Sunday, October 19, 2008

'...THAT much talent...'

... well I would have been judging a talent contest if it had taken place- a bizarre Mexican stand-off took place between the contestants with none of them being prepared to go on first. Strange but true.
In case you're wondering how I of all people ended up in this rather odd situation in the first place, it's all down to that drinking lark that I often refer to in these hallowed pages. Myself and East (yeah, him again- he's often caught up in any alcohol-powered antics) were down The Load of Hay a couple of weeks ago discussing the upcoming acoustic shows that I'm helping to put on with Grant the landlord when we caught sight of a poster advertising a talent contest involving students at the nearby Brunel University. By the end of the conversation we'd been cajoled into judging one if not more of the heats, with East going to great lengths to make clear that he'd be more than prepared to accept any or all forms of bribery from the contestants. (Incidentally he's now convinced that we'll be subject to violent intimidation from the would-be winners since there's a £500 first prize!) The final's in February- assuming anyone is brave enough to actually perform... with nothing to judge/stay sober for we somewhat inevitably we spent the evening drinking far too much lager, and I left East at the local kebab house looking pleased with himself; his first-thing-Saturday-morning phone call began with the words 'what happened?' My reply was a non-committal 'it's no good asking me is it?' although neither of us felt too guilty which means nothing too untoward took place. Hopefully.

With a hangover the size of Cheltenham the day in the shop was a suitably blurred affair, with Paul the guv'nor calling in on his way back from Heathrow (he's been in America for 3 weeks) and James the Saturday boy holding the fort on the occasions that I had to visit the cafe for some industrial strength coffee. The long-suffering Shirley arrived around 6 o'clock and we set the sat. nav. for Braxted Hall in Essex, where we were playing a 'half-Blues-Brothers-half-soul-band' show at a charity event. With several people in the band elsewhere the line-up had an unfamiliar look about it, with Neil joining Mike in the roles of Jake and Elwood, Bev and Paul on sax and trumpet and Roger in for Ian on keyboards. Myself Squirrel and Marc were in our usual positions on guitar, bass and drums, and Tracy was on vocals although both her and Neil were suffering from throat problems and Paul had not played with us at all before. 10 minutes or so from the venue and Pete calls- he's at another gig but has been on the phone to band members and organisers at our venue; things haven't been going well, with attempts being made to get Rod to plug the P.A. into a noise limiting device (you know the ones, they switch the power off if you play too loud, not a good thing to do to a computerised mixing desk) and soundcheck degenerating into near-chaos as a result. 'They've all gone down the pub' he advised- a call to Mike revealed them to be in The Devere in Great Braxted which Mike's parents used to run. We got there just as the band were finishing their meals, and got treated to various versions of the events earlier in the evening (Squirrel- 'I've never been spoken to like that before') as well as receiving a couple of unrepeatable text messages from Stuart the guitar repairman who was at the Paul Fox tribute evening in Ruislip. I'll leave you to imagine what they said.
Braxted Hall is a huge country estate which I'm sure looks very impressive in the daylight; it didn't look too ordinary in the dark, with the road leading up to it lit by flaming beacons and the inevitable enormous cars parked outside the main entrance to the house itself. We were playing in a large tent around the back so with Roger and Squirrel in the car to help us we wound our way around to the venue. As we arrived the charity auction was taking place- lots of memorabilia signed by the likes of Frankie Dettori, Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton- so we went straight to our changing room which was, not to put to finer point on it, a shed on the back of the tent. Really. Still at least we had somewhere to change and leave our belongings- we've done quite a few of these type of events where there's been no facilities for us at all. There's a big plate of sandwiches and some bottles of Coca-Cola and the general mood is good; I sneak up on to the stage to get my amplifier and guitar set up and discover that my knob's come off...

You know when you look at something that you know really well and you can't quite work out what looks different about it? I spent a minute or so looking at the control panel on my amp thinking 'what's happened?' before I finally realised that there was a hole where the treble control used to be. I'd left the amp and leads box with Squirrel after the Tewkesbury gig so that Shirley and myself could go straight to a Travelodge nearby before leaving for Dorset the next morning; sometime in the interim period something bad had happened... he found it in the back of his car so I'll get a new control fitted 'though I spent the next 10 minutes or so in 'Carry on Guitar Hero' mode ('my knob's come off!' 'We've been through a lot together, me and my knob' 'Shirley's got my knob in her pocket' etc etc) so it wasn't all bad news.

Showtime at last- things start well enough with 'Peter Gunn' 'though it soon becomes clear that all is not as it should be. Perhaps the most charitable analysis would be 'too many deps'; myself, Squirrel and Marc are doing our best but the horns are struggling, Neil's voice is giving way, Tracy's is not much better and I get the same problem with my guitar as I did in Tewkesbury- must get it over to Stuart the guitar repairman a.s.a.p.- all of which contributes to a less-than-ideal performance. Still the dancefloor was full for much of our performance and it all went down well so perhaps I'm just being a bit miserable about it? All the same it's a pity we haven't got any gigs for the couple of weeks as it would have been nice to be able to quickly erase the memory of this one...

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