Thursday, April 30, 2009

King for a day / Kingdom come / Brunel blues etc etc

I first went to a gig at Brunel University in Uxbridge early in 1977- it was to see Wilko Johnson (although it said 'The Wilko Johnston Band' on both the posters and the tickets) who had just left Dr. Feelgood and was out on his first solo tour. The next band I remember seeing there was Eddie and the Hot Rods supported by No Dice; the venue was then called The Kingdom Room which became The Academy in (I think) the 1980's, and I saw countless acts there over the years, from The Motors to Motorhead and back again via Mega City Four - and that's just the ones that begin with M! (Incidentally the bigger bands- The Sex Pistols, Rockpile and The Kinks to name but three witnessed by your humble narrator- played in The Sports Hall, or 'Sports Barn' as it was then known.) Having such an excellent, eclectic venue so close to home helped my early interest in music to an incalculable degree, to such an extent that I've often wondered where I would have been without it... The Price played one of our very first gigs there in 1985 (supporting Action Pact and Porky The Poet) and appeared there on many occasions over the years (including a show with Transvision Vamp that has long since passed into Price folklore) and we played one of our final shows in our original incarnation late in 1993. Last night I saw my first gig there this century (!) and it was definitely a good one to come back with...

The King Blues are a band that I'd heard lots of good things about but had not heard a note by until a week or so ago when Andy Peart played me their latest album 'Save The World- Get The Girl'. He called them 'a breath of fresh air' and he's not wrong- I don't remember the last time that I heard an album by a 'current' band that I've liked as much as this one. Describing them is difficult- musically they're a kind of acoustic ska/punk band with shouty choruses and empassioned vocals (and, it must be said, the politics) reminiscent of Blaggers I.T.A. and The Redskins (who played a classic Brunel gig during the miners strike of 1984.) Maybe best of all, they've got band members with names like Itch and Fruitbag... lots to enjoy here then, making a visit to their gig last night essential.
It looks like things have changed a bit since I was last here. It's more like a modern town than the time-warped university campus of memory, with it's inhabitants looking like they've got things to do, places to go people to see... I walked around for 10 minutes or so, passed through the area featured in 'A Clockwork Orange', the sports hall has changed too and the whole place is somehow brighter than I remember it being, more colourful, maybe more inviting to potential students coming for interviews than the grey buildings of yore? At the venue I walk to where the entrance used to be, but it's not there anymore, it's maybe 20 or 30 yards further along, there's a security man in a shirt and tie on the door, he looks at me quizzically as I say I'm here to see the band, he's probably about 10 years younger than me after all but directs me to the young lady behind the counter at the end who has a similar look on her face as she give me a colourful wristband to wear; I can remember getting home after that first Wilko gig where they'd rubber-stamped the back of my hand to show that I'd paid to get in, I spent hours trying to scrub the ink off fearing that I'd never get rid of it and that they'd somehow tattooed me without me realising it, because you think things like that when you're 15 don't you? Well, I did anyway.
Inside things have changed too. The stage was along the longest side of the oblong room opposite where you used to come in, now it's moved 90 degrees to the right and doesn't seem to be a permanent structure. The bar's still in roughly the same place meaning that it's now all but opposite the stage, with the dancefloor a bit lower than I remember it- or maybe the raised section next to it is a bit higher? There's maybe 150 people in and they're pretty much all late teens/early twenties, presumably most of them are students which didn't seem to be the case all those years ago- I get a drink and look around, trying not too look at the girls in case they think I'm a dirty old man, trying not to look at the boys in case they agree with the girls, feeling like some kind of 'Uncle Ernie' in the corner counting the bubbles in my lager- thankfully Andy and his girlfriend Abbie arrive to rescue me from the shadows before the police are called.
Suddenly the band are on- it's 9.40, earlier than I remember the headline bands appearing back in the day. They sound great and look even better, no one stands still for a second, both guitarists sweating by the end of the first number which is always a good sign in my world. I'm standing near the back behind the main audience crush, trying to work out what's different from last time, suddenly realising that the room's not full of smoke anymore. There's a lot of singing along, people punching the air as Itch leads them in the revolution, because that's what it is, a revolution where we're all going to go out and change the world after the show, because the world needs to change, has to change, there should be more people like us and less people like them, we're taking over, taking over, taking over again...

A great gig- Andy was right, they're a breath of freah air, 'though they're actually more like a hurricane. If only I wasn't the best part of three time (yes, three times) the age of most their audience... and another thing- the bar closed at 10.30! When did that start happening? It wouldn't have happened in my day- let me tell you, we drank all night ever night in them days, when men were men and punks were punks and the revolution didn't start until closing time. The young people today, they don't know they're born... continued on page 98...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Clacton is God / Clacton Baby / Clacton (and on) etc etc

Now this is getting a bit weird... we (The Flying Squad) were due to be playing at The Red Lion in Egham this coming Saturday (May 2nd in case you're counting) but we're now playing at The Walnut Tree in Bourne End- no, I don't know what's going on either. Maybe that old saying about how 'ours is not to reason why' applies? Oh well- we sounded good in rehearsal last night- it's our first '2 set gig' (we only played a half hour support show at the Ruislip show earlier this month) so we had to get a few more songs together in record time. I'll let you know how we do- or you could come to the gig and see for yourself...

Since starting in Edmonton at the end of January The Chicago Blues Brothers have played the best part of 20 theatre dates, and we played our last one for a while on Saturday at The Westcliff Theatre in Clacton. Ian Bond is back behind the sound desk but it's all change in the horn department with Bev and Steve in place of Richard and Dave on sax and trumpet. Roger returns on keyboards, and in Jake's shoes it's the comeback king himself Mr. Pete Tobit, but other than that it's the A-team all the way. With Tracy delayed in heavy traffic soundcheck saw a rather unusual version of 'Natural Woman' with Pete on vocals (we wanted to run the song so that Roger could get the piano introduction to everyone's liking) as well as trying 'Looking For A Fox' with the opening riff played on guitar and bass rather than keyboards as Roger's never heard the original version. Come to think of it- neither have I!
Time for a drink and a look around- the theatre's mostly staffed by volunteers (as was The Regent Theatre in Christchurch where we appeared the week before last) and they're a friendly crew although some of the men were a bit intimidating in their red ties and blue blazers- then again they were all about 80 years old... Shirley's behind the merchandise with Squirrel's wife Lindsay, and trade is brisk from the moment they open the doors which always bodes well for a good show, which this one definitely is although I had a few 'bad thumb moments' (I really must get it looked at!) and managed to cut my right index finger during a particularly boisterous 'Gimme Some Loving' resulting in more than a little blood on my Telecaster. Ah- just like the old days... mind you it stopped working* completely during 'Riot In Cell Block #9' but was fine when I tried it after the show. It felt a bit like when the T.V. repairman comes round to fix your set and it works perfectly when they're there but goes wrong again as soon as they've gone- don't you just hate it when that happens?

So- no more theatre shows until September. It's been a good run of work... actually it hasn't, it's been a GREAT run of work. The band's playing well, Matt's made the role of Jake his own (sorry Pete- but you said it too!) and there's talk of recording a new album before the next batch of dates in the Autumn, as well as some corporate and festival shows dotted throughout the next few months. In the last posting I said it was going to be 'a long hot summer'- I'm pleased to say that it looks as though I wasn't wrong. Excellent!

*The positive terminal of the battery had worked itself out of the little clip thingy that it fits into, which serves me right for landing on it from about 20,000 feet instead of just stepping on it like you're supposed to! Bugger!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm off for a lay down...

Time for another Acts Less Ordinary gig at The Load of Hay- Sunday night's featured Colour Me Wednesday and Joe Card and, while it couldn't be described as a bad evening, was perhaps a little anti-climatic after last month's epic event. Joe arrived at the venue with the words 'I've got a bit of a croaky throat' but got through his set without too many mishaps whilst CMW played a somewhat shambolic collection of spiky pop songs to the delight of their travelling followers and to the rather more critical observations of the casual observers back at the bar, one of whom described them as 'Duller Me Wednesday'. You can't win 'em all, as they say... next month's gig should be a killer 'though, as I've managed to secure the services of the mighty Kris Dollimore- words like 'unmissable' don't describe it!

Monday saw your humble narrator back behind the counter of Pro Music in Ickenham where things are hotting up- we're about to admit defeat and join the rather murky world (to me anyway) of e-commerce. By the end of next month American Tom should have got our new website up and running which will allow people to buy directly from us over the internet, a move which means I'm currently trying to drag myself into the late 20th Century (there's no need to go completely mad and be right up to date now is there?!?) and learn more about such things. It looks as though it's going to be a long hot summer, as The Tom Robinson Band once sang.

Talking of websites Andy C. has put one together for The Flying Squad- click here to see some pictures from last week's gig, and to hear our version of 'That's it, I quit' recorded in Andy's garage earlier this year. We're playing at The Red Lion in Egham next Saturday 2nd May- having spent ages rehearsing with no gigs we've now got to rush to get enough songs together to play this show. Ah- it's like goldy and silvery but it's made out of iron...

Meanwhile last night saw the latest theatre show from The Chicago Blues Brothers, at The Gordon Craig in Stevenage. The theatre is part of the Arts and Leisure Centre- we arrived to find the stage in almost total darkness as the crew were refocusing the lights so after loading in myself and the long-suffering Shirley went for a look around. There was an exhibition of photographs in the foyer by the rather grandly-named Frederick James Gormer and very fine they were too. The man himself was there with his mum, who went straight up to Shirley with the words 'that's the photographer over there'- exactly the sort of thing that my mum would have done to me, and he looked as embarrassed as I would have!
Soundcheck time and there's a conspiracy in the air; Marc's back on behind the kit and is proudly displaying his new Mapex Black Panther snare drum, oblivious to the fact that Pete's discovered that it's his birthday... we jam some rock and roll and attempt 'Living for The City' with Pete on vocals before retiring to the green room to discuss tactics for the rest of the year and to surprise Marc with a card and a song.
7.45 and it's showtime- there's a good crowd in and the first set builds up well 'though my left hand reminds me that it's not quite as it should be on more than one occasion, particularly during my solo in 'She Caught The Katy' which is fine until the end where I bend a string and it suddenly feels like I've plugged my guitar (and indeed my hand) straight into the mains. Not good, frankly... no time to worry about that now though as I'm meeting Price bassist Huggy in the bar in the interval, he's not seen the show before and comes backstage to meet the troops and to re-acquaint himself with Pete after a gap of many years. (Pete promoted gigs in our area back in the mid-to-late '80's.) The second set carries on where the first left off, with Marc getting a birthday moment during 'Sweet Home Chicago' and Huggy pronouncing himself to be 'gobsmacked' by our performance after the show. Excellent!

Today's a day off, or as near as I ever get to having one anyway. There's loads to do as usual so, ever one for getting on with the most important things in life, I've just watched the Liverpool vs. Arsenal game which I recorded last night. We've just got LFCTV and I'd managed to avoid the result before seeing it- it ended up 4-4! I need a day off after that!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Down by the jetty

Enough of pretending to be Gypie Mayo- it's time to get back to pretending to be Steve Cropper...

Incidentally I've got the same date of birth as the great Gypie, and Cropper's middle name is Lee. What can all this mean? Well probably not that much really- but it makes me smile!

The Pavilion Theatre is, somewhat excellently, on the end of Cromer pier. It's venue that, strange as it my seem, was a popular punk venue back in the late '70's- The Sex Pistols played there on Christmas Eve 1977, one of their last U.K. gigs in their original reign of terror; at least I think it's the same venue?- and we played there the best part of 2 years ago. Thinking back to that show I remembered there being carts for you to take your gear along the pier to the venue on; I also remembered there being quite a bit of confusion over (a) how you got a vehicle near enough to the pier to allow you to use said carts and (b) nowhere nearby to park when you'd unloaded your stuff. Last night both (a) and (b) still applied- we eventually found our way down to the pier after much crawling around roads with names like Jetty Street, procured a cart and wheeled mine and Tracy's gear to the theatre (a couple of loose boards here and there!) whilst Shirley set off in search of a parking space. Steve's depping for Marc on drums, but aside from that it's the A-team with Richard returned from holidaying in The U.S.A. (Tracy and myself were due to be going to the gig with him but he'd been to a wedding up North the night before and so made his own way across to the gig, hence the long-suffering Shirley's appearance in the driving seat) and Graham behind the mixing desk. With everyone set up we soundcheck with 'Midnight Hour' and my left hand is really hurting, I'm using my Baja Telecaster which is a great guitar but which has a slightly larger neck than the '60's classic that I normally use for our gigs and almost every chord I play sends a stab of pain along the length of my thumb and halfway up my arm. When we stop the song for Tracy to check her in-ear monitors I change guitars, we play the song again and whilst it can't exactly be described as 'painless' it's a lot less unpleasant and I'm beginning to wonder if the guitar is the cause of my problems..?

Realistically it probably isn't- I went to the osteopath last week who said that it was likely to be 'an old lifting injury' which I've somehow aggravated; he then treated it by practically tearing my hand off which you could argue is why it's been extra painful this week.

It's an 8 o'clock show so after soundcheck there's time to head off in search of food, which we find at Mary Jane's fish and chip shop (excellent, and very busy!) before heading back along the pier to help Shirley and her daughter Lizzy set up the merchandise stall (the bar's now full of the people who were in the chip shop!) then heading backstage to get changed. I've somehow got a freezing cold dressing room all to myself (perhaps that's why no one else wanted it?) and showtime seems to come around all of a sudden if you know what I mean... Mike tries to get the crowd singing 'My Girl', when he says that they're quiet a cry of 'we're not getting paid' comes from somewhere in the darkness, but by 'Flip Flop and Fly' they're dancing in the aisles. My hand could feel better but it felt a lot worse in the soundcheck, there's the odd shaky moment from my point of view (hopefully no one else noticed!) but Steve did a fine job behind the kit as always and Shirley and Lizzy all but sold out of merchandise (at the risk of sounding sexist, 2 blondes behind the counter seems to work!) which is always a sign of a good show.

As we're getting our gear out of the venue there are people arriving on the pier to go night fishing. It's cold and windy and it looks like it could rain at anytime. In the car I switch my phone on, there's a message from Dave saying that The Flying Squad have been offered a gig on May 2nd at The Red Lion in Egham; I send him a text message saying that I'll check the date and call him in the morning when I'll also see if Andy and Mike can do it, and the message 'they're both ok' comes back almost immediately. Look like we've got work to do- hope my hand stops hurting...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Feeling good!

Well there we are then- a triumphant first gig for The Flying Squad, supporting Stray at Tropic At Ruislip last night. A breathless half hour set went down a storm with pretty much all those present, with people coming up to us afterwards to say how much they'd enjoyed it, how it was great to see a band like ours these days and, maybe most intriguingly of all, how we should work up a set as a Dr. Feelgood tribute band. Maybe we should!?!

Myself and Andy arrived in the pouring rain to find Dave and Mike loading their gear in, and Stray all set up and ready to soundcheck. They're a friendly bunch, and sound pretty much how you think they'd sound i.e. a late '60's/early '70's power trio with excellent vocal harmonies. Phil the soundman is an old mate- I think I first met him 10 or 12 years ago when he was running a rehearsal studio in West Drayton- and as we were setting up he asked if we play 'She Does It Right', it wasn't on the setlist so we did it as a soundcheck (it's always good to get the soundman on your side!) along with snippets of 'Rolling and Tumbling' (for Andy's harmonica) and 'All through The City' (for the backing vocals). There was just time for a drink and to say hello to a few people before getting onstage for our allotted 8.45 kick-off time.
First gigs are always a bit weird- suddenly you're all standing in a line instead of facing each other in a rehearsal room (no, I don't know why you never think to have a rehearsal with the band all set up in stage positions either!) and there's no going back to check the endings... my left hand was pretty painful which meant I missed a couple of notes here and there but overall it was a good start to our (ahem) career with the audience reaction building throughout the set to such an extent that Phil the compere asked us to play 'She Does It Right' as an encore (it's always good to get the compere on your side too!) which we duly did- yes, an encore for a support band. Now there's something you don't see every day...

Stray frontman Del Bromham began their set by saying how much he'd enjoyed our set (top man!) and then observed that it wasn't the first time that the flying squad had turned up at one of his gigs as 'I used to be managed by Charlie Kray...'

Enough said I think!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Through the wind and rain

On Saturday 15th April 1989 Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in an F.A. cup semi-final at Hillsborough in Sheffield. Thousands of Liverpool fans made the journey to Yorkshire that day- 96 of them never went home again. In the intervening 20 years no one has admitted responsibility for the events that led up to their deaths; in fact officially no one has even said sorry.

Is it just me that thinks that if it hadn't have been working class people that had died then someone somewhere would have been bought to justice a long time ago?

R.I.P. the 96. You'll never walk alone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Swindon (and on)

Given that we've finally managed to get a gig there is at last a reason for The Flying Squad to rehearse- to this end Andy, Dave, Mike and myself met at room 4 of Ruff Rockers Rehearsal Studio at 6 p.m. yesterday to do just that, and, even though I say so myself, we sounded pretty good to my ears. Then again after the amount of work we've put in I guess we should! As we were leaving Andy said something like 'if we don't know it now we never will'- let's hope he's right...

Meanwhile The Chicago Blues Brothers roadshow rolled on for 2 shows over the Easter weekend, the first of which was at The Regent Theatre in Christchurch. As we neared the venue we passed The Thomas Tripp Late 'n' Live which had 2 Jake and Elwood statues on it's roof- sadly Jake had lost one of his feet, but I decided that their presence was a good omen for our gig. Myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived to find most of the band already there- it's a 'nearly-the-A-team' weekend with Ian depping again for Richard on sax but with everybody else where they should be, and with Bondy away Graham's alone behind the mixing desk for the first time. Mike and Matt look a little blearier than usual having just flown back from a gig in The Middle East, and soundcheck included Pete joining myself, Squirrel and Marc for an attempt at 'All Right Now' as well as an instrumental version of 'Little Wing'.
The venue was interesting in a number of ways, not least because it was originally a cinema in the 1930's, and much of it's Art Deco flavour survives. It also has a bar under the stage- not seen that before!- and some of the oldest staff that I've ever seen, many of whom were utterly terrifying ('you're not going to stand THERE are you young man?') not least the lady selling ice creams that I rather unwisely asked for change for our merchandise stall ('I only have enough for MYSELF!')
About a week or so before the show Pete had told us that less than 100 tickets had been sold meaning that the show might be cancelled, but some sterling publicity work by Squirrel's wife Lindsay and an appearance on local radio meant that we ended up with the best part of 250 people in the audience; they took a a while to get going but get going they did, and Mike and Matt shook off their jet lag to give a fine performance.

After the show Shirley and myself headed for Swindon where we'd booked ourselves a Travelodge in anticipation of the next night's show at The Wyvern Theatre. With Gary Moore on the CD player the journey took about an hour and a half; there's no parking at the travelodge and the car park opposite only lets you buy a ticket until 6 a.m. meaning that one of us (me!) would have to get up then to buy a new ticket- we drive around for a few minutes before finding some space in Spring Gardens around the back of where we were staying. When we go to check in the young man in reception can't find our details on their computer- it turns out that Shirl had already checked us in by phone earlier in the day. He's got 'mum' tattooed on one wrist and 'dad' tattooed on the other- she mentions to him that we've parked around the back and he says that cars often get broken into there, they're looking for sat. nav's so make sure that you haven't left a circular mark in your windscreen, then again a car was broken into in the car park opposite last night... we walk back to the car to clean the windscreen and to bring my guitars back with us.

It had been a long Saturday ( as opposed to a Long Good Friday) so a lazy Sunday beckoned, although we did manage a visit to the nearby outlet centre (Shirl likes shopping!) before getting to the theatre for around 4.30 in the afternoon. We'd been due to play here back in September 2007 when the show was cancelled at short notice due to an asbestos problem (!) at the theatre; soundcheck saw Pete continuing his assault on the Paul Rodgers songbook with a somewhat loose version of 'Can't Get Enough' before switching to bass for a go at 'Reach Out, I'll Be There'. Oh and Matt turned a few heads by asking us to play 'something in Bb' before modestly revealing his not-inconsiderable blues harmonica prowess- we must get that in the show!
After a walk to the nearby Co-op to pick up a pre-gig sandwich it was time for a visit to the bar. As I walked towards it Tracy appeared to be looking at me whilst saying something like 'and who's this sexy man?'- yes, you've guessed it, she was referring to her step-brother who was following right behind me. The barman also had 'mum' and 'dad' tattooed on his wrists- maybe it's a Swindon thing?
The show's fine from a band point of view (i.e. we play well and go down brilliantly with the audience) but from my point of view things aren't so good. Back in September of last year I had a virus that caused my limbs to ache; it's either come back or I've hurt or strained my left hand in some way as my thumb was in agony for most of the show, and as a result I didn't play as well as I would have liked. It's very frustrating to hear the notes not quite coming out the way that you'd like them to- it's as if they sound one way in your head but another way in the real world. I'm hopeless at going to doctors and the like, but I'm going to have to do something about this... nevertheless it's been another 2 good CBB shows- the more the merrier, that's what I say.

Don't forget- if you'd like to come and see the debut performance by The Flying Squad then just click here to go to the venue website where you'll find all the details; you can also send them an e-mail telling them that you'd like to come to see us and you'll get in cheap! Excellent!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

You're nicked!

At last! Having spent what feels like ages in a rehearsal room we- Andy, Mike, Dave and myself- have got a gig! Hurrah!

It's happening this Friday at Tropic At Ruislip which is a new club put together by George McFall, who was one of the people responsible for gigs at The Rayners all those years ago. We're supporting '70's rockers Stray and are on around 8.30 p.m. for a half an hour or so. Excellent!

Of course every band needs a name, and after much head scratching we've finally come up with one; since we're playing what is described on the venue's website as 'Canveyesque blues rock' (i.e. Dr. Feelgood impressions) we spent ages trying to come up with a name that fitted the music. Sadly most of the good ones have already been used but I for one couldn't believe that no one had thought of THE FLYING SQUAD before- well, if they have then we can't find them on the internet! And talking of the internet the blurb on the venue website describes both myself and The Price as 'legends'- no pressure then... the site also has all the information on where the venue is and how to get there; they've got some good gigs coming up over the next few months so it looks like a venture that's well worth supporting.

If you'd like to come to the show- and let's face it, who doesn't?!?- then send an e-mail to saying who you are and how many others are coming with you and you'll all get in cheap! Result!

See you down the front then...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stands to reason?

We (The Chicago Blues Brothers and their band) were due for another three-gigs-in-a-row this weekend but the second of the shows, at The Broadway Theatre in Peterborough, has been postponed until later in the year due to fire damage after an arson attack. (Typical! It's always the one in the middle that gets cancelled! Then again it did give me rather a lot of chances to do the old gag about how there's 'a lot of arson about'...) Still we've been gigging regularly recently so perhaps one shouldn't be greedy, and anyway, these two were eventful enough...

When I was a lad reading the music press of the 1970's (or to be more accurate, mostly reading other people's copies of New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Sounds magazines- me and my music-loving mates used to take it in turns to buy them as our dinner money only went so far!) it seemed that anybody who was anybody played at The Fairfield Halls in Croydon, which made it a place of almost mythical significance to your (young) humble narrator. When I first heard that we were due to be playing in Croydon I did allow myself a split-second of dreaming- would I be standing on the same stage as the long-haired 'n' flared rock gods of the '60's and '70's and in doing so would I hammer the last punky nail into prog rock's Stonehenge-shaped coffin?
Well, no, I wouldn't- but I nearly did, since we were playing at The Ashcroft Theatre which is part of the same building. When myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived I said something like 'back to the seventies then' as everything about the building and it's immediate surrounding area seemed to me to be from another time. They were even advertising an upcoming gig by Steeleye Span! Arriving backstage the signs directing you to the stage and dressing rooms were written in the kind of lettering that I remember seeing in T.V. shows like 'That's Life!' when they did the 'behind the scenes' items- you know, those raised-up, white-on-grey slanted capital letters- and the labyrinth of steps and corridors leading to the dressing rooms were found behind the kind of double doors that I remember from school days. I accidentally went through the wrong set of doors and ended up in a Fairfield Halls backstage corridor which was covered in autographed photos of the likes of Bob Monkhouse, Roger Whittaker and, rather incongruously, Smokey Robinson; more amusingly a pillar at the side of the theatre stage that had been signed by Uri Geller also featured the words 'I bet he can't bend a .56 gauge E string - Jet Harris'. Excellent.
It's an A-team gig with Pete on hand to direct operations and his wife Jayne on costume control; her son Arnold ends up with Shirley behind the merchandise table, and since Pete's come up with some setlist changes soundcheck is more of a rehearsal than it has been of late. Sound guru Ian Bond is using a different microphone on my amplifier (since you've asked, a Sennheiser E609 rather than the usual Shure SM57) and judging by the sound coming back at me through the monitors he's made a wise choice- then again, he usually does. With everything checked and ready to go it's off to the box office to leave 2 tickets on the door for Dave Ruffy who's coming along to see the show with his mate Buster, and to fight our way through literally hundreds of people (sadly not all there to see us, there was an event on next door!) to get to the cafe for some pre-gig calories.
The show itself was a bit of an odd one- we were playing well to an audience response that's probably best described as 'muted', by the end of the first set there's a bit more of a reaction but it still feels like hard work. Bondy comes backstage during the interval, when I ask him how it's going out front he replies 'it's a London audience- once you get inside of the M25 everything turns to shit.' He might well have a point- there's often a 'seen it all before' thing about big city audiences whereas if you're a bit out of town people seem more responsive, sometimes even grateful for the fact that you've taken the trouble to come and play for them. Still things got going a bit more in the second half and it's a case of 'all's well that ends well' in the end, although a mad moment occurred on the last chord of 'Green Onions' when Marc knocked his cymbal and stand over and off the drum riser- you don't see that happen too often (thank God!) although a similar incident lay in store for another instrument at our next show, as we shall see... and Mr. Ruffy told me that he loved it- I was first in a room with him almost exactly 30 years ago (it was a very big room, and he was on the stage and I was in the audience, but that's not the point!) and it means a lot to me that he enjoyed it. Mind you if he'd have hated it I wouldn't have mentioned that he was there at all! Hurrah!

Guitar stands must be one of the shop's best selling items; I'd go so far as to say they're probably the most popular present for the relative or friend that plays, and many people buy one as a matter of course when they get a new guitar. I'm often asked which is the 'best' type to get- there are various different designs available- and I always try to find out where and when it's likely to be used, as well as saying something like 'bear in mind that as soon as you put a guitar on a stand it becomes vulnerable'.

I really should listen to my own advice sometimes...

The Floral Hall at The Winter Garden in Eastbourne is a great venue; we played there almost exactly a year ago and it was a good gig 'though my memory of it is somewhat coloured by the fact that my cousin Gary died that weekend. This year we've got a support band- very rare for us- and with the sun shining it's a good day to be beside the seaside. Ian's on sax in place of Richard, but it's the same line up as the previous gig apart from that; Bondy's bought Graham along for his first gig behind the mixing desk with us, and with two bands to get sorted out our soundcheck is more of a linecheck (i.e. check everything works!) than anything else. The support band- Sticks 'n' Stones- are setting their gear up in front of ours so I move my guitars towards the back of the stage out of harm's way (ha!) then go back to the dressing room to sort my stage clothes out. After a few minutes I can hear the other band playing and decide to go out front and have a listen.
I get to the back of the hall just in time to see Bondy carrying my guitars offstage, something I've not seen him do before. I forget about watching the band and go back to the dressing room to see what's happened, arriving just in time to see Bondy holding my Baja Telecaster up to the light ( rarely a good sign!) whilst saying something like 'if I was Leigh I'd wrap it around their heads' (definitely not a good sign!!) before seeing me and looking somewhat shocked- then again maybe I did too?
He hands me my guitar- there's what can best be described as a bloody great dent between the second and third frets near the top E string; I run my hand along the neck and can feel the jagged edges that weren't there last time I'd played it as Ian tells me that one of the support band knocked it over then put it back on it's stand, and that if he hadn't have seen it then they probably wouldn't have told me that it had happened...
Suddenly they've stopped being a not-particularly-good covers band and become a bunch of talentless hippie inbreds who should have been smothered at birth; then again I'm not stupid (honest!) and that means that I realise that, yes, accidents do happen, and that's one of the reasons that I use relatively inexpensive instruments for gigging with. But was Ian right? Would they have tried to get away without telling me? Imagine what that would make them... in the background I can hear that their soundcheck's finished; I try to lighten the mood by attempting a joke about my annual good mood being ruined (not that far from the truth!) as Bondy leads the way back to the stage to find out what happened.
Details are sketchy- a curtain was moved and suddenly my guitar was on the floor. One of them is wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt; none of them apologise. Somebody (the promoter I think) had told me that the lead singer/guitarist is really good, has played gigs in front of thousands of people- as he said it I really hoped that they'd all hated him then as much as I hated him and his band now... there's a million things that can happen to you that are worse than your guitar neck getting damaged, even though it didn't feel like it at that particular moment, but since I can't turn the clock back ('though I'm working on it!) there wasn't much else for me to do than to walk away shaking my head in despair. So that was what I did...
Back in the dressing room I look again at the damage- maybe it's not that bad after all? Then again that's not the point is it? My annual good mood (such that it was!) is now definitely a thing of the very recent past, Shirley tries to help but I'm getting sadder and sadder, not a good way to be before a show. She suggests we go for a walk down to the seafront, it's a lovely evening and the sea looks calm and, considering the way I felt at that moment, almost inviting.
Back at the venue it's time to get the merchandise table set up; Shirley's on duty with Ian's wife Nadia, and they're doing a roaring trade from the moment the doors open. There are expectations of over 400 people through the doors, and pretty soon it becomes evident that we've got nowhere near enough stuff with us. At 7.30 Sticks 'n' Stones take to the stage- they start with 'All Right Now' which is so unutterably appalling to my ears that I don't actually recognise it until the chorus, and 'Sweet Home Alabama' sounds just as bad- I realise that I've got to stop listening to them or I'll go mad. Somehow I shut them out of my ears as Mike/Elwood's dad comes over and asks me what I think of them, I restrict myself to saying that their guitar sounds aren't very good, too distorted in my opinion, bands like this always use too much distortion don't you think? Shirl asks me if I'm ok, gives me a hug as I say yes, of course I am, it's only a guitar, there are worse things to worry about... they finish by wringing the life out of a soulless, gutless 'Brown Sugar' and I thank God that it's all over at last; they go down quite well and all look pleased with the audience response, it's better than the pub gigs that they're no doubt used to, now they're a big fish in a small pond and can't wait to tell their workmates about it on Monday morning.

(I'm sure that they weren't actually that bad, in fact might even have been quite good- now there's a begrudging compliment! I think they call that 'damning with faint praise' don't they?- but they were all but unlistenable to my jaundiced, embittered ears.)

Meanwhile I'm in the dressing room with my workmates- Dave says something like 'sorry to hear about your hooter Leigh' as I pick it up to take it back onstage, I give him a smile and say something about working with amateurs. On stage the guitarist is putting his gear away, comes over and says that he's doesn't know if anyone had said sorry to me but he knows how he'd feel if one of his guitars had been damaged and he's sorry on the band's behalf, he seems like a nice guy and I say thanks to him for taking the trouble to say something, suddenly I feel a bit better and stop hoping that they all drown in the small pond.
Halfway through our first set and the dancefloor's full; it makes me think of the dancehall scene in 'Quadrophenia' where Jimmy jumps off the balcony, I think back to earlier when I looked out to sea and felt so lonely even with Shirley holding my hand, now they're all dancing and everything's alright, I turn around towards Marc as the song ends and catch sight of my Baja Telecaster on the stand that it couldn't stay on earlier- the mark on the neck looks enormous, big enough to be seen from another planet never mind from where I'm standing a couple of yards away... the song ends and the audience are going wild, they're having a great time and that's what we're there for, to make them smile, to give them a chance to dance all over their problems and to leave the real world behind for a few hours. If Thursday had been hard work then Saturday almost couldn't have been easier, it's a great show and I'm annoyed with myself for getting upset about something as trivial as a bit of damage to my guitar. I look at it again and it's only a tiny little mark, hardly visable- what was I thinking?

I'm helping Shirl put what's left of the merchandise away (it doesn't take long, they'd nearly sold the lot!) when the bass player of Sticks 'n' Stones comes over, he hovers a bit then comes up to me, looks awkward, embarrassed even, says that he's sorry, really sorry about what happened, I ask him what his band are up too, he tells me that they play locally a lot, he's also in a Pink Floyd tribute band, seems like quite a nice fellow and I almost feel bad for wishing that I'd had a flamethrower that I could have used on them during their set, although the word 'almost' is very important in this sentence.

It's a funny old life sometimes isn't it?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

All over the shop

All this running up and down the country mucking about with a guitar has meant that I've not been behind the Pro Music counter since early March. I returned on Monday to find an envelope marked 'LEIGH - BY HAND'- it contained a letter from a gentleman who called himself Griff who'd bought a guitar into the shop for repair a couple of months ago. As he unveiled the instrument- it was wrapped in a blanket- he explained that he'd made it himself many years ago but had never really managed to finish it to his satisfaction; he also said that he knew a guitar builder called Richard Bartram and wondered if I'd heard of him? Indeed I had- he was mentioned in these hallowed pages as recently as last month in the 'Seaside Special' posting- and our subsequent conversation revealed that he'd known Richard back in the 1960's when they'd swapped ideas about making guitars, whereas I first met Richard some 20 years later. I showed him Voltarol's blog on the shop computer which he showed great interest in, not least because the then-current posting referenced The Jugular Vein which was the band Richard had been in all those years ago. In with the letter was 4-and-a-bit sides of A4 paper containing his reminiscences about those long-gone days of innocent experimentation involving a man called Length and the staining of a bathtub. It's a good tale, and it's on the Voltarol blog even as I we speak...

Shop-wise we're now stocking Martin acoustic guitars- this has been on the cards for a while, and I for one am really pleased that the idea has come to fruition. As I write this there are 4 in stock and are all as excellent as I hoped they'd be; indeed I've a funny feeling (make that a worrying feeling) that I might end up owning one of them myself in the not-too-distant future. There's an often quoted adage that goes along the lines of 'if you play a Gibson electric then get a Gibson acoustic, if you play a Fender electric then get a Martin acoustic' which if it proves to be true could prove to be rather costly for me as I play examples of both electric guitar types... bugger!

Voltarol tells me that The Jugular Vein played their first gig at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge (they may yet play there again- watch this space, as they say!) and there's another Acts Less Ordinary show coming up at there on Sunday 19th April; this one features an acoustic set by Cowley's finest Colour Me Wednesday ably supported by singer/songwriter Joe Card. CMW are also playing at Club Fluorescent on Thursday 9th April at The Water's Edge in Cowley- I hope they'll still bring a few people down on the 19th, as after last month's euphoric T.V. Smith/Price extravaganza there's a lot to live up to!

Better go- I'm due in Croydon for a soundcheck in around 3 hours...