Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Folk, blues and beyond

Just got in from an interesting evening...

Davy Graham is regularly described as a 'legend'- which I think roughly translates as 'didn't get paid as much as he should have, or as much as all those people who nicked his ideas'. Back in the day- early/mid '60's in case you were wondering- he released several albums that still get talked about in hushed tones among the acoustic guitar fraternity, and is regularly quoted as an influence by players as diverse as Bert Jansch and Jimmy Page. His best known composition 'Anji' has been recorded many times and is regularly used as music on T.V. (it's recently been the theme to the B.B.C. series 'Folk Britannia') and even your humble narrator has attempted to fingerpick his way through it with varying levels of success/competence on all too many occasions. Well-documented problems have meant that he's rarely been seen in public in recent years- so a chance to see him play was too good to miss. At our recent Burgess Hill gig I saw a poster for his show there the following evening- fortunately it also said he was playing in High Wycombe tonight...

First up, the excellently named John Smith. I hadn't seen his name before (if you see what I mean!) but now realise he's very much an up-and-coming name on the folk circuit. And it's easy to see why- an astounding player with a voice that a soul singer would be proud of, he employed a bewildering number of alternate tunings- I don't think he used standard tuning once- and coaxed some extraordinary sounds from his acoustic guitar, not least during 'Winter' where he played a drum beat, a bass line and harmonics with the guitar flat on his lap. Really. Oh and he did a cover version of 'No One Knows' by the Queens of the Stone Age. Definitely someone to keep an eye on, and worth seeing live if only for the looks on the faces of the guitarists in the audience.

After a few songs from manager/driver Mark Pavey (who was ok, but I wouldn't have liked to follow John Smith- thinking about it that's probably why Davy got him to go on!) it was time for the man himself. Dressed somewhat eccentrically but looking well he began on a nylon stung guitar, later switching to steel. He mixed classical music with traditional Irish jigs, sang blues, jazz and folk songs and he played pretty much how you'd expect a 67 year old Davy Graham to play i.e. occasionally excellently, mostly very well and sometimes not too good at all. The people behind us didn't seem too impressed, making sarcastic comments about what he might or might not have put into his arm before the show and eventually leaving before the end. I wonder how many lives they've changed, or how many musicians they've influenced, or how many times they've been called 'legendary'. Not too many I would say- they've probably never had an original thought in their lives, couldn't write a song or a piece of music if you put a gun to their bollocks (assuming they have any) and wouldn't know 'soul' if it shagged them up the arse sideways. Twice.

It's always the people who can't that think they know better than those who can isn't it?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

'Someone left the cake out in the rain...'

Time for another 3-in-a-row for myself and the Blues Brothers boys:-

Thursday's show was at The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Liverpool- a benefit night for the Merseyside Police Charitable Foundation (yes, I know- but I thought I'd let you do the punchlines this time). Myself and the long-suffering Shirley travelled up the day before so I could see some of my relatives- in the course of visiting my Uncle George and Auntie Joyce I was shown some photo's of my Grandad that I'd not seen before (he died in 1950) as well as a letter written by my Mum (strange- but great- to see her handwriting again).
The Crowne Plaza is part of a new development on The Princess Dock. Shirley's not too keen on tunnels but we made it through The Mersey Tunnel without too much drama before getting lost trying to find the venue; somebody once told me that Liverpool is officially the worst signposted city in Britain and I for one can't think of a place that's more difficult to find your way around. Still we got there eventually to find everyone all present and correct- it's Mario'n'Mike's first gig together as Jake'n'Elwood; Andy & Dave are on sax & trumpet, Steve's on keys, Keith's on drums and Squirrel's on bass. After a quick sound check it's off upstairs to our room which was previously occupied by KK Leisure- I misread this as 'KKK Leisure' which made for an interesting thought... Andy & Dave are swapping stories about the legendary drummer Phil Seaman (hilarious!) and there's a few set-list changes to discuss before some food- then it's 'hurry-up-and-wait' time as usual. The Everton match is on T.V.- strange as it's happening about 2 miles from where we are- and there's some very nice sporting memorabilia in the charity auction. Eventually we get our turn- and the dance floor's busy more or less from the word go, a rare occurrence at an event such as this. There's a few mad moment's on stage with at least one sax solo going missing but all thing's considered it's a good show. Back upstairs afterwards and Dave's writing with a Merseyside Police pen that he's 'acquired'- again I'll let you do the punchlines...

Friday and we're at The Pizza Express in Maidstone. It's a l-o-n-g haul down the country with Shirl and myself managing to avoid too many hold-ups until we reach the dreaded M25; we find 'Smooth Radio' just as the traffic report comes on- 'shall I just say that it's Friday and the M25's busy?' And he's right, it's a virtual standstill. Through the magic of mobile phones I keep the band informed of my lack of progress; a surreal moment occurs as 'MacArthur Park' by Richard Harris (one of the great 'mad' recordings of all time methinks) plays on the radio and the bumper sticker on the car next to us reads 'I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe'. I know the feeling... we arrive just in time to see the rest of the band finishing their pizza's. I thought the stage had been extended but they've just changed the position of the piano giving the rest of us more room. It's a great gig with the rather peculiar site of people dancing whilst eating and Mario singing the intro to 'Do You Love Me?' to the girl on the front table. Excellent.

Saturday's a shop day- usual madness!- before heading off to Brentwood for the third of the three. It's a 30th wedding anniversary party in a very big tent in the very big garden of a very big house- Adam replaces Dave on trumpet and a very nervous Neil replaces Mario in the hat'n'glasses. He's done duo/playback shows with Mike but not played with the band before. Again it's 'hurry-up-and-wait' time with the projected 10 o'clock start time only ever a rough guide- we go on around 10.30 to initial bemusement (I believe that the audience had been kept in the dark as to what type of band we were) then much dancing and somewhat drunken merriment. I used my Baja Telecaster for the first time (I'd forgotten to use it at the other 2 shows!) and it sounded and felt as great as I hoped it would. But the real revelation was Neil- quiet to the point of withdrawal before the show, on stage he became Jake. Superb.

We got home sometime after 2 o'clock- and then, it being the end of British Summer Time, put the clock back by one hour. I woke up today feeling almost jet-lagged. Strange what a difference an hour makes isn't it? I mean, it can't be anything to do with the previous few days- can it?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Raise your glasses

There's not been much blogging time of late- Simon's been off sick from the shop which means your humble narrator has been pretty much running the place since we returned from our Dorset diversion. It was a quiet-ish week which meant that there was time to sort the shop out a bit, though today has more than made up for it with people everywhere and guitars and drum kits in great demand. We've also had C.C.T.V. fitted which means I now spend far too much time thinking 'who's that fat bald bloke on the screen?' when clearly I should actually be thinking 'I'd better lose some weight and get a haircut'. Well, something like that anyway.

Last Friday saw a highly enjoyable gig with The Pistols at The Crown in Hornchurch. I'd just got my Peavey Classic 30 combo back from Brent the amplifier repair man who had, in his words, changed a few things round' on it. There wasn't much wrong with it to begin with but now it sounds fantastic. It must have been a good show as I cut my right hand, bruised my right arm and woke up the next morning with a stiff neck. Excellent.

Saturday night myself and the long-suffering Shirley went to see The Police at Wembley Arena. I last saw them play in, I think, 1979 when they were terrific- just the songs from the first 2 albums (i.e. before they got too self-important) and a great, swaggering performance delivered with the ease that all-conquering heroes no doubt always have (I don't meet too many of them so I'm not sure). And they were great on Saturday too, though I suspect not quite as great as they themselves thought they were. It seemed as though every other song was a hit single- it probably was if you think about it- and for every bit of nonsense ('De do do do, De da da da' etc) there was a classic or 2 ('Invisible Sun', 'King of Pain' etc) to remind you that, for all his posturing and preening Sting (should that be Mr. Sting?) is a very good songwriter indeed, although again probably not as good as he thinks he is...

Sunday on the other hand saw a show that couldn't have been more different from Saturday's- an afternoon gig in the bar at Windsor Arts Centre featuring John Hegley & The Popticians and Attila the Stockbroker, the latter celebrating his 50th birthday. Attila was as great as ever, alternately angry and hilarious with material on subjects as current as the recent postal strike as well as stuff from the early '80's. He'd bought his own real ale ('it was left over from the party and I can't let it go to waste') and the venue provided cake for everyone. Great stuff.
I used to see John Hegley regularly at the much-missed 'New Variety' nights at Brunel University, sometimes with The Popticians, sometimes with The Brown Paper Bag Brothers and sometimes on his own; I also used to see him at Price gigs- strange as it may seem my first conversation with him was when he came up to me at The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town to say how much he'd enjoyed our performance. Anyone who's seen him will know how well he, for want of a better term, creates his own world in a performance- in the case of The Popticians this involves songs about wearing glasses, losing your glasses, cleaning your glasses- get the idea? This particular show included me as 'section C'- he divides the audience into 2 sections (A & B) and then picks out one person to be 'C', in this case me. Normally I hate things like that in shows but it was impossible not to join in, particularly when my bit involved me saying the words-
'Cor blimey John, they look exactly like the glasses you were wearing at the beginning of the song, whoopla whoopla'
I also had to shout the word 'amoeba' at the end of a song called 'Amoeba'. How cool is that?
The encore was a suitably chaotic version of The Clash's 'Bankrobber'- it was, somewhat peculiarly, 'Joe Strummer Week' at the Arts Centre. Best Sunday afternoon I've had in ages.

The day ended with myself and East drinking too much and reminiscing about times spent with Paul Fox. Under the circumstances, how else could it have ended?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Paul Fox

Sometime around 3 o'clock this morning, Paul Fox died.

Paul used to play the guitar. I play the guitar. He's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

Paul played in a lot of bands, but I first saw him playing in a band called The Ruts. They were amazing, and he was amazing. Have a listen to 'The Crack'- it's the only 'real' Ruts album. They sound amazing, and he sounds amazing. I bought it when it came out, it's got a sticker on it that says 'PAY NO MORE THAN £3.99'. I bought the next Ruts album too, it's called 'Grin and Bear It' and my copy's got a similar sticker on it; it's not quite as good as 'The Crack' but a lot of that has to do with the fact that their singer Malcolm Owen had just died. I'm listening to 'The Crack' at the moment- I've just got to the bit where 'You're Just A...' turns into 'It Was Cold'. That's one of my favourite bits. It sounded great when I first heard it, and it sounds great now. I still love the guitar playing on it, but I always loved Paul's guitar playing. I saw him play so many times- I think that the only guitarist that I've seen more often than him is Wilko Johnson. I can still go to see Wilko play, but I can't go to see Paul play anymore. I remember literally running home after seeing The Ruts play, desperate to get to my guitar, running up the stairs, picking it up, trying to remember where his fingers had been on the guitar neck and trying to put mine in the same places in the vague hope that the same sounds would come out. Sometimes it would sound a bit like it, sometimes a lot like it- but never exactly like it. I'm still trying to manage that.

Nearly 10 years after I bought The Ruts albums Paul produced a single for The Price. We had just had 2 tracks released on a compilation album called 'Underground Rockers Volume 2' and as a result we were invited to record a single for Released Emotions Records. It remains one of our most, for want of a better word, 'praised' recordings- and rightly so, because it's one of our very best. I remember so much of the recording sessions for it, and not all my memories are good- check out The Price website and my 'never meet your heroes' comment. But real life is like that isn't it? Then again I have so many great memories of Paul, because he's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

Earlier this year I played in The Ruts. Sort of. If you'd like to you can go back and read about it- it happened in July and August. It was mostly great, sometimes amazing and often sad, upsetting, poignant- somewhere between a schoolboy dream come true and an adult nightmare made all too real. As a schoolboy I'd played along with the records so many times, searching for the notes, searching for the sound... as an adult I searched for myself. Again. I search for myself all the time; I'm in the music somewhere, that much I do know. The Price should be playing a couple of gigs towards the end of this year, and I've no doubt we'll play a Ruts song for Paul; earlier this year we played a Mega City Four song for Wiz- is this what people are referring to when they say sentences that begin with the words 'well, when you get to my age...'? I feel like I'm playing songs for my dead mates, and that makes me sad- but I also feel like I'm playing songs that have changed my life, by people who I was lucky enough to meet and to call my friends. That's the best way to be thinking at the moment- don't you think?

The first time that I can remember Paul seeing me play was at Brunel University in Uxbridge; it was a very early Price gig and we were supporting his then band Choir Militia (though they may not have been called that at the time?). Paul was the first person that I spoke to after the show; he came up to me with the words 'you didn't tell me that you could play like that!'. I remember saying something like 'I'm glad you liked it- do you want your riffs back?' He laughed his head off, and so did I. He had a great laugh, which I heard often- but I can't hear it anymore now. Wilko Johnson's got a great laugh too, but I haven't seen him play for ages. I must go to see him play again soon. Wilko's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do, and I won't be able to see him play forever- which is sad. Then again, at least I can go to see him again- I can't go to see Paul play again, and that's sadder, much sadder, because Paul's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

A lot of people used to call Paul 'Foxy'. I never did- I always thought it sounded too hippy-ish. I wish I could call him it now. Maybe I didn't know him well enough to call him that; maybe I knew him too well- I don't know. But what I do know is that Paul was one of the best guitarists that I'll ever see and one of the, for want of a better word, 'nicest' men that I'll ever meet. That doesn't mean that I always liked some of the things that he did or some of the people around him, or that he always liked me or what I did or didn't do- but, as I say, real life is like that, and real people make other real people feel the way that I feel at the moment. Well I think they do, anyway.

Paul used to play the guitar. I play the guitar. He's one of the reasons that I play the guitar the way that I do. Thanks Paul.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

All change

Since my last burst of blogging I've managed that rarest of things- some time off. With Simon holding the Pro Music fort (good man) myself and her-Shirley-ness ran away to Dorset for an excellent few days of, well, not much really. And what a splendid time we had, with the weather unusually good for the time of year and the phone ringing so infrequently that I was beginning to wonder if it was working. I spent much of the only rainy day (Tuesday in case you were wondering) attempting to record some guitars onto my new-ish laptop with, I'm pleased to report, no little success especially considering that I still don't feel as though I know what I'm doing. Then again since I recorded some stuff I suppose I must know what I'm doing...?

Back to work last night though, with The Chicago Blues Brothers at The Martletts Centre in Burgess Hill. Myself and Shirley got there a bit early which turned out to be fortuitous since I found the local CD shop 'Round Sound' which turned out to stock rather a lot of promo CD's- you know, the one's labels send out to radio stations, journalists and the like. These are often very hard to get hold of especially at a reasonable price so I was very pleased to find albums by the likes of Glen Matlock, Steve Diggle and, incredibly, David Bowie- East is a Bowie collector and is regularly shelling out his hard-earned cash on all manner of Jones-related peculiarities. I picked him up the 30th anniversary edition of 'Diamond Dogs' for £3.99 which, judging by his reaction of 'that's 30 or 40 quid normally', was a good move. Best of from my point of view was finding the album by Alice Martineau who I played guitar for briefly a few years ago and who sadly has since died (she suffered from Cystic Fibrosis). I knew she released an album but have never been able to find it anywhere so I'm looking forward to playing that later, especially since it includes a few songs that I remember from my time with her.

Meanwhile everyone's arrived and sound check goes without too many problems although my Telecaster's playing up a bit- new machineheads needed soon methinks and, I fear, a re-fret at sometime in the not-too-distant future. I was going to use my recently-acquired Baja Telecaster but would like to play it a bit first to get used to it (I'm a artist dah-ling!); in the event my old Tele held up pretty well with only the odd moment of tuning madness here and there. It was a good show with Keith getting better and better on drums and the audience well into it pretty much from the first number. It was only as we were packing the gear away after the show that Pete said something like 'that's my last theatre show'- and I realised that he was right. Our next one's in Mansfield next month, by which time Mario is replacing him as Jake, though he'll be on stage playing other characters as well as taking a more active role in booking and promoting the show. It's the end of an era- I first met Pete sometime in the early '80's when he promoted my then-band The Others at the now-demolished Roxborough pub in Harrow (it's not our fault they knocked it down, honest!) and I called him 'Mr. Showbiz', and I for one can't imagine him not being on stage in one way or another. I said to him something like 'have you booked the comeback tour yet?'

Did he really say 'I'll be back for Japan next year'?!?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A quick one

Saturday in the shop and it's busy- very busy indeed, to such an extent that Paul the guv'nor and myself don't get lunch until 4 o'clock, by which time I'm beginning to see colours in front of my eyes (yeah, I know, over-dramatic as ever). People are mentioning Christmas rather a lot, which means it's going to get busier, no doubt resulting in lunch being phased out completely and replaced by a constant low intensity intake of crisps and chocolate throughout the day.

Sounds quite good actually doesn't it?

In the meantime there's the third gig of 3-in-a-row to contend with- this one's a 60th birthday party at The Hilton Hotel at Avisford Park near Arundel. It's been a while since we've done a threesome (oo-er missus etc) and it's been really great to play so much, though inevitably rather tiring. Shirley and myself wind our way down there, arriving around 7.30 to find everything set up in The Grand Hall and the band in The Board Room mulling over set-lists; Richard is elsewhere so Ian's on sax. We've got vouchers for free drinks (hurrah!) and spirits are high with everyone saying how much they've enjoyed the last couple of shows. Somehow we end up trying to think of songs with a golfing theme (rock'n'roll eh?)- 'Albatross', ''Knock on Wood', 'The Birdie Song' and, more peculiarly, 'Fairway to Heaven'...
Meanwhile in The Grand Hall birthday boy Pete makes a speech- very showbizzy, walking amongst his people, he's done that sort of thing before methinks- before him and his 2 sons borrow our gear for a version of 'Reeling and Rocking' which goes down a storm. and then we're on- 'Peter Gunn' kicks things off to general audience bemusement though by the time the Brothers are on for 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love' there are people dancing at the back of the hall, and by 'Flip Flop and Fly' they're dancing at the front. And then, in the middle of our set, a surreal moment as we're joined onstage by children's T.V. presenter Floella Benjamin (I'm not making this up, honest!) who sings 'Midnight Hour' with us. Really. She's a friend of the family apparently... we finish with the fastest 'Mustang Sally' I've ever played- Keith had been playing well but somehow got the tempo all wrong for this one! It finishes to the mild applause that these sort of shows always seem to end on- the D.J. asks me if we're doing an encore- my reply's something like 'no one's clapping'. And they're not. But it's been a good night, and indeed a good three days and nights. There's another threesome (cue 'Carry On Blues Brothers' gags etc) at the end of the month- that's something to look forward too.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who are you?

Early Friday afternoon in the shop and I'm flagging a bit- we got back to South Mimms service station to meet up with the long-suffering Shirley around 2a.m. which meant a rather bleary start to the day. Still I've got the wonderful new Ramones dvd 'It's Alive!' on the player and have had just about enough coffee to contemplate re-stringing an acoustic guitar that's been bought in for a service when in walks Tom the Yamaha rep. He looks rather smarter than usual, in a suit rather than a Yamaha t-shirt but is as friendly as ever, looking around the shop while I serve a customer or 2. He remarks that we've got 'plenty of our stuff over in the corner there'- which confuses me a bit since there's not a piece of Yamaha equipment in sight. I decide I'm more tired than I thought I was- until, eventually and amid much amusement, he says something like 'I don't work for Yamaha anymore, I work for Stentor now'. Ah, that explains it. Sort of. It also goes some way towards completing the jigsaw which began earlier in the week when Nick the Stentor rep came in- except he wasn't Nick from Stentor anymore, he's now Nick from GoTo Guitars. Ok-all that remains now is to meet someone in a Yamaha t-shirt and equilibrium is re-established. I think.

Anyway after the shop it's off to The Radlett Centre in (you've guessed it!) Radlett for another BB's gig. Pete's got his wife Jayne along to help with his costume changes and, with Tracy joining us on vocals, it's the 'full' show with even more songs for Keith to contend with. I missed the sound check so set up my guitar and amp in record time before myself and Shirley wandered off down the High Street in search of food. Back at the theatre and it's time for a drink before the show- in the bar there's poster for an upcoming T.Rextasy show; I wonder how John Skelton's getting on with them, I must give him a call this week... and there's a visit from former band driver/fixer-upper Bob Newcombe who I hadn't seen since, I think, last year at our pre-Christmas show in Rochford town centre. Great to see him- it reminded me how easy it is to be lazy and not stay in touch with people. The show goes well with Tracy's songs going down almost as well as Pete's increasingly over-the-top characters (I'll not say too much here in case you come along to a show- suffice to that there is an amount of female impersonation involved...).

Time to go time and we're in one of the dressing rooms with Tracy who we're giving a lift home. She finds, of all things, a pair of underpants on the floor in the corner. In a moment of madness she picks them up- and some of those little silverfish run out. Goodnight Radlett.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Sell out

Do you remember the Monty Python albums? No I don't really either but I do remember the lads a few years ahead of me at school liking them and their younger brothers (i.e. the ones in my class) reciting sections of them to each other in the playground amid much hilarity particularly at the sweary bits. So thinking about it I suppose I do remember them in a roundabout sort of way?
I mention this only because last night my Chicago Blues Brothers buddies and myself performed at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane (cue cries of 'it is an ex-parrot!', 'say no more!' and 'Albatross!' from East among others)- except this one isn't in London, it's in Wakefield. And what a fabulous venue it is, similar to The Theatre Royal in Windsor (a bit of a pattern emerging here don't you think?) with 2 balconies and a real 'from another time' feel about it.
After helping Stuart the guitar repair man at 'We Will Rock You' I arrived at King's Cross station to find the departure board not working and chaos reigning as a result. After managing to stop myself laughing out loud at the fact that it was 'Passenger Charter Week' I eventually found the 1.10p.m. train to Leeds and, with the help of the latest edition of 'Guitar & Bass' magazine found myself in Wakefield Westgate station in no time (it actually took about 2 hours). The theatre's just around the corner from the station so I dropped my guitar and bag off there and, after saying hello to Phil the P.A. man and Steve the keyboard player, went for a walk around town. The rest of the band arrived around 4.15- Pete & Mike as Jake & Elwood, Dave on trumpet, John/Squirrel on bass and, on his first theatre date with us, Keith on drums. Richard the sax was attending a funeral locally so he followed along later. After a longer sound check than normal (running through endings etc for Keith and, in some cases, the rest of us) I went in search of food and found myself in the theatre cafe where there was a large amount of publicity for 'All the Fun of the Fight', an upcoming play set in the time of the miner's strike in the mid '80's. Wakefield was of course one of the areas most effected and, judging by the accounts that I read on the walls of the theatre, feelings still run high- amid talk of 'scabs' and 'being starved back to work', a parody of the 23rd psalm ended with the lines-

'I am glad I am British, and I'm glad I am free
But I wish I was a dog, and Thatcher was a tree'

I couldn't have put it better myself... and it was a great show with Keith coping very well- a 2-and-a-bit hour show has a lot of songs- and an audience reaction that hopefully means that we'll return at some point next year. Excellent.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Picture this

Here are a couple of pictures from our recent Zurich jaunt-
on the left, your humble narrator in sound check mode- or is it? What on Earth am I doing with my hands?!? Note the ill-fated attempt at looking cool by wearing a Ramones t-shirt and the open guitar case in the bottom left hand corner of the picture- a sure sign that I spotted John the drummer walking by with a camera in his hand and opportunistically grabbed my guitar in the hope that he had nothing better to take a picture of. Sad eh? And on the right and courtesy of Ronnie the promoter, a shot from the show. Looks bizarre doesn't it?- Raiders of the Lost Ark crossed with the Blues Brothers. That's me on the left- sometimes this is a really strange job...

If that wasn't enough, there are moving pictures too- the excellent Mike 'Elwood' Hyde has uploaded (I believe that's the technical term) a few songs from last month's Windsor gig onto our MySpace page. If you want to cut out the middle man (as it were) you can click here-

-for the chance to hear us attempt to emulate everybody's favourite Memphis Group...