Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And start again

Do you remember Edwyn Collins? He was good wasn't he?

What do you mean, you don't remember him; of course you do, he used to be in Orange Juice, they did that song 'Rip It Up'... and he did that one that went 'never met a girl like you before'... yes, that one! That's the guy!

I always liked Edwyn Collins- I thought he was a great pop songwriter, something that means a lot to me in my little world. I saw him at the Shepherds Bush Empire last night and he was brilliant. With a band that included Roddy Frame from Aztec Camera (another excellent songwriter, and no mean guitarist either) and ex-Ruts drummer Dave Ruffy he covered everything from early Orange Juice to songs from his last album 'Home Again', and sounded as good as I remember him sounding the last time I saw him, which I think was sometime in the late '80's at Brunel University. But he looked different... a bit...
As you may know Edwyn suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 2005; by all accounts he was very lucky to survive. He currently walks with the aid of a cane- the sight of which clearly shocked some audience members- and has some difficulty talking, although his singing is unimpaired. He sat throughout the set (on a Peavey bass combo, oddly enough) and tapped his left hand along with the music. I was struck by how, when he spoke of 'my stroke', he sounded almost as though it was something that he had some affection for, such had been it's enormous impact upon his life (he clearly hasn't any actual affection for it, but that's the best description that I can come up with for the way he referred to it.) I was also very aware of the warmth that the audience had for him- there were more than a few tears as he struggled to talk a couple of times. A terrific, and I'm not ashamed to say, moving performance...

...which went a long way towards rescuing a day that had been all but ruined for me by the appearance in the shop of the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth. I was just having a very enjoyable conversation with Nick Bland, rep for GoTo Guitars and all round good bloke, when Mark arrived. Regular readers (assuming there are any- how about a few more competition entries then?!?) will be aware that earlier this year I nearly did some gigs alongside Mark with ska veterans Symarip but opted out on what might best be described as conscientious grounds (it was all to do with whether or not a band called 'Foxy's Ruts' could continue without the recently deceased Foxy; fairly obviously not I would have thought, and no doubt you, being a rational thinking person would agree- but you'd be amazed what some people would say...)
It would, I think, be fair to say that Mark is not universally liked- I've lost count of the number of people that have told me to have nothing whatsoever to do with him, or that have compared him to both male and female body parts (which, as one local wit noted with considerable relish, 'makes him the ultimate hermaphrodite') whilst using terms like 'talentless chancer' and 'grave robber' amid suggestions that he might indulge in certain solitary practices.

Well- they (and indeed you) might think that- I couldn't possibly comment.

The last time he was in the shop he blathered on about how well the gigs were going, (well they would be, wouldn't they?) and how if I wanted to come to the next day's Dublin gig I would still be welcome (not 100% confident in the other guitarist's abilities then eh? I wonder if he knows that?) but that if I didn't go I would owe him £45 for the airfare (yes, you read that bit right); this time he came in to see if I could fix the guitar damaged on the Dublin trip (lesser people might have laughed), to offer me some more gigs with them later in the year (you don't say?!?) and to remind me that I still owed him £45 (yes, you read that bit right too). Not rubbing my nose in it then... for a split second there I thought that I should have broken his- instead I asked him for an invoice for the money, written conformation that I didn't play the show and said that I was considering invoicing him for the rehearsals that I did with them. With that he laughed (rather smugly- he usually does), said something about me being an 'old friend' and left. He hasn't been back yet, but he will- rather like the way that I haven't had hay fever yet this year, but I will...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's competition time! (a.k.a. 'I can see your house from here...')

Back to Blighty, and back to work- Friday night saw your humble narrator depping in Mario's function band (what is a function band? It always seems to me that it's a euphemism for 'well paid covers band'. Am I missing something here? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...) The Jansons (great name!) at The Richmond Hill Hotel at an event for 'the ladies of the Harlequins second XI'. Mario had e-mailed me a set list which looked a bit scary- quite a few medleys (I'm not a big fan of medleys; I've come to the conclusion that, for what my opinion's worth, they tend to 'cheapen' songs if you know what I mean) including one with (gulp!) 3 Queen songs in it. He also gave me a CD of one of their gigs which didn't play too well despite me trying it on pretty much every player in the house, which put me at a bit of a disadvantage... still at least I could check the chords to the Queen songs by looking at the music at the theatre on Thursday morning. Much of Friday was spent attempting to make sense of it all- nothing like leaving it all until the last minute eh?- before myself and the long-suffering Shirley made our way across to Richmond for a 5.30 soundcheck/rehearsal. After initially going to The Richmond Park Hotel ('it doesn't look as nice as it does in the photos does it?') we eventually found the venue- as we pulled into the car park I couldn't help but notice the house opposite was called 'The Wick'... hmm... that'll be the house that Pete Townshend bought from Ronnie Wood then won't it? I helped him buy that- well, I bought all his albums...
We met up with everyone in the function room- Mario's on vocals, Kylan's on bass, (I did a Blues Brothers show with him and Mario ages ago) Matt's on keyboards and, with Mario's regular man elsewhere, Marc from the Chicago Blues Brothers band's depping on drums. We get set up and run through as much of the set as we can before we run out of time; we could have done with a bit longer but at least we got to play the Queen stuff, and the tricky pairing of 'Summer Of '69'/'Video Killed The Radio Star' (yes, you read that bit right) as well as a Beatles medley that wasn't on the CD and was therefore new to both Marc and myself. We've got Studio 1 to use as a dressing room (actually a small-ish boardroom, as opposed to an actual studio) in which the organisers have provided us with rolls and sandwiches, as well as telling us that we can order drinks at the bar for free. Excellent! After a bit of setlist discussion myself and Shirley decide to go out to look for something a bit more substantial to eat- Marc joins us and we walk down the hill to The Roebuck pub which turned out to be a very good choice.
Back at the hotel our first set is at 10 o'clock- the dance floor's full from the second number which is a good thing to see, and it's possibly the only time I'll ever play a medley of '500 Miles' and 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' and enjoy it. Mind you 'Video Killed The Radio Star' didn't go quite according to plan (not sure what went wrong- quite possibly everything!) and there was a couple of other, shall we say, unusual moments... the second set was even better with a guy calling out for a Jimi Hendrix song (I played the riff from 'Purple Haze' for him in 'Do You Love Me'- he seemed pleased) and Shirley got chatted up by men for once (it's usually women!). During The Beatles medley I looked across to my left and out of the window- I could see Townshend's house, the lights were on, I had a sudden thought that he could burst in through the door at any minute bellowing 'who's that four-eyed twerp on stage and why has he nicked all my moves?'

But he didn't. So that was ok.

Saturday saw the Chicago Blues Brothers in Nottingham for a corporate event at The Crown Plaza Hotel. Myself & Shirley met up with Mario & Tracy for the journey up the M1- in no time we were heading along Brian Clough Way (really!) into the centre of town; with a bit of help from Mario's sat. nav we found the hotel just as Squirrel & Marc were arriving outside. We were in the rather grandly-named Royal Suite (it wasn't bad, but it wasn't that good!) playing at a conference for, wait for it, physiotherapists. And that got me thinking...

What is the collective noun for a group of physiotherapists? You know, like a murder of crows or a hand of bananas; in a possibly ill-advised attempt at audience participation I thought we could see if any of the (ahem) many readers of this blog can come up with any ideas- what do you reckon? We could have a competition- the person who in my not-so-humble opinion comes up with the best answer wins... something. I'm not sure what yet, but something. Get those answers in! Go on, it'll be a laugh. Tell you what, I'll start it off with an exercise of physiotherapists. Right, now it's your turn...

After soundchecking it was off into town for something to eat. Nottingham seems to have a bit of an odd reputation- at least two people told me to 'watch myself' there- and it certainly seemed to be busy enough for early evening; there was a Thai restaurant across the road from the venue but Shirl and myself didn't fancy that so went for a pizza instead. Life in the fast lane eh?
Back at the hotel it's time for a drink or two (the barman looked like the drummer in Green Day; it probably wasn't if you think about it but it did look like him) before going onstage more-or-less on time. For the second night running the dance floor's full- it thinned out a bit mid-set but was full again by the end-and it's rare to get an encore at a corporate gig but we got one here. I must admit I'd amused myself before the show wondering if we might see some mad dancing, assuming that a physiotherapist must be reasonably flexible- of course I now realise that I was thinking of a contortionist... oh and Dave the trumpet picked up my spare guitar and posed around next to me with it during my solo in 'Sweet Home Chicago'. I'll get him for that.

How about a spasm of physiotherapists? Ok, so it's not very funny- but can you do any better? And I wonder what the collective noun for a group of contortionists is..?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Taxi to the terminal zone

Every so often someone asks me why I often refer to my beautiful- and undeniably better- other half as 'the long suffering Shirley' when mentioning her in these hallowed pages.

No reason really....

It's 4.30 a.m. yesterday and myself and the long suffering Shirley are on the M25. We're on our way to Gatwick Airport where I'm meeting my Chicago Blues Brothers buddies in the North Terminal- it's dark (obviously!) and cold (obviously!!) but we're leaving all that behind as we're gigging on an island off the South of France. After Shirley's dropped me off she's going home to try to get a bit of sleep before going to work. She's too good to me.
The airport's practically empty which makes finding the band easy for once- there's a few comments about my nice shiny'n'new guitar case (the last one got damaged coming back from a gig in Switzerland) and everyone's in good spirits especially considering the early hour. Check-in's pretty straightforward- Squirrel sees a 'WAIT TO BE CALLED FORWARD' sign and comments 'that'll be the first time I've ever been called forward'; mind you he did order coffee and cognac for breakfast- as is the near-empty flight. We're met at Marseilles Airport by a man holding a 'Groupe Bootleg' sign- that'll be our taxis then- and the hour-and-a-bit drive to our hotel takes in some spectacular scenery, which, unbeknown to 4 of us, will look very different in 30 or so hours time... we're staying at Les Grand Hotel Des Bains in Sanary Du Mer- 'Sanary-on-Sea' doesn't sound quite as enticing does it?- we check in (I've got Room 24 all to myself- hurrah!) then go to the bar for some nuclear coffee and a general planning session. It's market day so we decide to walk along the harbour to look around and find somewhere to eat. It's a beautiful day and it's a nice place to be walking around- we eventually decide on a restaurant down the other end of the harbour to our hotel. Being a vegetarian isn't an easy option in France but the mushroom pasta proves to be a good choice; as we're eating Pete receives a phone call from Tony the event organiser to say that ferries to the island are limited this afternoon due to the wind ('what wind?') but the 5.40 boat will 'definitely' be running so we'd better get on that one. After eating we make our way back to the hotel in the by now blazing sunshine- I got a suntan!- for a hour or so's sleep before all meeting downstairs at 5 o'clock. 2 taxis take us to the St Pierre ferry which takes about 10 minutes to get to the Isle des Embiez- the sea's choppy and it's a small vessel so we're thrown around a fair bit which gets one or two screams from the passengers and tests the suspension of the vehicles on board, much to Richard's amusement.
We're playing at a trade fair and conference for Chivas and Ricard- yes, the drinks people!- which seems to have pretty much taken over the whole island. We meet up with Tony who tells us that we were to have been playing in a marquee, but it's blown down- Pete goes off with him to check out the alternative venue whilst the rest of us wait in our dressing room (actually a small apartment, but 'dressing flat' doesn't really sound right does it?). He returns to tell us that the stage is set back into the wall and 'only about the size of this room' (i.e. not very big) but our gear's all set up and ready for soundchecking. We walk over to the Salle Marcel Paguel (no, I don't know either) and attempt a sound check amid the general chaos of getting the room ready for the evening's festivities. I've got a new-ish Fender Twin Reverb to play through which could sound better 'though I always think that at events such as this you just have to muck in and do the best you can with what you've got. It takes a while to get things sorted out- monitors aren't working, then they're feeding back, and my nice shiny'n'new guitar case gets gaffa-taped to the back of the bass amp in an attempt to stop the sound from it blowing the brass boys heads off. With everything sounding as good as we can get it we go for something to eat (veggie option- undercooked potatoes. Urgh!) before going back to our room/flat to watch a dvd of one of our recent Norwich gigs which included the bit where the fire alarm went off. Excellent. By now an implausible amount of alcohol had arrived; this is always a rather dangerous situation as you might as well imagine and, in this case, since we're playing for a drinks company that specialises in manufacturing whisky, was particularly perilous...
'We're all delirious!' exclaimed Tracy, and she had a point. We'd been on the island for what felt like forever, and still weren't due on for ages. Pete had tried to persuade the organisers that one set would be better than two, but to no avail- we're due on for our first set 'soon', then the second one should finish around 2.30 a.m.- we all get changed and make our way across to the venue. Outside there's a gang of kilted men singing 'We are, we are Scotland' to the tune of Queen's 'We Will Rock You'; inside Pete has another unsuccessful go at suggesting that we play straight through for an hour-and-a-half. Eventually we're on- Richard taps me on the shoulder to tell me that I'm out of tune, but I can't hear what I'm playing very well and can't tell. It's all going down well- but, as often happens at these type of gatherings, when we break at the end of the first set we lose all the momentum that we've built up in the previous 45 minutes which makes the second set hard work. The evening was taking it's toll on Squirrel who sounded as though he'd fallen off the edge of the world during 'Do You Love Me?' 'though by then I'd managed to sort out my tuning problems (I still don't know what had happened!) and our performance ended with us realising that if we got a move on we could catch the 3 a.m. ferry back to the mainland, then get taxi's back to our hotel for some well-earned sleep.
Yes, you've guessed it, there's no taxi's anywhere to be seen. Mike speaks a bit of French and heroically manages to order one (although the more I think about it, the more I'm wondering if he somehow managed it by speaking broken English in a dodgy French accent!) which seems to take ages to arrive and can only fit 4 people in- Tracy, Ian, Richard and Marc go back first with the driver promising to come back for the rest of us, or to send another car, or something... 20-something minutes later he returns, seemingly unable to believe his luck at getting another fare at 4 o'clock in the morning. Pete gets in the front and Dave, Squirrel, Mike and myself somehow manage to fit in the back, a situation perhaps best summed up by Mike commenting to Pete 'at this rate I'll have to marry Leigh when we get home!' The driver tells us he's 70, and, judging by his driving, is auditioning for the re-make of the French cult classic film 'Rendezvous' in the morning. He gets us back to the hotel through the near-empty streets in quite a bit less than the 15 minutes it took us to get there which amuses us all greatly- if only we knew then what the next taxi ride would have in store for some of us...

I set my alarm for 11.15 a.m. but woke up around 10.45; after calling Shirley to relate the previous evening's jollity to her and switching on the T.V. to look for BBC News 24 (only to find a Italian station with a weather man wearing a military uniform) I had a quick bath- it had to be quick since the bath wasn't long enough for me to fully extend my legs in- before Squirrel knocked on my door to say that everyone was going for a walk to find some food before leaving for the airport at 2 o'clock. The previous day's market had been busy enough but today's market was so big that the coastal road was cordoned off and there were what felt like thousands of people out shopping. With Richard off busking ('to get the money to buy a pair of leather trousers' according to Pete) and Tracy still back at the hotel the rest of us found a cafe where the lads got through what seemed like hundreds of mussels (veggie option- goat's cheese on toast. Very nice.) before we all made our way back to the hotel. The taxi's were early so we loaded our gear into the first on and with Pete in the front and Squirrel, Ian and myself in the back seat we set off, arranging to meet the rest of the band at the airport. And so it began...
'It's that ''accelerator/brake'' thing that they have over here isn't it?' commented Squirrel as we careered to a halt at a roundabout just in the nick of time. Yes it is, but this guy's not too hot on the 'brake' part of the equation. He's something of an expert at the 'accelerator' bit though, bringing a new meaning to the term 'tailgating' in the process. Once we're out of town he really gets going- Pete's hanging on with both hands, Ian's wondering if he thinks we're late for our flight and Squirrel's taken the sensible option and fallen asleep. We all realise things are getting out of hand when he jumps the barrier at a toll station- he races through after the car in front has paid and the barrier comes crashing down onto the car's roof. With this he looks really pleased with himself- as we roar off Pete turns back to me and says 'I have never been so frightened in a car'. He looked terrified. The driver's on the phone- probably telling his mate how hilarious the English wimps that he's got held captive in his car look- whilst taking a sweeping bend at over 120 kilometers per hour. Squirrel wakes up, looks out of the window and says 'I don't believe it, we're beating a plane' before going back to sleep. Or praying. Or both. As we get near the airport I realise that we've got there in 40 minutes- the same distance took us over an hour yesterday. We've got the car doors open almost before we've stopped; Pete gets out, puts both arms around me and says something like 'we've made it mate'. He sounded like I'd imagine he'd sound if he'd just climbed Mount Everest. Incredible.
With Pete wound up an argument in the check-in queue was all but inevitable- I'm not sure what went on but he was ready to kill the grey-haired man in front of us. Pausing only to claim free copies of The Daily Mail (they were giving them out, we didn't steal them!) we got through security without too many problems ('RESPECT THE YELLOW LINE' said the sign. Who doesn't?) and I would have bought Shirley a bottle of wine if my 'I can't speak the language' inferiority complex hadn't got the better of me. As we walked through to get to our aircraft I decided to visit the Gents toilet-as I got there a nun hovered by the door, then went in. Richard was coming out at the time and held the door open for her- he looked at me and just said 'yes, I know'. It was definitely time to go home.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reasons to be tearful

On Wednesday it was my cousin Gary's funeral. Myself and Shirley picked my Dad up around 8.15 a.m.- 4-and-a-bit hours later we were being shown around Christ Church in Birkenhead by it's curator, and very interesting it was too. There can't be many churches that have photos of all it's vicars going back to the mid-1800's but Christ Church has- my Dad recognised the one ('old Isherwood') from when he used to sing in the choir there during the war. Gradually everyone arrived- it's always a sad thought that we only see many of our relatives at funerals isn't it? My Auntie Emma is nearly 82 and more energetic than most of us ever have been, let alone will be if we make it to her age. There's a seemingly never-ending supply of cousins (and cousin's children) to say hello to, and my Dad always seems happiest when he's with the family. Eventually the big black cars arrive- I see my Auntie May's face through the rear passenger door window, she looks devastated and well she might, she's outlived one of her children, something I guess no parent ever expects to do. Gary's coffin gets carried into the church- the front left pallbearer is his brother Steve, a haunted and haunting sight. In the service he gets up to speak, 'no notes, this is coming from my heart', says that Gary meant everything to him and he's going to 'miss him so... much...' As his voice tails off Shirley's hand grips mine so hard it feels like she'll never be able to let go, and I feel like I never want her to. The vicar describes Gary as a 'free spirit', reminds us that Gary was baptised in this church, is pleased to find that he shares many of Gary's musical tastes, relates to Gary's love of animals (instead of sending flowers we were all invited to make a donation to the R.S.P.C.A.) and his artistic talent. As the service draws to a close Auntie May struggles round to the coffin, kisses it, hugs it, then is helped out by Steve's girlfriend Lizzie as 'He ain't heavy, He's my Brother' by The Hollies plays... we journey to Landican cemetery for the final part of the service, it's a huge expanse of land near Arrowe Park, my Dad's parents and sister Eva are buried and my Auntie Edna cremated there. It's a short service- Auntie May cries out 'don't go Gary' as the curtains close around his coffin and 'Dweller on the Threshold' by Van Morrison plays... we take some flowers to my Nan and Grandad's grave with Uncle George (Dad's youngest sibling- he'll be 70 -70!- next month) and his wife Joyce; at the front of the plot it just says 'Neil'- 'there's our little boy' says Uncle George. Neil died in 1969 from meningitis, aged 2; Shirley told me later that she felt like 'something, or someone' was stopping her from walking around to the front of the grave- I'd wondered at the time whether or not I should say anything to her about Neil, didn't want to upset her any more than she was already... we took some flowers for Auntie Eva too, everyone called (calls!) her 'Squeak'- she only had one lung, humour's the strangest thing sometimes... we go back to The Gladstone Club near Tranmere Rovers's ground, the atmosphere's lighter, I finally get to speak to Auntie May, she's hard of hearing from working as a bookbinder ('all those little hammers all day') and says Gary had been learning sign language and was teaching it to her 'so that they could talk on the bus'... all too soon it's time for us to leave, but we'll be back later in the year, I promise everyone that if we play down the road at the Pacific Road Arts Centre I'll get them all tickets, and I will, somehow, even if I have to buy them myself, just to be in a room with them all again...

Gary was my cousin, and my mate. I'm going to miss him too.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reasons to be cheerful

I'm a big Ian Dury fan. I remember hearing 'Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll' for the first time with a mixture of humour and disbelief, (did he really just sing that?) and bought 'New Boots and Panties' when it came out (did he really just sing that?) when I was still at school and there was so much good new music about that it was often difficult to make the choice of what to spend your limited funds on. How times have changed- now I've got some money there doesn't seem to be any music around worth buying except for the re-issues of the stuff I bought all those years ago. If I'd have known I was going to buy them now I could have saved my money then..?

Last night saw an unmissable evening at The Electric Ballroom in Camden- The Blockheads with Phill Jupitus guesting on vocals performing the whole of 'New Boots and Panties', supported by Wilko Johnson and Eddie Tenpole. And it more than lived up to expectations, 'though it was useful to have the inside knowledge that Wilko was on first at 8 o'clock (thanks Sarah!) thereby ensuring that we left early enough to not miss the great man's set. Myself and Shirley, accompanied by East and Big Andy made it to the venue with around 10 minutes to spare, meeting up with Dave a.k.a. Snaggletooth in the bar via the magic of the mobile phone -there's just time to get some drinks in before Wilko's onstage and into 'Everybody's Carrying a Gun'. Seeing him on a bigger stage took a bit of getting used to- it was a bit like watching him at the cinema rather than in the pubs and clubs that he's generally spotted in- but with the sound and lights both excellent a terrific performance was more-or-less guaranteed. Slim joined in on accordion for 2 numbers- I remember him from way back in the early '80's in The Blubbery Hellbellies with Esso and Arturo from The Lurkers- and by the end salvo of 'Back in the Night' and 'She Does it Right' the place was going mad. Heroic stuff.

First interval in the bar and I meet promotess (is there such a word? If there isn't, there should be!) Sarah Pink who, when I say 'it'd be great to see Phill Jupitus again, I haven't seen him for years', says something like 'hang on a minute', disappears for a while and then returns with Phill himself. Excellent! I first met him in 1984, when he rejoiced under the name of Porky the Poet and was on the now sadly defunct New Variety circuit. The Price first played with him in '85 at Brunel University with Action Pact (whatever happened to them?!?) and did quite a few gigs with him over the years, 'though I lost touch with him as he went on to bigger and better things. I always think people aren't going to remember me, but if he didn't then he's a very good actor... much jollity followed, including him greeting East with the words' it's like being back at The Square again' (a reference to The Square in Harlow, soon to re-open as a music venue) and remembering drinking with East and myself on various occasions (East always describes him as 'the quickest man I ever met', a reference to Porky's- sorry, Phill's- legendary wit.) T'was great to see him again.

All this hob-nobbing meant that we all but missed Eddie Tenpole's acoustic set, 'though we did catch 'Swords of a Thousand Men' which sounded as bonkers as ever. When I did some gigs depping in The Sex Pistols Experience- guess what they do?!?- a couple of years ago Eddie was on the bill with us and joined us for the encores during which we played said song; I can honestly say that he's probably the maddest person that I've ever been on stage next to, which as you can imagine is against some fairly stiff competition...

With the place all the place all but sold out The Blockheads came on to a hero's welcome and could do no wrong. A fair few newer songs were played with vocals split between the band members and the mysterious Derek the Draw- but it was the oldies that people wanted to hear, and they weren't disappointed- 'Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll', 'I Want to be Straight', 'Inbetweenies', and, of course, 'Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick' all sounded like the classics they undoubtedly are, and Phill's performances on 'New Boots...' (they played the album in full, in sequence) did the Dury legacy proud. A classic evening.

Monday, April 14, 2008

TCT at the RAH

Last night saw the final show of this year's Teenage Cancer Trust benefit gigs at the Royal Albert Hall as organised by Who frontman Roger Daltery and featuring the usual bewildering array of talent. News broke last week that The Who (i.e. Daltery and Townshend) were to perform a 'short acoustic set' at Sunday's show- more by luck than judgement I managed to get a couple of tickets and, incredibly, managed to keep both the venue and event secret from Shirley until we were about 50 yards from the Albert Hall. (I'd have got even closer if a tout hadn't bellowed 'TICKETS FOR THE WHO AND DAVID GRAY' as we walked past him.) Here's what happened:-

Holly Rose- 'first album out soon' according to the already annoying compere. Bright red dress and long blond hair, ('lovely' said Shirley; I couldn't possibly comment) a very good singer but with songs a bit lightweight for my less-than-lightweight tastes. No doubt I'll be telling everyone how good she was in a year's time when she's taken over the world.

Sandi Thom- wishes she was a 'punk rocker with flowers in her hair'. Too hippyish for my not-at-all hippyish tastes, but again a very good singer, 'though her voice seemed a bit strident compared to...

Amy McDonald- ...who I thought was much more like it. With her band sounding like a souped-up skiffle group, she wore another red dress and provided a very welcome lift to the evening. The guy down the front who kept trying to give her his phone number was particularly entertaining.

Newton Faulkner- highly touted by many 'though I'd never heard anything by him- finger on the pulse eh? Excellent use of acoustic guitar as percussion ensemble and very funny in between songs, he even managed to get me to applaud a Queen song ( a bizarre solo version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody') which is no mean feat. Well worth seeing again.

David Gray- a favourite of Shirley's and the surprise of the evening for me. His voice sounded superb and, considering how introspective much of his material is, he turned out to be quite a wacky character especially when his microphone stand collapsed during a song at the piano. The guy down the front kept trying to give him his phone number to give to Amy McDonald. Excellent.

Joan Armatrading- appears to have metamorphosed into a heavy metal act since I last saw or heard her (which was admittedly 20-something years ago.) Played a mean guitar and sang very well indeed, 'though the sight of her drummer playing the sax solo during 'Love and Affection' was a bit odd to say the least.

The Who- Pete 'n' Rog go all folky, playing 'Let's See Action'/'Behind Blue Eyes'/'2000 Years' (with Simon Townshend on mandolin)/'Mike Post Theme'/'Won't Get Fooled Again'/'Tea and Theatre' in a manner that I probably won't see again. P.T. held his tongue until somebody called out for 'Baba O'Riley' and then turned the rest of the night into the usual swear-fest. He played brilliantly, but I would say that wouldn't I? The guy down the front forgot all about trying to get his phone number to the lovely Miss McDonald and went berserk instead. Great stuff. Obviously.

There was also a 2-part film about the work of the TCT which had us all blubbing like girlies, and 2 of the lads who had been patients performed a very good but possibly over-long rap number in honour of 2 young friends who sadly didn't survive. A fine evening, worth missing the last train home for- which is just as well because that's what happened to us. Compared to what we'd just seen on film it didn't seem to be that important- but am I the only person that thinks that a supposedly 'civilised' society shouldn't need to rely on charity for the provision of hospital wards?

Just a thought, as they say...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

'Mr. Arthur Brown in person...'

...which turned out to be highly enjoyable, and not uneventful.

Shirley and myself arrived in Norwich some time around 3 p.m. amid some suitably strange weather- heavy showers alternating with occasional blinding sunshine. I played at The Playhouse Theatre a couple of years ago (the band played there last year but I couldn't make it due to shop commitments and other madness) and surprised myself by more-or-less remembering the way there- only to discover that the road to it was closed and we had to go all the way around the block to get to it. Ah well... with all the gear loaded in we're still an hour or so early (for once!) so we decided to go and check in at our accommodation for the next couple of nights.
We found our way back to the travelodge (we'd spotted it on the way to the theatre) and park in St. Stephen's car park next door. As we're carrying our bags towards the lift a strange sight greets us- the Lucky Star Chinese restaurant. Yes, I know there's nothing too unusual about seeing a Chinese restaurant, but I must say that I've never seen one in a multi-storey car park before. Have you? We check in and, pausing only to pick up a street map of the area from reception, walk back through town to meet the rest of the band at the venue. It's the A-team again- Mario & Mike as Jake & Elwood, Richard & Dave on sax & trumpet, Ian on keyboards, Squirrel on bass, Marc on drums and Tracy on vocals with sound guru Ian Bond manning the P.A. and Pete's wife Jayne helping out with the costume changes. Soundcheck gives the dancers chance to sort themselves out- there's a lot of them causing myself and Squirrel to retreat to the back of the stage on several occasions ('this is mad!' was his highly amused opinion of things) but it all bodes well for 2 good shows.
With soundcheck over Shirley and myself walk down to the local cafe. As we sit down the heavens open outside- but it's not rain, it's hail, so much falls that it's running down the road like a river, an absolutely extraordinary sight. 10 minutes later it's bright sunshine again. Weird.
8 o'clock and it's showtime. Both nights are sold out (excellent!) and the first show's definitely a good one, although the 20 or so seconds of silence that proceeded 'Green Onions' gave us all a nervous moment- Ian had looked at the setlist that the singers use (it's taped to the back of the P.A.) and was waiting for 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' to start. 'Green Onions is of course an instrumental so isn't on it...

What could be better than a sunny Saturday afternoon in Norwich- city of culture, castles, cathedrals and... cinema. Yes, whilst many would have journeyed back in time and taken in the local historical sights myself, Pete and Squirrel went to the pictures. Well, they were showing the new Rolling Stones film 'Shine A Light'- and very good it was too with some tremendous performances (though I'm not too sure how 'live' some of them were!) and some hilarious moments particularly in the first section of the film where director Martin Scorsese attempts to get some semblance of order into proceedings, with very little success. Brilliant stuff.
Just before the show Squirrel and me talked about the Stones film- how great the songs sounded and how much fun they looked as though they were having playing them. We could do that tonight... and we do- the show starts well and gets better, until halfway through 'Respect' when I'm sure I can hear a strange noise. As we do the 'R-e-s-p-e-c-t' bit we can definitely hear a strange noise- it's the fire alarm. The band stops playing, no one's sure what's going on- but it's for real, and a minute or two later we're all out the front of the theatre watching the fire engines arriving. It seems that either someone went outside for a smoke and weren't far enough away from the building, or the smoke machine that they use at the theatre got a bit out of hand- either way the alarm went off. Still the good news is that the building's not actually on fire, and within a few minutes we're on our way back in, giving Tracy a chance for a 'hello boys' moment with the firemen, and for Richard to complain that it means he'll be home late. We restart 'Respect' and carry on as if nothing had happened- at the end Squirrel said that he thought it was the best show we'd ever played. We must go to the pictures more often.

Sunday morning and Shirley and myself take our stuff back to the car, only to find that somebody's been sick next to it. Maybe a Chinese takeaway in a multi-storey car park isn't quite such a good idea after all?

Friday, April 11, 2008

'Oh I do (quite) like to be beside the seaside...'

In the midst of my shamelessly over-emotive reminiscing last time I forgot to say much about the Eastbourne gig which turned out to be a good one on a number of levels. The Winter Gardens is one of those venues that I always think could only be at the British seaside- traditional, ornate, almost time warped if you know what I mean. It was also the scene of one of the first 'bigger' Price gigs- we played there very early in our (ahem) illustrious career with a rockabilly band called The River Boys who were involved in putting on a festival there; we'd met them when we played with them at Bumbles wine bar in Acton if I remember correctly, and they invited us to join them down in their neck of the woods. I've a funny feeling that there were more people on the stage than in the audience when we went on 'though it was over 20 years ago... East was there then (he can't remember much about it either!) and was coming along this time with his trusty camera to film the show- transport confusion meant Richard and Tracy joined him, Shirley and myself in the Shirley-mobile. We made it down there just in time for a quick sound check before the rest of the band disappeared off to a Chinese restaurant whilst East, Shirley and myself did the only decent thing possible on such a cold and wet day- went to an ice cream parlour. Well, we were at the seaside...
Back at the venue sound guru Ian Bond is a very happy man. Stuart the guitar repair man has done some work on his Jeff Beck signature Stratocaster and it's all gone according to plan; if that wasn't good enough he's going to buy himself an Audi R8 which I'm told is a highly desirable motor (sadly my knowledge of cars extends about as far as what colour they are- mind you, image is everything don't you think?). He and Shirley discuss tactics- I particularly like his comment 'never, under any circumstances, trust someone who drives whilst wearing any form of hat'. My Dad's been coming out with that sort of stuff for as long as I can remember- he's always ranting about pipe smokers and driving-gloves-wearers too... turns out Ian does as well. I must introduce them to each other. Probably.
By now the band have returned and with over 400 tickets sold in advance it's looking like being a good night. 3 of the tickets have been bought by Dave Nash- better known to the likes of East and myself as Romford Dave, one of the very first Price fans. He now lives nearby and he's come along with his son and his dad- a family outing! It was a good show but personally I found it a bit hard to get going- not sure why, maybe I just felt like I was having an off night? Still the audience seemed to love it with people up and dancing from the first song and a large amount of merchandise sold by the end of the night, and it was really great to see Dave and co.- as East put it, 'it's family'. I really must cheer up one day.

Last night saw our first corporate gig for quite some time, for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (cue 'what happens if I fall of the stage?' gags from pretty much everybody) at The Metropole Hotel in Brighton. We're playing in the Oxford Hall and, unusually, the stage was set along the long wall making it wide and thin- it was maybe 30 yards across but only a couple of yards deep. This made for a rather strange band set-up (and the gags I referred to a moment ago) with Squirrel on the far left about 20 yards away from Ian on the far right.
After sound checking it was off to The Regency Tavern. We found this extraordinary hostelry when we played at The Grand Hotel last year when, among it's other attributes, it boasted a mirrorball in the Gents toilet. Well the bad news is that it's not there anymore, but the good news is that they've now got it behind the bar. If that wasn't enough there even more cherubs around the mirrors than I remember, (I'm not making this up, honest) and they serve Oranjeboom lager. Excellent.
Back at the venue it's hurry-up-and-wait time as it often is at these sort of events. We're due on at 9.30 for the first of 2 sets, then we're on at 10 for 1 set depending on whether or not they've finished eating... it actually turns out alright in the end, with a full dance floor for much of the set and rather a lot of soft toy monkeys finding their way on to the stage (yes, you read that bit correctly) 'though at this type of evening I always get the feeling that you've been forgotten about more-or-less before you've left the stage. Oh, and Squirrel said he felt like he was playing to nobody, such was his distance from things. The evening ended with Mario running a karaoke in the nearby Ambassador Room whilst the rest of us looked forward to our upcoming two-nighter in Norwich...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A death in the family

I've just had a phone call from my Dad. My cousin Gary's died.

Back in the early '70's our family holidays consisted of us- Dad, Mum, brother Terry and me- going up to visit my Dad's family in Birkenhead. We'd stay with my Dad's Mum (everyone called her Nin- I've never been able to find out why!) in her house in Brattan Road; also living there with her were my Auntie May and her two sons Gary and Steve. They were a few years older than Terry and me, and they were naughty boys. There was always a mad story about them floating around, they were in trouble all the time and they seemed to be heroic, almost mythical characters to me- like they'd been made up or something. (I realise how silly this sounds now but I was very young- and anyway, what's wrong with innocence?)
One year we went there and something extraordinary happened. Gary and Steve arrived home, and as they came in through the front room door my Dad, non-committal as always, roared something like 'WHAT THE BLOODY HELL'S THAT?' in their general direction. It was Gary and Steve- but they weren't mischievous little lads anymore. Now they were great big men with shoulder-length hair, flared jeans and furry coats that smelt a bit weird... things had changed, and not necessarily for the better in my Dad's opinion. They just laughed at him, called him a silly old sod (he was younger then than I am now!) and offered him a go on Gary's motorbike. Describing this scene now, over 30 years later, will never convey how hilarious me and Terry found it- the generation gap, before our very eyes. They took us out into the back room where they put a record on at a previously unimaginable volume- it was by The Beatles, but it sounded like no Beatles record that I'd ever heard. It was in a plain white cover, they called it 'the double white' and it sounded incredible. They played us strange music by strange bands with strange names like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath; neither of us had heard anything like it before. I couldn't for the life of me work out why the groups making these amazing sounds all seemed to have colours in their names... and 'though I wasn't too sure about some of the music a lot of it was ok, with mad-sounding titles like 'Flight Of The Rat', 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene' and 'Fairies Wear Boots'; then again they also had a Who album called 'Quadrophenia'- I liked that one. A lot.

And then, it happened.

Gary said something like 'stay there Leigh, I've got something to show you' and left the room for a minute. He came back in holding a guitar. It was a reddish acoustic with steel strings; he played a few chords and said that his girlfriend- girlfriend!- played better than him but that he was 'getting into it'. He passed it over to me.
It was the first time that I'd seen a real guitar, let alone held one. My Mum always said that from a very young age I'd been fascinated by them; I'd look at pictures of The Beatles and ask why one of their guitar's was pointing the other way to the rest, it looked different too with less strings, what was all that about? And what were those big boxes behind them? Were they where the sound was coming from? Considering that at the time I couldn't yet read or write, these were big questions- and now, not only was I in a room with a real guitar but I was holding it! And our Gary could play it! Amazing!

Last night me and my Blues Brothers buddies played at The Winter Gardens in Eastbourne. Oddly enough I'd mentioned Gary earlier in the day, to Richard our sax player- he's in the process of learning to ride a motorbike, I told him about my cousin who we used to visit when we were young, how he had a motorbike, a 650 Troopster which terrified the life out of me. As we spoke, our Gary was nearing the end of his life. It was a life of ups and downs, highs and lows, the same as for all of us in the end- but his life changed my life immeasurably. It would perhaps be over-romantic to suggest that were it not for him I'd never have picked up a guitar, but- and I've said this a thousand times since, to pretty much anybody who would listen- it was Gary's guitar that started it all for me, that rush of excitement that I felt when he come through the door holding it, the incredible moment when he gave it to me to hold, and all the times over the years when he came to see me play and I would say to him things like 'this is all your fault you know', and he'd just laugh and tell me that he might try to 'get into it again one day'...

All my love to you Gary mate, wherever you are- and thanks.