Wednesday, May 28, 2008

And the winner is...

A month ago I decided that, in a moment of madness, I'd have a competition as part of my semi-hungover ramblings'n'rantings. Thanks to everyone who entered- it's my great pleasure to announce that we have a winner- well, several actually. The winner(s) is (are)

...drum roll...

anonymous, bluetwoandahalf and voltarol


Yes, they're all the same person; Pete Turner, who I first met in the late '70's when he had a musical instrument shop in Uxbridge (it went through several names- Pete's Gig Shop and Thames Valley Guitars among others) and with whom I ended up forming one of the most unlikely musical alliances of either of our (ahem) careers. To find out more, have a look at:-

-and tell him you know the other bluetwoandahalf...

Yeah, I know, it's an inside job. But it's not really, honest- the other entries were really good, but if I'd given it to East then it really WOULD have looked like an inside job! (Incidentally I thought 'graggle' was brilliant!)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Austin City Limits

Last time I mentioned that I wouldn't be available on Friday to help Stuart the guitar repair man rescue the guitars of 'The Jersey Boys' as I was gigging elsewhere. I was actually back up in Norfolk- at the Caistor Hall Hotel just outside Norwich to be precise- playing at a charity event organised by our trumpeter Dave Land's wife Lyn, in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the local Quidenham Children's Hospice. We were playing in our (very) occasional guise of 'Stacks of Soul and Blues'- a bit like last month's PTX show, but with Pete and Mike sharing the vocals. Sadly we're without Tracy this time (absent due to her Dad being unwell) but it's the usual suspects apart from that (Dave 'n' Richard on trumpet 'n' sax, Squirrel on bass, Ian on keyboards, Marc on drums and your humble narrator on the instrument that the mighty Ian Hunter so memorably described as 'my 6-string razor') along with a couple of other acts booked by Dave for the occasion (more about them in a minute) and a charity auction with Pete and Mike attempting to wring a bit more money out of the assembled multitude.
Myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived at Caistor Hall sometime after 2 p.m. to find that (aside from Dave) we were the first ones there. We'd left early anticipating Bank Holiday traffic, only to find that, at least on the route that we'd taken, there wasn't any. We checked into room 422- a quick check around revealed that (a) the skylight wouldn't open and (b) the shower wouldn't work properly (the hose kept falling out of the clip thingy that you put it in when you're showering. You know the bit I mean? Of course you do! It's really hard to describe isn't it?) The skylight was the only source of fresh air in the room and it was a very warm afternoon meaning that it was about 200 degrees in there (really! I'm not exaggerating... well to be pedantic I probably am but you get what I mean don't you? Don't you?!?) and very stuffy. Repeated attempts to open it with the big stick provided resulted in abject failure so I got my courage up (it's really hard having no confidence sometimes!) and went down to reception to complain- they said it 'should' open but they'd see about getting someone to look at it, and the shower while they're at it, we're fully booked tonight otherwise we'd move you to another room but we will get it all fixed for you. That's nice of them.
With band members arriving we get set up on the smallish stage in The Barn. There's one of those very annoying volume restricting devices which cuts the power to the stage (i.e. turns your equipment off) if you go into the red for too long, then re-instates the power (i.e. turns your equipment back on) after a pre-determined period of time, usually a few seconds; like virtually every other band that ever encounters such a unit, we ran some plug boards from the dressing room to the stage and plugged into them, therefore bypassing the unit completely. Naughty naughty... oh well.
Time to get ready for the evening meal. Shirley looks as lovely as ever (aah...) and, for the first time ever in my little life, I'm actually wearing a bow tie. Really. Well, it's a 'black tie' event and I thought I should make an effort for once... so in what I decided was a suitably anarchic move, I got a black shirt and a white tie- punk rock eh? Actually I didn't feel anywhere near as awkward as I thought I would. Perhaps I should dress like this more often?!?
Downstairs in the bar there's a flute trio playing- they sounded very good but I didn't get chance to hear them play for very long as I wanted to go out onto the patio to hear the duo playing out there. Dave had introduced me to Jasper a bit earlier in the day- he teaches at the same collage as him; playing a Gibson L-5 guitar and accompanied by Mike on double bass they played pretty much every jazz standard that I could think of, and quite a lot that I'd not heard before. Jasper played chords that I'll never be able to pronounce, let alone play, 'though if I lived near him I'd be badgering him for guitar lessons even as we speak. They began sometime around 7 o'clock and were still playing at 9.30 as our meal drew to a close; their set included everything from 'Blue Moon' to 'Masquerade' (which included a quite snippet of the theme from 'The Sweeney'- excellent!) via 'Chitlins Con Carne' by Kenny Burrell, all played superbly. Chris the toastmaster put it perfectly- 'in an age of mediocrity, it's a pleasure to hear musicians such as these'. And I had to go on after this guy! Help! Fortunately there was the auction to contend with first- I decided that this would confuse the audience sufficiently as to prevent people comparing my efforts to Jasper which made me feel a bit better. Pete and Mike made a great job of it- Pete made a heroic attempt at restraint with the words 'good evening ladies and gentlemen' before bellowing 'I SAID GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMEN' and becoming the Mr. Showbiz that we fans know and love, and Mike played the straight-man-with-more-than-a few -funny-lines. The only item unsold by the end was a free hire of 5 dress suits for a wedding (!) with everything from balloon rides to Chris de Burgh tickets sold (!!) and Dave Land buying at least one item himself.
The scene is set for a good show and it doesn't disappoint- lots of dancing and general mayhem down the front with 'Long Train Running' sounding particularly good and some very strange things going on in the horn section; both Ian and Pete ended up on trumpet at various points of the show 'though from what I heard Mr. Land's job is more than safe...

Saturday morning and it's checkout time. The room had cooled down sufficiently to enable us to sleep but it was already getting hot when we left it (10 a.m.) and the shower worked even though you needed a spare arm to hold it over your head- no one had turned up to look at either problem. After a bit of haggling (and a lot of help from Mrs. Land among others) we managed to get some money back which, without wishing to sound too miserable, I think we deserved. There's time for coffee and goodbye's before we set off in the general direction of Dartford where I'm gigging with Austin in his duo Liquid. We're not due there until 7 p.m. but Shirley's realised that Dartford's not far from Bluewater shopping centre, and that I've just been paid...
Some of you may have noticed that I regularly mention somebody called 'East' in these hallowed pages, usually in connection with a hangover or loss of memory. Or both. A quick look at The Price website (link at the top right of this page) will reveal his real name- but the reason that he's named after a point of the compass (which is quite weird if you think about it; I'd never really thought of it like that before and it is quite weird isn't it?) is all to do with, you've guessed it, drinking. Sometime around (gulp!) 25 years ago myself, himself and 2 others (ha!- an in-joke there for the 1 or 2 of you that might get it!) were on our way to Lowestoft to attend a party given by 'Wake Up!' fanzine editor Dave T. As we passed the sign for East Bergholt somewhere on the A12 one or other of us said something like 'here Steve, your surname's Holt- you should call yourself Eastberg'- and by the end of the weekend, that's what he had become. Ah- the innocence of it all... anyway, proof were it needed that I could do with growing up a bit comes with the unbridled glee that I felt when I phoned him up with the words 'Morning- Eastberg Holt, or rather, East Bergholt here'. And it was- slap bang in the middle of Constable County and a really nice little village; both Shirl and myself agreed that we should spend a bit more time in East Anglia someday. From there it was down to the M25, across the bridge and to Bluewater shopping centre for a couple of hours retail therapy (I nearly bought a 23 dvd set of 'Columbo' for only 40 quid- looking back I can't quite work out why I didn't!) before setting the controls for Dartford Social club.
Another Austin gig, another one-way system with nowhere obvious to park outside the venue (this always seems to happen!) Eventually we managed to park, as instructed by the club guv'nor, on the pavement (it was a very wide pavement, if you know what I mean) around by the side door. After loading in and setting up it was time for a drink and a 'what songs shall we play?' conversation before going on for the first set at the rather early time of 8.15; a couple of old rockers in the corner kept calling out for 'Paranoid' (Austin didn't know what they were talking about) and I suggested doing a Rolling Stones song as they were a 'local' band (Austin didn't know what I was talking about) but we got through the first set without too much danger. Half time at gigs like this means bingo (Shirl had a go at the bingo, only needed one number for a full house. Oooh!) and a raffle; by the second set the old rockers had started shouting for a Deep Purple song (I suggested that we play 'Smoke on the Water' which he has a backing track for- Austin didn't know what I was talking about) and virtually everybody got up to dance to 'Angels'. We might have kept them there if Austin hadn't insisted in following it with that well-known Pink Floyd dance floor classic, 'Wish You Were Here'.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in the wrong game.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Old money from an old lady

We (myself and Stuart the guitar repairman) usually do our string-change-and-anything-else that-needs-doing session at the Dominion Theatre on Thursday morning, but this week is different- it's 6 years since the first 'We Will Rock You' show so we're doing our bit a day early this week. Queen guitarist Brian May's playing at the show, script writer Ben Elton's making an appearance and there's an after show party for the cast and crew. With a long day in prospect what better way to prepare for it than by spending much of the previous evening ranting and raving- and yes, drinking- with East. Ooh he was annoyed. Ooh I was annoyed. I've completely forgotten what we were annoyed about but we were definitely annoyed. Isn't drinking brilliant? Sometimes...
Arriving at the Starbucks coffee shop near the Dominion stage door on New Oxford Street at sometime around 9.30 a.m. I reached the conclusion that I actually didn't have a bad hangover; no, I had a very bad hangover, in fact I think I'd sobered up somewhere on the Metropolitan Line and now was ready to go back to sleep thank you very much. Stuart didn't find this funny at all- he found it absolutely hilarious, and with hindsight I think it probably was, 'though as I ploughed my way through a 'Rise and Shine' muffin (really!) and a bucket of coffee feeling as though there was an air raid taking place just behind my eyes I was finding it tricky if not impossible to find anything remotely amusing about it. Oh well- only myself (and East) to blame I suppose.
At the theatre there's an air of frenzy- they've cleaned the floors, hoovered the carpets and they've even re-lacquered the stage. Have I got this wrong- it is the Queen guitarist that's coming isn't it and not the actual Queen? We do our bit as quickly as we can- the coffee's wearing off and we've got work to do elsewhere...

By 12.30 we're on our way to the Prince of Wales theatre where Stu's got to check over the guitars for the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons musical 'The Jersey Boys'. We'd made a quick visit there last week and neither of us could quite believe how bad a state the instruments were in- broken strings, bits missing, you name it and it had gone wrong. Well, that's the ones that the musicians were using- the prop guitars used in the show (not actually played by anyone, just taken on stage by the actors playing the band members) were all in excellent condition. Very strange. We patch a couple of them up and Stu arranges to return without me on Friday (I'm away gigging) to do the bulk of the work. From there it's time for a pit stop at The Pillars of Hercules (just a soda water and lime for me thank you) before dropping into Chris Bryant's Guitars at the top of Denmark Street- Chris and Stu are old friends- then returning to the theatre for the afternoon rehearsal.

There's a car parked near the stage door- it's about the same size as a spaceship. Brian's here then... and indeed he is. I'd never met him before but he seemed to be a very nice chap, taller than me- maybe 6' 4" or even 6' 6" including the famous hair- and very friendly. He shook hands with me (his hands are huge!) and thanked me for my help on the show which was a nice touch- I always think that someone in his position must meet so many people so it's nice when they take a bit of time out to talk to you. I also met his guitar tech Pete who was standing guard over the famous guitar- you know the one and you know the story, Brian made it out of an old fireplace with his Dad's help, it's often referred to as 'The Red Special' 'though those in the know call it 'The Old Lady'. How do I know this? Easy- because that's what Stu called it as he asked Pete to let me have a look at it... now at this point I have to return to a subject that often crops up when I'm writing about working at the theatre- I don't actually like Queen. I never did. Still don't. This is suddenly quite an important point- if I had just met, for example, Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and then been handed his White Les Paul to have a look at, I'd probably have been smiling so widely by now that the top of my head would have been close to coming off. This therefore wasn't as exciting as that might have been, but I was very aware of what, in electric guitar terms, this instrument represents to many thousands of people. It's got one of the biggest neck's that I've ever encountered on a guitar (remember what I said about his hands earlier?) and looks as though it needs a re-fret which is hardly surprising since it's around 40 years old and still has it's original ones. The tremolo arm really is a knitting needle, the fret markers on the fingerboard really are shirt buttons- the legend is true. There was a spare guitar sitting in the rack next to where this one had come from- it looked identical to me except for the sixpence (more about them in a minute...) that the 'real' one has fixed to the front of the headstock, the copy has 'Fryer' written there, it's made by Greg Fryer who also makes Brian's signature Treble Booster pedals (...and these) which are used by the guitarists in the show. As Stu remarked to me afterwards- 'how much is the original guitar worth then? A million? More?' Good question... there's a treble booster (an integral part of his sound) fixed onto the strap along with several old sixpences- famously May uses them instead of plectrums. Pete gave me one ('here, have one off the old lady') along with, confusingly, some Brian May plectrums ('I can't use the sixpence so I use these. One sold for 90 dollars on EBay last month'.) I might not be the biggest Queen fan in the world- but I keeping these!
Much of the afternoon was spent rehearsing 'Don't Stop Me Now'. In a 'normal' show this song gets cut short (I won't ruin the plot for anyone who might go in the future!) but it's being played with Brian on stage tonight so there's any number of things to check. It was very strange to watch such a well-known guitarist playing air guitar as the dancers worked out where he would be on stage in relation to them, unsurprisingly he seemed a bit awkward and looked pleased to finally get a guitar in his hands. Interestingly he used the copy guitar for the 'unplugged' run-through's ('he hates it!') and the original for the full rehearsals. Ben Elton arrived halfway through one of the run-through's with a few script changes- the actors seemed to pick up on them instantly. The song ends with Brian disappearing into the stage on a trapdoor to the applause of the 20 or so people watching, which if you think about must be the smallest audience he's played to in years. I got introduced to Ben Elton who seemed alright but a bit pre-occupied- it turned out that Brian was buying everyone pizza and he wondered where they were going to be served.

No pizza for Stu and myself though- we're off to The Shaftesbury Theatre where guitarist Adam Goldsmith had a problem. He's got a new Music Man Steve Lukather signature model electric guitar and is not behaving itself, he's been on the phone to Stu about it and he's bringing it in for 6.30 so we're meeting him at the theatre. There's time for a drink (there's always time for a drink, and besides I'm feeling better now!) in The Angel before meeting Adam, signing in and heading to the orchestra pit. The guitar's buzzing and playing badly- Stu works his magic and everything's ok, and we'd better get going if we're going to get back to The Dominion for the start of the show. Stu look's at me, I look at him.... 'I think we're all theatre'd out' says he; 'The football's on the telly' say I- and, telling myself that we're striking a blow for punk rock in the process, we head down into Tottenham Court Road tube station. It'd been a very long day, and I've just remembered that, even though their guitarist seems to be a very nice chap, I still don't actually like Queen.

We should have stayed- I've just found out that, in true Spinal Tap tradition, the trapdoor got stuck!!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nostalgia for an age yet to come

This picture was taken last Friday at London's 100 Club- that's me on the right, the chap next to me is Neil Simpson. Neil and myself hadn't seen each other since 1989, when he emigrated to Australia- we'd gone to the 100 club to see the mighty Wilko Johnson give a typically heroic performance (that's his drummer setting his kit up in the background) and to catch up on what we'd been doing in the last (gulp!) 19 years.

You'd think we'd look happier wouldn't you?!?

I first met Neil sometime in the mid-'80's when I was playing in The Price and he was playing guitar in The Great Divide who later became The Directors (or was it the other way around? Neither of us can remember!) Our bands played quite a few shows together around that time, and I went to many gigs with him (Godfathers, Wilko etc) before he emigrated to Australia; he's back in Blighty for a while before returning down under near the end of this year. It was great to see him again, but it's strange to talk to someone about what you've been doing for the best part of 2 decades- it all seemed like so much in some ways, and yet so little in others. I've been thinking about it since and if nothing else it's made me realise that pretty much everything that I do revolves around me having a guitar in my hand- or maybe I just think that it does?

I spent a lot of the time since I last saw Neil helping to look after my Mum who was disabled with Motor Neurone Disease. In the meantime friends and family members got married, didn't get married, had children, didn't have children, worked, didn't work- real life stuff, much of which I sometimes felt passed me by completely as I struggled to find a middle eight for the latest still-unheard masterpiece that I was working on whilst on my way back from the shops with some stuff for Mum's dinner. When she died it all changed instantly- suddenly I was uncomfortably close to 40 years old with limited social skills and no work record to speak of; I was told I could claim benefit for 6 weeks (I think the guy at Social Services said it was 'to give you time to work out what you want to do with the rest of your life'. I seem to recall asking him if he actually worked for anti-Social Services.) then I was effectively on my own. The last time I'd had a 'real' job was in the early '80's when I worked at the E.M.I. factory in Ruislip, which, with hindsight very nearly cost me my sanity if not my life- the only thing I could do with any level of proficiency was play the guitar (it still is, in case you were wondering) so somehow I had to make that work for me. I started teaching guitar and working in our local guitar shop (the late lamented Music Shack in Uxbridge) whilst through a series of re-established old contacts I ended up first playing in Neck with old buddy Leeson O'Keeffe and then in Dave Finnigan's Commitments with even older buddy Pete Tobit (by that I mean I've known him longer, not that he's ancient!) which has led me to my current position with The Chicago Blues Brothers band. Could I have done this or something like it earlier in my life, if I'd not been at home with Mum? Maybe, but with hindsight I don't think I could- confidence was in short supply in those days (it still causes me all sorts of problems today, but that's another story for another time and another place, as they say) and anyway, the person who had the worst deal in it all was my Mum, not me. I've lost count of the number of people who have asked me questions like 'do you think you'd have got further as a guitarist if your Mum hadn't been ill?' It's always interesting to ask them what they'd have done if faced with a similar situation- something that I'd not wish on anyone incidentally. They almost always begin with something like 'ah well it's different for me because I was (delete as applicable) married/at university/working away'... leaving aside the fact that I hadn't actually asked them what they'd been doing but what they would have done, I often reply that they've got no idea how much I sometimes wished that I'd have been doing something like they were- but only sometimes; like I say, my Mum had by far the worse deal, not me.

Last night I saw Dale for the first time this century- he was always around in the Price times, and he put an album of local bands with our singer Malcolm in 1993 (it was called 'Where's Hillingdon?'; Pro Music regular customer Jen turned up at the shop recently with a copy of it that she'd found in a charity shop- I'd forgotten which songs we'd put on it) and also was involved in promoting gigs locally. He's interested in putting together a website featuring bands in our area both past and present, ably assisted by Daryl his computer-boffin brother-in-law. It was good to see him again, and it's another person from 'that' time re-appearing in my little life after an absence of many years- but is it all too much looking back and not enough looking forward? Dale talked of bands from 15 years ago almost as though they were contemporary acts rather than dimly remembered (by me at least!) local outfits; is it just the cynical side of me saying that if anyone really cared about any of this stuff there would already be a website devoted to them, or even a book out about them? Do you, to quote U2 of all people, 'glorify your past when your future dries up'?
Talking of books, 'God's Lonely Men', Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes's excellent memoir of his times in The Lurkers has been out for a while now. In it he often writes of him and the band feeling as though they were 'outsiders' in the punk rock scene, like there was something that everyone else knew but they didn't- almost as if they hadn't been invited to the party. With The Price I sometimes think that we didn't even know that there was a party, and if we did we wouldn't have been able to go because we were gigging that night. Then again I speak to so many people who used to be in bands (and in some cases still are) who are bitter about their lack of success and begrudge other people's good fortune- I've always tried never to get like that, and I hope I never do. Music means far too much to me to ever want to feel bad about any aspect of either playing or listening to it- and who wants to go to the party anyway? (I always tell myself that 'they' don't invite 'you' because 'they' want to talk about 'you'- which just about helps me to justify whichever non-crisis I've decided that I'm suffering from that day) Dale's looking to feature current acts on his proposed website- it'll be interesting to see how bands from our time stand up next to today's young guns. And anyway what do I know?- I'm listening to The Clash as I type this who, although undeniably an influence on today's rock music, released their last album of original material over 2 decades ago i.e. before the current crop of young rockers were even born. Finger on the pulse eh? Perhaps it's time for a pint of bitter (and twisted) after all!

Ah- nostalgia's not what it used to be is it? Maybe it never was...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Up the (spaghetti) junction

Last night saw a Chicago Blues Brothers show at the 10th anniversary celebrations for the Paul Ponsonby company in Birmingham; after our less-than-enjoyable performance last Friday we were due a good one, 'though you know you're in trouble when you're told 'the postcode we've been given doesn't work in a sat. nav...' As myself and Tracy pulled up for fuel just off the M42 we decided to ask the very-helpful lady behind the counter if she knew where Hurricane Park was. She'd 'never heard of it- where's it near?' According to Mike (who was already there and had attempted to give us directions over the phone) it was near Fort Dunlop. 'That's miles from here' said the very-helpful lady, no doubt realising that we hadn't a clue where we were; Tracy offered to buy a map from her but she showed us the way anyway. It turned out to be an industrial estate literally under the M6- the postcode we'd been given takes you to the motorway above...
We're in another LARGE tent- sound guru Ian Bond has already set my amp up on top of a box marked 'Colt Revolvers' (the box next to it was marked 'beans') which is next to the front half of an American Police Chevrolet that's protruding from the back wall. Really. There's also a dancefloor made from large black and white squares (on seeing such a thing nerds like myself always think 'time for a game of human chess'- if you just thought that or knew why I would think it, then you're a fan of 'The Prisoner' too!) It's all the usual suspects in the band except for Andy who's depping for Richard on sax 'though there's no sign of him yet- after some quick hello's it's soundcheck time which included 'Shout' (Squirrel had never played it before and neither had I) and 'Land of 1,000 Dances' which we managed to recall from our days in Dave Finnigan's Commitments. It's all sounding good (it usually does when Mr. Bond is around) so it's time for some food (vegetable lasagne- excellent) in a nearby staff room. To get to it we walk through a HUGE warehouse which is full to it's very high ceiling with vacuum cleaners and indiscriminate cardboard boxes. Meanwhile Andy's arrived and he's not happy- he's been driving around for nearly 2 hours trying to find the place and nearly went home.
We're due on at 10- these type of things invariably run late- so Mario, Mike, Tracy and myself do the decent thing and go down the pub. The very-helpful lady in the service station had warned us that we were in a rough area and she wasn't wrong; the first 2 pubs we found both looked uninviting to say the least (the guy in the car park of the second looked how I would imagine someone looks as they're trying to remember where they'd left their favourite chainsaw) so we ended up in the rather more homogenised surroundings of the Old Orleans bar of the nearby Star City Casino.
Back at the venue we eventually get a 5 minute call; safe in the rather smug knowledge that '5 minutes is never 5 minutes' I opt for a quick visit to the Gents- as I return I hear what sounds suspiciously like an introduction followed by what is definitely the drum introduction to 'Peter Gunn'. Bugger. Still I'm onstage and playing before too much damage is done (I think!) and won't be making that mistake again (I hope!) As I said earlier we were due a good gig and this was a highly enjoyable one with plenty of dancefloor action and everyone playing well.

We got home in what felt like no time. It's amazing how easy it is when you know the way isn't it?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The camera never lies

Strange but true- evidence, were it needed, that Elvis is alive and well and gigging with us in Maidstone last Friday. That's him on the right- the over-excited young lady on the left of the photograph is the lovely Miss Tracy Graham, singer extraordinaire and owner of one of the best laughs you'll ever hear; judging by the look on her face here, Elvis was hearing it as this picture was being taken.

The other photo features your humble narrator during the soundcheck, no doubt thinking 'oh dear, this doesn't sound very good... and this undeniably ace Jimi Hendrix t-shirt doesn't really go with this guitar strap... I really hope Mario isn't taking a photo at the moment... oh bugger I think he just did...' - something like that anyway.

Oh, and the time's on the photo's are wrong, but you've probably worked that out for yourself.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Elvis lives! If you see Sid, tell him...

After a gig-less couple of weeks it's time to get back to it (at last!) with 2 very different events:-

Friday saw the first performance for quite some time by PTX, also known as The Pete Tobit Experience- basically the same band as we normally have but with Pete at the helm rather than us being fronted by various Brothers Blue. We play more-or-less the same songs (more about that in a minute) but without the hats'n'glasses, making it more of a 'party band' (maybe that's what a function band is!?!) than a recreation of Jake'n'Elwood's act. We're playing in a large- make that LARGE- tent at the back of the Newnham Court shopping centre (I'm not making this up, honest) on the outskirts of Maidstone- we've played there so often lately that the Shirley-mobile practically knows the way on it's own. It's Sarah's 40th birthday party and also on the bill in Shawn Klush who won a recent competition on BBC television to find the world's best Elvis Presley impersonator. When we arrive there's no sign of Elvis but there's a very impressive Vegas-style suit hanging up in the dressing room.
We're on last (I always wanted to go on after Elvis!) so we're soundchecking first- and it doesn't go well. There's monitor problems making it very difficult for us to hear what we're playing, and 'Treat Her Right' and 'Take Me To The River' (neither songs are normally in our set) are more than a little rough. Still it could all be a lot worse, and Elvis's band are a friendly enough bunch- they're from Wales as is Shawn/Elvis himself, and Juan the acoustic guitarist tells me he plays Elvis when Shawn's elsewhere; they're short of a guitar stand so I lend them one of mine. Tony the guitarist plays a Telecaster so we have a few moments of guitar nerdery with each other's instruments. We hang around waiting to hear them, but hunger takes over so Squirrel joins myself and Shirley at the Newnham Court Arms whilst everyone else opts for the nearby Chinese restaurant. The tills in the pub aren't working so chaos reigns but when the food eventually does turn up it's excellent- just as well as I think we were about to eat our table.
Backstage at the venue and we meet Elvis... sort of... he does look amazingly like the man himself- Tracy was, shall we say, particularly impressed. Whenever I see tribute acts I'm always interested in how the audience (including myself, I might add) react to the show- in this case with pretty much total hysteria (not including myself, I might add) especially the ladies present who go crazy from the word go and by the end are certifiably insane. I thought that parts of it were a bit rough but Shawn gives a very good performance 'though I found it a little bit too irreverent in places- still I guess that's better than taking yourself too seriously?So now it's our turn- and less than a minute into 'Midnight Hour' Richard walks off stage and over to the sound man; as he returns Mario passes him going the other way. The onstage sound is dreadful making it a very difficult show for all concerned- add to that a certain amount of confusion over whether we were playing medleys or full songs (there was one particularly awful moment where half the band went one way and the rest went the other- hope that doesn't turn up on YouTube!) and you have a show that in many ways doesn't rank among our better ones. Still, it all went down well which I guess is the most important thing?
Straight after the show I talk to Ian the keyboard player who's not happy; 2 minutes of ranting and raving about the show ends with him looking at this watch and saying 'still, that was yesterday'- then smiling broadly with the words 'it's another day now'...

...which saw me journeying up to Stoke for a gig depping in The Sex Pistols Experience. I haven't played with them for nearly 2 years (I've done a few shows since then with The Pistols, another tribute band) and it's all been going very well for them in the meantime, with tours across Europe and America and various media appearances to their name. They've also got a new singer since then (Nathan- here as Johnny Rotter) who joins Nigel (Kid Vicious) and Dave (Paul Crook) with regular guitarist Dave (Steve Bones- he's very thin!- away at a 40th birthday celebration) in an eerily accurate recreation of our heroes. Well, I don't think I look much like the mighty Mr. Jones- but I don't half enjoy trying to play like him...
After a reasonably uneventful train journey from Euston to Birmingham New Street there a mild panic in finding my connecting train to Tamworth where I'm meeting Nigel and Dave- there's no main destination board at the station (at least there wasn't in the bit where I was!) which meant walking up and down looking at the television above each platform to see where the train was going... alright so there's a lot worse things in life but I had a guitar and bag on my back and it was hot and I was late and... yeah ok, I've stopped moaning.
After meeting up with Nigel and Dave it was time for the hour-or-so drive up to Stoke where we're playing at The Glebe. It's oddly gratifying to report that we're not the only band that gets plunged into sat. nav. chaos; we spend a while going round in circles before the boys recognise where we are (they'd played the venue once before) and, ignoring the sat. nav which was telling us to turn left towards the 'Cultural Quarter', turned right and pulled up outside the venue which was easily distinguishable from every other building by the amount of mohican'd punk rockers outside. I said something like 'it looks like something out of 1981' as Nigel and Dave wondered if Charlie Harper ever gets fed up with seeing the same sight as The U.K. Subs arrive at their gigs. We load in our gear (I've got a very-excellent looking Mesa Boogie combo to play through) and I meet Nathan for the first time- even in civvies he looks uncannily like a young Mr. Rotten. Dave opts to use the house drum kit to make things easier for the other 3 bands on the bill; we soundcheck with 'No Feelings' and 'I Wanna Be Me', the sound's a bit rough (monitor problems again!) but we're assured it'll be fine when there's a crowd in. With Nathan staying at the venue to win friends and influence people among the local young punkettes (use your imagination!) we walk into town in search of some food. We settle upon a burger bar that also serves pizza and curry (really! I'd never have to cook again if that was around here!) and order up- my vegetable biryani is big enough for 2 people, and the naan bread is as big as a dustbin lid, much to Nigel and Dave's amusement.
Back at the venue I catch up on some phone calls. Stuart the guitar repair man is spectacularly drunk-after our 'conversation' he sends me a series of increasingly hilarious text messages including a totally blank screen followed by one boasting of how he could still text even though he was so drunk. Excellent. And Shirley's ok, East is off down the pub- business as usual then... time to check out the first band Up The Ranks. They look and sound exactly like most people's idea of a 'punk' band- indeed I recognise them as being some of the mob outside the venue earlier. The lead singer's got a foot high mohican, and he spits at a lad watching from right at the front who spits back at him straight away- I decide they're probably brothers. They finish with the Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias song 'Kill'- I wonder if they realise it was a parody?
Up next, The Vicious Kids who I thought were excellent. They're 3 young lads dressed in non-matching white shirts and black ties who look as though they might sound like The Jam (they do, a bit) but who also remind me of U.S. band Agent Orange. One chorus ran 'I wouldn't steal money from a friend, but I'd steal his girlfriend' (punk quiz part 1- who said those words?) and I thought they should have done an encore, 'though maybe they'd ran out of songs. Great stuff.
Third band The New Subterraneans distinguished themselves by being even older than me (good boys!) which makes me think that they must have been in bands since the punk heyday 'though I didn't recognise any of them. The bassist reminded me of John Entwistle technique-wise- using all his right hand fingers to 'roll' across the strings. Good noisy stuff with bonus points given for a cover of 'Action Time Vision' (punk quiz part 2- who did the original version?)
Then, at last, it's our turn. With the intro CD blasting over the P.A. we fight our way through the packed dance floor and onto the stage- then it's off with the glasses (for the first time since The Price days!) and into 'Pretty Vacant'. The sound's still rough 'though it's better than it was but it doesn't matter because the place is going wild. We're playing well and Nathan has become Rotten- an extraordinary transformation. I have to keep crouching down to read the set list (my eyes are really bad these days...) and I only just manage to avoid getting my vocal microphone in the face during 'Holidays in the Sun' (it was getting a bit mad down the front!) but it's a great gig which finishes with 'My Way' (Nigel/Sid/Kid in great form) before Nathan/Johnny returns for the encore of 'No Fun', 'Satellite' and a repeat of 'God Save The Queen'. Fantastic.

After the show I peeled off my t-shirt and wrung it out. I told you it was a great gig.

-and no doubt the other bands are on MySpace somewhere...