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.