Friday, November 28, 2008

Brewhouse blues

An fine gig last night saw the return of several old faces to the fold- Mike as Elwood, Richard on sax, Tracy on vocals, Dave Bunting on lights (researching for next year's Southend show which we're filming for possible DVD release) and Ian Bond on sound- and one new face; with Ian away in Germany gigging with Roger Chapman Chris is on keyboards for the first time. Myself, Tracy and Dave travelled down with Pete- after negotiating a traffic jam on the M4 caused by people 'rubber-necking' at the accident on the other carriageway (I hate that don't you? Mind you, we all do it- don't we?) we stopped for a break at the Gordano services on the M5, arriving at The Brewhouse in Taunton around 3 o'clock. It's a good venue- part theatre, part arts centre, part meeting place, and with the rest of the troops arriving shortly after us we're set up and ready to rock in no time. Soundcheck saw a somewhat unexpected attempt at Ian Dury's 'Sweet Gene Vincent' with Mario on vocals (I must re-learn the chords for that one) and Marc, Squirrel and myself jamming Jimi Hendrix's 'The Wind Cries Mary' (no, I'm not sure what we thought we were doing either) as well as running through several keyboard-led songs for Chris's benefit. He plays a fair bit with Marc in other latin-oriented combos but had done a good job of learning our set from a DVD of the recent Colchester gig.
With soundcheck over I walked over to the nearby 'Howards' fish and chip shop for a cone of chips (whatever happened to chips in newspaper eh?) and wandered up and down the high street catching up on phone calls and wondering who on Earth thought it would be a good idea to set up an ice rink outside the venue. A similar thing is being attempted outside the Civic Centre in Uxbridge this week- Squirrel told me they tried it in Southend one year but it was a mild winter and the ice wouldn't freeze... it seems to be a bit of a bizarre idea to me- then again lots of ideas that seem perfectly reasonable to other, saner people often seem bizarre to me.
Back at the venue the show's sold out (hurrah!) and with everyone in high spirits it's a good gig despite the rather odd sight of a man asleep in the front row for most of the first set. Chris coped well with things, a 90 year old man asked Tracy to marry him (!) and with the merchandise stall besieged by what seemed like the whole audience after the show the evening's definitely a successful one- oh and someone said that the man asleep in the front row had checked himself out of hospital so that he could come to see the show...

And it should be a good show tomorrow as we're off to Switzerland to play in a shopping centre. Really. Then again if you think that sounds a bit weird follow the link below (we're listed as The Bootleg Blues Brothers- go to 'artists offer' then 'tribute bands') to find a frankly astonishing description of us on the Swiss promoter's website- any ideas or suggestions as to what they are actually trying to say would be gratefully received... well, it makes a change from a caption competition doesn't it?!?

I guess it's all in the translation, as they say. Mind you, the rest of the website's just as mad! Excellent!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oops! I did it again- AGAIN!

I'm a big fan of Charles Shaar Murray's 'Guitar Geek' column in 'Guitarist' magazine; it's a witty and irreverent take on all things axe-related as well as being a suitably intense look at the trials and tribulations of what's often referred to as 'Gear Acquisition Syndrome', or GAS for short. Recently he's marvelled at the film of David Gilmour's recent performance in Gdansk, and concluded that this means he needs to buy himself a Gretsch; a couple of months back he was wondering why he doesn't own a Les Paul, even 'though he doesn't actually like them as an instrument. All good stuff and as I'm starting to realise, worryingly close to home...

Myself and the long-suffering Shirley have just returned from a rehearsal room on the outskirts of Wolverhampton (that's why I call her 'long-suffering'!) where I met up with my new friend Stuart. He's in a band called Science vs. Romance (Good name! They describe themselves as 'a music box trapped in the eye of a storm'; check out to see if you agree...) and I've been in touch with him for the last few days thanks to the wonder of eBay; I thought I'd have a quick look on there to see if there were any interesting-looking Fender Stratocasters around- I loved playing my old one at the recent South Bank gig with Ali McKenzie and thought I'd see what was about with a view to getting one that I could use on gigs without worrying about damaging what to me is an irreplaceable instrument. I didn't expect to find anything- but there it was, a relic Strat (see the 'Reps, relics and rehearsals' posting from earlier this month for an explanation of the term 'relic') in Dakota Red with a rosewood neck; in the associated blurb the seller expressed interest in swapping it for 'an EL84 voiced amplifier' (that's a type of valve often used in guitar amplifiers; as so often happens in these hallowed pages it's Wikipedia to the rescue on this one- tells us more than the you's-and-me's of this world will ever need to know!) Hmm... I think that's what's in the Marshall combo under the stairs that I hardly ever use... I wonder if a deal could be done?

A deal has been done! I've got the Strat! It's fantastic! But I fear I've also got GAS, and it's got to stop- I'm running out of money, and we're running out of room! Well either that or I've got to start writing about it in, oh I don't know, a blog, or a magazine column, or something like it...

Now there's a thought...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alnwick-y in the U.K.

It's been the best part of 6 weeks since The Chicago Blues Brothers last played a theatre show (in Tewkesbury in case you've forgotten; the week after that we played a not-particularly-enjoyable set at Braxted Park) so it was good to get back into it last night at Playhouse Theatre in Alnwick (pronounced 'Annick') all the way up in Northumberland. With an epic journey in prospect the long-suffering Shirley dropped me and my guitars at Brentwood Services off the M25 just before 10 a.m. where I met up with Squirrel, Ian and Marc (bass, keyboards and drums) and ensconced myself in the van for the long journey North. We detoured off the M11 to meet Dave and Ian (trumpet and sax) in Duxford then set the controls for Flaxby Park just outside York where we were meeting Mario and Matt (Jake and Elwood- Matt works regularly with Mario as The Briefcase Blues Brothers but hadn't done a theatre show with us before.) With Squirrel at the wheel we made it to the theatre not long before 5 p.m.- the poster advertising the upcoming 'One Night with the Piano Men' show featured regular CBB saxman Richard who also plays in that show (among others!)

Ben the soundman is all set up and ready, he shows us how to use a bit of insulation tape to cover the sensor on the lift door which gives us enough time to load our gear into it without it closing. In the interim period since the last gig Stuart the guitar repairman has fitted some 'Danny Gatton saddles' to my Baja Telecaster in a bid to cure the string bending problem evident at the last gigs. (In case you don't recognise the name, the late great Mr. Gatton a.k.a. 'The Telemaster' was a virtuoso guitarist who Fender honoured by producing a signature guitar which included several modifications from normal including bridge saddles which generally produce better intonation than the standard ones; have a look at and follow the links for more information on the guitar and indeed the man himself.) I've tried it at a couple of rehearsals with Andy, Mike and Dave and it seems to have done the trick although this is the first test at a gig... and talking of repairs my ailing Fender Blues Deluxe combo is still at the menders (the part for the broken treble control has proved tricky to find) so I'm using my Laney LC50 combo for the first time in ages, it sounds good but I'll be glad when the Fender's back. Soundcheck mostly consists of running through the songs Matt's going to be singing lead vocals on, and working out an intro for 'Respect'; Tracy normally does this as part of a medley with 'Think' but with her off elsewhere Mario's stepping into the breach. I guess he didn't know the words to 'Think'? With time running short Squirrel and myself set up the merchandise table before walking down to The Hot Bite for a portion of chips- in their window is a poster advertising an upcoming pantomime at The Playhouse called 'I Geordius'. Excellent!

You can be fairly sure it's going to be a good gig when the audience start clapping as the musicians walk out onto the stage- they did, and it was! Matt coped brilliantly with being thrown in at the deep end- you'd have to have known where his mistakes were if you know what I mean- and made up for losing his way slightly in 'Flip Flop and Fly' by cartwheeling across the stage, a manoeuvre that inspired some youngsters to try the same thing in the audience! He also did the splits during 'Shake Your Tailfeather'- I'd seen him do it before but judging by the look on his face Squirrel clearly hadn't... my guitar worked fine (thanks Stu!) and by the end of the show the place was going crazy- it's good to be back in showbusiness!

5 hours after we've arrived and it's nearly time to go home. Dave's standing near the back of the van as we're loading our gear into it; he breaks wind (not for the first time in the evening!) and looks pleased with himself. A young man walking by is suddenly sick over a wall, and Dave is warned in no uncertain terms not to do it again in the van, and that if he does he's walking home. As I say, it's good to be back in showbusiness...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I can see clearly now

I went to the opticians earlier today. (Well, obviously I went earlier today as I couldn't be telling you this story if I was going later today could I?!? Anyway...) I'd just filled my form in and was stumbling around looking at perspective new frames (more about them in a minute) when a well-dressed young man came over to me to tell me that it was time for my eye test and could I please come with him. Yes, of course I can. He led the way through to the examination room and ushered me in. I was just about to ask him how his work experience was going when I realised that he was preparing to give me my eye examination.

He's the optician! But he's a little boy! Help!

It turns out that my new friend Krish finished at university in 2003 (I didn't like to ask him what he studied in case it wasn't anything to do with optics) which means that he's been an optician for over 5 years. But he's a little boy! It's bad enough that my dentist looks like a Bollywood goddess without a little wee fella knowing what the inside of my eye looks like! Argh!

Mind you none of this is anywhere near as disturbing as the price of new glasses these days. It might well be '2 for the price of 1' but it's still several hundred pounds to get anything that's even vaguely attractive looking. And that's another thing- how come you can't get round glasses anymore? All the frames look like someone's sat on them! And who said that it would be a good idea to make them without the bits that hold the lens in? Have I missed something here? It's enough to make me think about getting contact lenses- except that it's not; I've never fancied putting something into my eye and anyway, I WEAR GLASSES!!! Or I would if I could get some that suited me for under a grand!

Sorry about the ranting- I'll be really glad when we're gigging again and I can get back to writing about that! I bet you will be too!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stone free

My brother Terry phoned me just before 10 o'clock this morning to tell me that Mitch Mitchell, the drummer with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, died yesterday. Sad news. As I took the call I was sitting with Stuart the guitar repair man in the Starbucks coffee shop off Tottenham Court Road- he was just telling me how he'd 'had a look' at Hendrix's 'Woodstock Strat' for Mitch when he sold it...

I saw him play once, at Brunel University in Uxbridge in the late '70's. He was part of Hinkley's Heroes, a loose amalgam of players and friends who at that time also included ex-Joe Cocker and Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, and then-current Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell. I remember that when he was introduced to the audience he started to play a drum solo but then stopped, came around to the front of the kit, and did a tap dance instead; he had plimsolls on so it didn't really work (!) although I seem to recall that they tried to mike his feet up, but to no avail. This, more than any other incident, contributed to my inability to take drum solos seriously- so I'm grateful to him for that if nothing else. But there was more, much more to it all than that- as a member of The Jimi Hendrix Experience he arguably helped transform pop music from something that was not taken particularly seriously by 'real' music fans (whoever 'they' are and whatever 'that' is) into rock music, with all that that entails, good and bad. Listening to their recordings today it seems to me that Mitch's drumming- often as extraordinary as Jimi's guitar playing- always provided a backdrop which combined with Noel Redding's rock-solid bass playing to give Hendrix the ultimate platform from which his almost unlimited capacity for musical and sonic innovation would allow him to change the sound of the electric guitar forever. There's any number of moments to remember, but how about the drum fill just before the vocals come in on 'Little Wing'- you just couldn't imagine the song without it could you?- or his performance on 'Fire' which rivals Keith Moon at his best for invention, energy and intensity. Then there's 'Up From The Skies', 'Manic Depression', 'Crosstown Traffic'...

The rock music world has lost one of it's most influential and brilliant musicians. Cheers Mitch- and thanks for doing what you did, when you did it. It really wouldn't- couldn't- have been the same without you. Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm off to watch the 'Monterey Pop' DVD...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The South Bank Show

Since last night's show was part of a memorabilia-based exhibition I thought I'd start this posting with a couple of pieces of Ali Mac Band memorabilia. (Pretentious? Moi? Of course!) Here's an Access All Areas pass for the event, and a setlist for our show written by your humble narrator and including the key each song was played in and which band member started it. The hieroglyphics at the bottom refer to my amplifier settings- but more about them in a minute...

The gig itself took place in The Debating Chamber at County Hall on London's South Bank. What was the headquarters of the G.L.C. (that's the Greater London Council for the benefit of any younger readers fortunate enough not to have lived through Thatcher's Britain; check out for the full story- I'd forgotten the bit where Ken Livingstone put the unemployment figures up on the side of the building! Hilarious!) is now The Movieum of London, a very impressive exhibition of film memorabilia that's also branching out into live music performances. It's an extraordinary, even unique venue for a gig- it really is the debating chamber!- and I'm depping in The Ali Mac Band who are led by Ali McKenzie, former lead singer with The Birds and something of an icon at these type of events; Richard 'Hud' Hudson (formally of The Strawbs amongst others) is on drums, Bill from The Glitter Band is on bass (I must ask him his surname!) and we're opening proceedings at the worryingly early hour of 4.30 pm. The gig's been arranged by The Eel Pie Club which normally meets at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham where it aims to carry on the tradition of the '60's gigs on Eel Pie Island- to this end the show features The Pretty Things and The Downliners Sect alongside The Eel Pie All Stars, The Blue Bishops and Leaf Hound (see the AAA pass for some of the bands that their members used to play in, and for the club information.) With the early start in mind we arrive just before 3 o'clock to find The Pretty Things soundchecking with a suitably raucous version of 'Roadrunner'. It's really them! I've long been a fan of theirs, especially the 'S.F. Sorrow' album which is something of a psychedelic classic although I also like their earlier r'n'b based material; there's only Phil May and Dick Taylor left from the early days and although Frank Holland's been there a while they've recruited a new younger rhythm section since I last saw them. They still sound the same though- Taylor's playing sounds 40 years younger than he looks, and even in a soundcheck May looks as though he's ready to bite the top off his microphone. They try an acoustic version of Muddy Waters' 'I Can't Be Satisfied' with Taylor on open tuned slide guitar before making way for us. Dick Taylor's just putting his guitar away as I approach him, pluck up some courage (I'm really shy at moments like these!) and introduce myself- he's really friendly, even to the point of showing me how he uses a Vox AC30 amplifier, he links the 'brilliant' and 'vibrato' channels with a short lead so that you can blend the 2 sounds... I'd used a similar trick with amps in the past but hadn't been shown it by a British rhythm and blues legend before, I mean he's mates with The Stones, been round Keef's house and everything, now he's talking to little old me about guitar amplifiers- I wrote my settings down on my setlist in case anyone changed them before we played, even drawing in the lead linking the channels in case that got moved as it sounded too good to risk it being altered by someone else soundchecking. Now I'll have to buy an AC30 so that I can tell the story again-

'Oh let me show you this- Dick Taylor, you know, the bloke out of The Pretty Things, he showed me how to link the channels, it sounds great, have a listen...'

-it'll cost me a fortune but who cares!

After our soundcheck we find The Green Room where we work out a set, get changed and walk back to the debating chamber for the show. We're about 5 minutes late in starting, the audience is arriving while we're playing which is always a bit demoralising but by 'Mess of the Blues' there's enough people in to make it work. We're playing well, Ali's in fine voice and my guitar- I used my old Strat and I'm glad that I did- is sounding great through the aforementioned AC30. I'm definitely going to have to buy one now! Halfway through 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' (yeah I know, I forgot to write the last word of the title on the setlist- well, we were in a hurry!) I realise that we didn't actually run through the song at our rehearsal, they play it slower than I've heard it before and use it for introducing the band members; we finish 'The Letter' to lengthy applause, there's no time for an encore but it doesn't matter, it's been a great gig which seemed to only last a few seconds. Then again the best ones always do.
We go back to The Green Room to get changed and discuss the show, everyone says that I did a good job which considering the people involved means a lot to me. We get back to the venue in time to catch the last couple of songs from The Blue Bishops- their bass player is ex-Kinks man Jim Rodford, I meet him afterwards and tell him that I'm in a band with Ian Gibbons, an unashamed bit of name-dropping; he surprises me by saying how much he enjoyed our show. I watch The Downliners Sect with Hud, he says that he worked with them in the '60's when he played in Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, says they sound the same now as they did then i.e. pretty good. By now I'm getting hungry it's off to Ned's Noodle Box opposite, while I'm in there my brother Terry calls, says that if I'm up on The South Bank I should go to Ned's Noodle Box as he always goes there when he's in the area... back at The Movieum I miss most of Leaf Hound as I'm walking around the exhibition, it's got some amazing stuff on display ( have a look at to see what I mean) so I send a picture of the original Scott Tracy puppet to Stuart the guitar repairman who finds it highly amusing. I find Ali and his other half Bev in the front bar (I didn't know there was a front bar!) and we go back to the venue to see The Pretty Things who play a brilliant set with everything from early singles like 'Don't Bring Me Down' through to songs from last year's 'Balboa Island' album via 'S.F. Sorrow' and all points in between. Before 'I Can't Be Satisfied' Phil May recounted how he and Dick were at Sidcup Art College with Keith Richards, says 'here's one of the songs we used to play' nonchalantly, as through anyone who could play the song could go on the change the world, then says 'back then they gave groups like ours three years'; Dick comments 'was that before or after good behaviour?' The evening ends with The Eel Pie All Stars, sadly the mighty Mick Green is unwell and so can't be there (shame!) but original Yardbirds guitarist Tony 'Top' Topham plays a couple of songs as does Ray Majors from Mott The Hoople; Ali gets up for 'Kansas City' and 'Walking The Dog' and the last number is 'Midnight Special' with Mick Avory from The Kinks on drums and Phil May waving a glass of red wine at all and sundry. Great stuff.

Back in the Green Room we say our goodbye's- Phil May asks me how I think our set went, it's been so long since we played that it's almost hard to remember; but it went well, everything went well, it's been a good night, a great night, a classic night. Outside the rain is so heavy that we get completely soaked getting back to Ali's car- but it doesn't matter, not after what we've just been part of; well it doesn't matter to me anyway, not least because I'm wondering where I can get an AC30 from...

Information on any or all of the acts mentioned above may or may not be found elsewhere on the internet...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Reps, relics and rehearsals

I recounted my black tales in the shop on Saturday to an audience of Paul the guv'nor, James the Saturday boy and various shop regulars- Paul, ever the realist, commented 'I think you might be reading too much into all of this'. Maybe... but it's been busy in the shop of late, with plenty of pre-Christmas browsing and many an enquiry along the lines of 'my son/daughter would like to play the guitar...' with this in mind it's been 'rep frenzy' this week, with Tom from Stentor, Adam from Line6 and Tom from EMD among those venturing into the shop to show us their wares and to attempt to coax Paul into spending some money on them. Pallets of large cardboard boxes have started to arrive so clearly some if not all of them were successful... Stuart the guitar repairman made one his many 'picking-up-and-dropping-off' visits on Tuesday, when he was accompanied by noted Guitar Techniques writer Jon Bishop. When he's not transcribing near-impossible guitar parts for the magazine (he's currently working on 'Texas Flood' by Stevie Ray Vaughan- see what I mean?) Jon is guitarist for Shakin' Stevens, a fact Stuart finds almost incalculably amusing. I'd not met Jon before 'though I'd talked to him on the phone several times as he was once at Stu's when I'd phoned there and I recognised his voice in the background from the commentaries he supplies on the CD's that accompany the GT mag- Stu put him on the phone! He seemed a really nice bloke (as I said to Stu, 'taller than he looks in the pictures') and liked our shop which is always a good sign!

After all the talk of Stratocasters last Thursday I've been contemplating getting myself another one as my 1963 example (ex-Paul Fox if you remember) is now getting a bit too valuable to take out gigging. With this in mind I've been asking/looking around to try to find out if there's a current model that's similar in feel to my guitar- the general consensus seems to be a Custom Shop 'Time Machine' model- a bit of a shame since they're rather expensive. They're incredibly accurate recreations of the older Fender instruments and come in three types- 'New Old Stock, 'Closet Classic' and 'Relic'. The N.O.S. are as new, as if the guitar had been undiscovered since it was first made; the Closet Classics are as if the instrument has been played for a while then put out of harm's way ever since, and the Relics have been 'distressed (i.e. beaten up!) to look how a guitar that's been played regularly for 40-odd years should look. (Allegedly the idea for these instruments came from a comment from Keith Richards who liked the guitars but said they looked too new!) There's plenty of them around- they're a current model, have a look at the Custom Shop section of for more details- and everyone who I've spoken to is full of praise for them; Pete from The Cane Toads has a Sunburst '60 Relic which he's very kindly lent me to try; it's pretty close to my one so I think I'll see what turns up over the next few months... that said after we'd finished at the theatre earlier today Stu and myself went across to The Noel Coward Theatre where Adam Goldsmith is currently playing guitar in 'Avenue Q'; he's got an Eric Clapton Stratocaster which he'd asked Stu to check over as it's not playing as he'd like. Stu pronounced it in need of refretting but it felt pretty good to me especially the neck profile so maybe I should have a look at those as well?

Monday night saw a rehearsal with The Ali Mac Band- Richard 'Hud' Hudson (ex-Strawbs among others) on drums, Bill from The Glitter Band on bass and Ali McKenzie (from '60's mod icons The Birds) on vocals joined by your humble narrator depping on guitar. We're playing a short (35 minutes) set at The South Bank this Saturday supporting The Pretty Things, The Downliners Sect and The Eel Pie Allstars which should be an evening to remember, not least because the Allstars should feature the mighty Mick Green who's one of my all-time guitar heroes. I met Ali at closing time at the shop and we made our way over to Chertsey where we're rehearsing at a studio on a farm owned by Dave, a friend of the band. I decided to take my old Strat with me to see if it's good as I remember it; even played through a not-very-good Yamaha combo it sounded great and felt fabulous to play, so much so that I think I'll use it for the gig. I'll just have to be careful... and talking of rehearsals it was another excellent session at Ruff Rockers last night with Dave and Mike (Andy couldn't make it due to family commitments) where we continued our r'n'b adventures with songs by the likes of The Temptations and Nine Below Zero being added to our repertoire. Mike bought down yet another Stratocaster for me to try, a mid-'90's Mexican standard to which he's added Schaller locking machineheads and Kinman pick-ups. It played and sounded great- we tried a couple of half-remembered ZZ Top songs for some reason- which has really confused me as it's current equivalent costs less than a quarter of the Time Machine models and it certainly wasn't a quarter of the guitar. Maybe I could get several of these instead?!? Ah- so many Stratocasters, so little time...