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...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It was 20-something years ago today

I saw my old mate Gary last night- he moved to the U.S.A. in 1985 and was back here on holiday with his girlfriend Judy to visit his mum and look around the old country. Shirley and myself met up with them out in the Cotswolds.
Gary and I go back a long way- we went to school together and began playing in bands in the early '80's. He drummed with me in The Others and played bass for the first few Price gigs before he emigrated. The last time I saw him was in New Jersey when I was out there gigging with Neck, almost exactly 5 years ago. In the course of our shameless reminiscing he reminded me of an incident not long after we'd left school when he was offered several weeks work drumming in a covers band out in Tunisia; he turned it down thinking that he wasn't good enough. His thoughts now are that if he'd done it his life could have turned out very differently i.e. he could have been a musician (he now runs an auto-electrics firm) 'like you are Leigh'.
Well, maybe. Who knows who he'd have met as a result of saying yes, and who knows where that would then have taken him. Fate's funny stuff isn't it? At the time I was working in a factory and hating every second of it; if someone had offered me something like that I'd have broke the world land speed record to get there. Or would I? Who knows- sitting here now I'd like to think I'd have accepted it but if I'd actually been in a similar position I might have run a mile whilst screaming on about 'not compromising my artistic integrity'. Or-given what I remember to be my fragile mental state around that time- I might have just ran off screaming.
And is it really nearer to 30 than 20 years since we first played together? Yes, incredibly, it is. God I'm old.
Then again... today in the shop I put Motorhead on the DVD player, a band I first saw in 1978 and that I've got a ticket to see this Autumn. I also put on Eric Clapton's 'Crossroads guitar festival'; amongst the luminaries featured was Hubert Sumlin, Howling Wolf's old guitarist. I met him once when he was playing at the Borderline in London. I was there with my mate Chris Eborn- we literally bumped into him. Being very shy in these sort of situations I probably wouldn't have spoken to him if I'd been on my own but Chris is rather more forward than me (fortunately!) and suddenly there I am talking to a hero (well he is to me anyway). When I said I played he asked me what I was doing at the moment.

I wasn't doing much.

Judging by the look he gave me as I answered I must have looked pretty bad. He looked me straight in the eye:-

'Music is a blessing, it is a gift from God. You must not waste your blessing, you must not waste your gift.'

Next time I'm bleating on at anybody unlucky enough to be in earshot about getting old or some other non-crisis, I must remember those words.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Keef or Ron?

It's always a bit weird coming back after to the real world after a few days away gigging and this time was no exception- straight into the shop Friday which after a 'here's-what-Line6-amps-can-do' day (the rep was in!) ended with a 5.25pm delivery of parts for the ever-expanding back room. Or rather, it didn't. The ever-so-slightly-stroppy delivery man complained about the lack of parking outside the shop (poor lamb) and then asked where our fork lift was. Er, we haven't got one. But there's half a ton of stuff here and... to cut a long and frankly boring story short he left without delivering. I've since found it was several days late- the lads had been in the shop all week waiting for it.
The next day was suitably busy with Ian the Saturday boy (sorry Ian if you're reading this but I can't think of a better way to describe you) showing me his 'My Space' space (he's got a girlfriend and everything!) while I busied myself with pricing up God knows how many books and serving the odd (sometimes very odd) customer. Then it's off to tonight's gig, which as we'll discover, deserves it's own introductory paragraph...

...because it's an as-yet-undiscussed phenomenon- it's a playback gig. Pete & Michael do quite a lot of these- they use backing tracks and do a 'mini' Blues Bros. show in places that only have room or facilities for a smaller set-up. However sometimes there's the situation (and indeed the budget) where one or more of us band boys get to go along too- in this case Gary, Squirrel & myself. Now, you might be thinking 'but aren't your parts already on the tapes?' Well, er, yes they are- so we play along! As I sometimes put it, in my case I get to be Keef or Ron...

So tonight the 'Keef-or-Ron Show' hits Phyllis Court in Henley to play at a wedding. As we came up to the High Wycombe junction on the M40 I was about to mention my brother Terry who lives near there when my phone rang. It was Terry.

'Hello mate, I'm just passing your junction but I can't come round 'cos I'm on my way to a gig'

'That's alright, I'm in Tangiers'

And he is- he's filming out there. They don't start 'till Monday so he might pop over to Gibraltar tomorrow. Or Spain. Maybe. Other people's lives eh?

Meanwhile we're at the venue and I'm trying not to rant. Right, let's go through this again. We can't mix with the guests. Or eat with them. Or drink with them. Or anything. WHAT MAKES THEM THINK I'D WANT TO?!? Because they're rich of course, and rich people always think that. The gits.
So we're upstairs somewhere in this bloody great house with no food or drink and one of those nights in prospect. But we're making the best of things with Pete disappearing regularly to try to get us something to eat and/or drink and everyone's in a surprisingly good mood considering the situation. After a while we're given a bottle of wine and a bottle of water between the 7 of us and, eventually, a plate of food each. That's better. Oh and you're on in 20 minutes boys.
So we load our gear in through the kitchen (getting in their way in the process) and eventually are allowed to see where we're playing. It's the usual big room full of drunken posh people. As we're setting up Steve the DJ mentions that there's one of those volume restriction thingy's here, there it is, the yellow ball-shaped thing in front of us, but don't worry, he's bypassed it. That's good. We finish setting up then it's OUT OUT OUT before we lose control and attempt to talk to someone.

The gig's going well (to my bigoted surprise!) with plenty of dancing and singing along. We're roaring through a particularly spirited rendition of 'Try a Little Tenderness' when... absolutely nothing happens. Because the power's gone off. That's what those volume restriction thingy's do- the yellow ball-shaped thing lights up when the volume goes above the level it's been set for and then if you don't turn down it turns the power off for several seconds. You then have to turn down before it'll let you carry on playing. That's why people (including venue people who don't want them but have to use them because of 'regulations') bypass them. Clever eh? Especially if you actually do bypass them.
So we turn it down, restart and, incredibly, the evening continues to improve- by our second set the Blues Bros. brief has given way to any-song-Pete's-got-the-backing-track-for with 'Is this the way to Amarillo?' and 'Loco in Acapulco' severely testing what's left of my punk credibility, and me proving once and for all that I don't know the solo to 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. All a lot better than it sounds here and than I for one thought it was going to be a couple of hours earlier I can tell you.

It's 1.40-something and I'm home at last. Walking up the front path I realise I've forgotten my keys and am locked out. So- it was one of those nights after all.

PS I've just read back through this; don't I sound a primadonna?!? Next I'll be complaining that the bread's the wrong shape. Ah well. I guess it comes to us all in the end.