Saturday, February 23, 2008

Newark Newark- so good they named it twice (sorry!)

Another 'one-off-up-North' Chicago Blues Brothers gig last night, this one in Newark which, although not as far away as some of the stand alone shows that we find ourselves playing, still provided a few moments of transport confusion. Since the band members are scattered around South-East England there's generally e-mails and/or a phone-around prior to gigs (often by Pete) to try to minimise the number of vehicles involved and so keep costs down. This time Richard was taking Tracy, Mario and myself (the 'west-of-the-M25'-er's), whilst the Essex contingent (pretty much everyone else, with the exception of Norfolk-based Dave the trumpet) were in a couple of cars from their area. All well and good- until I got a call from Richard; his mum had been taken ill, heart trouble apparently, was in hospital having tests, he was going to go up separately so couldn't take us... I ring around everyone to see what we want to do- then Richard calls again, incredibly his mum's 'alright', she's been given the all-clear, she's going to drive down to see him (!) so he can take us all after all... it all looks a bit ordinary written down here but provided more than a few moments of genuine drama. When we arrive at The Palace Theatre Richard tells me that the venue has 'strange memories' for him- then reveals that he played there on the day that his dad died...

Soundcheck goes well so it's time for a drink. Pete's watching the show from the audience to get some idea of how things are developing, John's back on drums again (this is getting confusing!) and the all-round mood is upbeat. The show's pretty good too, if a little loose in places- were we a bit nervous with Pete watching, or was it just one of 'those' nights? Who knows- but somehow Squirrel and myself are out of time with each other on more than one occasion, 'though from my point of view that had a lot to do with the fact that I was having trouble hearing myself (and ultimately the band) clearly. Still it all goes down well enough with the audience, and indeed Pete himself who pulls us up on a couple of things here and there but generally seems pretty pleased with how things are going.

Home time and people are hungry. Inexplicably we don't stop at the Chinese takeaway 'Wok'n'Rolls', electing instead to look for a service station further on up the road. And we chose well- the tills weren't working so they let us have our food for nothing. It had been that kind of day.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Horns of plenty

Last night, to continue our ongoing 'go to the pub gigs' theme, myself, East and Big Andy journeyed to The Horns in Watford to see Eddie and the Hot Rods. I was last in The Horns 3 or so years ago as a member of Dave Finnegan's Commitments- we went there for a drink before playing a corporate show at The Coliseum round the corner- and it's been on my 'must go to a gig there' list ever since. It's an excellent venue, made all the more so by the rock memorabilia that adorns the walls, although East was somewhat suspicious of an autographed David Bowie album (if I recall correctly his comment was along the lines of 'he signed that one in the dark') and I for one wouldn't put a Buddy Holly signature out on display... but let's face it, any venue that's showing a Laurel & Hardy film on all the T.V.'s in the bar when we arrive must be a good one mustn't it?

Opening with 'Teenage Depression' the Hot Rods sounded even better than when I saw them at The 100 Club last January. I always thought that Barrie Masters was one of the best of the punk/new wave singers and an absolutely brilliant frontman- I can recall seeing him cartwheeling across the stage before climbing up the P.A. system on more than one occasion- and if he's slowed down a bit since those far off days his voice is still sounding as good as ever. They played a fair few new songs but us oldies got what we wanted too with 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' sounding like the anthem that we all remember it to be and 'Life On The Line' and 'The Power and the Glory' not far behind. On a personal note it was great to hear 'I Might Be Lying' in the encores which finished with a suitably breathless 'Get Out Of Denver'. Great stuff all round.

Afterwards I managed to grab a quick word with guitarist Richard Holgarth who I first met 20 or so years ago when he was the soundman at The Square in Harlow, one if The Price's then-regular gig venues and which, incredibly, he's about to become the owner of! Among the current crop of touring bands there'll be room for what he called the 'grown-up groups', including the likes of Wilko Johnson, The Hamsters and, yes indeed, The Price. Excellent news- I'd better call the lads then... when I mentioned to him that I've just bought myself a Gibson SG he replied that he's now got 5 of them. Top man.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nothing on Tele tonight!

You may (or indeed may not) remember that back in January I bought a Gibson SG electric guitar on Ebay whilst in a somewhat depressed state before a Chicago Blues Brothers gig in Weybridge. The 'accidental guitar' as it's become known (I really hadn't planned to buy it, honest!) arrived a couple of weeks ago from America- I got stung for import duty and V.A.T. but it was still cheaper than if I'd bought it over here, assuming that I'd have been able to find one as Gibson didn't widely import it into the U.K. It's an SG Classic and it's based on the guitars that Gibson were making back in the mid-late '60's (for more information on this and other similar guitars check out the frankly rather mad website listed below; the Classic is in the 'discontinued models' section) and is an interesting instrument to a guitar bore like me for any number of reasons. It's fitted with P90 pick-ups which are near-legendary among mad people like myself (again check the website below for any amount of information!) and what's often referred to as a 'batwing' scratchplate (I'm not making this up, honest!) which is clearly visible in the website photo of the guitar- I'll leave you to compare it with, for example, the Standard model if you've got time on your hands... anyway the combination of these 2 factors gives a guitar capable of some very interesting tonal variations, not least because the pick-ups are fitted to the scratchplate rather the the guitar itself which results in an almost acoustic property to the guitar's sound. Somewhat inevitably from my point of view this leads us to Pete Townshend- although maybe that should be leeds as it's very similar to the type of SG he used on the classic Who album 'Live At Leeds' which is often held up as one of the ultimate guitar sounds ever produced. Closer to home Paul Fox used an SG when I first saw him in The Ruts (to be pedantic his one was an early '60's model which had the P90's but didn't have the batwing scratchplate- told you I was a guitar bore!) which brings me to last night's rehearsal...

Ska is a type of music that from a guitar point of view is probably best played on something like a Telecaster, a guitar known for it's clean, cutting nature- so what better way to try out my SG, a guitar renowned for it's hard rock sound, than at a rehearsal with a ska band? Actually it's hard to think of a less appropriate setting for a guitar of this type, but since I'm rehearsing with Mark Wyeth and Laurie (son of Paul) Fox who I've previously played with whilst depping in Foxy's Ruts back in the summer it seems like an opportunity that's too good to miss... and yes, within a few minutes of getting together we were running through those well known ska classics 'Babylon's Burning', 'Staring at the Rude Boys' and 'Something That I Said'... we did manage to play quite a bit of Simaryp stuff too, but only until the lure of 'Criminal Mind' and 'Demolition Dancing' proved too much for us to ignore. It sounded great.

I will use a Telecaster for the gigs, honest!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'mmm... jazz... nice!'

Do you like jazz? Yeah, I do too... or do I? I've got a few jazz albums- you know, the ones us rock'n'roll blokes are supposed to have, to show that we're not as one dimensional as people think we are, 'A Kind Of Blue', 'Mingus Ah Um', that kind of thing- but they don't get played too often. From time to time I think 'I know, I'll play some jazz' and put one of them on; I always seem to end up playing someone like The Ramones straight afterwards, as if it brings me back home again or something.

There's been a jazz club at Ruislip Golf Club for many years, on Monday evenings in the upstairs bar 'though I think it used to be Sunday lunchtime? Anyway Brian who runs it always drops a poster into the shop and is always really enthusiastic about it, and I always say to him that I will come down but always seem to have something else to do; when he drops the next poster in he always tells me what a great evening I missed, and I always say to him that I'll make more of an effort to get along next time, but I always seem to have something else to do... but I made it there last night, and I'm very glad that I did, because Jim Mullen played. He played back in the summer but I missed him (it was the same night as the Paul Fox benefit night in Islington- see what I mean?) so I made sure I got along this time. As I arrived Brian was by the door; he let me in for nothing telling the lady collecting the admission money that I always put a poster up in the shop for the club, and that everyone had noticed that there were more young people coming along these days. I met up with drummer extraordinaire Dave Bateman and watched the band meet each other- probably for the first time but that's what happens at these type of gatherings- as Jim handed out what I assume were chord sheets to the double bass player and keyboard man. To my surprise Brian took his place behind the drums (he'd never mentioned to me that he played) and they began. They sounded as though they'd been playing together for years. Jim played chords that I'll never be able to pronounce let alone play, and solos that I doubt I'd be able to find on any of my guitars if I looked from now until doomsday, and although I could have done without a bass solo in every number (!) I guess that 'goes with the territory' as they say... effortlessly excellent stuff throughout, and I'm really glad that I went, and I'll try to go along more often- but I couldn't wait to play The Ramones when I got home, if you know what I mean. Gabba gabba hey indeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Skinhead ache

It's Sunday morning- my head aches and I don't feel as though I've been to sleep. Isn't drinking wonderful?

As part of my 'if you don't go to see the bands in the pubs they'll stop putting music on' campaign- which could of course be seen as a rather lame excuse for going out drinking when I'd be better off having a night in- I went to see The Beaky Band at The Old Fox in Ickenham. Beaky (a.k.a Tony) is a member of '60's popsters Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick and Tich; he comes in the shop a fair bit and always seems like a really nice guy so I thought I should make the effort and go to see him play. His bass player is Terry Peaker, an old mate of mine who I used to play in The Informers with (another good reason to go) and his drummer is Geoff-off-of-'Rockschool' (remember that rather strange T.V. programme back in the 1980's which attempted to show you how to play in a band? It's Geoff the drummer from that show! Really!) and they don't do that many gigs due to Beaky's other commitments which was yet another good reason to go... details are necessarily sketchy due to the amount of lager consumed but judging by Stuart the guitar repairman's reaction (he spent rather a lot of their show gripping his sides, helpless with laughter) it may not have been the greatest show ever but it was good to get out and see some friends play (even if Terry kept telling people that he 'didn't have his playing head on'), and I hadn't seen Nigel and Pete from The Lurkers for ages, and if maybe they were a little unwise in their choice of material ('Free Bird', 'Rock and Roll', 'Little Wing' etc) it's surely better to be ambitious than to play safe... ok, so it wasn't that brilliant really. Then again Beaky's about to embark on a 64 date U.K. tour so he must be doing something right?

Friday night it was back to Maidstone (I'm beginning to feel quite at home there) for a Chicago Blues Brothers show at the Pizza Express. Pete's back as Jake- his latest retirement was at the Hazlitt Theatre across the road from this gig!- but it's the usual suspects apart from that. Marc bought along a small Yamaha drum kit with a 16" bass drum which looked a bit strange but sounded good although as he put it, 'if it sounded that good none of the bigger ones would exist'- a good point well made as they say... we've played there quite a few times but this was one of the best shows we've done there with Dave and Richard behind the bar dancing with the barstaff (shouldn't they have been on stage?!?) (Dave and Richard that is, not the barstaff) and 'Mustang Sally' as an encore which believe it or not we hardly ever play. A fine evening.

Today I've got songs to learn- I'm doing some gigs in a couple of months with ska legends Simaryp (or is it Symarip? No one I speak to seems to know!) and have a CD of material to go through; I've heard 'Skinhead Moonstomp' and Skinhead Girl' (a bit of a pattern emerging here don't you think?) but there's 20 songs on the CD which is a fair bit of music and we're rehearsing this week so I'd better get on with it. Time to disappear into a mountain of paracetamol...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Brothers in arms

The 1980's were not a good time for rock'n'roll.

Actually thinking about it they weren't a particularly good time for anything really- clothes were bad, hairstyles were worse and the government redefined the word 'evil' on an almost daily basis. Musically there were some good bands and artists around- The Redskins, Billy Bragg, U2 before Bono decided that he was Jesus- but if you liked (and I use the term loosely) rock'n'roll you didn't have a lot to go on. Then there appeared a band that were so out of step with what was going on around them that they literally seemed to be from another time and another place- ladies and gentlemen I give you, The Godfathers. 5 dangerous looking (and even more dangerous sounding) men who wrote songs with titles like 'This Damn Nation' and 'I'm Unsatisfied' and who played music that sounded like a bomb going off in your head. For a while it seemed to me as though only they could save us from a world of floppy-fringed shoegazers moaning and droning about not having a girlfriend. With the Coyne brothers (Peter on vocals, Chris on bass) at the helm, the twin guitars of Mike Gibson and Kris Dollimore combined with George Mazur's powerhouse drumming to produce what for me still stands as some of the best rock music of the mid-'80's. They've just re-issued 'Hit By Hit', a compilation album of their first few singles (if you don't already have it, get it!) and have re-united (as Peter Coyne puts it, there's 'unfinished business') for a currently undefined period of time. I've just got home after seeing their first U.K. show this century...

I met up with Dave (a.k.a. Snaggletooth) at Uxbridge station at 6.30; by 8 o'clock we were in the Bull & Gate with Tom from Shepherd's Bush, Andy Knight and others, and by 8.30 we were in the Forum watching The Bishops, with 'watching' being the operative word as they were nowhere near loud enough. 'They're a beat combo!' roared Tom which just about sums it up, and that's no bad thing in my book. At the end of their show I'm approached by the legend that is Brian Kotz ('Brian from Barnet', 'Brian from Back To Zero' etc.) who I haven't seen for several years; after saying hello to each other he asks if I saw The Bishops and before I can answer tells me he's seen them 71 times- by the look on his face the 100th sighting isn't that far away.

Suddenly the AC/DC track playing over the P.A. doubles in volume and is replaced by the theme from 'The Godfather'- and there they are at last, a sight that a lot of people have waited a long time to see again, playing 'I Want Everything' and sounding pretty much the same as they used too, and even if Dollimore's solo is not quite as acrobatic as it used to be it's still one of my favourite bits of guitar playing ever. Coyne's not saying much but somehow doesn't have to, it's all in the songs- ''Cause I Said So', 'She Gives Me Love', 'Obsession', 'When Am I coming Down?'- somehow they all sound even better than I remember them and they sounded amazing then. During the instrumental 'John Barry' some lads down the front wave a Liverpool F.C. flag (good boys!) as the mosh pit grows in size; the set ends with 'This Damn Nation', 'Birth School Work Death' and scenes of near hysteria. They return for what Coyne calls 'a folk song played on guitar and drums'- 'Anarchy in the U.K.' sees Dollimore putting his precious Zemaitis down and jumping into the audience to confront the guy throwing beer over him- before 'Public Enemy No. 1' and 'Blitzkrieg Bop' close the show. But not just any old show; it was a brilliant show, an astonishing show, a show good enough to get me typing this at nearly 2 o'clock in the morning. Welcome back lads- and please don't leave it quite so long next time eh?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

South and North

If you read last week's posting 'North and South' and thought to yourself something along the lines of 'what acid casualty booked a gig in Newcastle followed by a gig in Maidstone?' then you were not alone. A possible answer to your question might be 'probably the same one that booked a gig in Clacton followed by a gig in Rotherham'...

Friday saw The Chicago Blues Brothers visit the Princes Theatre in Clacton. Somehow- and I really must try to find out how- the show was being covered by the local B.B.C. programme 'Look East' (possibly because Mike and Dave are vaguely local?) which meant Mario & Mike (Jake & Elwood) and Squirrel had to be there at the worryingly early hour of 11 a.m. for an interview whilst the rest of us were due there sometime around 3 o'clock so that part of the sound check could be filmed prior to our performance. The long-suffering Shirley and myself picked up Tracy on the way; joining Ian on keyboards and Dave & Richard on sax & trumpet was, back for one night only, John Skelton on drums. His last show with us was at Windsor back in September- he's now in T.Rextacy. Myself and Squirrel celebrated his return by jamming 'Black Night' with him at the sound check- excellent!- and sound man Ian Bond bought along his recently-aquired Gibson Les Paul Custom for me to see which made for a fine hour or so from my point of view (I'm easily pleased!) though how much of it ends up in the programme remains to be seen.
With a couple of hours to go before showtime we had time to visit the local Prezzo italian resturant where Squirrel decided that although he wasn't really hungry he would stay and have a drink with us; he somehow managed to drink over a bottle of wine in the time it took for us to have a quick-ish meal. 3 or 4 songs into the show he came across to me and said 'I think I might be in a bit of trouble here' which I would say qualifies as 'understatement of the year so far'... John broke the head on his snare drum during 'River Deep Mountain High'- he managed to get the spare in place during the quiet section in the middle without half the band (and I suspect most of the audience) realising that anything had happened- and Mario made an excellent job of Pete's costume changes. A fun (if slightly chaotic) show.

Rotherham Civic Theatre might not sound like the most enticing place to spend a Saturday night but I for one enjoyed my time there immensely. Mario, Tracy and myself arrived there around 4.30 after a journey that had included a sighting of a van from the International Ferret Rescue and Welfare Centre (really!) and a stop in a service station that was playing Dr. Feelgood to it's unsuspecting clientelle. Marc returned to the drum stool and Andy and Matt replaced Dave and Richard; soundcheck jams included 'Honky Tonk Women' and 'Little Wing', and I took my old Stratocaster along for Ian Bond to have a look at- we guitarists do that kind of thing...
We took a walk down into town to find some food. Rotherham's a bit short of takeaway food outlets (well, the part we were in was anyway) but did have a pet shop called 'FISH AND CHEEPS' which advertised REPTILES NOW IN STOCK, and, even more peculiarly, an enormous T.V. screen showing News 24 in the middle of the town square. Myself and Ian did the decent thing and went for a drink in the only visable pub 'Disraeli's' before making our way back to the venue.
And Rotherham rocked! A great gig saw Mario sitting on a young lady's knee for the start of 'Do You Love Me', Squirrel's mobile phone going off as we were about to start 'Jailhouse Rock' (he'd forgotten that he had it in his pocket- it was Pete, wondering how the gig had gone) and someone coming up to me in the bar afterwards and saying that they thought that I was a better guitarist than Joe Walsh. Now there's something that I don't get told every day... and Dave Land's wife Lynn came over to say hello; she was up visiting relatives and seemed a bit mystified that Dave hadn't been playing!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

North and South

It's been a l-o-n-g 48 hours; I'm not sure what I'm doing up this early to be honest with you...

10.30 Friday morning and I'm meeting Mario and Tracy at Richard the sax player's house. Mario (Jake in tonight's show) has picked up an 11-seat bus and we're off to meet the rest of the lads at a service station near Duxford- from there we go to (gulp!) Newcastle for a show at the Journal Tyne Theatre. Bad weather is forecast but it's a nice day for pretty much the whole journey; it starts raining an hour or so from Newcastle but the heavy snow that we were fearing that we'd encounter doesn't materialise although we see a few cars with snow on them so maybe we were luckier than we realised? We arrive at the theatre just before 5 o'clock- Ian's already set up the P.A. and after a quick load in (it was COLD!) we set up and soundcheck in no time. Ian says to me he's got an amplifier that he'd like me to try that he's just bought on Ebay- it's a Gallien-Kruger combo and it sounds pretty good (and agreeably noisy) to my ears.
There was a fire at The Tyne Theatre Christmas 1985; it was renovated and re-opened on the 12th November 1986 which I suspect is when the word 'journal' appeared in it's name. I know all of this because I read it on a plaque in a wall whilst I was stumbling around trying to find the bar... upstairs there's a lot of dressing rooms, so many in fact that I ended up with number 4 all to myself; on the landing outside was a poster advertising a poster for a performance of 'Tosca' featuring Sarah Bernhardt on Thursday 22nd July 1897. Another poster advertised a show that Placido Domingo played there in 1983- these places have the most amazing heritage.
7.30 Friday evening and we're ready to rock. It was Conor's 13th birthday; I know that because him and his friends and family were in the box to the left of the stage as you look out from it, going mad from the first notes to the last of a generally good show. Marc's still reading the set from his notes but doing an amazing job- the odd missed cue here and there and a rather fast version of 'I Feel Good' being about the only clues that he's still a 'new' member of the band. Mario got down into the audience for 'Do You Love Me?'- I for one wasn't sure how easy it would be for him to get back up onto the stage but he made it (just!).
10.30 Friday evening and we're getting ready to leave for home; there's a gig tomorrow night and as so often happens in these situations it was impractical for us to stay the night away. Squirrel's behind the wheel and it's a long way home but the atmosphere's good and people drift in and out of sleep as we wind our way south; in one of my 'awake bits' Dave Land plays me a couple of tracks by the wonderfully-named A Is For Automatic Weapons who feature his son Henry on bass- my bleary ears decide that there's some very clever stuff going on with time signatures and that they can all play a lot better than I could at their age...

10.30 Saturday morning and I'm in the shop- we've been open 45 minutes or so and I'm going to need rather a lot of coffee to get through the day. Saturday boy Ian takes a fair bit of heat off me, and Paul the guv'nor's in for the afternoon but it's still a busy enough day with the computer seemingly refusing to add up the sales figures correctly- or was I doing something wrong? Who knows... no time to worry about that now as myself and the long-suffering Shirley are off to Maidstone for a show at The Hazlitt Theatre; after an unusually easy journey I'm set up in record time for another 7.30 show. Pete's back as Jake after one of the shortest retirements from the theatre stage ever, and Bob's in for Richard on saxophone; the audience are a bit subduded despite Pete and Mike's best efforts to get them up and dancing but it's all ok in the end with 'I Feel Good' back to normal speed and Pete's costume changes are as amusing as ever.
10.30 Saturday evening and we're in the bar after the show. Spirits are good- it looks as though we've got a new agency which bodes well for gigs this year and beyond, and Pete has officially staked his claim for the Frank Sinatra Multiple Comebacks Award by retiring yet again. Excellent.

Yes, it's been a l-o-n-g 48 hours; I'm not sure what I'm doing up this early to be honest with you...