Sunday, March 29, 2009

North and South revisited

After last Sunday's euphoria it's back to basics with another 3-in-a-row from The Chicago Blues Brothers:-

9.30 Thursday morning and Brian from Vans For Bands pulls up outside the house; in no time we're loaded up and on our way to Richard's. We're all off up North again, this time for gigs in Hexham and Newcastle- Pete's on his way to Heathrow (he's off to Brussels where he's depping with The F.B.I. Band) and calls to say that he'll see us at Richard's for a quick coffee, which he duly does. After picking up Tracy we journey across to Duxford to meet up with the rest of the troops and head up the A1. It's the A-team- Marc and Squirrel on drums and bass, Dave and Richard on trumpet and saxophone, Ian on keys, Tracy on vocals and Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood- and despite a few sniffles here and there (Tracy in particular suffering from a cold) the mood is good and spirits are high. Having been out for a drink with East the night before (well- we had to warm down from the weekend didn't we?!?) I was flagging a bit, and managed to get a bit of a snooze on the way 'though I woke up just in time to see The Angel of the North. I know lot of people don't like it, even considering it to be a waste of time and money but I always enjoy seeing it 'though I'm not really sure why- maybe I've always liked the idea of having a folly?!?
We arrived at The Queens Hall in Hexham around 5 o'clock. It's a great venue which I think we last played at around 3 years ago (i.e. before I started this blog) and with sound guru Ian Bond all set up and ready we're get sorted out and soundchecked in no time. It's an 8 o'clock show so there's time for some food in The Exchange Cafe at the front of the building- an excellent little place whose generous helping of chocolate cake proved to be too much for Bondy!
The show starts as always with 'Peter Gunn' -I've managed to get my guitar strap twisted and can't get comfortable (the twist is right on my shoulder- see how I suffer for my art!) but the crowd are up for it right from the start making for a fine evening's work. During the gospel section a young lady in a wheelchair watching from the end of the front row gets up to dance with the help of the person with her, leading Matt to rather loftily proclaim himself to be Jesus- or maybe that should be Jesus Blues? Oh and Tracy had couldn't stop laughing during 'Natural Woman'- I think it was something Richard was doing?
After the show it's off to The Holiday Inn Express next to The Metro Centre. We should get there before midnight so hopefully the bar should be still open- Bondy instructs me to get him 'a large red wine' if it looks like closing before he gets there. The first thing I see as we walk into reception is a handwritten sign proclaiming BAR CLOSES 2.30. which perks everyone up no end; in the event many of us are still there at that time...

Breakfast finishes at 9.30 in the morning, and most of us make it down before then 'though by the time I get there (9.25-and-a-bit) there's no cups or plates available. Undaunted I stumble around in the hope that some will magically appear; I'm on the point of deciding that I wasn't hungry anyway and that coffee doesn't really wake you up when a young lady emerges from the kitchen with some. There's a bleary face or two at the table (including mine!) but as there's a few hours spare until we're due at tonight's gig it's time to order a taxi...
The previous evening I'd mentioned to Bondy that I'd done a bit of research and discovered that GuitarGuitar (a well known shop in this area- can you guess what they sell?) was not far from the evening's venue; immediately a plan was planned resulting in myself, himself and Marc (drummer visits guitar emporium shock horror!) arriving at said shop around 11 o'clock. And what an excellent shop it is, with over 600 guitars on display (they're moving soon to a large premises which will allow them to display over double that amount!) and an equally impressive amount of amplifiers, effect pedals- in short, everything a sad man like myself would need to keep them busy until their hangover subsides. My bloodshot eyes fell upon a Steve Jones Les Paul at about the same time as Bondy spotted a second hand Marshall 100 watt amplifier- in no time your humble narrator is worrying the neighbours with a combination of the two. Next Bondy got his eye on a very old looking Les Paul which our new friend George tell us is a 'circa-1952' Goldtop model which had been 'standardised' sometime in the late '60's (there's lots of information about this sort of thing out on the internet, but basically- the early Les Paul's had a 'trapeze'-style tailpiece as opposed to the 'Tune-o-Matic' bridge that appeared on the later models, as well as P 90 pick-ups rather than humbucking types; early guitars were often modified to resemble the late '50's/early '60's Standard model guitars which became popular after production of them had ceased) and which sounded great even though the modifications had clearly not been carried out by an expert... I also tried a Fulltone OCD pedal which I'd heard great things about and wasn't disappointed by 'though I heroically resisted buying it (I actually went back there later before soundcheck and tried it again- it sounded great but as always with this sort of thing the 'do I really need it?'/'is it any better than the one that I've already got?' questions come into play, along with the 'can I really afford it' equation; I decided that I didn't, it wasn't and I couldn't...) and against all the odds we all left empty handed.
Meanwhile back in the real world we've all got work to do, namely at The Journal Tyne Theatre. What an amazing place this is- a grade 1 listed building that we first visited last February, and it really feels as though you step back in time as you look out from the stage and see what I would imagine all the music hall performers saw when they performed there. There's enough time while Bondy's setting up for me to walk around the corner for a look at St. James' Park and Chinatown as well as for a visit to Wagamama and the afore-mentioned return to GuitarGuitar- I must walk, and indeed eat, really quickly! Soundcheck goes well, after which myself, Mike, Marc and Matt adjourn to The Bodega where we win a fiver on the quiz machine. Excellent!
The show is if anything even better than the previous night's with Matt getting booed for mentioning Sunderland (you don't mention Sunderland when you're in Newcastle!) and Tracy almost made it all the way through 'Natural Woman' but burst out laughing right at the end. What's going on here?!?
After loading out it's time for the long haul home; we took a break at the Stibbington truckstop, a foreboding place at 3 o'clock in the morning where Tracy raised an eyebrow or 2 behind the counter by proclaiming herself to be 'from waistline control', and Brian's observation that 'there's something heartening about seeing a very large man eating a very large plate of food at this time of the day' struck me being as oddly profound. As I was first in I'm last out; as we come into Uxbridge we pass The Crown and Treaty and Brian is highly amused to see 'about 20 or so old skinheads' still in there at 4.35 a.m.- I tell him that odd as it may seem it happens quite often, which it does.

The third show of this threesome was another return gig, this time at The Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone. Strangely enough we played in Newcastle the night before we played here last year (see the 'North and South' posting from February '08) so maybe the 2 theatres are linked? Ian Gibbons is away gigging with the Kast Off Kinks so Roger Cotton returns on keyboards, other than that it's the same line up as the last two shows although everyone looks a little bit wearier than they normally do. As Roger last played with us before Christmas soundcheck soon becomes a mini-rehearsal after which he joins myself and the long-suffering Shirley in the search for a cup of coffee. We eventually end up in the nearby Nando's where we ask if we can just have a drink rather than a meal- we're told it's ok but when we order we're told the coffee machine's broken, and there's only fruit tea... feeling as though we're on Candid Camera Rog and myself settle for hot chocolate 'though Shirl does the decent thing and gets a glass of red wine.
Back at the venue it's a 7.30 show- as we're getting changed I write the keys for the songs on Roger's setlist. It's a great little theatre and the show's nearly sold out so an excellent gig is in prospect; Roger starts 'Think' when we're all expecting 'Looking For A Fox'- Squirrel saves the day by starting '...Fox' on bass rather than keyboards (Roger has never heard the song; oddly enough I haven't either, I just learned it from recordings of the show when I joined. Maybe I should search it out someday?!?) In the interval I go out to the bar to meet up with Rob, the rep for Strings and Things who's been to the shop a few times and come along to see what I do when I'm not behind the counter. He looks a bit shell-shocked, saying what a great show it is- perhaps it was better than he was expecting? The second set starts with Roger realising that he's left his setlist in his jacket pocket in the dressing room- I mouth the keys across the stage at him amid much merriment, and he plays brilliantly with his solo in 'Green Onions' sounding particularly fine. Matt did the splits, Tracy more-or-less kept a straight face throughout and it's a great gig to end the weekend with- but all the shows have been highly enjoyable, in 3 excellent venues that I hope we return to in the future.

Friday, March 27, 2009

'Put it away boy!'

Here's a few photos from last weekend, featuring The Cane Toads in party mode and clothes, The Price in the shadow of Malcolm's shirt, your humble narrator with T.V. Smith (yes!) and East declaring the evening to be a success.


Monday, March 23, 2009

'It means that it's East's 50th birthday! Hurrah!'

Well- that was a very busy 5 days...

Wednesday 18th - The Chicago Blues Brothers in Epsom

I'd not been to The Epsom Playhouse before but everybody who had told me it was an excellent little theatre, and I'm pleased to say that they were all correct in their analysis. Unloading was a bit tricky 'though- Pete called just before we were leaving to say that we'd be best parking in the Ashley Centre car park next door and he was right (as usual!) which meant your humble narrator making 2 journeys with guitars, amp and stage clothes. Poor little me! As usual however the long-suffering Shirley was on hand to help, and since we managed to park on the second floor it was all pretty painless- perhaps I needn't have mentioned it here at all... it's an A-team gig with Marc returning to the drum stool; with this in mind we've got Ross and Tom along to take photos (for those of you making notes, Ross is Paul the shop guv'nor's son, and Tom is normally referred to in these hallowed pages as 'American Tom' and is engaged to Charlotte who is Paul the shop guv'nor's daughter. Keep up at the back there!) as we need some promo material with Matt in the line-up. In addition to this it's Dave the trumpet maestro's 50th birthday this month so a surprise 'cake 'n' presents from the band' moment has been planned for before the gig. Sound guru Ian Bond has bought along his recently-refretted-by-Stuart-the-guitar-repairman Gibson Les Paul custom for me to take to give to Stu for 'a bit of a tweak', and soundcheck is a relatively painless affair with everybody lying through their teeth to Dave...
Well if he had guessed that we'd planned anything then I'm here to inform you that Dave Land is not only a fine musician but may well be the world's greatest actor, as terms like 'gob-smacked' don't even begin to describe his reaction as he walked into the dressing room. 'You swines!' roared the great man, smiling so widely that I thought the top half of his head was going to come off. No time for too much madness though as we're due in stage in 15 minutes so the champagne will have to wait until the interval!
Halfway through our first number 'Peter Gunn' we all realise that this is the hottest stage any of us have been on for a while. Maybe it's hot in the auditorium too as the audience are quiet, Matt and Mike are giving it everything but it's not until Pete comes on (making a cameo appearence as the preacher in the gospel section of the show and also performing 'Minnie the Moocher in the second half) that things get going. At half time the safety curtain comes down and we stay on stage to do some photos, then go back to the dressing room for that champagne... in the second set things get going a bit more 'though even my old mate Andy C. (long-time musical collaborator and in the audience with his in-laws) described the audience as 'hard work'. Mind you all the theatre staff that I spoke to seemed to think that it'd all gone very well and the crowd had loved it so perhaps Epsom is conservative in both senses of the word?

Thursday 19th - The Chicago Blues Brothers in Milton Keynes

Now for a very different event, at the Mercure Parkside Hotel in sunny Milton Keynes. It's a corporate event for Argos and the evening will include one of the greatest tests yet of this writer's ability; I feel almost as though I've got to describe the indescribable. Oh well- let's have a go then shall we...

As I was due to be working with Stu at We Will Rock You in the morning Pete had taken my guitars, amps and stage clothes with him with a view to me meeting him after I finish at the theatre; to this end I arrived at Cockfosters tube station around 1 o'clock to find that it had changed a bit since I was last there and now has a slightly incongruous ornamental garden in front of the ticketing area. Weird! Having hooked up with Pete and Squirrel we negotiated the customary M1 traffic jam to arrive at the venue sometime around 2.30 where we find The Orchard Suite and meet Amy the event organiser, get set up and await the rest of the band. Pete's back as Jake and Tracy's away elsewhere but aside from that it's the same line-up as the previous night's show, and we're on with 2 comedy acts, The Raymond and Mr. Timpkins Revue and Richard Morton. There's 100 or so guests due, and the room's just about big enough for them on their own, so with a stage and DJ in it as well a crowded evening is in prospect. We've got The Oak Room to get changed in, but that's not available until 5.30 so we adjourn to the bar; I order a latte and the waiter brings it over with the words 'it's got a bit of a head on it, but I expect it'll be ok for you'... actually it's pretty much all froth and as such is not the nicest drink I've ever encountered, but I decide that the waiter had been attempting to be amusing as his comment is probably the type of thing that a weasel-faced little retard who's going to be stuck in the same dead end job for the rest of his Godforsaken days would find funny.
Talking of being funny I first saw Richard Morton back in the '80's when he was in The Panic Brothers; since then he's done all sorts of things including a lot of work with Jack Dee, much of which was recounted during his excellent 20 minute spot. On the other hand I hadn't encountered The Raymond and Mr. Timpkins Revue before- they do a lot of work in the comedy clubs and are a very difficult act to describe adequately here (follow the link above for some clips which will show you what I mean) as they're basically a visual act that uses props to act out lines from songs. Oh and one of them plays a Stylophone. They don't sound very funny do they? But they are, and they were!
9.15 and we're on to a typical corporate show reaction i.e. bemused indifference. But Amy, who like many people present has clearly been enjoying her company's hospitality to the full since the last time I saw her, is working hard at getting people up dancing, and by the time we reach the inevitable 'Mustang Sally' the evening's definitely a successful one. But it wasn't over yet...
At the end of our set I stayed onstage to pack my gear away- at these sort of gatherings there's almost always someone who thinks that if there's an unattended guitar on the stage then it's there for them, their mates, or them and their mates to play or attempt to play so I tend to put them back in their cases straight away before going off to get changed. This only took a few minutes but it was long enough for things back in The Oak Room to take an interesting turn... when I got there a young lady who had seen our set was making Mike a proposition- I won't go into details here (buy me a drink sometime and I'll tell you more than you'll ever need to know!) but it involved her giving him her room number- which he's clearly rather embarrassed by; actually 'rendered completely speechless' might be a better description of his condition. I must say it was one of the more, shall we say, graphic propositions that I've ever heard, and as such was made to him with most of the band getting changed in the room at the time. She left to allow him to consider things; Dave Land's comment of 'you've got to do it for the band dear boy, we need the Christmas party gig' did nothing to placate Mike horrified demeanour. True to her word she returned, ever more graphic than before, suggesting among other things that they use the table in front of them straight away- as the colour drained from Mike's face myself, Dave and Squirrel decided to leave at this point, 'though she followed shortly afterwards wondering what she had 'to do to get a shag in this place'... we went back into The Oak Room to find the table more-or-less as we left it, an oddly comforting sight under the circumstances although Mike looked traumatised.

After loading all our gear out I went back in to check if we'd left anything behind; as I left I saw the young lady in question going upstairs, presumably to her room. She wasn't alone.

Friday 20th - The Chicago Blues Brothers in Chesterfield

I spoke to Pete on the phone around 10 o'clock in the morning- had she really said that? Yes she had, she'd said all of that and more, much much more... thinking about it now I'm left with a odd mixture of feelings, on the one hand it was one of the funniest things that I've ever seen- and, with all due apologies to Mike, it was very funny- yet on the other one of the saddest, tragic even, I almost felt as though I was watching a car crash happen and I've always hated the way people slow down to look at accidents on the motorway. Of course none of this stopped us from considering the best way to wind Mike up about it!

In the meantime it's back up the M1 for a show at The Winding Wheel in Chesterfield, a city famous for 'the church with the twisted spire'. I'd never been there before but had heard a lot about said spire so hoped we'd be able to see it while we were there. Band-wise Matt and Tracy return, and with Pete and Richard away at another surprise 'Dave is 50' bash (this one organised by his wife Lynn) Adam and Ian are on trumpet and saxophone. To this end Ian arrived at our house around 12.45; from there we picked up Tracy and with the long-suffering Shirley at the helm headed back up the motorway to arrive in Chesterfield around 4 o'clock.
Well I'd wondered if we'd be able to see the afore-mentioned church but in the event we could hardly miss it as it's right on the main road into town. And what an odd sight it is- a bit like a giant ice cream cone that's started to melt then been frozen again; it must cause untold accidents as newcomers to the town take their eyes off the road to look at it. Amazing!
We pulled up outside the theatre just as Matt was walking up the alleyway next to it; he advised us of a car park around the back then said something like 'odd place this, everyone's got 6 fingers'. Hmm... after a bit of silliness with the one way system we parked up, loaded our gear into the venue in almost total darkness (they were focusing the lights when we arrived) and found the upstairs dressing rooms. In no time everyone's arrived and we're soundchecking- with a high ceiling and uncarpeted floors it's a echo-ey room but the mighty Mr. Bond gets it all under control as always (Matt sang the first verse of 'Fat Bottomed Girls'- who could he have been referring to?!?) Since it's an 8 o'clock show we decide to go to find some food- among the usual kebab shops and burger bars we find a Yates wine lodge in the shadow of the famous spire, and seeing it close up makes you realise just what a strange building it actually is. While we're in the pub Squirrel remarks on how busy the area will be when we come out; as he does so Tracy notices a couple who have clearly been busy in the bar for most if not all of the day. They leave a few minutes before we do, helping each other stagger through the double doors back out into the real world- I wonder how the spire looked to them?
Back at the venue it's a busy night for Shirley and Nadia (Ian the keyboard player's wife- there's a lot of Ian's in tonight's story!) as they're running the merchandise stall in the foyer as well as being on costume control backstage (Pete's wife Jayne normally handles the outfits but is of course away surprising Dave.) We play a good show which has them dancing in the aisles almost from the word go, and with Matt looking more and more comfortable with every show (and making at least one reference to 'Argos- the musical' during the band introductions) the mood is good throughout, as indeed it has been all week.

As we're leaving for home the streets are teeming with people, most of them young and somewhat under-dressed. I thought I saw the young lady from last night among them, but wasn't sure.

Saturday 21st - The Cane Toads in Frimley

And now for something completely different- depping with The Cane Toads at The Pine Ridge Golf Club in Frimley, Surrey. The show is at a joint 50th birthday party for Alan and Bob, in the very grand surroundings of The Baronial Hall. It's been the best part of a year since I last played with The Toads, so I joined them for a rehearsal on Tuesday evening during which I got the first chance to use the Fender Blues Deville combo that I bought last Autumn, along with the Gibson SG Classic I 'accidentally' bought last January (see the 'Lost and found' posting for the full, slightly bizarre story.) I'm pleased to say that they both sounded terrific, which is at least some rather spurious justification for buying them in the first place- was any needed of course... I also used what for me is a large number of effect pedals- a Dunlop Cry Baby wah-wah, a Boss CE-2 chorus and a Marshall BB-2 Bluesbreaker overdrive. I only use an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer with The CBB's as a boost for solos, and have never used lots of pedals, even though I'm a big fan of The Edge who seems to own every pedal ever made! Rehearsal went well- I managed to remember more of their set than I'd forgotten, if you see what I mean- and it was good to be playing some different songs for a change.
Thanks to the wonders of satellite navigation we found the golf club reasonably easily, 'though when we pulled up I was somewhat perplexed to see another band loading their gear in through the main entrance- fortunately they were playing in The Green Room at another function. As mentioned earlier The Baronial Room is as grand as it's name suggests, complete with a timber beamed ceiling and a suit of armour near the fireplace. We run through 'And She Was' by Talking Heads as a soundcheck, the room's a bit echo-ey 'though nowhere near as much as last night's theatre, and we're sounding good.
We sound good in the gig too- by the time we play the inevitable 'Brown Eyed Girl' there's plenty of dancing, so much so that my microphone stand gets knocked over (I just got my teeth out of the way in time!) and at one point I thought I saw broken dance on the dancefloor- fortunately it turned out to be a silver streamer from a party popper. Oh and I trod on the wrong pedal on more than one occasion, as well as leaving the overdrive pedal on for the second half of 'School's Out'- I'm not sure that any one minded (or even noticed!) but I think I've just remembered why I hardly ever use the damn things, and am unlikely to ever get offered a job in a U2 tribute band.

Sunday 22nd - T.V Smith and The Price in Uxbridge

This run of gigs ends locally at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge. It's been 15 months since The Price last played together- I gave them all a year off for bad behaviour!- so we were long overdue to get together again, and there's no better occasion to do so as it's East's birthday weekend as well as being a chance to play once again with the God-like genius that is T.V. Smith. It seems that being the person that books the acts at a venue has it's advantages...

Since we're playing acoustically we all arranged to meet up at East's flat at 4 p.m. for a rehearsal. Around 4.20 Huggy calls to say he's on his way; at 4.25 Paul's on the phone with the words 'I give up'- he's lost, but just around the corner, him and Huggy arrive together and Malcolm with his wife Jane are not far behind. After much hello-ing and catching up on things we start putting a set together- Paul's got a bewildering array of percussive devices, Huggy's using East's acoustic bass and Malcolm's in good voice. East has a couple of requests- one of our latter-day songs 'Matter Of Time', and the Mega City Four song '21 Again' which we played at our 2007 gigs as a tribute to the then-recently departed MC4 singer Wiz- he hands around the birthday cake as we run through them.
There's just time to go to The Pipemakers Arms for a Chinese meal before we head off to the venue. I set the P.A. up (maybe booking the acts has it's disadvantages too!) and say hello to T.V. who does a quick soundcheck as the audience starts arriving. We get set up, check everything works and start saying hello to people who we've not seen for far to long- The Uxbridge Lads, Eddie our old manager, Pete Kennedy who drummed for us when Mick left the band, Andy Knight... suddenly the place is packed and we're playing 'Standing In Your Way' which ends with tumultuous applause and it's going to be a great night. 'Crazy Times' sounds like a better song than I for one remember it being, and by 'She Belongs To Everyone' (written in the very last days of the band and not played live at the time) I'm thinking to myself that we really should do this more often...
Then, suddenly, everything stops. We're playing too loud, and we've blown the volume restriction device, when it comes back on we turn it down (a bit!) and restart the song. The sound goes off again during our last song 'So What About Love?' not least because the audience was singing along so loudly; we encore with The Buzzcocks classic 'Ever Fallen In Love' (or as East put it, 'Ever Fallen Down Drunk') which we hadn't rehearsed and probably last played nearly 20 years ago. And that's it- the show's over all too soon, a sure sign of a good gig- and this was definitely a good gig.
With all our gear shifted away from the 'stage' (i.e. the bit of floor where the acts play) I help T.V. get his guitar and microphone set up. As we're talking we say how we should have rehearsed something together, and he reminds me that I helped Cheap out once when their guitarist Mik was absent and made a good job of 'Third Term' that night, and we could always play 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'... as he says it I'm thinking 'am I really going to play 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' with T.V. Smith? Could that really happen to little old me?'
It takes a couple of numbers for me to get the balance between the guitar and vocals right- T.V. likes the guitar to be as loud as his voice, but still wants the words to come through- by 'The Newshound' it's all sounding good and going down well. I'm not sure that there's such a thing as a bad T.V. Smith gig but this was a classic, with songs from his latest album 'In The Arms Of My Enemy' next to old Adverts numbers and everything inbetween. Halfway through I bump into East just as T.V. starts 'My String Will Snap', we curtail our conversation as East heads back down the front... then I hear my name mentioned, I fight my way through to my guitar, say something like 'play another song Tim' as I try in vain to get the strap to stay on, he says 'I thought you were a professional' much to the audience's amusment. He plays 'Expensive Being Poor' and I've finally got the bloody thing to stay on the guitar but now I can't find where I've left my lead... he introduces 'Third Term' and I'm sure the chords didn't go like that last time I played it with him- then again that was 2 decades ago and a lot's happened since then. He says something like 'follow me for the intro' and starts 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'- and there I am, playing one of the greatest punk rock songs of them all with the man that wrote it. I've only mentioned it a couple of hundred times since (!) but I'll never be able to say just how much it means to me to have done it. An unforgettable evening.

So there you have it- as I say, a very busy 5 days. Reading back through what I've just written here makes me realise how very lucky I am to do what I do, which is why I don't take any of it for granted- and I never will.

Friday, March 20, 2009

'Mummy- what does E@50 mean?'

Just thought I'd mention/plug the next 'Acts Less Ordinary' show at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge this coming Sunday which features the mighty T.V. Smith along with a performance of some description by those masters of wit and repartee The Price. In case you don't know, T.V. is in my not-so-humble opinion one of the most underrated song writers in the business- from his chart success with punk heroes The Adverts through to last year's 'In The Arms Of My Enemy' he's always delivered the goods in no uncertain terms. As for The Price-well I'll let you know what we're playing sometime around 6 o'clock on the day as we'll have hopefully had a rehearsal by then...

Come on down- you know you want to!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Warrior on the edge of time

Well I don't know about you (obviously!) but I've just woken up- I sat down on the settee and woke up 2 hours later when the postman put some letters through the door (obviously!!) and the dog went mad as a result. I don't know why I was so tired at 10.30 in the morning- or maybe I do...

Friday 13th (!) - Red Noise Day

After a fairly quiet start to 2009 things are hotting up for The Chicago Blues Brothers over the next couple of months with 20 or so gigs between now and the end of April and some festival dates coming in for the summer which is good news all round. The week just gone saw 3 shows, the first of which was at The Palace Theatre in Newark. To this end a Mercedes minibus pulled up outside our house at 10.45 am (15 minutes early!) and I say hello to Brian our driver for this jaunt into the unknown; Pete's hired him and the vehicle from Vans For Bands who we've not used before 'though I've heard from various people that they're a good bunch for this sort of thing. By 11 o'clock we're heading for Richard the sax player's house; by 11.05 we've discovered that we're both old punks and have been to see quite a few of the same gigs and bands over the years. Excellent! He also tells me that Bill Nelson is one of his favourite guitarists, a good choice methinks... there's enough time at Richard's to have a cup of coffee and see a bit of 'Top Gear' before picking up Tracy (backing vocals) and heading over to Duxford to meet up with Dave (trumpet), Ian (keyboards), Mike (Elwood) and Steve (depping for Marc on drums) for the journey up the A1. We arrive a couple of hours later to be met by Matt (Jake), Squirrel (bass) and Pete and Jane (producer and costume controller respectively) and with sound guru Ian Bond's P.A. all sorted and ready to go we set up and run through 'Minnie The Moocher' and The Gospel Medley so that Matt can have a chance to practise them (Pete sang them at Hunstanton last week) then top 'n' tail a few songs for Steve's benefit as he hasn't played with us for a while as well as running through the whole of 'Funky Nassau' as he's not played that one at all before. With everything sounding good it's time for a walk into town in search of a chip shop which we fail to find- we end up back at The Fox & Crown pub a few doors down from the venue (incidentally check out some of the revues of this place- hilarious!) where everyone gets something to eat and Matt meets up with his Mum and Dad who are coming to see the show.
Back at the venue Squirrel looks relieved- he's just realised that it's Red Nose Day which explains why he's just seen Batman and Robin in the barbers; it also explains why there was a genie serving in the pub... it's an 8 o'clock show and while it's by no means sold out there's more than enough people in to make the show work. We're a bit loose in places and things take a while to get going ('New Orleans' goes a bit wrong in the making) but there's lots more good bits than bad and Matt makes a fine job of his new songs 'though he later confesses that he had 'a complete blank' as he went to sing 'Minnie The Moocher'.
With everything packed away after the show it's a short drive past Newark Castle out of town to The Hop Pole Hotel an Ollerton where we're spending the night, which turns out to be a good choice, with chili peanuts and Samuel Smith beer finishing our evening off nicely.

Saturday 14th - 'If you wanna get ahead...'

The day begins promisingly with Richard (I'm sharing room 6 with him) producing a couple of packets of biscuits to go with our coffee. Top man! After a quick shower it's down to the dining room for breakfast, as I arrive I hear Ian saying how his room has 'soap but no spoon'- same as ours then... we're not leaving until 11 o'clock so there's time for a stroll around the village, there's a florist called 'Forget-Me-Notts', a tattoo parlour called 'Ink Inn', a wedding shop called 'All Things Bride and Beautiful' and 2 photographic studios- but no paper shop. Matt went home after the gig as did Pete and Jayne (giving Dave a lift in the process), and Tracy's catching a train up to Newcastle to attend a surprise 50th birthday party for her brother so with 'Grand Theft Auto' on the DVD player (the reception on the radio wasn't good enough for us to listen to the Liverpool vs. Manchester United game) it's off up to Ferrybridge services on the A1 to meet Adam (depping on trumpet) and Matt (still playing Jake) before setting the sat. nav. for Langholm where we're playing at The Buccleuch Centre. The scenery gets ever more spectacular and at one point there's a rainbow in the horizon even though it doesn't appear to be raining; by the time we see the HERE COMES LANGHOLM sign 'Lawnmower Man' is on the DVD player and we've all been in the van for long enough. We're early for soundchecking, so much so that Bondy tells us that he doesn't want to see us for 'at least an hour' so we check in at The Eskdale Hotel where I'm sharing room 12 with Steve; it's a twin room which also includes 2 bunk beds, much to everyone's amusement.
Back at the venue (incidentally it's pronounced 'Buckloo' not Bucklee' as we all thought) Walter is impressed with my guitars, he shows me a picture of his Telecaster and Stratocaster as he's setting up the lights. With Tracy missing 'Natural Woman' and the 'Think/Respect' medley aren't being played- after a bit of discussion we run through '634-5789' which sounds so good that I for one can't quite work out why we don't play it more often. It's a new-ish venue part funded by the owner of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill and everyone there is very friendly and helpful. The show's tighter than the previous evening, and total hilarity occurred when Mike came out for the second set in a bit of a hurry and forgot his hat- the moment when he re-appeared with it on got the biggest cheer of the night. Perhaps we should leave it in the show?!?
Back at the hotel there's a disco starting at 11.30- while we're in the bar people start arriving, they're mostly young and scantily clad and sound as though they've already been out for a while already. They go out through the back of the bar to what is either the quietest disco ever, or is a long way from where we're sitting although I could just about hear it as I was drifting off to sleep. Then again my hearing's not too good these days so it may have been keeping everyone else awake!

Sunday 15th - Glasgow-a-gogo!

Having resolved to wake up in time to see the 8 a.m. repeat of the previous evening's 'Match Of The Day' I of course woke up just in time to catch the very end of the show, meaning that I missed Liverpool beating Manchester United by four goals to one. Oh well, I'm sure it'll happen again soon...
Actually I'm not- as a Liverpool fan it's been hard going recently so it would have been nice to catch this one. I spoke to my Dad about it and he just said 'you should have seen Fergie's face...' which probably sums up what this fixture means to the 2 clubs these days. When I was a lad I remember seeing pictures of Bill Shankly and Sir Matt Busby together looking the best of friends- it's hard to imagine a similar picture of Rafael Benitez and Alex Ferguson isn't it?
After breakfast it's time for a walk around town, it's another unusual collection of shops including a Royal Enfield motorcycle showroom although at least there was a paper shop this time; Matt bought The Sunday Sport - and before you ask, no we couldn't get the DVD wouldn't work in the van, although it wasn't for the want of trying! Oh and there was a narrow road near the hotel called Laird's Entry which caused much amusement as you might well imagine.
11 o'clock and it's time to set out for The Pavillion Theatre in Glasgow. It's a nice bright day and it's a leisurely journey through some astonishing scenery and including a 'let's-see-what's-here' stop in Lanark. Although the answer turned out to be 'not much' I did see a florist's called FLORAL AND HARDY, and the board outside the newsagents advertising The Lanark Gazette proclaimed 'Lost Bible- hunt is back on' so it wasn't a wasted journey from my point of view.
For the second day running we're early arriving at the venue so it's time for a look around. It's Celtic verses Rangers in the Co-Operative Insurance Cup Final at Hampden Park so the city is quieter than it might be- maybe this isn't such a good day to be playing in Glasgow?- but Sauchiehall Street is still pretty lively by anyone's standards. In Buchanan Street it's buskers paradise- Steve and myself see one guy playing Shadows numbers over backing tracks, a drums and guitar jazz duo, a percussionist sitting spreadeagled amongst his instruments and, rather disturbingly, 2 young lads in full tartan regalia playing The Hokey Cokey on bagpipes and snare drum complete with all the moves. It's all a bit much for Steve who's comment of 'quick, let's go before they play 'The Birdie Song' ' may well have been uttered just in time.
Time for a soundcheck- and it's an odd affair with no-one appearing to be too interested, we play 'I Feel Good' to check the tempo as it had seemed a bit slow in Langholm and after one verse it dissolves into an out-of-tune row. 'What a load of bollocks' said Ian Bond in a manner that could politely be described as 'exasperated', and he had a point 'though I for one couldn't really tell you why it went as it did.
Time for a drink and a chance to meet up with John Barnson, an old mate of mine who I last saw a few years ago when I did a playback gig with Dave Finnegan in Cumbernauld. Looking around the bar you get a real sense of the history of the theatre, with old music hall posters all over the walls and the elaborate decor strangely out of time with our 21st century sensibilities.
There's a saying that you often hear in bands along the lines of 'good soundcheck- bad gig, bad soundcheck-good gig'; if ever a show proved that to be true then it was this one which was easily the best of the 3 both from a band and audience point of view. Tracy returned as did her songs, Matt did a really scary splits- the look on the guy in the front row's face said it all!- and we sounded like a totally different band to the one that did the soundcheck. Great stuff.

After getting changed and nipping out to see what John had thought of the show (he must have liked it as gave me a bottle of single malt whisky- top man!) it's time to head off down South and back into the real world again- but only until this Wednesday when it all starts again in Epsom. Excellent! Then again when we stopped at a service station I nearly bought a Hawkwind CD so perhaps I had been away from home for long enough this time...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Seaside special

Saturday began with your humble narrator rushing to the bathroom and stuffing tissue paper up his left nostril. I burst a blood vessel in my nose when I was a small boy (I blew my nose one Saturday evening when I was going to bed and it bled for several hours; it eventually stopped just as 'Match Of The Day' was starting and I was allowed to stay up and watch it for the first time!) and have had occasional problems with nosebleeds ever since, particularly when the hay fever season starts. It didn't last too long but they're not pleasant things to have at the best of times let alone when you're not quite awake yet... it made me a bit late for breakfast but we were all in the minibus just after the allotted time of 10 a.m. so no real harm was done.
Check in at Zurich Airport went reasonably smoothly; Squirrel and myself were directed to take our guitars to 'the man in the pink vest over there' who took one look at my ailing case and reached for a roll of bright red BAGGAGE CHECKED tape which he proceeded to all but cover the case in. In the duty free area I did the only thing possible under the circumstances and had another nosebleed- this one lasted about half an hour and was much less fun than the first (which wasn't exactly fun either, but I think you know what I mean) and eventually stopped just as the GO TO GATE 67 instruction appeared on the screens. Inevitably the flight was the bumpiest one I've been on for a while (see Pete's post on the band blog) which I could have done without as I was feeling a little lightheaded by now. As I attempted to manhandle my guitar case through the revolving doors to the outside world at Heathrow my nose started bleeding again- I was beginning to take it personally...

Last night saw the CBB's visit The Princess Theatre in Hunstanton. We played here last year and it's a great little seaside theatre with a noticeable 'rake' on the stage- a common feature of such venues. It's the first show with Matt officially installed as Jake, replacing Mario who left the fold last month. To give him chance to settle in Pete's playing the 2 character parts in the show (The Rev. I.C. Delight and Fab Calloway) 'though he'll take them over in the not-too-distant future. With the long-suffering Shirley at the helm we (Richard, Tracy and myself) made our way up through The Fens, passing as we did The Slap Up Tandoori Restaurant and The Chew 'n' a Brew cafe (Tracy- 'there'll be a Fill Your Gob services next!') as well as the base of operations of noted guitar builder Richard Bartram who I first met the best part of (gulp!) 30 years ago at Thames Valley Guitars... or was it Pete's Gig Shop... it was a guitar shop in Uxbridge anyway. (Incidentally as I type this there is a picture on Voltarol's blog of a poster which features Richard holding the first guitar that he ever built; in case another missive has appeared in the meantime it's at the start of the 'Music in a Jugular Vein 6' posting.)
We arrived at the theatre not long after 4 o'clock to find preparations in full swing. Ian Bond is back behind the sound desk (always a good sign) and everything's more-or-less ready for soundchecking, after which Pete orders in copious amounts of fish and chips. Confusion during ordering meant that I ended up with 2 Veggieburgers, both of which I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I ate along with a portion of chips. Well- I was hungry!
With Shirley setting up the merchandise desk in the foyer Pete asks me to play some guitar on stage so that Matt, Mike and Tracy can practice harmonies and dance moves. Matt's depped with the band a couple of times and is a great singer and performer whose stage act includes several moves inspired by his interest in martial arts (I believe he's competed internationally; I must ask him about this sometime...) not least a rather terrifying splits move which never fails to astonish the audience. With everything sounding and looking good there's just time to visit the bar before adjourning backstage and getting changed. As we're waiting to go on Pete looks rather conspiratorial; he calls me over and gives me a small furry object which he tells me to put in my pocket for later...
Well the audience would have to had known that it was Matt's first show with us as he was absolutely excellent from start to finish, scary splits and all. I thought it took a while for things to get going 'though it might just have been my indigestion affecting my judgement (yeah I know, it serves me right!) as the audience were going mad by the end. From a band point of view the highlight had to be the moment when Dave Land stepped forward to begin 'Minnie The Moocher'- it's his birthday next week and he's recently shaved off his previously omnipresent moustache so it was time for us all to put ours on... sadly mine fell off as I played the first chord so I wedged it in the guitar strings up by the machine heads. At least I didn't get a nosebleed! After the show I went out into the foyer to see Matt looking somewhat taken aback by the amount of people wanting to shake his hand, and Shirley all but besieged by people trying to buy things from her. A fine evening's work.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Zurich 'n' roll

I've just returned from our latest jaunt to Switzerland- something a bit different this time as in addition to our usual Blues Brothers show we were also backing Steve Ballard in his Elvis act as well as providing some instrumental music (the word 'jazz' was used on several occasions) as the guests arrived at the event. In the unlikely event of you being a regular reader of this mixture of ranting and rambling you will of course know all this already, but I mention it all again here as it seems as though we actually pulled it off...

The long-suffering Shirley dropped Steve, Richard and myself off at Heathrow Airport's terminal 2 at 10 to 7 yesterday morning. With the rest of the troops still on their way to meet us we checked in and I attempted to drop my guitar off at the oversized baggage section (brilliantly named GATE X) without pulling the recently repaired (a better word would be 'bodged') handle off the case. Actually 'repaired' is something of an overstatement as all I'd done was to put the screws back in and hope that it would at least hold for the duration of the journey there and back. I was of course to be disappointed- it came off as I lifted the case onto the baggage belt. Bugger! Oh well- everyone else has arrived and time's getting on so we go through security and after grabbing a quick bite to eat we board the plane.
Good job we were nice and early- the plane sits on the tarmac for 2 hours while we listen to various announcements about baggage in the hold causing the aircraft to be unbalanced and therefore unable to take off... calculations are calculated and several people are asked to change seats to sit nearer the back of the plane (I don't like to say it but they were, shall we say, some of the larger people on board) and, with quite a few passengers getting angry about missing connections as a result of the delay, we eventually take off for an otherwise uneventful flight, much of which I spend talking to Steve about his Elvis act and our mutual admiration for Nine Below Zero.

We arrive at Zurich Airport to be met by Marcel (who was with us last time) and Peter (who wasn't) who drive us to the nearby Stadthalle Dietikon where we meet up with Ronnie from Show Connection who's promoting the event, and get introduced to Regula ('she's the Swiss equivalent of Fern Britton ') who's the compare for the evening. The delayed flight meant that we had less time to rehearse than we'd hoped so we get set up and get on with it. The stage set includes old style American petrol pumps and roadsigns, oddly appropriate for an evening featuring Elvis and Blues Brothers acts (which if you think about it is probably why they were there! Doh!) and there's a large cactus next to me- now there's something that I never thought I'd ever say... we run through Steve's part of the show, there's the odd mad moment with the sound system but the music's sounding good especially considering the lack of time. At 4.30 it's off to our to check in at The Trend Hotel and attempt to put the handle back onto my guitar case. I'm sharing room 211 with Squirrel 'though it's actually more of suite than a room- it's got a settee and everything!- and we find CD's there of Van Morrison performing 'Moondance' and Ray Charles singing 'Georgia On My Mind' which are 2 songs suggested for our 'they're arriving' set at the start of the evening. We put them on the CD player- Squirrel attempts to learn them while I fall asleep and snore!

6.45 and we're at the side of the stage waiting to go on. Ronnie tells us that there's members of the Swiss Government in attendance which is why we can't play too loud (no, I can't quite work out why either) so we begin 'Watermelon Man' with everything turned down a notch or 2. For the next 20-odd minutes we're in Murph and the MagicTones mode with 'Summertime' sounding about the best number from my point of view (i.e. I had a rough idea of how it was supposed to go!) I think I said something to Pete like 'I never knew I had so much skin on my teeth' as we came offstage which pretty much sums up my performance for me- I really must learn some more playing about jazz guitar...

With the best part of 3 hours until Elvis takes to the stage it's time for something to eat and some Feldschlosschen beer before readying ourselves for the E.P. experience. Steve's in the Las Vegas era jumpsuit and we start with 'C.C. Rider' which finishes to mild indifference from the audience- or does it? By 'The Wonder Of You' Steve's walking around the tables and the audience are loving it. Our 20 minute set is over almost before it's begun, a sure sign of a good show.

25 minutes later and we're back on in our more familiar Chicago Blues Brothers guise. The lack of a formal setlist means there's a mix up or 2 but that doesn't stop Richard and Dave from dragging Regula out onto the stage to dance with them during 'Mr. Pitiful', and despite tiredness setting in (it was a l-o-n-g day!) we get an encore, something of a rarity at corporate events such as this. We get invited to the bar afterwards (always a good sign!) which turns out to be fortuitous since when we get back to our hotel the bar there's closed; then again my guitar case handle had come off again so perhaps it was just as well.

Check the Show Connection website for their latest extraordinary description of our act!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Many a true word is spoken in jest

Ok! I've sent all the required details to their Dublin office- let's see what excuses they come up with for not replacing my broken-handled guitar case. I'm going for 'we didn't recieve the letter within 7 days of the incident occuring'- always possible if it's being flown out there by Ryanair themselves..