Monday, July 27, 2009

48 Crash

Let's be honest- there's never anything to do on your birthday is there? Your family and your mates are always busy or on holiday, there are never any gigs worth going to, and anyway, you feel old... not this year 'though- The Godfathers were playing in Islington and Who's Who were playing down the road from me in Ruislip. This would have been a difficult decision to make at the best of times but for the only time I can remember I was gigging myself, at no lesser venue than The Embassy Ballroom in Skegness. Hmm... few if any places that bands play regularly in get more sneers and derisive laughter than Skegness. The politest thing that I've ever heard it called is a 'dump' although a lot of this unpleasantness centres around the fact that it's a rather remote place (the term 'out on a limb' could have been invented for it!) that always seems to take forever to get to. Me- I quite like it, but then again I would wouldn't I?

I woke up Friday morning feeling a little, shall we say, detached. That'll be something to do with the night before then- unusually I found myself in a pub with East 'though judging by his comment on my last posting I wasn't the only one that woke up feeling my age... Stuart the guitar repair man had given me a present which I opened shortly after waking up- well, presents are exciting aren't they?!? It was a poster produced by Viz Comics which parodies a well-known image often associated with Skegness- click here for the original and here for the Viz version, the sentiment of which sadly turned out to be nearer to the feelings expressed by various band members during the journey to the venue which due to combination of accidents (don't you just hate the way people slow down to look at car crashes?) and heavy traffic took AGES. We left in good time but didn't arrive until just before 7 o'clock- somehow were on stage just after our allotted time of 7.30 for a show dogged with sound problems (we were too late for anything even approaching a soundcheck, and the people supposed to be running the P.A. had depped the gig out without telling us- that's naughty...) but that I thought was actually a lot better than it might have been. It being the day that it was I decided to use my old Fender Stratocaster which doesn't get a run out very often these days and was a real pleasure to play; Chris from The Phil Hilbourne Band was depping for Ian on keyboards and did a fine job, and the audience members that I spoke to during my desperate search for a post gig birthday drink all said that they loved it, which I guess is the main thing. We ended up having a quick drink in Harvey's Bar (not a giant white rabbit in sight, sadly) before wending our weary way back to civilisation, a journey which thankfully took a fraction of the time that our earlier one had taken.

Remind me not to play a gig on my birthday again!

Then again Saturday and Sunday saw two excellent gigs by The Flying Squad. With our regular bassman Mike unavailable Huggy from The Price stepped into the breach, and did a fine job on both nights. Strange as it may seem both gigs were within a mile of each other in Uxbridge, the first being Mick's 60th birthday celebration at The Dolphin and the second being a hopelessly opportunistic 'I-book-the-gigs-there-so-why-don't-we-do-one-on-the-Sunday-nearest-to-my-birthday' show at The Load of Hay. We'd had a rehearsal a few days earlier and got 2 40-odd minute sets together; in the event a few songs went a bit astray but nothing too desperate happened although I did get hit by a flying piece of broken drumstick during 'All Through The City' at The Load of Hay show which resulted in me coming in a few bars later than I should (I was surprised!) and there was a predictably large amount of drinking after the gig. As always I will blame East for this although he didn't exactly hold me down and pour it into my mouth... two highly enjoyable nights which helped banish any bad thoughts from the night before. It's good when that happens isn't it?

Maybe playing gigs around your birthday is a good idea after all- let's see what next year brings...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy birthday to...! I'm 48 years old today. 48! Fourty eight!

Why not help me celebrate this (ahem) momentous occasion by coming along to The Load of Hay in Uxbridge (it's in Villier Street since you've asked) this Sunday evening and having a drink; while you're having that drink you can listen to me and my mates The Flying Squad playing some suitably noisy rhythm and blues music.

It'll be good to see you. It'll be good to see anyone! Hurrah!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Price is right

So. Last night then.

I'm actually at a bit of a loss as to what to say about it at the moment. I'll have a go in a minute.

First things first 'though- Saturday saw The Chicago Blues Brothers play the Assembly Rooms in Bath. Myself and Ian (depping for Richard on sax) made our merry way down the M4 without too many problems, with our journey enlivened by a call from Squirrel who was travelling down with Mike,('we're behind you; no we're right behind you'- and they were!) and a text message from sound guru Ian Bond telling me that the venue was next door to Vintage and Rare Guitars, (I was hoping that was nearby!) all of which arrived on my new iPhone. I've only had it a few days and I'm just about getting the hang of it 'though part of me still says that I should have just got a telephone rather than 'an Internet connected multimedia smartphone'... then again it'll be handy to be able to get onto the Internet whilst I'm away with the band- mobile blogging beckons! (I hope you lot appreciate this- it's costing me a fortune!) Thanks to the wonders of satellite navigation we found the venue and after the usual parking lottery loaded our gear in. We're early so there's time for a visit to V & R Guitars (there's always time for a visit to V & R Guitars!) to see what goodies are on display. As always there's a lot to look at, and for once there was an actual reason for visiting as they stock Blackstar amplifiers- I was hoping to try one of the new Series One 45 watt combos but they didn't have one in stock (shame!) 'though they did have a HT-5 combo which I would have asked to try but there was someone in there trying a bass guitar and space was limited. Oh well- next time maybe? On the notice board was an advert for a local guitar teacher who's name is familiar to men such as myself- it's the mighty Gypie Mayo of Dr. Feelgood fame. If we'd have been there earlier I'd have rung up to see about a lesson!

I'd bought back a guitar that Bondy had delivered to me the week before last, a PRS belonging to Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree (Ian's their soundman) which was in need of Stuart the guitar repair man's expert attention. When Ian bought it round it was buzzing and playing very badly indeed; after Stu's work it plays brilliantly- then again they normally do after he's had a look at them. We're playing in The Ball Room which is absolutely stunning, with chandeliers hanging from it's (very) high ceiling and an atmosphere that you only get in buildings like this. Steve's on drums and from the moment he hits his snare drum our worst fears are confirmed- it just might be the most echo-ey room we've ever played in. We stumble through 'Try a Little Tenderness' as a soundcheck, we don't play it very often (which is why we soundchecked with it, we thought it might need rehearsing!) and it sounds very strange, like a ball of noise happening in one of the other rooms... we tell ourselves that it'll sound better when there are people in although none of us sounded convinced when we said it.

After some food (pizza and chips since you've asked) Squirrel and myself decide that it's time for a walk. I mention seeing Gypie's advert and he says something like 'oh that's a missed opportunity, I could have called him and we could have gone to see him'... Squirrel (Lew Lewis's old bass player- remember?) knew Gypie back in the day so yes, he could have called him- I tell myself that he'd have been out, or gigging, or something 'though when we're in Bath again I'll see if we can put this plan into action! We wander around town, there are piano shops next to psychotherapy centres, half a dozen or so hen parties staggering around town in a series of ever more bizarre outfits (most if not all of which will no doubt end up laughing themselves senseless outside The Knob Collection) and some marvelous buildings to, er, marvel at. We're back at the venue for around 8.30 where Ian tells me that he's forgotten his black gig shirt; I'm wearing a dark blue Fred Perry shirt which almost looks black (I'd have worn my black one if I'd had known this was going to happen!) especially under a jacket so could he borrow it for the gig? I decide that a much better option is just to lend him my black gig shirt and put a jacket on, so I do. Our first set passes in a blur of reverb, there's plenty of people dancing so we must be doing something right 'though I can't for the life of me imagine what. The second set sees even more audience involvement though it can be summed up from my point of view by the fact that I looked across the stage to see that Ian (keyboards) and Dave (trumpet) had swapped instruments, and I couldn't hear the difference. As far as I know neither of them can play each other's instrument- yes, the sound was that bad. Then again I like 'Live At Leeds' (notorious for it's 'we're playing loudly in an echo-ey hall' sound) so perhaps I should stop moaning(for once!)

And if ever there was a night that would stop me moaning it was last night. I've been sitting here for quite a while now trying to find the words to say what I want to say... for some reason I keep thinking of 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll' by The Rolling Stones, because last night wasn't 'only rock'n'roll'; it wasn't 'only' anything, it was definitely something- but what, exactly?

Occasionally people ask me what it feels like to play guitar on stage. It sounds a simple enough question, but I've never really been able to come up with an answer that gets across what the best gigs feel like from a playing point of view. Thinking about it now, at this very moment in time, the best I can do is to say that it feels as though you can do anything. Anything. And if there's something that you can't do, then it isn't worth doing. And last night was a night where I think quite a few people felt like that, and I don't mean just the performers, I mean the audience, the people around us, maybe even the barstaff for all I know... I think that on the best nights a live music show is infinitely more than the sum of it's constituent parts, with the band and audience somehow coalescing and spurring each other on to greater and greater heights- if you were there last night then hopefully you'll know what I mean. The forum on our website is starting to get a few comments from audience members giving their thoughts- birthday boy Mark (posting as 'UFC Mark') speaks of melancholy and deflation now that it's all over, which might seem like odd feelings to be left with after a show that you've enjoyed but I for one know what he means. You play your show, and you can on a good night touch such incredible heights that there is only one way that you can go from there- down. Ever wondered why performers drink a lot, or take drugs? One answer might be that they're trying to get back up to the high that they feel during a show, another may be that they're trying to get down from it. (Of course, they may also enjoy it- I for one couldn't possibly comment...)

From the show point of view we were a little under-rehearsed, not so much that it made a great deal of difference although it might have been nice to have had another run though of the songs before the show- then again rather than rehearse songs that we were going to play we soundchecked with 2 songs that weren't in the set ('So What About Love? and 'Shattered Land' in case you were wondering) rather than play songs that were playing in the show (we always used to do things like that!) In an unashamed bit of bandwagon jumping we played our 1990 mini-album 'The Table Of Uncles' all the way through in order (well, everyone else is doing it!) as well as putting in a couple of other songs that we hadn't played at the other reunion gigs, and a slightly bizarre encore of 'In A Rut' which incorporated bits of 'Beat It', 'Billie Jean' and the 1812 Overture (yes, you read that bit right!) But it felt from where I was standing that we could have played one chord for 45 minutes with Malcolm reading out bits of the telephone directory over it and it would still have been one of the classic Price gigs. Much of this feeling came from the audience- so many people that we hadn't seen for ages made the effort to come along, from Ciaran Murphy to Paul Newman (that really is his name!) and from Paul Talling to the legend that is Mad John (we never did find out his surname! Perhaps he hasn't got one, or perhaps 'Mad is his first name and 'John' is his surname? Who knows?!?) Then there was Andy Knight, and Eddie our old manager, and The Uxbridge Lads as we still call them, and, and, and... there were even some new faces, not least Colour Me Wednesday, so young that they weren't even born when many of the songs we were playing were written! But a few seconds- and it was literally only a few seconds- into our first song 'Time Is Yours' I for one knew we had a classic on our hands. And I don't mean that in a big headed, my-band's-better-than-your-band sort of way; I mean it in a I-don't-want-this-one-to-end sort of way. We've played better, tighter shows but we've not played too many that had what this one had. If I had to put it into one word it would be SOUL- from the band, from the songs and most of all from the audience. If I sound hopelessly over-emotional than I don't care- honesty is the best policy, and I'm being honest when I say that this was simply one of the most enjoyable Price shows ever. I woke up this morning with a jaw that ached from smiling, and that's the truth. I also had a head full of ideas that were driving me insane as Bob Dylan once sang, 'though that could have been something to do with the amount that I had to drink after the show- see what I mean about trying to get down? If you were there then thanks, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as the band did, because if you did it means you enjoyed it a lot.

I know it's only rock'n'roll- but I like it, like it, yes I do.

Hmm... I've just read back what I've written about last night; I hadn't intended to get quite so analytical (some might say pretentious!) about what is after all 'just' a pop band reforming to play some of their old songs in front of some of the people who used to come to see them play all those years ago- but I guess that when you realise how much what you do means to other people it makes you realise how much it means to yourself too...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

They're back!

Yes- it's that time again!

Last night the walls of room 3 at Ruff Rockers Rehearsal Studio reverberated to the sound of 4 middle-aged men grasping desperately at their mis-spent youth- yes, The Price are back! We're playing this Sunday 19th July at The Water's Edge in Cowley at a evening that started off as a surprise birthday party for long-time Price Fan Mark Delderfield (better known to all and sundry in and around the band as 'Uxbridge Mark' or 'Mark from the football club') 'though it's now grown into a gig that also features local up-and-comer's Colour Me Wednesday; we're on first at around 8.30 pm and all the details are on our recently-rejuvenated website. Why not come down?- it should be a good gig...

...and it was a good (if from my point of view rather unexpected) gig on Saturday night with The Ali Mac Band at Stockley Park Golf Course, at a birthday party for Ali's other half Bev. Myself and the long-suffering Shirley were had been invited to attend and were going anyway, but Ali called to say that his regular guitarist Dean had injured his back and could I bring my guitar with me... by the time the gig came along he'd recovered sufficiently to be able to perform but I joined the band for the evening anyway! Excellent! I depped with the band last November (click here for the story) so had a rough idea of the sort of material we were likely to be playing- in the event we played 2 sets (the first one short, the second longer) with more than a bit of busking going on here and there but more than a bit of audience dancing too, so we must have been doing something right. Richard a.k.a. Hud and Bill (drums and bass) gave me plenty of help with the arrangements (good boys!) and Dean played superbly especially considering the pain he was in. After the show I got chatting with Hud who told me an extraordinary story about his time in Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera (yes kids, bands really did have names like that in the 1960's!) when Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck both jammed with the band at one of their gigs at The Speakeasy. 'There isn't a recording, there isn't even a photograph' he said, looking mournfully into his glass of red wine... ah, but what a memory to have eh?

Must go- I've got setlists to write, strings to change, phone calls to make- The Price are indeed back. Hurrah!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't look back in anger

What do you think of Oasis? I like 'em. I really like 'em. Oh go on then, I love 'em. There- I said it!

I was once offered some advice from someone who will remain nameless (as it happens they were the singer that I was gigging with that evening- I could name him but the chances are that you've never heard of him so there's not much point; on the other hand it's interesting to note that you're unlikely to have heard of him as we shall see...) but who, upon hearing them coming out of the van's stereo system (we were on our way to our gig at the time) and me saying something innocent like 'I really like this song' launched into a vicious tirade against the band. When he paused for breath I jumped in with 'oh I think they're great' and before he could counter (and I must admit, sensing something of a weakness on his part) I added 'and I think Liam's the best singer to come out of Britain in the last 20 years'. 'WHAAAT?' he roared. The atmosphere of our conversation changed somewhat as he searched for his next putdown. 'HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT... TO ME?!?' he screamed (clearly he has a high opinion of his abilities!) before advising me that I should be 'really careful' who I say 'things like that' to as I could find myself 'in trouble' with certain sections of the community. I think I pointed out that something mad like 10% of the population of Great Britain had applied for tickets to see them at their Knebworth concerts so there were actually quite a few people likely to agree with me or at least sympathise with my point of view, but he was having none of it. What I'd assumed was a bit of on-the-way-to-a-gig banter turned darker; as ranted and raved he got nastier and nastier, more and more bitter about what is after all only a pop group who no one is actually forced to listen to.
It was around this point that two things happened:-

(1) we crossed (and I mean 'crossed', as opposed to 'went around') a mini-roundabout; from where I was sitting it looked as though the speedometer was reading over 100 miles per hour. I looked again. It was.

(2) I decided to change the subject, since he was driving.

As things calmed down he decided that I needed 'educating' and that it was time to put on some 'real music'- The Eagles, Dire Straits, that sort of thing. Yeah, right... he's younger than me, but at that moment he sounded older than time itself.

Like most people my initial exposure to Oasis occurred when their first single 'Supersonic' came out; I remember seeing a picture of them and thinking 'at last a band that's wearing decent clothes'. This surprised me as I've never thought of myself as a particularly fashion-conscious person- then again I'd spent most of the 1980's thinking that everyone looked terrible, especially in the padded-shoulders-and-perm times... in the article that accompanied said photograph the guitarist said that his favourite bands were The Beatles, The Who and The Sex Pistols- they're my favourite bands too- and that they, Oasis, were the best band in the world. The first time I played 'Definitely Maybe' I remember thinking that it had been ages since I'd heard guitars that sounded that good, and that were so loud in the mix, and that it had been at least as long since I'd heard a voice as good as that. But even then people hated them, calling them 'rip-off merchants', 'posers', 'yobbos'- all could be considered valid criticisms but that doesn't take into account the overall effect of the music and the people making it which was (and still is if you play the album today) devastating. When the all-conquering '(What's the story) Morning Glory?' emerged in 1995 people who'd previously called them all the names under the sun suddenly said that they'd liked them all along, and that Noel was a good songwriter after all, and that Liam really was a great singer- I remember a similar thing happening nearly 20 years earlier when punk rock went from being something to be laughed at to the best thing ever almost overnight.
In the intervening years they've gone from bad to good, good to great, great to phenomenal and back again via all points inbetween, with the Gallagher brothers alternating between being the world's greatest living comedians and almost wilful self parody. Yes they can be pretty unpleasant at times- there are enough well-documented incidents so I won't bother recounting them here- but if you caught John Lennon on the wrong day so could he... for what my opinion's worth their last 2 albums have contained some of the most enjoyable pop music of the current decade, and if the show I saw at Wembley last night is anything to go by there's plenty more to come. Opening with 5 hit singles in a row (really! They finished with 4 in a row too...) they seemed in no mood for trivialities, with 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' being particularly fiery. It's been a long time since I was at a gig where the audience sang louder than the band- thinking about it, that would have been an Oasis gig too- but they did here, a testament to the anthemic nature of the songs. And for all the media hype and circus that inevitably surrounds the band in the end it's the songs that matter, and they're great- will any of us reading this ever write as good a song as 'The Masterplan'? Or 'I'm Outta Time'? Or 'Slide Away'? (Incidentally the singer in the above story isn't a songwriter- co-incidence?) But 'Wonderwall' provided the evening with it's most surreal moment- as the first chorus started the music stopped, the crowd took over and sang louder than the band had been playing but when the chorus ended nothing happened; the band were playing inaudibly as the P.A. system had malfunctioned although their monitors were clearly still working, it came back on, went off again- when it all finally seemed to be working again Noel quipped 'no one's getting their money back' 'though I couldn't see anyone complaining. (Oddly enough I saw the same thing happen to AC/DC when they were supporting The Who almost exactly 30 years ago at the same venue; the moral of the tale is simple- don't go with me to a gig at Wembley Stadium if you want to see a show where all the gear works!) The final encore of 'I Am The Walrus' bought it all back home again, from Manchester to The Mersey and beyond. Brilliant.

But nothing's changed. I mentioned to someone yesterday that I was going to see Oasis and he commented that he 'wouldn't give two bob for them' before launching into the inevitable bile and vitriol, albeit tempered with a begrudging respect for one or two of their songs. Interestingly enough he's a non-songwriting singer too. Another co-incidence? Definitely maybe, I'd have thought...

Click here for a clip of 'Wonderwall' from the gig- it's rough quality but you get the idea of the kind of confusion that occured...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Suss of the Swiss

Time for the first weekend of Chicago Blues Brothers gigs for a while and it includes a gig that has been eagerly anticipated for quite some time- a return to Switzerland for a show at The Fribourg Jazz Festival.

Friday started early- the long suffering Shirley dropped me at West Ruislip Underground station well before 6 a.m. where I boarded the first Central Line train in to London. I would have gone from Uxbridge but our check-in was at 7.15 and this was the only way that I could get there in time! Somewhat regretting the decision to go for a few beers with East the night before (well- it helps you to sleep doesn't it?!?) I stumbled onto the train with a Fender Telecaster in a recently-repaired case (damaged by those lovable funsters at Ryan Air a couple of months ago) in one hand and a clothes bag over the other shoulder, all the while musing on just how many people are up and about at this unearthly time of the day; that said when I changed trains at Bond Street I was conscious of the fact that most people on the Jubilee Line train were asleep. To keep me company I've got a copy of 'An Unlikely Fooligan' by Pete Haynes- this came out earlier this year and is a travelogue of Pete's times in Japan a few years ago, I got it a month or so ago and had been saving it for this trip which may have been a mistake as the first line makes reference to the the fact that it takes 12 hours to fly to Japan 'if the plane doesn't crash of course' which is not necessarily the best thing to read when you're half asleep and on your way to an airport.
Just after 7 o'clock Squirrel called to see how I was getting on- I was at Canning Town station waiting for a DLR train to take me to London City Airport; 10 minutes later I met Mike at the airport entrance who gave me my e-ticket (that's how it's done these days!) and in no time at all my guitar had disappeared into a hatch in Zone A and I was meeting up with the rest of the band in the departure lounge. Pete's joining Mike in the hat and glasses (he's already out in Switzerland with his wife Jayne) and bandwise it's the A-team with Tracy on vocals, Richard and Dave on sax and trumpet, Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums, Ian on keyboards and yours truly on the afore-mentioned electric guitar. We're due to take off at 8.25 but we don't leave until just after 9 o'clock, the flight's a bit bumpy here and there especially as we start our descent into Zurich Airport where we land at 11.35- the flight's an hour-and-a-half and they're an hour ahead of us. As we come into land I see what I first thought to be a crop circle but soon realise is a Swiss Army knife shaped 'crop circle' with the words 'Victorinox 125 years' next to it, presumably to celebrate the 125th anniversary on the Victorinox company? After collecting our luggage (guitar and case still in one piece- hurrah!) we meet Ronnie the promoter and Marcel the driver and set off to our hotel to check in. I'm sharing room 123 with Marc 'though when we get there we discover it to be a double rather than twin room- we're just about to go down to reception to see what can be done about it when a chambermaid comes in apologising profusely and asking if we'd mind swapping with our friend next door- Squirrel emerges with the words 'I was just getting into The Commitments' as well', a slightly baffling comment until we go in we find that was one of the CD's supplied in the room. There's an hour or so before we're due to leave so there's time for a coffee or two before we set out for Fribourg- Tracy, Dave and Marc are in Ronnie's car and the rest of us are in the minibus with Marcel. The air conditioning's on, there's Freak Power on the stereo and the mood is good, if somewhat bleary from my point of view- as Richard remarks that it's raining on the other side of the road and dry on ours I decide that reading a travelogue while travelling is rather a surreal thing to do. Suddenly there's a loud banging on the roof and everyone is very awake indeed, Richard hangs perilously out of the passenger door window in an effort to see what's happened, the rubber seal around the top of the windscreen has come loose so we pull off the motorway and he and Marcel push it back into place. a couple of miles on it comes loose again so we pull over onto the hard shoulder and remove it.
By the time we pull off the motorway at the sign for Fribourg I've drifted in and out of sleep so many times that I'm not really sure if I'm awake or not- the first thing we encounter looks like a giant building site (probably because it is!) but it soon gives way to attractive cobbled streets and tramways. The jazz festival is an annual event held in the town centre, in what I think is the market square- when we got out at the site I realised how good the air conditioning in the minibus has been as it's very hot and humid. We're there in time for a soundcheck- backline is supplied by the The Swiss Cheese & Chocolate Company (a great name for a great company) who have provided me with a reissue blackface Fender Twin Reverb combo (it's another language isn't it?!?) that sounds excellent from the moment that I plug it in. We soundcheck without too many problems although I for one am struck by how quiet it all seems- there's a decibel meter facing us that doesn't go over 100 decibels throughout the whole soundcheck (it does during the show but mostly because the crowd were making so much noise!) We're then given food and drink tokens but the places that we can use them in aren't open until 6 o'clock and it's been a very long time since breakfast so most of us go to a nearby pizza restaurant where I'm served what is probably the biggest pizza I'll ever see- it must have been the size of a dustbin lid! I was so hungry that I ate the lot!
We're headlining and due on until 11 p.m. so there's plenty of time to catch up on phone calls (yeah I know it's expensive but people worry if you don't let them know that you're ok- in fact I worry if I don't let them know that I'm ok!) and to have a walk around town. It's an excellent place, with buildings that look exactly like uncultured Brits like myself think that they're going to look, and with friendly people who speak English better than I do. Pretty soon there's music in The New Orleans Cafe- I watch Merrie Hot Melodies for a while with Richard and Dave, the former marvelling at their bass saxophone ('very rare') and the latter observing '5 clarinet players- welcome to hell' on more than one occasion.
Meanwhile on the main stage it's time for the first band- Five Blind Boys From The Parish. One could argue that there's questionable humour at work here (they're not blind, and there's only 3 of them) but they were certainly excellent musicians who also offered a simultaneous translation of their stage announcements (first in English with an exaggerated American accent, then in somewhat calmer French) and a particularly fine version of the Robert Johnson classic 'Stop Breaking Down'. The guitarist said that it was great to be back in Zurich and then introduced the band including a harmonica player and a keyboard player, neither if which existed- see what I mean about the humour? Next up it's The Charlie Morris Blues Band who offered up an hour and a half of tasteful laid back blues which might have all been a bit too tasteful and laid back for me if he hadn't have swapped his Stratocaster for an open tuned Les Paul and delivered a great slide guitar-driven version of the Muddy Waters song 'I just Can't Be Satisfied' (most if not all slide players use a variety of different tunings.) I miss their last few numbers as I go backstage to get changed, when I go on stage to set my gear up I'm amazed at the sight that greets me- the moon has come up, the buildings around the market square are all lit up and there's what looks like thousands of people waiting to hear us. We've not played for the best part of a month but it's a great gig from the word go although the audience takes a little while to get going which if anything helps push us to new heights as the show progresses. A gang of young girls near the front join in with Pete at the start of 'Do You Love Me?' so he gets them up on stage with us for that and 'Shake your Tail Feather'- I wonder how many of them noticed that Mike split his trousers during the latter number? Perhaps it's time for a P.J. Proby tribute act? Our set ends to near hysteria, pandemonium ensues during the encore and with the backstage bar- yes, backstage bar!- was still open after the show we're told that we're rebooked for next year's festival- great stuff all round.
After packing our gear away and a drink or two it was time to leave for our hotel; as Marcel goes to collect the minibus I walk over to The New Orleans Cafe where The Big Four Quintet were playing and festivities were in full swing. I looked around- there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of people about, eating, drinking, enjoying the music and the atmosphere. Squirrel and myself mused on the situation- why don't we have events like this back home? 'People will moan' we said, what with all the noise (not that noisy actually) and the mess (not that messy actually) on the streets...

So- why don't we have events like this here? In 'An Unlikely Fooligan' Pete contrasts British and Japanese society, often referring to 'geezers' (click here and see definition no. 9!) or rather, the lack of them in Japan- well I don't think he'd have found too many of them in Fribourg either. He'd have found lots of people who know how to talk politely, how to use a waste bin, how to drink for several hours without turning into something out of a horror movie... I was amazed by the youth and relatively small size of many of the security staff, until I realised that there was a very low likelihood of any trouble breaking out. Sad to say that I fear that a similar event in Britain would see the genial European atmosphere replaced by an altogether tenser, darker feel to proceedings, with the threat of 'Clockwork Orange'- style violence on every street corner and with innocent blood mixing with tons of rubbish as a depressing aftermath.

Meanwhile back in the real world The Big Four Quintet begin another tune as the dancers dance and the young man at the bar tries just one more time to catch the eye of the barmaid as he orders another round of drinks for him and his friends. It seems that the night is young- but sadly I'm not, or I certainly didn't feel it. It was time to return to our hotel for a few hours rest before the next adventure...

...which began with my alarm going off less than 5 hours after I'd got to sleep. After a shower I staggered downstairs for some breakfast. The receptionist asked if I was with the group- when I said I was she directed me to a smallish room away from the main dining area. I sat there for a minute or so- no sign of anyone else so I guess I just help myself? I walked through to the buffet area and got some coffee and cereal; when I'd finished that I went back to get another drink and saw most of the band sitting in the main dining area enjoying their food- I of course got my coffee and went back to where I'd eaten my cereal to find that someone had taken my seat. A confusing start to the day.
9.15 and it's time to leave for the airport. Pete's driving himself and Jayne and the rest of us are in our by-now familiar places with Ronnie and Marcel; as we pull away we see Ronnie's hatchback door fly open, Marcel sounds his car horn to alert them and Tracy gets out to close it. We're only 10 minutes or so from the airport, when we get their we say our goodbye's to Ronnie and Marcel and thank them for their help and hospitality, it's strange to think that we're only been there for one day as so much has happened in such a short space of time. We check in- Squirrel and myself hand over our guitars to the man in the pink vest (the same one as last time! The same one as every time!) before we go through to the shopping area to while away a half an hour or so before we need to got through security to the departure area. Squirrel and I compare tickets (like you do in these odd times) and he sees that I've got seat 6F- we reason that it must be a window seat which he prefers so I swap seats with him and we go through to the departure area. After a short wait it's time to go to gate B28 which leads out onto the tarmac where our bus is waiting to take us to the aircraft; once we're on the bus things take an odd turn- Tracy is sitting in the back corner seat making what might politely be called 'suggestive' noises, she then starts pole dancing to the delight of several lads on board ('I think I might have sleep deprivation' was her rather sheepish comment later) not to mention the rest of the band. When we get on the plane I go to seat 7B; across the aisle a row in front of me a bemused Squirrel observes that there are only 5 seats in a row and so they 'only go up to E'- he gets a seat anyway 'though I can't for the life of me work out how... the flight gives me chance to finish Pete's book (it's excellent, and I'm not just saying that because he's my mate, honest!) and get a few vague minutes of sleep.
After landing it's time to see what damage has been done to my guitar this time (none thankfully) before myself and Squirrel join Pete and Jayne in their car for the journey to Clandon Park near Guildford where we're playing at a wedding- it's all go this group lark isn't it? It would normally take an hour or so but today it takes us 3 times that- the M25 is a series of traffic jams and go-slows so we end up taking various detours- and by the time we get to the venue we're all tired and hungry. However there's no time to anything other than get ready as quickly as possible as myself and Dave are doing what Pete refers to as a 'jazz set' with him and Mike out on the lawn near the marquee where the evening's festivities are taking place. We last attempted this at our first show of this year in Birmingham, since then I've told myself over and over that I really must practice some jazz songs or at the very least get more familiar with the type of chord sequences that I'm likely to encounter- anybody unfortunate enough to here my attempts at playing along with some of the backing tracks would have to be tone deaf not to realise that I hadn't done anywhere near enough work.
Clandon Park is another one of those amazing houses that we have dotted around The British Isles, a National Trust property that has probably appeared in countless costume dramas over the years. It also has among other things a Maori meeting house, a room called Tom Tit's Stable, a folly (excellent!) and a museum devoted to The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment- oddly enough the latter was given over to us to use as a dressing room. I must say that I doubt that I'll get changed next to a Victoria Cross very often in my (ahem) illustrious career... the band has changed a bit from last night's show with Roger on keyboards, Steve on drums and Bev on sax, and Ian Bond has returned behind the sound desk. As always with these things it's a hurry-up-and-wait gig 'though there's plenty of food and drink to go round which contributes to a good atmosphere in the band, with Roger telling joke-after-unrepeatable-joke and much marvelling at the museum exhibits from everybody. We're all ready for an 8.30 start but eventually go on the best part of an hour later. I didn't have much contact with the guests or indeed the happy couple (Dorian and Jo) which might have been just as well as I've done more than enough ranting about the British class system (click here for the Wikipedia definition- behold the first sentence!- and click here for a rather more irreverent take on things) in these hallowed pages in the past and you can only ask questions like 'why these things are allowed to happen?' so many times before you start to go around in circles; suffice to say that the ones that I did encounter didn't let me down... still we play a good show (although the broken glass on the dancefloor was a sure sign that we were back in Blighty) with the deps all doing a fine job, and everybody goes home happy which is another reason for me to cheer up and stop moaning. So I will! In fact I have! But I'm very tired now- it's been great to be back playing again, but it was a l-o-n-g couple of days...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

My mate's in Spinal Tap!

Well clearly I have got a lot of time on my hands if the length of the last posting is anything to go by... I might not be playing much myself at the moment (although we did have an excellent Flying Squad rehearsal the other night with plenty of new material ready to be performed- better get some gigs then!) but it's given me chance to get out-and-about to some other people play.

The Friday before last- the 19th if you're counting- saw The Kast Off Kinks visit Tropic at Ruislip. Featuring 3 of The Kinks (click here for the story) and including Chicago Blues Brothers keyboard king Ian Gibbons they played a fine show lasting the best part of 2 hours to a very appreciative audience; you forget just how many great Kinks songs there are until you hear 20-odd of them in a row don't you? Guitarist/vocalist Dave Clarke did an excellent job filling in for the Davies brothers, and it was great to see the venue so full- in the days of disappearing gigs it shows that there are still people out there that want to hear live music, which is good news all round methinks.

The latest Acts Less Ordinary show at The Load of Hay went well- both Rob Power and Mr. Kite played good sets to a small but enthusiastic audience (it had been a very hot day) with Rob's cover version of Blur's 'End Of The Century' giving him chance to mention the (then) upcoming Glastonbury Festival just one more time (I think he managed to say the word 'Glastonbury' more times that The BBC will during the whole of this year's coverage!) and Mr. Kite playing their spiky pop songs in what they called 'stripped down' mode (i.e. not as loud as usual.) They sounded pretty good to my ears 'though I'm sure bands used to play longer sets back in my day...
It's my birthday next month which can only mean one thing- yes, it's The Flying Squad at The Load of Hay. Well- I'm booking the gigs so the least I can do is get one for myself! I can't see us in 'stripped down' mode though...

Last Wednesday (24th) it was time for a very different event- an evening to celebrate the publication of 'Malayan Swing', the latest book from drummer-turned-author Pete Haynes. Organised by the ubiquitous Mark Wyeth (now there's a name that's been absent from these hallowed pages for a while) and taking place at The Edgar Wallace public house just off The Strand (the same place as the launch party for his first book 'God's Lonely Men') it was as we Sherlock Holmes fans like to say, a singular evening that among other things featured Pete reading extracts from the book. I'd travelled up on the tube with him and he was very nervous about reading; we decided it would be good for him to read part of the plot synopsis from the back cover to set the scene before reading selected chapters. The book looks at the world through the eyes of Aiden, a care in the community patient let down by the system that should be looking after him, and as Pete himself says it's not the happiest of tales- it's undergone a few changes since I read the first draft of it over 10 years ago but in my opinion it's a brilliant bit of observational writing. It's been published by London Books which is the brainchild of 'Football Factory' author John King (didn't I once write an album with him?!?) and fellow writer Martin Knight, both of whom attended the event, along with Garry Bushell who I remember from his writing for Sounds music magazine in the '70's and '80's 'though he's done rather a lot since then... as with anything put together by Mr. Wyeth there was the odd rather surreal moment, not least when Mark compared Pete's writing to the gospel according to St. Matthew (yes you read that bit right- he also played a tape of cricket commentaries by John Arlott in the car on the way home...) but overall the evening was pronounced a success by all concerned- let's hope Pete's book is too.

And then Michael Jackson died.

It's weird when a really famous person- and let's face it, Michael Jackson definitely qualifies as 'really famous'- dies isn't it? You think you know them as they're in your life all the time, on the the internet, radio, T.V. etc but of course you don't know them at all. I first remember him in The Jackson Five all those years ago, singing 'Rockin' Robin' on Top Of The Pops- he was a little lad like me then, I've changed a lot since then although I don't think I've changed quite as much as he did... I can't say I was a big fan of his music (although it was obviously very good, just not really a style of music that I personally enjoy listening to) but rather like when Richard Wright died last year I can appreciate that his death will effect a lot of people in the sense that they've literally grown up with him. For anyone under the age of 40 he's been a successful high profile performer for all of their lifetime, which is an extraordinary thing to consider, especially in these famous today / obscure tomorrow times. There's been a lot of talk in the media about how he was 'hounded' after various allegations were made about his private life, and about how this might or might not have contributed to his fragile condition and therefore to his demise- but surely it's the very same media that hounded him and that are now self-righteously reporting on how badly he was treated?
And Farrah Fawcett died- I remember her from when I was a lad too! No, I didn't have that poster on my wall, but I knew a lot of people who did... but I also heard from Andy Peart that Steven Wells has died- Andy and myself interviewed him for 'So What' fanzine in the mid-'80's (he frightened the life out of us!) and I spoke to him at a couple of gigs after that; no I didn't know him but yes I did meet him and also saw him live a few times in his ranting poetry days as Seething Wells when his performances were controversial but never less than thought provoking. (Click here to read Attila the Stockbroker's excellent tribute to him.)

Hmm... they say it comes in three's don't they? But who are 'they'?

Last weekend I saw 3 very different blues performers, starting with the wonderfully named Chicken Legs Weaver at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge on Saturday. I first saw CLW supporting Wilko Johnson at The 100 Club a couple of years ago when as a trio they played an excellent set of garage-y rhythm and blues; here though we just had mainman Andy Weaver armed only with a guitar and a mic'd-up wooden box which he stomped on with his left foot- John Lee Hooker would have been proud! I got there in time to give him a hand soundchecking (he comes in the shop now that he's moved down from Sheffield) and it was interesting (not to say amusing) to see the looks on the faces of the Saturday night regulars more used to hearing 'Brown Eyed Girl' than 'Back Door Man' as Andy powered his way through 2 suitably raucous sets of original songs and old blues and folk material; since we play 'John The Revelator' in the Chicago Blues Brothers theatre show it was particularly good for me to hear it being performed in a style closer to the original recordings. I can't help thinking that it would have been better suited to a Sunday evening (and I'm not just saying that because I book 'em, honest!) but it was all good stuff nonetheless- and I changed his top E string for him when it broke. I really must have a night off sometime!

Meanwhile on Sunday myself and the long-suffering Shirley saw a very different blues gig, featuring B.B. King and John Mayall at The Wembley Arena. I'd not seen John Mayall before- no, I'm not sure why either- and whilst I can't exactly say that I was disappointed I found that the songs were all a bit overlong for me with everyone getting a solo in every number. They were all brilliant players (and I mean brilliant- check out Mayall's website for names, history etc) but it just got a bit much after a while. Maybe I was expecting a bit too much... then again it went down very well so what do I know? On the other hand I thought B.B. King was absolutely tremendous- after 2 instrumental numbers from the band (somewhere between a soundcheck and a warm-up) B.B. came on to a rapturous reception (his entourage helped him to a chair in front of his amplifier- well he is 83!) and launched straight into a stinging guitar solo that began with one of those notes that we all try to play but somehow only the mighty Mr. King can achieve. For the next 2 hours we were in B.B.'s world- with the band following his every move he went from song to song, solo to solo and story to story and kept the audience enthralled throughout. At the end of the show he was helped to his feet whilst throwing plectrums into the crowd; he then put on his hat and coat and left the stage- now that's how you finish a gig! A masterful performance from a true legend of the blues.

And talking of legends it was back to Wembley again last night for a gig that I'd been looking forward to for quite a while- oh yes, it's time for Spinal Tap. It's interesting to note that if you're in a band you almost have to like Spinal Tap- if you don't then you get accused of every artistic crime under the sun, from taking yourself too seriously as a musician to pretension and beyond. As such they've become something of a barometer for rock musicians to measure their antics against- I've lost track of how many times I've heard somebody say 'it's all getting a bit Spinal Tap' when things are getting a bit bizarre. It's easy to forget just how funny the original film is, and the impact that it had when it first came out- suddenly every second rate heavy metal band stopped sounding 'not bad' or 'ok' and just sounded silly. For that if nothing else we should all be grateful.
Support came from The Folksmen who looked rather familiar... I've not seen 'A Mighty Wind' so am not sure of their involvement in the film but their set was a suitably peculiar affair which ended with an excellently odd version of 'Start Me Up' to the general bemusement of all concerned. Meanwhile the bar ran out of beer (how 'Spinal Tap' is that?) and excitement grew by the second... there's 'backstage' footage on the screens of the band allegedly preparing to come on stage, followed by the promo film for 'The Majesty Of Rock'- and then suddenly there they are, the band that made it ok to like and indeed to laugh at heavy metal. All the classics were performed with increasing absurdity, to such an extent that when Keith Emerson joined them for 'Short and Sweet' ('it's called that because it is neither...') and Justin Hawkins and Andy Scott both played bass on 'Big Bottom' it actually didn't look anywhere near as ridiculous as it should have... but the oddest moment for me was spotting my mate Paul Dinnage playing drums alongside Gregg Bissonette on the afore-mentioned 'Big Bottom'. I sent him a text message- 'Hello from block B row 13 seat 50!' I've just talked to him on the phone, he's an old mate of Gregg's and had provided the drumkit for this and the band's Glastonbury show; Ex-Style Council sticksman Steve White was supposed to be playing but had elected to watch the show instead so as the song started Gregg told Paul to pick up a set of sticks and join in! Excellent! (Click here for video evidence- that's Paul standing to Gregg's left.)

So- that's a week-and-a-half of gig watching for your humble narrator, and very good it was too. Now it's time to get back to playing...