Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another day off? What would I do with another day off?

Well- pretty much the same as I did with the last one i.e. spend most of it learning songs for tonight's gig with Mario and co.; I think I've just about done enough work on the songs- we'll find out in about 12 hours time!- but my chances of success were severely hampered by me falling asleep halfway through the second run-through of 'CD 1' of the 3 that he's given me to learn the songs from. I should point out that this is not due to the music sending me to sleep (far from it, there are some very interesting songs to get to grips with) but is more likely to be something to do with the previous few days catching up with me- which reminds me...

Thursday- T.V. Smith at The Bull and Gate, Kentish Town.

After a morning spent at The Dominion Theatre with Stuart the guitar repair man attempting to resurrect the 'We Will Rock You' guitars as quickly as possible before the seemingly never-ending auditions began at 11 o'clock (we failed!) we then took a recently-repaired-by-Stuart bass back to 'The Jersey Boys' at The Prince Edward Theatre. To cheer ourselves up we attempted to use up at least some of our wages at the HMV sale (we failed again!) before returning home before further depression set in. No time to worry about that now though as I'm meeting the legend that is Brian Kotz (a.k.a. Brian from Barnet, Brian from Back To Zero etc etc) at The Assembly House in Kentish Town at 8 p.m. to catch up with him after his recent visit to America. It's always great to see Brian (he makes my interest in music look almost half-hearted!) but this time he excelled himself by presenting me with a Stax Records Museum coaster ('not to be used as a coaster' warned the great man. I wouldn't dream of it!) and regaling me with stories of his time spent in Memphis (Stax Museum, Sun Studios, Gracelands) and Nashville (The Grand Old Opry, Dollywood) as well as us both agreeing that music can still reduce us to tears- him upon seeing Otis Redding's jacket at Stax, me earlier this week at the Buddy Guy gig- and that I should have a go with him in his pub quiz team.
Leaving Brian to catch the bus home I crossed over the Kentish Town Road to the Bull & Gate where T.V. Smith was playing a launch gig for his new album 'In The Arms Of My Enemy'. I got there in time to catch most of I, Ludicrous's set- I last saw them ages ago at, I think, Dingwalls and they're still as entertainingly irreverent as ever with a new song 'Highland League' standing out. There was just time to say a quick hello to T.V (doing a roaring trade on his merchandise stall) Gaye Advert (doing a roaring trade with her art prints, so much so that she said she had 'none left to sell at Camden Market this weekend') before Max Splodge's excellently mad 4 song set ('I wrote to Rolf Harris to ask him if I could do a version of "Two Little Boys"- he wrote back to say "Max, you can't." You think he'd be able to spell better than that wouldn't you?') preceded the mighty Mr. Smith. As expected the new album was heavily featured but there were plenty of oldies too with a request for 'Bombsite Kids' amusing Tim no end ('that would be like playing ''Gary Gilmore's Ears'' wouldn't it?') and a 'stepping-on-the-D.I.-box incident during 'Expensive Being Poor'. I went out to get a drink halfway through and bumped into punk promotess Sarah Pink- judging by her new hairdo she's considering a name change to Sarah Blonde!- and Max Splodge who both were on fine if somewhat over-refreshed form; meanwhile T.V. finished his set with 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' and 'One Chord Wonders', encored with 'Runaway Train Driver' and looked very pleased with himself- and well he might, as he'd been brilliant.

Friday- John Mayer at The Brixton Academy, London.

So- not having a gig, working in the shop or working at the theatre counts as a day off in my little world, 'though as I said earlier I actually spent a fair amount of time working on material for my gig on Saturday i.e. tonight as I type this. Oh, and falling asleep over my guitar- it's been a few years since I've done that... maybe I'm overdoing it a bit..?
Still it was off to Brixton in the evening to see John Mayer. Myself and Shirley made the seemingly never-ending tube journey without too many problems before meeting up with Cane Toads guitarist Pete and his posse in The Beehive pub, where gig goers mix with old Jamaican gentlemen in zoot suits and trilbys whilst mad-looking young men stumble around trying to sell you perfume. After a quick drink we walked down to The Academy and met up with drummer extraordinaire and long-time Mayer disciple Dave Bateman, before attempting to find somewhere to watch the show from- we had 'downstairs standing' tickets and the place was absolutely packed, as well as being hot enough to steam my glasses up. With this in mind we opted for a spot near the bar at the back in the right hand corner of the auditorium- we were only there a few minutes before the lights went down and the show began. Initially the sound was terrible- it took a while to recognise the first song as 'Belief'- but two or three songs in things improved no end. I was struck by the audience who (mostly young and what I as an old punk would imagine to be trendy looking) all seemed to know every song word-for-word, and reacted with near hysteria to Mr. Mayer's every move. The band sounded excellent, Mayer sang and played brilliantly- but it was all a bit 'nice' for me. Maybe seeing Buddy Guy a few days coloured my judgement... then again 'Vultures' might well be the best song I've heard in years, and a between song comment about how tonight could never be repeated, it's all about energy between the band and audience, 'you can't do this on the internet'... would no doubt look a bit silly written down here but sounded so heartfelt and sincere when he said it that I couldn't help but agree with every word. And I've just played 'Continuum' again- how can someone so young and good looking, and with a full head of hair (I'm not bitter, honest!) sound that good?

Oh well- enough of watching people play guitars, it's time for me to have a go; with 3 gigs in the next 3 days let's hope it's quiet in the shop today...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Look! There Goes Buddy Guy!

Shirley took this picture as Mr. Guy passed us by- she's to my left, he's to my right. It really happened! And look- he's got a little man following him with a microphone so that he can sing whilst walking around; what a weird job he's got! Imagine him down the pub and someone says 'so what do you do for a living?' and he says 'I'm the bloke who follows legendary Chicago blues guitarist Buddy Guy around venues with a microphone and a maglite so that he can sing while he's walking through the audience'. Excellent!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A day off? What would I do with a day off?

I had a day off today.

Well, of course I didn't. I spent most of it (so far) learning songs for a gig that I'm doing with Mario this coming weekend (which reminds me- I must find out where it is!) and attempting to recover from the last four days. Here's what happened-

SATURDAY- Chicago Blues Brothers at The Village Hotel, Maidstone.
A 90-minute performance at Roger's 50th birthday party in the Forest Suite; a 'not-the-A-Team' gig with new dep Andy taking Marc's place on the drum stool, Beverley & Steve in for Richard & Dave on horns and Tracy away on holiday meant that the soundcheck was more of a rehearsal than usual, 'though we did find time for a blast through 'I'm A Believer' which I don't recall us ever playing before. We had the Rowan Suite to use as a dressing room, where panini's went down well with all concerned. Some went for a sauna, some went to the bar (guess which one I chose?) before a show that went pretty well all things considered, 'though there were, shall we say, a few tempo issues... Shirley and myself had been invited to stay with keyboard player Ian and his soon-to-be wife Nadia after the show- we were all due to be in the Essex area the next night so it made sense for us not to drive all the way back here then all the way back there the next day. What didn't necessarily make quite as much sense was staying up until 6 a.m. drinking- but we did it anyway.

SUNDAY- Lindsay's birthday party at Club Riga, Southend.
I woke up at 12.30 p.m. I don't sleep in that late very often; then again I don't wake up feeling like I did then too often either... a somewhat blurry afternoon followed with a call from Squirrel around 4 o'clock causing much merriment from the bassman as I attempted to recall the events of the previous night/morning's over-indulgence. He'd arranged a surprise birthday bash for his wife Lindsay that evening featuring Roy Hill (he was briefly in The Strawbs- Lindsay helps run their website) and The Good Old Boys (West London rock 'n' roll heroes- Lindsay runs their MySpace page) at the excellent Club Riga in Westcliff near Southend. I remember how I'd felt when me and my brother put together a surprise party for my dad's 65th birthday- if he felt as nervous as we did then he hid it very well. The look on her face when she arrived confirmed that he'd managed to keep it a secret from her; Roy Hill played a short, excellently surreal set while The Good Old Boys gave a typically fine performance 'though I must say it was rather strange to see them play so far away from home with so many familiar faces in the audience. Oh and Squirrel probably won't thank me for mentioning his line dancing- but I just have, so sorry mate. - Lindsay's party get a mention!

MONDAY- The Cane Toads at The Village Hall, Chalfont St. Peter.
It's early afternoon in the shop. Mike, a perspective new staff member, is attempting to serve a customer and my mobile phone's ringing. So- do I help Mike or answer the phone?
'I'm closing down the internet'. Andy sounded serious. 'What, all of it?' I asked, attempting to lighten the moment. 'Yes. All of it.' His reply was if anything even less humorous. This can only mean one thing- someone's put photos of FAT FREDDIE and BRIAN MAYBE out in the public domain. And they have. The bastards!
Off to Chalfont St. Peter then for a dep gig with local rockers The Cane Toads. It's Martin the singer's birthday and spirits are high. The Village Hall turned out not to be a village hall but was actually a pub- a better situation I feel- which took a bit of finding, not least because we were looking for a village hall rather than a pub. I last played with them back in December last year and had managed to do a bit of revision for what turned out to be a very enjoyable gig, with another attempt at 'Sweet Child O' Mine' (that's two Monday's in a row!) among the songs that I'd not played with them before. A fine evening- and they got offered another gig at the pub too.

TUESDAY- Buddy Guy at The Shepherds Bush Empire.
Arriving early at the shop I found a bored looking teenager leaning against the wall outside. That'll be the work experience lad then. I said something like 'Hello mate, my name's Leigh', and he just looked blankly at me. He eventually made a noise that sounded a bit like 'Ben'. And we've got him with us for nearly two weeks... he came alive when he met Mike 'though- within seconds of meeting the pair of them were having a shredding* competition in the corner. It might have been nice if they'd done a bit of work or served a customer but I guess you can't have everything. Towards the end of the day my old schoolmate Tim came in to buy a guitar for his son Tom and bought with him a picture of the two of us when we were both eleven, the same age as Tom- I didn't recognise myself.
A day such as this needs an antidote and fortunately it had one in the form of Buddy Guy who was playing at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Despite the best efforts of the Central Line myself and Shirley got to our seats in the first balcony just as support act Foy Vance was taking to the stage. It's hard to describe what he does here- he uses sampling to create vocal and guitar loops which he then plays along with. He reminded me of Tom Waits which is no bad thing- well worth catching again methinks.
I'd never seen Buddy Guy before and he certainly didn't disappoint in any way- with a guitar sound that could politely be described as 'blistering' he gave a magnificent performance that was riveting both musically and visually. There's always an odd contradiction here for me- so many of the blues players are also great showmen, which I often find to be at odds with many of the lyrical themes; somehow Mr. Guy got the mixture just right. At one point he walked offstage still soloing, only to re-appear in the downstairs audience (cue pandemonium) for a couple of verses; he then disappeared from our view before suddenly walking right past me (I was sitting on the right-hand end of a row) still soloing. Incredible. He sang a verse from the front of the balcony, then walked back past me with the words 'where's the way out, man?' A great moment.
Back on stage he spoke of how the young British bands of the 1960's had bought people like him to our attention over here, then told of a young man playing in New York at that time who went on to 'blow everyone away', played the introduction to 'Voodoo Chile', sounding exactly like Hendrix, not a bit like him but EXACTLY like him because of course this is where Jimi got it from- and at that point it hit me, this is where 'it' came from, here and from Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Albert, B.B. and Freddie King and so many others, these guys are the real deal, THIS is the blues. And I shed a tear. And I just shed another one as I typed that. A fantastic show.

*For those of you lucky enough not to know, 'shredding' is a term often used to describe the high-velocity, high-distortion playing of the likes of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and that well-known comedy of errors, Yngwie Malmsteen. For what my opinion's worth- whilst I appreciate the virtuosity of the players involved, and the amount of work that goes into getting to that level of competence, I personally think that players like Paul Kossoff, Jeff Beck and, yes, Buddy Guy say more with one note than the average shredder says in their entire career. Put it this way- no shredder ever moved me to tears- well, not of emotion anyway...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A busy week (or so) in prospect

There haven't been too many gigs over the last couple of weeks, and in many ways it's been nice to have a bit of a break. All this is about to change however- over the next 10 days I've got 5 gigs to play and 4 gigs to attend, as well as working in the shop and at the theatre. Blogging opportunities may be few and far between, but I'll keep you informed of my progress (or otherwise) as often as possible.

Right! To Maidstone! Again!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ash Bash 4

Last night saw 'Ash Bash 4' at The Wilde Theatre in Bracknell, which is part of the South Hill Park Arts Centre- I was last there as part of 'Ash Bash 2' a year-and-a-half ago 'though The Price did several recording sessions in the studio there back in the 1980's, including the 'So What About Love?' single sessions with Paul Fox. It's the brainchild of Simon Ash who, in addition to being a professional drummer and drum teacher has also written a book and musical based upon the music of Pink Floyd- check out this website- - for details on how the seemingly separate worlds of prog rock and poultry are inextricably linked...

The long-suffering Shirley and myself arrived at the venue to find Andy (vocals/guitar) and Mike (bass) loading their gear in through the stage door. Simon's musical was being performed at the venue for the next two nights and his band were busy soundchecking- we did the only decent thing possible and went to the bar, where we met up with Stuart the guitar repair man's mate Brian (I really must find out people's surname's sometimes!) who lives locally and was coming along to the show later. Our soundcheck was a bit chaotic to say the least, with 19 drummers each getting a verse or so of their song(s) with us; with so many different players it all became very confusing very quickly- I started asking 'which song are you?' as each player approached the drum kit. Barring the odd fraught moment it all went pretty well when you consider how badly it could have gone... there was just time to return to the bar to meet Chicago Blues Brother Mario (another local who, co-incidentally, went to school with Andy; when I said to each of them something suitably cliched like 'it's a small world' they both independently replied 'yes, but you wouldn't like to paint it'- presumably their school motto?) before the show began with Simon welcoming everyone to the theatre, introducing the band (which also included his girlfriend Tina on vocals) and explaining how the evening was going to work- the drummer's are all seated in the front row, with the 'next one up' at the left hand end; they'd each come up on to the stage, play their song, then rejoin the front row at the right hand end. And so the conveyor belt started, with 19 drummers each getting their turn with the house band (us!) before returning back to the obscurity of the other end of the front row. It is no understatement to say that everyone rose to the occasion superbly including, dare I say it, the members of the house band- Mike had done an extraordinary job of learning the material at very short notice, and Andy and Tina made short work of what were often very demanding songs. I sang lead vocals on 'Paperback Writer' (yes, you read that bit correctly. I can't quite believe it either, but I figured that if the drummers could get on stage and do something that they hadn't done before then so could I! I don't think a new career beckons, but at least I did it which overcame a lot of reticence on my part) and managed to use a wha-wha pedal without falling over (for once) but nothing prepared the audience (and indeed us) for the finale- 'We Will Rock You' featuring 5 year old Sam on drums (he's too small to reach the pedals so had to play a song that doesn't use the bass drum or hi-hat! With a jelled-up mohican hair-do, wraparound sunglasses and tiny leather bikers jacket I think it's fairly safe to say that he stole the show) with Andy as FAT FREDDIE (I'll leave you to wonder about how he looked!) and your humble narrator as BRIAN MAYBE (when I was a member of Neck we played a gig at The Spinning Wheel in Northfields during the 2002 football World Cup; as part of a promotional campaign on behalf of the Irish team they were giving away fooballer's wigs- I drank enough Guinness to win a Kevin 'Keegan'. I knew it would come in handy one day!) I fear all this was videoed- I may have to see about destroying the evidence... but the end the evening was all about the drummers, as it should have been. I hope they all enjoyed it as much as I did- here's to 'Ash Bash 5'.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Never mind the bullocks

To Birmingham then, to see lesser-known London punk rock combo The Sex Pistols at The Academy where they're warming up for their 'Combine Harvester' tour. Myself, East, Big Andy Miller and Fast Tony Clarke met up sometime around 2.30 p.m. yesterday at The Pipemakers Arms in Uxbridge; by 3 o'clock we were in the Big Andy-mobile getting some petrol and by 10 to 5 we were heading into Birmingham on that really scary road with no central reservation (they- whoever 'they' are- can change the number of lanes that go in either direction by means of overhead signals according to the amount of traffic going in or out of town. It's mad!) after a reasonably uneventful journey. East's sat. nav. got us totally confused but we got to the venue eventually. I played at The Academy 2 several years ago (we were supporting Stiff Little Fingers) which is the smaller of the two venues on the site- I think it used to be called The Hummingbird? The Scruffy Murphy's pub on the corner was already overflowing with leather jackets and mohicans so we opted to walk into town to find some food and have a look around. The Bull Ring shopping centre is presumably on the site of the old housing development and is very big indeed- Tony and myself opted for noodles in Selfridges (really! They had a life-size bull made out of sweets for £20,000 and everything!) whilst Andy and East went for the dreaded big yellow 'M'. We also found the HMV shop- there go the wages...
With Scruffy Murphy's showing no signs of getting any emptier we decided to go straight into the venue- and what an excellent venue it is, reminiscent of The Hammersmith Palais in many ways (rectangular with the stage along the long wall and a balcony around the other 3, if you see what I mean) 'though The Palais was bigger if I remember rightly. Somewhat inevitably it's threatened with closure which would be a great shame- we need all the live music venues we can get in my not-so humble opinion. After a visit to the merchandise stall (there go the wages- again) it was time for a drink and to decide where we were going to attempt to watch the show from. We opted for a spot on the dancefloor a few yards in front of Glen Matlock's bit of the stage 'though as the place filled up it became increasingly difficult to hang on to.
Sometime around 8.45 and with the dancefloor getting even more crowded the P.A suddenly got louder- 'Ace Of Spades', 'Teenage Kicks', 'Going Underground', the D.J. knew his audience well... then, Vera Lynn and 'There's Always Be An England' and we're already getting too hot, thinking about moving back a bit as near-panic sets in among the latecomers trying to get down the front- and there they are at last, 4 lads who shook the world, without whom we'd all still be wearing flares and listening to 20 minute-long songs about goblins, the last great rock'n'roll band playing one of the greatest rock'n'roll shows of all time with Cook and Matlock beyond brilliant, Jones's guitar sounding like every electric guitar should sound ('though no one else's ever does) and Rotten looking as though he means it (maaan) more than ever, the dancefloor's a seething mass of leather and sweat, every second counts because nothing as good as this can happen very often and everyone who saw it will remember it for ever as one of the greatest shows that they ever saw, will ever see, and will ever hope to see again.

It took us ages to get home because they- whoever 'they' are- had closed the motorway. But it didn't matter, because we'd just seen The Sex Pistols.

I could have written more here, but in many ways I think I said enough back in November around the time of the Brixton gigs- besides, there's the upcoming Hammersmith show (shows?) to contend with... 'not-the-sweetie-bull' photo taken by East on his mobile phone- he took a couple of Pistols shots too, but they didn't come out quite as well as this one. If you click on it you get some idea of the actual size of the statue!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

200 not out!

This is my 200th blog posting!

To celebrate this (ahem) momentous event, I thought it was time to put some faces to the names that I so often refer to in these hallowed pages- behold the above image of your humble narrator (the awkward looking guy on the left) and the Chicago Blues Brothers Band on the quayside at Sanary in the South of France during our visit there in April. Ian (keyboards) is next to me with Dave (trumpet) behind him and Tracy (vocals) in the middle; Squirrel (bass) is at the back and Richard (sax) is on the end in the white shirt with Marc (drums) in front of him and Mike (Elwood) crouching down at the front. Your photographer- Mr. Showbiz himself, Pete 'Jake' Tobit. As you can see, it's another hard day at the office for us all...

Since the 100th posting in June last year I've droned on (and on) about all sorts of strange things, and intend to continue doing so. Thanks to everyone who reads this stuff- it really wouldn't be the same without you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see The Sex Pistols- but more about them tomorrow...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

What a gay day

Today was Ash Bash rehearsal day. The idea is simple- drum teacher Simon Ash gets 15 of his students to play a song or 2 with a house band that includes your humble narrator on lead guitar, long-time collaborator Andy Cross on vocals and rhythm guitar, Mike Wright on bass and Simon's girlfriend Tina on vocals. As Andy and myself approached No Machine Studios in Wokingham we passed what Andy triumphantly described as 'the glam rock car dealership'- and sure enough there it is, Roy Wood Transits. Shouldn't they use the slogan 'SEE MY BABY DRIVE'?!?
The songs for the show are from artists as diverse as Alice Cooper, The Fratellis and ZZ Top- which brings up an interesting point... let's take 'School's Out' as an example; it's a rock classic in my not-so-humble opinion, but next time it's on the radio, have a good listen. It's a complex song (for example, the two verses are quite different from each other, as are the two 'no more pencils' sections) and the playing is uniformly excellent- it's not something that you can just throw together. Not all the songs are as tricky as that, but you get the picture; add to that the fact that Mike only found out that he was doing the show a couple of days earlier (original bassist Will sadly became unavailable) and you've got a recipe for potential chaos... which thankfully didn't occur. All the drummers turned up with their song(s) learned which fostered a general 'we're all in this together' atmosphere despite the high temperature of the rehearsal studio (both Andy and myself turned our guitar strings black with sweat) and the inevitable time constraints that a day such as this brings. I'm really looking forward to the gig- it should be a good one.

Obviously the only thing to do after a day such as this is to go for a drink or 2 with East- the evening ended with me getting caught in an increasingly bizarre exchange with a rather over-refreshed gentleman in, you've guessed it, a pub toilet:-
Him- 'can I ask you a question mate?'
Me- 'erm, yeah ok'
'you must be, I don't know, 30 to 40?'
'something like that'
'are you married?'
'well, it depends on what you mean by married'
(a bit more aggressively) 'it's a simple question mate- are you now, or have you ever been, married?'
'well, no, but...'
(before I can say anything else) 'so what, you're gay, right?'
'what, not even a bit?'

I really hate that- you're of a 'certain age' and you're not married so people assume that you're gay. I got the feeling that he was drowning his sorrows- but that doesn't give him the right to add to mine. 'Leave now' said East decisively as my new acquaintance waved a drink and bellowed 'come over here and talk to me' across the bar in my general direction. He looked distraught. I think I'd had a better day than him; I rather suspect that I often do...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Devils in skirts

If you've been following my mis-adventures with The Chicago Blues Brothers lately you may recall a show we played in the South of France last month for the Chivas/Ricard company. We must have done something right as we were invited up to Scotland yesterday to play another corporate show for them...

11.30 a.m. and I'm in a cab heading for Heathrow Airport. It's a lovely morning and Dave the cab driver seems a nice enough chap. He used to work with his hands- 'tiling, that sort of thing'- but injured himself, had to give up, and has been driving a cab for a living ever since. 'There's not a day goes by that I don't miss it' he says ruefully; for one awful moment I have visions of him locking all the doors and turning onto the M25 at 100 miles per hour, happy to have someone to listen to his story as we go around the never-ending motorway at over twice the speed limit until the car runs out of fuel and I escape to tell my story on the news that evening.

This, thankfully, didn't happen.

Instead he drops me off at Terminal 5 and I go inside; almost straight away my phone goes, it's Pete asking where I am and could I call Mario and Tracy to see if they're there yet- yes, of course I can. It turns out Tracy's a way away yet but Mario's walking towards me as we're on the phone to each other. With Mario's assistance I brave the automated check-in process for the first time (get a grown-up to help you etc) then take my guitar over to the outsize baggage area. The man on the conveyor belt (well, not actually on the conveyor belt but standing next to it checking baggage in. You know what I mean!) has a lanyard around his neck with his security pass on it; written on it are the words 'N.A.S.A. FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION' several times. He tells us we're travelling on the right day, tomorrow's going to be really busy with 'container flights from Africa and everything'. We go through security to the departure lounge, they make me put my toothpaste in a see-through plastic bag and confiscate my deodorant with the words 'don't worry, you can buy another one on the other side'. I'm asked me to look into a camera- an oddly sinister moment- then to take my shoes off to go through the scanner. The 'other side' turns out to be pretty similar to any of the big shopping centres that we're all familiar with these days- but it has to be said that as a building Terminal 5 is very impressive indeed.
Did you see that blonde earlier?' 'Yeah, big guy, hairy arms, tattoos'... that'll be the rest of the band then. It's the usual people in the usual places, but with one unusual difference- Squirrel's detained elsewhere so Pete's depping for him on bass. When I first met Pete he was bassist in The Immediate (a band which also featured my long-time guitar obsessive buddy Paul Cope and vocal hero John Saxon) and he played for The Price in one of our reunion shows a few years back. He's borrowed his son Adam's Epiphone Thunderbird bass for the occasion which I'm told is housed in a flight case that big enough for most of us to live in. Excellent. The flight's delayed but other than that is fairly straightforward (good!) and all our baggage arrives in one piece- I must admit recent stories about the problems at Terminal 5 had got me worried- with the bass case every bit as excessive as promised (put it this way- it was big enough for Pete to pack all his clothes in it too!) Outside there's a (very) large Maynes coach to take us to the venue, driven by Andy who seems to be a very friendly, helpful fellow- he makes us all coffee (I told you it was a large coach!) before we get underway. There's a traffic jam on the road out of the airport, it takes ages to get out to the 'Welcome to Aberdeen City and Shires- a brighter future' sign on the A96 but we get there in the end. It's an hour or so on that road before we head into the countryside- and what countryside it is, rolling off into the distance and beyond with only pylons and wind farms to suggest that people have been there at all. Amazing.
'Welcome to Moray- malt whisky country'. That's more like it- we pass signs for Glenfiddich before arriving at Glenlivet on the edge of The Cairngorms National Park. We're playing at The Glenlivet distillery at a corporate event for their Venezuelan heirachy (no, I'm not making this up. I'm not actually sure that I could make this up!) which promises to be a night to savour in the 'bizarre gigs that I've played' stakes. The stage is all set up ready- I've got a very loud Fender Twin Reverb to use (remind me to ask for a smaller amp next time) and we spend most of the soundcheck attempting to control our onstage volume so that everyone can hear both themselves and the rest of the band.
We're not due on until '10.30-ish' so there's plenty of time for a walk and a look around. The distillery is open to the public so there's plenty to see and it's a nice evening to be out and about. A reminder of how far North we are comes with the news that it doesn't get dark until getting on for 11 o'clock at night; I remember my Mum telling me tales of her time in Scandinavia when she was in the Navy and how at certain times of the year it only got dark for a very short period of time, if at all (Pete took the accompanying picture on his phone at around 10 o'clock- see what I mean?)
We're using a room adjacent to the stage as a dressing room where there's plenty of food and, you've guessed it, whisky to amuse us. 'I'd better not drink any more of that' said Ian before pouring us both another one. Good point, I shouldn't have another one either- but it's sometimes very difficult not to isn't it? (Isn't it? It can't be just me that thinks that can it?!?) This can be a dangerous situation at the best of times, but at corporate events such as this which are the very definition of 'hurry-up-and-wait' it can be particularly perilous as we shall see... Dave and Richard are busying themselves writing out new charts of the horn parts for the show, Tracy's on the floor doing some scary looking exercises (oo-er etc) and the atmosphere's good, albeit with an air of 'let's get on with it please' about it.
At last we're on. We start with 'Peter Gunn' and a large be-kilted Venezuelan man starts dancing on the stage with us. He starts lifting his kilt up at the audience- who'd have predicted it eh?- and soon they're all at it. All the one's that I saw were wearing underwear which was something of a relief to say the least, although what we saw was bad enough... Tracy's getting more than her fair share of attention but is more worried about her monitor not being loud enough, Pete's doing a great job on bass and we're going down very well indeed, especially given the fact that we were told that no-one danced to the previous evening's band. And talking of dancing- during a particularly eventful 'Mustang Sally' we (myself, Pete, Tracy, the two brothers and at least one audience member) found ourselves sitting along the front of the stage during Richard's sax solo. Suddenly Ian appeared next to him and started doing what might best be described as 'The Office dance' whilst most of the audience seemed to be rolling around with their legs in the air. Isn't drinking brilliant eh? We encore with 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' and escape back to our room before somebody in the audience thinks of taking their underpants off. A good gig.
Our hotel's in Elgin which is about a 40 minute drive away- it's still quite light even 'though it's dark (if you see what I mean) and spirits are high. A deer runs out in front of the bus and Ian ('I was dancing like that years before that bloke on the telly') sings 'oh deer what can the matter be? right on cue. He also tries to get us all to look in the sky for the Northern Lights... The Laichmoray Hotel is a good choice- I got a four-poster bed!- 'though we're only going to be there for around 6 hours as our bus to take us back to the airport is due at 7.15 a.m.
Morning arrives all too soon but we're all in the bus by 7.30, and Neil the driver gets us to the airport by 8.30. Pete gets asked if there's any weapons in his case- he says there is, the mood changes dramatically, he says it's a bass guitar and he thinks of it as a weapon... I have to take my shoes off again and Marc's tube of hair gel gets confiscated- brilliantly he asks to use some before it goes. It's a smaller aircraft this time and it's a bumpier flight, especially the landing 'though we fly in over London and along The Thames which almost takes my mind off the turbulence.
Although we left from Terminal 5 we arrive back at Terminal 1- Pete offers to drop me home (good man!) so I join the lads on the shuttle train back to pick the car up. I kept thinking I recognised the chap sitting a few yards away from us but couldn't place him- as he walked off I said to Pete- 'I've just worked out who that guy in the stripy shirt is!' And I had- it was Steve Walwyn, the guitarist in Dr. Feelgood, who by now was queuing up for the lift ahead of us. I'd liked to have gone over and introduced myself, but didn't- it's really hard being shy sometimes. Then again, given the extrovert behaviour of the previous evening, maybe it's not such a bad thing after all?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bass players, drummers, ice cream, you scream...

Back to 'normal' (using that word in these pages is asking for trouble don't you think?) at the theatre on Thursday 'though I did manage to find out more about the 'trapdoor didn't open' saga from Rob the stage manager- Brian was on the trapdoor platform under the stage awaiting his triumphant re-appearance for the solo in 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (I understand this is one of the better known Queen songs- I'm not a fan myself, which I may have mentioned once or twice, here and there) when the mechanism failed; he apparently ran up the stairs and arrived on stage just in time to play the solo. 'What a star' said Rob before observing the number of tantrums and hissy fits he's seen from 'people who have only been in the show 5 minutes' whereas Brian took it all in his stride. Good point- I think that's called 'professional'. Other than that our string-changing session saw a visit from bass player extraordinaire Jonathan Noyce who had a Fender Precision for Stu to look at- I've met 'Noicey' (as Stu calls him) several times now and I suspect he's the only person I'll ever encounter who has Jethro Tull and Take That on his bass-playing CV (and I know which one I'd have at the top; here's a clue- it's not Jethro Tull!)

Friday I had a day off. Kind of. I wasn't gigging or working in the shop, which meant that I finally had a bit of time to look at the songs for a gig that I've got coming up later this month- 'The Ash Bash' is an occasional event staged by drum teacher Simon Ash, and features a number of his students doing a song or 2 with the house band. He's an old mate of Andy Cross (a.k.a. Andy C. who does a stirling job as 'substitute-for-Huggy' bass player in The Price, among other things) who's an old mate of mine, so I'm in the house band. I did it once before 2-and-a-bit years ago and it was thoroughly enjoyable so I'm really looking forward to this one, 'though some of the songs are more than a bit tricky from a guitar point of view- 'Sweet Child O'Mine' has more notes in it than I've played so far this year ('just wing it' said Andy. Yeah, right, I'll do it straight away. And have I ever told you that every time I try to use a wha-wha pedal I fall over?) and 'My Sharona' features more notes than 'Sweet Child O' Mine'. Still we've got a rehearsal next week with all the students so hopefully that'll sort things out...

Last night saw The Chicago Blues Brothers make a very enjoyable visit to The Princess Theatre in Hunstanton. We've done a fair few show up in this area over the last few weeks and they've all been excellent, not least because it's such a nice part of the country. Myself and Mario turned up at Richard's to find him nursing a bad back ('I was just picking something up in the studio and my back went rip' I know the feeling!) but in good form having just returned from playing at a jazz festival in Spain; after picking Tracy up we made it up to Hunstanton in under 3 hours. With Ian, Mike and Dave (who revealed that last week's charity bash at Caistor Hall raised over £7000- hurrah!) already there and Squirrel and Marc delayed on the road from Essex it's definitely time for something to eat; 'The Richard Pardy Good Chip Shop Guide' (he really should publish that one day- he knows every shop in the country and beyond!) recommended 'Fishers' around the corner from the venue- an fine choice as always. We sat on the green outside the theatre looking out to sea- sometimes this is a really good job to have! I couldn't help noticing a shop with the rather splendid name of GEEZER'S PALACE- after Mike and myself wondered if it was a gents hairdresser's (thereby giving me chance to mention that my all-time favourite name for such an establishment is THE CHOPPER SQUAD in, of all places, Birkenhead. I wonder if it's still there?) and musing generally on whether it was something to do with Black Sabbath's bass player, curiosity got the better of me and I went over to have a look- it sells boxing equipment. Excellent. And it was ice cream's all round too- well, we were at the seaside...
By now everyone's arrived so it's soundcheck time. Rod's on the P.A. in Ian Bond's absence which doesn't quite explain how we managed to play a rock'n'roll medley with Ian on vocals, 'Natural Woman' with Mario on vocals (!) and The Faces classic 'Stay With Me' with Tracy on vocals. It must have been something in the ice cream... and the show's a good one with a guy to my left having the best audience-member-laugh that I've heard in ages, and general jollity all round. Oh, and Dave managed to break Richard's radio microphone during 'Minnie the Moocher'- they were down in the audience at the time and the cable got caught on someone's seat. Like I say, it must have been something in the ice cream.