's off back to our room- very strange. Still we've got things to discuss- we're off to Scotland (again) for 2 gigs at the weekend and have to work out times to meet up etc. We make a vague plan- a car with some of the Essex contingent and the bus with the rest of us all meeting up at Richard's house at (gulp!) 6a.m. Friday for the journey North. Better have an early night tomorrow then. Meanwhile I'm on the phone to my mate Brent who lives nearby; we arrange to meet in the bar downstairs for a drink or 2 before we're on again. After eating my meal far too quickly I nip down to the bar and there he is with his wife Debbie, both of whom I manage to smuggle upstairs to witness our main performance.

9.30 and we're watching the hall all but empty out during our first number. This almost always happens at these type of events and however many times it occurs it's something I've never really managed to get used to- however much you tell yourself that they'll all be back after they've finished the conversation that we've just interrupted it can still be very disheartening. But with the brothers working their (white) socks off out front the people who were watching did get into it as the 4 girls onstage dancing to 'Rawhide' would probably confirm, if they can remember any of it this morning that is. Meanwhile the band as a whole and John the drummer in particular struggled with a less-than-perfect onstage sound making for an at times rather loose performance. Still as I say, the people in the hall enjoyed it. Me? Both Squirrel and myself agreed that we'd probably been rather spoiled by the excellence of the amps we used on the Irish dates; then again maybe that's just my new-found primadonna status influencing him? And Brent and Debbie both thought it was great so perhaps it is just me after all.
Afterwards we're all getting changed and saying 'no I couldn't hear you either' rather a lot when Richard tells us that he's playing with Amy Winehouse on 'Later with Jools Holland' next week. Before you could say 'nice one mate' or something like that he tells us that what with rehearsals etc he won't be coming to Scotland this weekend after all.
To say that this changed the atmosphere within the band would be, to coin a phrase, the understatement of the year. Suffice to say that there may have been more than one own goal scored this evening...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Where are we again?

It's 6.30a.m.-ish Saturday and we're stumbling around Stansted Airport trying to decide which queue is going to move the quickest. We're Easy-jetting across to Belfast Airport for 2 theatre shows- Saturday night in Armagh and Sunday night in Derry. Security's tight- we even had to take our shoes off!- and it takes breakfast to bring us back to something approaching normality before our plane's delayed due to a passenger being 'unfit to travel'. Hmm... a pleasingly uneventful flight follows and after picking up our 2 hire cars it's off to find our first guest house just outside Armagh. Sat. nav.-lead mayhem follows with us disappearing off into the deepest darkest countryside amid comments like 'you know you're in trouble when there's grass growing in the middle of the road' (Squirrel) and 'did that sheep have all 4 legs in the air?' (no, for once it's not Gary with the sheep stuff, it's Michael). We get there eventually and it's time for a much needed shower and a takeaway pizza or 2 before heading off to The Market Place theatre & arts centre for tonight's show. It's a great venue, with a huge stage and superb facilities all round. Dougie the P.A. man get's set up in world record time and Squirrel and myself can't believe the quality of the amps we're going to use- he's got an Ampeg stack and I've got a Fender Blues Deville combo. They sound fantastic- it's going to be a great show. Then it's over the road for a bite to eat when my brother calls- he's been into work today to blow a Mercedes up. So he's feeling better then. Back to the venue and I meet up with my old mate John Ford, a splendid chap who used to live in Ickenham and now lives in Newry with his wife Elizabeth. There's just time for a quick drink with them and then it's showtime... and what a great show it is with everyone forgetting that they're tired and the audience into it from the word go. By the second set there's plenty of dancing and after encoring with 'Jailhouse Rock' we're off to the bar for a well-deserved drink or 2, then it's takeaway Chinese time... back to the guest house and a forward-thinking person's bought a case of lager and a bottle of Bushmills; 'Brazil' forms a suitably surreal T.V. backdrop to end an excellent if suddenly very tiring day.

It's breakfast at 9 and on the road at 10 for the next round of the sat. nav. lottery that we seem to be playing rather a lot these days... after much to-ing and fro-ing and even the odd look at a map (remember them?!?) we find our way to tonight's guest house, just outside Antrim. Last night's was excellent, this one's a bit... darker. Much singing of 'The Addams Family' theme and wondering if Mother's in the cellar follows- and then we see Nellie the dog. She looks like, as Michael puts it, 'a cross between a sausage dog and a horse'.

I'll leave you to think about that for a minute.

Plenty of time to worry about what we've let ourselves in for there later; it's time to be a tourist and visit the Giant's Causeway. I've always wanted to see it and it definitely doesn't disappoint- words like 'amazing', 'astonishing', breathtaking' etc all seem a bit inadequate really. But they'll have to do- it's all of those and more.
After a quick pub meal it's off to the Waterside Theatre in Derry- another excellent venue. Dougie's already set up and we're running through 'Time Is Tight' in no time. Michael's not too well- what we thought was an allergic reaction looks more and more like a heavy cold so we cut a couple of his vocal numbers out. Richard's suffering too and spends the soundcheck asleep in one of the cars. There's not too many advance tickets sold either which puts a further dampener on things. Time to go to the bar then.
8pm and there's just about enough people in the audience to make it work and Pete's straight into overdrive with a 'we're gonna have a good time anyway' rap that ends with the words 'where is everyone else in Armagh tonight then?' Oops. That was last night... incredibly this seems to get everyone on our side with plenty of sympathy for Michael's plight and Pete getting a guy out of the audience to sing 'My Girl' (getting Michael off the hook in the process) and a couple of girls up dancing on stage with us. The first set ended with Richard off stage and following a girl outside- she'd gone out to a make phone call and ended up on stage with us.
As I was waiting in the wings for the start of the second set a girl came through the side door- it's her friend's birthday, she's in the 3rd row in a white t-shirt. What a gift for Pete! So we're playing 'Happy Birthday' (badly in my case) and we're only 5 minutes into the second half... a radio-miked Richard ran around the audience during his 'Shake your tail feather' solo and at some point in proceedings I managed to get the band playing the riff from that well known Blues Bros. number 'Black Night' for a reason that escapes me just at the moment. At the end of the show with Pete & Michael already on stage for the encore we sneaked around the back and sat out in the audience watching- it was that kind of night. A quick drink after the show ('meet the audience'!) and then it's time for the inevitable visit to the Chinese takeaway. I was outside looking around- Union Jacks everywhere yet if go just a few hundred yards down the road you're surrounded by Tricolours. A strange moment- I'm English, with an Irish name, surrounded by English flags and Irish accents.

Dave Land appeared next to me. 'Don't worry dear boy, depression is just a state of mind'.
'I can't believe you've just said that!' said Squirrel, collapsing into laughter.

Back at the guest house the flickering EXIT sign looks a bit too sinister for comfort. I was sharing a room with Gary who found a large creepy-crawly in his bed (urgh!); suddenly I wished the bar was still open. Or that our flight was just about to leave. Or something. Like I say, it's great to be in showbusiness.

6.30a.m. Monday and, incredibly, we're all awake and down for breakfast. And, incredibly, Squirrel's drunk. He's just drank the remaining Bushmills. Really. Back to blighty then- let's hope no-one's 'unfit to travel'...

A game of two halves, Brian

It's Monday 9th October at 3.10pm and I've just got back from doing 4 gigs in a row. Here's what happened.

Thursday night we played at the graduation ball at R.A.F. Cranwell in Lincolnshire. I don't want to moan, but...
with hindsight it all started to go wrong from the moment we turned into Lighter Than Air Drive (really!!) and made our way into the Longcroft Room. As venues go it's probably the nearest thing I've seen to how I remember our old school assembly hall being- not a good sign, not least for sound quality. I missed the main discussion as I was loading gear in but there was an immediate problem over the show. They were expecting a 'party' set and a Blues Bros. show, we thought it was just B.B.'s. They were also expecting us to play until 1 a.m., something we knew nothing about. It was too late to ring the agency to clarify things so, as Pete put it, we had 2 choices- go home or stay and play. A tricky start; but there was more to come. After a soundcheck that could politely be described as 'difficult' (really echo-y and loud) we were shown to The Dakota Room, our base for the evening. There's 2 covered snooker tables which we're not allowed to touch, loads of comfy chairs which we're not allowed to sit on and, worst of all, no food or drink -we were told there would be. Things worsened when a plate of curly sandwiches were bought in by a man who said he was the manager of the place and who clearly hated us. Oh, and there were cabinets full of wine etc which a lady kept coming in and opening with cheery comments like 'I've counted these so don't try anything'.
With tension mounting there was only one thing for it- go and find the toilet. It turned out we had 2 to choose from- one in total darkness (a bit perilous!) or one with a big 'NOW WASH YOUR HANDS' sign but no sink. Oddly symbolic of the evening methinks.
By now were all starving hungry and it's time for action. Eventually we're told we can go and get some buffet but not to let anyone see us. So out we go and, you've guessed it , it's all been eaten or thrown away (how annoying is that?) except for the puddings. So my main meal of the day consisted of a piece of chocolate cake. Others weren't so lucky...
It's nearly time for our first set but not before a surreal moment when, on my way to the sink-less toilet, I hear the sound of music from one or the adjacent rooms with Squirrel emerging from it with a big grin on his face. He says something like 'you've got to see this' and so in I go, to be greeted by the sight of Michael & Pete doing a karaoke version of 'Waterloo Sunset' to an otherwise completely empty room. It was a lot stranger than it looks written down here I can tell you.
To the stage then and we play our 'party' set to- inevitably given how things have been going so far- a mixture of indifference and bemusement from what audience there is that's still sober enough to realise that there's something happening on the stage. No surprise there then. Halftime and there's fireworks and 'the reading of the scroll' (whatever that is) accompanied by much revelry and a bloke playing the bagpipes. As John was moved to remark- 'What's the definition of a gentleman? Someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn't..' Then we're back on stage for our second set with Squirrel and me amusing ourselves before it started with a version of Bowie's 'Moonage Daydream' (I don't know why either) before we start 'Peter Gunn' to an empty hall- Pete played keyboards with Gary doing some very funny dancing outfront- before we play to a better response than we got for the first set. Well, that's if you think having some moron down the front waving Pete's microphone stand about when he's trying to sing 'better.' Eventually we finish and I realise it's the first show that I've played in ages where I haven't sweated at all. Enough said.
It's getting on for 4.45a.m. when we get back to John's where I'm staying for the next couple of nights. It's great to be in showbusiness.

Friday's show a lot different. For a start tonight Matthew we're going to be The X-Commitments. We've all been part of Dave Finnegan's Commitments (Dave played Mickah Wallace in the film) so this is 'Dave Finnegan's Commitments without Dave' with Pete & Michael joined by the excellent Tracy Graham on vocals (check out and be amazed!). Gary's away at a wedding so Rick Dawson's depping on keys and the show's at the Priestfield Conference and Banqueting Room at Gillingham Football Club. We're there in good time (I particularly liked the sign next to the bell by the side door- 'please ring if you need assitance'- presumably not with spilling) and set-up and soundcheck goes excellently well and everyone's in a much better mood than the previous evening despite the bizarre news that there's been complaints about us to the agency. So- we're there for over 8 hours without even being offered a glass of water and they're complaining about us.

Sod 'em.

Mind you here we go again- there's 6 meals provided for us and the P.A. boys but 12 of us in all. We opt for the ever popular chip shop option and are just walking down there when I get a text message from my brother Terry. He's filming out in Tangiers (remember?). He's sorry he's not been in touch but he's been 'ill, really ill, thought it was the end but don't tell Dad, I don't want to worry him'. Eventually I got through to him- he went down to breakfast on Tuesday and suddenly he couldn't see and 'it felt like someone had put a knife in my stomach'. He's spent 2 days with a temperature of over a hundred but he's feeling a bit better now; 50 of them have gone down with it. Scary.
Back at the venue it's time for a drink in The Piano Bar with Rick, Michael and Squirrel. We're overlooking the pitch and there's a baby grand piano which Rick can't resist playing, to everyone's approval. And rightly so, he's a fine player.
And it's a fine show from us too, which more than makes up for the previous evening. We'd not done some of the songs for quite a while which made a nice change to the normal show with Tracy as great as ever and, astonishingly, John breaking and changing a snare skin during 'Mustang Sally'. Everyone goes home happy- which is just as well since we're up at 5a.m tomorrow to go to the airport...