Sunday, September 30, 2007

'The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar...'

One of the reasons that I started this blogging lark- apart from the obvious possibilities for ranting of course- was to improve my computing skills. When I was at school a computer was something the size of a block of flats operated by an army of white coated boffins who always looked to me as though they shouldn't be allowed to own any sharp objects. Nowadays of course we have laptops that are more advanced than anything in the most far-fetched Gerry Anderson series- well that's how it seems to me after a few days wrestling with the machine I bought last week. I did achieve something of a breakthrough the night before last however when, as I attempted to record a 16 bar one chord wonder of a tune wittily entitled 'Friday Night', I tried to get so many virtual instruments playing the same thing at the same time that I overloaded the 'Garageband' music recording program and it wouldn't let me do anymore.

It should be interesting to see what happens when I get round to recording some guitars...

In the meantime last night saw Malcolm and myself perform an impromptu 3-song set at a party thrown to celebrate his Uncle Len's retirement. If I remember correctly we played 'Turning Japanese', 'So What About Love?' and 'The Man with the Smile' to an increasingly bemused audience; East captured most if not all of it on video which raises the rather worrying prospect of it appearing on The Price website in the not-too-distant future (it's probably already on there!). As we were leaving Uncle Len- himself something of a guitarist back in the day who was 'offered' a chance to play with some 'names' but didn't on the grounds that he was 'happy where he was'- stopped me to say thanks- and then told me how he thinks that I've 'wasted my talent' and should have 'gone further'. I decided against mentioning that we'd had a similar conversation (with him in a similar state of, shall we say, confusion) about 15 years ago- since then I've toured Europe and the U.S.A playing hundreds of gigs everywhere from local pubs to The Glastonbury Festival; I've also taught guitar to countless people as well as currently running a successful musical instrument shop and in all that time I haven't done any work that doesn't involve music in one form or another. Maybe I could have 'gone further', maybe I've 'wasted my talent'- or maybe I'm just not as good as blowing my own trumpet (for want of a better term!) than a lot of people.

Hmm... better not to be bitter don't you think- eh Len?

Friday, September 28, 2007

There go the wages!

I've just filled in my tax return. I'm going to owe them several thousand pounds.

Maybe I shouldn't have bought all those Sex Pistols tickets- but I don't think they'll play again so we've got to make the most of these gigs methinks, and anyway it's the SEX PISTOLS, and we'll forgive them anything just to hear them play those songs again, and, admit it, we're all wondering just how big Steve Jones is these days aren't we?

And maybe I shouldn't have bought a new guitar- but a Baja Telecaster arrived in the shop towards the end of last week and they're really hard to get over here at the moment and it looks great and plays greater and isn't too heavy unlike the last one we had and my old Tele's starting to look a bit worse for wear; then again I was never a fan of maple necks, (although this one feels fine) and I don't actually need it at the moment, (of course I do!) and anyway, it's all tax deductible isn't it?

And maybe I shouldn't have bought myself an Apple MacBook computer- but I need (need!) something to record music on and by the time you've spent out on a multi-track recorder you could have bought a computer which is useful in other ways as well, and thanks to Andy C.'s expertise (see you for a coffee in 'Frank's' on Thursday morning mate!) I got a good deal on a great machine... which I haven't got a clue how to work; at the moment it's not much more than a really expensive clock which might or might not let me copy cd's and dvd's if I ask it nicely. And it's doesn't have any instructions with it because, as more than one person has said to me since I bought it, Mac's are really 'intuitive' to use.

Oh well- it's only money as they say, and anyway, the tax people won't want any from me for a while... hopefully....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

'Station to Station', 'Time is Tight' etc etc

Regular readers of all this semi-coherent rambling (I'm told there are some- you know who you are!) will be aware that most Thursday mornings I'm up at The Dominion Theatre on London's Tottenham Court Road, helping Stuart the guitar repair man with his work at the 'We Will Rock You' stage show. This week was an unusual one as there was an extra show on Wednesday evening at 'The Night' (how do they think of 'em eh?), a corporate event for LCR who I believe are the people involved in the new cross channel rail link at St. Pancras Station. Compare for the evening was Al 'the pub landlord' Murray who also turned up at the recent 5th anniversary show (I believe he mentions Queen a lot on his T.V. show; I'm far too miserable to watch anything like that) and the cast of 'W.W.R.Y.' were to be 'surprise guests'. Stu spent much of Monday and Tuesday up at the theatre going through things with the organisers- the plan was for everyone to travel down to the site near St. Pancras after the show with a view to performing again at 11.25, only an hour later. There would be drums, amps and keyboards already set up which would just mean getting the guitars and pedals from the theatre; cast and musicians were to travel by coach from show to show. Theoretically it would all be possible- but things are always fine in theory aren't they?

9p.m. and Stu and myself are at Kings Cross station- his car is parked nearby and we're going to take the tube to Tottenham Court Road for the end of the theatre show when we'll pick up the gear and take it back to Kings Cross; from there we'll drive to 'The Event' and get things set up for when the band arrive. We'd decided to take the tube as there's more than one way to get there by train whereas if you're stuck in a traffic jam in that part of town you're in trouble; that said we'd still need luck to be on our side for it all to work out. The journey took 15 minutes- so provided we were back on the train by, say, 10.30 we should be on site by 11. Time for a drink then...
We often get something to eat in The Tottenham ('the only pub on Oxford Street') after the theatre work so it was strange to be in there at night. After a couple of pints and the usual ranting (we really must cheer up!) we went across to the theatre at 10.15, just as the show was finishing. The band play in 2 raised areas either side of the stage, guitar bass and drums stage right, keyboards percussion and conductor stage left; we fought our way through the smoke and climbed the steep stairs up to where Neil Murray (bass), Laurie Wisefield and Alan Darby (guitars) were just getting ready to leave for the coach. Stu and myself packed the guitars and pedals away and, remembering to pick up some plectrums 'just in case', made our way out of the theatre and back to the tube station which was heaving with people. Somehow we made it to the dangerously crowded Northern Line platform and on to an even more dangerously crowded train up to Warren Street; from there it was the Victoria line to Kings Cross. As we crossed the station forecourt heading towards the side exit the station clock said 10.45.
Outside and it sounds like we're in a warzone. That'll be the fireworks then; we're supposed to be setting up the band while everyone's outside watching them. Stu hands me an event pass and puts his foot down. We're there in a couple of minutes- it's an enormous tent on the wasteground at the back of St. Pancras station. Suddenly we're lost- it all looks different during the daytime and there's people everywhere. Finally we find where we need to be- but it's now all fenced off ('it wasn't like this earlier') so we go in through a side door. A security man's not happy but we keep walking, find the main hall and get up on stage. I get the guitars out and tune them, Stu wires in the pedals- we finish just as the band arrive, along with 20 or so members of the cast. There's barely time to say hello before 'We Will Rock You' kicks off to a near-empty hall, Al Murray bellowing an introduction over the opening drumbeat. Eventually some people drift in; it's a typical corporate event like so many that we play at in that no-one's particularly interested in what's happening on stage, it's just part of the evening and anyway they've been drinking for the last 6 hours and don't really like live music... the song finished to muted applause, probably the quietest reaction that a live performance of that song's ever had.
20 minutes later and the show's over, 10 minutes after that Stu and I have packed the guitars and pedals away and 5 minutes after that we're leaving for the theatre. We were on site for just under an hour. Most of the audience had probably already forgotten that a band had played at all. As we left Al Murray stopped us to ask where the coach was leaving from. That was that then.

This morning we were back for a 'normal' Thursday. We put everything back to where it usually is, changed some strings, checked that everything worked ok and left. Like I say, that was that then.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Never work with children or animals- or should that be amateurs?

Marc Bolan died 30 years ago today. I remember it being on the news and in the papers; Elvis Presley had died a few weeks earlier which seemed to overshadow pretty much everything music related in the news at the time (except of course for those 'foul mouthed yobs' The Sex Pistols who were at the height of their notoriety) but Marc still made the front pages. He also had the 'Marc' T.V. show which was running at the time- I can remember watching the last episode with David Bowie and Eddie and the Hot Rods among others; it ended famously with him jamming with Bowie and falling off the stage laughing himself silly. There's been plenty of golden-era T.Rex on the telly lately and it still looks fabulous to me, a forever young Bolan no square with his corkscrew hair driving a Rolls Royce 'cos it's good for his voice, the very definition of the word 'star'. Magnificent, heroic stuff.

Meanwhile another week in mad guitar land has seen Monday Tuesday and Wednesday in the shop- the first 2 busy, the third one quieter which was just as well since I'd spent the previous evening with East at the Crown & Treaty in Uxbridge, ostensibly to see about a gig for The Price there but which ended with us leaving sometime around one o'clock having had far too much to drink, as the shop customers discovered the following morning... and the kids are back at school which means we now get gangs of them in during their lunch break or on their way home, an oddly intimidating thing to have to deal with at the best of times.

Thursday at the theatre went well enough for us to be in the pub before midday- always a good sign methinks- before a commando raid on the never-ending HMV sale and a visit to Sister Ray in Berwick Street where I found the Booker T and the M.G.'s 'Time Is Tight' box set which I've been after for ages. It's brilliant- but you knew I'd say that didn't you? From there it was off to Northwood to visit the osteopath who tells me my back's improving all the time- it doesn't feel like it sometimes and certainly didn't after he'd finished with it; still I was asleep within seconds of arriving home which almost always happens to me after osteopathy. Strange... still it was back down the boozer in the evening to meet up with East, Big Andy and ex-'Sounds' scribe Andy Peart who I first met in the early '80's when he was producing the excellent 'So What' fanzine. I hadn't seen him for ages and it was great to catch up with him with my tales of Rollins and The Ruts sounding as unlikely as ever.

Talking of The Ruts Friday evening saw Paul Fox coming out of hospital for an evening at The Breakspear Arms in Ruislip. (it's all pubs this isn't it? No wonder I've always got a headache!) It was good to see him 'though he looked very frail; I've been listening to The Ruts a fair bit lately and have remembered why I liked them so much in the first place and how big an influence they were on The Price, particularly in our earliest days. Some of our first shows were supporting Paul's band Choir Militia- I couldn't believe that I'd ended up playing on the same bill as him, let alone that he knew my name. His playing at the Islington gig back in July might or might not have been as good as it used to be, but it was still streets ahead of so many people that I have to listen to telling me how good they are.

After a busy Saturday in the shop it was off to Gillingham Football Club for a Blues Brothers gig (we played there late last year the night before flying out to Ireland for a couple of shows). Austin and C.J. are tonight's BB's, Andy and Matt are on sax and trumpet and, with John playing for T.Rextasy at the Shepherds Bush Empire, Keith is on drums. With only 3 regular band members (myself, Squirrel and Ian) on stage it was always going to be something of an uphill struggle, made even more difficult by the fact that Squirrel had put a nail through the third finger of his left hand only the day before (yes, you read that bit correctly)- maybe the most positive thing I can say here is that it all could have been worse than it was... just...

Enough of my moaning- I'm off to play some more T.Rex. Easy as picking foxes from a tree, don't you think?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hypocrisy will be the death of me

Now- where do I start with this one- a plot synopsis perhaps?

Odstock Manor is, you've guessed it, a large manor house in the village of Odstock, a few miles South of Salisbury. We've been booked to play at the 21st birthday party of the son and heir (he had Madness playing at last year's bash- maybe the 'band budget' is a bit smaller this year?) His dad- Lord Odstock?- used to be the treasurer of the Conservative Party.

I wasn't looking forward to this at all.

Shirley and myself left early- since the weather forecast was good we'd decided to spend the day visiting Stonehenge (once a Tap fan, always a Tap fan) and stay down in the area after the show. The traffic built up as the signs for Stonehenge became more frequent, to such an extent that we turned off early and headed for Woodhenge which was turned out to be a good decision as they were doing an archaeological excavation (try saying that after a few drinks; for that matter, try typing it without a spellcheck facility on your computer) which was very interesting to say the least. We eventually made it to Stonehenge which was extraordinary- I'd been past it so many times but hadn't visited it before and it was well worth the effort, if only so that I could send hilarious picture messages to people with captions like '...and all the children danced...'. Little things for little minds, as they say.

After checking in at the local Travel Lodge we headed for Odstock. It's a typical countryside village with an almost total lack of street lights and some very odd looking inhabitants, most if not all of which probably tug their forelocks or doff their caps when the lord of the manor passes by. As we pulled up outside the manor house we spotted some of the band carrying some gear through a doorway in what turned out to be the garden wall- following them through we saw our venue for the evening, a large marquee. A man was kneeling on the path leading up to it fixing down a red carpet which he advised me (in a voice that made the Royal Family sound common) not to step on. For a split second I saw myself kicking him in the face, but thought better of it for some reason, probably because we would be unlikely to get paid if I had. I must be getting old. After a quick sound check (we could only do so much as John the drummer was arriving later; he was playing at the Proms in Hyde Park with T.Rextasy) we were shown our dressing room which was actually part of the birthday boy's, for want of a better word, 'quarters'. We had the downstairs part- a room about half the size of a football pitch with, among other things, table football, a snooker table and a fully equipped kitchen. We also had someone to look after us- Lainey (I guess she's really called Elaine?) who's presumably the lady who 'does' for the family. She bought us in mountains of food- while she was carrying some through the birthday boy arrived barking orders at her; she smiled 'they treat me like one of the family' before racing off to do whatever menial task he considered beneath him. Meanwhile Dave and Richard put 'The Proms' on the T.V.- the screen is roughly the size of a cinema with a sound level to match. At the first opportunity Pete put 'The X-Factor' on, much to their disgust. I went outside for a bit of fresh air just as the guests started arriving- virtually every vehicle was the size of a spaceship and had a 'Countryside Alliance' sticker in it's window, just next to the pro-hunting one. The air didn't seem quite as fresh anymore...

Well, to cut along story short (for once!), eventually we played and within a fraction of a second of the end of our last song I would imagine that they'd all forgotten about us and moved on to the next plaything. We packed up and left. That's about it really. Except, of course, that it's not- we'd been allowed into a world that we wouldn't normally be allowed to get anywhere near, populated by people who would rather that we just got on with our work and left them alone- provided of course that we pay all our taxes and don't get too noisy about things. Isn't the British class system wonderful?

Er, actually it's not. It stinks- I can smell it from here (it's even smellier than the countryside). The Countryside Alliance seems to me to be run by very wealthy landowners whose footsoldiers- the people who consider themselves lucky enough to be employed by them, who might even consider themselves to be 'like one of the family'- rant and rave in defence of a system that guarantees that they stay at the bottom of a very high mountain while farmers who claim a small fortune in subsidies bang on about how poor they are, then at the merest hint of a crisis (foot and mouth disease, the suggestion of socialism- that type of thing) start bleating on about losing millions of pounds. Meanwhile there are pro-hunting lobbies who say that they're trying to save jobs and preserve 'tradition' and 'the freedom of the individual' but whose members voted in the 1980's for a government that all but destroyed traditional British industry (mining, shipbuilding- that type of thing) putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work and decimating entire communities in the process.

Is it me or is there just the tiniest suggestion of hypocrisy here? Or am I the biggest hypocrite of all for playing the show or indeed for being there at all? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Just like a silver-studded sabre-toothed dream

The first record I bought with my own money- I had a milk round at the time- was 'Metal Guru' by T.Rex. I bought it from Rumbelows in Uxbridge, which was down Vine Street, roughly where the gym is now. I'd first seen T.Rex on 'Top of the Pops' several months earlier performing 'Get It On' with Elton John on piano and Marc Bolan playing a Gibson Flying V (it's a famous clip that still gets shown regularly) and couldn't believe how fantastic they were. I also liked Slade, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, The Sweet, The Faces and, a bit later, Mud amongst others- but somehow T.Rex were the best. Bolan always looked to me as though he knew something that 'we', the 'normal' people, didn't- even if it was only that he knew what a 'hub cap diamond star halo' was. I bought all their singles when they came out from then on and managed to get some of the earlier ones too; I've still got them all, stacked in the order that they were released. A couple of years later he'd moved on and so had I- T.Rex began releasing dodgy singles with girly backing singers (urgh!) and I'd discovered somebody called The Who- but I still loved those '70-'73 singles, and I still do, although I now play them from a 'best of' cd. And, if really pushed into naming my favourite ever single, I normally say 'Metal Guru', although that tends to depend on when I last heard 'God Save The Queen', or 'Strawberry Fields Forever', or 'Substitute', or...

Quite where T.Rextasy fit into all this shameless romanticism depends I suppose on your opinion on tribute bands generally. The first tribute band I saw were The Bootleg Beatles who were, frankly, terrific- but what really interested me was the audience reaction which bordered on hysteria pretty much from the word go. I realised that what was important here was that the band had created the illusion of being The Beatles and the audience did the rest; I saw The Counterfeit Stones shortly after and pretty much the same thing happened. So does this mean that anyone can put on a hat, dark glasses and suit and be mistaken for a Blues Brother? Maybe it's all down to how strong the original image is- i.e. to play guitar in a Queen tribute band (not that I'd ever want to, although stranger things have happened... actually they probably haven't!) without masses of curly hair and the 'correct' guitar wouldn't be enough for the audience even if the performance was note perfect because there wouldn't be a strong enough illusion created. When I play in The Pistols I'm very aware that to most people The Sex Pistols are Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious- they'd be hard pushed to name the 'other two' let alone describe what they look like- so whether or not I look like Steve Jones isn't as important as Paul and Tim looking like Johnny and Sid (which is just as well because I don't think I look like him at all!)

Friday evening at The Elgiva Theatre in Chesham and we're in the bar talking to John Skelton who doesn't look anything like Bill Legend- he was the drummer in T.Rex in case you were wondering. John's playing for T.Rextasy tonight who's main man Danielz looks a lot like Marc Bolan, so much so that I'm told next year's official Marc Bolan calender includes a picture of him by mistake. The audience is arriving around us and John's off to get ready for the show. A lady sits nearby; she gets out a book on treating depression and sits reading it as a guy in an 'Electric Warrior' t-shirt meets his mates in the background. A lot of the women are wearing feather boas- I bet Marc was on their bedroom wall around the same time he was on Shirley's. Just after 8 o'clock the show begins with 'Rabbit Fighter' and there, sitting on a stool in front of us playing an acoustic guitar, is Marc Bolan. Well it's not, (obviously!) but it is, if you see what I mean. The clothes, the hair, the voice, the mannerisms- the illusion is complete, so much so that by the time he's been joined by a bassist for 'Spaceball Ricochet' and a rhythm guitarist and drummer (John!) for 'Dreamy Lady' we're suddenly watching T.Rex in a theatre in Chesham in 2007, almost exactly 30 years to the day since Bolan died. 'Metal Guru' turns up early in the second set and it's still one of the best pop songs I'll ever hear- but then again so is 'Telegram Sam', and 'Get It On', and '20th Century Boy', and 'Jeepster', and...

In the bar after the show John still doesn't look anything like Bill Legend, but the guy he's just introduced us to looks a lot like Marc Bolan. I don't believe illusions 'cos too much is for real- but maybe I should?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dear boy

Keith Moon died 29 years ago today. I never saw him play but I've probably listened to his playing more than that of any other drummer with the possible exception of Ringo Starr, on the grounds that The Beatles are the only band that I might have listened to more than The Who. In the shop today I've played The Who non-stop on the dvd player- incredibly I'd almost forgotten just how much I like them, and how much their music means to me. A couple of people have come in off the street to stand in front of the screen smiling, shaking their head in disbelief as the camera caught Moon rampaging around his kit as the music reached another impossible crescendo; customers have stopped mid-sentence to tell me how many Who tracks they've got on their I-Pod, or that they saw The Who in nineteen sixty or seventy-something and that it was the best show they ever saw, or that they'll never forget the night that they were in a pub and Moon came in and wreaked havoc...

Maybe it is better to burn out than to f-f-fade away. Cheers Moonie.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

'Tea break over- back on yer 'eads!'

Tuesday morning and I'm back in the shop- the first time for just over 2 weeks. My back's still not 100% as was shown yesterday when I decided to help a delivery man with a bed (yes, I know...) and ended up being late for a Barflies rehearsal after taking some leftover painkillers and sleeping through Andy and Dave's calls; I'd forgotten how powerful they are (the painkillers that is, not Andy and Dave). Despite this we still managed to get a couple of new songs started so at least my antics didn't totally ruin things for us.

I opened the shop at 10a.m. to find a worried looking Simon outside. He's done a heroic job in the shop for the last 2 weeks while I've been indisposed but had been awake all last night worrying that the till totals hadn't balanced (he'd not mentioned this at all during rehearsal). In the event it was easily sorted out and I must admit it was good to have him there as I found the first couple of hours quite hard- it's amazing what you forget isn't it? That's another drink I owe him.

Talking of drinking East has delivered a dvd of the BB's Windsor show in record time; it's the first time I've had a whole show of ours to watch which should be interesting viewing to say the least as I think it was a really good show- let's hope I was right...

In the meantime there's a tube strike which means I'll be in the shop tomorrow and Thursday, with myself and Stuart's 'We Will Rock you' guitar maintenance moved to Friday after which Shirley and myself are off to see T.Rextasy in Chesham- John's just started drumming for them so it should be a really good night. Saturday the BB's are playing at Odstock Manor (wherever that is) and Sunday... is a day off. I have a feeling I'll need one by then. Back to work eh?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Royal blues

Third show-in-a-row and it's one that I've been really looking forward to- a Blues Brothers show at The Theatre Royal in Windsor. I always enjoy the atmosphere of a place such as this, the fact that everything about it feels as though it's from another time- my Dad's uncle Dan performed in theatre and music hall back in the day and I like the idea of looking out from the stage and seeing what he would have seen. And what a splendid venue this is, with the corridor walls covered in pictures of performances going back to the 1940's, and rows of seats reaching up to the sky. Wonderful.

Myself, Shirley and East (the latter witnessing his first BB's show and bringing a video camera along for good measure) arrived just as things were coming together on stage. It's another unorthodox band set-up, with myself and Squirrel stage left and horns (Richard and Dave) and keyboards (Ian) stage right. John's drums were at the back as usual and Tracy joined on backing vocals- unusual for a show such as this. And it's Mike's first theatre show with us- he looked a bit nervous as he helped me in with my gear. Legendary soundman Ian Bond still looks exactly as a soundman should, and even talks exactly as a soundman should- I managed to say hello to him before the lectures began- BadCat amps, which microphone to use with my Peavey combo, buying Jeff Beck Stratocasters in The States and more- great to have him back. I'm just recovering from the onslaught when lighting man Dave Bunting is shouting my name from the back of the stalls; suddenly there's a spotlight in me- 'stand there for your solos or no one will see you'. That's me told then.

Being theatreland (dah-lihg!) it's 2 sets starting at 7.30- and it's all but sold out. And it's a GREAT show with Pete and Mike sparking off each other from the word go and the band rising to the occasion accordingly. 'Stand By Me' made an unscheduled appearance, 'Green Onions' gave us boys in the engine room a workout (good job we ran through it in the soundcheck though- we found we couldn't hear the keyboard intro loud enough in the monitors which would have been, shall we say, interesting on the night) and no one I spoke to afterwards could believe that it was indeed Mike's first go on the theatre stage. Big Tel (of Re:View fame) and Simon from The Barflies were still there by the time I made it to the bar (thankfully still open- I told you it was a good venue) and East caught the whole show on video. A fine evening all round.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Ash bash

The alarm on my mobile phone makes almost as many appearances in this blog as I do; it also makes a terrible row, particularly when you're a little, shall we say, disorientated. Such was the case yesterday morning when, since we were all obliged to be at the airport for a 7 a.m. flight (more about that in a minute), it effortlessly crashed it's way into my sleep-starved brain not long after 5 o'clock. Incredibly I made it down to the lobby for the allotted 5.30 meeting time- Squirrel looking a bit shaky- when as usual, we waited for the horn players; an ironic situation since it transpired that we were only getting the earlier flight so that Richard could be back in time for a lunchtime gig. Upon hearing this news John the drummer was merciless- none of his jibes can be safely repeated here but suffice to say he made his position clear...
Meanwhile at the airport all is not well. The plane's 'full'- meaning that Pete and Mike are on standby and the tension's rising; it's something of a relief when the aircraft takes off with all of us on it. In no time I can see docklands below us (I may have been asleep for part of the journey) and after collecting our baggage we're all saying 'see you tomorrow' and myself, Tracy and Richard are rather blearily negotiating the DLR. By 10 o'clock I'm on the Metropolitan line and on the mobile phone (what did we do before them eh?)- Stuart the guitar repair man's text messages as entertaining as ever ('you're where? Why aren't you sleeping off a hangover in a Zurich hotel?' A very good question...). I always find it a bit weird when you back on familiar ground after having been in a foreign country only a few hours before- I met Shirley at Uxbridge station just over 27 hours after I last saw her and felt as though I'd been halfway around the world.

After stumbling through Saturday afternoon (well, the bits of it that I was awake for) it was off to Hitchin Cricket Club for an unlikely gig with The Pistols- at Toby the drummer's stepson Ashley's 18th birthday party. We decided to give the M1 a miss- we've been caught in roadworks there a few times too often lately- which winding our way along the A-roads through St. Albans, Harpenden and Luton, all of which meant that we arrived later than we'd have liked. All the same the gig went well enough, especially considering the looks of abject horror on most people's faces as we kicked off with 'Holidays in the Sun'. Ashley gamely tackled a rather poisonous looking shot glass after every number (they weren't all alcoholic, I think he'd have been in hospital if they had have been) and attempted to sing 'My Way' with us. I saw all too many people videoing his performance- in these techno-friendly times these things all get documented don't they? Oh well, at least he'll be able to discover how he sounded.

We decided to take the M1 home. As we sat in a several-mile long traffic jam we reflected on how the roadworks were on the Northbound side last time we looked. They're on the southbound side now. Bugger.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Zu-rich kids

I don't know how your day started on Friday (obviously!) but mine started with a Mick Green riff. I'd been round to see East's latest unlikely acquisition (and he has some increasingly unlikely ones, believe me), in this case a fully autographed copy of 'Led Zeppelin II', and ended up in a pub with him (no, I don't know how either). The previous week-and-a-half on painkillers may have conspired against me, or maybe it just seemed a good idea at the time; either way when I got home I decided to check that my Fender Telecaster was securely packed in it's case... since I'd earlier in the day been listening to the recently released 'BBC Sessions' album by The Pirates it seemed logical to try to see what I could remember. At least I didn't plug it in. None of this would have been of any great significance (after all, I do things like that all the time; doesn't everyone?!?) were it not for the fact that my alarm was set for 5.30am to give me enough time to make it to London City Airport for 8.30 (which, in a roundabout sort of way was why I decided to get the guitar out in the first place- isn't drinking brilliant?!?) to meet the rest of the band for our trip to Zurich.
To cut a long-ish story short-ish, I got there just as Pete & co. were checking in. The long-suffering Shirley dropped me at West Ruislip station and I was lost in 'Mojo' magazine's 1967 special edition in no time. I spotted Richard the sax player in the next carriage to me on the DLR train but, concerned for my ailing back, I decided to stay in my seat rather than go through to his carriage and risk having to stand. I must be getting really old... after checking in and breakfast (John the drummer telling an excellent 'Russ's stag night' story) a reasonably uneventful flight ended with a rather bumpy landing- or maybe all that reading about L.S.D. was starting to get to me? I remembered to adjust my watch (they're an hour ahead of us) and waited for mine and Squirrel's guitars to emerge in the SPERRGUT ('bulky items' I guess) section of the baggage reclaim area- always a nervous time though the HELLO-BAR looked enticing enough to take some of the worry away. Thankfully everything arrived ok and it was outside to meet Ronnie the promoter and Andy the driver- Ronnie, who could politely be described as a 'character', presented us all with 'Switzerland' baseball caps, to general amusement all round. From there it's straight to tonight's venue, The Studio Maur where we're playing at a corporate event for Credit Suisse. And it's an extraordinary venue- hard to describe here (see picture above. Some people really have got too much money don't you think?) but we were playing in a pyramid based on 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' with a huge staircase down the centre for the BB's to perform on and the band members either side of it in an extremely unorthodox set-up. Amps and drums were courtesy of the excellently named 'Swiss Cheese and Chocolate Company' who go straight onto my Christmas card list for the Fender Blues Deville they supplied for me to use. Superb. A rather peculiar soundcheck followed with monitors being even more important than usual- it's amazing how much eye contact there is in playing in a band or, maybe more importantly, how much you miss it when it's not there anymore...
Time to check in at the Hotel Sonnental which, in it's 'Wellness' suite, offers such unlikely delights as LYMPHDRAINAGE and FANDOPACKUNG (no I didn't in case you were wondering although the SCHOGGIMASSAGE did start to look appealing after a while- a bit tricky to explain on your credit card statement though don't you think?). I'm sharing with Mike 'Elwood' Hyde and there's just time to put our bags in our rooms before it's mealtime. Switzerland isn't too 'vegetarian-friendly'; that said tomato soup as a starter and salad and chips as a main course definitely fitted the bill as far as I was concerned. After we'd all eaten more than enough it was 'see you in the lobby at 8.45' time- I was woken up by Mike at 8.30...
Remember my comment about 'eye contact' earlier? Well we missed a few cues here and there and the ending to 'Shake Your Tailfeather' wasn't quite as I remember it but overall all things went pretty much according to plan and the assembled multitude seemed to love it which is always the main thing at events such as this. Afterwards the organisers presented us each with a large bar of Toblerone (excellent!) and there was time for a bottle or 2 of Cardinal lager 'though things took a turn for the worst when it ran out. Squirrel reacted indignantly to being presented with a weaker fruit beer with the only possible course of action- he ordered 3 vodkas to mix with it which seemed to cheer him up no end. 'It's water with ice' he kept saying to anyone who asked.

Back at the hotel and the words GOTT SUCHT DICH are on a large neon sign on the building next to us. Enough said methinks.