Sunday, March 30, 2008

It's all over now

...and there it was- gone. 6 gigs in 3 days, and with what feels like a hundred memories flying around in my head I'm sitting here wondering how I can best tell the story here. Day-by-day seems to be the way methinks:-


Arriving at the theatre to the unmistakable smell of menthol and cold cure can only mean one thing- Mike's voice hasn't improved. He's had a throat problem on and off for a while and got through last night's show more-or-less in one piece but it's got the better of him today which means Pete's doing tonight's shows with Mike hopefully well enough to come back tomorrow. Pete normally plays Jake in the show but he's Elwood tonight so sound check mostly consists of us running through the 'Elwood songs' for his benefit. We then go to the backstage office to talk through a few points of the show before it's time to get ready for the 5.30 performance. Pete mused on whether or not it was safe to leave the window open; it's got bars on it but could a small person get through? 'All you'd need is a dwarf on a trampoline' says Dave looking all too serious. The window gets closed.

There's not many people in for the matinee (the upstairs is empty, the downstairs about 2/3 full) but we play ok; it's always hard to get going in front of a half full (should that be half empty?) room but Pete gets into his 'new' role and spirits are high for the evening show which has a much healthier crowd with some familiar faces among them- Big Andy with his rarely-seen wife Mel, ('Mrs. Big') Paul the shop guv'nor with his wife Julie and daughter Charlotte, Ian the shop Saturday boy, my old mate Brent... even Boxing Bob Newcombe shows up (he and his red bus got us around the country on many occasions; he also has the most crushing of handshakes which I'd almost forgotten about- not a good thing to get involved in before a gig!) which all bodes well for what turns out to be one of the best shows of the week. There was an anxious moment where the glass of water that Richard keeps nearby for wetting his saxophone reeds got knocked over which resulted in a puddle across the right hand side of the stage (a little goes a long way!) which could have been very dangerous for the dancers; Tracy mopped it up, much to the amusement of the B.B's ('don't we have people to do that for us?') Everybody plays well and it goes down brilliantly- easily the best show of the run so far.


Pre-sound check and with no one else around myself and sound guru Ian Bond busy ourselves playing about with guitar sounds- always a worthwhile thing to do don't you think? I'd used the Baja Telecaster for all the shows up to this point but now it's time to give the '60's Classic a go- we spend a bit of time switching between them to see how the sound changes, coming to the conclusion that the Baja sounds 'bright and clear, like a Telecaster should sound' whereas the Classic sounds 'darker and rockier' which unsurprisingly we both prefer. Boys with their toys eh?

The matinee show starts where the previous night's performance had left off, which is just as well from my point of view as ex-Price manager Eddie was in the audience and I'd have hated him to have seen a bad one. Mike's back as Elwood and sounding as though he'd benefited from last night's break, and Paul the shop guv'nor's son Ross had come along to take some photos which meant us all amassing in the scenery dock in between shows to pose among the equipment there. Pete and Mario had something of a disagreement, most of which I missed 'though the bit that I did hear didn't sound too friendly... back up in the dressing room it's already time for Rob to call us back to the stage for the evening show- 'it's relentless!' exclaimed Richard as he attempted to eat a prawn roll whilst changing his shirt. Shirley's back from meeting her Mum and some work friends in 'Browns' restaurant- they're in the third row of the stalls, I spot them a couple of numbers in, they see a great show that's at least as good as the previous night's one and might even be a bit better... afterwards Squirrel comes into the dressing room looking a bit perplexed, he'd attempted to put his bass away in the dark- as he put it, 'I don't know why they call it a safety curtain, I've just tripped over a mic stand'. Good point.

Everyone's off to a Chinese restaurant but in rushing to get changed I knocked a bottle of beer over and some of it went on the shirt I was going to wear for tomorrow's show; I'd just cleaned that up when I knocked some water over, I get upset and rant at Mike, it's not his fault and I feel bad and try to apologise to him but that makes me feel even worse- Shirley takes me back to the travel lodge where we have a drink and I send a text message apologising to Pete for not going to the restaurant. He sends me a message telling me not to worry, and Dave sends me one to tell me that 'the lads miss you'. I felt really bad then!


Can it really be our last day here already? Yes it can, and sadly it is. Almost inevitably it's pouring down with rain, to such an extent that it's a relief to get back to the 'safety' of the theatre after taking our stuff from our travel lodge to the car. Spirits are high and everybody agrees that it's been a great few days. For tonight's shows Mario's away gigging elsewhere so Pete's back in his more familiar role as Jake- we run through a couple of songs with him and somehow end up playing 'Treat Her Right' which goes back to our days as Dave Finnegan's Commitments; we hadn't played it for ages but it sounds like we play it all the time. Mind you the band sounds like it could play anything you threw at it. Maybe it could!?!

The matinee is an odd one- nearly sold out and with a few people there who sounded as though they'd taken advantage of all day drinking, it's a rough and ready show which goes down well enough but feels a bit below the standard set by the previous 3. In the interval between the shows I go out looking for my Dad who's coming to the final show but I can't find him, I get a bit worried but decide he'll be ok and go back to get changed for the last time. The show's sold out, the crowd are up for it from the word go and the first set flies by in what feels like a few minutes. As the lights go up I see Cliff in the box stage right- he comes in the shop all the time, I hardly know him but he's come to see the show, he's waving, I go out to try to talk to him but can't find my way up to the box. At last I spot my Dad up in the circle, me and Shirley go up there to see how he is, he's a hard man to please but he's enjoying the show. The second set's a killer, everybody on top form and the place is going wild. During the band introductions in 'Sweet Home Chicago' Tracy drags Pete's wife Jayne out onto the stage where she's presented with a bunch of flowers from us all; Pete gets two introductions, one as Jake and one as the show's producer- he gets a bottle of cognac and looks almost overwhelmed. And then, suddenly, it's all over- we're bowing and waving and walking off stage for the last time to the loudest applause of the week. It was a fine show to end our time in Windsor with; as we walked towards the dressing room Squirrel said something like 'what am I going to do at 5.30 tomorrow?' I'd just been wondering the same thing.

In the upstairs foyer there's people everywhere. I find Cliff- he's had a great time, wants to buy me a drink but I'm looking for my Dad. Eventually I find him, he doesn't like much that I do but he liked this and that means a lot to me. I introduce him to Ian- incredibly his Dad and Uncle were in The Merchant Navy with my Mum and Dad over 50 years ago. It's a great life sometimes, and this was one of those times. Fantastic.

I'm so lucky to be able to play music. I'll never ever take it for granted.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Knob problems continue

Just got in from tonight's show (it's great playing near home!) which, whilst by no means a bad show, wasn't quite as good as last night. Surely routine can't be setting in already?
First job on arriving at the theatre was, you've guessed it, to fix my knob (did I ever show you my 'Carry On Guitar Hero' script?) which I did with some masking tape- you put some on the metal 'blade' of the switch which makes it a bit bigger and gives it a more abrasive surface for the plastic to grip on to. With that done and with Pete at the vocal helm- Mike's resting a bad throat with a view to getting through the show in one piece- sound check includes 'Honky Tonk Woman', 'Take Me to the River' and 'Long Train Running', none of which are in the show (yet!) but are good fun all the same. In no time at all Rob's 'voice of God' comes over the tannoy again and with a slightly smaller audience than last night the show feels a little subdued in comparison. Oh and my tone control knob came off this time. I'm beginning to take this personally.

Now begins the exciting bit- 2 shows each day (5.30 & 8.30 p.m.) for the next 3 days. I've never done a run of gigs like this before and I'm really looking forward to it...

They nearly trod on my knob!

It seems unlikely that I'll be able to do a day-by-day account of our Windsor week which is a bit of a shame- I'd be interested to see what stands out each day as worth mentioning, and indeed how my mood changes throughout the week, if you know what I mean- but yesterday was a good start to proceedings, even allowing for the fact that Windsor town centre was all but closed for a large part of the day (it was a dress rehearsal for today's state visit by the French President) meaning that sound guru Ian Bond had to be at the venue at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m to load in. And he wasn't alone- Pete and Squirrel were sharing his pain whilst your humble narrator was on his way to the shop to show new staff member Adam how to open up without incurring the wrath of the alarm company (they send an armed response unit and everything!). I ended up staying there for the best part of 3 hours which no doubt contributed to the nervy packing and re-packing session that I really should have done the day before but somehow didn't quite get around to.
Shirley and myself arrived at the theatre sometime before 4 o'clock to find everything taking shape nicely. We were using a slightly different stage set-up to normal- guitar, bass and drums stage left, keyboards and horns stage right with a walkway for exits and entrances centre stage- and there were a few changes to the show to rehearse, not least the addition of some dancing girls on several numbers (hurrah!) (sorry Shirl!) and a couple of new songs in the set. Band wise it's the A-Team- Richard and Dave on trumpet and sax, Marc and Squirrel on drums and bass with Tracy on vocals and Mario and Mike as Jake and Elwood, with Pete in as Jake for Saturday and his wife Jayne with the ever-expanding number of costume changes that the show seems to feature these days. Sound check/rehearsal goes pretty smoothly, and in no time at all our new friend Rob's voice is coming over the backstage tannoy loud and clear-

'ladies and gentlemen this is your act one beginners call'

It's the first of 8 shows in 5 days (Tuesday to Saturday evening with matinees on Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and it amazes me how much it feels like a first night as opposed to 'just another gig'. It takes a bit of getting used to but with Marc, Squirrel and myself all within a couple of yards of each other it feels like a real rhythm section and the first show is definitely a good one. I'm playing my new-ish Baja Telecaster through the very recently purchased Fender Blues Junior combo (there went the wages!) and using a Tube Screamer for the solos and, even though I say so myself, it's sounding good... then, during my solo in 'Green Onions', the black plastic knob on the pick-up selector switch comes off and rolls a yard or two away in front of me; I can't get across to pick it up (I was a little busy at the time) and suddenly the B.B.'s are back on for 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love' and they're dancing closer and closer to it and it's going to get trodden on and it's really hard to get a replacement and I'm trying to work out how I can pick it up whilst still playing and they're getting closer and closer and... and... and...

It's always the little things in life isn't it? I picked it up at the end of the song, put it in my pocket and started 'Sweet Home Chicago'. Easy. But for a few moments it felt almost as though the world was going to end. And I wonder what I played while I was trying to work out how to pick it up?!?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Windsor- not?

Right. I've re-strung my guitars, put a new battery in my Tube Screamer, checked and re-checked my leads (several times), packed and re-packed my stage clothes (several times) and, probably, re-strung my leads, put a new battery in my stage clothes...

It's just a few gigs. I do them all the time. So why should these make me feel so nervous?

To Windsor!!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Oops! I (nearly) did it again

I really must remember not to go to Wunjo's Guitars after our theatre session; it's such a good shop! There's nearly always a interesting guitar or 2 that wasn't there the week before to tempt your humble narrator into a 'I don't really need it but' situation. This week's winner was a Gibson Les Paul Junior previously owned by a member of a Green Day tribute band- '60's neck. T.V yellow, played and sounded like a dream. If it had been a double rather than single cutaway model I would have really had some explaining to do...

If it's Good Friday it must be time to go to Portsmouth (no I don't really understand that logic either but sometimes this stuff just comes out, if you know what I mean) for a Chicago Blues Brothers gig at The Colonial Bar. An otherwise uneventful journey down the A3 suddenly became a bit like something out of a disaster movie when Shirley observed that the car we were about to overtake had it's driver door window open- unusual on such a cold day. As we passed it I looked across to see the driver asleep with his glasses on top of his head. Well, that's what it looked like anyway... I looked back after a minute or so to see the car rather unsteadily making it's way into a service station which was something of a relief to say the least.
The Colonial Bar turned out to be an excellent club albeit with a rather small stage for a band of our number- Mario, Mike and Tracy ended up singing from the dance floor in front of us. I had a 'new' amplifier to try, a Fender Blues Junior that I've borrowed (hi Dave!) with a view to buying if it sounds good in the band. Sound check went well with a version of Ace's 'How Long' somehow finding it's way into proceedings and old mate and fellow guitar bore Paul Cope arriving just as we were finishing. The dressing room was a bit rough but they gave us all a meal each so that more than made up for it- mine was possibly the spiciest pasta that I've ever tasted so a drink was more than overdue. The club started filling up early, probably due to the 'all drinks 2 pounds before 8 o'clock' sign above the bar- I couldn't help noticing that the ladies of Portsmouth seem to be rather, shall we say, well built, and are not shy in advertising this fact (sorry Shirl!). Distractions aside it's showtime at 9.30 for a 90 minute set and by the time we go on the place is sold out with a great gig in prospect. It'd been a while since we'd played a club show- it's been mostly theatres and corporates this year- and I'd almost forgotten how well the Blues Brothers material comes across in such a venue. It was a slightly loose show here and there- something went amiss in ' Shake Your Tail Feather' meaning Richard had to count us all back in at one point- but it all went down a storm which is the main thing. And the Fender combo sounded terrific (there go the wages AGAIN) with sound man Ian Bond saying as much, 'though he also commented 'more Tube Screamer for the lead breaks' (for those of you that don't know the Ibanez Tube Screamer is a near-legendary effect pedal used by a lot of blues guitarists, notably Stevie Ray Vaughan, which I'd been using to boost the levels of my solos) which is a very useful observation from my point of view and one that I'm looking forward to trying out at Windsor later this week.

Saturday in the shop turned out to be sporadically busy with rather more money being taken than myself, Paul the guv'nor and Ian the Saturday boy had thought, so much so that I for one was rather surprised by the end figure. After closing up it's off to Ditton for a gig with Austin in his duo Liquid. We found the Cobdean Sports and Social Club without too many problems and arrived to find Austin all set up and working out a set list. We can play either 3 40 minute or 2 1 and-a-quarter hour sets- we decide to see how we feel 40 minutes into the first set. It'd been ages since I'd played with Austin (oo-er missus etc) and I'd not had as much time as I'd liked to revise the songs but things didn't go too badly for me although I did only remember the first guitar solo in 'Sweet Home Alabama' around halfway through the second one... with people requesting songs by the likes of The Rolling Stones and Gary Moore things took a rather rockier turn than either of us had originally thought it would 'though there was still time for the inevitable 'Mustang Sally' in amongst the madness. A highly enjoyable 2-rather-than-3-set gig ended with a conversation with Clive- that'd been him shouting out for the Gary Moore songs- asking why we hadn't done anything by Steve Vai; he told me he used to play guitar, played on a Kylie album but then cut the end off his second finger of his left hand- presumably not deliberately. I mean she's not that bad- is she?!?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Storm clouds gather

Under what might controversially be called 'normal' circumstances a week without gigs would generally see your humble narrator moaning and droning like a spoilt child about being bored, fed up, directionless- but not this time as from this coming (Good) Friday I've got 10 gigs in 9 days as well as shop and theatre work to contend with. I think the term 'calm before the storm' may apply...

The shop has been as busy as ever with today seeing a delivery of 9 boxes of Epiphone guitars which reduced my newly-tidied shop floor to total chaos. Why do these things only ever seem to happen when I'm in there on my own?!? I'd just managed to get some semblance of order back into things (i.e. put them all round the corner where I couldn't see them) when Barry the UPS man arrived with 2 boxes of Stentor stuff. Bugger! The Epiphones have been eagerly awaited for some time- I won't bore you with the details but it's all to do with Rosetti (the company who distributes them, Rickenbacker, etc) losing the Gibson guitar franchise and going into headless chicken mode as a result. It remains to be seen what happens to the supply of Gibsons to Britain- we've been told that they're (a) doing it all themselves, and (b) only employing a handful of staff for the whole of the U.K. Apparently they're basing their operation in Britain on their operation in the state of Arkansas as that's the same size as our lil' ol' island- they have 5 employees there so that's the number that they'll be running things over here with. Expect prices to rocket in the not-too-distant future.

Working at 'We Will Rock You' continues to throw out some amusing moments- this week Nico (guitarist at 'Cabaret') bought his new PRS custom along for Stu to set up. He met us in the Starbucks coffee shop and caught us in typically grim humour, although whether I should have made the gag about us working in the dark as he handed over his precious instrument is perhaps open to question. Stu worked on it as I restrung the show guitars; Nico turned up to collect it after a couple of hours and proceeded to play more notes in 10 minutes than I'll play in 10 years as I cowered in the corner, whilst roaring things like 'it plays like a dream' over the avalanche of hemi-demi-semi quavers. Another satisfied customer.

One of the strangest things about regularly going into Central London is what you see around you- whilst waiting for Stu in the coffee shop I saw one of 'The League of Gentlemen' walk past; a minute or so later an actor from the 'Quadrophenia' film. No less interesting was a busker at Bond Street tube station who played The Kinks classic (should that be klassic?) 'Sunny Afternoon' on saxophone whilst looking like I would imagine a serial killer to look- Stu and I both threw a bit a change his way and ran off. Quickly. Then again the shop had a return visit from Deep Purple bass ace Roger Glover today, much to the indifference of the other customers at the time- I was hoping that somebody trying a guitar would play 'Smoke on the Water' so that he could go over and correct them (most people play it incorrectly!!) but sadly it was not to be. He bought an Ovation electro-acoustic for his daughter Gillian and knew my name for over an hour- you've never got a copy of 'Machine Head' and a big felt pen handy when you need one have you?

Gigwise it looks like I'm not doing the Symarip shows; the matter's been bought to a head by a show in Dublin where Foxy's Ruts have been booked as support and, having categorically stated that I won't be part of any shows under that name (I think we could use a different name and play as a Ruts tribute band) I'm now not going to Ireland at all, and as a result feel that it would be hypocritical for me to do the other Symarip shows. It's a very complex situation which I fear will get worse before it gets better...

So- Friday sees The Chicago Blues Brothers playing in Portsmouth, on Saturday I'm in Kent with Austin's duo Liquid Lunch, then from Tuesday to Saturday the CBB's play 8 shows in 5 days at The Theatre Royal in Windsor. I'm told there's still tickets if you want to come along-

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spice of life

Do you remember that T.V. show 'The Good Old Days'? You do? Ha- you're as old as me then! I remember it from my schooldays- it was the one where that mad-looking bloke used to use very long words to introduce the acts, and which always seemed to end with Danny La Rue confusing (and often disturbing) the hell out of me. My nan used to love it; she used to say how it reminded her of the music hall shows that she and her friends and family used to go to. The show took place at the City Varieties theatre in Leeds; I played there last night with The Chicago Blues Brothers. I wish I could tell her...

After a relatively uneventful journey we arrived in Leeds in good time (around 4 o'clock) and did the only thing possible under the circumstances- got lost. The sat. nav. got us near but not near enough and after spending far too long in one-way-system-hell we asked a friendly local for directions. In no time we were driving through a pedestrian-only area and pulling up outside the venue. Straight away I was struck by the fact that this was a place with something to say for itself- even the upcoming events board seemed to be from another time, with the information painstakingly handwritten in yellow paint on the boards outside. Great to see John Hegley played there the night before us (he liked The Price!) and country guitar god Albert Lee coming up later this month. We load the gear in and get set up. Like many older theatres there's a rake on the stage which means that it slopes very slightly to enable everyone in the audience to see every part of the stage; it's only a few degrees but I always feel as though I'm going to fall into the front row. It's the usual players and singers except for Steve depping on drums- he's got the drum parts written out but we're going to 'top and tail' the set (i.e. run through the starts and finishes of the songs) to increase his chances of survival- good job we're early eh?

Then my phone rang- it was the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth, telling me that Esso's dad had died. This is sad news- Stan was an absolute gentleman and a great character; I remember his 80th birthday in a pub in Ickenham when my dad and him spent most of the evening swapping army stories and saying how national service would've been good for me and Esso- 'you'd have gone in boys and come out men'. (Whether I should have chosen this moment to rant at Mark about my misgivings regarding our upcoming Symarip gigs is open to question but choose it I did; I'm sure this will feature in a post soon but the problem concerns some gigs that we've been offered as Foxy's Ruts- I say we can't use that name on moral and professional grounds whilst Mark isn't so sure. Sadly it's rebounding on the Symarip shows to such an extent that I may find myself having to back out of them on conscientious grounds which is a great shame since I was really looking forward to them). Eventually I got off the phone and joined the band on stage; we ran through the beginnings and endings to pretty much the whole set with 'Sweet Home Chicago' taking a fair bit of time, but all sounding like Steve was going to make a good job of things. With the serious stuff out of the way it was time for a drink- and what an extraordinary place The Circle Bar is. The walls are covered in signed photos of people who have played at the theatre- Laurel & Hardy, Frankie Howerd, Charlie Chaplin, a young Bruce Forsyth, an old Bruce Forsyth- the list was practically endless, reinforcing the history and tradition of the venue. It was so interesting that I almost forgot to be frightened by Danny La Rue... and the show was a good one with Steve doing an amazing job on drums and a particularly strong second set from us all.

Our evening ends with good news and bad news. The good news is that The Circle Bar was still open after the show; the bad news was that the barmaid told us that the photos weren't real. They were copies- the genuine ones were 'in the safe upstairs'. Still, at least Danny La Rue now didn't look quite as scary as he did earlier.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Some kind of hero

Sometime early in 1975 I came home from school to a sight which, without sounding too melodramatic about it, (imagine me sounding too melodramatic about something- perish the thought dah-ling!) literally changed my life. On the T.V. was a show called 'Geordie Scene' which featured a live performance by a band, the like of which I had never seen before. A gang of 4 besuited herberts rampaged through songs utterly unlike any that I'd ever heard, in a manner that made them appear to me to be more like villains from 'The Sweeney' (the playground cult classic cop show) than the pampered pop stars usually seen on telly. The drummer looked like a getaway driver, the bassist like your mad uncle who always causes trouble at weddings and the singer obviously had a gun on him somewhere. But it was the guitarist that won hands down in the lunacy stakes, his bug eyes staring out from beneath his pudding bowl haircut as he skittered backwards and forwards seemingly only restrained by his curly guitar lead as he sprayed machine gun riffs into the unsuspecting teenage audience. His guitar sounded as though it was being played with a razor blade.
The group was called Dr.Feelgood, their guitarist was called Wilko Johnson and I thought they were probably the greatest thing that I had ever seen. I went into school the next day raving about them the way that you do at that age (still do sometimes in my case!) but most people who'd seen the show didn't like them, thought they'd looked a bit odd for a pop group and said I should 'get into' bands like Yes and Genesis- but I'd tried listening to that sort of music and all it had done for me was send me back to my old Beatles singles that I'd had since I was a lad. No, this was the music for me, especially that song that they'd played that was called something like 'Rock Set'; it had sounded a bit like there were two guitarists playing even though there was only one. I liked that a lot. I still do actually...

I first saw Wilko play live in, I think, 1977. He'd just left Dr. Feelgood and had his own band- the poster advertising the gig at Brunel University had said 'The Wilko Johnston Band' but we all knew it was him. In the intervening couple of years I'd met a few other people who liked the same type of music as me- in fact there were suddenly lots of people about who said that they'd liked it all along, but I knew they hadn't because if they had I wouldn't have been made to feel like a virtual outcast every time anybody mentioned music. I've seen him play lots of times since then; in fact I've probably seen him play more than I've seen any other guitarist. I've also been in the support band a few times too over the years and got to talk to him here and there. We even tried each other's guitars once. I saw him play again last night, at The Horns in Watford. I hadn't seen him play for over a year, but that doesn't matter because when Wilko plays, the clock stops. Well, my one does anyway. I last saw him at The 100 Club the year before last; I was in the gents toilet after the show when Suggs of Madness fame came up to me and roared something like 'Eric Clapton plays The Albert Hall and Wilko Johnson plays the 100 Club, what's that all about then eh?' I was about to reply when he was attacked by drunken fans and fled into one of the cubicles- but it's an interesting question as I've rarely seen Wilko give a performance that was anything less than brilliant but I've seen E.C. in his drunken years all over the place and about as far from being 'God' as I am. (I should perhaps also say here that Clapton's also been responsible for some of the best electric guitar playing that I will ever see or hear- but that's another story as they say) Last night Wilko wasn't anything less than brilliant yet again with his guitar still sounding as though it's being played with a razor blade (incidentally he doesn't even use a plectrum; I'll show you how he does it if you like, he showed me once, in the corner of the dressing room at Brunel when The Price supported him there in 1989- one of the best moments of my guitar-playing life) and still with only a curly guitar lead saving him from total oblivion. As always bass guitar god Norman Watt-Roy had jaws dropping left right and centre with a unparalleled display of virtuosity (East was standing a yard or so from him- he told me afterwards than his face was aching from smiling so much) and Monti's drums never once wavered from the beat- but it begins and ends with Wilko and that guitar. It's still a black Fender Telecaster with a red scratchplate (he paints them himself!) and it's still played with an energy that someone half his age would struggle to summon up. I've been watching people play music for over 30 years (gulp!) and the only guitarist I've ever seen that I find more inspiring than him is Pete Townshend, and that's saying something. He didn't play 'Roxette'- that's what the song was actually called- but that just means that I'll be back next time to hear it. So that's ok.

Watching Wilko Johnson play makes me feel as though all I ever want to do is play the guitar. Have you any idea how much that means to me?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


At last! I finally get chance to chronicle the last few days in mad-guitar-land. It's been busy this week in the shop- very busy in fact. Still it's better than sitting about bored don't you think?

Thursday lunchtime and I'm in the bus with Richard, Dave, Tracy and Mario. The latter's behind the steering wheel and we're on our way to meet the rest of the band in Brentwood before journeying up to Tyneside for gigs in Middlesbrough and South Shields. The weather's not too bad, the traffic's not too heavy and the mood is good, despite a bit of moaning here and there about having to go to Brentwood. I must say it didn't bother me too much- we've all got to meet up somewhere and The Holiday Inn car park is a good place to leave vehicles overnight- but what do I know? Anyway as we arrive we see Squirrel, Marc, Mike and Ian ready and waiting; in no time everything's loaded up and we're on our way.
To cut a long story (and indeed a long journey) short, we get to the theatre late. After the quickest set up in history there's just time for a verse-and-a-bit of 'Midnight Hour' before we have to stop for them open the doors and let the audience in. As always the mighty Ian Bond gets the sound right first time. Somehow I end up with dressing room 6 all to myself which, as a fan of 'The Prisoner' I naturally find rather amusing- much more amusing than my appalling solo in 'Green Onions' which for some reason starts bad and gets worse. Maybe I was a bit tired? I think I made up for it in 'Sweet Home Chicago' though.
After the show everyone's hungry so after asking around it's off to 'Khan's' Indian restaurant for a curry or two- and what an excellent choice it was with Bollywood-style pop videos on the T.V. and the proprietor coming out with lines like 'a spicy feast in the North-East' at every available opportunity. The food was good too... from there it was a 40-ish minute drive to The White Mere Travelodge and some well deserved sleep.

10.30-ish Friday morning and I drag myself out of bed. I'm sharing a room with Mario so I have a quick shower and then leave him to it and go for a walk. It's cold. Very cold. And windy. Very windy. I give the long-suffering Shirley a call then spot Bondy in The Little Chef next to the Travelodge so go in and join him for breakfast. Great is the talk of amplifiers, guitars etc- just what I'm looking for in fact. We're joined by Richard and Dave, then everybody gradually arrives. After checking out it's off to The Customs House in South Shields to drop our gear of before walking down into town for a look around. Inevitably this involves visiting a pub- in this case The Fitzpatrick which serves food that can only ever be disappointing after the previous night's offerings but turns out to be disappointing in it's own right... I decide to go off on my own for a walk and spot a sign for a Roman fort which I decide to try to find. I walk a mile or so through streets almost totally populated by Indian restaurants (the one's that weren't were Chinese!) before passing Marine Park and making it down to the coast to see the fort off in the distance. It looked amazing through the sea mists, I stood there gazing at it for a while before deciding to head back onto town. As I turned to head back the heavens opened, like someone had thrown a bucket of water in my face (maybe they had!?!). Suddenly it was a very long walk back to the venue.
By the time I got to The Customs House I was soaked; not 'a bit wet', not even 'drenched'- no, I was, as my nan used to say, wet through. Squirrel's the same- he remarked on how, as he and Ian were struggling against the elements on their way back, the locals seemed completely unperturbed by it all. I'd thought that too... I got changed into my stage trousers (always a risky business this early in the day- it's at this point that you inexplicably order something totally mad to eat like blancmange which you then drop all down your pants causing unbelievable on-stage embarrassment) and left my jeans and coat to dry out on a handy radiator.
Sound check goes well with a run through 'Funky Nassau' taking up a fair bit of time- it was in the show a few years back when I first started playing in it and might make a return although I for one am not so sure that it should (I tend to think that songs leave and join set lists for a reason, if you know what I mean)- but everything sounds good and the band's on top form. It's a great venue and it's a great show with Dave Land posing furiously next to me with what can only be described as a 'comedy lute' during my solo in 'Flip, Flop and Fly' and a rather loose version of 'Minnie the Moocher' testing our ability to think on our feet. Afterwards there's time for a quick drink before packing the gear away and heading South into the night. The A1's closed and my seat is not too conducive to sleeping in but we get there in the end. A good couple of gigs.

I walked through the front door sometime after 6 a.m., and opened the shop not long after half past nine. It was a long but curiously enjoyable day not least because I think I started hallucinating sometime near closing time (that normally costs me a fortune across the bar!) after drinking what I suspect was rather too much coffee... after a quick snooze at home it was back to The Old Fox in Ickenham to see local heroes The Cane Toads play an enjoyable show with more than a few new numbers in the set and Martin the singer as mad as ever. I spent much of the evening with Stuart the guitar repair man whose mood could perhaps best be described by this exchange with Nigel from The Lurkers:-

Nigel- 'So, you repair guitars then?'
Stuart- 'I try not to'
Nigel- 'What then, do you make guitars?'
Stuart- 'I try not to' etc etc

I'm sure you get the picture.

I spent most of Sunday asleep. I can't think why.