Monday, February 26, 2007

And so another week begins...

...with a visit to the dentist, this time to have a filling replaced. Well, as she said, now we've got rid of the bad ones we've got to look after what you've got left (or words to that effect), which makes sense I guess. I'll spare you the usual ranting and raving- suffice to say the only bright moment occured when she said 'I'm just going to push down on you now' which I couldn't help thinking would have been rather a nice thing to have heard her say under different circumstances (sorry Shirl!) but in this case most definately wasn't. And she's got a convertable Mercedes with a personalised number plate. I've gone right off her now.

Made it to the shop to find Colin waiting outside. His amplifier's gone wrong and he's left it to be repaired. He's only got one leg. Stop moaning Leigh.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Blues for the blues?

Ever seen The Hamsters? They're good aren't they? Great players. Reliable. Consistant. Hard working. A good band don't you think?
I saw them at The Half Moon in Putney last night. They were good. They normally are. They played some Jimi Hendrix, some ZZ Top, bluesy rock stuff, rockabilly and country-type songs; they finished with 'Sharp Dressed Man' with the guitars that light up and the bit where they walk through the audience playing then all swap their instruments over. You know the bit. So do they. It's good isn't it? It normally is.
I really should love The Hamsters, but I don't. I like them. Sometimes I really like them, sometimes they're really good and when they are I always think to myself something along the lines of 'I really like The Hamsters, they're really good'. But I never find myself thinking 'I really love The Hamsters, they're really great'. I nearly do, but not quite. Weird isn't it?- mostly because I can never quite work out what it is about them that stops me from loving them, or at least liking them even more than I do. Slim's a fine guitarist and an excellent singer; Zsa Zsa and Otis are as tight a rhythm section as you'll ever find anywhere, and they've got silly names too which is even better if you think about it. It's all good isn't it? And I went with my mate Dave Bateman who's mates with them so I met 'em and they all seem like really nice chaps which is good too. They played 'Isabella' and 'Stone Free', Hendrix classics overlooked by most bands claiming to be Jimi tributes and they played versions of 'Treat a Dog' and 'Wanna make love to you' that are as good as any that I've ever heard. And- maybe most importantly of all from my point of view- they've kept gigging when so many others have given up playing and taken up moaning instead.
So maybe The Hamsters are great after all- because it was a great show full of great songs brilliantly performed to an audience that all went home happy. And maybe I shouldn't mention the fact that the most memorable moment of my evening was seeing 'The Marc Bolan Tree' for the first time.

But I have mentioned it. Because it was.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday on my mind

The end of another week- I still can't hear properly but plenty's happening...

Monday was a busy day in the shop with plenty of things sold; Tuesday started quietly but took a rather interesting turn when 3 pallets containing a total of 25 boxes were delivered from EMD music around lunchtime. This plunged the day into almost total chaos, particularly when 4 guitars arrived from Yamaha which made the one from Jackson that arrived while I was unloading the EMD stuff look almost pathetic. By the time everything was in the shop there was just about room for me and definately no room for any customers- who obviously then began arriving in what felt like hundreds but was actually 2's and 3's. By the end of the day I'd almost cleared a path from the door to the counter, though the word 'almost' is very significant here. I phoned Karn the manager to warn him of his impending doom when he arrived the next morning, and then went home to mentally prepare for Wednesday...

...which was my dad's 75th birthday. Any of you who have met him will no doubt agree with me when I say that he can politely be described as 'a character'; any of you who haven't will either have to take my word for it or brave a meeting with him for yourself. Myself and Shirley took him and Jenny to Duxford Air Museum for the day- we'd managed to keep our destination secret from him which just meant he spent the entire journey there reading out every road sign and wondering if that was where we were going. Once there he spent most of the day screaming on about British engineers being the best in the World, how America did nothing in the war, how we should have flattened Germany and much much more besides. I think he enjoyed himself though I'm not sure which one of us felt older by the end of the day.

Thurday it was back up to 'We Will Rock You' with Stuart who began by presenting me with a set of tools and then put on his hat and coat and disappeared off to Denmark Street to buy some spares. Fortunately I think I remembered everything that I needed to remember and by the time Stuart returned (carrying 2 cups of takeaway coffee and with the comment 'by the way, the first rule of theatre is no drinks on stage.') I was well into my fourth re-string. After a quick visit to the pub opposite it was back to the shop to give Karn a hand with unpacking the aforementioned deliveries before returning home to Shirley for something to eat and then stumbling down the pub to meet East to discuss The Price's 2007 campaign. A busy day.

I spent most of this morning in the shop filing a top nut down so that it would fit onto a Yamaha electro-acoustic that had come in for repair- a time consuming, fiddly job which I eventually finished around 2pm. Several customers later I was just thinking that I'd got away with it when, you've guessed it, a delivery of 10 Fender acoustic guitars arrived, followed by 10 boxes of Alesis monitor speakers.

Where are we going to put them? And- maybe more importantly- didn't I used to play the guitar for a living?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ear guitar

I can't hear out of my left ear. Well I can, but not much. It's full of wax. Well, to be pedantic, I guess it's not 'full' of wax or I wouldn't be able to hear anything- but there's a lot in there. I normally stand on the right of the stage when playing with the Blues Bros. show which means my left ear gets more of the band than my right one so I often get wax in it. Just as well really as I'd probably have blown a big hole in my eardrum without it. So normally wax is my friend- but not at the moment. This made for an amusing day in the shop yesterday with me mis-hearing everything from people's names to which strings they wanted and beyond.
A good time then for a gig with a Sex Pistols tribute band. Or is it? At least one shop visitor told me to leave my guitar tuner at home as I wouldn't need it- I said something like 'actually there's aren't any out of tune notes on the Pistols album so I probably will need it' when I really wanted to say was much nastier (I'll leave you to think about what it might have been but I'm fairly sure the words 'useless hippie' would have appeared somewhere along the line). That's a problem when you work with the general public. I'm sure I've bitten a big hole in my tongue.
Bedford Civic Theatre took a bit of finding. With Shirley at the wheel and me on the mobile phone we got there in the end, spotting Pistols singer Paul before he spotted us and arriving just in time for a soundcheck. I set my guitar and amp up, played a few chords- and had to ask if (a) anyone could hear it and (b) if it sounded ok. Not the best questions to be asking. We ran through 'Substitute' which to me sounded very strange- distant, almost crackly- but to everyone else in the band sounded fine. I guess that in a situation like this all you can do is trust other people's judgement which is for me is far from ideal. Still The Pistols are an excellent bunch- Toby's on drums and Tim's in Sid's shoes with the aforementioned Paul as Uncle Johnny- as are the support band The Ramblers who sport impressive quiffs and are annoyingly young. After checking set times- we're on at 9.30- it's off for a pizza and a walk around town. There are some very underdressed people around- either that or I just feel the cold more these days.
Back at the venue The Ramblers are in full swing- sometime in the mid-'80's they would have been described as 'cowpunk' by Sounds magazine, now they're probably on MySpace with no need to court journalistic interest. Their mates are down the front dancing and heckling the band members by name, unwittingly adding to their 15 minutes of playground fame. I go to our dressing room and see a setlist for the first time- we're starting with 'Holidays in the Sun', finishing with 'Anarchy in the U.K.' and in between times playing some of the greatest rock songs ever created. And, it must be said, at least one of the worst. Does anyone with a brain really like 'Belsen was a Gas'?
Suddenly Tim looks like Sid, Paul's looking Rotten and we're off- the second song's 'I Wanna Be Me and tonight Matthew I am Steve Jones. I found myself feeling oddly awkward before the show, suddenly doubting myself, wondering if I could do it despite the fact that I've been playing the songs at home since they came out and had played with The Pistols before- but on stage it all seemed to fall into place and I enjoyed every minute of it, even when the idiot who'd been down the front pointing at his P.I.L. t-shirt all night got on stage and just stood there (aren't drugs great eh?). The audience seemed to me to react exactly as I'd imagine they would have sometime in '76- initially seeming almost shellshocked, then polarised- those who 'got it' got it and those who 'didn't' didn't. They'll have been the ones throwing beer then. We encored with 'My Way' with Paul on bass and Tim in a white tuxedo jacket with a bootprint on the back. As we left the stage for the final time a full pint missed us by miles. What a waste. Still, rock'n'roll don't mind.

I wonder what we sounded like- after all it's no good asking me is it?

Title from a conversation with John King and Eastberg. Thanks lads.

Friday, February 16, 2007

We will wreck you

I had a day off from the shop yesterday which started at, you've guessed it, the dentist. And, you've guessed it, they've managed to find something else that needs doing. Expect more ranting on the subject after I've had a filling replaced on the Monday after next. You have been warned.

On to bigger and better things. A good mate of mine is the one and only Stuart Monks, guitar repair man extraordinare and all round good bloke. Sadly Stu has had a rough time of late, with major surgery for cancer dominating the last year-and-a-bit; incredibly he's continued to work, go down the pub, go out to see bands- pretty much everything that he used to do 'before'. His guitar related work includes maintaining all the instruments being used at the popular West End show 'We Will Rock You'; with this in mind he invited me to join him at The Dominion Theatre on London's Tottenham Court Road to 'see how it's done' as he's due to go into hospital next week for an exploratory operation and might need some help with the work over the upcoming weeks. I do a fair bit of guitar maintainance at the shop these days and have probably picked up more than I realise over the years from talking to and watching people like Stu, but this is the big league- a show that generates over 1 million pounds a week and whose principal guitarists are Alan Darby (he's played with Eric Clapton among others) and Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash, Tina Turner etc). I spend the tube journey up there reading about The Sex Pistols and wondering if I'm up to this; then at Oxford Circus I hear a busker singing an Oasis song. As I walk around the corner I can see him- he's got part of his right arm missing, what's left is just long enough for him to scrub at the strings as he sings a desperate 'Cast No Shadow' as people hurry past him with their heads down as people always do when they think it could cost them a few pence. They're pushing past me as I'm watching him, he's doing 'Morning Glory' now- I give him a bit of change and a thumbs-up, he looks surprised but almost smiles at me anyway. As I get on the train I can still hear him singing 'need a little time to wake up'- and I'm feeling guilty about worrying about what I'm about to do. Funny how things work out sometimes isn't it?

10 minutes later and I'm surrounded by electric guitars, all of which bear a striking resemblance to Brian May's 'Red Special'. Stu shows me what to do- take off the old strings, clean and oil the fingerboard, fit new strings, tune 'em up, stretch 'em, tune 'em up again... in no time I'm on the production line while he's replacing a volume control in one that's already been 'done'. There's batteries to change, leads to check- and we've got to be finished by 1-ish because Stu's got to be at John Henry's rehearsal room off the Caledonian Road for some more re-stringing. I make some scribbly notes (he works quickly!) which I looked at for the first time this morning; they appear to have been written in Martian- hopefully I'll have translated these by the time I'm up there next.

John Henry's isn't a rehearsal room or rooms, it's a 'complex'- which basically means that it's big and famous people go there. We meet Adam Goldsmith outside- Stu's there to work on his guitars, he's there rehearsing for some upcoming shows with Russell Watson. We get his guitars and make a start. Stu shows me how he re-strings classical guitars- a notoriously tricky job which he makes look worryingly easy. More notes then time for a cup of coffee; the walls of the canteen are covered in signed photos, Kylie Minogue next to Robbie Williams next to Mick Jagger, a odd sight as you order a cheese roll. As I'm leaving with our refreshments I walk past a guy who I think used to be in Busted. He seems happy enough... back downstairs with Stu and I remark that 'there's too many dead people on the walls'- a reference to photos of Cozy Powell, Dusty Springfield, Jimmy McCulloch- Stu looks closer and spots Charlie Tumahai, former bassist with Be-Bop Deluxe, the first band he ever worked with, another casualty. Sad.

Back in the pub near home I rather sheepishly admit that I never liked Queen. It turns out that Stu didn't either.

Thanks to Steve 'Eastberg' Holt for providing both the title of this posting and the soon-to-be-written stage show based on the music of The Price. Well, the first one anyway...

Monday, February 12, 2007

I've got a what?!?

It's Monday and I'm in the shop. Again. We've had no gigs since the Leeds show (this is often a quiet time of year) so I was in here all last week- actually I did 6 days in a row, Monday to Friday. And now, after a mere one day off I'm here again. This has prompted a terrible realisation on my part- that (gulp!) I've got a job.

How the hell did that happen?!?

Still it's not all bad news. I've got a gig in Bedford this coming Saturday, depping in The Pistols. To this end I spent a good amount of yesterday afternoon roaring through Jones's riffs on my Les Paul Standard played through my latest toy, a Peavey Classic 30 combo. Shirley was in the other room doing some computing; she told me afterwards that she'd heard me playing and thought she'd better close the door- but it was already closed. So she thought she'd go and close the door of the room that I was in- you've guessed it, that one was already closed too.

I'm really looking forward to Saturday.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

12 bar club blues

On the 7th of February 2001, at 2.50 in the afternoon, my mum died. She'd had motor neurone disease for around 18 years. I was upstairs teaching guitar when one of her home carers called me down. I got there just in time to see her go.

It's the worst thing I've ever seen. I hope you never see anything as bad.

Yesterday it was the 6th anniversary of her death. I was in the shop, a busy day with plenty to do. I had The Who on the DVD player- they've got me through everything else so why not this? Just as the clock on the computer changed from 14.49 to 14.50 Roger Daltery sang 'hope I die before I get old'. Inevitably.


Kris Dollimore is one of my very favourite guitarists. I first saw him in The Godfathers in, I think, 1986. They were fantastic, and he was almost unbelievable; he played a pearl fronted Zemaitis guitar which seemed to spend most of the gig with it suspended in mid-air in front of him with notes seeming to come from nowhere- an astonishing sight. He's responsible for 2 of my favourite guitar solos ever (on 'I Want Everything' and 'Birth School Work Death') and, on the occasions I've been brave enough to speak to him, seems to be a really nice bloke. He's just put out his first solo album '02/01/1978' which is superb and very different to anything I've heard from him before as it's for want of a better word a 'straight' blues album. Last night was the 'album launch gig' at The 12 Bar Club in London. After closing the shop I got the tube up to Tottenham Court Road and met up with Andy Knight and his mate Jim in The Intrepid Fox which has moved from Wardour Street to the top of Denmark Street, about 50 yards from The 12 Bar Club. Time for a drink or 2 before heading across the road for the gig.
Wearing a splendid pinstripe suit and playing an equally splendid Gibson acoustic guitar Kris kicked off with 'Soul of a Man'. The soundman hadn't miked his foot up (I know that sounds a bit weird but John Lee Hooker fans will know what I mean) and so spent much of the song scrambling around on stage moving a bass drum mic in the vicinity of Kris's left foot trying to get the best sound- an odd sight. I was so engrossed with this that it wasn't until near the end of the song that I noticed how brilliantly he was playing. The first set was all acoustic, songs by Robert Johnson, Bukka White and Charley Patton alongside originals from the album, ending with the instrumental 'East of England' which, bizarrely, he started in the wrong tuning. For the second set out came the electrics and up went the intensity- his version of The Stooges' 'T.V. Eye' being a real highlight. He finished with a fabulous 'Brother Ray'... and I swear that as he sang this part of the second verse:-

You looked at me then and just drifted away
Yeah you looked at me, and just faded away
You looked at me then, and just drifted away
You looked at me then and slowly drifted away

-I saw my mum's face, just for a split second. And she was smiling at me.*

A truly inspirational performance. Thanks Kris.

* mind you, I was a bit pissed!!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Another partial success

Ok, I'm definitely taking this personally. And I'm thinking of leaving the words 'of guitars' off the top of this page.

East and myself decided to go out for drink. We've done it before; actually we've done it loads of times and, in my not-so-humble opinion, got really good at over the years (it's only practice after all). There's lots to talk about and even more to rant about- Uxbridge on a Monday night should be nice and quiet shouldn't it?
So- what better place to start than The Queen's Head in Windsor Street or, as myself and East now call it, The Mozzer (See 'A partial success' for a possible reason why). Last time we were there they were cleaning up and heading for bed well before 10.30 which, we rather naively decided, must have been a fluke. And I think it was- on the grounds that this time they started taking the beer trays off the bar just after 9.45, no doubt because the only people in there apart from us were a couple rowing drunkenly in the corner. Very strange. Never mind though, there's lots of other pubs in Uxbridge aren't there?
Off then to the rather bizarrely named Fig Tree a few doors away. East thinks it's called that because it used to be called The Old Bill (you've guessed it, it was previously a police station!) and they had to have a name that had the same number of letters. Could that really be true? Anyway we get a beer each and resume our ranting. All seems ok- the music's a bit weedy but you can't have everything can you? We're about to get another drink when over he comes. He's not talking to me, he's talking at me, something about guessing how old I am- East told me afterwards he assumed I knew him or that he was a customer in the shop; judging by the fact that he was literally foaming at the mouth I think there my well have been more than just alcohol on his evening menu. I should know better than to get too involved but he's not leaving, in fact he's getting far too close... East breaks first, says 'WHAT DO YOU WANT?' in a manner that could politely be described as angry- Mr Mad is shocked, tries to be friendly but we've had enough. He tries shaking hands but East's not interested and by now neither am I. He asks 'An I annoying you?' We answer 'YES' in unison. We've finished our drinks by now- no point in getting another. We're off. As we leave he's with the barstaff and they don't look too happy. Good. But something like that happening ruins the place you're in somehow doesn't it? I just talked to East on the phone and he just said he won't be going back in there. I know what he means.
We should have written the night off and gone home at this point- but we didn't. The Good Yarn on the High Street's open 'till 12 and we need a drink. There's not many people in and it all seems ok 'though I'm not sure about that young bloke at the bar... undetered we order up and stand over near a fruit machine, rambling away about Mr. Mad, both half wishing we'd hit him. Not a good feeling to have but we feel a bit better after a moan. It's East's round and he goes to the bar- as he does the young bloke approaches me saying something about dropping some money earlier... suddenly he's down on his knees in front of the fruit machine, presumably looking for money but he's getting too near to East's coat for me. For a split second I see myself kicking him in the face- and then the thought goes. He's saying something but we've had enough, we're leaving. As we walk past the barman who was going to serve East I hear myself say something like 'sorry mate, we've already had one nutter tonight'.
Suddenly we're outside and it's freezing cold. We're a bit bewildered, angry even but we're laughing at the absurdity of it all. All we wanted to do was have a couple of drinks and have a chat. But that would have been too simple. No wonder Uxbridge was empty. All the sane people knew didn't they?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Live at Leeds

Saturday morning and, to quote the philosophical sage that is Edmund Blackadder, my head feels like it's got a Frenchman living in it. That'll be last night's drinking then. After at least one false start I remember that we're playing in Leeds tonight and manage to leap into action in time to meet the lads in Joe's van. Before you can say 'deja vu' we're in Toddington to meet Dave- no sign of Elvis (he's back on the 10th!) but everything else seems more-or-less as we left it. Then it's the long haul up the M1. We're playing at Karen & Trevor's wedding in the Palmcourt room at The Queen's Hotel in the city centre. Richard went to college in Leeds so knows his way around and we find our venue easily (for once!). Phil's already got the P.A. set up so we squeeze our gear onto the t-shaped stage (just) and do a quick soundcheck.
There's some food available later but people are getting hungry so we decide to go out for a look around. The lure of Spicemania across the road proves too much for many though if I was getting some food I think I'd have gone for Wokmania next door. However for me, Squirrel, Ian and Joe it's pubtime- there's plenty to choose from although there's already bouncers on the door for most of them and it's only 6.30. And there's a lot of people about, and a lot of police. Eventually we find The Prince of Wales- as Ian puts it 'that looks like an old boys pub- that'll do for us then'. Actually the jukebox is playing Blondie and The Stones, though I guess that is 'old boys music' to many. A bewildering array of real ales are on sale- I take the only possible course of action and order lager. They've got a real till- one of those one's that goes 'ker-ching' as the cost pop's up in a window at the top. If only it had been in old money. After a couple of drinks we walk back through town- there's even more people about, many of them scantily clad young ladies causing Ian to remark 'if I had some money I think I'd spend it on a facelift'. An evocative thought.
Back to the venue and 'Fawlty Towers' is on Dave's portable DVD player and there's much jollity all round. Outside the room we're using as a base there's a signed photo of Leeds footballing legend John Charles- indeed there's actually quite a few rooms there named after him. We go on just after 9.30 to the predictable indifference of many but, thankfully, not everyone. There's quite a few people up and dancing which leads to a peculiar version of 'Rawhide' which somehow includes 'Oops upside your head' (or whatever it's called). Strange days indeed.

2.30a.m. and, somewhat inevitably, we're in Toddington. It's quieter than last week- but I guess without Elvis it would be.

All together now

There are some things in life that are just too bizarre even for me to comment on- and then there's the story of the Sex Pistol and the golf club.

As gigs go this sounds a weird one- Glen Matlock of the 'notorious' punk rock group playing a solo acoustic show at Ruislip Golf Club. Actually it's not quite as mad as it sounds- they have regular comedy nights there ('The Comedy Bunker') as well as jazz gigs; in a bizarre punk-precedent I saw Hugh Cornwell do a solo show there many years ago and very good it was too. Fortunately we're not gigging much at the moment so I've got Friday night off and this is too good to miss. Myself and East made our way across to Ickenham to meet Esso and Nigel from local punk legends The Lurkers in The Coach & Horses (punk trivia fans may like to know that this pub can be seen on the cover of The Lurkers wonderful 'Fulham Fallout' album. Then again a punk trivia fan probably already knows that I suppose.) We're also meeting John King there (he wrote 'The Football Factory'! He's my mate!) and we're meeting Big Andy and my brother Terry down at the gig. But something's wrong- East's not well; it's his stomach playing up again. I ring the long-suffering Shirley- she drives over, picks him up and takes him home. And now it's 8 o'clock and John's an hour late... Esso, Nigel and myself finish our drinks and walk down to the golf club where we meet Terry and Big Andy- ex-Matlock guitarist Paul O'Brien's there too along with old mate Andy Knight among others. I go to the gents and there's Mr Matlock himself who says hello-- I reply with something like 'I never thought I'd ever have a pee next to a Sex Pistol' Surreal stuff. John's arrives just in time to catch Glen's kicking off (should that be teeing off?!?) with 'Different World'- 50 or so in the audience which is enough for a 'standing room only' situation and a good atmosphere all round. By 'God Save the Queen' it's all going very well indeed (when he got to the guitar solo he just said 'where's Steve Jones when we need him?') and I was really pleased he played 'Ambition' which Iggy Pop recorded- I must track that one down one day. 'Pretty Vacant' closes the show then it's encore time with Paul O'Brien joining in on 'All or Nothing' and, after a few disparaging comments about someone called John, a strange vocal-less 'Anarchy in the U.K.' with the audience singing every anthemic word.
As we made our way back to the (thankfully still open) Coach & Horses I reflected on what a strange night it had been, as a song that changed a lot of people's lives (including mine) became a beery cheery singalong with one of it's co-writer's describing himself as 'the Wally Whyton of punk' in the process. Now there's something I'd never thought I'd see.