Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wembley wizards

I met Paul Whitehouse today- he was at the theatre when Stu and myself arrived for our guitar tech-ing session. I thought it best not to say too much as I remember reading an interview with him where he said that most if not all of his comedy characters are based on people he meets and I'm not so sure that the world really needs a 'guitar maintenance man' character... actually I met him once before, in W.H. Smith's at Heathrow Airport of all places, we were both buying magazines to while away a flight delay- I've always been rather relived that 'speccy bloke in airport queue' didn't subsequently appear in The Fast Show'...

On to weightier things- saw 2 suitably brilliant Who shows at Wembley Arena this week (I'm not sure quite how poorly they'd have to play for me to say that they were bad but there you go). The band sounded absolutely mighty with Zak Starkey continuing to astound especially on 'The Real Me' (great to see that back in the set) and Townshend's playing as was inspirational as ever. Some mild (by P.T.'s standards) guitar violence too- a Strat went flying during 'Fragments' on the first night, and the second night's 'Won't Get Fooled Again' finished with him dropping the guitar and then walking over it. Really. Guitar tech Alan Rogan's face as he picked it up was almost worth the price of admission... oh and the 'Wire and Glass' mini-opera was fabulous on both nights, not least due to the extraordinary animations shown to accompany it on the screen behind them. They still give me more goosebump moments than any other band- wonderful, wondrous stuff.

Last week I saw The Stooges, this week I saw The Who. It doesn't get much better than that as far as I'm concerned. And- I'm probably going to sound really pretentious here but who cares- as Daltery sang these lines from 'Mirror Door'-

'Music makes me, makes me strong,
Strong vibrations make me long,
Long for a place where I belong,
You will find me in this song'

-I felt a shiver down my spine as maybe, just maybe, I saw the answers to at least some of my questions from last week...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Re:View review

Well, we did it. Despite having the worst sound man I've ever worked with (a arrogant, self-centred little goon who was almost beyond useless and is very lucky to be waking up this morning with his jaw intact) and being, shall we say, a little unrehearsed in places (I didn't know the final running order until I saw it taped to the wall backstage) the 2+ hour 'Re:view' played for one night only at the Beck Theatre in Hayes last night. Highlights were many and varied but speaking personally it'll stick in my mind for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it's the only time I can remember The Price playing to a seated audience. All the girl's sang brilliantly and Big Tel's performance of 'Play That Funky Music' will live on in the minds of all who witnessed it forever. Myself and the boys in the house band (excellently named The Bar-Flys by Simon) were still in one piece by the end of the night and East rose to the occasion in his roll as stage manager (his last words to me as we were leaving were 'lager frenzy tomorrow night Heggarty'. He may have been, to use a modern term, a little 'stressed out'). A splendid evening...
...which I nearly spent locked in the 'Subway' sandwich bar in Uxbridge. I'd nipped back with Shirley (who'd arrived at the show and discovered she'd left something behind) and stopped to get something to eat (obviously!). As I was waiting for my order a gang of likely lads'n'lasses arrived, the girl's suitably under-dressed for the occasion, the boys desperate to impress them. The predictably smoking and swearing session bought an instant response from the staff- they walkie-talkied security, phoned the police and set about securing the front door. Suddenly the boys definitely were boys (as opposed to the men they'd previously thought themselves to be) and left with almost indecent haste; their 'ladies' followed accordingly, leaving only racial abuse in their wake. I saw them all a bit further along the road, bored teenagers with no idea how boring they themselves actually are. Surely we were never like that were we?

Oh God. How old do I sound?!?

Friday, June 22, 2007

100 not out

This is my 100th blog posting!

Over the last 10 months or so I've raved about some bands and ranted about others, rambled on about the trials and tribulations of working in a musical instrument shop, met nutters in pubs and taxis and mused on everything from hippies to dentists and back again via Coldplay and the F.A. Cup Final. I've played some good shows, some bad shows, some great shows... and- maybe most of all- surprised myself by how much I've enjoyed writing this stuff. And I've been interested to see how much of myself I've given away (if you know what I mean).

Quite a lot, as it happens.

See you for the next hundred then- assuming that there's anyone actually reading this stuff that is...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Raw Power

I read an interview with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith the other day; in it he was asked who he preferred- Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop. He initially chose Jagger, then reversed his decision and went for Iggy, who he called 'the essence of rock'n'roll'.
Last night I saw 'the essence of rock'n'roll' and his band The Stooges at The Royal Festival Hall- the show was part of the Meltdown Festival series of concerts organised this year by Jarvis Cocker. After a journey that could politely be described as 'fraught' (we crossed the river 3 times and Big Andy dented his new car!) we eventually made it to our seats just as Jarvis announced the band with the words 'ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for rock royalty- The Stooges'. And, suddenly, there they were- as Iggy put it, 'the band that never bit the weenie'. A deafening, careering 'Loose' kicked things off and Iggy's everywhere, the photographers trying in vain to keep up with him. In 'Down on the Street' he's doing something unrepeatable to the bass amps; in 'I Wanna be your Dog' he's stage-diving, much to the horror of his cowboy-shirted security man who rescues him, only for Iggy to jump straight back into the crowd. By 'No Fun' he's got 50 or 60 people dancing on stage with him- Mr. Cowboy Shirt's going mad but he needn't worry, we all love Iggy... and when he smashed a beer bottle into the mike stand during 'I'm Fried' the tension rose in a manner that I for one have rarely experienced at a rock concert. The Asheton brothers- Ron on guitar, Scott on drums- redefined the word 'relentless', Mike Watt's bass never wavered and, for the latter half of the show, Steve Mackay's saxophone swam in and out of the mix giving an almost avant-garde edge to proceedings. A crushing 'Skull Ring' finished the main set, the encores ended- everything ended- with 'Electric Chair', Iggy beyond berserk, the sound of chaos and confusion threatening to overwhelm everything and everybody. And then it was over, as suddenly as it had all began, with the almost Spinal Tap-esque sight of the band seemingly unable to find their way off-stage, as if they'd been so far away from the real world that they couldn't remember the way back again.

An astonishing show- simply one of the greatest performances I will ever see. And I have a funny feeling that every night they play, someone like me has the same problem- a head full of questions. Why do I do what I do? What do I do now? Where do I go from here?

When I find out, I'll let you know...

Monday, June 18, 2007

To Belgium!*

Monday, the morning after the weekend before. And the weekend was good...

Saturday in the shop began nervously- I'd just switched the computer on when the screen went blank; using my tried and trusted method of fault finding (swear at it until it works) I eventually found the mains lead had come out of the back of it- fortunately that's one of the few faults that I'm able to fix... a sporadically hectic day followed with Joe the Saturday boy testing a guitar radio pack by crossing the road whilst playing the guitar and Stuart the guitar repair man fixing a buzz on a Yamaha acoustic guitar by hitting it with a claw hammer. All in a day's work, as they say.
By closing time I could have easily gone home and slept for a week but instead it was off to The Elgiva Theatre in Chesham for a Chicago Blues Brothers show. Myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived just in time for a somewhat fraught sound check- the venue has a volume restriction unit which turns the stage lights off for 10 seconds if you play too loud. We tried a couple of rather half-hearted numbers before retiring to the bar to muse furiously. The first half of the show was a tense affair which brightened up when a guy in the front row went out to take a mobile phone call (Pete's never one to miss a chance like that!); things picked up in the second half- maybe we'd got used to the sound by then?- and the show ended with much dancing and merriment all round. My Dad came along (brother Terry didn't make it sadly) and spent the end of the evening swapping army stories with Dave the trumpet, most of which even I hadn't heard before. Excellent.

An early start on Sunday morning saw East, Shirley and myself heading to the South coast for this year's first Price gig, at the Glastonwick festival. It's organised by the legend that is Attila the Stockbroker who I first met sometime in the early-to-mid '80's at a Newtown Neurotics gig; over the next few years we played several shows with him and The Neurotics and I for one was well pleased when he came up to me after our Neurotics support slot in Harlow last year and offered us a slot at his festival. This year's was the first one to be held at Coombes Farm just outside Southwick (hence the name of the festival) and we're the opening act on the last day, preceding the mighty John Otway. As we arrive things are going well- the rest of the band are setting up on a stage at one end of a large-ish barn, one side of which is dominated by a bewildering array of real ales (the first one to catch my eye was 'Arrogance 10%- be careful with this one'). I'm in the building for about 10 seconds when, for the first time in getting on for 20 years, I meet Glenn- the original Price fan who'd come down from Nottinghamshire for the day. Fantastic. And where on earth did all those year's go?
After a quick sound check (Attila stopped us with the words 'too loud') there was just time to say hello to Mark, Barry and Phil (a.k.a. the Uxbridge lads, responsible for Malcolm's drunkenness the night before!) before our set- as enjoyable as any Price show I can remember. At the end of our set Attila described us as 'better than ever'; he also stopped me in my tracks with the words 'do you want to play at the Belgian* Beer Festival?' There's only one answer to that...
Meanwhile over the other side of the barn I meet the Uxbridge lads who are ordering cider. It looks like something used to live in it. Mark takes a drink with the words 'the first one is always the worst one'- judging by the look on his face he was right. Mind you, there's a good line for a song. Or an album title. Or something. Hmm... John Otway was as mad as ever despite having a bad back and Verbal Warning finished their set with a punk version of 'Leaving on a Jet Plane'. A fine day.

As we were saying our goodbye's Shirley pointed out a reddish stain on the floor of the barn. She'd just been told it'd been caused, astonishingly, by cider. The barman told her they'd been trying to clean it up for the last day or so but it they couldn't move it.

I must ring the Uxbridge lads and see how they are...

* that's the Belgium that's just outside Brighton..!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Barbican, Bishopshalt, Brighton...

...and beyond! It's been a busy week-and-a-bit since my last posting, not least in the shop where things have been pretty hectic to say the least. Paul the guv'nor's been away on the Isle of Man (something to do with motorbikes I believe?) so I've been in the shop every day, even Thursday after the Dominion Theatre string-changing session- like I say, busy times.

After Saturday in the shop it was time for a tube journey up to Barbican for a Blues Brothers gig at a wedding reception at the Plaisterers’ Hall, much of which was spent with blood pouring out of my nose. Nasty! I get hay fever and it'd been bad all day, (all week actually) and when I was young I burst a blood vessel in my nose so I'm a bit prone to them at the best of times. Fortunately it stopped by the time I reached my destination where any worries about not being able to find the venue were dispelled by the fact that it has the words ONE LONDON WALL written on it in letters approaching 10 feet tall. I found the lads downstairs and was introduced to drummer Marc Cecil (John was away gigging elsewhere) who was sitting in the corner learning the set from a DVD playing on his laptop. Mike Hyde was in for Michael as Elwood and Steve was in for Ian on keyboards so a bit of time was spent on working out an 'easy' set- or at least one that more-or-less matched the one on Marc's DVD. When I arrived Andy Abrahams was on (was he on 'X-Factor' or 'Pop Idol' or something?) so when he'd finished there was just time to set up, get changed and find a drink before a highly enjoyable 90 minutes-or-so set, during which a young lady down the front got herself (and Pete!) rather over-excited, and I ended up with a Borat impersonator only inches away from me, wearing that costume... oh and a man played a tea tray with his head. Or did he play his head with a tea tray? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...

Sunday saw another 'Big Tel's Big Gig' rehearsal, this time at Bishopshalt School in Hillingdon where Terry works as a technician- the girls in the first half of the show are all ex-pupils which is how he originally met them. The school plays host to 'The Crown' church on Sunday mornings meaning that we had to use the side entrance- 'never mind the bollards' roared Andy as we triumphantly disregarded the 'no entry' signs. We were in the music block which boasts an impressive array of equipment- ironically I didn't do music at school but judging by what I saw I wish I was doing it now! Aretha finally made it to a rehearsal (she's been away at university) and sounded excellent as did Jo and Chloe- if only we could get our bits right... I played my old (1963) Stratocaster which doesn't get played anywhere near as much as it should these days and Terry's Mum had made us all sandwiches. A fine day's work.

Monday and with less than a week to go before The Price play the Glastonwick festival it was time to head down to Brighton Electric studios for a not-quite-last-minute run through of our set. As East and myself were leaving Andy called with the news that there was an 18 mile tailback on the M25 and that it might be an idea if we sought a different route... to cut a long story short we ended up at a roundabout just outside Dorking being faced by what can only be described as a giant metal cock. No, I don't know either- if any one does, can they let me or East know... Malcolm managed 6 bottles of lager, today's old guitar was my Les Paul Deluxe (played through a Marshall JCM 800 half stack and sounding as great as ever) and the band sounded pretty good to me which is just as well as there's no more rehearsals before Sunday's show; we're on at 12.30 in the afternoon and I can't wait. Hurrah!!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Taxi driver

'There's madness in my family you know, but I think I deal with it fairly well. I always have this strange compulsion to talk to taxi drivers- you don't mind if I ask you a few questions do you? I'm not sure if it'll flow tonight though... are you married?'

It's nearly 2a.m. and I'm in a taxi cab somewhere in Hillingdon. I don't know the guy in the front- I met him a few minutes ago in the queue, he heard where I was wanting to go and offered to share his cab with me. He's doing a very good job of unsettling the cab driver, and, now that I think about it, me.

'Taxi driving's a dangerous job really isn't it? I mean, anything could happen to you really couldn't it? So- are you married?'

Well yes I suppose it could, especially as we're now travelling at approximately 150 miles per hour. Let's hope it doesn't though eh? Its been a long enough day as it is.

After a busy day in the shop there was just time for a bag of chips before heading into London to join (should that be rejoin?) my Blues Brothers buddies for a gig at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel at Chancery Court. Tonight we're playing our 'party' set (which you won't be surprised to hear consists of mostly Blues Brothers and Commitments numbers) under the name of Heart and Soul. The nearest tube station to the venue is Holborn which is on the Central line so I decide to walk up to West Ruislip station which, on a hot day with a guitar on your back is far enough I can tell you (imagine the moaning if I had a real job!). There's sign's saying that there's been a disrupted service but the ticket man assures me it's all running ok.
He lied. The journey took ages, and the train then didn't go any further than Marble Arch. I was reduced to getting a bus from there to Tottenham Court Road and then walking to Holborn which, on a hot day with a guitar on your back is far enough I can tell you (stop me if you've heard this one before). By the magic of the mobile phone I discover the lads are in The George on Old Queen Street (should that be Old Queeeeen Street?) and get there halfway through the first half of the England vs. Brazil game. There's much hello-ing and general jollity all round which was a bit of a relief, at least from my point of view. At half time it's a walk back to the venue which isn't too far away-as we pass Holborn station we meet Tracy who's just asking someone if they know where the hotel is. We're playing in the basement at the 60th anniversary of the Werth company who, I'm told, make hearing aids. They might be handy people to know in a few years... and it's a good gig with a fair reaction for a corporate event and not too many mistakes from your humble narrator- well, none that I'm going to mention here anyway.
As the corporate world is one where last buses and trains are rarely a consideration ( most of the people attending will be staying at the hotel) I was half expecting to have to attempt the night bus back from Marble Arch- but we finished just in time for me to get the last train back to West Ruislip. Now if I'd been at all organised I'd have taken the number of the cab office in Ickenham and then called them when on my way back to have a cab waiting for me at the station. But that would have been too easy- so I walked back to Ickenham from the station which didn't seem quite as far as it did earlier but was still far enough (etc etc). And then the fun began...

You know there's always a little window that you look through when you're talking to the cab controller? Well I could see and hear the woman in there- and she was NOT HAPPY. She was screaming down a mobile phone about how this was ruining her birthday and if she catches hold of them they'd be sorry and I'll give them a piece of my mind when I see him... and one of the two guys waiting for cabs is saying how he's just got back from Bulgaria, he's bought a house there 'cos this country's finished and the people there are friendly not like over here... when suddenly the door next to the little window opened and a young lady (not the one on the mobile phone) came out to ask me where I wanted to go. When I said 'Uxbridge' the guy who hadn't just got back from Bulgaria said something like 'that's where I'm going' and offered to share a cab with me. Seemed like a good idea...

'You are married? Good! Let me tell you my theory about what makes a woman happy'.

We're sitting at the traffic lights. I can see the driver's eyes in the rear view mirror.

'You have to keep surprising them. And you have to give 'em stability. How about you in the back- are you married?'

The driver's just raised his eyebrows at me. I knew I should have walked. Or got a house nearer to the station. I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances.

'Just on the corner here's fine mate'

Well it's not that far really is it, even on a hot day with a guitar on your back...