Sunday, January 28, 2007

Can you hear me at the back?

It's one o'clock on Saturday afternoon. To my left, a group of blind people; to my right, a tank manned by the British Army no less. All I can hear is 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. I really must stop drinking...

It may sound as though I'm in a surreal film but actually I'm on Watford High Street. The blind people are collecting money for Talking Newspapers; the Army are showing the local children what fun it could be to drive a tank, and The Beatles... well, to be honest I'm still not sure where that was coming from. Still it made an interesting aural backdrop to an extraordinary scene. And, as John Lennon himself sang later on the same album, 'what a scene'- people who lack a sense that most of us take for granted out collecting small change in front of a piece of military equipment that probably cost more than those blind people or their charity will benefit from this and other street collections all year. 'A Day in the Life' indeed.

I'm on my way to Richard's house to meet the rest of the lads in Joe's van. From there it's up the M1 to Toddington to hook up with Dave the trumpet (he lives in Norfolk so it's a good place to rendevouz) and then it's off to Birmingham for my first gig of the year. At last! It seems we're not playing at the N.I.A. (shame!) but are actually at the International Conference Centre for a corporate event marking the 50th anniversary of the Seddon company. Oh well... Pete's travelling up separately in his car with Michael, newly rejoined keyboard man Ian and lighting man Dave Bunting who's going to be working with us on our theatre shows later this year. We're up to Toddington in no time so take a few minutes to pick up some food and drink for the rest of our journey before heading back to the M1. On the way through the village I can't help noticing the best pub name I've seen for a while- The Sow and Pigs- and that there's a poster outside The Griffen pub proclaiming 'Tonight- ELVIS - BY REQUEST'

So that's where he's been all these years. And we all thought he was down the chipshop.

By 3.30p.m. we're in Hall 3 of the I.C.C. and it's big. Very big. Enormous in fact. There's a impressively large stage, a similarly proportioned dancefloor and at least 30 or so tables as well as a casino area and- worryingly from our point of view- 3 large bars right at the back of the hall. It's going to be hard to get them away from there...
In the meantime we're setting up, Phil the soundman's miking up, Dave's lighting up (this is all starting to sound a bit weird don't you think?) and Pete's taking pictures of us all for our upcoming website. All good fun as is the soundcheck itself which begins for me with a discussion with John the drummer about going to see Deep Purple as well as attempting to play some of their songs one day (off to practice now!) and ends with a riotous rock'n'roll jam. Excellent- let's hope the gig's as much fun.
From the dressing room it's up a couple of flights of stairs to The Mess Room (really!) for some food- and what fine food it is. I had Vegetable Lasagne, everyone else had Chicken Curry and we all agreed it was some of the best food we'd ever had at a venue. Nice waitresses too... then it's 'hurry up and wait' time. We eventually go on around 10.15 and play 'till midnight- a long show. And, you've guessed it, most of the audience are about 100 yards away in the bars. But it's a good show and we even get a fair bit of dancing by the end; Pete manages to get a girl on stage for 'Shake your Tailfeather'- which she did, amongst other things.

2.30a.m., we're back in Toddington and The Sow and Pigs appears to be still serving. I guess Elvis popped over the road for a drink after his gig.

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