Monday, December 31, 2007

That was the year that was

This has been my first full year of blogging- I started in August 2006- so I thought it might be fun to do a mini-revue of the last 12 months, like they do in the papers and on the telly. So...

Best albums-
'Magic'- Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band
'02/01/1978'- Kris Dollimore
'Soundtrack To The Daily Grind'- Graham Day and The Gaolers
'Yours Truly, Angry Mob'- The Kaiser Chiefs

The Boss back with the band and on great form- 'Radio Nowhere' is probably my favourite song of 2007, and I'm told the instantly sold-out London shows were as euphoric as ever. Kris Dollimore's album was/is a revelation- always a great player, his re-invention as a bluesman made for a very pleasant surprise. Graham Day continues to do what he's always done- write and perform great songs to little or no acclaim from the mainstream music world, while The Kaiser Chiefs are about the only 'current' band to catch my ear at the moment.

Best DVDs-
'Amazing Journey'- The Who
'It's Alive!'- The Ramones
'Live at Monterey'- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
'Crossroads Festival 2007'- Eric Clapton & Co.

The Who documentary was a bit of a missed opportunity in some ways but is still worth it for the priceless live footage, much of it previously unseen. 'It's Alive!' presents one of the best live bands ever on variously sized stages throughout the world whilst the 40 year old Hendrix set continues to resonate through the electric guitar world like it only happened yesterday. The Crossroads collection has Eric and his mates on fine form with every act giving a great performance without it all turning into a mass ego-fest (well, not too often anyway!)

Best gigs-
The Sex Pistols- Brixton Academy
Iggy and The Stooges- Royal Festival Hall
The Who- Birmingham/London
Jeff Beck- Ronnie Scott's

The Pistols stuck 4 sets of 2 fingers up to the world in general and the journalistic profession in particular with performances that were both funny and frightening in their intensity and power whilst The Stooges continued their renaissance with a vengeance with an absolutely astounding show. The Who amazed all and sundry with the energy and power of their shows on the last tour, and speaking personally Pete Townshend is still the most inspiring player that I've ever seen or heard. Jeff Beck's performance was that of a master musician at the very peak of his powers- truly awesome stuff.

Worst band/gig-
The Ronnie Scott's All-Stars- you've guessed where they play haven't you?!?

This loftily-named bunch opened for Jeff Beck- the politest thing I can say about them is to quote my mate Danny who turned to me halfway through their performance and said 'I didn't know Ronnie Scott's was part of Bourne Leisure'. After starting with a couple of keyboard, bass and drums instrumentals (actually quite enjoyable in comparison to the absurdity that was to follow) they were joined on stage by a grinning buffoon of a sax player and a would-be rock god guitarist and proceeded to play an appalling set of end-of-the-pier nonsense that was so pathetically bad that it almost defies any sort of logical analysis. How these cretins have the brassneck to do what they did in public is beyond me. Death is too good for them- torture them as much as they tortured us, the poor audience who, upon realising that they were going to go on again after Jeff Beck, created a potentially life-threatening stampede towards the exit. The only reason that I can come up with for their existence is to make the main act look good- hardly necessary in Beck's case, or I suspect any of the other acts unfortunate enough to be on the same bill as them. Absolutely dreadful on every level and an embarrassment to the venue and all concerned with it, I hope I'm never in a room with any of them, singly or collectively, ever again- although I'm sure they're all self-important enough to not care about my opinion or indeed anybody who's unfortunate enough to be subjected to their antics. If it wasn't for the fact that we had to stay to keep our seats we'd have gone elsewhere until Mr. Beck came on, meaning that we were effectively imprisoned in their hideous little world until such time as they saw fit to set us free- a Nightmare on Frith Street indeed. If you're going to Ronnie Scott's and you see that they're on the bill PLEASE get there after they've finished, or if like us you have to arrive early to get a good seat then take some earplugs and a book. You have been warned...

Best re-issue-
'The Joshua Tree'- U2

I don't know about you but I often forget just how good U2 can be when they're on form. This excellent 2CD & DVD package goes a long way towards explaining how they went from being the band that made 'Boy' (still one of their best methinks) to being the band that are, as Bruce Springsteen brilliantly put it, the last band that we'll know all the members names in. The original album sounds as great as ever and the CD of b-sides and outtakes contains more than a few songs that would have been standout tracks on most people's best albums. The DVD of live and documentary footage show the band embracing stadium-straddling super-stardom with almost nonchalant ease.

My best gigs (!)
The Price- Glastonwick Festival, Southwick/The Duke of Wellington, Shoreham
The Chicago Blues Brothers- Theatre Royal, Windsor
Re:View- Beck Theatre, Hayes

Yes, I know it's self-indulgent to look at your own favourite performances- but it's self-indulgent doing this blogging lark at the best of times so why should this be any different?!? The Price shows were for me 2 of the most enjoyable the band has ever played (incidentally I'm referring to the July show in Shoreham not the one in December...) with Andy coming into his own on bass- he said to me after the D of W gig that it was the first time that he 'hadn't felt like Ronnie Wood'- and Paul's drumming continuing to astound. Malcolm and myself keep talking about new songs- time we got on with it methinks... The Windsor CBB show was one of 'those' nights where everything seemed to go right for us; we'd played in Switzerland 2 days earlier which had been a great show but this one surpassed even that. The people at the venue must have agreed- we've been booked for the whole of Easter week next year! The 'Re:View' show is something I'm very proud to have been a part of, a genuine one-off performance of incredible diversity and, I suspect, the only time I'll perform a Queen song alongside a dance troop...

The 'Did that really happen?' moment-
The Ruts'n'Rollins rehearsal

Well, it couldn't really be anything else could it? I still find it hard to believe that I ended up in a rehearsal room with Dave Ruffy and Segs from The Ruts and Henry Rollins of Black Flag (I saw both bands!) playing Ruts songs. But I did it. In many ways of course it's a shame that it happened at all- if Paul Fox had have been stronger he'd have been there himself- but if you'd have told me 25 years ago that I'd have ended up doing what I did then I'd probably have laughed my head off. Actually if you'd have said it practically any time before it actually happened then I'd have found it hard to keep a straight face... and to go on to stand in for Paul at 2 gigs in August was an extraordinary experience; in my last conversation with him he thanked me warmly for doing them which still means a lot to me. The obituaries that followed his passing show the respect that he and The Ruts still command from fans and fellow musicians alike- as no lesser figure than Captain Sensible put it, 'he was a lovely, really gentle bloke and a magnificent musician. If kids today ask me about playing music I say, go and listen to The Ruts.' I couldn't have put it better myself.

So- that was the year that was 2007.
I'll see you for some more in 2008- happy new year y'all...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So that was Christmas... was it for you?

It's always a bit, shall we say, anti-climatic isn't it? In a funny sort of way I always feel a bit sorry for actual Christians at Christmas (as opposed to the rest of us who only go to church when it suits us or indeed when we can't avoid not doing so- how many people have you heard say that they've started going to church because they can't get married in one unless they do?) who see something that I would imagine means a great deal to them being submerged under a deluge of consumerism and hypocrisy. East- a renowned Christmas hater for many and varied reasons- and myself were discussing this very topic only last night whilst ourselves being submerged under a deluge of lager. After walking up and down Uxbridge High Street looking for a pub that was (a) open and (b) not full of recently escaped psychopaths we settled upon The Metropolitan in Windsor Street. 'I'm off for a kebab' said the great man at the end of our evening before stumbling off triumphantly, leaving me to stroll home wondering why, amongst other things, 2 pints of lager had cost us just under £4 in The Metropolitan, yet cost just under £6 practically everywhere else. It was, I suppose, that kind of night.

Last Sunday's gig with Austin went well... sort of... we were playing at Henry's in Aveley near South Ockendon which, I'm told, claims to be the oldest building in Essex. It's a striking place, made all the more so by the fact that when myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived it was shrouded in fog which rolled across the pond like.. well, just like it does in the films I guess.
It had been a while since my last duo gig with Austin so I'd spent a bit of time revising the songs as well as looking at some new-to-the-repertoire stuff. Austin uses backing tracks that generally have no guitar parts on them so it's a good opportunity to stretch out a bit on guitar, as well as testing your timing- drum machines tend not to speed up or slow down (not that a drummer would ever do that of course!) We played well enough but the building was practically empty which was a shame since it's a splendid place- still, I'm sure it was a bit busier the next night.
All of this pales into insignificance next to the fact that I thought Shirley was going to thump Austin when, in the course of our conversation, he commented that he didn't like women that weren't confident about themselves. (I can't recall his exact words but that was the gist of it) You should have seen her face- heroically she waited until we were on the way home before the ranting began...

Oh well- it's Thursday morning and it's time to open the shop. Again. Let's see how many people say 'oh, you're open then' before beginning the 'I hate Christmas' rant. It happens every year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

So this is (nearly) Christmas

-and what have I done? Well...

It's been very busy in the shop. Very busy. Almost beyond busy. Tensions rose to new heights on Wednesday morning when, whilst cruelly tormented by the aftereffects of the previous evening's heavy drinking with East and Esso, your humble narrator was VERY RUDE INDEED to a customer. (I won't tell you what the first word was, but the second one was 'off'...) Well- he was a jumped up middle class git who not only asked me if I had any phone numbers for other music shops in the area but then proceeded to phone one ('Hooters' in Watford I think) and walk around our shop comparing our prices with theirs. On reflection I shouldn't have said what I said, and told him so- incredibly he ended up buying an amplifier from us!- but I was amazed and even a little worried about how angry I got with him. I think I may need a holiday... Paul the guv'nor (just back from working Bruce Springsteen's monitors in Paris) found the whole episode highly amusing ('that's nothing to what he would have got from me!') which at least means that I still have a job.

Incidentally Broooce didn't really phone me up- it was Paul holding his mobile phone in the air during 'Born To Run'. I had a few of you worried there though didn't I?!?

Things brightened up considerably in the afternoon with a visit from John Kerrison, wheelchair-bound ex-Episode Six drummer and all round good bloke. He wasn't the only ex-Episode Six-er to visit us this week, as we shall see...

Thursday is theatre day, this time without Stuart the guitar repair man who's off visiting his family for Christmas. Almost before I'd got through the door I was asked 'Where's Stu- is he alright?' by Steve the stage doorman; one person even asked me if he was still alive. I managed to get through it all without too much trouble and heroically resisted the temptations of 'Sister Ray' in Berwick Street, though might have to go back for a slightly-less-than-legal Jam DVD next time I'm in the area.

Friday was theoretically a day off, though at this time of year I'm not sure that such a thing really exists. I stumbled around Uxbridge amid what felt like thousands of nutters re-enacting a scene from 'Zulu' in an attempt at getting a few Christmassy things with limited success, though at least I managed that much- there were a lot of empty shelves and fraying tempers...

Saturday in the shop was the busiest day yet; I bought a cheese roll on my way there at approximately 9 a.m. and finally got time to eat it just after 7 p.m. which sums the day up in more ways than one. An undoubted high point was a visit from Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover who goes straight in at number one in our 'most famous customer' chart- a position previously held by Chas and Dave's drummer, the mighty Mick Burt. He was on the hunt for a metronome (I don't think it was for him, he seems to be quite good at timekeeping!) which I'm pleased to say he found; it seemed unlikely that his credit card would be declined but he gave us cash anyway. Also in the shop at the time was Roger Brewer (Lee Ryder's drummer from a couple of post's back) who has known Glover for years and indeed roadied for Deep Purple for a while; after they'd said their hello's he introduced me to his old mate- I think I said something like 'I've seen you play a few times, it's great to meet you at last', all the while thinking 'OH GAWD IT'S THE BLOKE FROM DEEP PURPLE THAT'S HIM ON 'MADE IN JAPAN' AND EVERYTHING'. I nearly mentioned that John Kerrison had been in earlier in the week (Glover was in Episode Six before he joined Deep Purple) but in the end didn't get the chance. The 2 Roger's talked of meeting for a drink over the Christmas break and, unless my ears deceived me, invited me along. Excellent!

Tonight, back in the real world, I'm gigging with Austin in his duo Liquid Lunch, somewhere in darkest Essex. I've got about 30 songs to revise, and some to learn from scratch by such wild rock'n'roller's as David Gray and The Eagles so I'd better get on with it. This will be the night that the 2 Roger's invite me out for a drink...

Monday, December 17, 2007

'It's the boss on the phone...'

5 minutes or so ago, my mobile phone rang. It was Bruce Springsteen. He was, as usual, born to run, and he still wants to die with Wendy on the street tonight in an everlasting kiss.

I believed you were working with him Paul, honest!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Blues, blues and more blues

3 gigs in 3 days- just like old times...

Thursday- Blues Brothers at The Pizza Express in Maidstone. We've played here quite a few times now and I still think it's a bit of an odd one; the nearest tables are close enough for the people sitting at them to touch us (or indeed, us to touch them- I must try that one day) and are almost always populated by people who look shocked when we start playing. Surely they've noticed that the stage is full of musical equipment which makes it likely that a band of some description is likely to be playing at some point in the evening?
Anyway it being near to Christmas there's people away gigging or otherwise- Mario's back as Jake, Stuart's on sax (the last show with him was something like 18 months ago!) and it's Dave the trumpet's last gig with us this year. And it's a good one, with pizza and cheesecake finding it's way to the stage for various hungry band members and pretty much the whole audience up and dancing by the end. We've already been booked for next New Year's Eve- but who's really thinking that far ahead?!?

Friday- Blues Brothers at Nailcote Hall near Coventry. It's a Christmas party for a hundred or so people in a marquee on the side of the hotel. Tony James from the excellent F.B.I. Band is in the hat and glasses with Mike, Richard (just returned from some European dates with Vanessa Mae) is on sax, Adam is on trumpet, Squirrel's on bass, Steve's on keyboards and Keith's on drums- and, unless something comes in at very short notice, it's our last gig of the year. Unusually Squirrel and myself found ourselves in the bar with Steve and Phil the sound man before the show; 2 somewhat over-refreshed young ladies in Blues Brothers outfits emerged from the venue with the words 'you'd never guess that we're solicitors on 60 grand a year each would you?'. 'Was that 60 grams a year?' said Phil looking pleased with himself, as Squirrel mused 'I wonder what they're soliciting for?' as only he can. By the end of our first number the dancefloor's full, and by the end of the show the place is going mad. Great stuff.

Saturday- The Lee Ryder Band at the rather punkily-named Pistols Wine Bar in Coulsden. I used to play in a rhythm and blues band called The Informers about 10 or so years ago- our drummer was Roger Brewer who's been playing with Lee for the last few years, and who called the other day to see if I was available to play 'this Saturday somewhere near Reigate'. When I asked about a setlist he just said something like 'oh, you've seen us play, you know what we do'- and he's right, I have seen them play and I do know what they do; they play, as Lee himself puts it, 'blues, blues and more blues'. In a desperate attempt to swot up on things, I have a look at their website... virtually the first thing I read is-

'where rehearsals don't feature, setlists are laughed at and none of the band know what is going to happen next or for that matter what has already happened- that's REAL blues'

After a suitably chaotic day in the shop- anyone would think Christmas was coming!- myself, Shirley and East, assisted by the latter's sat. nav. (rather peculiarly named 'Aggie' by it's owner) found our way to Coulsden which is indeed somewhere near Reigate. Paul the shop guv'nor, rather intrigued by the prospect of a gig with no setlist, has followed along. We load my gear in, order some drinks and wait... and wait... eventually Roger turns up. 'No one else here yet?' He looks a bit worried- we're due on in less than half an hour. Lee and Vince the bassist arrive a few minutes later; while he's setting his gear up Lee asks me if I know the Ray Charles song 'Hard Times' and runs through the chord sequence with me and Vince as we 'might play it later'. Then, at last, Janos the keyboard player comes through the door with 5 minutes to go- somehow everything is set up in time to start just after 9 o'clock.

'What shall we play?' asks Lee cheerily. 'Well, what did we start with last time?' says Vince. 'Don't know' says Lee. 'How about ''Reconsider Baby''?' 'Could do. Any other ideas?' 'Er... any songs you fancy playing Leigh?'

It's all true. There is no setlist.

Eventually we start with 'Reconsider Baby'. I'm too loud. As usual. Good.

Somewhere in the next couple of hours we play 2 sets of, to coin a phrase, blues, blues and more blues, neither of which includes 'Hard Times', the one song that we'd almost rehearsed. It's great fun- why would it be anything else?- and I'd almost forgotten what a great drummer Roger is. Excellent.

As we're leaving I spot a pile of magazines by the door- you know, the sort of free mag that you see everywhere these days. It was called 'CROYDON LIFE'. I give a copy to East, who is overjoyed. It was that kind of night. Oh, and Paul had to leave after the first set; he's got an early start Sunday, he's off to Paris where he's working with Bruce Springsteen. Other people's lives eh?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

God's Lonely Men

I went to a book launch last night- not something that I do every day of the week- at The Edgar Wallace public house in Essex Street, London WC2. Sounds grand doesn't it? The book in question is 'GOD'S LONELY MEN' by Pete Haynes- better known to the punk rock fraternity as Manic Esso, drummer in The Lurkers- and it's his story as a band member and beyond. It's very funny in places, very sad in others, and it's very very good indeed. (I'm not just saying that because I wrote the introduction, although that's not bad either!) And it's out just in time for Christmas. So, if you ask Santa nicely...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Crazy Times

It's been a long 3 days. A very long 3 days. Santa in a bra and g-string, policemen playing electronic drums and singing C.I.A. agents everywhere. Business as usual then.

It was The Ickenham Festival on Friday; all the shops stay open late, The Salvation Army band appear as if by magic (where are they the rest of the year?) and hundreds of people wander the streets saying things like 'it's a pity they don't do this sort of thing more often isn't it?' All good fun if a bit nerve-racking to have so many people in the shop at once, though Paul the guv'nor had recruited his family to help keep an eye on things. A moment of madness saw 2 uniformed policemen trying out some drums- Paul's wife Julie was dispatched with a camera immediately. I pulled the shutters down at 9.15; we'd been open 11 hours by then which seemed long enough...

Next time you're on the M5 passing the Weston-Super-Mare turn-off see if you can spot The Webbington Hotel- it's up on the hill amid what I would imagine to be some very picturesque little villages and scenery. (I say 'imagine to be' because I've only been there in the dark!) Myself and my Blues Brothers buddies played a Christmas party there on Saturday, almost a year to the day since our last visit. The venue's the same but the band's changed a bit since then- I remarked to Squirrel that only me, him and Dave remained from last year's show (not strictly true since Pete and Richard are still very much involved with the band but were away gigging elsewhere) which we both agreed was rather an odd thought... for once the motorways were running smoothly although it all went a bit wrong when we turned off for the hotel and the sat. nav. left us in the middle of nowhere; calls to the venue didn't help as much as they might have but we found it in the end- it was just around the corner from where we'd originally stopped.
After a quick (maybe a bit too quick?) sound check it was off drop our stuff off in the rather grandly named Charterhouse Suite before doing the decent thing and going to the bar. While I was queueing up I got a call from Pete (away gigging with C.J. in Belfast) who told me that they were on the same bill as John Wilson, one of Rory Gallagher's drummers. Excellent... meanwhile there's a lot of people about, many of which were rather scantily clad young ladies which did wonders for band morale.
9.45 and it's first set time. Neil's back with Mike in the hat and glasses, Ian and Dave are on sax and trumpet and Steve and Keith are on keyboards and drums. Squirrel's a long way away in the far-left hand corner of the stage on bass and I can't hear my guitar very well. As a matter of fact I can't hear anything very well. Phil's on sound which normally makes for good news all round but tonight something's not quite right- we miss a couple of cues and Keith mysteriously stops dead in the middle of 'I Feel Good'. But there's ladies dancing on stage and general merriment all round so we must be doing something right? And there's more of the same in the second set- the sounds still a bit strange, Keith mysteriously stops in the middle of 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love' and the ladies and the merriment are still going strong. A rather strange show.

But if that's a strange show, then how do I describe last night's Price gig? Well... we returned to The Duke of Wellington in Shoreham to support Attila The Stockbroker's band Barnstormer who were playing a warm-up show before their upcoming German tour. Also on the bill were local lads The Fusion and Dave Lippman The Singing C.I.A. Agent, (yes, you read that bit right) and if that wasn't enough, it was Price singer Malcolm's birthday and our first gig for ages with Huggy on bass. The scene was set for chaos- and it didn't disappoint...
Myself, Huggy and East arrived just after 3.30 to find Attila setting up the P.A. and Malcolm & co. already looking a bit, shall we say, confused... The Fusion provided drums and amps for us all to use (thanks lads) and opened proceedings with a good set, a bit introspective for me in places but perhaps I'm just being a bit miserable. Then Dave Lippman became 'George Shrub, the Singing C.I.A. Agent'. And very good he was too, using a battered Martin guitar to great effect and delivering a very funny parody of how most of us would imagine a U.S. government agent to be.
Then it was our turn. For reasons best known only to himself Malcolm was wearing a Santa outfit, which he later removed to reveal a furry red bra and g-string (I'm pleased, and indeed relieved to say that the latter was worn over his jeans!) and was now officially very confused indeed. The first couple of songs had rather less words than I remember them having, though rather more worryingly 'She Belongs To Everyone' (a recently re-discovered song that none of us could remember writing!) had rather less bass guitar than it should have had- The Fusion's bass amp had stopped working. After a bit of coaxing had got it going again it finally gave up totally during 'Wonderland'- fortunately Huggy had his in the van so Malc and myself filled in time while he set it up by playing 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away'. We finished with a dedicated-to-Paul-Fox 'In A Rut', encored with 'Between The Lies' and must have done something right since we were offered 3 gigs on the back of our performance. I only hope that they don't think that we're like that all the time...
'Welcome to our rehearsal' said Attila as Barnstormer took to the stage with an excellent rendition of 'Baghdad Ska'. And it's true- they don't rehearse, they just play at The Duke of Wellington before going out on tour. And they were great, a true 'renaissance core' band (as Attila describes them, a cross between medieval music and hard core punk) if ever there was one. I must admit that myself and East developed quite a taste for the draft Budweiser by the end of their set- he gave a t-shirt away to a girl because she was tall (nothing ever really changes does it?) and I received a text message from Malcolm this morning saying that he hoped he 'wasn't too embarrassing'.

Let's hope not eh?

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Every so often a gig comes along that redefines the word 'unique'. Such was last night's event- a Christmas party held at The University Women's Club ('A London haven for discerning women') in London's Audley Square. I travelled up to Green Park on the tube and followed the directions from their website; they were right, it was only a 10-or-so minute walk. They didn't mention that the large white building that you walk past to get there has an armed police guard outside it- I know that size isn't everything but these were big guns. I could feel myself looking guilty as I passed them; they carried on talking, I carried on walking. Scary- it's still something that we don't see very often on here isn't it?
I found the club and went inside. I immediately felt as though I'd gone back in time to maybe the early part of the 20th century. An atmosphere of austere formality prevailed- for example, during the course of the evening most of us had to be reminded that the use of mobile phones was not permitted in the club. We were playing in the library- yes, it is ironic don't you think?- which I was told was upstairs. It was a playback show (myself on guitar, Pete and Mike on vocals, Squirrel on bass and Dave on trumpet and percussion, all playing along with backing tracks) with Joe providing the P.A. and lights. As I walked into the library I couldn't help but notice 2 things:-
(1) there were decorations and streamers hanging down from helium-filled balloons which had floated up to the ceiling, and
(2) There was a long table set for the guests along the left hand side of the room.
Walking past the table I guessed to myself that it was set for about 20 people. I was wrong- it was actually set for 21 people which Pete informed me was the sum total of our audience.
'Kelp' said Dave, looking very pleased with himself. 'Kelp. That's what it looks like don't you think?' He placed his left hand palm down on his forehead so that he could wave his fingers around in front of his eyes. I couldn't resist it- 'Isn't that an album by The Beatles?' 'Yes!' he roared, 'Kelp! I need somebody!'

It was funny at the time, ok?

We were booked to play 3 sets- 30 minutes of 'dinner music' while the food was served then an hour of Blues Brothers, with 30 minutes of 'party music' to end the evening. Pete had been to see Michael Buble the night before which may or may not have influenced his choice of material for the first set- mostly swing songs and ballads, most of which I had absolutely no idea how to play; I wasn't much better on the party set, though I at least stood a chance on them. So it would have been a good idea to spend a bit of time trying to work out some of the chord sequences wouldn't it?
Yes it would. Instead I went off to The Clarence pub on Dover Street to meet Kate the ticket mistress for a drink. Sadly she'll not be the ticket mistress much longer, as she's changing jobs amid some acrimony. Much ranting occurred, so I gave her a Clash bootleg in the hope that it would cheer her up. Well- it always works for me.
8.30 and it's time for our first set; we kick off with 'Moondance' to a mixture of bemusement and confusion- and that's just from me and Squirrel. Dave plays a wonderful trumpet solo, I attempt some vaguely jazzy guitar that actually doesn't sound too bad. Ha!
'Hmm- that's an easy one to get caught on' said Dave, presumably referring to my hilarious attempt at the chord sequence to 'Fly Me to the Moon'. I got him back on to the kelp gags immediately. I really must sit down and try to learn some jazz guitar one day.
The second set's much better- well, it should be if you think about it. The undoubted highlight occurred when the guests were given what can only be described as 'indoor fireworks' with their pudding. As the sparklers went off amid general hilarity Dave grabbed my arm- 'look at it- the Mad Hatter's tea party. I love it!"
By the third set we're in a parallel universe where 4- count 'em, 4- people are dancing wildly to 'Suspicious Minds' while the rest of them appear and re-appear seemingly at random. An extraordinary, unforgettable performance. And to think we get paid for this madness...

We finished in time for me to get the tube home. That's good- I often have to get the night bus. As I was walking home from the tube station I became aware of a car moving slowly along the other side of the road. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that it was a police car. I thought about the armed policemen earlier- surely I couldn't have looked that guilty?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Loud guitar, louder trousers

There's not been much blogging time of late, not least due to the fact that both home and shop computers have been malfunctioning. I did make an attempt to use a terminal in Uxbridge library but to no avail...

It's been a very busy time in the shop, as you might expect at this time of year. There seems to be a never-ending supply of large cardboard boxes to be manhandled from shop to storeroom and back again (no wonder I've got a bad back!) whilst attempting to simultaneously serve customers, answer the phone and, in the case of this Monday afternoon, do an interview for the local paper. Paul the guv'nor and myself fended off all the usual questions while trying not to look too awkward posing for pictures in front of the counter. It's due out near the end of this month, just in time for Christmas...

Last weekend saw 2 highly enjoyable gigs depping in The Cane Toads whose guitarist Malcolm was away with his family. Friday was at The Woodman in Northwood, (an excellent pub venue and a regular haunt of the band's) Saturday at The South Lodge hotel in Chelmsford at a 60th birthday party for David, a mate of the band. We had a couple of rehearsals which was no bad thing- I had over 40 songs to learn, most of which I'd not played before. And it's a varied setlist too, running from recent stuff by the likes of The Zutons and The Kaiser Chiefs to oldies from Thin Lizzy and The Stones. All good stuff, but quite a challenge to get right. I used my Greco Zemaitis-alike which I bought earlier this year- the first time I've used it in a band situation. It's got a 2-octave neck which has taken a bit of getting used too- in fact I'm not sure I have got used to it as I 'overshot' a couple of times resulting in some very unusual moments in the solos... and I used my old Marshall combo which I'd not used since last year's Price gigs- it sounded great once I'd remembered that it only sounds great if you turn it up LOUD. Martin the singer (who could politely be described as 'a character') excelled himself at the Chelmsford show by changing into a pair of shiny red leather trousers for the second set- he'd wore a shiny black pair for the first half which had been outrageous enough, though clearly not outrageous enough for him. Good man.

Talking of The Price, last night we rehearsed for next weekend's gig in Shoreham. East has put some video up on our website- suffice to say it was a highly enjoyable blast from the past which should make for a memorable gig. Before then though there are 2 Blues Brothers gigs to contend with, as well as late night opening at the shop this Friday- more news as and when I have it, as they say...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I'm off home to practise!

Jeff Beck is probably the best electric guitarist that I will ever see.

I saw him at Ronnie Scott's club in London earlier this week- he was beyond extraordinary. For a start, half of those notes that he was playing don't appear to be on any of my guitars- or if they are, I can't find 'em (and I've looked. Trust me, I've looked). And the sounds that he got out of the damn thing aren't on them either; maybe you need his hands?!? With Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jason Robello on keyboards and Tal Wilkenfeld (an almost impossibly young-looking lady) on bass he began with 'Beck's Bolero', and from the first notes it couldn't have been anybody else playing- that's how good he is. For the next hour-and-a half the world stood still. Well, mine did anyway. I've got to say that I personally don't always like his music- a bit too jazzy, a bit too, well, clever for me (if you know what I mean), but that's not the point here. I've never seen the electric guitar played like this by anybody else- melody lines on harmonics bent in and out of tune with the tremolo arm, notes so high that they're actually above the conventional range of the instrument; using a slide with his right hand to play over the pick-ups, again producing sounds that most of us can't even imagine coming from a guitar let alone being able to work out how to play them (as the long-suffering Shirley put it, 'it sounds almost like whale-calls'- and it did), using the volume and tone controls to change the sound of adjacent notes so that no note sounded like the one before or after it- astonishing. Robert Plant was at the bar; Joss Stone got up to sing 'People Get Ready'-I'm told that the next night Eric Clapton got up and played some blues. That would have been worth seeing- but what we saw was worth seeing, in the way that seeing something that you'll never forget as long as you live is worth seeing, in the way that things that change your life are worth seeing. The set closed with 'A Day in the Life', a performance of such overwhelming power that I almost felt that they should have refused to do an encore- but 'Where were you' had me wipe a tear from my eye, such was the feeling of yearning that he managed to create. Well, that's what I got from it- I wonder what, or indeed who he was thinking of..?

Jeff Beck is probably the best electric guitarist that I will ever see.

Have you any idea how much that means to me?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Everything you know is wrong

Behold the accompanying image of your humble narrator captured at our recent Radlett show; in my hot little hands is the Fender Telecaster that I've used for the majority of our show for the past 4 or 5 years. It's a '60's classic model- which basically means it's modelled on the type of guitar that Fender were making back in the 1960's. Popular opinion has it that the best Fender guitars were made in the '50's and '60's, in the era often termed 'pre-C.B.S.'- i.e. before Leo Fender sold his company to the C.B.S. corporation who introduced different production methods which for many resulted in a perceived drop in standards- this accounts for the inflated prices these guitars often command, although there's a huge market for 'vintage' guitars of all types. It's actually quite a 'cheap' guitar- it's made in Mexico rather than the U.S. and is part of their budget range that includes '50's and '70's classic guitars (echoing the above point there are many who dismiss '70's Fenders as anything but 'classic', although these have been re-evaluated in recent years- well, they have judging by the prices people are now asking for them). I bought it for a number of reasons- I like the look of it (very important- you're not going to play an instrument much if you think that you look an idiot playing it!), I like the feel of it (more about that in a minute) and the price was right. Also I wanted an instrument that was replaceable i.e. one that I wouldn't be worried about if I was taking it on a plane, or loading it in and out of vehicles and venues all the time. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't be concerned if it got damaged or even broken- it just means that I could get another one if this happened whereas my old Telecaster that allegedly used to belong to Wilko Johnson (that's what the guy I bought it off told me anyway!) is pretty much priceless to me. Also, it's got a rosewood fingerboard. I like rosewood fingerboards; I don't mind some maple fingerboards but I prefer rosewood. Well, I thought I did anyway- but first, for those of you wondering what on Earth I'm going on about, let me explain-

On a guitar the fingerboard is, literally, the board where your fingers go; it's the bit on the 'front' of the neck that the frets are fitted into. Fender guitars mostly use either rosewood or maple fingerboards and they're easy to tell apart- put simply, rosewood's dark and maple's light. A good example of a guitar with a maple fingerboard is the Eric Clapton signature Stratocaster (that's what E.C.'s playing in the 'Clapton shreds' footage that I talk of in my previous posting) whereas the Jeff Beck signature Strat has a rosewood fingerboard. They feel different- maple feels a bit smoother, not least because it's varnished- and they also effect the sound of the guitar- maple sounds 'brighter', rosewood's 'darker'. I've always preferred rosewood, but that's just me; after all, playing a maple necked guitar doesn't seem to have adversely effected Eric Clapton's career...

So- why am I telling you all of this? Well- because my Telecaster's literally wearing out. As I said earlier it's actually a budget instrument, not necessarily designed for playing hundreds of gigs; one of the pick-ups went wrong earlier this year (on stage in Maidstone), and now not only are the machineheads starting to work loose (this is not good for tuning stability!) but the frets are starting to develop dents in them at the parts of the neck where I play the most, resulting in buzzing on certain notes especially when I bend strings. It's all fixable- the guitar's in the trusty hands of Stuart the guitar repair man even as we speak- but it's made me realise that I need a spare guitar for Blues Brothers gigs, hence my recent purchase of a Baja Telecaster. But, since it's modelled on the guitars that Fender were making back in the 1950's, it's got a maple fingerboard. And I don't like maple fingerboards- remember? But I like this one. That's strange. No it is, really. I used it last night in Hexham (great night, sold out crowd all going mad, band playing well- what more can you ask for?) and enjoyed every minute of my time playing it.

What's happened? You're talking about someone who's so neurotically consumed by guitars that that can even tell you what song they're playing in the above photo by the position of their left hand (since you've asked, I'm playing the riff to 'Green Onions'- that's the only time in our show that I stretch my little finger like that on the bottom E string. Honest!) and who, if ever asked 'what do you prefer, maple or rosewood necks?' would always say something like 'rosewood- I don't really get on with maple'. But now I do. I kept looking down at my guitar last night and thinking 'that's weird, it's got a maple neck, and I don't like maple necks. But I like this one. Help!'

Hmm- I wonder what else I've always been wrong about?!?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Punk's not shred!

Enough of the serious stuff- if you've have 5 minutes or so spare, click on this link:-

-it seems that a Finnish nutter with far too much time on their hands and a very big and clever computer has seen fit to parody various guitar heroes and, as if that wasn't a strange enough idea, some bits of 'Star Wars'. I haven't watched them all (have you any idea how much time all this guitar nonsense takes up?!?) but the Eric Clapton one is something of a classic, especially the bit where the sax player appears... and you'll never take Slash seriously again (assuming that you ever did).


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Punk hasn't happened yet!- Alice Cooper/Motorhead/Joan Jett

Before punk rock, there was nothing.

Not true of course- but it felt (feels!) like that sometimes. There's a bit in the excellent Clash documentary 'Westway to the World' where Strummer refers to an 'almost Stalinist' situation where the band members even disowned friends in their attempts to embrace the future, such was the speed at which things were moving for them. But there was plenty of good music around before The Damned released 'New Rose' (generally acknowledged to be the first 'punk' single this side of the Atlantic), it just wasn't very easy to find sometimes...

Last night myself and Big Andy- still reeling from being told to remove his chewing gum by a security man at Friday's Pistols gig!- journeyed to Brighton for an evening that featured 3 acts often linked to punk without actually being punk acts themselves. Joan Jett was of course part of The Runaways who are, shall we say, fondly remembered by many men of a certain age (i.e. mine and Andy's!) for reasons not entirely musical, though I always though 'Cherry Bomb' was something of a minor classic (honest!). It sounded something of a minor classic last night too, the second number in a set of woefully under-amplified Noo Yawk rawk'n'rawl which was notable for the fact that Ms. Jett can still wear a pair of leather trousers better than you or I ever will (well, better than I ever will anyway!), and the discernible rise in tension when the audience realised that they were going to play a Gary Glitter song- they all sound rather different now don't they? And, yes, they played 'I Love Rock'n'Roll' though I can't help thinking that they should have finished with it- they played it 2 or 3 numbers from the end of their set which meant most of the audience went to the bar once they'd heard it.

Hawkwind were not necessarily a name to drop in 1977- or were they? Johnny Rotten made no secret of his admiration for them (I remember revues of the 'Anarchy in the U.K' single making comparisons between the 2 bands) and he wasn't alone, especially of course when Lemmy emerged in Motorhead who were generally seen as the heavy rock band that it was 'OK' for punkier people to like. I always thought that there was rather more to them than a lot of people gave them credit for- Eddie Clarke's guitar playing was always excellent and Phil Taylor virtually invented thrash metal drumming. But in the end of course it would all rise and fall with Lemmy- and, all these years later it still does.

A typical Lemmy/audience exchange:-

Lemmy - 'This is a rock'n'roll song. You like rock'n'roll don't you?' (millisecond pause, then shouts) 'SAY YES!'
Audience - (cowering and fearing for it's collective life) 'Yes'

I ranted and raved about Motorhead about a year ago in these very pages- suffice to say it's still all true, only louder. Even louder. We managed a few songs quite near the front (the word 'quite' is of course very important here) but had retreated long before the encore of 'Ace Of Spades' and 'Overkill'- which was just as well as it was probably the loudest thing I've ever heard. You know the bit in 'Jurassic Park' where the water in the glass starts moving in time with the sound of the footsteps as the monster approaches? That's what my beer was doing when they were playing. Really. Incredible- but true.

So- how does Alice Cooper (or indeed anybody) follow that? Rather well, as it happens...

Time for another 'I first saw them on 'Top of the Pops' story then- the unforgettable sight of 'School's Out' on said programme will stay with me forever (which, since I've just said that I consider it to be unforgettable, is fairly obvious I suppose.) The band looked like the maddest bunch to ever be allowed out of America, and the guy at the front had truly scary eye make-up and, of all things, a sword. He also pulled the hair of a girl in the audience (probably a set-up, but I wasn't to know that was I?) and drove my Dad to previously unimaginable levels of distraction. I loved it immediately. Stories circulated among my school mates- their older brothers had seen this bunch live and bought back tales of onstage death and debauchery. What could be better than that? Several classic singles followed- 'Elected', 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' etc (remember, singles were the thing for us kids in those far-off days; albums were expensive and went on a bit too long!) before it all seemed to go a bit 'nice'. Still, nothing good lasts forever does it? And when it was revealed that Mr. Rotten had auditioned for The Sex Pistols by miming to 'I'm Eighteen' on Malcolm McLaren's shop juke box the circle was complete- Alice really was a bad guy after all.
30-something years later he's still not someone to meet on a dark night. Before the first song he'd had a fight with himself (Alice in black beating Alice in white by running a sword through him then singing 'No More Mr. Nice Guy'); he then amused himself by dragging a young blonde lady (played by, of all people, his daughter!) around the stage by her hair before hammering a stake through a baby's heart (the 'dead' baby had the same eye make-up as Alice) then ending up in a straitjacket before being hanged. He came back to life to witness George Bush and Hilary Clinton brawling with each other. It doesn't look anywhere near as mad written down here as it looked on the night- if he didn't exist I'd have to make him up, except of course even I couldn't make it up. He remains one of the greatest iconic rock acts of them all, and 'School's Out' is still one of the best records of all time. Magnificent.

What a superb evening- 3 acts, all very different from one another but with enough common ground to make it all work together. It would be great to see this sort of thing happening more often wouldn't it?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

'Punk's Not Dead?' part 3- The Sex Pistols

Ah yes, The Sex Pistols. If ever there was a band that polarises opinion it's these boys. Some will tell you that none of them could play their instruments; others will tell you that they wrote some of the most vital, exciting rock songs ever. Some will tell you that they were just a creation of their manager who had a plan to swindle 'a million pounds' from the music industry; others will tell you that they changed the face of rock music forever at a time when it was at it's most sterile and uninteresting. And so on. And so on.
So- what really happened? And- since as I write this they're in the middle of a run of 5 London gigs- what's happening now, 30 years after the release of their only 'real' album?

I first heard of them in the spring of 1976. I was 14 and an avid reader of 'Sounds' magazine. (I thought 'Melody Maker' was a bit 'old' for me, and couldn't understand The New Musical Express'!) I liked '60's music- The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix- while my mates at school were 'into' bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd... some of that music sounded ok to me but I liked Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath- a bit heavier generally. But I really liked Dr. Feelgood, who I'd first seen playing live on a teatime T.V. programme when I came in from school (I've since found it was called 'Geordie Scene') and at whose music I'd thrown my pocket money at all too enthusiastically. Few were they of my age that agreed with me on this, to such an extent that when the Feelgoods played at Brunel University I couldn't find anybody to go with me and so I missed the show. But more about them another time...
So I read an article on a new group from London called The Sex Pistols. They hated everything, and were going to change it all. Their singer, who sounded a bit of a handful, seemed to rant at anything that moved- when asked 'why are you doing this John?' answered 'because I hate shit'. The piece ended with the guitarist saying something like 'I wish I could go and see us' on the grounds that none of them thought that there was anything around that was even remotely worth considering as interesting. I'd love to be able to say that I agreed with every word that they uttered- but to be honest I didn't. They just sounded scary, and like they knew something that I didn't- which of course they did.
Well, we all know what happened next. After gigging around they signed to E.M.I. in the late summer, released a single and appeared as last minute replacements for Queen on 'Today', a teatime T.V. programme in the London area- and changed everything. Overnight.
Throughout 1977 something called 'punk rock' was everywhere. Hard to believe now but it's true- you couldn't move for it. Bands were cropping up all over the place, pocket money was now being thrown at singles by groups called The Clash and The Damned and I'd somehow managed to persuade my Mum and Dad that it would be a really good idea for me to get an electric guitar. There were loads of good bands about, but The Pistols were the kings- despite the fact that no one could see them play they were always in the papers, not least because they'd thrown their bass player out and replaced him with an interesting looking chap called Sid. Rumours abounded that the original bassist had been too 'nice' but had been the main songwriter which had left them in an awkward position- nevertheless they released 3 singles that year that are among the greatest rock releases ever, and an album that almost defies analysis, such is it's legendary status. And, incredibly, me and my mates got to see them play live- though not all of my mates, because a lot of them wouldn't have anything to do with 'punk rock' because they said it wasn't 'real music' like Yes, or Genesis, or Pink Floyd.

When they spoke they sounded to me like they were about 100 years old.

It all ended in early 1978. You can watch their last gig on DVD; it looks terrifying to me, like something dying in front of you- which if you think about it, is what it is. The original line-up got back together in 1996, and again in 2002, to the usual mixed opinions and revues. But I've always thought that with The Sex Pistols you either get it or you don't- and if you get it you can't understand the people who don't, and vice versa. When I told people that I was going to some of the current Brixton shows it all started again- some said that I was wasting my time, that I was being ripped off, that they thought that I liked 'real music' not that rubbish, whilst others asked if I had any spare tickets, or said that they were going too and couldn't wait for the shows, or that they'd waited years for this and were finally going to see them play at last.

So- what of the Brixton shows? Well, here's what I think-

The best bass'n'drums rhythm section to come out of London since Entwistle and Moon have combined with a guitarist of almost limitless rock'n'roll power and a frontman who has literally redefined the role of a rock singer, to play some of the most visceral, incendiary music ever created, and have delivered performances that match anything that I have ever seen, or will probably ever see.

I could say more- I could go on for hours, and I probably will next time I see you if you're not careful. But the point here is of course that it doesn't matter what I think, because almost everyone has an opinion about The Sex Pistols, and nothing anybody ever says changes that opinion, whatever it may be. So here's an opinion from me-

If you don't like The Sex Pistols, you don't like rock'n'roll.

Friday, November 09, 2007

'Punk's Not Dead?' part 2- Penetration

For our next installment we journey to The 100 Club for a performance by Penetration of their first album 'Moving Targets'. I first saw them at, you guessed it, Brunel University in Uxbridge sometime in, I think, 1978. I remember them as being very good though I didn't like them as much as, say, Eddie and the Hot Rods; then again whenever I've heard them since I've been struck by how well it's weathered next to much of the music from that time. But how will it sound today?

More about them in a minute. Support came from Teasing Lulu, 2 young ladies and a young gentleman who began their first song before the soundman had got into position, resulting in them having to stop the song until he'd switched the vocal microphones on- a shaky start which didn't seem to bother them in the slightest. 'We've got a new single out' said the cheery girl bassist, as the lad on drums tried frantically to repair his broken snare drum wires and I mused on how much (or indeed how little) she reminded me of Gaye Advert. A guy danced wildly down the front, putting any other potential dancers off in the process such was the ferocity of his cavorting. What they lacked in stage presence they more than made up for in nonchalant punky spirit. Worth seeing.

No stage presence problems for Penetration- Pauline still does that 'walk backwards and forwards across the front of the stage' thing that she used to do, and doesn't look a lot different to how she did all those years ago. By the second number 'Life's a Gamble' it's all sounding pretty good; 'Lovers of Outrage' is as complex a song as I remember it to be (why do people still think that punk bands couldn't play?!?) and by 'Nostalgia' the place is going mad. They finish with the singles- 'Danger Signs', 'Don't Dictate', 'Come Into The Open'- which all sound to me like forgotten classics whilst at the same time sounding oddly contemporary, like if they came out now people would be raving about them. A fabulous performance.

After the gig I say hello to Gaye Advert and T.V. Smith- Gaye says she'd 'never have worn a skirt like that' and T.V.'s signing Adverts bootleg albums. Womble and Manny are at the bar- Manny used to book The Price at Bumbles in Acton back in the mid-'80's and Womble, incredibly, is still in The Decadent Few. Some people change and some people don't, but punk's not dead, and here's the proof. Don't let anybody ever tell you that it is.

Monday, November 05, 2007

'Punk's Not Dead?' part 1- The Stranglers/John Cooper Clarke

There's a lot of punk rock about at the moment don't you think? In my world this is of course a good thing though I guess not every one would agree... anyway since I'm going to see 3 'original' punk bands this week you can expect much pondering on the impact they've had on my little life, and no doubt the usual shamelessly romantic nonsense that I normally come out with given half a chance.

Last night saw The Stranglers return to The Roundhouse in London '30 years to the day' after their last appearance there. (I think- Burnel just said it was '30 years to the day' so I'm assuming that's what he was referring to; no doubt Big Andy can give me the full story?) I travelled up on the tube alone then met up with 'Fast' Tony Clarke (one for you Motorhead fans there!) and his mates in The Dublin Castle before meeting his brother Darrin and going to pick their tickets up from a rather shadowy figure called Marcus outside the venue- they'd bought them from 'an Internet ticket agency' which Tony rather worryingly referred to as 'Canvey Island Tickets' amid much talk of 'The Sweeney' and, astonishingly, revealing that when he paid for the tickets his money was converted to Hungarian currency...

Support came from the ever-wonderful John Cooper Clarke (I wonder if Tony and Darrin are related to him?!?) who, in my not-so-humble opinion, should be Poet Laureate. Kicking off with 'Hire Car', ('what's the difference between a Lada and a sheep? It's marginally less embarrassing being caught getting out of the back of a sheep') he tried in vain to rhyme 'Limerick' with 'turmeric', produced a haiku, which as I'm sure you all know is a 17-syllable oriental stanza, ('to-ex-press-your-self-in-sev-en-teen-syll-a-bles-is-ver-y-diff-ic') and finished with 'Crossing the Floor', a new poem about, you've guessed it, going on Breakfast T.V. to discuss your sex change operation. He encored with 'Twat'. Words like 'genius' don't cover it- the man should be made available on the National Health.

The first time I saw The Stranglers was pretty much exactly 30 years ago, in The Sports Hall at Brunel University in Uxbridge and they were terrific. Nowadays they've got Baz Warne on guitar and vocals- but close your eyes and they sound exactly as I remember them sounding all those years ago. The first song was 'No More Heroes'- Burnel's bass intro as mad as ever, Greenfield sipping his pint as he soloed- and almost total mayhem ensued immediately. It was all a bit much for Tony (clearly not as 'fast' as he might be!) who skulked off to the bar with the words 'too many men drinking and burping'.
Then, a problem- the keyboards were not behaving as they should. They carried on, but stopped 'Hanging Around' near the end, J.J. saying something like 'we're going off for 5 minutes while this gets sorted out'. They returned with the words 'this is a democracy- do you want us to start from the top of from where we got to?' Incredibly they started the set again- and, incredibly, the keyboards malfunctioned again. 'Don't worry' said J.J. who was clearly amused by the whole affair, 'it took us 5 hours to fix Dave's Hammond in New York once so this is nothing'. They went off, they returned- J.J. started 'No More Heroes again- but this time it was back to the set-list, with an audible sigh of relief from the tube passengers in the audience who were no doubt beginning to wonder just how late trains run on a Sunday... a devastating last section of the show ('Straighten Out', 'Something Better Change', 'Peaches' 'Go Buddy Go' etc) reminded me just how good a band they were, and indeed how good a band they still are. They were, as I say, terrific then- and they're terrific now. Let's hope it all comes out on DVD...

It's not always a good idea to re-visit the past- but is that what's really going here? I don't think so; both The Stranglers and J.C.C. have continued performing in one form or another for the last 30 years- so why do people always go on about 'nostalgia', or make fun of the fact that they're old, or say they should have stopped ages ago? It all sounded pretty good to me- and, as we all know, the customer is always right...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Wig wam bam

Time for another of our occasional excursions into another world- in this case Butley Priory in Suffolk. Richard's new-ish Chrysler PT Cruiser (his opening comment of 'we should be listening to ZZ Top' tells you all that you need to know) got him, Tracy and me down to the village of Butley in deepest Suffolk in no time but there's no sign of The Priory. There's a few houses, there's The Oyster Inn and there's absolutely no streetlights- but there's no people, no signposts and no mobile phone reception. Oh and we're running out of petrol. Panic! Eventually we get a phone to work- where would we be without them eh?- and Pete directs us to a crossroads a mile or so out of town (I use the word 'town' here very loosely; a better term might be 'settlement') where a very unofficial looking sign reads 'BUTLEY PRIORY- PRIVATE ROAD'. That'll be it.

'Ooh they've got tee-pees!' Tracy sounds excited, and with good reason because, however implausible it may seem, they have indeed got tee-pees. And we're playing in one of them. Excellent. It's a small stage but Pete assures us that it'll get bigger after they take the screen in front of it away; Tracy's worried that the light's will burn her legs- I set my gear up as quick as I can. Squirrel's got his son Joe with him, who he brings over to have a look at my new Baja Telecaster. Pity I've only got the old one with me. Doh! With the guests about to arrive in the tee-pee (there's a line I never thought I'd ever type!) we go indoors to our 'dressing room' which is actually the drawing room. There's a grand piano in the room next to us and the ceiling's about 40 feet high; Squirrel finds 'The Best of Child Care' on the bookshelf ('perhaps I should have read that one earlier') and they've given us some of those posh crisps that always hurt your teeth when you eat them- as Joe put it, 'there's never any ordinary peanuts at gigs like this are there?'. People are going outside for a smoke, or to try to get their mobile phones to work, and 'The X-Factor' is on the telly. Dave Land's arrives- he live in Norfolk and under-estimated the journey time; 'don't worry' says Richard, 'it's in a tent. It always runs late in a tent'. And it does- we're down for 2 sets starting at 8.30 with a 10 .30 curfew but that pretty soon becomes one set starting at 9 o'clock. And it's a good set- Pete's back as Jake after one of the shortest retirements in history, and him and Mike get things moving straight away. Halfway through the show the audience suddenly disappears- the fish and chip van's arrived. That's ok then. We even do an encore, a rarity at an event such as this. At the end people are asking if we have any business cards- yes, of course we do, rather a lot of them as it happens.

Time for some chips then....

Friday, November 02, 2007

The guitar's the star

Yesterday was All Saint's Day. Did you know that? I only do because the minister presiding over Paul Fox's funeral said that it was, although when he said it I found myself thinking something like 'oh yeah, of course it is'. There were over 300 of us crammed into and around the chapel at Breakspear Crematorium and what a strange lot we must have looked to a casual onlooker- family members next to mates from down the pub, punk rockers next to punk rock musicians, all wanting to say a last goodbye to Foxy. A few days earlier I'd received a call from the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth asking if I could write out the opening riff to 'Babylon's Burning' on music manuscript paper as Paul's wife Sharon wanted to have it printed on the outside of his coffin. I'd assumed that it would be transferred to computer and written out 'properly' (i.e. printed rather than handwritten) which left me rather surprised to say the least when I saw my scrawl emblazoned across the outside of his white coffin. I kept thinking about the times I saw him play and the times I played with him, the hours that I'd spent when learning to play trying to work out his solos on The Ruts records, the last conversation that I had with him where he thanked me for standing in for him at rehearsals and gigs back in the summer- and now my writing was all over his coffin. They carried it in to the sound of 'Bold as Love' by Jimi Hendrix; the minister said something like 'I hear that he was a bit of a wildman'- much to the amusement of many of the assembled multitude. There was talk of heaven, a better place where everything would be alright, and of sins committed here on Earth- then we all left to the sound of 'West One' by The Ruts. Lots of people cried and lots of people laughed as they remembered the man who had bought them all there an hour or so earlier; many were off to The Crown & Treaty to tell each other all about it. I'd like to have joined them (Segs from The Ruts asked me for directions!) but I had to go to Mansfield to play the guitar- but not just any guitar....

We arrived at The Palace Theatre just before 7 o'clock, after much swearing at the M1 and the Mansfield one-way system. With Shirley off parking the car I set up just in time to get changed for a 7.30 start. I'd decided to use my Stratocaster for the show- it used to belong to Paul so it seemed a good move. As we started 'Peter Gunn' I couldn't help but remember the way Paul would smile at me with the words 'how's my guitar?' I'd normally reply with something like 'my guitar's fine thank you' although had more recently taken to saying 'our guitar's fine thank you'. I usually use a white Telecaster so it was rather odd to look down and see a black Strat in it's place; Paul fitted a Schecter bridge sometime in the '80's, and gold hardware around the same time I think, he played it on Ruts recordings and on Dirty Strangers sessions with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, told me how much Mick Ralphs of Bad Company had liked it when he tried it... I don't play it as much as I should- then again sometimes I worry about taking it out of the case let alone out of the house. I played it at the 'Re:View' show back in June and it felt great then and it feels great now, and by the solo in 'She Caught The Katy' I'm wondering why I'd ever want to play any other guitar ever again. It's my guitar, it's Paul's guitar, it's our guitar.

Who said romance is dead? Cheers Paul.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Folk, blues and beyond

Just got in from an interesting evening...

Davy Graham is regularly described as a 'legend'- which I think roughly translates as 'didn't get paid as much as he should have, or as much as all those people who nicked his ideas'. Back in the day- early/mid '60's in case you were wondering- he released several albums that still get talked about in hushed tones among the acoustic guitar fraternity, and is regularly quoted as an influence by players as diverse as Bert Jansch and Jimmy Page. His best known composition 'Anji' has been recorded many times and is regularly used as music on T.V. (it's recently been the theme to the B.B.C. series 'Folk Britannia') and even your humble narrator has attempted to fingerpick his way through it with varying levels of success/competence on all too many occasions. Well-documented problems have meant that he's rarely been seen in public in recent years- so a chance to see him play was too good to miss. At our recent Burgess Hill gig I saw a poster for his show there the following evening- fortunately it also said he was playing in High Wycombe tonight...

First up, the excellently named John Smith. I hadn't seen his name before (if you see what I mean!) but now realise he's very much an up-and-coming name on the folk circuit. And it's easy to see why- an astounding player with a voice that a soul singer would be proud of, he employed a bewildering number of alternate tunings- I don't think he used standard tuning once- and coaxed some extraordinary sounds from his acoustic guitar, not least during 'Winter' where he played a drum beat, a bass line and harmonics with the guitar flat on his lap. Really. Oh and he did a cover version of 'No One Knows' by the Queens of the Stone Age. Definitely someone to keep an eye on, and worth seeing live if only for the looks on the faces of the guitarists in the audience.

After a few songs from manager/driver Mark Pavey (who was ok, but I wouldn't have liked to follow John Smith- thinking about it that's probably why Davy got him to go on!) it was time for the man himself. Dressed somewhat eccentrically but looking well he began on a nylon stung guitar, later switching to steel. He mixed classical music with traditional Irish jigs, sang blues, jazz and folk songs and he played pretty much how you'd expect a 67 year old Davy Graham to play i.e. occasionally excellently, mostly very well and sometimes not too good at all. The people behind us didn't seem too impressed, making sarcastic comments about what he might or might not have put into his arm before the show and eventually leaving before the end. I wonder how many lives they've changed, or how many musicians they've influenced, or how many times they've been called 'legendary'. Not too many I would say- they've probably never had an original thought in their lives, couldn't write a song or a piece of music if you put a gun to their bollocks (assuming they have any) and wouldn't know 'soul' if it shagged them up the arse sideways. Twice.

It's always the people who can't that think they know better than those who can isn't it?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

'Someone left the cake out in the rain...'

Time for another 3-in-a-row for myself and the Blues Brothers boys:-

Thursday's show was at The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Liverpool- a benefit night for the Merseyside Police Charitable Foundation (yes, I know- but I thought I'd let you do the punchlines this time). Myself and the long-suffering Shirley travelled up the day before so I could see some of my relatives- in the course of visiting my Uncle George and Auntie Joyce I was shown some photo's of my Grandad that I'd not seen before (he died in 1950) as well as a letter written by my Mum (strange- but great- to see her handwriting again).
The Crowne Plaza is part of a new development on The Princess Dock. Shirley's not too keen on tunnels but we made it through The Mersey Tunnel without too much drama before getting lost trying to find the venue; somebody once told me that Liverpool is officially the worst signposted city in Britain and I for one can't think of a place that's more difficult to find your way around. Still we got there eventually to find everyone all present and correct- it's Mario'n'Mike's first gig together as Jake'n'Elwood; Andy & Dave are on sax & trumpet, Steve's on keys, Keith's on drums and Squirrel's on bass. After a quick sound check it's off upstairs to our room which was previously occupied by KK Leisure- I misread this as 'KKK Leisure' which made for an interesting thought... Andy & Dave are swapping stories about the legendary drummer Phil Seaman (hilarious!) and there's a few set-list changes to discuss before some food- then it's 'hurry-up-and-wait' time as usual. The Everton match is on T.V.- strange as it's happening about 2 miles from where we are- and there's some very nice sporting memorabilia in the charity auction. Eventually we get our turn- and the dance floor's busy more or less from the word go, a rare occurrence at an event such as this. There's a few mad moment's on stage with at least one sax solo going missing but all thing's considered it's a good show. Back upstairs afterwards and Dave's writing with a Merseyside Police pen that he's 'acquired'- again I'll let you do the punchlines...

Friday and we're at The Pizza Express in Maidstone. It's a l-o-n-g haul down the country with Shirl and myself managing to avoid too many hold-ups until we reach the dreaded M25; we find 'Smooth Radio' just as the traffic report comes on- 'shall I just say that it's Friday and the M25's busy?' And he's right, it's a virtual standstill. Through the magic of mobile phones I keep the band informed of my lack of progress; a surreal moment occurs as 'MacArthur Park' by Richard Harris (one of the great 'mad' recordings of all time methinks) plays on the radio and the bumper sticker on the car next to us reads 'I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe'. I know the feeling... we arrive just in time to see the rest of the band finishing their pizza's. I thought the stage had been extended but they've just changed the position of the piano giving the rest of us more room. It's a great gig with the rather peculiar site of people dancing whilst eating and Mario singing the intro to 'Do You Love Me?' to the girl on the front table. Excellent.

Saturday's a shop day- usual madness!- before heading off to Brentwood for the third of the three. It's a 30th wedding anniversary party in a very big tent in the very big garden of a very big house- Adam replaces Dave on trumpet and a very nervous Neil replaces Mario in the hat'n'glasses. He's done duo/playback shows with Mike but not played with the band before. Again it's 'hurry-up-and-wait' time with the projected 10 o'clock start time only ever a rough guide- we go on around 10.30 to initial bemusement (I believe that the audience had been kept in the dark as to what type of band we were) then much dancing and somewhat drunken merriment. I used my Baja Telecaster for the first time (I'd forgotten to use it at the other 2 shows!) and it sounded and felt as great as I hoped it would. But the real revelation was Neil- quiet to the point of withdrawal before the show, on stage he became Jake. Superb.

We got home sometime after 2 o'clock- and then, it being the end of British Summer Time, put the clock back by one hour. I woke up today feeling almost jet-lagged. Strange what a difference an hour makes isn't it? I mean, it can't be anything to do with the previous few days- can it?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Raise your glasses

There's not been much blogging time of late- Simon's been off sick from the shop which means your humble narrator has been pretty much running the place since we returned from our Dorset diversion. It was a quiet-ish week which meant that there was time to sort the shop out a bit, though today has more than made up for it with people everywhere and guitars and drum kits in great demand. We've also had C.C.T.V. fitted which means I now spend far too much time thinking 'who's that fat bald bloke on the screen?' when clearly I should actually be thinking 'I'd better lose some weight and get a haircut'. Well, something like that anyway.

Last Friday saw a highly enjoyable gig with The Pistols at The Crown in Hornchurch. I'd just got my Peavey Classic 30 combo back from Brent the amplifier repair man who had, in his words, changed a few things round' on it. There wasn't much wrong with it to begin with but now it sounds fantastic. It must have been a good show as I cut my right hand, bruised my right arm and woke up the next morning with a stiff neck. Excellent.

Saturday night myself and the long-suffering Shirley went to see The Police at Wembley Arena. I last saw them play in, I think, 1979 when they were terrific- just the songs from the first 2 albums (i.e. before they got too self-important) and a great, swaggering performance delivered with the ease that all-conquering heroes no doubt always have (I don't meet too many of them so I'm not sure). And they were great on Saturday too, though I suspect not quite as great as they themselves thought they were. It seemed as though every other song was a hit single- it probably was if you think about it- and for every bit of nonsense ('De do do do, De da da da' etc) there was a classic or 2 ('Invisible Sun', 'King of Pain' etc) to remind you that, for all his posturing and preening Sting (should that be Mr. Sting?) is a very good songwriter indeed, although again probably not as good as he thinks he is...

Sunday on the other hand saw a show that couldn't have been more different from Saturday's- an afternoon gig in the bar at Windsor Arts Centre featuring John Hegley & The Popticians and Attila the Stockbroker, the latter celebrating his 50th birthday. Attila was as great as ever, alternately angry and hilarious with material on subjects as current as the recent postal strike as well as stuff from the early '80's. He'd bought his own real ale ('it was left over from the party and I can't let it go to waste') and the venue provided cake for everyone. Great stuff.
I used to see John Hegley regularly at the much-missed 'New Variety' nights at Brunel University, sometimes with The Popticians, sometimes with The Brown Paper Bag Brothers and sometimes on his own; I also used to see him at Price gigs- strange as it may seem my first conversation with him was when he came up to me at The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town to say how much he'd enjoyed our performance. Anyone who's seen him will know how well he, for want of a better term, creates his own world in a performance- in the case of The Popticians this involves songs about wearing glasses, losing your glasses, cleaning your glasses- get the idea? This particular show included me as 'section C'- he divides the audience into 2 sections (A & B) and then picks out one person to be 'C', in this case me. Normally I hate things like that in shows but it was impossible not to join in, particularly when my bit involved me saying the words-
'Cor blimey John, they look exactly like the glasses you were wearing at the beginning of the song, whoopla whoopla'
I also had to shout the word 'amoeba' at the end of a song called 'Amoeba'. How cool is that?
The encore was a suitably chaotic version of The Clash's 'Bankrobber'- it was, somewhat peculiarly, 'Joe Strummer Week' at the Arts Centre. Best Sunday afternoon I've had in ages.

The day ended with myself and East drinking too much and reminiscing about times spent with Paul Fox. Under the circumstances, how else could it have ended?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Paul Fox

Sometime around 3 o'clock this morning, Paul Fox died.

Paul used to play the guitar. I play the guitar. He's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

Paul played in a lot of bands, but I first saw him playing in a band called The Ruts. They were amazing, and he was amazing. Have a listen to 'The Crack'- it's the only 'real' Ruts album. They sound amazing, and he sounds amazing. I bought it when it came out, it's got a sticker on it that says 'PAY NO MORE THAN £3.99'. I bought the next Ruts album too, it's called 'Grin and Bear It' and my copy's got a similar sticker on it; it's not quite as good as 'The Crack' but a lot of that has to do with the fact that their singer Malcolm Owen had just died. I'm listening to 'The Crack' at the moment- I've just got to the bit where 'You're Just A...' turns into 'It Was Cold'. That's one of my favourite bits. It sounded great when I first heard it, and it sounds great now. I still love the guitar playing on it, but I always loved Paul's guitar playing. I saw him play so many times- I think that the only guitarist that I've seen more often than him is Wilko Johnson. I can still go to see Wilko play, but I can't go to see Paul play anymore. I remember literally running home after seeing The Ruts play, desperate to get to my guitar, running up the stairs, picking it up, trying to remember where his fingers had been on the guitar neck and trying to put mine in the same places in the vague hope that the same sounds would come out. Sometimes it would sound a bit like it, sometimes a lot like it- but never exactly like it. I'm still trying to manage that.

Nearly 10 years after I bought The Ruts albums Paul produced a single for The Price. We had just had 2 tracks released on a compilation album called 'Underground Rockers Volume 2' and as a result we were invited to record a single for Released Emotions Records. It remains one of our most, for want of a better word, 'praised' recordings- and rightly so, because it's one of our very best. I remember so much of the recording sessions for it, and not all my memories are good- check out The Price website and my 'never meet your heroes' comment. But real life is like that isn't it? Then again I have so many great memories of Paul, because he's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

Earlier this year I played in The Ruts. Sort of. If you'd like to you can go back and read about it- it happened in July and August. It was mostly great, sometimes amazing and often sad, upsetting, poignant- somewhere between a schoolboy dream come true and an adult nightmare made all too real. As a schoolboy I'd played along with the records so many times, searching for the notes, searching for the sound... as an adult I searched for myself. Again. I search for myself all the time; I'm in the music somewhere, that much I do know. The Price should be playing a couple of gigs towards the end of this year, and I've no doubt we'll play a Ruts song for Paul; earlier this year we played a Mega City Four song for Wiz- is this what people are referring to when they say sentences that begin with the words 'well, when you get to my age...'? I feel like I'm playing songs for my dead mates, and that makes me sad- but I also feel like I'm playing songs that have changed my life, by people who I was lucky enough to meet and to call my friends. That's the best way to be thinking at the moment- don't you think?

The first time that I can remember Paul seeing me play was at Brunel University in Uxbridge; it was a very early Price gig and we were supporting his then band Choir Militia (though they may not have been called that at the time?). Paul was the first person that I spoke to after the show; he came up to me with the words 'you didn't tell me that you could play like that!'. I remember saying something like 'I'm glad you liked it- do you want your riffs back?' He laughed his head off, and so did I. He had a great laugh, which I heard often- but I can't hear it anymore now. Wilko Johnson's got a great laugh too, but I haven't seen him play for ages. I must go to see him play again soon. Wilko's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do, and I won't be able to see him play forever- which is sad. Then again, at least I can go to see him again- I can't go to see Paul play again, and that's sadder, much sadder, because Paul's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

A lot of people used to call Paul 'Foxy'. I never did- I always thought it sounded too hippy-ish. I wish I could call him it now. Maybe I didn't know him well enough to call him that; maybe I knew him too well- I don't know. But what I do know is that Paul was one of the best guitarists that I'll ever see and one of the, for want of a better word, 'nicest' men that I'll ever meet. That doesn't mean that I always liked some of the things that he did or some of the people around him, or that he always liked me or what I did or didn't do- but, as I say, real life is like that, and real people make other real people feel the way that I feel at the moment. Well I think they do, anyway.

Paul used to play the guitar. I play the guitar. He's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

All change

Since my last burst of blogging I've managed that rarest of things- some time off. With Simon holding the Pro Music fort (good man) myself and her-Shirley-ness ran away to Dorset for an excellent few days of, well, not much really. And what a splendid time we had, with the weather unusually good for the time of year and the phone ringing so infrequently that I was beginning to wonder if it was working. I spent much of the only rainy day (Tuesday in case you were wondering) attempting to record some guitars onto my new-ish laptop with, I'm pleased to report, no little success especially considering that I still don't feel as though I know what I'm doing. Then again since I recorded some stuff I suppose I must know what I'm doing...?

Back to work last night though, with The Chicago Blues Brothers at The Martletts Centre in Burgess Hill. Myself and Shirley got there a bit early which turned out to be fortuitous since I found the local CD shop 'Round Sound' which turned out to stock rather a lot of promo CD's- you know, the one's labels send out to radio stations, journalists and the like. These are often very hard to get hold of especially at a reasonable price so I was very pleased to find albums by the likes of Glen Matlock, Steve Diggle and, incredibly, David Bowie- East is a Bowie collector and is regularly shelling out his hard-earned cash on all manner of Jones-related peculiarities. I picked him up the 30th anniversary edition of 'Diamond Dogs' for £3.99 which, judging by his reaction of 'that's 30 or 40 quid normally', was a good move. Best of from my point of view was finding the album by Alice Martineau who I played guitar for briefly a few years ago and who sadly has since died (she suffered from Cystic Fibrosis). I knew she released an album but have never been able to find it anywhere so I'm looking forward to playing that later, especially since it includes a few songs that I remember from my time with her.

Meanwhile everyone's arrived and sound check goes without too many problems although my Telecaster's playing up a bit- new machineheads needed soon methinks and, I fear, a re-fret at sometime in the not-too-distant future. I was going to use my recently-acquired Baja Telecaster but would like to play it a bit first to get used to it (I'm a artist dah-ling!); in the event my old Tele held up pretty well with only the odd moment of tuning madness here and there. It was a good show with Keith getting better and better on drums and the audience well into it pretty much from the first number. It was only as we were packing the gear away after the show that Pete said something like 'that's my last theatre show'- and I realised that he was right. Our next one's in Mansfield next month, by which time Mario is replacing him as Jake, though he'll be on stage playing other characters as well as taking a more active role in booking and promoting the show. It's the end of an era- I first met Pete sometime in the early '80's when he promoted my then-band The Others at the now-demolished Roxborough pub in Harrow (it's not our fault they knocked it down, honest!) and I called him 'Mr. Showbiz', and I for one can't imagine him not being on stage in one way or another. I said to him something like 'have you booked the comeback tour yet?'

Did he really say 'I'll be back for Japan next year'?!?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A quick one

Saturday in the shop and it's busy- very busy indeed, to such an extent that Paul the guv'nor and myself don't get lunch until 4 o'clock, by which time I'm beginning to see colours in front of my eyes (yeah, I know, over-dramatic as ever). People are mentioning Christmas rather a lot, which means it's going to get busier, no doubt resulting in lunch being phased out completely and replaced by a constant low intensity intake of crisps and chocolate throughout the day.

Sounds quite good actually doesn't it?

In the meantime there's the third gig of 3-in-a-row to contend with- this one's a 60th birthday party at The Hilton Hotel at Avisford Park near Arundel. It's been a while since we've done a threesome (oo-er missus etc) and it's been really great to play so much, though inevitably rather tiring. Shirley and myself wind our way down there, arriving around 7.30 to find everything set up in The Grand Hall and the band in The Board Room mulling over set-lists; Richard is elsewhere so Ian's on sax. We've got vouchers for free drinks (hurrah!) and spirits are high with everyone saying how much they've enjoyed the last couple of shows. Somehow we end up trying to think of songs with a golfing theme (rock'n'roll eh?)- 'Albatross', ''Knock on Wood', 'The Birdie Song' and, more peculiarly, 'Fairway to Heaven'...
Meanwhile in The Grand Hall birthday boy Pete makes a speech- very showbizzy, walking amongst his people, he's done that sort of thing before methinks- before him and his 2 sons borrow our gear for a version of 'Reeling and Rocking' which goes down a storm. and then we're on- 'Peter Gunn' kicks things off to general audience bemusement though by the time the Brothers are on for 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love' there are people dancing at the back of the hall, and by 'Flip Flop and Fly' they're dancing at the front. And then, in the middle of our set, a surreal moment as we're joined onstage by children's T.V. presenter Floella Benjamin (I'm not making this up, honest!) who sings 'Midnight Hour' with us. Really. She's a friend of the family apparently... we finish with the fastest 'Mustang Sally' I've ever played- Keith had been playing well but somehow got the tempo all wrong for this one! It finishes to the mild applause that these sort of shows always seem to end on- the D.J. asks me if we're doing an encore- my reply's something like 'no one's clapping'. And they're not. But it's been a good night, and indeed a good three days and nights. There's another threesome (cue 'Carry On Blues Brothers' gags etc) at the end of the month- that's something to look forward too.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who are you?

Early Friday afternoon in the shop and I'm flagging a bit- we got back to South Mimms service station to meet up with the long-suffering Shirley around 2a.m. which meant a rather bleary start to the day. Still I've got the wonderful new Ramones dvd 'It's Alive!' on the player and have had just about enough coffee to contemplate re-stringing an acoustic guitar that's been bought in for a service when in walks Tom the Yamaha rep. He looks rather smarter than usual, in a suit rather than a Yamaha t-shirt but is as friendly as ever, looking around the shop while I serve a customer or 2. He remarks that we've got 'plenty of our stuff over in the corner there'- which confuses me a bit since there's not a piece of Yamaha equipment in sight. I decide I'm more tired than I thought I was- until, eventually and amid much amusement, he says something like 'I don't work for Yamaha anymore, I work for Stentor now'. Ah, that explains it. Sort of. It also goes some way towards completing the jigsaw which began earlier in the week when Nick the Stentor rep came in- except he wasn't Nick from Stentor anymore, he's now Nick from GoTo Guitars. Ok-all that remains now is to meet someone in a Yamaha t-shirt and equilibrium is re-established. I think.

Anyway after the shop it's off to The Radlett Centre in (you've guessed it!) Radlett for another BB's gig. Pete's got his wife Jayne along to help with his costume changes and, with Tracy joining us on vocals, it's the 'full' show with even more songs for Keith to contend with. I missed the sound check so set up my guitar and amp in record time before myself and Shirley wandered off down the High Street in search of food. Back at the theatre and it's time for a drink before the show- in the bar there's poster for an upcoming T.Rextasy show; I wonder how John Skelton's getting on with them, I must give him a call this week... and there's a visit from former band driver/fixer-upper Bob Newcombe who I hadn't seen since, I think, last year at our pre-Christmas show in Rochford town centre. Great to see him- it reminded me how easy it is to be lazy and not stay in touch with people. The show goes well with Tracy's songs going down almost as well as Pete's increasingly over-the-top characters (I'll not say too much here in case you come along to a show- suffice to that there is an amount of female impersonation involved...).

Time to go time and we're in one of the dressing rooms with Tracy who we're giving a lift home. She finds, of all things, a pair of underpants on the floor in the corner. In a moment of madness she picks them up- and some of those little silverfish run out. Goodnight Radlett.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Sell out

Do you remember the Monty Python albums? No I don't really either but I do remember the lads a few years ahead of me at school liking them and their younger brothers (i.e. the ones in my class) reciting sections of them to each other in the playground amid much hilarity particularly at the sweary bits. So thinking about it I suppose I do remember them in a roundabout sort of way?
I mention this only because last night my Chicago Blues Brothers buddies and myself performed at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane (cue cries of 'it is an ex-parrot!', 'say no more!' and 'Albatross!' from East among others)- except this one isn't in London, it's in Wakefield. And what a fabulous venue it is, similar to The Theatre Royal in Windsor (a bit of a pattern emerging here don't you think?) with 2 balconies and a real 'from another time' feel about it.
After helping Stuart the guitar repair man at 'We Will Rock You' I arrived at King's Cross station to find the departure board not working and chaos reigning as a result. After managing to stop myself laughing out loud at the fact that it was 'Passenger Charter Week' I eventually found the 1.10p.m. train to Leeds and, with the help of the latest edition of 'Guitar & Bass' magazine found myself in Wakefield Westgate station in no time (it actually took about 2 hours). The theatre's just around the corner from the station so I dropped my guitar and bag off there and, after saying hello to Phil the P.A. man and Steve the keyboard player, went for a walk around town. The rest of the band arrived around 4.15- Pete & Mike as Jake & Elwood, Dave on trumpet, John/Squirrel on bass and, on his first theatre date with us, Keith on drums. Richard the sax was attending a funeral locally so he followed along later. After a longer sound check than normal (running through endings etc for Keith and, in some cases, the rest of us) I went in search of food and found myself in the theatre cafe where there was a large amount of publicity for 'All the Fun of the Fight', an upcoming play set in the time of the miner's strike in the mid '80's. Wakefield was of course one of the areas most effected and, judging by the accounts that I read on the walls of the theatre, feelings still run high- amid talk of 'scabs' and 'being starved back to work', a parody of the 23rd psalm ended with the lines-

'I am glad I am British, and I'm glad I am free
But I wish I was a dog, and Thatcher was a tree'

I couldn't have put it better myself... and it was a great show with Keith coping very well- a 2-and-a-bit hour show has a lot of songs- and an audience reaction that hopefully means that we'll return at some point next year. Excellent.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Picture this

Here are a couple of pictures from our recent Zurich jaunt-
on the left, your humble narrator in sound check mode- or is it? What on Earth am I doing with my hands?!? Note the ill-fated attempt at looking cool by wearing a Ramones t-shirt and the open guitar case in the bottom left hand corner of the picture- a sure sign that I spotted John the drummer walking by with a camera in his hand and opportunistically grabbed my guitar in the hope that he had nothing better to take a picture of. Sad eh? And on the right and courtesy of Ronnie the promoter, a shot from the show. Looks bizarre doesn't it?- Raiders of the Lost Ark crossed with the Blues Brothers. That's me on the left- sometimes this is a really strange job...

If that wasn't enough, there are moving pictures too- the excellent Mike 'Elwood' Hyde has uploaded (I believe that's the technical term) a few songs from last month's Windsor gig onto our MySpace page. If you want to cut out the middle man (as it were) you can click here-

-for the chance to hear us attempt to emulate everybody's favourite Memphis Group...