Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lost and found

Thursday was good, Friday was better (if surprisingly costly) and Saturday was even better than that. Here's why:-

Thursday- with Stuart away for the day I wanted to make an early start at the theatre to make sure I got everything done; that said the stage isn't normally open until around 10 o'clock so I got there around that time to find men in hard hats everywhere and Rob the stage manager asking me to use the under stage crossover rather than walk across the stage as there's rather a lot of work going on there at the moment. So I could have got there earlier then... and there's not a lot of light up in the guitar area as it's cordoned off by a partition (presumably for safety reasons) which is going to make things difficult; oh well, the sooner I start, the sooner I finish... after changing 6 sets of strings it all looks ok. I clear up and pack away, then do one last guitar check 'just in case'- and realise I've missed one out, it's been played a lot judging by the colour of the strings and the amount of (urgh!) sweaty fingerprints on it. One set of strings later and it's back to pre-crash condition- that was close, and, in my odd little mind, strangely dramatic. I left the theatre with visions of strings breaking or jumping wildly out of tune on the first chord of the next show, text messages appearing on Stu's phone complaining of incompetence in the string changing department, angry posts on Queen fan forums ricocheting around cyberspace wondering what on Earth had happened to the opening of one of their sacred songs ('I bet some idiot didn't change the guitar strings. Don't they realise how important Queen are?) and calling for my head to be exhibited on a spike at Traitor's Gate.

All of this madness seemed a long way away and a long time ago as I arrived in Northwood for a 2 o'clock osteopath appointment. There go the wages then. Actually Jeremy the osteopath seems to be a really nice bloke, talking of seeing the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd during his student days in Brighton whilst attempting to rehabilitate my ailing back. I stumbled back to the tube station thinking that, yes, actually it does feel a bit better these days and that if I'd bothered to do those exercises that he gave me last time it would probably be a darn sight better still.

Friday- the first Chicago Blues Brothers gig of the year, in the rock'n'roll capital of the world, Weybridge. After an unusually easy journey (Friday afternoon on the M25 is not known for it's 'easy' journeys) Shirley and myself arrived at the hallowed confines of The Oatlands Park Hotel to find Ian the sound man setting up the last bits of his gear- he's bought a lot of new equipment that he's using for the first time tonight including in-ear monitors for the singers. Pretty soon everyone's there- Pete'n'Mike are Jake'n'Elwood, Squirrel's on bass, Ian's back on keyboards, Tracy's on vocals, Richard and Dave are on sax and trumpet and Marc's on drums- he depped with us last year and now is in the frame as a 'permanent' member. With this in mind sound check is actually more of a rehearsal for Marc (though we did find time to jam on 'No Woman No Cry') and a general 'is there anything anybody wants to run through?' session- with everything sounding good we retreat to the Cedar Room, our home for the next few hours. Joe the driver's on the internet looking to book a holiday and pizza's are being ordered; everyone's catching up with each other amid a mood of general optimism as Pete talks through the plans for the next few months.

Me? I'm feeling a little, for want of a better term, 'lost'. Tonight, at The Shepherd's Bush Empire, it's the premiere of the film of last year's Paul Fox benefit gig. As I've written in earlier posts, I was involved- suddenly I feel like I should be there and be part of the evening, but of course I can't be. I'm playing the guitar tonight, it's what I do, it's what I always wanted to do, it's all I ever wanted to do and that's great- but if I hadn't seen Paul play all those years ago I wouldn't be able to do what I can do now. I go for a drink with Shirley, she listens to me bleating away, non-crisis after non-crisis, the usual rubbish that she's heard so many times before; I decide that actually I should be out playing tonight because it completes the circle in an odd sort of way, from the kid in the crowd to the guy on stage and back again, and that's alright...

Back in The Cedar Room, Richard's on the internet, on Ebay to be precise; I remark to him that I've been looking at guitars on there, actually one in particular, a Gibson SG, here let me show you... suddenly I've bought it. Really. No, really, it was a bargain, honest. There go the wages. Again. In a desperate attempt to justify it I tell Shirley it's like the one Paul Fox played the first time I saw The Ruts, and it is, it's the same colour and everything, I'll play 'Staring at the Rude Boys' on it when I get it, from the kid in the crowd to the guy on the stage and back again and that's alright...

Meanwhile back on planet Earth, it's show time. We're playing at a Burns Night celebration for the McCarthy and Stone company and we start with 'Peter Gunn' and it sounds great- we're playing well, it's like Marc's always been with us and Ian's new gear sounds even better than Ian's old gear and that always sounded brilliant. By the 4th song the dancefloor's full and it stays that way for pretty much the whole evening, a great start to our year.

In the car on the way home I got a text message from my old mate and former Blaggers guitarist Steve Perry- he's been at the Empire show and tells me Henry Rollins gave me a name check from the stage. 'How cool is that?' asks Steve. I didn't feel quite so lost anymore.

Saturday- back in the shop. There's only myself and Adam available today, and he can only be there from 11-3 so hopefully it won't be too busy. It starts well with a visit from old friend and fellow guitar bore Paul Cope who, in addition to considering the way that I've just described him to be a compliment rather than an insult (as indeed would I!) bought himself one of the new Fender Super Champ XD combos. It sounded superb when he played through it, so good in fact that I'm considering getting one myself. There go the wages, assuming that there are any left. Again. When Adam leaves I close the shop for a while and go over to The Coach and Horses to meet Stuart and to get something to eat; he's with Pete from The Cane Toads who finds the 'I've bought a guitar by accident' story suitably hilarious. I get back to the shop and there are 8 or 9 people queuing outside. Oh dear.

I finally managed to get the front door closed around 6 o'clock; East has arrived and, pausing only to pick up a bag of crisps and some chocolate- rock'n'roll food!- we set out for The Hammersmith Odeon (I still call it that, don't you?) where Henry Rollins is doing a 'spoken word' show as part of his 'Provoked' world tour. This basically means that he comes out on stage and talks. And talks. And talks. I've not seen much footage of Bill Hicks but I get the impression that what he used to do; I guess our equivalent over here is someone like Billy Connolly? Anyway I've been in occasional e-mail contact with Henry since my Ruts'n'Rollins rehearsal session back in July- I contacted him via his website to thank him for mentioning me in 'Dispatches' and to my amazement he not only replied but has kept in touch since as well as promising to put me on the guest list for his London show on the next tour. That said I was still half expecting to be told that I had to buy a ticket by the box office person- but no, there in an envelope with my name on it were 2 tickets. Hurrah! East and myself celebrated this momentous occurrence in our little lives by, you've guessed it, going straight to the bar where we bumped into punk rock heroes T.V. Smith and Gaye Advert; while talking to them we were joined by Esso from The Lurkers who'd come up with the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth and his wife Patricia, and while talking to them we met Sarah Pink, promoter of the Paul Fox benefit gig who promised to see if she could get us into the aftershow party. Am I a ligger or what?!? T.V. mentioned that he'd nearly phoned me to ask how to play 'Babylon's Burning' which he'd been asked to perform at the previous night's show. I thought back to how I'd felt the night before... strange...

Henry came on stage at 8 o'clock and started talking. And talking. And talking. He left the stage just after 11 o'clock, having spoken for just over 3 hours on subjects as diverse as playing a priest in a film to sheep living in George Bush's head (!) and was absolutely brilliant. 3 hours talking is a lot of talking- think about how long it would take to read out, say an averagely sized magazine page; not very long- maybe 2 or 3 minutes at the most?
Around halfway through the show someone sat in the up-until-that-point vacant seat next to me with the words 'didn't you used to be in The Ruts?' It was Segs. 'Don't worry' I said, 'you haven't been on yet'- and almost immediately Henry started recounting last summer's Islington gig; he talked of his first encounter with the band through buying their first single because he liked the title ('that's me- I'm in a rut') and what their music meant to him then and still means to him now. He spoke of receiving an e-mail from Mark Wyeth asking if he was interested in singing with the band at the show, of contacting Segs and Dave to see how serious they were about the gig ('if it's only 99% then I'm not interested') and then, incredibly, mentioned me a few times (called me a 'consummate professional'- I'd put that on my CV if I had one!) before telling the story of the show and his subsequent feelings about Paul and the band. It was strange to sit there hearing the story being told from the stage- like it meant that was all really true or something?

The show ended and the house lights came on. I stood up- my legs ached from sitting down for so long. Sarah appeared in front of me and handed me 2 passes for the after show party, and a few minutes later there we were, in a bar that the likes of you and me never normally see (East- 'this place is bigger than my flat!) with 40 or so others, drinking lager out of plastic bottles and pondering the last 3-and-a-bit hours. After about 20 minutes Henry arrived and began working his way around the room; he's smaller than you think as famous people often are (East- 'I'd never have recognised him!') but a big presence if you know what I mean. He caught my eye and came straight over, shook my hand, thanked me for coming, I introduced him to East and we both blathered something about how great the show had been, he commented on how much it takes out of him and then got collared by someone else who wanted to introduce him to someone or other, said he'd be back in a minute 'though I didn't think he would be- but, just as we were thinking of leaving him came over again, said he'd been told that there were people outside waiting to see him to get things signed and he didn't want to let them down but if I ever saw a poster or flyer for one of his gigs and wanted to go to it then just to e-mail him and he'd put me on the guest list. Then he shook my hand and was gone.

We stayed for a few more minutes (East- 'did I mention that Gaye Advert bought me a drink?') then left. When we got outside there he was, surrounded, shaking hands, posing for photos, taking as long as it took to give the people what they wanted. 'A thoroughly decent man' said East, which I would think is another term for 'hero'- wouldn't you?

Monday, January 21, 2008

'Clowns to the left of me...'

Ok- first I quote Sham 69, now it's Stealers Wheel. I can't decide whether things are getting better or worse...

Monday morning, in the shop. I must admit I thought it might have got a bit quieter here now as we're in the post-Christmas vortex but it's still, for want of a better term, 'sporadically busy'. Saturday was particularly chaotic with perspective-new-staff-member Adam joining myself and Saturday-boy Ian to face the masses. An excellently surreal moment occurred when a young lady in full clown make-up and regalia came in (presumably on her way to or from work, 'though I didn't like to ask) to enquire about a battery powered vocal amplifier- such was the level of madness that no one batted an eyelid; in fact she seemed to fit in rather well as the next customer was a gentleman named Graham who announced that he'd made 'a one-string fiddle, you know, like they used to use in music hall' and did I know what type of string (singular!) he should use on it..?

Thursday's at the theatre are back to 'normal' too with myself and Stuart the guitar repairman breathing new life into the 'We Will Rock You' guitar collection. I'm there on my own next week as Stu's away so we changed pretty much every string that there was to be changed (hopefully that'll mean less for me to do this week) before walking across to Denmark Street where we were due to meet Stu's friend Miles in the excellent Wunjo's Guitars. There's a lot of guitar shops in the area but Wunjo's is my favourite, not least because it's different from the rest- less corporate, more friendly, seeming as though the people who work there are actually interested in music rather than the music business. Miles was interested a 1964 Gibson J45 acoustic allegedly once owned by '60's troubadour Donovan- when we got there he was upstairs in the workshop trying to decide which pick-up to use with it (for those of you who don't know, this is a device which allows you to amplify the guitar whilst retaining it's acoustic sound). It was between a Fishman Rare Earth and a LR Baggs M1 active- the latter ran away with it; it's amazing just how different 2 versions of the 'same' thing can sound. He bought the guitar and they gave him the pick-up- I told you it was a good shop.

This Friday sees the first Chicago Blues Brothers gig of 2008, at the Oatlands Park Hotel in Weybridge- it'll be good to see the lads again- then on Saturday Henry Rollins is at The Hammersmith Apollo. Sounds to me like a good weekend in prospect don't you think?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wiz revisited

Just a quick mention for an album released today on Boss Tuneage records- 'Ipanama' contains the last recordings made by Darren 'Wiz' Brown, the former Mega City Four mainman who died suddenly just over a year ago. The rest of Ipanema got together to complete it from demo recordings, and the sleeve includes notes from his brother and fellow MC4 member Danny as well as lyrics and photos by Wiz himself. The proceeds from the CD are going to The Forward For Wiz Trust- and today's his birthday. A fitting tribute to the man methinks, and the music's not bad either...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

To the pub then!

Of course all this self-righteous jabbering about how I'm going to 'make more of an effort to get out to the smaller gigs as well as to the bigger ones this year' is all well and good- but actually doing it is another matter; you can't be in 2 places at once (I've tried it, you can't!) which means that if I'm out gigging I can't be out watching. This might be an obvious point to make but it's still an important one- I've lost count of the number of gigs that I'd like to have attended but couldn't because I was out with my guitar (ironically an upcoming 'casualty' is the Ruts evening in Shepherds Bush later this month- I'll be out with my Blues Brothers buddies rocking the good people of Weybridge that night). Still I've managed to do some watching-and-gigging this weekend which is a good start to things...

Talking of The Ruts, Friday it was back to Bar Sonic in Deptford to see drummer Dave Ruffy in The Duplicates. Myself and Mark Wyeth arrived just as they were starting 'Green Onions' and the place was packed; it was almost a relief when the interval came and half the audience went outside for a smoke. Esso and his mate Nigel arrived just as the second set started and immediately set about complaining about how crowded the venue was... still, the band sounded great and much merriment was had by all (except Esso of course) with the band's 'Hammond and rhythm jamboree' getting through to everyone by the end of the show (except Esso of course).
Mark offered the lads a lift home- I told them we were parked 'in the excellently-named Friendly Street'. 'I know where that is' said Nigel, 'I used to go out with a girl who lived down here. One of her mate's got mugged there.' As we walked to the car I remarked to Esso that that the car was opposite a pest control company called 'Speedkill'. Well, it's only a street name isn't it?

After a not-too-busy Saturday in the shop it was time for my first guitar gig of 2008, depping in The Pistols at the Nag's Head in High Wycombe. If I remember rightly the first time I played there was with The Price supporting Glen Matlock of all people- we played there a couple of times I think, and I did a few shows there in the late '90's with The Informers. It being a fairly local gig to me Big Andy came over, as did Stuart the guitar repair man and Pete from The Cane Toads; I always find it a bit odd when friends come to see me play, especially when I've spoken to them about the band that I'm playing for- you never know what they're going to think ('I thought you said they were a good band...').
After a quick load in (it was pouring down!) I got my first surprise of the evening- the venue was unrecognisable from my last visit there with The Informers. The Price gigs had been upstairs (they're hoping to re-open that part of the pub soon) and The Informers shows were in the downstairs bar, on a small stage on the left as you walked in. There was a horseshoe-shaped bar in front of you in the centre of the room as you came through the front door and the whole place was very brightly lit. Now the centre bar has disappeared as has the stage on the left hand side; there's now a wooden stage across the front right hand corner and a bar along the left hand wall. More worrying perhaps was the large temporary steel construction in the middle of the place that appears to be holding the ceiling up. It's dark, it's dingy and there were 2 large dogs roaming freely around. It looked perfect for The Pistols.
And it was- a fine raucous performance with Paul/Rotten fending off the hecklers well and the band blasting through 2 sets of advanced punk rocking with a vengeance. Without sounding too big headed here I was very pleased with my guitar sound- my Marshall combo was turned up so loud that the sound from it practically knocked me over (there aren't many guitar sound problems that can't be solved by using the volume control in the upwards direction) which seems to me to be the best way to get somewhere near to Steve Jones's wall of sound 'though I still can't get the solo sound quite right; I trod on my 'get-louder-pedal' for the guitar break in set opener 'Holidays in the Sun' and I seemed to get quieter not louder, though how much this had to do with the fact that I'd set my gear up in near darkness whilst wearing sunglasses (for my public, darling!) wasn't documented. I'll get it right next time...

As we were leaving one of the locals was 'playing' with one of the dogs- he was down on all fours with a rubber ring in his mouth. I'll leave you to guess what the dog was doing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

'We're going down the pub...'

Hmm- my first posting of 2008 and it starts with a quote from Sham 69...

Pretty much every rock musician starts their 'career' (I use the term loosely!) by playing in pubs; indeed back in the mid-70's the term 'pub-rock' was coined to describe the likes of Dr. Feelgood, Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe etc- bands outside of the mainstream playing noisy rock'n'roll a million miles away from the progressive rock that was popular at the time. Sometime around 1975 bands like Eddie and the Hot Rods and The 101'ers appeared on the pub-rock circuit, paving the way for The Pistols and co. whilst the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe re-invented themselves as part of the 'new-wave', even though they and many others like them had been spotted in pub-rock bands only a couple of years previously (for more information check out the excellent book 'No Sleep 'till Canvey Island' by Will Birch- the definitive account of all things pub-rock).

The Globe in Brentford is a great pub and, maybe most importantly, a great music pub. It puts on gigs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday- mostly blues/r'n'b/soul stuff with the odd surprise here and there- and is run by the venerable Charlie and his better half Beata. After The Price self-destructed in 1994 I found myself playing in a rhythm and blues band called The Informers; we were one of the first bands to be booked at The Globe and over the course of our time together saw it grow in stature to become one of the best-loved West London pub venues. Sadly times have been hard of late, with smaller audiences meaning that Charlie and Beata have been feeling the pinch- to such an extent that last night saw the first 'keep music live at The Globe' benefit show featuring The Lee Ryder Band plus special guests. And a good night it was too if a little self-indulgent in places (lots of solos!) with guests including Alan Darby (I change his strings every week at the theatre!) on guitar and, incredibly, Roger Glover (Deep Purple hero and current no. 1 in the Pro Music 'celebrity customer' chart) on bass. Myself and East attained a considerable state of confusion by the end of proceedings, to such an extent that I was heard to utter the words 'I'd rather not be a hippy than be a millionaire' on more than one occasion- a reasonably profound statement I'm sure you'll agree, 'though sadly neither of us can remember why I said it or what or indeed who I was referring to at the time. All good fun- but it's got me thinking about how much I as a (ahem) musician owe to places like The Globe and smaller music venues generally. As an aspiring guitarist I was able both to watch other players at close quarters- something rarely if ever possible at larger 'concert' venues- and to subsequently make my own first faltering steps onto the stage. As I said earlier this sort of situation is particularly common with rock musicians, although a lot of jazz and folk players will have a very similar story to tell. Pubs and clubs are a vital link in the chain that will lead some to riches and glory and others to the next boozer on the giglist- assuming of course that there is a 'next' one. Every venue that closes or stops putting on live entertainment is a loss to all of us who enjoy music on any level, because you can't have the big gig without the small gig, and you can't have the small gig without the small gig venue. So- how do we keep the venues open?

Simple- BY GOING TO THEM. I've lost count of the number of musicians that I've heard bemoaning the fact that there's 'nowhere to play anymore'- yet they themselves rarely if ever go out to watch even their friends play. And I'm as guilty as the next man; I've been meaning to go down to The Crown & Treaty in Uxbridge to sort out a date for a Price gig there for absolutely ages, and will be the first to moan if I get there only to be told that they've stopped putting gigs on as 'no one seems to be interested anymore'- yet I don't think that I've ever actually been to a gig there in years. So I for one am going to make more of an effort to get out to the smaller gigs as well as to the bigger ones this year- as I say, you can't have one without the other...