Thursday, September 28, 2006

Patience of a Saint, pulling mussels, etc etc...

Tuesday morning's drive took us through the countryside to St. Andrews, although we're actually staying just outside of town at St. Michaels (there's a lot of 'Saints' in this area). By recent standards the journey is an uneventful one and I think I even managed to fall asleep at one point which is quite unusual for me- I must have been really tired as I don't always find it easy to sleep on a journey. We checked into our guest house (excellent) and since Squirrel and myself had both spotted the pub on the way in it was time for a stroll... as it's called The St. Michael' we both hoped it served M&S sandwiches etc but were sadly disappointed. Then it was off to St. Andrews where we could leave our gear at the venue and have a look around. We were playing at the Byre Theatre which on our arrival we were told had sold out- always a nice thing to hear. I went for a walk to get some food and to stretch my legs and came across my favourite punning shop name so far- a sunbed parlour called 'Sun-Tan-Drews'. Hmm... after getting some chips I ran into Andy who was in search of a bridie which he told me is a type of pasty made in this area. As I'm a veggie it's not for me but he suggested I try another local specialty, rhubarb tart. They make them as little round-ish individual tarts and show great pride in doing so- the lady behind the counter very carefully folded ours up in individual bags in such a way so as not to touch the top of the tart. ('That will be precisely one pound and fifty pence if you please'). Wonderful.
Back at the venue and with the soundcheck complete I go for yet another walk, this time to have a look at the ruins of the Abbey and, you've guessed it, to have a drink with Squirrel, before we play the best show so far with everybody on top form and much theatrical bowing at the end of the show. The venue gets bonus points for booking us back for 2 nights next year, and for the bar being open after we've finished.

For the last gig of this particular jaunt it's back over the Forth Bridge to Edinburgh and then to the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh. We're there nice and early so once again we leave the gear at the venue then Michael and myself decide to catch a bus back into Edinburgh for what is for me a rather unusual shopping expedition. One of Michael's grandparents is Scottish so he's decided to buy himself a kilt 'to play guitar in'. Much amusement follows, not least when I leave him on his own in a shop (my brother was on the phone) and he buys not one but two! Good man! Edinburgh looks a splendid place; I'd like to be able to spend longer there sometime.
Back at the venue it's time to rehearse up a medley to put in the first half of the show (it was running a bit long). It's an 'in-the-round' theatre with no stage, you play on the ground which took a bit of getting used to sound-wise. As the show started I thought my guitar didn't sound right; when I changed channels for a solo all hell broke loose with feedback and interference everywhere which in a funny sort of way I didn't mind (I like the Velvet Underground, ok!) but not really appropriate during 'She caught the Katy'. In the interval we worked out the problem- the venue had switched a 'hearing loop' for people with hearing aids to use (hardly needed at our volume!) and my guitar was picking it up. I must remember that for next time. The second half was much better than the first with yet another re-booking in the offering making it a nice end to things. The epic drive through the night was enlivened by 'Superman Returns' before we dropped Andy off at his car and myself and Gary met Shirley at South Mimms services almost exactly 5 days since she dropped us off there. It was good to be back.

Ayr guitar (sorry!)

From the hotel we returned to the venue to pick up our gear then it's off to the nearest supermarket for breakfast before setting off to Ayr. It's pouring down making for nasty driving conditions but Pete and Squirrel do a fine job as always. We drop Andy off just outside Glasgow- he's from there so is off to visit family- and with a 'National Lampoon' film on the DVD player we wind our way to our guest house and our base for the next 2 days. There's no gig tonight so we decide to go into town to find some food. The first place that catches our eye is a little basement bar on Wellington Square which advertises an acoustic session beginning at 9 so we make a vague plan to return then to check it out.
In town we find The West Kirk, a church-converted-into-a-pub (really!). We stopped for a quick drink (you have to don't you?- although we did see a pub called The Squayr which was nearly as bizarre) and then set off in search of food, eventually settling on the Shanghai Rendevouz; a Chinese meal goes down very well and it turns out that the manager used to work in Southend, just down the road from our Essex contingent. Small world eh? Then it's back to 'Wellingtons' bar; it turns out to be an excellent traditional Irish session- when I was playing in Neck (hi Leeson!) I played in and attended quite a few of these and always found them very enjoyable and this one was no exception. We got talking to the barman, then the owner, and before long Squirrel had borrowed a bass, I'd borrowed a guitar and with Pete & Michael on harmony vocals we performed that well-known folk club classic 'Sitting on the dock of the bay' to the general approval of all concerned. Well it would have been a shame to have a night off wouldn't it?!?

Monday morning and after breakfast I decide to take a walk into town for some Ayr air (sorry! I'm really sorry!! But I'm not the only one doing it- there's a hobby shop called- wait for it- 'Ayr Craft' so I don't think I'm the worst offender. Probably not anyway...) and to get a newspaper. On the way in I passed Ayr Spiritualist centre which had a sign outside reading 'THIS WEEK'S MEDIUM- BETTY McLEAN', a bit like a cinema advertising this week's film. Interesting... mind you I then found 'Bowie's Gentleman's Hairdressers' which given some of the great man's hairdos amused me greatly ('would you like a 'Ziggy' sir? Actually you'd look good with a 'Thin White Duke' etc etc).
Back at our digs Andy's just getting dropped off and John's arrived (Roger flew home Sunday, John flew in Monday- rock'n'roll eh?) so it's time for set the controls for the long and winding road to Newton Stuart and tonight's gig. Pete's on the phone to a promoter with a problem and tempers are fraying- at one point he jumped out of the van shouting at a guy in a badly parked truck (we were in a little village and couldn't get through) and got back in the van with the words 'I think I can feel one of me 'ead's coming on!'. Out of town the scenery calms everyone down a bit with the Holy Isle looking breathtaking in the mist.
The Cinema in Newton Stuart is exactly that; it dawns on us that this means there's no bar which is a disturbing concept at the best of times but there's a splendid river just out the back which really should have salmon jumping up the waterfall and at certain times of the year probably does. Soundcheck is a bit fraught with a few awkward 'TURN IT DOWN' moments and Pete on and off both the phone and the stage so Squirrel and myself do the decent thing and go to the pub across the road. The show's a good deal better than it might have been with a re-booking promised for next year which is always good news. The journey back to Ayr is an eventful one with patchy fog and dozens of oncoming trucks ('the ferry's arrived at Stranraer then') conspiring with a malfunctioning sat. nav. but in the end we made it back to the guest house for some well-deserved sleep.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Friends in high places

Hello and welcome to the lobby of the Speedbird Inn at Aberdeen Airport. As I type it's 9.15am Sunday. Here's the story so far.

Gary and myself are meeting up with Pete, Squirrel & Michael in the van at South Mimms Services on the M25; we're then meeting Andy the sax on the A1 with Roger the depping drummer flying up to Aberdeen separately. Heroic as ever the long-suffering Shirley has offered to drop us at the rendevous point so it's a 5am kick-off and with Gary & gear in the car we're on our way to South Mimms. We're meeting the boys in the garage which when we get there turns out to be not much more than a building site with a distressing lack of coffee. The van arrives and we're off to the A1; Andy's at the allotted point and it's time for a sleep.
I'm just drifting off when suddenly there's a bang and I'm very awake indeed. We've hit a pigeon. Hard. Very hard. It's cracked the windscreen and as Gary put it, it'll have a hell of a headache. I fear it'll have nothing of the sort...
Then I wake up as we're passing Hard Hill. It's light and Gary's shouting 'Sheep! I'm spoiled for choice!' He's Australian.
A stop at roadside cafe wakes us all up and then it's time for our inflight movie (that's what Pete called it anyway). It's 'Ray' the recent biopic of Ray Charles and very good it is too. Partway through I looked out of the window to see a sign for Dunblane; it's interesting what catches your eye sometimes isn't it?
At Dundee we stop for petrol and in an amazing co-incidence Jeff (Geoff?) and Big John the P.A. boys are there too. They left Leicester a lot earlier than we left home so we're making very good time indeed. Next thing I know we're checking in at the hotel... and at this point the news reaches us that the Blockheads are playing at The Lemon Tree in... Aberdeen! Gary knows Mickey Gallagher, Squirrel (who used to play with r'n'b harmonica wizard Lew Lewis and was on Stiff Records at the same time as them) knows Norman Watt-Roy and Jeff knows all of 'em! A quick phone call or 2 and we're going to their soundcheck. Result!!
However we've got our own to do first. We eventually find the Arts Centre and after loading in it all goes without too many hitches.
It turns out The Lemon Tree is visible from the Arts Centre so we walk across, go in and... it's really them. I first saw them when I was at school, I've seen them many times since and think they're one of the best bands of them all- and there they are, sounding... less than convincing. But that's soundchecks for you. As the saying goes, 'bad soundcheck, good gig'. We're due to finish at 10 which means if we hurry we can see some of their show so we'll test that theory later...
Time for some food so it's off to the German market. Yes, you read that right. Apparently it's a common enough site in these here parts... so I get some Chinese noodles. At the German market. In Aberdeen. Of course.
Back to the venue and it's showtime. Not a huge crowd but they're up for it and it's a good gig despite the odd set-list mix-up (we were tired!). A quick packaway and it's over the road to the Blockheads and they're magnificent. New songs mixed with the classics and the place is going crazy. They finish with 'Blockheads' and at that moment they're best band in the world. After the gig we stay for a drink and manage a chat with Norman- what a hero. What a hero.
Back to the hotel and as we pull into the car park a rabbit crosses our path. 'Rabbits! I prefer sheep, they're slower. Anybody got any gaffa tape?'
I'll leave you to guess who said that. We're off to Ayr.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Somebody just bought an acoustic guitar into the shop for re-stringing; in doing so I needed to use a pair of pliers to remove the pin holding one of the strings in. I thought of my recently departed tooth...

As I say, it may be time for a holiday.

Take the high road

What are you doing this weekend? Here's what me and my Blues Brothers buddies will be getting up to:-


Personnel: Pete Tobit, Michael Lawrence, John Sorrell, John Skelton, Leigh Heggarty, Andy Hamilton, Gary Moberley

Depart Southend 5.00
Brentwood 5.30
A1 6.30
Gig is at Aberdeen Arts Centre
Accommodation Speed Bird Inn, Aberdeen Airport
Day off
Travel to Ayr Depart 12ish
Accommodation The Dunn Thing, Ayr
Gig is at Newton Stewart
Accommodation The Dunn Thing, Ayr
Travel to St Andrews Depart 12ish
Gig is at The Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Accommodation Pinewood Country House, St Andrews
Travel to Musselborough Depart 12ish
Gig is at The Brunton Theatre
Depart after show for Home

An early start Saturday... and since we're coming home straight after Wednesday night's show I may have to attempt that rarest of things on Thursday- a day off.

I must be getting old.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tooth fairy

I had a tooth out yesterday. I guess there's (at least) two ways of looking at this:-

After far too long enduring pain, discomfort and only being able to eat on the left side of my mouth I finally got something done about it; and it's my fault for not going to the dentist for over 20 years (!) and if I'd looked after my teeth in the first place they wouldn't be in the state they're in.


A legalised psychopath and her mate gave me endless self-righteous speeches about 'dental hygiene' or, in my case, the lack of it and then charged me a small fortune for ripping something out of my face. I've kept it- it's about the size of my little finger. It would traumatise the world's hardest tooth fairy. I feel sick.

When I knew this was all going to have to happen I remarked to David (a guitar pupil of mine) that in a way I've always felt a bit sorry for dentists- after all people only go to them when they have to, and no one really likes them do they?
He looked at me rather sternly and said 'next time you feel sorry for them, have a look at the car they drive'.

So, I'm in the shop today and the right side of my face (and most of my head to be honest) feels like it's done 10 rounds with an in-his-prime Mike Tyson. And the one day that I wouldn't mind us having no customers they've been coming out of the proverbial woodwork. And I've just seen the itinery for our Scottish gigs this coming weekend. And there was an enormous BMW parked outside the dentist's. And MY MOUTH HURTS.

I think I may take a holiday.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Up on the roof

After a suitably hectic Saturday in the shop it's off with Gary to tonight's gig, a 'corporate event' at the Cannon Street Roof Gardens in London hosted by the intriguingly named Big Bang Events. This sort of evening is often rather odd from the band point of view, anti-climatic even, with us being all but ignored for most of the show (I often wonder if they're thinking 'what are those men over there doing and why do they have to be so noisy?') with all hell breaking loose on the dancefloor for the last 3 songs and then loads of complaints that you're not playing for another hour. Or 2. Then again I had visions of 'Let It Be'-style chaos with people climbing up nearby drainpipes to catch a glimpse of us and all being arrested at the end, just in time for the story to make the Sunday papers.

This didn't happen.

We made it to the Embankment in good time and with Gary on the double-yellows outside I went in to the Euronext building to collect our passes- these things are often very security conscious, even more so these days. After signing in and collecting passes for GARY MOBBERLEY and LEIGH HOGGARY (it happens all the time!) we unloaded our gear and with Gary off in search of a parking space I'm left to manhandle the gear towards and eventually into a lift up to the roof. At the top Michael helped me with our bits and pieces and after a quick hello to the lads I get set up. We're in a big tent (another one!- though at this type of event they call them 'marquees' and no doubt get charged more for the privilege) and with Gary joining us with we bash through some dodgy rock'n'roll as a soundcheck, then it's off to find Room W3, our base for the evening. I've been so preoccupied with things that I hadn't notice how high up we are and as I leave the tent (ha!) I see St. Paul's cathedral right in front of me and in all it's not-inconsiderable glory. It looks, for want of a better word, amazing; and looking to it's left I can see right down the Thames with the London Eye in the distance. It's easy to take this sort of thing for granted if you live here but people travel around the world to see what I'm seeing- from up on the roof you can definitely see why.
Room W3 is next to the board room and overlooks the river- Squirrel thinks that's the Mayflower opposite? We're told we're getting food 7.30-ish and so it's off to make some phonecalls, wander around, get (a bit) lost and listen to John and Gary swapping unrepeatable anecdotes before reconvening for burgers (spicy lentils for me- excellent!) and to plan forthcoming gigs in Scotland and Ireland. Then it's a quick change and back upstairs for the gig.
Apparently the CEO of the company (no, I don't know either) plays guitar and would like to join us for 'Mustang Sally'. Perhaps he'll let me have a go at his job then...
...and, yes, it's a typical 'corporate event' with the Blues Brothers films playing on a big screen opposite us (Cropper keeping an eye on me!) and the audience a mixture of bemusement and disinterest until 'My Girl' gets them dancing at last. I let him have a go during 'Mustang Sally- I fancied a drink and it was interesting to see the band. They're very good you know... all's well that ends well with an encore of 'Flip Flop and Fly' closing the show. Coming back out into the air revealed St. Paul's, illuminated now, an even more amazing site than earlier with the Thames disappearing into the darkness of the horizon.
Back in room W3 the organiser's very happy with us, there should be more for us here in the not-to-distant future, Pete's got to talk to her next week. And did he really say that we're playing at Ascot Races next year?!?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Swindon (and, er, off)

Thursday's gig in Swindon's not happening- I'm told the venue has an 'asbestos problem'. Presumably too much rather than not enough.

I finally got round to playing David the classical guitarist's album and very good it is too. I took some classical guitar lessons ages ago (Hi Tony!) and much as I'd love to return to it sometime in the future I fear it's all too disciplined for me, both as a player and as a person (!); if you want check David out his website is -I've not looked myself yet so let's hope he's not recounting meeting some idiot in Wimbledon the other night...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wimbledon (and on)

Monday morning and I'm in the shop, feeling very tired. Here's why:-

Friday night and I'm in Wimbledon with Austin. He's got a duo called 'Liquid' (it used to be called Liquid Lunch but he's gone upmarket!) consisting of him on vocals and whoever's available on guitar. The backing tracks he uses are mostly guitar-less so it's a chance to spray hot guitar (to loosely quote Robert Fripp) over them. And great fun it was too- it's rare that a gig includes 'Car Wash', 'Smoke on the Water' and all points in between. His mate David came along- he's a classical guitarist; I bought his album from him but haven't had chance to listen to it yet. A long evening with 3 sets between 9.30 & 12.30 with much drunken dancing and Austin chasing every girl in the place. That's what it felt like anyway.

Diversions a-plenty on the way home meant a rather bleary start to Saturday in the shop. A sporadically busy day (Saturday often is) before meeting Gary and heading off to Ockley (a village near Dorking) for a B.B.'s gig at a party in a rather large back garden. John's on holiday so this weekend we've got Roger on drums (John's predecessor.) After soundchecking it's off to The Cricketers pub down the road for a meal with Pete giving out gig dates left right and centre and Gary telling a hilarious story about Ginger Baker. When we got back to the gig it had got dark meaning that we saw the setting in all it's glory; lights everywhere and dry ice on the river in their garden (yes, you read that correctly) making for a splendid venue. It took a while to get going but by the end pretty much everyone was up and dancing; Roger made a fine job of things and the show finished with a jammed rock'n'roll medley. Mission accomplished!

As the next show's in Cromer myself and Gary were staying up near Harlow and meeting the lads in the van the next day (Most of the band live in Essex). With Booker T. and the M.G.'s for company we made a quick stop at South Mimms services for coffee and to buy a toothbrush (!) before setting the sat. nav. for the hotel. This turned out to be something of an error as we realised when we ended up down a country lane with deer on it. Eventually we found the hotel but not without a panicky moment or 2.

Sunday morning and Squirrel & Roger arrive in the gear-laden van for the journey to Cromer. It's a lovely day and a highly enjoyable journey not least because Gary spent much of it regaling us with tales from his r'n'r past. Great stuff they were too, featuring everyone from The Bee Gees to Billy Preston, The Sweet to the theme from 'Eastenders' and beyond, with a cameo appearance from Mickey Gallagher from the Blockheads who called him part way through to ask some advice on repairing his Hammond organ. Sadly none are repeatable here as I'd rather not be banned from future blogging; many of the pastimes recounted are not entirely legal, and the ones that are were pretty dodgy to say the least...

Arriving in Cromer we spent a while attempting to find the venue- Rog & John had played there before and recalled it being difficult to get to; turned out that this was due to the Pavilion Theatre being at the end of the pier. They do lend you a trolley to get your gear there with though. Pete & co arrived just after us; his wife Jayne told me I'm putting on weight- I haven't eaten since... Jeff (Geoff?) the P.A. man's already there with his mate Big John (who is) and it's not long before we're soundchecking and rehearsing the shaky bits from the previous night, then it's off to look for an area where mobile phones work. The gig's a stormer- hot as hell on stage and the audience up for it pretty much from the word go. I like the seaside!

After trolleying the gear back to the van it's off to search for takeaway food (not for me that late at night but the Chinese that we did find was apparently excellent) before setting out with 'Flight 93' on the DVD player (it's a really nice van!) with me drifting in and out of consciousness thinking that we were being buzzed by an aircraft on more than one occasion. It occured to me afterwards that we were watching the film in the early hours of Sept 11th... we eventually made it back to Gary's motor and returned to Booker T. and sanity.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

Another day in the shop, this one (fairly) quiet- I think it's 'back to school week' which means this Saturday should be a busy one. I've got a duo gig tomorrow night and have just looked at the set-list- a 3-parter with 40+ songs for me to revise/learn during the day then to the venue for 8-ish, first set 9-ish, finish around midnight. Saturday's gig's a B.B.'s in Dorking so there's time for a day in the shop; Sunday's a short notice one in Cromer, then home for teaching Monday & Tuesday, shop Wednesday & Thursday with a gig in Swindon Thursday night...

I looked at my bank statement yesterday and for once I had more money in my account than I thought I would have. I now realise the main reason for this is that I never get chance to spend any.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cabin fever

In the shop again today- arrived just in time to help load in a log cabin. Yes you read that correctly- it's going to be a storeroom out the back.
I really must remember to be late on days when I know these things are happening.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Play it Steve!

I went to see Alexei Sayle once- a great, chaotic performance. He told a joke that went something like-

'I bought some cheese once; it said on the packet to store in a cool place so I keep it at Ronnie Scott's jazz club'.

Last night myself and the long-suffering Shirley went to Ronnie Scott's to see The 'Original' Blues Brothers Band featuring the legend himself on guitar, Steve Cropper. And there he was, just a couple of yards away from me, pony tail, loud shirt and razor-sharp riffs all present and correct. A mighty, heroic performance... and with Eddie Floyd nearly outdoing the Colonel in the 'soul hero' stakes and 'Blue' Lou Marini telling the best joke any of us had heard in a long time it's got to be a serious contender for gig of the year hasn't it?
Well it would be (Chili Peppers at Earls Court and The Who at Hyde Park currently battling it out if you're interested) were it not for the fact that those nice, helpful, smiling people at the club gave us seats behind a bloody great pillar which obscured much of the stage. No amount of telling myself that said pillar was stopping Frith Street from landing on our collective heads could make up for the fact that Cropper kept disappearing behind it. There were loads of seats with a clear view when we got there but we were told that we weren't allowed to sit in them. We assumed they were reserved or 'members only'... after the gig Shirley asked the nice, helpful, smiling lady about this and was told that no, it was first come first served and that next time (next time?!?) we should get there early and if we wanted to stay for the second house we could sit somewhere else and...
If that wasn't bad enough Cropper's guitar wasn't loud enough! Mind you, whoever heard of a guitar being loud enough?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Shop Around

Monday morning and I'm behind the counter at Pro Music in Ickenham. I've been working here 2 or 3 days a week for several months now, usually alongside Karn the manager and/or Paul the owner. So far today I've had the local piano teacher on the phone asking where her scale books are, a 'can-I-have-a-set-of-strings-mate-quick-as-you-can-mate-I'm-on-a-yellow-line' and someone who can't decide if they want their 12-string acoustic re-stringing or not. Oh, and my brother on the mobile telling me about Rat Scabies's My Space site... all of which has made me realise that I do have a hangover after all. That'll be due to last night's drinking then.

I fear this is going to be a long day...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Lights, camera, action (pact)

Friday just gone- yesterday as I type this- my Blues Brothers buddies and I played at Elstree Film Studios. Sounds grand eh? Well... it was and it wasn't. My brother Terry works in films and I know from visiting studios with him that these places (a) are celebrity free (most of the time) and (b) remove your ability to believe anything you ever see on film, T.V. etc.
Things that look big are really small, things that look small are really big, and things that look real actually aren't (A bit like celebs then...). That said I still couldn't resist telling my mate Big Andy that I'd got changed next to one of the leather clad 'Avengers' girls and the cast of 'On The Buses'. Little things for little minds eh? Actually we got changed in the White House.

See what I mean?

Anyway I spent the afternoon rehearsing with Gary the keyboard player. He's got a Hammond Organ. A REAL Hammond organ. You hear 'em on recordings and at gigs all the time but that's nothing like being next to them when they're played, especially when played by someone like Gary. He played a bit of 'Time Is Tight' and it just sounded amazing. And I mean amazing. After spending a bit too long playing Booker T. tunes we made it to the gig in the nick of time, only to be greeted by the sight of Richard's car parked in the space 'RESERVED FOR CHRIS TARRANT'. Hope he likes the Blues Brothers... by now seriously running out of soundcheck time a seemingly unconcerned Jeff (Geoff?) the soundman unveiled my amplifier for the evening- an Epiphone 'Valve Junior' combo. This little monster boasts 5 watts of class A valve power. It sounded like a bomb going off. I must have one.

Then my phone rang. It was Andy C. telling me our radio station was on the air. Really.

The gig was a good one too, with more than enough drunken dancing down the front to keep Pete & Michael happy; our 'regular' trumpet man Dave Land back in the band and blowing up a storm, and mine & Gary's M.G.'s obsession well catered for by a 'surprise' version of 'Green Onions'. A good day then.