Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008- or was it?

This being my last posting of 2008 it's time for a look back over the past 12 months of life in mad-guitar-land, much of which sounds oddly familiar...

The Chicago Blues Brothers have gone from strength to strength, winning friends and influencing people left right and centre and playing some great gigs in the process. Particularly memorable for me was the run of shows at The Theatre Royal in Windsor at the end of March, with April's weekend in Norwich and the Jools Holland support show in Southend at the end of June not far behind. Next year's looking good for us with plenty of shows already in the diary and some very interesting things being talked about- I'll keep you posted, as they say. In dep-land I played a couple of shows for local heroes The Cane Toads back in the summer and a highly enjoyable gig with The Ali Mac Band at London's Southbank Centre in November 'though my favourite stand-in shows have to be the two I played with The Sex Pistols Experience- is there anything better for an old punk like me? And I have to say that playing in the window of Horsepower Hairdressing in Uxbridge with my old mate Andy just about beats the CBB show in a Swiss shopping centre for the 'oddest gig location' award- but not by much!

As far as other people's music goes it's been a bit of a barren year on the 'new music' front- I'm sure it's out there, I just haven't been able to find it! The only current (as opposed to re-issue) album that I bought this year was 'Dig Out Your Soul' by Oasis which, although a good album in my opinion, is hardly the work of up and coming young guns. There's a new album out by Graham Day and The Gaolers called 'Triple Distilled' that I haven't got around to getting yet, and I must find out more about The Gene Drayton Unit who I heard on the way home from our Kettering gig a couple of weeks ago; at the other end of the commercial spectrum John Mayer has finally made more sense to me, especially his concert DVD 'Where The Light Is' which presents his music in 3 different ways (acoustic, trio and full band) and contains some absolutely superb playing throughout. Re-issue wise 'Boy' by U2 sounds every bit as extraordinary to me now as it did when I first bought the album all those years ago- whatever happened to them eh?
Talking of DVD's the long-awaited (by me anyway) release of 'At Kilburn:1977' by The Who didn't disappoint- what's often reported as being a sub-standard show originally filmed for inclusion in the bio-pic 'The Kids Are Alright' turned out to be alright after all even if it did fall below their standards at the time (actually it is a bit shaky in places- 'Daltrey forgets the words to 'Dreaming From The Waist', 'I'm Free' is all over the place and the bit in 'My Wife' where Townshend throws a amplifier at guitar tech Alan Rogan has to be seen to be believed!) while the bonus footage of them at London's Coliseum Opera House in 1969 shows them in fine 'we're about to conquer the world' form, albeit in rather low visual quality. 'Shine A Light', the Martin Scorsese-directed film of the 2007 New York theatre concerts by The Rolling Stones contains some fabulous moments (and, it must be said, quite a few rather odd ones!) whilst 'There'll Always Be An England' is a remarkable document of last year's Brixton Academy concerts by The Sex Pistols; directed by long-time associate Julian Temple it features the audience almost as much as it features the band!

And I've seen some great live shows this year- The Who (of course!) in London a couple of weeks ago, The Sex Pistols (of course!!) at both Birmingham and London, Wilko Johnson in Watford, The Godfathers in London, The Blockheads with Wilko in Camden- but I think my 2 favourite shows from this year have been 2 very different blues gigs. Buddy Guy gave an astonishing performance at The Shepherds Bush Empire back in June whilst in August Kris Dollimore played a solo show in a pub outside Chesham, both of which had me mumbling 'back home to practise then' throughout. Great stuff.

This year's 'Did That Really Happen?' moment has to be meeting Steve Cropper. Playing in Dave Finnegan's Commitments and The Chicago Blues Brothers have meant that I've played Cropper's guitar riffs more than I've played anybody else's over the last few years and I can honestly say that I've never found them to be anything less than inspirational. When I shook his hand I felt like I was shaking hands with soul music itself- and it doesn't get much better than that does it?

Far too many great musicians left the building in 2008, among them Richard Wright, Mitch Mitchell, Isaac Hayes and, earlier this month, Davey Graham. When I worked at the E.M.I. factory in Ruislip all those years ago I met a chap called Ken who, incredibly, had shared a flat with Davey Graham back in the day. He told me all manner of stories about those times, but the one that came to mind today concerns the day that he came home to find Davey hunched over his guitar, deep in thought. When he saw Ken he said words to the effect of 'Do you think this is any good?' then played Ken an instrumental piece that he'd just written- making Ken the first person ever to hear 'Anji'. Words like 'genius', 'virtuoso' and 'legend' are in my opinion rather overused these days- but Davey Graham was all those things and more.

Plenty to look forward to in 2009 gigging with The CBB's as well as continuing to work at Pro Music in Ickenham and 'We Will Rock You' in London with Stuart the guitar repair man; I'm also putting on some acoustic gigs at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge as well as getting the R'n'B band (tentatively named The Retrobates) with Andy, Dave and Mike off the ground and, if I can finally banish my memories of our appalling performance last December from my mind, I might see if the rest of The Price fancy getting back together again... keeping busy as they say. And I've finally managed to work out how Voltarol puts links to websites in his blog! I'll be putting YouTube clips in next...

Cheers and thanks for reading- see you in 2009!

In case you're wondering about the title of this posting go back to my last posting of 2007-
I haven't come very far in the last 12 months have I?!?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Folk, blues, and all points in between

2008 ends with the sad news of the death of Davy Graham. As a guitarist he crossed virtually every musical barrier, mixing folk with blues, jazz with pop and, ultimately, East with West. In doing so he re-wrote the rulebook on what you could and couldn't do with the instrument and influenced everybody from acoustic players like Bert Jansch through to rockers like Jimmy Page in the process. He popularised DADGAD tuning (whether he actually 'invented' it or not is open to dispute) which was used to such great effect on everything from 'Kashmir' by Led Zeppelin to Rory Gallagher's version of Leadbelly's 'Out On The Western Plain'- see what I mean about crossing barriers?- and is often cited as the man who showed that the guitar could be a credible solo instrument in folk music. To describe his much-covered instrumental piece 'Anji' as a classic is a bit like saying that Muhammad Ali is quite a well-known boxer. Hell, even I've tried to play it!

If what counts in this life is what you leave behind when you're gone, then Davy Graham has left behind more than most. It's very sad to see him go.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Behold this study of your humble narrator taken earlier this month in the hallowed confines of Pro Music International in Ickenham. If you're thinking 'it looks like he's playing an electric ukulele shaped like a Gibson Les Paul' then you're absolutely correct- American Tom took this picture of me on his phone when I was playing that well-known Christmas classic 'White Riot' (well, I got the first word right!) to the general bemusement of all concerned.
It's been a busy few weeks in the shop as you might well imagine- if there is a credit crunch then it doesn't seem to have affected everybody! The last 2 weeks have been particularly chaotic with deliveries arriving as late as 5 o'clock some days and the phone line approaching meltdown on several occasions. Then again Paul the guv'nor took us all out for a curry on Sunday evening (top man!) and we were in the pub by 5 o'clock today (just as well as it closed at 5.30!) so it hasn't been all hard work!
In the midst of all this madness (and with my ears just about recovering from The Who gigs earlier in the week) Friday saw the last Chicago Blues Brothers theatre show for this year, at The Lighthouse in Kettering. An unusually clear M1 meant that everyone arrived on time or even early which doesn't happen too often (!) but it gave us chance for a soundcheck/rehearsal with Matt and McGoo who were doing their first show with us- Matt did the Alnwick show last month with Mario, and he used to do the Blues Brothers West End show with McGoo several years ago. The theatre's part of the Kettering Conference Centre and has only been open since June- with Dave and Richard doing a fish and chips run myself and Squirrel set up the merchandise (we've got some this time!) in the foyer and with people queuing up to buy things before we've got everything on display it's set to be a good show. Roger (keyboards) and Chris (drums) are doing their 3rd show with us in the space of a week and they've got things well under control, and with Matt and McGoo at the helm it's an energetic performance with everyone in top form with the only glitch occurring when Sam the soundman played the second half intro voiceover earlier than we were expecting causing a somewhat panicky race to the stage with shirts being buttoned up on the way. We got there just as the audience were getting restless! The journey home was enlivened no end by hearing The Gene Drayton Unit's tremendous version of 'Geno' on The Mark Lamaar Show- I've not heard of the band before so I've got to check them out- and an extraordinary version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' by Hammond organ hero Jimmy Smith from his 'Christmas '64' album, which I managed to find on Amazon before I left for the shop Saturday morning. Well I hope I did- I wasn't exactly awake so I could have ordered almost anything!

Now it's 2 days off (thank God!) before a return to shop duty on Saturday- Happy Christmas to you and yours, see you on the other side...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Slip-up Kids

I've just seen The Who 3 times in the last 4 days. Does this make me, to use a word I often hear young people use in a very disparaging manner, 'sad'?

No- it makes me very happy indeed!

When writing about them in a previous posting I mused on what they would have to do for me to say that they'd played badly- well on Monday night I found out. They attempted to play an acoustic version of 'Slip Kid' as part of their encore which was frankly, not very good... well actually it was pretty awful, terrible even. There- I said it! It would have helped if Roger Daltrey had known the words, or even sounded as though he'd heard the song before; then again what on earth was Simon Townshend doing? Standing at the back of the stage clapping along and attempting to provide backing vocals he looked like someone who would rather have been anywhere rather than where he was, and doing anything other than what he was doing. And as for big brother Pete- sitting on a red sparkly Fender stool scowling across the stage as he attempted to remember a chord sequence he'd written 30-something years ago he seemed a long way from being the man who wrote the rulebook for rock guitar performance. As they crucified one of my favourite Who songs I looked around me at my fellow audience members- some were laughing, others looked horrified, most looked bemused. Could this really be the same people who had just delivered such an astonishing performance of some of the greatest rock songs ever written?

Yes, incredibly it could- and indeed it was. In the previous 90-or-so minutes they'd played with enough energy to power half of London, a feat they repeated on the other 2 nights with an almost casual brilliance that most bands strive for but never even get near to achieving. All the classics were there for the casual observer/'C.S.I.' fan, but there were a few twists for the diehards like myself- they don't play 'Naked Eye' too often these days, I last saw them play 'Sister Disco' in 1981 with the much-maligned (unfairly so in my not-so-humble opinion) Kenney Jones on drums, and I'd never seen them play 'Tattoo' before- so everyone went home happy. Pete Townshend is now officially rock's grumpiest old man, ranting and raving about everything from airline ticket prices to the plot of 'Quadrophenia' ('a kid has a bad day- and then it rains') whilst wearing a pair of outsized sunglasses and a black trilby that, as Big Andy put it, made him look like something between a Beastie Boy and a Blues Brother. After Monday night's opening number 'I Can't Explain' (how many other bands can still start their shows with their first single 43 years after it was first released?) he put his guitar down and walked offstage with words to the effect of 'something weird's happened in my inner ear' leaving a bemused band to follow him a few moments later; he returned after a few minutes to play the song again, one of the strangest things I've ever seen happen on a stage. But The Who were never predictable, and maybe that's why I like them so much- it's not just that every show is different, it's that every performance of every song has the potential to be different to the one before. I've just been listening to a recording of them in Amsterdam in 1969; it's the same set that they played 6 months later at Leeds University but parts of it couldn't be more different- not better or worse, just different. The best part of 40 years later and with half of the band sadly passed away the group now called 'The Who' is still as uncontrollable and dangerous on stage as ever, which in these days of X-Factored monotony is a rarity worth celebrating. Now if they could just get 'Slip Kid' right next time... please...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Andover express

2 sold-out Chicago Blues Brothers gigs in a row this weekend- always a good thing to be part of in my not-so-humble opinion:-

Friday's show was at The Lights Theatre in Andover- myself, Richard and Dave arrived around 4.30 (after a somewhat unexpected detour to Blackbushe Car Auctions- Richard likes it there!) to find sound guru Ian Bond nearly ready for us to soundcheck. It being the season to be jolly there's people away gigging elsewhere giving an unfamiliar look about the band- Roger's on keyboards, Chris makes his debut on drums and Mario's up front with another Chris who's also with us for the first time 'though he's worked with Mario on many occasions before. Having several dep's in the band can often be a recipe for disaster (see October's '...THAT much talent...' posting for an example of a show where it can all go badly wrong) and when my first conversation with Chris the drummer reveals that he's not seen a DVD or heard a CD and will be reading the entire show things don't necessarily bode well- which just goes to show how little I know as he plays the show with hardly any signs that he's only just met the band.

More about that in a minute. Firstly some stuff about guitars...

You may recall that my latest 'accidental guitar' (I don't go looking for them, they seem to find me! Honest! Well, ok, I happen to be in a guitar shop or on eBay when they find me but that's not the point..!) is a Fender Stratocaster aquired last month in a somewhat bizarre swapping incident somewhere near Coventry; with Bondy bringing along his Gibson Les Paul for me to pass onto Stuart the guitar repairman for some much needed repair work it seemed a good chance for me to take my Strat along for some mutual guitar nerdery. Ian bought his guitar earlier this year in the U.S.A. whilst on tour with Porcupine Tree- it's a black '70's Custom, a model colloquially known as a 'fretless wonder' due to it having very low, flat frets (if you're feeling brave check out for some background information and a review of a similar guitar- go on, you know you want to!) although in this case the guitar lives up to it's nickname a bit too much for Ian's liking so he's giving it to Stu for a re-fret. It's a great guitar that screams 'ROCK 'N' ROLL' from the moment you pick it up- it'll be interesting to see how it shapes up after Stu's worked on it. My Strat got a good revue from Bondy who it turns out hadn't intended to come back from the States with a new guitar but had found it in a shop and was powerless to resist- see, it's not just me that does it!

Back in the real world soundcheck turns into a rehearsal with beginnings, middles and endings being tried out and the setlist being mulled over left right and centre- we put some things in, leave some things out and arrive at a show worth playing. With the rest of the band off in search of food I retire to the bar to catch up on some phone calls before heading backstage to prepare for a 7.45 show. As our intro voiceover plays I follow Squirrel out onto one of the darkest stages I've ever encountered, nearly tripping over the monitor as I stumble towards my guitar. At the allotted moment I nod at Chris who counts in 'Peter Gunn'- no turning back now but it's sounding good and the audience are into it straight away with Mario and Chris bantering furiously and much merriment all round. At half time Bondy comes backstage, I ask him to see if the lighting man can put a bit more light on stage at the start of the second half- he does, but only just... still it's light enough for us to see Dave and Richard desperately changing their shirts at the side of the stage while we're already playing the first number 'New Orleans' so it's not all bad news!
Back in the bar afterwards I meet Ralph who loved the show, tells me I sound like Steve Cropper (cheers Ralph- it normally costs me a fortune over the bar to hear people say things like that!) and that his brother's a guitar teacher locally; people are asking for merchandise but we've forgotten it (!) which is annoying given the level of interest but I tell them to go on our website and to stay in touch through that. A fine evening.

After a suitably chaotic day in the shop- no time for lunch!- myself and the long-suffering Shirley battled our way through the wind and rain to Maidstone for another of our occasional Pizza Express shows. With everyone else already set up I sort myself out in world record time, opting to give the Strat it's first stage run-out in the process. When I go back to the bandroom everyone's tucking into pizza but there's no vegetarian one- being a moody old bugger (and, it has to be said, starving hungry) I decide to take various band members would-be-humorous comments personally and make myself thoroughly miserable in the process so Shirl and myself go next door to 'Earls' (I'm sure the pub's name changes every time we visit Maidstone!) for lager and peanuts- rock 'n' roll food! The Spurs vs. Man. Utd. game had just finished on T.V. and there's more than a few people in who are boisterous and a bit worse for wear but the atmosphere's good- there's a band setting up in the corner, the poster says they're called Eclipse 'though there must have been hundreds of bands called that over the years? There's a Deep Purple tribute band on there next week which suggests it's something of a 'rock' venue- it's certainly a noisy enough place judging by the time we spent there.
Back at Pizza Express it's a 8 o'clock show- we've done gigs there in the past when I've wondered if the audience knew what they were letting themselves in for but this time they were ready to go from the first song. Bev's in for Richard on sax and we start where we left off in Andover i.e. sounding a lot better than a band that's 50% deps should sound. At half time I get accosted by some people who ask if I'm also in a local band called The Chillbillies- they're really embarrassed when I tell them that I'm not- and who incorrectly guess that I'm one of the deps! I decide to cheer up and concentrate more in the second half... but the Strat feels good and sounds even better, and the band play a great show to scenes of mass hysteria that cheer me up (a bit!) at last.

As we leave the venue Eclipse are playing 'Foxy Lady' next door, it's stopped raining at last and we've got John Mayer on the car stereo for the way home- remind again why was I so miserable earlier?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

'ere we go / earwig oh!

In contrast to the previous day Sunday was almost too leisurely- with an afternoon flight the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep was universally appreciated although going for a walk after breakfast revealed our hotel to be in what I'm sure is one of the less tourist-orientated parts of Zurich i.e. an industrial estate. Not long after 1 o'clock we caught the shuttle bus to the airport for the customary hurry-up-and-wait for our flight (on time this time) which got us back to London City Airport around 4.30 p.m.- I almost expected to arrive at Heathrow... or Gatwick... or...

I didn't have too much time back at home as Sunday was the first of 'my' nights at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge; given the title 'Acts Less Ordinary' by Grant the landlord and featuring acoustic music booked by your humble narrator they're going to get off the ground properly in the new year but I've put a couple of evenings together to try it out before then. This one had local singer/songwriter (and my occasional dep in the CBB band) Joe Card next to slide guitarman Garry Smith and went pretty well for a first attempt 'though we could have had a few more people in- then again I guess any venue could always have a few more people in? Tonight it's the turn of the splendidly-named 2-acoustic-guitar-duo Donut, then there's a break until the middle of January- more news as and when I have it, as they say.

This week the shop's alternated between being frantically busy and almost desolate, with not much in between. Friday night saw the annual Ickenham Festival where all the shops in the village stay open until 9 p.m. and hundreds of people appear from nowhere expecting something BIG to happen. I'm not sure that it ever really does but an atmosphere of general jollity prevailed- the hot chocolate stand outside our shop gave us all free drinks all in exchange for us providing them with electricity for the night, American Tom and Charlotte (Paul the guv'nor's daughter) were spotted dancing on a street corner to The Vyners Swing Band and they served mince pies and mulled wine in the funeral parlour, which I think you'll agree is something that you don't see every day of the week. I left the shop just after 9.30 p.m. and arrived back around 12 hours later to open up for the busiest day of the season so far, 'though I suspect there's busier to come.
After finishing our chores at 'We Will Rock You' on Thursday Stuart the guitar repair man and myself walked over to 'The Jersey Boys' at The Prince Edward Theatre to re-string yet more guitars including a 12-string Fender Stratocaster; now there's another thing that you don't see everyday of the week although given the time it took for me to get it up and running again this may not be a bad thing.

Talking of jollity I've been boring everyone senseless with the Swiss promoter's website (see the link from last month's 'Brewhouse Blues' posting) which reveals more madness everytime I look at it. The description of Tom Jones may well have the funniest opening line that I've ever seen, and I'm convinced that Elton John will attempt to close the entire internet down if he ever reads what it says about him. I'm reliably informed by my internet-savvy buddies that it's all the result of an automatic translation program and that much as I'd like to think that it's supposed to say what it says in English, the original German is probably fairly sensible. Shame... however East has managed to work out why it keeps mentioning earwigs- check out for the full story, 'though that doesn't explain the dancing bears or being pristine and tempo loaded. Then again I'm not sure that anything can!

This week there's more days in the shop, another day at the theatre, 2 CBB gigs and then I'm off to see The Who. Busy times...

Monday, December 01, 2008

'Swiss time was running out, it seemed that we would lose the race...'

This photo of your humble narrator was taken sometime around 10 o'clock on Saturday evening. I'm in the recently-opened Westside Shopping Centre in Bern, Switzerland where The Chicago Blues Brothers and their band have just played a storming set in front of an almost impossibly enthusiastic audience. If you're thinking to yourself that the photo looks a little blurred then you're not wrong- but it's actually me that looks blurred, not the photo. Here's why...

It's just after 7.15 a.m. on Saturday morning and Richard, Dave, Tracy and myself are arriving at London City Airport. It's cold and a bit foggy, especially over the water, and the taller buildings disappear into the ether a bit more than I remember them doing the last time I was here. Squirrel and Pete are waiting for us on the airport concourse where we check in for the 8.25 a.m. flight to Zurich- Pete ruefully observes that it's 'already been delayed to 8.50'- then join Marc, Chris and Mike for breakfast in the departure lounge. The mood is good- spirits are almost as high as the prices of the food- until the nearby screen suddenly flickers into life to announce that pretty much all of the scheduled outgoing flights have been cancelled, and to show where the incoming flights are being diverted to. Pete goes off to find out what's happening, then returns with the news that we've all got to go back down to the check-in area to book onto another flight. Amid the ensuing chaos comes the news that, you've guessed it, low cloud is to blame. While we're in the check-in queue our luggage re-appears (including the guitar and bass- phew!) around the same time that we receive the news that our flight will be leaving from Heathrow- yes, Heathrow- at an as-yet-unspecified time in the afternoon, and that a bus to take us there will be leaving at 10.30 sharp; with just over an hour to wait we retired to Coffee Corner to ponder the ironies of life.
On the bus I'm seated next to a distinguished gentleman who, in the course of our conversation reveals himself to be a dealer and collector of rare books; when I told him I was in a band he rather angrily asked me if our singers were black- I expect he's got a first edition copy of 'Mein Kampf' somewhere at home... some 5 hours after checking in at City Airport we checked in at Heathrow, after which Squirrel and myself were dispatched to Gate X with our guitars before meeting the rest of the troops in the departure area. We took off not long after 3 o'clock on a flight due to arrive in Zurich around 5 o'clock local time (they're an hour ahead of us) which under normal circumstances wouldn't necessarily be a huge problem- except that we're due to be onstage in Bern, around an hour's drive from the airport, at 5 p.m...
At Zurich Airport we meet up with Ronnie the promoter and Marcel the driver; Pete, Mike and Tracy go in Ronnie's car with the rest of us going with Marcel in his people carrier. As we hurtle towards Bern Marcel reveals his taste in driving music- 'Machine Gun' by Jimi Hendrix, 'Psycho Killer' by The Talking Heads, the German language version of 'Games Without Frontiers' by Peter Gabriel- well, I was happy!
We arrive at the recently-opened Westside Shopping Centre just after half past six. It might seem odd to us for a band to play in a shopping centre (it certainly seemed odd to me when I first heard that we were doing it) but I'm told that this type of thing happens over in Europe all the time. Excellent! The stage is all set- well it would be if you think about it!- and I've got a Fender Twin Reverb combo to play through, a bit loud but sounding great to me. We get changed, check our gear and start with 'Peter Gunn'; there's a few hundred people watching with more arriving all the time, as the set progresses they start getting into it, dancing, singing- can this really be happening in a shopping centre? Yes, incredibly, it can. Richard, using a radio mic, plays his solo in 'Flip Flop and Fly' from out in the audience while Dave 's lying on the stage getting his picture taken- he later admitted that he had trouble getting back up again! Then, suddenly, the show takes a dangerous turn- as we start 'Do You Love Me' with Pete singing 'you broke my heart' over my guitar chords, there's a loud thud behind me, I wonder what it was and turn around to see what's happened, only to see Chris sprawled out between the drum and keyboard riser. I tap Pete on the shoulder, tell him to stop the song, he asks for medical assistance as Chris isn't moving- then tells Mike to sing the song and gets behind the keyboards! With Chris receiving medical attention and me yelling chords at Pete we get through the song (Squirrel and Tracy helped Mike out in the bits he didn't know!) before I remember that we play the song as a medley with 'Shake Your Tailfeather' and the look on Pete's face says he's not looking forward to the piano intro... as we get to it I shout something like 'don't worry I'll play it'- and incredibly I do! I've no idea what I played (on the guitar, in case you're thinking that I suddenly learned how to play piano like Ray Charles!) but everyone seemed to think that it sounded ok... by now Chris is back on his feet but looking shaky, tells Pete he's ok and we swing into 'Mustang Sally', the place is going wild and the last 2 songs 'River Deep Mountain High' and 'Gimme Some Loving' cause a near riot. We encore with 'Jailhouse Rock' and Pete says goodnight but no one's going anywhere so we return for 'Sweet Home Chicago' with everyone getting a solo and audience scenes of what might best be described as 'mass hysteria'. An unforgettable gig.

Afterwards in the dressing room I ask Chris what happened- he's not sure, he thinks he tripped over the monitor or something, thought he'd broken his arm but it seems to be ok now. Ronnie takes us across to the Spiga pasta and pizza restaurant opposite where we'd just played for a much needed meal after which it's time to head back to The Hotel Ibis near Zurich Airport where we check in; I'm sharing with Squirrel in room 539, we go in to find it's only got a double bed so we stumble back down to reception amid much confusion- the porter comes back up to the room with us, puts a key in an otherwise innocent looking lock under the window ledge and a bed miraculously drops down out of the wall. On another day this might have seemed a surreal moment- but not on this day, where logic and proportion had long since left the building. We join Pete down in the bar, 'Prime Suspect' is on the T.V. and there are 3 likely lads sitting at the bar telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty. We reflect on how quickly we've got used to the smoking ban in this country, on our chances of playing at The Montreux Jazz Festival next year and, most of all, on a day that had against all the odds had turned out to be a very good one indeed- in the end.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brewhouse blues

An fine gig last night saw the return of several old faces to the fold- Mike as Elwood, Richard on sax, Tracy on vocals, Dave Bunting on lights (researching for next year's Southend show which we're filming for possible DVD release) and Ian Bond on sound- and one new face; with Ian away in Germany gigging with Roger Chapman Chris is on keyboards for the first time. Myself, Tracy and Dave travelled down with Pete- after negotiating a traffic jam on the M4 caused by people 'rubber-necking' at the accident on the other carriageway (I hate that don't you? Mind you, we all do it- don't we?) we stopped for a break at the Gordano services on the M5, arriving at The Brewhouse in Taunton around 3 o'clock. It's a good venue- part theatre, part arts centre, part meeting place, and with the rest of the troops arriving shortly after us we're set up and ready to rock in no time. Soundcheck saw a somewhat unexpected attempt at Ian Dury's 'Sweet Gene Vincent' with Mario on vocals (I must re-learn the chords for that one) and Marc, Squirrel and myself jamming Jimi Hendrix's 'The Wind Cries Mary' (no, I'm not sure what we thought we were doing either) as well as running through several keyboard-led songs for Chris's benefit. He plays a fair bit with Marc in other latin-oriented combos but had done a good job of learning our set from a DVD of the recent Colchester gig.
With soundcheck over I walked over to the nearby 'Howards' fish and chip shop for a cone of chips (whatever happened to chips in newspaper eh?) and wandered up and down the high street catching up on phone calls and wondering who on Earth thought it would be a good idea to set up an ice rink outside the venue. A similar thing is being attempted outside the Civic Centre in Uxbridge this week- Squirrel told me they tried it in Southend one year but it was a mild winter and the ice wouldn't freeze... it seems to be a bit of a bizarre idea to me- then again lots of ideas that seem perfectly reasonable to other, saner people often seem bizarre to me.
Back at the venue the show's sold out (hurrah!) and with everyone in high spirits it's a good gig despite the rather odd sight of a man asleep in the front row for most of the first set. Chris coped well with things, a 90 year old man asked Tracy to marry him (!) and with the merchandise stall besieged by what seemed like the whole audience after the show the evening's definitely a successful one- oh and someone said that the man asleep in the front row had checked himself out of hospital so that he could come to see the show...

And it should be a good show tomorrow as we're off to Switzerland to play in a shopping centre. Really. Then again if you think that sounds a bit weird follow the link below (we're listed as The Bootleg Blues Brothers- go to 'artists offer' then 'tribute bands') to find a frankly astonishing description of us on the Swiss promoter's website- any ideas or suggestions as to what they are actually trying to say would be gratefully received... well, it makes a change from a caption competition doesn't it?!?

I guess it's all in the translation, as they say. Mind you, the rest of the website's just as mad! Excellent!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oops! I did it again- AGAIN!

I'm a big fan of Charles Shaar Murray's 'Guitar Geek' column in 'Guitarist' magazine; it's a witty and irreverent take on all things axe-related as well as being a suitably intense look at the trials and tribulations of what's often referred to as 'Gear Acquisition Syndrome', or GAS for short. Recently he's marvelled at the film of David Gilmour's recent performance in Gdansk, and concluded that this means he needs to buy himself a Gretsch; a couple of months back he was wondering why he doesn't own a Les Paul, even 'though he doesn't actually like them as an instrument. All good stuff and as I'm starting to realise, worryingly close to home...

Myself and the long-suffering Shirley have just returned from a rehearsal room on the outskirts of Wolverhampton (that's why I call her 'long-suffering'!) where I met up with my new friend Stuart. He's in a band called Science vs. Romance (Good name! They describe themselves as 'a music box trapped in the eye of a storm'; check out to see if you agree...) and I've been in touch with him for the last few days thanks to the wonder of eBay; I thought I'd have a quick look on there to see if there were any interesting-looking Fender Stratocasters around- I loved playing my old one at the recent South Bank gig with Ali McKenzie and thought I'd see what was about with a view to getting one that I could use on gigs without worrying about damaging what to me is an irreplaceable instrument. I didn't expect to find anything- but there it was, a relic Strat (see the 'Reps, relics and rehearsals' posting from earlier this month for an explanation of the term 'relic') in Dakota Red with a rosewood neck; in the associated blurb the seller expressed interest in swapping it for 'an EL84 voiced amplifier' (that's a type of valve often used in guitar amplifiers; as so often happens in these hallowed pages it's Wikipedia to the rescue on this one- tells us more than the you's-and-me's of this world will ever need to know!) Hmm... I think that's what's in the Marshall combo under the stairs that I hardly ever use... I wonder if a deal could be done?

A deal has been done! I've got the Strat! It's fantastic! But I fear I've also got GAS, and it's got to stop- I'm running out of money, and we're running out of room! Well either that or I've got to start writing about it in, oh I don't know, a blog, or a magazine column, or something like it...

Now there's a thought...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alnwick-y in the U.K.

It's been the best part of 6 weeks since The Chicago Blues Brothers last played a theatre show (in Tewkesbury in case you've forgotten; the week after that we played a not-particularly-enjoyable set at Braxted Park) so it was good to get back into it last night at Playhouse Theatre in Alnwick (pronounced 'Annick') all the way up in Northumberland. With an epic journey in prospect the long-suffering Shirley dropped me and my guitars at Brentwood Services off the M25 just before 10 a.m. where I met up with Squirrel, Ian and Marc (bass, keyboards and drums) and ensconced myself in the van for the long journey North. We detoured off the M11 to meet Dave and Ian (trumpet and sax) in Duxford then set the controls for Flaxby Park just outside York where we were meeting Mario and Matt (Jake and Elwood- Matt works regularly with Mario as The Briefcase Blues Brothers but hadn't done a theatre show with us before.) With Squirrel at the wheel we made it to the theatre not long before 5 p.m.- the poster advertising the upcoming 'One Night with the Piano Men' show featured regular CBB saxman Richard who also plays in that show (among others!)

Ben the soundman is all set up and ready, he shows us how to use a bit of insulation tape to cover the sensor on the lift door which gives us enough time to load our gear into it without it closing. In the interim period since the last gig Stuart the guitar repairman has fitted some 'Danny Gatton saddles' to my Baja Telecaster in a bid to cure the string bending problem evident at the last gigs. (In case you don't recognise the name, the late great Mr. Gatton a.k.a. 'The Telemaster' was a virtuoso guitarist who Fender honoured by producing a signature guitar which included several modifications from normal including bridge saddles which generally produce better intonation than the standard ones; have a look at and follow the links for more information on the guitar and indeed the man himself.) I've tried it at a couple of rehearsals with Andy, Mike and Dave and it seems to have done the trick although this is the first test at a gig... and talking of repairs my ailing Fender Blues Deluxe combo is still at the menders (the part for the broken treble control has proved tricky to find) so I'm using my Laney LC50 combo for the first time in ages, it sounds good but I'll be glad when the Fender's back. Soundcheck mostly consists of running through the songs Matt's going to be singing lead vocals on, and working out an intro for 'Respect'; Tracy normally does this as part of a medley with 'Think' but with her off elsewhere Mario's stepping into the breach. I guess he didn't know the words to 'Think'? With time running short Squirrel and myself set up the merchandise table before walking down to The Hot Bite for a portion of chips- in their window is a poster advertising an upcoming pantomime at The Playhouse called 'I Geordius'. Excellent!

You can be fairly sure it's going to be a good gig when the audience start clapping as the musicians walk out onto the stage- they did, and it was! Matt coped brilliantly with being thrown in at the deep end- you'd have to have known where his mistakes were if you know what I mean- and made up for losing his way slightly in 'Flip Flop and Fly' by cartwheeling across the stage, a manoeuvre that inspired some youngsters to try the same thing in the audience! He also did the splits during 'Shake Your Tailfeather'- I'd seen him do it before but judging by the look on his face Squirrel clearly hadn't... my guitar worked fine (thanks Stu!) and by the end of the show the place was going crazy- it's good to be back in showbusiness!

5 hours after we've arrived and it's nearly time to go home. Dave's standing near the back of the van as we're loading our gear into it; he breaks wind (not for the first time in the evening!) and looks pleased with himself. A young man walking by is suddenly sick over a wall, and Dave is warned in no uncertain terms not to do it again in the van, and that if he does he's walking home. As I say, it's good to be back in showbusiness...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I can see clearly now

I went to the opticians earlier today. (Well, obviously I went earlier today as I couldn't be telling you this story if I was going later today could I?!? Anyway...) I'd just filled my form in and was stumbling around looking at perspective new frames (more about them in a minute) when a well-dressed young man came over to me to tell me that it was time for my eye test and could I please come with him. Yes, of course I can. He led the way through to the examination room and ushered me in. I was just about to ask him how his work experience was going when I realised that he was preparing to give me my eye examination.

He's the optician! But he's a little boy! Help!

It turns out that my new friend Krish finished at university in 2003 (I didn't like to ask him what he studied in case it wasn't anything to do with optics) which means that he's been an optician for over 5 years. But he's a little boy! It's bad enough that my dentist looks like a Bollywood goddess without a little wee fella knowing what the inside of my eye looks like! Argh!

Mind you none of this is anywhere near as disturbing as the price of new glasses these days. It might well be '2 for the price of 1' but it's still several hundred pounds to get anything that's even vaguely attractive looking. And that's another thing- how come you can't get round glasses anymore? All the frames look like someone's sat on them! And who said that it would be a good idea to make them without the bits that hold the lens in? Have I missed something here? It's enough to make me think about getting contact lenses- except that it's not; I've never fancied putting something into my eye and anyway, I WEAR GLASSES!!! Or I would if I could get some that suited me for under a grand!

Sorry about the ranting- I'll be really glad when we're gigging again and I can get back to writing about that! I bet you will be too!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stone free

My brother Terry phoned me just before 10 o'clock this morning to tell me that Mitch Mitchell, the drummer with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, died yesterday. Sad news. As I took the call I was sitting with Stuart the guitar repair man in the Starbucks coffee shop off Tottenham Court Road- he was just telling me how he'd 'had a look' at Hendrix's 'Woodstock Strat' for Mitch when he sold it...

I saw him play once, at Brunel University in Uxbridge in the late '70's. He was part of Hinkley's Heroes, a loose amalgam of players and friends who at that time also included ex-Joe Cocker and Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, and then-current Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell. I remember that when he was introduced to the audience he started to play a drum solo but then stopped, came around to the front of the kit, and did a tap dance instead; he had plimsolls on so it didn't really work (!) although I seem to recall that they tried to mike his feet up, but to no avail. This, more than any other incident, contributed to my inability to take drum solos seriously- so I'm grateful to him for that if nothing else. But there was more, much more to it all than that- as a member of The Jimi Hendrix Experience he arguably helped transform pop music from something that was not taken particularly seriously by 'real' music fans (whoever 'they' are and whatever 'that' is) into rock music, with all that that entails, good and bad. Listening to their recordings today it seems to me that Mitch's drumming- often as extraordinary as Jimi's guitar playing- always provided a backdrop which combined with Noel Redding's rock-solid bass playing to give Hendrix the ultimate platform from which his almost unlimited capacity for musical and sonic innovation would allow him to change the sound of the electric guitar forever. There's any number of moments to remember, but how about the drum fill just before the vocals come in on 'Little Wing'- you just couldn't imagine the song without it could you?- or his performance on 'Fire' which rivals Keith Moon at his best for invention, energy and intensity. Then there's 'Up From The Skies', 'Manic Depression', 'Crosstown Traffic'...

The rock music world has lost one of it's most influential and brilliant musicians. Cheers Mitch- and thanks for doing what you did, when you did it. It really wouldn't- couldn't- have been the same without you. Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm off to watch the 'Monterey Pop' DVD...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The South Bank Show

Since last night's show was part of a memorabilia-based exhibition I thought I'd start this posting with a couple of pieces of Ali Mac Band memorabilia. (Pretentious? Moi? Of course!) Here's an Access All Areas pass for the event, and a setlist for our show written by your humble narrator and including the key each song was played in and which band member started it. The hieroglyphics at the bottom refer to my amplifier settings- but more about them in a minute...

The gig itself took place in The Debating Chamber at County Hall on London's South Bank. What was the headquarters of the G.L.C. (that's the Greater London Council for the benefit of any younger readers fortunate enough not to have lived through Thatcher's Britain; check out for the full story- I'd forgotten the bit where Ken Livingstone put the unemployment figures up on the side of the building! Hilarious!) is now The Movieum of London, a very impressive exhibition of film memorabilia that's also branching out into live music performances. It's an extraordinary, even unique venue for a gig- it really is the debating chamber!- and I'm depping in The Ali Mac Band who are led by Ali McKenzie, former lead singer with The Birds and something of an icon at these type of events; Richard 'Hud' Hudson (formally of The Strawbs amongst others) is on drums, Bill from The Glitter Band is on bass (I must ask him his surname!) and we're opening proceedings at the worryingly early hour of 4.30 pm. The gig's been arranged by The Eel Pie Club which normally meets at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham where it aims to carry on the tradition of the '60's gigs on Eel Pie Island- to this end the show features The Pretty Things and The Downliners Sect alongside The Eel Pie All Stars, The Blue Bishops and Leaf Hound (see the AAA pass for some of the bands that their members used to play in, and for the club information.) With the early start in mind we arrive just before 3 o'clock to find The Pretty Things soundchecking with a suitably raucous version of 'Roadrunner'. It's really them! I've long been a fan of theirs, especially the 'S.F. Sorrow' album which is something of a psychedelic classic although I also like their earlier r'n'b based material; there's only Phil May and Dick Taylor left from the early days and although Frank Holland's been there a while they've recruited a new younger rhythm section since I last saw them. They still sound the same though- Taylor's playing sounds 40 years younger than he looks, and even in a soundcheck May looks as though he's ready to bite the top off his microphone. They try an acoustic version of Muddy Waters' 'I Can't Be Satisfied' with Taylor on open tuned slide guitar before making way for us. Dick Taylor's just putting his guitar away as I approach him, pluck up some courage (I'm really shy at moments like these!) and introduce myself- he's really friendly, even to the point of showing me how he uses a Vox AC30 amplifier, he links the 'brilliant' and 'vibrato' channels with a short lead so that you can blend the 2 sounds... I'd used a similar trick with amps in the past but hadn't been shown it by a British rhythm and blues legend before, I mean he's mates with The Stones, been round Keef's house and everything, now he's talking to little old me about guitar amplifiers- I wrote my settings down on my setlist in case anyone changed them before we played, even drawing in the lead linking the channels in case that got moved as it sounded too good to risk it being altered by someone else soundchecking. Now I'll have to buy an AC30 so that I can tell the story again-

'Oh let me show you this- Dick Taylor, you know, the bloke out of The Pretty Things, he showed me how to link the channels, it sounds great, have a listen...'

-it'll cost me a fortune but who cares!

After our soundcheck we find The Green Room where we work out a set, get changed and walk back to the debating chamber for the show. We're about 5 minutes late in starting, the audience is arriving while we're playing which is always a bit demoralising but by 'Mess of the Blues' there's enough people in to make it work. We're playing well, Ali's in fine voice and my guitar- I used my old Strat and I'm glad that I did- is sounding great through the aforementioned AC30. I'm definitely going to have to buy one now! Halfway through 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' (yeah I know, I forgot to write the last word of the title on the setlist- well, we were in a hurry!) I realise that we didn't actually run through the song at our rehearsal, they play it slower than I've heard it before and use it for introducing the band members; we finish 'The Letter' to lengthy applause, there's no time for an encore but it doesn't matter, it's been a great gig which seemed to only last a few seconds. Then again the best ones always do.
We go back to The Green Room to get changed and discuss the show, everyone says that I did a good job which considering the people involved means a lot to me. We get back to the venue in time to catch the last couple of songs from The Blue Bishops- their bass player is ex-Kinks man Jim Rodford, I meet him afterwards and tell him that I'm in a band with Ian Gibbons, an unashamed bit of name-dropping; he surprises me by saying how much he enjoyed our show. I watch The Downliners Sect with Hud, he says that he worked with them in the '60's when he played in Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, says they sound the same now as they did then i.e. pretty good. By now I'm getting hungry it's off to Ned's Noodle Box opposite, while I'm in there my brother Terry calls, says that if I'm up on The South Bank I should go to Ned's Noodle Box as he always goes there when he's in the area... back at The Movieum I miss most of Leaf Hound as I'm walking around the exhibition, it's got some amazing stuff on display ( have a look at to see what I mean) so I send a picture of the original Scott Tracy puppet to Stuart the guitar repairman who finds it highly amusing. I find Ali and his other half Bev in the front bar (I didn't know there was a front bar!) and we go back to the venue to see The Pretty Things who play a brilliant set with everything from early singles like 'Don't Bring Me Down' through to songs from last year's 'Balboa Island' album via 'S.F. Sorrow' and all points in between. Before 'I Can't Be Satisfied' Phil May recounted how he and Dick were at Sidcup Art College with Keith Richards, says 'here's one of the songs we used to play' nonchalantly, as through anyone who could play the song could go on the change the world, then says 'back then they gave groups like ours three years'; Dick comments 'was that before or after good behaviour?' The evening ends with The Eel Pie All Stars, sadly the mighty Mick Green is unwell and so can't be there (shame!) but original Yardbirds guitarist Tony 'Top' Topham plays a couple of songs as does Ray Majors from Mott The Hoople; Ali gets up for 'Kansas City' and 'Walking The Dog' and the last number is 'Midnight Special' with Mick Avory from The Kinks on drums and Phil May waving a glass of red wine at all and sundry. Great stuff.

Back in the Green Room we say our goodbye's- Phil May asks me how I think our set went, it's been so long since we played that it's almost hard to remember; but it went well, everything went well, it's been a good night, a great night, a classic night. Outside the rain is so heavy that we get completely soaked getting back to Ali's car- but it doesn't matter, not after what we've just been part of; well it doesn't matter to me anyway, not least because I'm wondering where I can get an AC30 from...

Information on any or all of the acts mentioned above may or may not be found elsewhere on the internet...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Reps, relics and rehearsals

I recounted my black tales in the shop on Saturday to an audience of Paul the guv'nor, James the Saturday boy and various shop regulars- Paul, ever the realist, commented 'I think you might be reading too much into all of this'. Maybe... but it's been busy in the shop of late, with plenty of pre-Christmas browsing and many an enquiry along the lines of 'my son/daughter would like to play the guitar...' with this in mind it's been 'rep frenzy' this week, with Tom from Stentor, Adam from Line6 and Tom from EMD among those venturing into the shop to show us their wares and to attempt to coax Paul into spending some money on them. Pallets of large cardboard boxes have started to arrive so clearly some if not all of them were successful... Stuart the guitar repairman made one his many 'picking-up-and-dropping-off' visits on Tuesday, when he was accompanied by noted Guitar Techniques writer Jon Bishop. When he's not transcribing near-impossible guitar parts for the magazine (he's currently working on 'Texas Flood' by Stevie Ray Vaughan- see what I mean?) Jon is guitarist for Shakin' Stevens, a fact Stuart finds almost incalculably amusing. I'd not met Jon before 'though I'd talked to him on the phone several times as he was once at Stu's when I'd phoned there and I recognised his voice in the background from the commentaries he supplies on the CD's that accompany the GT mag- Stu put him on the phone! He seemed a really nice bloke (as I said to Stu, 'taller than he looks in the pictures') and liked our shop which is always a good sign!

After all the talk of Stratocasters last Thursday I've been contemplating getting myself another one as my 1963 example (ex-Paul Fox if you remember) is now getting a bit too valuable to take out gigging. With this in mind I've been asking/looking around to try to find out if there's a current model that's similar in feel to my guitar- the general consensus seems to be a Custom Shop 'Time Machine' model- a bit of a shame since they're rather expensive. They're incredibly accurate recreations of the older Fender instruments and come in three types- 'New Old Stock, 'Closet Classic' and 'Relic'. The N.O.S. are as new, as if the guitar had been undiscovered since it was first made; the Closet Classics are as if the instrument has been played for a while then put out of harm's way ever since, and the Relics have been 'distressed (i.e. beaten up!) to look how a guitar that's been played regularly for 40-odd years should look. (Allegedly the idea for these instruments came from a comment from Keith Richards who liked the guitars but said they looked too new!) There's plenty of them around- they're a current model, have a look at the Custom Shop section of for more details- and everyone who I've spoken to is full of praise for them; Pete from The Cane Toads has a Sunburst '60 Relic which he's very kindly lent me to try; it's pretty close to my one so I think I'll see what turns up over the next few months... that said after we'd finished at the theatre earlier today Stu and myself went across to The Noel Coward Theatre where Adam Goldsmith is currently playing guitar in 'Avenue Q'; he's got an Eric Clapton Stratocaster which he'd asked Stu to check over as it's not playing as he'd like. Stu pronounced it in need of refretting but it felt pretty good to me especially the neck profile so maybe I should have a look at those as well?

Monday night saw a rehearsal with The Ali Mac Band- Richard 'Hud' Hudson (ex-Strawbs among others) on drums, Bill from The Glitter Band on bass and Ali McKenzie (from '60's mod icons The Birds) on vocals joined by your humble narrator depping on guitar. We're playing a short (35 minutes) set at The South Bank this Saturday supporting The Pretty Things, The Downliners Sect and The Eel Pie Allstars which should be an evening to remember, not least because the Allstars should feature the mighty Mick Green who's one of my all-time guitar heroes. I met Ali at closing time at the shop and we made our way over to Chertsey where we're rehearsing at a studio on a farm owned by Dave, a friend of the band. I decided to take my old Strat with me to see if it's good as I remember it; even played through a not-very-good Yamaha combo it sounded great and felt fabulous to play, so much so that I think I'll use it for the gig. I'll just have to be careful... and talking of rehearsals it was another excellent session at Ruff Rockers last night with Dave and Mike (Andy couldn't make it due to family commitments) where we continued our r'n'b adventures with songs by the likes of The Temptations and Nine Below Zero being added to our repertoire. Mike bought down yet another Stratocaster for me to try, a mid-'90's Mexican standard to which he's added Schaller locking machineheads and Kinman pick-ups. It played and sounded great- we tried a couple of half-remembered ZZ Top songs for some reason- which has really confused me as it's current equivalent costs less than a quarter of the Time Machine models and it certainly wasn't a quarter of the guitar. Maybe I could get several of these instead?!? Ah- so many Stratocasters, so little time...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Paint it black (and orange)

What do you think of Halloween? A good laugh? A waste of time and money? A bit of both, and a reminder that there's a dark side to both human nature and this funny little life of ours? Or was it just all invented by a mad American pumpkin salesman who had to get rid of the stock cluttering up his back room?

Myself and East were discussing this and other such peculiarities in The Three Tuns in Uxbridge on Tuesday evening. East, a renowned Christmas hater, observed the skulls amongst the black and orange decorations and said something along the lines of 'I might get some of this stuff for Christmas'; he then went on to speak of the legend of the Black Morris Men who dance silently to welcome in the winter, a portent of all that is bad for country folk who rely on good weather for their crops to flourish. It sounded like something Terry Pratchett would come up with (it turns out that he did!- ) 'though East and myself chose to find it rather more believable and not a little amusing, especially after a few beers.

But it wasn't quite so amusing yesterday...

If it's Thursday it must be 'We Will Rock You' guitar maintenance day. After a reasonably painless time at the theatre Stuart the guitar repairman and myself met up with his mate Miles and walked across to Angel Music in Denmark Street where Miles has got his eye on a guitar and has asked Stu to offer his professional opinion as to it's merits. The instrument in question is a 1962 Fender Stratocaster- 3-colour sunburst finish, rosewood neck as opposed to maple, superficially at least a highly desirable guitar. But, as so often happens in life, it's not as simple as that- the vintage guitar market is a highly complex minefield waiting to inflict pain and injury upon the unaware who stumble across it with little or no knowledge of the danger lurking just below the surface. (If you don't know much about this, as Sherlock Holmes would say, singular subject have a look at which should give you some idea of the parameters involved; you might also like to try to get a handle on the sort of prices that can sometimes be bandied about.) A crucial factor in all of this is originality i.e. has the instrument been changed in any way from it's original form? Particularly important here are the pick-ups (many '50's and '60's instruments have had their pick-ups changed, often in an attempt to keep up with musical trends) and the finish (again often changed as a fashion consideration- no one wanted pink guitars in the heavy rockin' '70's!- or when the original finish became worn and/or damaged.) Stu's seen and worked on hundreds, maybe even thousands, of old and highly collectable instruments in his career and so is an ideal person to take along with you if you're interested in purchasing such a guitar, and the one Miles is interested in certainly counts as both old and highly collectable- except that it's certainly not in an all-original state. The neck pick-up's been changed, and it some point in it's history it had, for now unspecified reasons, had some micro switches fitted which had meant part of the body underneath the scratchplate had been routed out. The wood removed has since been replaced (very professionally in Stu's opinion) and the original scratchplate returned to it's rightful place on the guitar (fortunately a different one was used to mount the switches on, although the cynical among us may find that hard to believe- see what I mean about a minefield?) Andy the shop owner demonstrated that no more work had been done with the aid of a blacklight (back to Wikipedia for this one- ) which would show any other changes to the wood and/or finish of the guitar- I was learning as I was going along but all agreed that it all looked original. All very interesting stuff for a guitar bore such as myself, and Stu and myself discussed this for much of our tube journey home, 'though talk of the blacklight prompted me to recount East and myself's conversations a couple of night's earlier, much to Stu's amusement. It was just as we pulled into Rayners Lane station that our mirth reached it's height- so much so that we all but failed to hear the station announcement telling us that the train wasn't going any further and there would be no trains going to Uxbridge for the foreseeable future due to signal failure in the Ruislip area.


As we joined 50 or so disgruntled former-tube-train-passengers in looking for the right bus stop it started raining. The bus arrived and a near riot ensued with few people ever looking as though they'd get near it, let alone on it. With the next one due in 30 minutes and more and more people arriving from the station Stu opted for a bus towards Harrow in the hope that he could get home from there and I had no choice but to start walking. As we parted company we both agreed that laughing about the legend of the Black Morris Men had not been a good idea...
I called the long-suffering Shirley as I walked. As I told her my sorry story a bus passed me, and I looked through a gap in the houses to see a tube train running down the track. So- they were working again then, and I'm still about 10 minutes walk from the next station. It started raining harder. Not good, frankly.

Last night I had a rehearsal with Andy, Mike and Dave. When I got there Dave and Mike were more or less set up; I recounted my tale of woe to their general amusement- then Dave told me his dog had died, and Mike told me that the end of his contract at work had been bought forward to next week, after which he would be unemployed. They jammed a bit of 'Black Night' as I got my guitar out of it's gig bag. Happy Halloween y'all...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Louder! Harder! Faster!

I don't know about you but I can't think of a much better way to spend a rainy Sunday morning than playing loud electric guitar. Well it's been a good way to spend this morning anyway! Myself, old friend/fellow guitar bore Paul Cope and former Pro Music Saturday boy Ian Smart booked ourselves 3 hours at Ruff Rockers rehearsal studio in Uxbridge for the express purpose of getting as many of our guitars and amps in the same room as we could, turning them up VERY LOUD and... well, spending the best part of said 3 hours laughing ourselves senseless at the sounds we were making. I took down my recently acquired Fender Blues Deville amplifier and a selection of guitars, Paul bought a Marshall Vintage Modern 50W combo with various axes and effect pedals while Ian bought down his ever-expanding pedal board along with his customised Telecaster. It soon became clear that 3 hours wasn't long enough as we found ourselves obsessing over the differences between the sound of P90 pick-ups on 2 different Gibson guitars (a Les Paul and an SG since you ask) whilst marvelling at the sounds Ian was getting out of his Electro Harmonix guitar synthesiser and being highly amused by the fact that the tone controls on Marshall amplifiers don't actually seem to alter the sound coming out if it in any way. I realise that this may not be everyone's idea of a morning well spent- but how else would we have found that an Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal sounds a lot smoother than it's forerunner the Maxon OD808?!?

And it was a cracking evening on Friday at The Islington Academy, with The Godfathers sounding even better than they did at The Forum back in February. I met up with Andy Knight and co. in The Nags Head just after 7 p.m. (judging by his demeanour I'd say he'd already been there a while!) and, since we were under the impression that it was an early show as there's a late night club at the venue on Fridays, myself and a ticketless Fat Tom (he calls himself that, honest!) got to the venue just before 8 o'clock to make sure that he got in. In the event the club wasn't happening so we could have got there later' though it was good to catch the last few songs by first support band The Jooks of Kent, a trio whose guitar-harmonica-and-female-drummer line-up bought inevitable White Stripes comparisons to mind, 'though I thought them a bit more 'garage-y' than that, if you know what I mean. Good trashy stuff, as were The Jim Jones Revue who followed them with a set of mostly original rock'n'roll songs enlivened by some fine Jerry Lee-isms by the keyboard man and a great moment after the first song when the singer called for 'my hat-man' to collect his no-longer-needed headgear. If they had a weakness it was, sadly, their songs- with no backing vocals (why not?!?) in a band the lead voice has to carry everything, and for me it very rarely does. Still they certainly get on with it- worth catching again methinks.
Opening with 'This Damn Nation' and fresh from a gig in Belgium the night before The Godfathers were clearly in no mood for trivialities. Mind you, were they ever? Kris Dollimore sounded fabulous playing a '70's Stratocaster and a Danelectro 56 Pro through a Blues Deville- I told you they were good!- and if Peter Coyne's voice sounded just a little bit rougher than we all remember it then it didn't effect his stage presence which remains the very definition of rock'n'roll attitude. By the last encore of 'Cold Turkey' they'd confirmed their place in my mind as one of the most underrated bands ever. Oh and Coyne invited the entire audience for a drink in the upstairs bar after the show. Excellent!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Window pain

I've just got back from the dentist's- a filling, a hygiene check and a telling off for having sugar in my coffee, not flossing properly and not being more aware of what to do if I get a mouth ulcer, all the time sweating as I watched my blood running down the little sink thingy that they ask you to spit your mouthwash into when you've finished swilling it around your mouth. That'll be the same mouth that felt fine before they started mucking around with it the best part of an hour ago then won't it? Hmm, I thought so. In the meantime I'll leave the money on the way out and book another session of this near-psychopathic madness for sometime in the Spring. Bugger! Still it's been an interesting few days in mad-guitar-land...

Sunday evening at The Load of Hay saw the return of Sarah the singing harpist, but this time with the added bonus of a P.A. system provided by local music equipment emporium Pro Music via your humble narrator. After discussions with Grant the landlord we went for a Yamaha Stagepas 300 system which is an excellent 300W vocal P.A. (oops!- nearly went into sales-mode there!) and ideal for the venue, not least since there's a volume restriction device fitted which cuts the power if things get louder than a preset level. Sadly the pick-up on her harp didn't work 'though her vocal mic picked it up reasonably well, resulting in a rather more audible performance than last time- and very good it was too. I've been given a couple of nights to book acts for- I've even started receiving demo cd's via the shop- so it's time to become a promoter. Well, kind of- I'm heroically trying to book something that I don't play in first!

An otherwise routine Monday in the shop was somewhat rudely interrupted at approximately 1.55 p.m. when, in the course of a telephone conversation with Brent the amplifier repair man I heard a loud bang which seemed to come from the front of the shop. At first I thought something had fallen down from one of the wall displays- but no, there was definitely a hole in the front window. Leaving aside the fact that myself and American Tom- Paul the guv'nor's daughter Charlotte's boyfriend and the man responsible for computerising much of the shop's stock control lately- were all but convinced that we were under siege from the local boys-in-the-hood (unlikely in Ickenham, but I guess you never know) 'though we've since decided that it was just some idiot throwing stones. That said it was an unsettling incident- and we still haven't found whatever it was that was thrown...

It felt as though I spent most of Tuesday on the phone to the police- I clearly didn't but it's an oddly intense thing going through the same story several times with different very official-sounding people. 'Don't worry' said one of the official-sounding voices, 'it wasn't a bullet.' Up until that moment it hadn't entered my mind that it might be. Help! Still the day improved when I received a phone call from Ali McKenzie, formally singer with '60's bands The Birds (no, not the ones that did 'Mr. Tambourine Man'- they spell their name differently; this mob were a very fine mod/r'n'b band who are often best remembered for having a lead guitarist who went on to be very successful over the next few years and is still doing quite well for himself now...) telling me that his guitarist was unavailable for an upcoming gig and would I like to do it? It's at The South Bank Centre- also on the bill are The Pretty Things, The Downliners Sect, The Eel Pie Allstars featuring Mick Green... hang on a minute, that'll be the bloke out of The Pirates, in my not-so-humble opinion Britain's best rock'n'roll guitarist and a complete hero of mine... yes, I think I can fit that one in don't you?!?

Wednesday we had an actual police person visit the shop, 'though she didn't seem to know very much about what had happened. She asked a few questions then sternly observed that we'd 'get a crime number over the next day-or-so'; I almost didn't like to tell her that we already had one. And it's amazing how guilty you suddenly fell when there's a uniformed officer looking straight at you isn't it? Or maybe it's just me? Still a highly enjoyable evening was spent at Ruff Rockers Rehearsal Studio in Uxbridge where myself and drummer extraordinaire Dave Bateman joined Andy Cross and Mike Wright (who I first met back in the '80's when they were in Cheap Sunglasses; Andy of course plays occasional bass in The Price and both were involved in the 'Ash Bash 4' concert earlier this year) to blast through various Dr. Feelgood songs as well as a few other less likely r'n'b-style numbers. All good stuff and something that will hopefully be out on a stage at some point in the not-too-distant future; at the very least we've booked another rehearsal for next week which is something to look forward too.

Yesterday it was back up to the West End with Stuart the guitar repair man for our work at 'We Will Rock You'. The day got off to a good start when I heard familiar laughter coming from an Oxford Street coffee shop as I walked past it; I turned to see acting legend Tom Baker sitting by the door with a couple of companions, laughing his head off and looking exactly like Tom Baker, if you know what I mean. I expect he picked up his sonic screwdriver and left with the words 'quickly, we haven't much time', but I sadly couldn't wait around to see if he did. Myself and Stu did what we do at the theatre and, pausing only to leave a pair of outrageous rubber gloves on guitarist Phil Hilborne's music stand (he's been away gigging for a while but is now back on the show and Stu never tires of having a go at him about his sweaty hands; he's a cruel man, but fair...) we contemplated a visit to Wunjo's Guitars in Denmark Street but, upon finding it to be rather crowded, decided that it was late enough and went home instead. Ah well- there's always next week, and anyway, I can't buy anything else! Well, not for a while anyway...

Ooh- the anaesthetic's wearing off and my mouth's starting to hurt. Time for some painkillers methinks... I'm off to see The Godfathers in Islington tonight which should be brilliant, and I've decided that it's a reward for going to the dentist this morning. It's a simple life sometimes don't you think?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

'...THAT much talent...'

... well I would have been judging a talent contest if it had taken place- a bizarre Mexican stand-off took place between the contestants with none of them being prepared to go on first. Strange but true.
In case you're wondering how I of all people ended up in this rather odd situation in the first place, it's all down to that drinking lark that I often refer to in these hallowed pages. Myself and East (yeah, him again- he's often caught up in any alcohol-powered antics) were down The Load of Hay a couple of weeks ago discussing the upcoming acoustic shows that I'm helping to put on with Grant the landlord when we caught sight of a poster advertising a talent contest involving students at the nearby Brunel University. By the end of the conversation we'd been cajoled into judging one if not more of the heats, with East going to great lengths to make clear that he'd be more than prepared to accept any or all forms of bribery from the contestants. (Incidentally he's now convinced that we'll be subject to violent intimidation from the would-be winners since there's a £500 first prize!) The final's in February- assuming anyone is brave enough to actually perform... with nothing to judge/stay sober for we somewhat inevitably we spent the evening drinking far too much lager, and I left East at the local kebab house looking pleased with himself; his first-thing-Saturday-morning phone call began with the words 'what happened?' My reply was a non-committal 'it's no good asking me is it?' although neither of us felt too guilty which means nothing too untoward took place. Hopefully.

With a hangover the size of Cheltenham the day in the shop was a suitably blurred affair, with Paul the guv'nor calling in on his way back from Heathrow (he's been in America for 3 weeks) and James the Saturday boy holding the fort on the occasions that I had to visit the cafe for some industrial strength coffee. The long-suffering Shirley arrived around 6 o'clock and we set the sat. nav. for Braxted Hall in Essex, where we were playing a 'half-Blues-Brothers-half-soul-band' show at a charity event. With several people in the band elsewhere the line-up had an unfamiliar look about it, with Neil joining Mike in the roles of Jake and Elwood, Bev and Paul on sax and trumpet and Roger in for Ian on keyboards. Myself Squirrel and Marc were in our usual positions on guitar, bass and drums, and Tracy was on vocals although both her and Neil were suffering from throat problems and Paul had not played with us at all before. 10 minutes or so from the venue and Pete calls- he's at another gig but has been on the phone to band members and organisers at our venue; things haven't been going well, with attempts being made to get Rod to plug the P.A. into a noise limiting device (you know the ones, they switch the power off if you play too loud, not a good thing to do to a computerised mixing desk) and soundcheck degenerating into near-chaos as a result. 'They've all gone down the pub' he advised- a call to Mike revealed them to be in The Devere in Great Braxted which Mike's parents used to run. We got there just as the band were finishing their meals, and got treated to various versions of the events earlier in the evening (Squirrel- 'I've never been spoken to like that before') as well as receiving a couple of unrepeatable text messages from Stuart the guitar repairman who was at the Paul Fox tribute evening in Ruislip. I'll leave you to imagine what they said.
Braxted Hall is a huge country estate which I'm sure looks very impressive in the daylight; it didn't look too ordinary in the dark, with the road leading up to it lit by flaming beacons and the inevitable enormous cars parked outside the main entrance to the house itself. We were playing in a large tent around the back so with Roger and Squirrel in the car to help us we wound our way around to the venue. As we arrived the charity auction was taking place- lots of memorabilia signed by the likes of Frankie Dettori, Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton- so we went straight to our changing room which was, not to put to finer point on it, a shed on the back of the tent. Really. Still at least we had somewhere to change and leave our belongings- we've done quite a few of these type of events where there's been no facilities for us at all. There's a big plate of sandwiches and some bottles of Coca-Cola and the general mood is good; I sneak up on to the stage to get my amplifier and guitar set up and discover that my knob's come off...

You know when you look at something that you know really well and you can't quite work out what looks different about it? I spent a minute or so looking at the control panel on my amp thinking 'what's happened?' before I finally realised that there was a hole where the treble control used to be. I'd left the amp and leads box with Squirrel after the Tewkesbury gig so that Shirley and myself could go straight to a Travelodge nearby before leaving for Dorset the next morning; sometime in the interim period something bad had happened... he found it in the back of his car so I'll get a new control fitted 'though I spent the next 10 minutes or so in 'Carry on Guitar Hero' mode ('my knob's come off!' 'We've been through a lot together, me and my knob' 'Shirley's got my knob in her pocket' etc etc) so it wasn't all bad news.

Showtime at last- things start well enough with 'Peter Gunn' 'though it soon becomes clear that all is not as it should be. Perhaps the most charitable analysis would be 'too many deps'; myself, Squirrel and Marc are doing our best but the horns are struggling, Neil's voice is giving way, Tracy's is not much better and I get the same problem with my guitar as I did in Tewkesbury- must get it over to Stuart the guitar repairman a.s.a.p.- all of which contributes to a less-than-ideal performance. Still the dancefloor was full for much of our performance and it all went down well so perhaps I'm just being a bit miserable about it? All the same it's a pity we haven't got any gigs for the couple of weeks as it would have been nice to be able to quickly erase the memory of this one...

Friday, October 17, 2008

A holiday? What would I do with a holiday?!?

Myself and the long-suffering Shirley have just returned- and I mean just returned!- from a few days away in Dorset, our only time away this year. It's been good to escape for a while as it's been a busy few weeks, 'though why I woke up yesterday with an almost desperate need to hear 'Shake Some Action' by The Flamin' Groovies isn't an easy question to answer. (Actually it's a really easy question to answer- how about something like 'it's one of the greatest records ever made'? There- that'll do it!) Then again I woke up Wednesday morning convinced that film had been discovered of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar right-handed; I've since realised that it was all just a dream... this is the sort of story that most people tell then finish with the words 'I think I need a holiday' and laugh ironically before waiting for a sympathetic 'yes, it sounds like you do' from the person that they've just told the story- but I've just had a holiday, or at least what passes for one in my little world.

Oh dear!

Last Friday myself and drummer extraordinaire Dave Bateman journeyed south of the river to The Half Moon in Herne Hill to witness an excellent gig by The Duplicates. I hadn't seen them for a while and they've got quite a few new songs in their repertoire 'though I'm pleased to say that 'The Sweeney' theme is still there alongside the Booker T and the M.G.'s songbook. Dave Ruffy is surely the dapperest drummer in rock (suit, tie & spats- excellent!) and I saw Segs from The Ruts for the first time since the Edwin Collins gig in April. A top evening.

Saturday saw The Chicago Blues Brothers return to The Pizza Express in Maidstone for the first time in quite a while. With the M25 closed between junctions 5 and 6 (that's the bit that we want!) we put ourselves in the hands of the sat. nav. which took us into the wilderness of deepest darkest Kent; with hop farms on all sides of us it seemed unlikely that we'd ever see a street lamp again- then Maidstone town centre suddenly appeared in front of us. These sat. nav. things really are amazing (I'll stop going on about them now, honest!) Richard's gigging in Italy so Ian's back on sax, and Pete's in for Mario as Jake, and the show's a raucous affair with a stag party and a wedding anniversary party contributing to the mayhem. I've never quite worked out why people would want us crashing and bashing in front of them when they're eating their dinners, but we always seem to go down well there so what do I know? We're due back there just before Christmas- it should be a good night.

Back to theatreland on Sunday with a visit to The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury. As you may be aware this has a certain notoriety, as it's the theatre where Eric Morecombe suffered a fatal heart attack on stage- I'm pleased to say that the most dramatic thing that happened to us was being asked to wear hard hats on stage during our soundcheck as they were adjusting the lights overhead... oh and I had to fix the backstage toilet (it's handy being a plumber's son sometimes!) Ian suggested re-arranging 'New Orleans' which involved Marc changing the drumming during the choruses, and Pete bought everyone fish and chips which went down very well indeed. Richard's back on sax, Mario's back in the hat'n'glasses and an oddly restrained audience saw a good show although a rather odd incident backstage meant the Richard was introduced as 'the hassle with the tassels' (I'll leave you to use your imagination on that, 'though if the photos come out then the Christmas caption competition should be a good one) and I managed to dislodge my B-string (oo-er missus etc) from the bridge on my Baja Telecaster which, without boring you with lots of guitar nerdery, meant that it sounded a bit like a sitar; I played the encore on my '60's Classic which sounded great but was freezing cold- it's amazing how hot the instruments (and indeed the players) get under the lights.

Straight back into it this weekend with a day in the shop tomorrow followed by the gig in Essex that I mentioned in the last posting; oh and I'm judging a talent contest tonight. No, I really am! Maybe I do need a holiday...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 absent fiends

Incredibly it's nearly a year since Paul Fox died. There's a tribute show called 'West One Year On' coming up, at The Breakspear Arms in Ruislip this Saturday 18th October; The Dirty Strangers and The Dubcats are playing (both bands that Paul played had played in at one time or another) as are the somewhat clumsily-named Foxy's Savage Circle Of Fiends. Hmm... that'll be the rest of Foxy's Ruts (Paul's son Laurie on drums, the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth on bass and Mark Paul on vocals, the band Paul had at the onset of his illness) then won't it? They've asked me to play with them- kind of, but more about that in a moment- but I can't make it, as I'm playing with The Chicago Blues Brothers in Braxted Park near Chelmsford that night. As it happens it's a gig that I could probably get someone else to do for me- I mentioned it to Pete in a 'should-I-shouldn't-I' moment of weakness last week and he suggested I asked my occasional dep Joe to do it so that I could go to, maybe even play at, the Ruislip gig. But it's not quite as simple as that...

I had a visit in the shop from Dave Snow last Tuesday- I first met him 20-odd years ago in the early days of The Price, when we played quite a few gigs with his band Jonestown, he was a close friend of Paul's who looked after him towards the end of his life and was one of the pallbearers at his funeral. He's involved in organising the tribute show, asked me if I could play at it, wondered what it would take for my CBB gig to be cancelled and even suggested that I could come to the show after my one's ended as it 'should be a late night'. A more rational and/or reasonable person than your humble narrator would have simply pointed out that it's sadly not possible for me to be in two places at once, and that Chelmsford is nearly 2 hours drive away so I'd need a Tardis to make it back in time, and that the only way that the CBB band would agree to cancelling the show is if Dave paid their wages for the evening- but this fails to take into account that I'm rarely (if ever!) a rational and/or reasonable person when it comes to anything relating to music, particularly when it's played on the electric guitar. I'd really like to be at the gig- Paul's one of my favourite guitarists ever, and I'm very proud of the part that I played in last year's Ruts-related activities. But- and it's a VERY BIG BUT- even if I could make the show I'd be unlikely to attend. Due to the insanity surrounding the Foxy's Ruts name debacle earlier this year I felt that I had to turn down the chance to play in Simaryp with Laurie and Mark as I felt it would have been hypocritical for me to do so (see earlier postings for further thoughts on this and other related topics.) Much as I would love to play the music of The Ruts again- and Laurie and the 2 Mark's play it better than anyone else that I've heard outside of the original band- the same arguments voiced earlier this year apply; if I play with them again and it gets called 'Foxy's Ruts' from the stage then everything goes tragically wrong. I just can't take the risk- and that's a real shame.

When I opened the shop on Saturday morning there was a poster advertising the gig taped onto the front of the counter. I hadn't seen it before- I was last in on Wednesday so it must have been put up sometime in the previous couple of days. There's a picture of Paul on it from, I'd guess, 1978 'though it could be 1979. In it he's holding a Fender Stratocaster- that's the one that I now own, the one that I last played onstage at The Palace Theatre in Mansfield on November 1st last year, the day of Paul's funeral. I'd like to be, indeed I should be, at The Breakspear Arms gig- but I can't be, can I? More to the point, I mustn't be... looking at his photo I felt a lump in my throat, and I suddenly felt as though I might be about to cry- but I couldn't because there was someone waiting outside the shop, so I had to get on with opening up. I hate it when real life intrudes on my little world; 'life's a savage circle' as somebody once sang...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Oops! I did it again- again...

Remind me not to go to Wunjo guitars in Denmark Street. It's such a good shop that there's always something tempting on offer... myself and Stu went there yesterday after our theatre session to check out a '70's Gibson Les Paul Custom for a mate of his; I tried it through a rather fine looking Fender Blues Deville combo, which I ended up buying! It's an early '90's tweed model which looks cooler than the black ones, and it's a 4 x 10'' rather than a 2 x 12'' and they don't turn up very often, and it's an American one rather than the Mexican re-issues, and the Les Paul sounded great through it and so did a Baja Telecaster, and, well, you have to get these things when you see them don't you? Don't you?!?

Well- I do! Sorry Shirl...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

From absent friends...

All this pretending to be the new Bill Graham (I thought that was marginally more credible than saying 'the new Harvey Goldsmith'?) is ok- and I do intend to get involved in putting gigs on there, hopefully starting as early as next month- but it's time to play the guitar again. 2 very different gigs this weekend- in the case of last night's performance, 'different' being the operative word...

Friday night saw the Chicago Blues Brothers visit The Capitol Theatre in Horsham. Despite the post Load of Hay hangover I managed to programme the sat. nav. correctly and myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived just as things were getting set up for soundcheck. With sound guru Ian Bond off elsewhere Rod's back behind the mixing desk but that aside it's an A-team gig with Pete's wife Jayne on costume control ably assisted by Shirley and Ian's wife Nadia. The only worry is Squirrel who's got back problems- he's subdued but playing as excellently as ever. Soundcheck includes a bizarre slow version of 'Funky Nassau' as well as ongoing work on the 'My Girl' harmony vocals and all goes pretty smoothly.
As I think I mentioned last month I've recently become a Fender endorsee (I've mentioned it as often as possible everywhere else so why not here?!?) and, since their H.Q. is not far away in East Grinstead I'd invited my old mate Danny Jones to the show (I went to school with him, he's now rather high up at Fender.) Sadly Danny didn't make it ('I start phoning America at 4 o'clock; I finish when I finish') which was a shame since I've not seen him since The Stratocaster Anniversary show at Wembley just over 4 years ago. One person who did make it was Max the carpenter who does much of the building work at the shop- he caught a good show with the crowd getting into it pretty much from the start and the band playing well, if a little loosely in places... Squirrel got through it in one piece (good!) and although I still don't feel quite right in myself (haven't quite shaken off the virus yet) at least I'm playing a bit better. As John Mayer sings- 'I'm not together but I'm getting there..'

None of this explains Dave's extraordinary post-show dressing room comment-

'It's like living in an egg yolk'

-although the next night I started to see what he meant, in a funny sort of way...

Saturday saw myself, new-ish staff member Rob and even-newer Saturday boy James man the barricades at Pro Music for an entertaining day which included Rob gleefully reading out a text message from a friend of his asking him 'what the 10 best albums ever' were. Within seconds we started work; within minutes we were compiling no less than 5 top 10's (rock, pop, punk, soul and live albums since you ask) and haranguing unsuspecting customers for their opinions. I don't think we did a bad job- I must get a copy of the lists... from there it was home to get changed before journeying up to Central London for a corporate show at The Guoman Tower Hotel next to Tower Bridge. Once again the sat. nav. did it's job very well although we missed the turning for the hotel and carried on over Tower Bridge- both Shirley and myself agreed that it was worth making the mistake for the view it give us of the River Thames from the bridge; through the rain it looked just amazing.
At the hotel we meet Ian and Nadia and find The Mortimer Room which is ours to use as a base for the evening. I'd hoped during the course of my time in London to manage to meet up with former Blaggers I.T.A. guitarist Steve Perry who'd arranged a 'I'm moving down to the coast' drink at a pub near London Bridge but ran out of time- maybe it wasn't the weekend for meeting up with old mates? Anyway back to the job in hand- tonight's a playback gig with Dave, Ian and myself playing along with the backing tracks and father and son Terry and Matt in the hats and glasses. We'd not worked with them before and they were an interesting team as you might well imagine... suffice to say that the show got off to a less-than enjoyable start with the lady organiser (I never did catch her name) barking at us something like 'they want you on stage now' 40 minutes earlier than we were expecting and then walking around with a face like a bulldog chewing barbed wire for the rest of the evening- or maybe she actually looks like that? (I've since been told that there was a problem earlier in the evening with a laptop computer being used for a presentation and that she's not normally like that; perhaps I should delete that last bit..? ) After a very quick set-up we're on- most of the tracks they're using have different arrangements and are in different keys to what we're used to, and the sound quality isn't brilliant, and I don't remember 'Bad Bad Leroy Brown', 'New York New York' and (gulp!) 'Bring Me Sunshine' being Blues Brothers songs... perhaps the best thing I can say about the show was that I got to stand next to the mighty Dave Land on trumpet- hearing him so clearly reminded me of what a fine musician he is, as well as being the originator of 'The Dave Land Shuffle' which I was obliged to join in with. I felt like I was in Status Quo!

Hmm... didn't they have a single called 'Living on an Island'?
Perhaps they meant 'Living in an egg yolk'?!?