Monday, July 28, 2008

A tale of two Stevies

Earlier this year there was talk of the Chicago Blues Brothers playing some shows with ex-Booker T and the M.G's guitarist (and the man responsible for composing much of the music we play) Steve Cropper. Sadly this now seems unlikely- maybe next year?- but Stuart the guitar repair man, in the course of one of our many conversations about all things guitar related, asked me what I would say to Cropper upon first meeting him. Without thinking too deeply I replied 'Hello Steve- I'm you at weekends'.

Stuart found this very amusing.

I was two Steve's this weekend, 'though as we'll discover there wasn't too much chance of me mixing them up...

This is often thought of as the quietest time of the year in shops such as ours, but clearly no one had told the customers of Pro Music of Ickenham, who provided us with one of our busiest Saturday's for some time. (It always is when you want to get away on time!) I wasn't due to be gigging in the evening (which was one of the reasons I was working in the shop) but on Thursday I received a call from Dave a.k.a. Paul Crook of the Sex Pistols Experience offering me a gig with them up in Staffordshire; with Shirley's car out of action it seemed unlikely that I'd be able to do it but she got the car back from the garage on Friday, just in time for me to be able to say yes. Having finally managed to escape from the shop we pulled onto a thankfully clear M40 just before 5.45; when we stopped in at Warwick services for some petrol Shirl said something like 'is it me or is that smoke coming from under the bonnet?' Hmm- it does look like it doesn't it? Since I know as much about cars as I do about mountaineering (I've never been mountaineering) nervous phone calls were made to those who claim they know... it's probably just oil burning off. With our minds at rest (although I wasn't too keen on the word 'probably' myself) we continue our journey, which takes us to junction 6 of the M6 toll road in search of The Cottage Of Content (that really is it's name!) in Chasetown. We ask a brightly dressed girl at a bus stop for some help- 'well' she says, in that accent, 'you go down there, then you go down there, then you don't go down there but you go down there...' We're eventually told that it's near the police station which against all the odds we manage to find; outside The Uxbridge Arms there's a spiky-topped chap wearing a Sex Pistols Experience t-shirt, he's just been down to the venue to buy his tickets, it's half a mile down that road over there, he asks us if we've seen them before, they're really good- he looks a bit worried when I tell him that I'm in the band, (I find myself saying things like 'don't worry, it'll all be alright, I don't look like him but I can sound like him, honest'.) We pull up outside the venue just as the rest of the band arrive back from the Chinese takeaway, it looks rough with pot holes in the car park and punky types everywhere, Shirley's a bit worried but if I've learned anything it's not to judge by appearances- it turns out to be one of the friendliest pub venues that I've ever played in, (have a look at for more information, it's well worth a visit if you're in the area and fancy somewhere a bit, shall we say, different) which was just as well considering the level of mayhem reached during our set...
Soundcheck ('No Feelings') goes well- there's only a small P.A. but the room's only big enough for maybe 200 people so that's ok 'though there's no stage which means we're on the same level as the audience which could prove to be a bit perilous if they start dancing... Shirley's safely ensconced behind the merchandise table (t-shirts, DVD's, Sid style padlock-on-a-chain's, Nancy style gun-on-a-chain's, even Sex Pistols Experience mugs!) and we're on at 10 so there's time for a drink or two before the fun begins. We're in a room upstairs as the intro CD starts- when we get downstairs we're amazed to find that the place is so full that we can't fight our way through to the stage before the CD's ended. We start with 'Pretty Vacant' and the place goes wild, there's people knocking into the microphone stands and falling over into us even before the first song's over. The inevitable happens during the 4th or 5th song as the dancing gets too much and the P.A. stack on Kid (Nigel) Vicious's side comes crashing down and knocks him for six- he just sorts himself out, makes a well-known gesture to the audience and carries on as if nothing's happened. Johnny (Nathan) Rotter's giving as good as he gets with the crowd who love him for it, showering him with beer (at least, I hope that was what it was. I had to wash my Les Paul in the morning!) We play punk rock classic after punk rock classic, finishing with 'Anarchy In The U.K' before encoring with 'No Fun' to scenes of total hysteria. Shirley sells what seems like mountains of merchandise and the scary bloke with the big Mohawk haircut from behind the bar insists on kissing both her and me goodnight (I wasn't about to argue with him!) before we wend our way back to the M6 toll road and sanity. A great gig. they're currently on tour in Brazil!

Sunday's show was never going to match Saturday's for madness but it was still good fun, being a Chicago Blues Brothers gig at a festival at the Grays Beach Riverside Park in Essex. Steve's depping on drums, Ian's in on sax and Mario's back in Jake's shoes with Pete on hand to co-ordinate things. When we arrived there was a local band on- very 'metal', not really my type of thing- and it's very warm and sticky, not the best weather for gigging in but better than pouring rain I guess. We line check around 5.30, (whereas in a sound check a band will try a song or two, a line check involves making sure each instrument works and that the player can hear themselves and the people around them in their monitor if they have one- a fairly common occurrence at events such as this) I'm using a Fender Twin combo which is a bit loud and rocky-sounding for the soul Steve's stuff (the punk Steve from the previous night would no doubt have loved it!) but barring the odd bit of monitor confusion things go pretty smoothly for us. Around 6.15 The Elderly Brothers take to the stage; I'm in what passes for a good mood in my little world today so I won't be too nasty here- suffice to say that they weren't the greatest band that we've ever shared the stage with, 'though it's also fair (and a bit worrying) to say that they weren't the worst either... oh and they started with 'Gimme Some Loving' which we generally end with, 'though I can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing?
With the intro tape playing we walk up the steps onto the stage and ready ourselves. In the distance I spot Pete behind the sound desk as we're about to start. Suddenly Tracy says 'I can't see anything', and neither can I- someone's turned a smoke machine on, and a very effective one it is too, much to the horror of the horn section among others. It clears quickly enough (luckily it's an outdoor gig!) and the show's a good one with plenty of audience participation and Steve doing an excellent job behind the kit, 'though Pete came backstage at half time expressing the view that some of the songs were a bit slower than we normally play them; clearly Steve took this onboard as the second set included 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' played at a tempo that would have done The Ramones (or indeed The Sex Pistols) proud!

So- Cropper or Jones? Which one won?

At the risk of sounding as though I want to have my cake and eat it while I'm sitting on the fence in the middle of the road (!) I have to say that from a guitarist point of view they're so different from each other that it's all but impossible to directly compare them. The Sex Pistols Experience are a very successful tribute act because they're very good at what they do- it may not be everybody's cup of tea but no one can say that they're not an astonishingly accurate recreation of Johnny and the boys, and in many ways it's the ultimate rock 'n' roll guitar gig. And our C.B.B. show is pretty good too! We're playing music by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin- how much better can it get than that?

Thanks Steve. And thanks Steve. My weekends just wouldn't be the same without you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another time, another place

It was my 47th birthday yesterday. Can I really be that old?

I spent the morning at the theatre with Stuart the guitar repairman who wrestled with/swore at a left-handed Brian May model guitar (which looks really weird!) while I changed 7 sets of guitar strings in 2 hours. I'm getting quite good at it you know! Shirley and myself went out for a late lunch when I got back (ahh...) and for a change I spent the evening in a pub with East, watching a bunch that the landlady described as 'regulars' ('what does that make me them?' said East with glowering indignation. She backpedalled furiously but to little or no avail) run up a tab that had reached £375 by 9 o'oclock. The strange, very drunk man that got so close to East that I thought he was going to sit on his lap was eventually upstaged by Fast Tony who arrived with the words 'I picked up Mick Jones the other day' (in case you were wondering, Tony's a cab driver; and for those of you who don't realise why he'd tell us such a thing, he's referring to the ex-Clash guitarist) and, judging by how my head feels today I drank more than enough to make the evening worthwhile.

In a possibly ill-judged attempt to wake up and/or clear my head this morning I walked into Uxbridge and spent my birthday-HMV-vouchers on the excellent new double CD re-issues of the first two U2 albums 'Boy' and 'October'. What I've heard of them so far confirms what we all knew all along- regardless of what your opinion is on they might or might not have become in the meantime, U2 were once very good indeed. There's a live version of 'Eleven O'Clock Tick Tock' recorded on their first American tour that is just astonishing, 4 young men playing as they would never play again, all breathless energy and crusading self-discovery with Edge's guitar tightrope-walking it's way across The Grand Canyon and Bono sounding as though he can't quite believe what he's discovered he's capable of. I saw them several times in the pre-stadium rock days and they were never less than brilliant (they're still pretty good now, but that's another story) with a show at The Hammersmith Palais on the War Tour with Big Country as support in particular being one of the best nights of live rock music that I will ever see.

Reading the credits to the albums I couldn't help noticing that the newest music on them was recorded in 1982, an astonishing 26 years ago. I was then only 21 years of age, around the same age as the various members of U2 (I still am!) It's the 'time of your life' in many people's opinion. Sadly I remember it very differently- I was working in a job that I hated whilst unsuccessfully trying to get somewhere playing the guitar, and my Mum was showing early symptoms of what we later found to be Motor Neurone Disease. With the benefit of the 20:20 vision that hindsight always gives you I was probably not the nicest person in the world to be around at that time- to quote The Tom Robinson Band of all people, 'sullen, unhealthy and mean'. (Perverse as it may sound, I think I'd probably decided that I was some sort of misunderstood artistic genius and therefore all the better for having what could politely be described as a 'difficult' personality; I now realise that it accounts for my almost total lack of friends at the time. There's rarely mystery in life is there?) I was also rather immature; I couldn't quite understand why my contemporaries were getting married and having children when I felt little more than a child myself. (Reading back through what I've just written it's interesting to see that I described myself as being 'only' 21, something of a clue as to how I remember feeling back then.) Incredibly those children are now older than I was then- I hope they're making a better job of things than I was at their age!- which of course also means they could be parents themselves, making my contemporaries (gulp!) grandparents...

All these years later it hardly seems to matter, as things have changed immeasurably for me as of course they do for most of us, so much so that I almost think of myself 'then' in the third person i.e. as a different person to the one that I am now. (And if that sounds like a sanity-questioning statement to you how do you think it makes me feel?!?) I don't very often look in the mirror and think 'great, my hair's falling out, I'm putting on weight that I'll probably never lose, my teeth still hurt after God knows how many painful and expensive visits to the dentist and I really must get around to visiting an opticians to get some even stronger glasses. Getting older is so much better than being young '- but the older I get, the older I want to get, and that's not just because I was so unhappy in my younger years. The 'time of your life' is NOW. It has to be if you think about it. Doesn't it? Well- doesn't it?!?

Birthdays are great for this kind of amateur philosophy aren't they? Then again Shirley's just told me that she thought I was 48 this year, not 47. And she's supposed to be on my side!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cry baby cry

Yesterday my brother Terry came into the shop, with his 14 year old daughter Anna. When I asked Anna how she was she looked blankly at me and said 'tired'. 'What will you do when you're old like me?' asked grumpy old Uncle Leigh. Anna just shrugged her teenage shoulders. 'Be old and tired instead of young and tired?' I offered hopefully. No answer. Oh well. Meanwhile her Dad was playing the opening drum riff of 'Moving Away From The Pulsebeat' by The Buzzcocks on the electronic drum kit in the corner. Anna looked from him to me and back again, in a manner that suggested that she was now bored as well as tired.

A few hours later I knew just how she felt...

I'm on a tube train, on my way to Greenwich where The Chicago Blues Brothers are playing at the Greenwich Jazz & Beer festival (no, really!) in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College. It'd been a good day in the shop, not least because Saturday boy Ian has bought a new guitar- well, a secondhand new guitar if you see what I mean. It's a Fender '52 re-issue Telecaster which he bought off regular customer Clint (aren't the customers supposed to buy stuff from us, not the other way around?!?) and he'd bought it in to put some new strings on it. Clint's in a band -the somewhat worryingly named Beaver- and used to own not one but two of Pete Townshend's old guitars (have a look at for, amongst other things, pictures of the now-sold Townshend axes.) He gave me one of John Entwistle's plectrums earlier this week; I like him... anyway Ian's guitar's excellent (I might have bought it myself if he hadn't!) and the day proved to be an enjoyable one although as I sat on the train I reflected on how I shouldn't really work in the shop on gig days (Shirley's always telling me off!) as I was nearly falling asleep. Still I've got the latest copy of 'Record Collector' magazine' to read and the train's not too crowded for once.
Then, suddenly, things changed. At Wembley Park approximately 100 people got into our carriage, among them 2 men, 2 women and a small boy of maybe 3 or 4 years of age who sat on the seats around me. The boy was clearly bored and/or tired, although he chose a slightly different way to deal with this than Anna had earlier- he was jumping up and down, screaming his head off.
'Now now, be good' said one of the women, presumably his mother.
'WWWWWWAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!' said the small boy as he ricocheted off one of the men and into the other woman.
'Are you Ronaldo?' said the other man, in a manner that suggested that he may not be the most intelligent person that any of us will ever encounter. 'Well, are you? Are you a little boy who cries when he can't get his own way? Are you Ronaldo? Is your name Ronaldo?'
'Don't worry' said the woman who was presumably his mother, 'you can have a McDonalds when we get to Liverpool Street'.

Liverpool Street. That's where I'm getting off. Oh God.

Approximately 250 years later I got out at Liverpool Street. Only articles on how to plan a tour of the musical landmarks of Memphis and The Jam's earliest recordings had saved me from cracking up completely. I remain convinced that the 2 men and 2 women hadn't seen me at all, and that little Ronaldo had only known I was there when he careered into me. Actually he might not have noticed me then either. If I'd have heard any of them say 'he'll be ok when we get to the Greenwich Jazz & Beer Festival' I'd have woken up in prison this morning. One of the men had managed to calm little Ronaldo down a bit by letting him punch them in his stomach (not a bad idea!) but he'd still managed to drive me, and I suspect most of the other inmates of the carriage, almost totally insane. As I stumbled towards the Central Line I consoled myself with the thought that, well, at least the rest of the journey can't be as bad as that... then, as I was on the 'down' escalator I became aware of a strange, almost inhuman sound- and it was getting louder...

It's a busker. In a kilt. He's playing the bagpipes. The bloody bagpipes. It sounds like someone fighting their way out of hell. As I reach the platform the girl in front of me says 'I'm losing the will to live'. The guy next to her looks delirious. Come to think of it, the entire population of the platform look delirious. I suddenly find myself thinking 'if little Ronaldo and his mates show up then I'm throwing myself in front of the train'- except there isn't even room to commit suicide properly, as the platform is dangerously full of people attempting to escape the terrifying noise. At last, a train arrives. It's beyond full. It doesn't matter, I- we- must get on it. We do. Just. There's so many people on board that the driver says that some people will have to get off or the train's not going anywhere. No one moves. People start shouting for those nearest to the doors to be reasonable and get off, there'll be another one along in a minute. In the background I can just hear the bagpiping busker going into yet another tortuous crescendo, as can can everyone else who's crammed onto the train. No one moves. Just as I'm readying myself for little Ronaldo's arrival the doors close and the train moves off. I would have breathed a sigh of relief, but there wasn't room.

After this the views of London and The River Thames from the Docklands Light Railway seems like a visit to heaven. Sometime around 7.20 I finally make it to the backstage area where everyone's getting ready for an 8 o'clock show. Pete's back from holidaying in America and joins Mike in the hats 'n' glasses; Marc and Squirrel are on drums and bass, Roger's depping on keyboards, Tracy's on vocals and Dave the trumpet is joined by Ian on sax for the first time in quite a while. Ian Bond's back on the sound desk, ably assisted by Rod- I get set up and venture out front in search of lager, (an odd choice at a beer festival you might think; then again as it says in the foreword of the classic novel ''Fahrenheit 451''- 'if they give you lined paper, write the other way') then it's almost immediately time to get changed (in the back of Bondy's van- this showbiz lark is all glamour you know) and get on stage for what turns out to be an excellent show with a thousand or so people getting into the spirit on things pretty much from the word go (the industrial strength brews being served may have helped!) After our allotted hour of Blues Brothers material and with Dave and Tracy leaving for a late gig elsewhere we carry on, playing pretty much anything we (Pete keeps coming over to me for song suggestions- I think he may have still been jet-lagged!) can think of- 'Land of 1,000 Dances', 'Long Train Running', 'Hard To Handle', the inevitable 'Mustang Sally'- finishing with a rock'n'roll medley that may have lacked a certain amount of technical accuracy (I'll leave you to think about that one!) but more than made up for it in energy. I managed to drop my plectrum during a guitar break and, with Pete trying to hand it back to me, all but pulled the fingernail off my index finger by attempting a sub-Wilko Johnson thrash at the strings. Next time this happens I really must remember that I always put some spares on top of my amplifier... with The Thames behind us we encore with 'Take Me To The River'- when I go back afterwards to put my gear away a young couple call me over to the front of the stage and tell me I'm a 'guitar hero'. Crikey!

On the way home Pete phones me to say thanks for 'getting him through the show'. From the DLR train window London at night looks stunning, a riot of colour reflected in the water below. Even the memory of little Ronaldo and the bagpiping busker can't ruin that moment for me.

Just in case you're wondering- I didn't change carriage to escape from little Ronaldo and co. as the train was really crowded by then and I decided that it was better to have a seat rather than to try standing with a guitar and a bag of clothes; and anyway, as I'm sure you've worked out for yourself, if I'd have moved then I'd have had nothing to rant about here...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Key change

Early yesterday evening- almost exactly 24 hours ago, as it happens- my mobile phone rang. It was a flustered-sounding Simon who, in going through the usual close down procedure at the shop, had dropped the safe key ('I heard it ping as it hit the floor') and now couldn't find it. After initially wondering if he'd called me to see if I knew where it was (!) I told him that no, I don't have a spare but Paul the guv'nor has- so a worse case scenario would be that he would have to come to the shop tomorrow to open the safe and sack the pair of us for comical incompetence. Safe in the knowledge (no pun intended) that he hadn't bought down the entire Pro Music International empire Simon sounded a bit happier, although by far the most important word in this sentence is 'bit'...

This morning I arrived at the shop to find a still flustered-looking Simon still looking for the key. 'I've been here all night' he lied- unconvincingly, 'though it has to be said, rather amusingly. I looked for the key. He looked for the key. I looked again. He looked again. No key. But it must be here somewhere. It's not. Bugger. Only one thing for it then- call Paul the guv'nor, who re-arranges his day and sets out (with Max the carpenter, an oft-seen figure in the shop as there's ongoing building work out in the garden area) in our general direction bringing with him the spare safe key and thankfully leaving our P45's at home. Simon looks slightly less flustered and goes home (he wasn't due to be in the shop at all today) and, with £20 worth of change obtained from the bank a few doors down from us (it was all the money I had on me!) I opened up and ran the shop out of a cash box under the counter until the cavalry arrived.

The day turns out to be a fairly busy one, and by mid-afternoon the peculiarities of the morning are almost forgotten- until a lady comes in sometime around 4 o'clock clutching what looks like a piece of waste paper. 'Is this something to do with you?' she asks- well, it's got my handwriting on it, it's a piece of masking tape with the word 'Fender' scrawled on it in marker pen (we often mark up cases and gig bags that come with guitars in this way so we that know which one goes with which.) I turn it over, it's got one of those little bank bags stuck to it (you know the ones, they'd given me one earlier when I'd got some change from them.) There's something in the bag, it's just sticking out of the top... it can't be... no, it can't be... but it is. It's the safe key. No, really, it is.

So- how did that happen then?

A splendidly surreal moment... which reminds me- Max the carpenter told me about this excellent YouTube clip-

-which I have a funny feeling is from a comedy show but which seemed to fit today's atmosphere perfectly...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hell raiser!

Don't worry- I've calmed down a bit after the last posting's class war rant!

The first gig-less week for a while was hardly an idle one:-

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were busy in the shop, especially taking into account the weather (mostly bad, often awful) and the fact that many people are away in the school holidays. We're still waiting for Roland to set our account up with them- in addition to their excellent keyboards and recording equipment they also manufacture and distribute Boss guitar effect pedals which we're always getting asked for. For a company that produces such superb stuff they're notoriously bad at supplying their goods to shops, as we're currently finding out for ourselves... and we're waiting for the Takamine rep to get back to us too, 'though they're now distributed by Fender so hopefully that'll happen soon. They're probably best known for producing electro-acoustic guitars (they have a pick-up in them that allows them to still sound acoustic when amplified, rather than like an electric guitar) and again we've got customers waiting to see them- well, me and Simon are waiting to see them anyway!

Thursday the long-suffering Shirley and myself journeyed to darkest Essex to attend Ian and Nadia's wedding. Ian's the 'main' keyboard player in The Chicago Blues Brothers band 'though he also plays for Roger Chapman and Ian Hunter amongst others, and famously played for The Kinks for many years. We shared our taxi from the travelodge with Phil Mitchell and his wife Sandy (Phil's the bass player in Dr. Feelgood who Ian's also done a fair bit of playing with) and arrived at Leez Priory in plenty of time for the 3 o'clock service. Occasional C.B.B. dep-keyboard-player Dave Dulake played some background music as the guests arrived (including Paul McCartney's 'Maybe I'm Amazed'- good choice!) and everything went smoothly... I think... ok, so I'll admit that I may have had just a little bit too much to drink during the course of the next 9 hours or so (!) which makes recalling details increasing tricky; I did get into a conversation with Andy Scott of The Sweet which I don't think was too embarrassing- I did say rather a lot about seeing him on T.V. in the '70's 'though I think I redeemed myself by name-dropping mutual friend Pip Williams, then introducing him to our ex-drummer (and now with T.Rextasy) John Skelton and making good my escape. Oh and Shirley tells me that 10 minutes before our taxi was due I ordered a drink with the words 'I'm just warming up now.' Excellent.

Friday I didn't feel well. I'll spare you the gory details, but it wasn't good. Then again I did receive an e-mail from Mario apologising for his behaviour- I thought he'd been on very good form...

After a not-too-bad-considering-how-many-people-are-away-at-this-time-of-the-year Saturday in the shop it was off to see 'Rockin' On Heaven's Door' at, of all places, Hayes Working Men's Club. The show features our ex-keyboard player Gary Moberley- he was in the band when I started blogging- and it was great to see him again. (Rather than spend ages describing the show here have a look at for the full story.) He played brilliantly- string parts one minute, brass parts the next, and maybe most bizarrely of all, timpani during the Roy Orbison set. The evening marked the club's 90th birthday- although Shirl and myself had a highly enjoyable evening it'll be great to catch the show in a theatre sometime where it should come over really well. Oh, and the couple next to us were convinced that the 'young Elvis' was better than the 'old Elvis' even though they didn't recognise any of the songs- we kept pointing out that they were actually referring to Eddie Cochran, but to no avail.

Back to basics this week- a couple of days in the shop, up in the West End with Stuart on Thursday then gigging at the weekend at the Greenwich Jazz and Beer Festival. Now that sounds like one to remember...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Independance Day?

I got a tax demand this week- I owe 'them' nearly £1,700. I've got to pay it by the end of this month or 'they' start charging interest on it. Last night I saw what some of 'our' taxes get spent on. And it wasn't a good thing to see...

First things first- Friday night saw The Chicago Blues Brothers play Portsmouth University. With Shirley's car out of action (it'd started playing up on the way back from the Southend show, gearbox problems apparently) we borrowed Stuart the guitar repairman's (thanks Stu- that's another drink I owe you!) and set out for the South coast; we'd only left the house 5 minutes when I got a call from Squirrel asking if I had a spare black gig shirt with me as he'd forgotten his. After nipping back to pick one up (and the jacket that I'd meant to bring but forgot) and putting some fuel in the car we made it down to Emsworth (we were staying in the Travelodge there) in no time. After checking in we set out for Portsmouth... well, actually we didn't as the Travelodge was on the opposite side of the A 27 to the one that we wanted to be on and we had to go nearly 6 miles in the wrong direction before we could turn around (Shirley- 'that's why we got it cheap!') I was last in Portsmouth a few years ago to see The Who; before that it would have been back in the early '90's gigging with The Price (we played there a few times with local heroes Red Letter Day.) It looks a lot different to how I remember it then with a lot of new developments springing up everywhere. We pulled up outside the Portland Building at the University just as Squirrel was getting out of his car. With Pete away and Mario gigging elsewhere we've got C.J. joining Mike in the hats'n'glasses; Ian's off gigging with Roger Chapman so new dep Roger is on keyboards, and Steve's in Marc's place on the drumkit- he played with us up in Leeds earlier this year. It's business as usual elsewhere in the band with Dave and Richard on trumpet and saxophone, Tracy on vocals, Squirrel on bass and your humble narrator on what Jimi Hendrix used to call 'the public saxophone'. It turns out that Roger played for Peter Green for many years (I knew I recognised him from somewhere!) and has also worked with the mighty Mick Green of The Pirates- no pressure on me then... we're playing a set of Blues Brothers songs then a second set of soul numbers in our occasional guise of 'Stacks of Soul', so soundcheck is more of a rehearsal then normal with Roger playing 'Green Onions' in G minor instead of the original key of F minor (don't say you never learn anything here!) and a run-through of the rarely-played (by us anyway) 'Hard To Handle'; if nothing else we realise that this maybe be the most echo-ey and therefore potentially worst-sounding room that any of us has played in for a very long time. Still hopefully it'll all sound a bit better with 500 or so people in it. After finding our 3rd floor dressing room Richard, Dave, C.J., Tracy, Shirley and myself decide to go out in search of food. I'm immediately glad that I bought that jacket with me- can it really be this cold in July? Tracy suggests going for a pizza as 'it's only quarter to seven and we've got plenty of time'- her watch had stopped, it was actually 8.25 and we were due on in just over an hour so we sat near H.M.S. Warrior eating chips and fending off seagulls. Back at the venue the college band are playing half of our set (bugger!) but at least there's plenty of people about and the scene is set for a good gig, which is pretty much what happens with the B.B's set going well, the 'Stacks' going even better (with the odd moment of confusion here and there) and we encore with 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love'. With all the people in the room to soak up some of the reverb the sound was much better than earlier- then again I'm not sure it could have got much worse.

The sound was much better at last night's gig. But it wasn't the sound that was the problem here- no my friends, the problem here was the people...

Last September we played a show at Odstock Manor near Stonehenge; if nothing else this gave me chance to rant and rave here about, among other things, the British class system and The Countryside Alliance. In it I also mused on my own hypocrisy at being at such an event- well, if that one made me feel hypocritical then I'm still searching for how this one makes me feel. At the moment- angry, helpless, downtrodden... normally I would do the 'who, what, where, when and why' bit where I say who we played for, where it was and so on, but for reasons that will become obvious it may be better this time that I don't. So- this was a wedding reception, the groom's Dad's a lord and we were in a tent somewhere in West Sussex. We met Squirrel and Roger outside- they told us there was no easy stage access and we'd have to carry our gear through the guests. As I walked through the garden no one moved out of the way to let us through- most were already too out of it to notice us. I was just putting my amplifier in place on the 'stage' (there wasn't a stage as such, we were set up on the ground at one end of the tent) when a twitching, red-nosed young man began telling us which songs he'd be singing with us. That'll be the groom then... I remember thinking that I should just hit him in the face with my guitar, but I reasoned that (a) he probably wouldn't have felt it and (b) I didn't want to risk damaging my guitar- well, not that early in proceedings anyway. Marc was back on the drum stool and with Richard gigging elsewhere new dep Scott was on sax; soundcheck went well with the sound very good considering the fact that tents can often be a bit of a lottery sound-wise. We had a room in the house to use for changing in- as we walked back though the garden Shirley spotted a river at the bottom; it's a shame that their wasn't a larger gene pool in the house. There was an extraordinary amount of open drug use- lines of cocaine on the tables, dope everywhere- ok, so I'm not exactly in The Rolling Stones when it comes to this type of thing but if you or I were caught behaving like this we'd be in a cell with a big hairy geezer trying to get over-friendly with us by now. This lot- well, they own the law don't they? We got to our room which was actually a thoroughfare to the downstairs toilet which, as you can imagine, saw rather a lot of action on a night such as this... we got some food (and I must say that they were very generous with this) and waited for showtime. Highlights were many and varied and the endless stream of mutant mummy's boys 'n' girls did provide us with some rather cruel amusement ('did you see the amount of coke on that bird's arse?') although on at least two occasions I nearly fetched my Telecaster to use for some facial re-arrangement. 'As you were' barked the groom as he stumbled towards the toilet. You've never got a Uzi handy when you need one have you?- although by then I think I'd have turned it on myself.

Eventually we get to play; the groom introduces us with a story (actually very entertaining) about how he saw 'The Blues Brothers' film and it changed his life, we play as well as we can considering the number of people walking up to us during the songs to say... something... I don't know what, but something... I must admit he sang 'Soul Man' very well (he'd obviously done it before) and he did a few other bits and pieces with us throughout the show although his performance was somewhat overshadowed by the girl who skidded to a halt in front of the microphone shrieking the words 'in the car park in 10 minutes, the first boy there can have me'- that'll be the bride then... when we finished Shirley came up to me to ask me to pack up as quickly as I could as she didn't want to spend any more time with 'these people'- I've never heard her say anything even remotely like that before. I carried my gear out to the car as thousands of pounds worth of fireworks exploded across the sky. We left and didn't look back.

Friday was American Independence Day. From what I saw last night getting away from 'Great' Britain might just have been the smartest move that anyone ever made. The hideous bunch of chinless wonders that I was obliged to spend a few hours of my little life with last night are the future, my future, your future... in a week where there's mild criticism of Prince William for spending £50,000 on helicopter rides to impress his girlfriend we still have no say whatsoever on what 'our' taxes get spent on- in my not-so-humble opinion that fifty grand could have been put to much better use (the National Health Service perhaps?) Then again it's just a drop in the proverbial ocean when it comes to what gets spent on The Royal Family, (the spellcheck on the computer put the capital letters on those words, not me. Interesting how we're indoctrinated sometimes isn't it?) or The House Of Lords, or on M.P.'s 'expenses', or the money that gets paid to the legal profession; meanwhile in every pub you go in there's someone raising their glass everytime they see the Queen on T.V. then banging on about how much of 'our' money gets 'wasted on immigrants' when as an island race most of are by definition immigrants ourselves. As a working class person I've got a lot more in common with an unemployed 'immigrant' who wants to work here (and so, let's not forget, contribute to our tax system) than I have with last night's odious gang of space-wasters who are unlikely to ever do anything other than take, take and take again from a system that guarantees that they- and therefore we- stay in exactly the same positions in the grand scheme of things.

And, worst of all, 'we' let 'them' get away with it.

Ah- it makes you proud to be 'British' doesn't it? Well- doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Size isn't everything

Well- that was a busy enough Tuesday for me thank you very much. And, as it happens, it was also a busy enough Monday, and Sunday, and...

Saturday- Here'n'Now at The Brewer Street Farmhouse, Bletchingley.

You'd have thought that, with both Glastonbury and Hyde Park Calling happening on the same day, there wouldn't have been very many people wanting to visit a relatively small musical instrument shop on the outskirts of West London- but you'd have been as wrong as I was. It was by no means packed all day, but it was busy enough for the 4 of us (myself, Paul the guv'nor, Saturday boy Ian and Mike the perspective new staff member) to be glad when closing time came along.'You look tired' said the long-suffering Shirley as I got into the car; not perhaps the best thought to have when you're about to play an evening of unfamiliar songs at a rather well-to-do wedding somewhere in Surrey, but a very similar one was certainly on my mind at the time. We got to the venue- a large tent near, you've guessed it, a farmhouse- to find Mario, regular bassist Kylan and dep drummer Christian on good form (incidentally, am I the only person who thinks there was another band called Here'n'Now- something to do with Hawkwind?) We have a talk-through-rehearsal over food where Mario distinguishes himself by very nearly getting through 3 platefuls with the words 'I like a big evening meal'. We'd never have guessed... by the Bride and Groom's first dance (to, astonishingly, 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain?' by Creedence Clearwater Revival- one of my favourites, but an odd choice don't you think?) everyone's in high spirits and we go down very well indeed. I just got out of the way as a young lady shall we say 'lost her balance' and knocked my microphone stand flying (it just caught me on the chin, which is much better than getting it in the front teeth!) and a particularly unsteady girl kept asking to sing with us ('I weally can shing you know...') As I put my guitar down at the end of the show a giant man walked unsteadily towards me with an outstretched hand and the words 'nice wah-wah'- I'm still trying to remember which songs I'd used my wah-wah pedal on, or indeed if I'd used it at all. A good gig.

Sunday- Chicago Blues Brothers at Priory Park, Southend.

Now this is an interesting one. I'm sure you're familiar with pianist and television show host Jools Holland- you know, the slightly irritating guy who used to be in Squeeze when they were good, and who now presents the sporadically-excellent-but-mostly-rather-boring BBC2 'Later With...' programme. Myself and my Chicago Blues Brothers buddies were supporting his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra at an outdoor concert in Southend- as you can imagine I'd been looking forward to this one for quite some time...

We arrived around 1 p.m. to find soundchecking in progress- not by the main band of course, they weren't due on site until just before showtime (this is a familiar way of working for 'bigger' groups) around 6.30. We set up on the 'thrust' (oo-er missus etc... it's actually the technical name for what you and I would call 'the lower bit at the front of the stage') and, with sound guru Ian Bond at the helm, ran through a couple of numbers to the near-empty field. It sounded great where I was standing- then again it normally does when Bondy's involved. Backstage I ran into Ted who I last saw on a marathon drive to Glasgow and back- today he's on security and doing an excellent job. First act on was local lass Jodie Lenton whose band includes Pete's son Adam on bass- she screamed 'HELLO SOUTHEND!!!' in a voice that's probably best described as 'piercing' and the woman in front of me said something like 'I hope she's not going to do that for the next hour'. Fortunately she didn't, 'though she looked very nervous during her 30-ish minute set.

We start with 'Peter Gunn' just as the sun comes out. The field in front of us isn't empty anymore- now there's the best part of 5,000 people in it. I spot Shirley way over to my right, she's with Marc's girlfriend Holly, Pete's wife Jayne (who always complains when I don't mention her in these hallowed pages) and Ian's wife-to-be Nadia; over to my left I see Squirrel's wife Lindsay- it's weird how you can spot a familiar face in a crowd isn't it? I'm using my Fender Blues Junior combo, it's only 15W and it's turned nearly all the way up, it sounds fantastic although without the might of the P.A. system you wouldn't be able to hear it even a few yards away. We play one of the best and most enjoyable shows I've done in ages. Great stuff. Almost before the last song's ended we've got to get our gear off stage so things can be made ready for the main act- as I carry my guitar's round to our part of the backstage area I can't help noticing the amount of large, luxurious (and mostly black) cars that have arrived while we've been playing. Jools is in his tent (it's got a carpet in it and everything!) and I meet guest vocalist Marc Almond in, of all places, the Gents toilet- famous people are always smaller than you think they're going to be aren't they?

Hmm... I think I'd better re-phrase that...

Famous people are always shorter than you think they're going to be aren't they?

Actually that's not much better really is it? Let's have another go...

Famous people are never as tall as you think they're going to be, are they?

That's better... I'd hoped to meet Mark the guitarist as I met him once before ages ago and he seemed to be a really nice bloke but sad to say we didn't really have a lot of contact with the R'n'B Orch.- I saw most of their set which was very good (Marc Almond was excellent. No, really, he was!) but by about 9.45 we were flagging and with a long Monday in prospect it was time to go home. But it had been a good day- rather better than the day that the people we saw by the side of the M25 on our way home were having, as their car was on fire...

Monday- Chicago Blues Brothers at The Midland Hotel, Manchester.

A Monday gig is normally something of a rarity but here's my third in a row- a corporate show at the Atos pharmaceutical company's training event (whatever that is) up in, for once, sunny Manchester. Mario and myself met up in the car park of the High Wycombe Holiday Inn sometime around 1.15 p.m.- 3 hours later we were filling up at a petrol station just outside the town centre. Passing a large sign advertising 'THE BEST HAND JOB IN THE NORTH-WEST' (it was a car wash) and with a 'Magic Bus' on one side of the road and trams on the other we pulled up outside The Midland Hotel at 4.30. We loaded the P.A. (we were using Mario's system) into The Alexandra Suite, found our dressing room (The Victorian Room, downstairs next to the leisure centre) then did the decent thing and went for a drink. The rest of the band arrived around 5.30- the hired van they were travelling in had a 56 m.p.h. speed restriction device fitted, much to everyone's consternation- and, with yet another black & white checkerboard dancefloor being cleaned in front of us (anyone for a game of human chess?) we soundchecked before being told that food was ready. With 'hot food' being expected there were a few complaints at the chips and rolls on offer but I for one found them to be just what was needed. The usual 'hurry-up-and-wait' game followed, with us eventually getting on stage around 10 o'clock, for what turned out to be an excellent show- as Mike put it, if you'd had told him that a Monday night corporate show would have been that much fun, he'd never have believed you. I know what he means.

I got home at 4.30 a.m. and opened the shop 5 1/2 hours later. I've talked coffee-powered gibberish all day and feel pretty tired now but I suppose that after 9 gigs (5 played, 4 watched) in 10 days, as well as working in the shop and at the theatre, I should be. I'm meeting East for a drink later- well, I can't stop now can I?