Friday, March 30, 2007

Gotta go... gotta go... gotta go...

This 'Thursday-at-the-theatre' thing's getting too easy- well under 3 hours including the Starbucks ranting session. Simple! Serves us right then for thinking we were going to be home early- there was an 'obstruction at White City' so all the trains were off. 'Probably a dead body' mused Stuart before going on to tell some horrific 'my mate's a train driver' stories. Urgh!

Still we've just had a short notice Blues Brothers gig come in (a relatively rare occurrence, we normally know quite a long way in advance what's going on) at The Pizza Express in Maidstone. I've never played there before 'though Pete has and has already warned me that my amp will be too loud 'as usual'. Hmm... still I'm going to see The Who tomorrow night at The Albert Hall so at least I've got that to look forward to.

Must dash, as they say...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Metal Guru

At last! I've wanted one for years and now I've got one. Sort of. Let me explain...

When I was a lad, sometime in the mid-'70's, I used to watch a television programme called 'Top of the Pops'. It was worth watching for a number of reasons, some of them musical, some of them not so. I particularly enjoyed the glam rock bands of the time- T.Rex and Slade were real favourites (still are!), and I remember seeing the 'legendary' appearance by David Bowie singing 'Starman' (or maybe I just remember my Mum and Dad's reaction to it?) Anyway a band that were always worth talking about to my mates the next day were The Faces, which, for younger readers (assuming that I have any), were Rod Stewart's band before he went crap. Their performance of 'Maggie May' gets shown all the time on those retrospective shows that are always on these days and with good reason methinks- you know the one, John Peel looking embarrassed as he mimes mandolin while the band are playing football around him. Great stuff- but next time you see it, check out the guitars. In pretty much all the footage of the band Ronnie Wood is playing a Zemaitis electric, and Ronnie Lane's on a Zemaitis bass or an acoustic guitar of some description. They're very distinctive, often with pearl or metal fronts- Wood's often seen with a black-with-a-metal-circle one, particularly when playing slide. These were all handmade by the late Tony Zemaitis and you still see Woody playing them today in The Stones, except that not all the ones that you see him with now were made by Tony himself (I won't bore you with the full story here, check the websites below for copious amounts of information should you so desire). Anyway it was around this time that I started getting interested in playing the guitar myself (although it needed punk rock to get me to the stage where I could overcome my shyness and actually get out there and do it) so visions of metal and pearl-fronted guitars have always loomed large in my guitar-infested mind. I saw Kris Dollimore playing a pearl-fronted Zemaitis in The Godfathers sometime around 1986, and when we played a few gigs supporting Glen Matlock in the early '90's his then-guitarist Paul O'Brien not only played a Zemaitis (still does!) but was (is!) related to Danny O'Brien, the man who did (does!) the engraving on the metal parts of the guitars. By then however prices of the guitars (due in no small part to people like Marc Bolan, Eric Clapton and George Harrison playing them) had gone through the roof. When he died the prices climbed even further so it looked as though I'd never get one- and I probably never will, not an original one anyway. However they're now being produced under licence in Japan (where I believe Tony Z. holds almost god-like status) though they're really difficult to get over here, and when you can find one they're really expensive.

But I found one in America on ebay- and, overcoming my fears and trepidation about buying it unseen and untested, I bought it. And now it's mine. All mine. And it's fantastic. Ha ha.

Now all I've got to do is get myself into a group where I can go out and play the damn thing!

My one's a GZ-1800WF if you're interested...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ronnie, Suggs and George

Should you be passing Starbucks on New Oxford Street at around 10a.m. on a Thursday morning then look out for 2 shady figures sitting in the window. If one of them is looking suspiciously at a plate of sugary pastry wondering what on earth possessed him to buy it and the other is mulling over an expresso then you're probably looking at me and Stuart the guitar repair man as we mentally prepare ourselves for another morning at The Dominion Theatre restringing and resurrecting the 'We Will Rock You' guitars. Yesterday it all went very well indeed- which was just as well because there was more to do...
'Turn right at 'Dirty Dick's'' said Stu (looking very pleased with himself in the process) as we emerged from Liverpool Street station. We followed an alleyway off Middlesex Street- apparently one of Jack the Ripper's haunts- on our way to House of Guitars, distributor for Brian May Guitars. Last week Stu took delivery of a rather fetching blue one, this week he's taking it back to complain about it! I won't bore you with the details but he wasn't happy with the tremelo block among other things... once there Barry makes us welcome with a cup of coffee and a look at a prototype for a Brian May model electro-acoustic guitar currently being worked on. There's a huge selection of Warwick basses (I think they distribute them too) including a left-handed doubleneck (they can't sell too many of them!) and the walls and ceilings are covered with autographs of celebrity customers. An interesting place.
From there it's back to the Dominion to pick our stuff up and then it's off to the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street, current home of the 'Mary Poppins' musical. Stu's fixed a Levinson Blade Strat-alike for Andy Jones who's depping in the show this week. We've arranged to meet him as the matinee show finishes at around 5.15. The stage door's opposite Ronnie Scott's jazz club in Frith Street- as we get there Suggs (of Madness fame) is watching George Melly leaving the club. A strange sight. Before I'm overwhelmed with celebrities I nip off to Leicester Square to meet my mate Kate who works at Ticketmaster- she'd got me some tickets to see The Who at the Albert Hall at the end of this month (Hi Kate- that's another drink I owe you); when I get back Andy and Stu are waiting for me and pointing in the direction of The Dog & Duck. Good choice... although I'm sure the first person I see in there is the bloke out of 'The Royle Family'. Still despite having a nasty cold (is there such a thing as a nice cold?) Andy's on good form and very pleased with Stu's work ('a guitar's not a guitar until he's worked on it'); he leaves to get some food before the evening show and Stu and myself finish our drinks and head for home. A good day ends with East, Big Andy and myself discussing tactics for the upcoming Who gig. Excellent.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


After a suitably busy day in the shop with Pete from The Cane Toads helping out in the morning due to lack of Saturday staff, and a mad moment when Shirley delivered a guitar for me (more about this another time!) it was off to Bishop's Stortford for another gig depping in The Pistols. What should have been a simple journey (M25, M11) became nothing of the sort when (a) I decided to put the venue's postcode into the 'maps and directions' bit of the msn homepage on the computer and (b) we decided to follow them. They looked simple enough on paper- leave the M25 earlier and use A and B roads to 'cut the corner off'- but that presupposes that the roads in Hertfordshire have lights and signposts on them. They don't. Well the ones that we wanted didn't anyway. As we ended up going down the A10 towards London it was all looking a bit dubious to say the least... turning around and retracing our steps we somehow ended up on the outskirts of Harlow after following the astonishingly named Bonk Hill; we eventually made it to Bishop's Stortford by following an unsignposted road that felt it was going in more or less the right direction- and then the real fun began. The address of the venue was given as Thorley Park- which as far as we could see was a large housing estate and not much else. I phoned Paul (Rotten) from the band who said something like 'it's really hard to find, stop someone and ask them where Sainsbury's is'. Good advice but, as usual in these sort of situations, there's no one for miles. After yet more retracing of steps we found a petrol station where thankfully they'd not only heard of the venue but knew where it was. Yes, you've guessed it- somewhere on that housing estate is a Sainsbury's big enough to be visable from outer space, and tagged on the car park is The Marne Inn, our venue for the evening. As we arrive Tim (Sid) is carrying in his bass gear which makes me feel a bit better about being late. Inside I meet Andy our drummer for the evening (Toby's off elsewhere) and get set up just in time for a 9.15 start. It's a great little venue that just 'works' somehow- as Shirley said it felt good from the moment we arrived although her evening took an interesting turn when she got into a conversation with a girl who seemed to be getting very friendly with both the barman and the girl who's knee she was sitting on at the time... in the meantime we roared through 2 sets of Pistols classics to the general approval of all concerned. A great gig.

Afterwards Andy revealed that he's in a band called The Trouser Trumpets. It doesn't get much better than that does it? Happy St. Patrick's Day indeed.

...and The Trouser Trumpets are on MySpace somewhere...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blink and you'll miss it

Just got the new-ish Dr. Feelgood album 'Repeat Prescription'; the sleeve proclaims 'new versions of old favourites' which seems a good description as the only song on it that I don't think they've recorded before is Chuck Berry's 'Run Rudolph Run' (which features our very own Ian Gibbons on keyboards). On first listen it sounds like a wise purchase with radical re-arrangements of 'Milk & Alcohol' and 'She Does It Right' being particularly interesting. The band sound great and Steve Walwyn's guitar playing just gets better and better. Terrific stuff, made all the more fascinating for me by the fact that myself and Malcolm have been talking about re-recording some old Price material in the not-too-distant future. Food for thought, as they say.
In the meantime another morning at The Dominion Theatre passed off without too much incident from my point of view although Stu was obliged to wield a soldering iron on more than one occasion. I got to re-string main dep Phil Hilborne's guitar (now there's a name well-known to any guitar magazine readers), a rather ostentatious beast affectionately known as 'the tart's handbag'. I must admit that it is a little, shall we say, orange...
After the by-now traditional visit to the pub across the road and both of us spending our ill-gotten gains in the HMV sale (me on the Feelgoods, Stu on The Talking Heads and Jeff Beck) it was off to the Blink gallery in Poland Street to catch 'Gibson Through The Lens', an exhibition of photographs of Gibson and Epiphone guitars. And very good they are too- I particularly liked the one of The Beatles' guitars backstage at The Tokyo Budokan (amazingly their instruments are so distinctive that you don't need them in the picture to know which group they belong to) and there's a couple of classic Townshend shots that somewhat inevitably caught my eye. Definitely worth a visit.

Friday, March 09, 2007


If it's Thursday morning it must be time to restring some red guitars... except there's a new one and it's light blue. And very nice it is too once you get over the initial shock.; in fact they could all be that colour as far as I'm concerned, it's much easier to see and therefore work on in the rather subdued light at our disposal. Stu's taking it home to 'bring it up to spec' i.e. fit locking machineheads (curses- I still can't work them properly!) and set it up for next Thursday. We're going to stay all day next week so I can meet some of the crew and musicians- should be interesting. There was a rehearsal on stage while we were working yesterday, a chance to see some of what's normally not seen- in this case keyboard-only versions of 'Somebody to Love' and 'Radio Ga-Ga' with 2 of the girls from the show working out their parts. Even the young ladies didn't make the songs sound any better as far as I'm concerned but I'm not really sure what could.

Better stop there before I lose my job...

With our work at the theatre done there's just time for a quick visit to the pub (there's always time!) before I'm off to Liverpool Street to catch a train to Norwich for a gig at the City College. I'd left it too late to get a cheap ticket (I won't bore you with the details) but I certainly wasn't ready for the '£37 sir' moment that awaited me. 'But it says £6 on your website' I heard myself say as I handed over the money; the man behind the counter wasn't interested- why should he be? He probably thinks online booking's putting him out of a job. He's probably right. Oh well.
After the hottest pasty ever (well, you know what I mean. But it was bloody hot!) I staked out my bit of the 2.30 Norwich train and got stuck into the latest 'Mojo' magazine- an excellent Iggy and the Stooges feature (yeah, them again) almost kept me awake for the whole journey- before meeting Joe outside Norwich station and joining the rest of the lads in the wittily-named Norfolk Building. Dave the trumpet's son Henry is on the music course at the college, the gig's part of their coursework and he's in the support band. As I arrive they're soundchecking with 'Get it On' which bodes well for their performance. After saying hello to the lads (Squirrel's comment of 'it's almost like a reunion' summed up how few gigs we've had lately) there was just time for me to set up before Dave arrived with chicken and chips all round. Good man.
Suddenly it's nearly showtime- I nip outside to make a couple of phonecalls and return to find myself locked out of the auditorium; with no one around who knows the code for the lock on the door I miss seeing the whole of their set though can just about hear it through the walls. Instead I sit with Joe on the merchandise desk in the foyer watching 'The Blues Brothers' being projected silently onto the wall. At least I think it was silent- I still can't hear properly so who knows? I get backstage in the interval- looks as though they were all dressed in 'Clockwork Orange' garb and shocked Dave by playing 'Gay Bar'. Sounds like I missed a good gig doesn't it?
Then we're on- John counts in 'Peter Gunn' and I realise how bad my ears still are. The cymbals sound phased, instruments jump in and out of the mix depending on their sound and pitch and when I can hear what I'm playing it sounds terrible, thin and clanky compared to normal. And we've not played for ages and it shows- medleys get muddled, middle sections misplaced... but it feels good to be in the band again even if we're not quite on top form. That said it all goes down well and we're offered a festival date in the summer so we must have done something right. And I got through a whole evening in Norwich without an Alan Partidge reference which can't be bad. Probably.

Hometime and it's a lift back with Richard the sax player. We get to the gate and it's locked. So is the other one. First I'm locked out, then I'm locked in. There's a moral there somewhere.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Weirdness

Someone on T.V. this morning said that, according to the met. office, it's officially Spring.

Didn't that used to start later in the year when we were young?

Anyway I've just got the new album by The Stooges. It's called 'The Weirdness' (great title!) and it's fantastic. I'm playing it in the shop at the moment, much to the consternation of most of the customers- mind you Iggy's just proclaimed 'my dick is turning into a tree' so maybe they've got a point. And one of the songs has the cheery sing-along chorus of 'my idea of fun, is killing everyone'.

Like I say, it's fantastic.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Four 4 Wiz

Monday morning and I'm back in the real world. Like I ever really leave it...

Last night at the Islington Academy it was 'Four 4 Wiz', a night in memory of the recently departed Mega City Four frontman. And what a night- songs I never thought I'd hear performed again ('Kill Your Television', 'A Prince in a Pauper's Grave', 'Hold it Down' etc) played by people who may well have never thought they'd ever play them again, in front of a sold out crowd that probably couldn't quite believe that it was all happening. A few memories-

Mark Keds asking for silence- and getting it- as he lit a candle which he placed on top of his amplifier before 'Too Much Kissing.'

Jim Bob saying that Carter U.S.M. had better hurry up and reform 'while we can still do the ''40 Something'' t-shirts.'

Ned's Atomic Dustbin sounding a hell of a lot better than I remember them, and Midway Still sounding even better than that.

Steve Lamacq struggling to be heard over a chant of 'you fat bastard' when introducing Carter U.S.M.

'Snakebite City' supremo Paul Talling telling me that I 'hadn't changed a bit' since The Price days. Does that mean I was always half-bald with a double chin?!?

My mate Kate telling me that she was at a gig we did with the MC4 in Birmingham, showing me a photo of them to prove it- and then saying that she doesn't remember us at all.

The Mega's 'surprise' appearance, with Danny singing 'Cradle' bringing at least one tear to my eye.

There's many more but you get the idea. They say you don't know what you've got until it's gone- it time to make the most of what we have got then. Don't sit on your ass while your world just falls to pieces. Cheers Wiz.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Machine Head

My third Thursday morning at 'We Will Rock You' (or, Stu calls it, 'We Will Rob You') and I think I'm getting the hang of it... until Stu tells me that Laurie told him that he was having tuning problems on his main guitar. That'll be the one I changed the strings on last week then. Bugger. After a bit of thought we decide that I'm not using the locking machineheads correctly- you only need to put the string through and tighten the back of the machinehead rather than wind the string round several times as you would on a 'normal' one. I've not used them before and I don't think I tightened them up enough which makes me feel a bit daft to be honest. Still that's the only complaint (so far!)- well the only one I've heard anyway.
With everything done it's over the road to 'Sound Control' (an enormous musical instrument shop underneath the Virgin megastore) to meet Stu's mate Brian who's working on an installation there. After lunch in The Tottenham it's a tube ride to Knightsbridge where, unusually, we're off to Harrods. The rather implausably named 'Harrods Rocks' exhibition ends this weekend; since it features some of Rory Gallagher's guitars amongst it's exhibits we decide it's worth a visit. And I think it was, though I'm not entirely sure who decided that getting a few so-called celebrities to badly paint a guitar and then claim that it was worth auctioning off for charity constitutes 'rock'. Mind you, some of them were very good (Peter Blake, Bono, Grahan Coxon) and there were some excellent instruments on show including an extraordinary collection of autographed instruments (Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Warhol and the Velvets among them) and an exhibition of Ronnie Wood's artwork which is rather better than his guitar playing these days. Best of all for me though had to be Rory Gallagher's battered 1961 Stratocaster (or as he apparently called it, 'the tatocaster'). To describe it as 'worn' doesn't even begin to get across the state it's in. The back of the neck looks almost swollen with sweat, and the front of the guitar's probably best described as a mess. But there it is in a glass case in front of me, an instrument of almost monumental significance to me both as a player and as a person. I saw him play a few times and it changed my life. Amazing. Because of the lighting I could see my face reflected back at me with Rory's guitar behind the reflection, an odd, almost eerie image still caught in my mind this morning. Weird... as I walked around the glass case Stu came over.

'See that odd machinehead' he said, pointing at the headstock.

The sixth string machinehead looked different to the rest.

'I fitted that. It was the only one I had and he needed the guitar for a gig. It's a locking machinehead, but Rory never used it as one.'

True. It had the string wound on normally rather than just put through and tightened.

I don't feel quite so daft now. Good.