Friday, May 29, 2009

Bombsite boys

Here, in suitably punky red felt pen, is the setlist from my part of last night's gig with T.V. Smith. I don't think I'm being too presumptive when I say that it all went well... actually it went brilliantly, even better than I'd hoped for. T.V. did several songs solo (from memory- 'Ghost Of Westminster', 'Not In My Name', 'Bring The Bull Down', 'No Time To Be 21', 'Bored Teenagers', 'Generation Y' and 'Together Alone') before calling your humble narrator to the stage for a breathless 40 minutes or so of twin acoustic guitar thrashing. Both East and myself agreed that The Bull & Gate was smaller than we remember it (or maybe we've got bigger?!?) but it's still a classic pub gig venue, and speaking personally it was great to play there for the first time in many a long year. They've still got the same people behind the bar! They must have been there over 20 years! If I tell you that my guitar strap and indeed my guitar are still drying out then get an idea of what kind of night it was; I've rambled on in these hallowed pages about T.V.'s songwriting genius before on many occasions but to play these songs with him- well, words (almost) fail me. A classic gig.

Click here to see what the cognoscenti thought of our efforts...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Join together with the band

If you've ever thought to yourself 'I wonder what it's really like to be part of The Chicago Blues Brothers's wild and wacky showbiz lives', and if you've got a bit of spare cash (well quite a lot actually!) that you'd like to donate to a very worthwhile cause then click here for the chance to do both- go on, you know you want to...

Must go- I'm due in Kentish Town in a couple of hours...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thumb's up!

I'm rehearsing with T.V. Smith today!

I'm joining him at The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town (my first performance there this century!) tomorrow evening; I played 'Third Term' and 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' with him at his gig with The Price at The Load of Hay back in March and he suggested that we get a few more songs together- so we are! It should be a great night- if you'd like to come along then check his website for the money-saving password...

Talking of gigs at The Load Of Hay, this coming Sunday sees a genuine guitar hero (well, he is to me) in the house- Kris Dollimore (ex- Godfathers/Damned/Del Amitri/Adam Ant - his website has the story) will be playing 2 sets of solo acoustic and electric blues from 9 p.m. and it should be unmissable, if only to see how many guitarists are in the audience scratching their heads trying to work out how he does it!

And if that wasn't enough Andy Peart has just e-mailed me to say that he'll be playing The Price on his radio show this Saturday afternoon (Hayes FM from 4 o'clock) which has got to be worth missing The Cup Final for! It's all happening! And there are too many exclamation marks in this posting!! It's out of control!!! Help!!!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thumb's up?

A couple of postings ago I mentioned that I'd started having acupuncture in an attempt to relieve the pain caused by my wrist injury. I've since learned a bit about the type of treatment that I'm getting- it's called Intramuscular Stimulation and, without wishing to tempt fate too much, it seems to be really helping. It's not particularly pleasant- check the above link and you'll see what I mean- but it's got me to the stage where I can play guitar with nowhere near as much pain and discomfort as I've had for the last few months which in my little world can only be a good thing.

Talking of playing guitar...

Friday saw The Chicago Blues Brothers visit The Pizza Express in Maidstone for the first time this year. Marc, Squirrel, Richard and myself are in our usual places, but with Ian still away Roger's back on keyboards, Steve's in Dave's place on trumpet and the comeback king himself Pete joins Mike in the hat and glasses. It being the Friday of the Bank Holiday weekend traffic is even heavier than usual meaning everyone arrives when they arrive (if you see what I mean.) Soundcheck's is a fairly swift affair although Squirrel sparked a fit of attempted-joining-in by playing the bassline to 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' (which in itself is a measure of what a good bass player he is as it's legendarily difficult!) and 'Steamroller Blues' (a favourite soundcheck number of Pete's) gave us all a chance to have a solo. In a break with tradition I'm using my recently acquired Relic Stratocaster rather than the usual Telecaster as it's got quite a slim neck which given my thumb problems make it a little easier to play- it feels great 'though I'm not sure that it's the right sound for us, or maybe I'm just used to hearing what I normally hear?
We've got The Cornwallis Room to use as a dressing room which we've not been in before, it's on the third floor which gives us a view down onto the streets below. We order pizzas (of course!) which arrive in good time but don't come with cutlery- by the time that arrives most of the band have used their hands... we're due on at 8 but actually start some 15 or so minutes late, it's a full house and it's very hot on stage but everything goes according to plan 'though Pete forgot himself (and indeed his American accent!) on more than one occasion (it almost got a bit sweary!) and a glass fell off a front table and smashed on stage during 'Mustang Sally'- or maybe someone threw it? We weren't that bad were we?!?

Last night it was of to the wilds of Hertfordshire for a show with The Cane Toads at The Artichoke in Croxley Green. I last played with them at the end of March (I'm not in the band, I only help them out if Malcolm their regular 6-string strummer can't make it) and they'd not been gigging much lately so myself and Pete (their other guitarist) got together for a couple of hours in the afternoon to remind each other of how some of the songs went. With us as ready as we were ever going to be we headed of to what turned out to be a nice little pub in very pleasant surroundings. (Bruce the drummer notices that the sign outside advertises 'coffee's'- then again he is an English teacher so I guess he should spot things like that!) As we were setting up it became clear that quite a few people had been drinking for rather longer than was perhaps wise (we were later told that one group of brave souls had got through '4-or-so bottles of Sambuca' before we'd got there) and by the time our start time of 9.30 came around it was I think fair to say that many had peaked too early...
Our second song 'Bohemian Like You' saw 2 young ladies dancing in a very interesting manner a foot or so in front of Martin the singer; by the next number 'Valerie' they'd begun pole-dancing with one of the beams near where we were playing and were so joined by a few likely lads in a similar state of confusion. With space limited and things hotting up it was almost inevitable that something mad would happen; by the middle of the set people are wanting to sing songs and trying to get on the microphone with Martin (he wasn't happy!) and the girls take a tumble or 2... the last song of the first set is 'School's Out' and suddenly there's broken glass on the floor in front of us, no one seems to notice- or maybe they don't care?- until the end of the song when we take a break. One of the girls is in trouble and there's blood on the floor- yes, you've guessed it, she'd taken her shoes off to dance...
There's no less mayhem in the second set- 'Delilah' sees a young man take his shirt off to dance and to bellow along (according to Martin this often happens!) and by 'Ever Fallen In Love' it's like a punk gig down the front, we've got 6 songs left and can't wait to play 'em- except the landlord comes up to Pete and tells him that we've got to stop as the neighbours are complaining about the noise. The audience aren't happy, the band aren't happy, but there's nothing any of us can do (one of the barman's rather rueful comment 'I don't make the rules' summed up the general feeling) so the evening comes to a somewhat unexpected close with a couple of drinks and a Take That song from an audience member.

So- 2 gigs in a row with broken glass involved; now there's something that I hopefully won't see again. Still my thumb doesn't feel too bad this morning so it's not all bad news- then again I'm off to see the man again this week...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Shop 'till you drop

In my post-Dolls-gig euphoria I forgot to give you the reasoning behind the 'names in the frame' quiz; they are the original artists of the first 5 Rolling Stones singles in order of release:-

'Come On' by Chuck Berry
'I Wanna Be Your Man' by The Beatles
'Not Fade Away' by The Crickets
'It's All Over Now' by The Valentinos
'Little Red Rooster' by Howlin' Wolf

Their next single was 'The Last Time' which was the first one written by Mick 'n' Keef - I guess it could have gone either way at that point, but it all went reasonably well for them after that don't you think?

Anyway it's Monday morning in the shop, and time for a bit of Pro Music promo- the shop's new website is up and running, allowing you (yes YOU) the discerning internet punter the opportunity to buy things from us online, rather than having to trudge your weary way over to Ickenham and then have to listen to me moaning about my latest non-crisis while you're trying out a guitar. It's something that's been in the air for a while, and it's great that we've finally made the move in to cyberspace- it'll be interesting to see what our first internet sale will be...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who are the mystery girls?

The New York Dolls are, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the greatest rock'n'roll bands of all time.

There- that's a simple enough statement don't you think? But it's one that many would disagree with; maybe only The Sex Pistols have polarised opinion as much as The Dolls, and for similar reasons- they can't sing or play, it's all form and no substance, the clothes are more important than the music etc etc. It's all nonsense of course, but I would say that, wouldn't I? Then again, maybe I wouldn't- after all I was too young to encounter them during their '70's incarnation, and when virtually every punk band name-dropped them as a major influence I only knew their name vaguely, and for all the wrong reasons ('weren't they the band that couldn't sing or play?') especially considering that I'd never heard a note by them. The first Dolls-related music that I remember hearing was 'Chinese Rocks' by Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers as well as their classic 'L.A.M.F.' album, both of which went a long way towards making me realise what all the fuss was about. But- and it's quite a big but- you still couldn't hear The New York Dolls; both of their albums had been deleted (adding to their legendary status in the process) and the band had split amid no little acrimony. I did see Thunders and Nolan with The Heartbreakers (who were tremendous) but had to wait until October 2006 to see a New York Dolls show (click here to see what I thought of it) by which time there were sadly only 2 original members left alive.

I saw them again last night, at The 100 Club in London. Support came from Spizzenergi whose half hour set warmed up proceedings nicely, with 'Soldier Soldier' sounding rather better than I remember it and the inevitable 'Where's Captain Kirk?' inciting mass audience hysteria. But the evening was all about The Dolls- opening with a chaotic 'Babylon' ('we don't normally let people see our soundcheck') they played the title track of their new album 'Cause I Sez So' followed by 'We're All In Love' from 2006's 'One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This', both of which sound as good as anything from their original reign of terror- or maybe the older material still sounds comtemporary? Perhaps we have that oddest of situations, a reformed band who are now producing songs that match their back catalogue? Either way they sounded terrific, the very definition of rock'n'roll attitude with David Johansen resplendent in jewellery and jeans and Sylvain Sylvain tossing plectrums in the air (mostly catching them in time for the next chord!) and bantering with audience members only inches in front of him. Drummer Brian Delaney and bassist Sami Yaffa kept the beast (mostly) on the rails while Steve Conte careered his way from riff to solo and back again in a manner that the late great Mr. Thunders would have been proud of. And talking of the man himself, Sylvain's emotional version of 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory' had more than a few people fighting back the tears... a blazing 'Jet boy' finished the set, the final encore of 'Personality Crisis' bombed out the last few pockets of resistance, and the lights came up to reveal an audience more shell-shocked than anything else.

An amazing performance, and an unforgettable evening. Gig of the year so far, and it'll take some beating.
Rock'n'roll?- that's all folks...

Monday, May 11, 2009

And the name in the frame is...

Howlin' Wolf, although it was written by Willie Dixon.

I'm sure you all know why that's the answer... you don't? Well I'll tell you that next time!

Anyway I remembered to ask to physiotherapist the name of the thing that's causing me all this thumb trouble- it's called De Quervain's Tenosynovitis. There- I bet you're glad I told you that eh? Sounds horrible doesn't it? Well- it is! There's lots of information on the Internet about it, some of which I've just made the mistake of reading... the acupuncture seems to be helping 'though it's quite painful- when I told him I had a gig this weekend he said that he wouldn't go too far with it; I'm back again next week for some more so I wonder if I should tell him that I'm not playing next weekend?!?

The Chicago Blues Brothers were playing this weekend 'though, at the rather confusingly named Hinckley Island Hotel (it's not on an island, it's in Leicestershire!) which has been in the book for quite a while courtesy of trumpeter extraordinaire Dave Land. He's referred to it as 'The Secret Policeman's Ball'- it was actually the National Council Meeting of The International Police Association (motto- 'service through friendship') and took place in The Westminster Suite. Myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived to find a meeting taking place in said suite, and the troops gradually arriving- Pete and Mike (not feeling too good thanks to 'something that I ate last night') as Jake and Elwood, Richard and Dave on sax and trumpet, Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums, Tracy on vocals and new boy Chris (often seen with The Phil Hilborne Band) depping on keyboards. Phil's back behind the mixing desk for the first time in ages, and soundcheck is abruptly curtailed as the dinner guests start arriving. We've got Conference Room 10 to use as a dressing room- Porky the D.J. drops by to introduce himself ('my real name's Merv, I get a bit annoyed when people call me Porky sometimes- after all, it was only one lousy pig...') and give us all pens with SMILE IF YOU LIKE PORKIN' written on them. I saw his trailer parked out the back- it had a sticker saying 'no pies are kept in this trailer overnight' on it... meanwhile Pete spends a bit of time outlining plans for the rest of the year and beyond before myself and Shirley retire to the bar where we heroically avoid the 15-quid-a-glass Chateauneuf-du-pape.
As so often happens at these kind of events things don't quite go according to plan; we're originally due on at 10.30 'though we're told it could be as early as 9.30- we actually start at 10.15. It takes a couple of numbers for things to get going but get going they do- there's a young lad called Geordie with a toy electric guitar down the front, Pete gets him up on stage and he ends up standing next to me 'playing' along... oh and there's a young lady dancing down the front that gets quite a bit of attention, not least from the brass boys who aim everything from the theme to 'Bewitched' to 'The Stripper' in her general direction. Band-wise we play quite a few songs that we've not played for ages with varying degrees of accuracy (I'll leave you to think about that for a minute!) and overall it's that relatively rare thing, an enjoyable corporate show.

At last month's CBB show in Clacton Roger Cotton (depping for Ian on keyboards that night) had told me that his next gigs were with the excellent Buddy Whittington, and if I wanted to come along to any of them to just let him know; upon noticing that Mr. W. and co. were playing in Milton Keynes the night after our Hinckley show a plan formed in my warped mind... so it was then that myself and Shirl stayed the night in a Travelodge just outside M.K. then spent the afternoon in the shopping centre before wending our way out to The Stables in Wavendon. What an excellent venue- I'd not been there before 'though had always heard good things about it, and wasn't disappointed, everything about it is just 'right', if you know what I mean.
Support came from Krissy Matthews. Not yet 17 and clearly an outrageously talented (very) young man, he went down well with an audience clearly ready for some blues guitar- they didn't quite get it from him but he won most of them over by the end of his 30-odd minute set. Leaving aside the fact that he obviously has youth on his side (at his age I don't think I knew which end of a guitar to blow into!) and will therefore develop his art over time I personally found it a bit difficult to listen to after a while- a case of 'too many notes Mozart' perhaps? And doing a cover version of a song as good as 'Iceman' is always a bit dangerous as it can show your own material up if it's a bit limited...
No such problems with Buddy Whittington however- beginning with the classic comment 'let's see if old age and treachery can beat youth and skill' he then played a version of 'You Upset Me Baby' that it's writer would have been proud of, and over the next hour-and-a-half showed himself to be an absolute master of blues guitar. The standout song might have been 'Minor Blues', and the encore of 'Grits Ain't Groceries' saw some fine soloing from the whole band but there was nothing wrong with anything really. Roger introduced me to him after the show, he was talking to Australian guitar slinger Gwyn Ashton (who did a good job of remembering me- I don't think he did at all but is was nice of him to say that he did!) about his upcoming album but took the time to talk to me, ask about my playing, even inviting me to (gulp!) get up and 'play some soul music' with the band sometime. Hmm... here's someone who's played in one of the best known blues bands in the world- John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in case you didn't know- and he's still interested in what other people are doing and what other players are playing.

There's a lesson for us all there don't you think?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Purple Hayes

So- how did you get on with the 'names in the frame' question from last time? Not too good eh? Tell you what, I'll give you until next time to work it out. It's not too hard, honest!

Yeah, I know I said I'd give you the answer this time- but you can't always get what you want, as someone once sang...

Well if it's Thursday it must be string-changing day at We Will Rock You, and indeed it is although Stu and myself spent our time there today attempting to get our work finished before they started rehearsing; we just about managed it, after which it was over to Denmark Street to meet up with Pete from local heroes The Cane Toads who's in the market for a new guitar. Myself and hisself (is that a word?!?) made our way up the stairs to the excellent Angel Music where there were a couple of Gibson Les Paul Juniors deemed by Pete to be worthy of attention. And he wasn't wrong- they are both great rock'n'roll guitars with one being particularly good, leaving him with the ever-popular 'should I/shouldn't I?' dilemma that is oh-so familiar to us guitar junkies... from there it was along to Wunjo Guitars to catch up with Stu (where they've just got some new t-shirts in- I bought one! How sad is that?) before winding our way home, leaving Pete up in the West End pondering furiously.

There's changes afoot for The Chicago Blues Brothers at the moment; we've got a new promoter working on our behalf meaning that next year's gig schedule is already taking shape, as well as a website re-vamp with new content and photos- there's even one of me smiling!
In the course of working with The CBB's (and indeed, Dave Finnegan's Commitments) it has often amused me to answer questions like 'what do you do for a living Leigh?' by saying something like 'I'm Steve Cropper at weekends'. Well, it makes me laugh... since I spent much of yesterday attempting to learn some songs for an upcoming show that CBB producer Pete is putting together I'll hopefully soon also be able to answer 'I'm Chank at weekends'- 'REACH OUT' features music from the Motown record label, which means that us boys and girls in the band have to attempt to recreate the sound of the fabled Funk Brothers, and your humble narrator gets to lock horns with such guitar legends as Robert White, Joe Messina and the mighty Eddie 'Chank' Willis. Focusing mainly on the music of The Temptations and The Four Tops with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder thrown in, it promises to be a great show- you forget how many fabulous songs were written and recorded by the Motown artists over the last 50 years...

Talking of shows there's just time to mention 'Dancing With The Rude Boys', a new programme starting this Saturday on Hayes FM. It's presented by Andy Peart and Colour Me Wednesday singer Jennifer- I first met Andy sometime in the early 1980's when he was writing the excellent 'So What' fanzine, after which he went on to write for Sounds magazine amongst other publications. It's on between 4 and 5 pm (91.8FM if you're in the Hayes area and online from the above link if you're not) and promises a mix of ska, punk and reggae. It should be well worth a listen- let's face it, anything named after a line from a Ruts song has got to be good hasn't it?

Time for some more acupuncture tomorrow- I'll let you know how I get on...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Bourne to boogie

Have you ever had Acupuncture? It's weird isn't it? I'd not had it before Friday when I went to see a physiotherapist in an attempt to get my ailing left thumb sorted out. He did tell me what's wrong with it- I forgot the name of the condition almost immediately but it seems that I've strained it by lifting something badly; I don't remember any particular incident but I guess you never really know with these things do you? Anyway he suggested acupuncture and massage so I decided to give it a go... about halfway through my time with him and with needles hanging out of my forearm I suddenly remembered that I had a gig the next night- maybe I should have mentioned it earlier? I came out of the session with an aching arm and, I suspect, a worried look on my face.
To console myself I stopped off at The C.D. Shop in Eastcote. This is an interesting establishment that I'd not visited for quite a while, 'though it's one of those shops that always seems to me as though it comes from another time; it doesn't have a website (at least, not one that I can find) and the chap behind the counter always encourages 'browsing' which most people under 30 would probably be unable to do without a computer connected to the internet. As I stumbled around the shop he informed me that he had 'Bob back in stock' (he thought I might have come in for 'Together Through Life', the new Bob Dylan album) and then invited me to have a go at his competition... on the wall next to the counter is one of those boards that I remember from shops when I was young, they've got little white plastic letters that fit into the grooves on the board which I think were often used in cafes to advertise special meals available that day, and I remember them being used in places like record shops to tell you what new releases had become available. On his one it said something like this:-

1 Chuck Berry
2 The Beatles
3 The Crickets
4 The Valentinos
5 - - - - - - - - - - -

So- can you fill in the name in position 5 in the list? I'd got halfway back to Uxbridge before the answer came to me- I of course got off the train and went back to the shop to tell him the missing name. I'm sure you can work it out, but if not I'll tell you it next time...

I woke up next morning with an arm that ached for England and the prospect of a busy day in the shop that I could well have done without. As it turned out it wasn't too bad- it was good to see some of the Saturday regulars that I'd not seen for a while, and being a bank holiday weekend it wasn't as busy a day as it might have been. I managed to avoid lifting anything too heavy- at least until I had to put my amp in the boot of the car- and myself and the long-suffering Shirley (accompanied by East on camera duties) arrived at The Walnut Tree in Bourne end just as the rest of The Flying Squad were setting up. Andy had borrowed a P.A. system from the shop earlier in the day with a view to buying it if it suited our purpose; we couldn't get one of the monitor speakers to work (rather embarrassing from my point of view!) but the rest of it sounded fine.
By the time we kick off just after 9 o'clock there's a few people in, and although our first number gets a reaction (almost total silence) that suggests that we might not be the right band for the venue by the end of our first set we're going down well and the second set even sees a few people dancing. We made a few mistakes here and there- we really must learn the arrangement to 'Baby Jane'- but there's talk of a return gig and my hand feels nowhere near as bad as I feared it was going to, making for a highly successful evening all round.

And I've just had East on the phone telling me that he's done me a DVD of our show which should make for interesting viewing- 'the sound's good but the picture's a bit dark...'