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?

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