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...

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