Friday, August 28, 2009

Fourth time around

This is the third anniversary of my first blog posting.

I started out thinking that it might be something that I could use as a gig diary, as well as hoping to improve both my typing and computing skills along the way. Well I can now type a lot better than I could (I now use both index fingers!) and I don't find computers quite as daunting as I used to (at least until the next baffling moment comes along of course) but the 'gig diary' format has long since given way to all manner of shamelessly self-indulgent rants and theories, many of which could benefit from some serious editing (yeah, I know...) but which often seem to capture my thoughts in a manner that continues to amuse and occasionally amaze me- sometimes by writing about it I've actually worked out what my opinion is on a particular subject, a bit like talking something through with someone I suppose?

It's also really good fun to do- and for that reason if nothing else, the fourth year stars here...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back to bassics (sorry!)

It's been another 'not-in-the-shop' week for your humble narrator, and despite the fact that money is starting to run out it (I must stop spending! Then again as we'll see I haven't exactly been out much...) it may not have been such a bad thing as I've somehow managed to hurt my back. Last time this happened I ended up in hospital on heroin! (Click here for the full gory story.) It's not anywhere near as bad this time (thank God!) but it's still been very painful so in an effort to keep it more-or-less under control I've paid a visit to Prem the physiotherapist who did his stuff with the needles; I've also swallowed what probably amounts to far too many painkillers, along with trying to take things easy and not do anything too silly...

I managed to put the bass parts provided by Stuart the guitar repair man together without too much drama, and even though I say so myself have ended up with a reasonably playable instrument. It's a blue (blue!) Precision copy with 'Gear for Music' on the headstock so it presumably originated at the online shop of the same name although I think it's actually a generic mass-produced instrument that shops like that buy in and put their name on rather than any sort of custom-made guitar. It's missing the capacitor from the tone control (it broke off! If you're interested here's a wiring diagram which shows how it all goes together) which I've since got a replacement for- I must get around to fitting it as the tone control doesn't work without it. I've started working on the material for next month's gig, and it's been really interesting to be playing basslines rather than the guitar riffs, many of which are as distinctive (and therefore as important to get right) as their guitar counterparts. I'm due to be getting together with Sam and Andy in the next few days for a rehearsal and I have to say that I'm really looking forward to it- songs as familiar as 'Mustang Sally' have become 'new' to me again. Excellent.

After working with Stu on Thursday morning at 'We Will Rock You' I decided that my back felt well enough for me to take a detour on the way home, and so journeyed to Ladbroke Grove to visit 'Mick Jones' Rock'n'Roll Public Library'. This may have been an error as I spent much of Friday in quite a bit of pain, but it was an excellent exhibition so I think it was worth it. (Remind me of what I've just written when I'm still moaning about my back this time next week won't you?) It's the brainchild of (you guessed it!) Mick Jones who brilliantly describes it as a 'guerrilla-library' and as an intended alternative to The British Music Experience. I haven't been to that but if their website is anything to go by it all looks a bit 'grown up' compared to Jones's splendidly chaotic collection of personal memorabilia- everything from football comics to recording studio equipment (click here for a BBC blog posting that includes some excellent photos of the exhibits) with the inevitable Clash and Big Audio Dynamite items thrown in for good measure. All good stuff, and a reminder to me just how much The Clash meant to me all those years ago- I've yet to see his current band Carbon/Silicon but I really must make the effort the next time that they're playing.

Incidentally I've just picked up a not-entirely-legal Clash CD called 'Live in Amsterdam'- if you're a fan and you see it anywhere then buy it! It's fantastic!

Last night saw the ultimate test of my ailing back- a gig with The Blues Brothers UK at The Colonial Bar in Horndean. The band show a distinct resemblance to both The F.B.I. Band and Utter Madness, and The Chicago Blues Brothers visited the venue as recently as last March (click here for the story of that show) when I remember it being packed to the rafters- this show wasn't anywhere nearly as well attended which I guess means that the recession is real after all... those that were there were an noisily enthusiastic bunch who kept the dancefloor busy throughout our 2 sets of BB-based soul and r'n'b, some of which stretched the brief a bit (I don't remember 'Long Train Running' or 'Suspicious Minds' being in either of the films?!?) but all of which seemed to keep the customers satisfied. This is all the more remarkable considering that the band was almost totally made up of deps- only Jon (bass) and Ian (sax) were familiar from the recent Belfast trip although I'd played with Jim (keyboards) at the recent F.B.I. Band show in Harpenden; Tom joined Tony in the hat'n'glasses (he last played in the band '6 or 7 years ago' and turned out to be an excellent harmonica player although Tony handled pretty much all of the vocals) while Ian (trumpet) bemoaned the lack of written music parts (he played in 'Chicago' but prefers working in Sainsburys these days; he got married on Monday) and Mark (drums) arrived late as his car had been blocked in while he was doing a session at Air Studios (have a look at his website- he does that sort of thing rather a lot!) All things considered it could have been a disaster, but turned out to be a fun if admittedly rather loose show- and my back doesn't feel too bad this morning. Then again I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I wasn't under such heavy sedation...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Big wheels keep on turning

I've not been working in the shop this week; in fact I'm not working in the shop at all at the moment- I won't bore you with the reasons why (now there's an interestingly open-ended statement don't you think?!?) but leaving aside the obvious financial disadvantages that the situation creates it's given me chance to do a few things this week that I've been meaning to do for quite a while, starting with something that would have seemed all but impossible not-so-very long ago...

Monday I did something that I haven't done for a very long time, (oo-er missus etc) in fact for over (gulp!) 15 years- I went round Huggy's house to work on new material for The Price. Well- last month's reunion gig was great fun on every level but if we're going to play again we can't just keep rehashing the old songs can we? As I arrived I was amused to hear my own voice coming from an upstairs room- incredibly Huggy had found some old recordings of us working on what would have become new songs near the end of our time together. Some of them were rehearsal room recordings of us jamming on new ideas, others were home tapes (yes, tapes!) of near complete songs- at some point he'd transferred them to his digital 8-track recorder and then forgotten about them. Amazing! It was strange (to say the least!) to hear them again- some well remembered, others all but forgotten, all of them from a time when we didn't think about very much apart from the band and it's music. And some of them weren't bad either! It seems that we were far from finished when we finished, if you see what I mean... over the next few hours we worked on 4 new ideas, all of which sounded as though they could end up being good songs, and with more than a couple of old ideas worth revisiting it should be interesting to see what we come up with- let's see if we've got anything to say in the 21st Century!

Tuesday and it's time to stop saying that I've got a tax return to fill in and to actually get on and do it. These days as with so many things it can all be done online, and it's actually a very easy system to use- assuming of course that the self-employed person in question (in this case me) has kept all their books up to date throughout the year and so just has to simply transfer their figures over to the virtual tax return form.
Hmm... am I the only person who puts all their receipts etc in a large cardboard box which only gets looked into when it's tax return time? No, I thought not.
So with the long-suffering Shirley downstairs off sick with an infection of her windpipe (urgh!) and therefore suffering even more than usual, your humble narrator was busy covering the bed with what initially at least seemed to be hundreds, maybe even thousands of bits of paper. Some seven hours later I clicked the last click of the mouse and it was all over. I don't think I've ever worked so hard. Remind me to (a) look into the box a bit more often in the coming tax year (and maybe to even consider putting some of the bits of paper in it in order as they come in, rather than leaving it all until it has to be done), and (b) never be rude about accountants again.

Wednesday was rehearsal time- but it's a rehearsal with a difference as I was playing bass guitar. Yes, that's right, bass guitar...
A week or so ago I got a phone call from Andy Moore, who I first met 10 or so years ago when I was writing songs with Nikk Gunns and we were looking for musicians to put a band together/record with. He's a top chap and an excellent drummer who I've kept in touch with over the ensuing years, and his call included an interesting proposition- would I like to join him and his old Back to Zero bandmate Sam in a band to play at one of Andy's workmate's upcoming wedding? Well yes of course I would- and would I be ok playing bass? Well yes of course I would- probably... even though I've only played bass onstage a handful of times and I don't actually own one at the moment, Andy was so convinced that I'm the man for the job that none of these apparently minor inconvieniences seemed to bother him in the slightest. So it was then that I journeyed to somewhere just North of North London for a highly enjoyable few hours of 'what-songs-do-we-fancy-playing-and-can-we-do-them-as-a-trio?-type tomfoolery, and all good stuff it was too. We'll be reconvening in the next week or so to finalise a set, and I have to say that I'm really looking forward to it. Better get myself a bass guitar then!

Thursday saw a return to The Dominion Theatre with Stuart the guitar repair man to restring, remake and remodel the 'We Will Rock You' guitars. I missed last week's session as I was away in Belfast- during the course of our conversation I recounted to Stu my previous day's 4-string adventures and made the observation that I'd enjoyed it so much that I'll be on the lookout for a bass guitar for myself over the next couple of weeks. His nonchalant reply of 'Oh I'll give you some bits and you can build your own' didn't really sink in with me at first- it was only on the train home when he asked if I'd be in later so that he could 'drop some bass bits round' that I realised that he was serious. I mumbled something about not knowing how to assemble and wire up a bass guitar- not strictly true but said in a brave attempt to put the slightly odd concept into perspective- undeterred Stu countered with 'well here's your chance to learn'. He's right of course...

Friday and it's gig time at last, with The Chicago Blues Brothers making a (ahem) headline appearance at The Windsor Jazz and Beer Festival. Shirley had hoped that she'd have recovered enough to attend the event, but when we got there she felt rather shaky and so dropped me at the site in Alexandra Gardens in the shadow of The Windsor Wheel and returned home. Having checked in with Ali the back stage manager I went for a walk past what was The Old Trout (scene of many fine gigs over the years including several by The Price- now it's a Browns restaurant) and down through town to The Fire Station Arts Centre (we played there too, 'though it was just called 'Windsor Arts Centre' in those days) as well as completely failing to spend the HMV gift vouchers that I got for my birthday last month. Meanwhile back at the festival site everyone's arriving and with sound guru Ian Band behind the mixing desk it's time for a linecheck- as mentioned in my previous posting I'd decided to use my old Gibson Les Paul Deluxe as a mark of respect to the man himself. (Yeah I know that some people might think that it's pretentious for me to do that- but so what? It's my little gesture to the man who gave us guitarists so much, and anyway is it any more or less pretentious than the people who might bother thinking that it's pretentious? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...) Out of all the guitars that I own (not that many, honest!) it's still my favourite, and I thought it sounded great if a little 'heavy' for our show- back to the Telecaster next time then!
We've played at quite a few beer festivals over the years and they're quite interesting gatherings- it seems to me that the people there during the day sample the various ales on offer from the point of view of someone who's interested in the processes involved in the production and manufacture of the drinks (when I first got there I saw plenty of people drinking out of very small glasses and making notes) whereas later in the evening the participants are, shall we say, more interested in quantity rather than quality (very big glasses, no notes being taken.) This often makes for a boisterous gathering- by the time we went on we were definitely heading into the latter category, and although things took a while to get going they got going in the end. As we were playing quite a long set we added a few rarely played numbers to the setlist, at least one of which ('Take Me To The River' since you were wondering- click here for a clip that shows how good it can sound!) went a bit wrong in the making but no one in the audience seemed to bothered. We're playing at a similar event to this in Hampton Court at the end of this month, which if this one is anything to go by should be something to look forward to.

So- that was the week that was. It was busy enough- perhaps it's a good thing that I'm not working in the shop this coming week either judging by the amount of things that I seem to be involved in at the moment? If only I could earn money at them... which reminds me- I can't sit here talking to you, I've got a bass guitar to put together...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chasing sound

I've just heard that Les Paul has died.

The Internet will be alive with stories over the next few hours, days and weeks- so here's just one of mine...

Sometime in the mid 1980's I walked into a guitar shop; it was on the Cowley Road just outside of Uxbridge, and even though I can't for the life of me remember what it was called (it went through various names during it's time there and I'm not sure what it was called on the day in question) that otherwise nondescript day literally changed my life.
There were 2 Gibson Les Paul guitars on the wall- one was a cherry red Standard, the other a gold top Deluxe. I'd not seen their like in the shop before, but I remember the blur of anticipation and excitement that I felt as I walked to the counter and said something like 'hello Phil- I'll buy some stuff in a minute, but... where did they come from?!?'
Phil (he was behind the counter) said something along the lines of 'hello Leigh, (he was always very friendly- I wonder what happened to him..?) well they're both mine actually, I'm selling one of them, whichever one of them sells first, to buy a Gallien Krueger combo- you know, one of the new ones?'
Well as it happened I didn't- but I did know what a Les Paul Deluxe was.
I asked to try it- after playing just a couple of chords on it I knew that it was, is, and is very likely to be, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best guitar that I will ever play. To cut a long-ish story very short, I ended up buying it. Thank God.

Have you any idea how much that instrument means to me? That's it in the picture you can see in the top right hand corner of this blog page; it was played at virtually every Price gig, will be played at any future Price gig, and if you see me playing in Windsor tomorrow evening you'll see me using it then, as even though it's not the most appropriate instrument for a Chicago Blues Brothers show, it'll be the only guitar that I can possibly use tomorrow. It's the least that I can do, don't you think?

Well, that's one of the things that Les Paul did for me, but there are a lot more.
Read the obituaries and tributes- we will not see his like again. Thanks Les, from us all.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's a mad mad mad mad world

I have just- and I mean just- returned from a highly enjoyable jaunt to Belfast. Come with me now, to a place where taxis contain unsuspecting celebrities one day, then start to fall apart in a scary part of town the next...

It's 8 a.m. yesterday and I'd normally be making my way up to The Dominion Theatre in London's West End to help Stuart the guitar repair man tend to the 'We Will Rock You' guitars. But this Thursday is different- the long-suffering Shirley drops me at Heathrow Airport where I'm meeting up with top tribute band Utter Madness . They bear a distinct resemblance to The F.B.I. Band who I last played with at the start of June; Tony the singer and Ian the saxman often dep with us and one of the other acts that they work in together is a Madness tribute band of no little repute. After checking in I went through security before getting a call from Ian to say that the rest of the band would be through soon- Richard's on keyboards, Jon's on bass, Stuart's on drums and Ray is... well, he's on backing vocals but also acts out various characters from the promo videos- basically, he plays Chas Smash in the band. I'd not met the rest of the band before but they're a friendly bunch; there's time for a coffee (Tony distinguishes himself by being disappointed that there's no Guinness available in our chosen eaterie- it's 9 o'clock in the morning!) before heading off to gate 78 (shouldn't that be 'Gate 49'?) to catch the 9.55 flight to Belfast International Airport. We're playing at The Feile an Fhobail- the 'Festival Of The People'- which takes place every year in West Belfast. It's a gathering that I've played at before as when I was with Neck we supported The Undertones in a large tent in Andersontown, the story of which I never tire of recounting to anybody who'll listen... buy me a drink sometime and I'll tell it again!

When you say to people that you're going to Belfast it never fails to get a reaction. Some people look at you like you're mad; others actually tell you that you're mad, and occasionally they will even go on to tell you why you're mad. This normally involves predictions of varying degrees of violence, gunfire, explosions... there are surely fewer places that are more associated with what's generally referred to as 'The Troubles' than Belfast. For what my opinion's worth I've rarely met friendlier people, and from a musical point of view have never had a bad gig there; whilst it would be churlish to suggest that there's not a polar opposite to both of these opinions that's my experience of the city, and I'm pleased to say that this visit has only reinforced it. Maybe I've just been lucky?

With the help of the latest edition of 'Guitarist' magazine the flight passes swiftly, and in no time at all Jon and myself are collecting our guitars (undamaged- thank you Aer Lingus!) and joining the rest of the band at the pre-arranged pick-up point at the front of the airport. We're due to take 2 taxis to our hotel- one arrives with enough room for 4 of us so myself, Jon and Ray wait for the larger (we've got guitar cases!) second one. It turns out that it had already left as another festival performer had already been picked up in it, but it hadn't got too far away and so turned around and came back for us. It's an 8-seater minibus driven by Ciaran, we loaded our stuff into the back and got in, saying hello to the 2 people already on board as we did. One of them looked very familiar indeed... after a bit of slightly awkward small talk Jon asks one them a question-
'Excuse me- are you Alexei Sayle?'
The reply comes with a smile.
'Yes I am'.
I ask what in retrospect could be seen as a rather peculiar question.
'Do a lot of people ask you that?'
The reply comes with a laugh.
'Yes, they do'.
I ask what is possibly an even more peculiar question.
'Do you always say that you are?'
The reply comes with a bigger laugh.
'Yes I do. Well, I am'.
The atmosphere's lighter. That's better. By the time we get to our hotel Alexei (we're on first name terms now!) has regaled us with tales everything from his appearance on The Late Late Show ('if I'd have known it was that popular I would have taken it more seriously!') to how and why he missed out on a Golden Rose of Montreux award ('one of the judges was an undercover priest who said I'd been rude about The Pope at a gig in Dublin; they gave me a silver rose instead') as well as asking us about the band and much more besides. He seemed like a very nice chap 'though attempts to get him to join us for a rendition of 'Doctor Marten Boots' sadly fell on stony ground. Maybe we should have asked for 'Ullo John! Gotta new motor?'

Our hotel (The Malone Lodge since you asked) is excellent- after checking in (I've got room 204 all to myself- hurrah!) it's all down to the bar for a drink and to discuss tactics for the rest of the day. We're due to be picked up to go to the venue for a soundcheck at 4.30 so there's plenty of time for some food (vegetarian quiche and chips- superb!) and a sleep (I'm old ok!) before meeting in the lobby at the allotted time. We're playing at The Andersontown Leisure Centre- Ciaran offers to show us around town on our way to the airport the next morning which we all agree would be a great idea. As we arrive at the venue I notice that the barber's opposite is called Hair Ratios; earlier I'd spotted a fish and chip shop called The Codfather, and near the hotel there's a Thai restaurant called Thai Tanic. Hmm... I remember the first time I came to Ireland I thought that the fast food shop opposite couldn't possibly be called Abrakebabra and that I really must get my eyes tested when I get home...
We're playing in the sports hall, a large and somewhat echoey room which has huge (and I mean huge) portraits of Irish musicians on the walls- everyone from Rory Gallagher to Shane MacGowan and from Phil Lynott to Van Morrison. I've got a Fender Hot Rod Deville to use (oh yes!) and soundcheck seems to take ages- probably because it does... after running through 'Our House' 3 times we decide that 'the room needs a few people in it', which roughly translates as 'hope lots of people turn up to soak up some of the sound'... we return to hotel for some food and to hope lots of people turn up to soak up the sound.
When we get back to the venue the support band Gangsters are preparing to go on stage. They've been around for a while (click here for a 10 year old clip of them on Irish TV- I think only the singer remains in the band today) and their energetic performance warms up the rapidly arriving (thank God!) audience nicely, with the dancefloor full by the end of their set. We get our photo taken in the dressing room with some of the festival organisers and then it's our turn- as I pick my guitar up I reflect on the fact that I'm about to play 20-odd songs that I've never played live before (I've been playing along with the original recordings but that's not quite the same) with a band that for the most part I met for the first time earlier that day, in a room full of people in what some people would consider to be one of the most dangerous areas in the country, if not the world. Let's hope I've done my homework correctly... we start with 'One Step Beyond' and the place goes, if you pardon the expression, mad. I have a couple of shaky moments, not least with some of the endings (ever noticed how many of their songs fade out?!?) which I'd obviously never heard before, but I get through it all pretty much unscathed. Halfway through 'Rockin' in A Flat' I look to my left to see Ray standing in his underpants behind the P.A. stack; as the next song 'Night Boat To Cairo' starts he emerges in shorts and a pith helmet. Excellent. For the encore we play such well-known Madness songs as 'Too Much Too Young', 'Lip Up Fatty' and, er, 'Parklife', all of which drive the audience to new heights of mayhem (incidentally the explanation for these seemingly unconnected tunes appearing in the set is simple- the band will often play a set of ska covers alongside their Madness set; then again that still doesn't really explain 'Parklife' does it?!?) A final repeat of 'One Step Beyond' finishes off a great gig.
As we're leaving for the hotel a couple of young ladies stop the bus looking for Ian, who they refer to as 'the grey-haired horny boy'; I don't think I've ever seen anybody look as frightened as Ian did as he was trying to get under his seat.

It's 10 a.m. today and we take Ciaran up on his offer of a tour around town. As we're waiting outside our hotel for him to arrive a lady comes out to get her taxi; she's obviously forgotten something so goes back into the hotel to fetch it, smiling at us as she does so... it's the woman off of 'Father Ted'- you know, the one that's always saying 'go on go on go on'... oh, what's her name..?
It seems a shame to leave celebrity central but a very interesting time beckons, in which Ciaran takes us for what he calls 'a short tour of political Belfast'. We pass through a Loyalist area, spray painted on the walls are the letters 'K.A.T.' which he explains stand for 'kill all taigs'... in the Republican part of town he takes us to Bombay Street, shows us part of the peace wall then stops on the Falls Road to let us take pictures of some of the famous murals, his running commentary keeping us enthralled 'though his mood changes as we head for the Shankill Road where he says he has to watch himself... we pull onto it and there are Union Jacks everywhere, on flagpoles, in windows, even strung across the streets. As we stop at some traffic lights there's an odd sound from the back of the minibus, a cross between a clang and a clunk, we joke that something's fallen off but as we pull away it becomes obvious that something has and Ciaran's worried, not so much by the damage to the bus but because he'll have to get out to look and people will know that he's not from a Loyalist area... we pull off into a side street and he gets out, walks around the back of the bus for a few seconds then opens the side door with the words 'put this under your seat will you'- it's part of the exhaust pipe...

He looks terrified. I don't blame him.

He starts the minibus, expecting the worst- but we pull away and it seems to be ok (well, as 'ok' as it can be under the circumstances!) 'though he's on the phone telling of how he 'nearly shit himself'... incredibly our tour continues, to the Ardoyne, to the area of the Falls Road where Gaelic is the main language spoken- and then to the road that leads us back to the airport. It had been an fascinating, enlightening hour or so- do people really treat each other like that?

Yes, sadly, they do. I've never been much of a patriot and I've certainly never been a royalist- what I saw and heard this morning has reminded me why I never will be.

The flight home is a bit bumpier than the one there (why is it that when they tell you to keep your seat belt on 'in case of unexpected turbulence' there's always some unexpected turbulence?!?) but not too bad really. We walk through to collect our luggage and I say goodbye to people who I only met for the first time yesterday but who somehow already feel like friends. As I go over to collect my guitar I see a midget standing next to the OUTSIZE BAGGAGE sign; for one insane moment I decide that someone had put them through as outsize baggage... there's a punchline there somewhere but I for one am not quite sure what it is. Madness madness, they called it madness...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Madness beckons...

...or maybe it's already here?

It was the (very) early hours of this morning, and myself and East found ourselves standing on a street corner somewhere in Uxbridge. Unusually for us we'd been in a pub (that's an attempt at irony in case you hadn't realised) and we were reflecting on our evening when a police car drew up alongside us. Surely we're to old for all that 'stop and search' stuff? It's ok, it's only stopped at the traffic lights... as we desperately tried to not look guilty we became aware of someone running towards us from the road opposite; as they got nearer we realised it was a young man clad in t-shirt and shorts. As he got closer he looked more and more agitated and both of us noticed that he didn't have any shoes on. He ran across the road in front of the police car; as he passed us our heads turned to follow him up the road as he huffed and puffed his way towards (or maybe away from) oblivion.
'Hmm..' said East warily, 'we never get invited to the good parties do we?'
The police car drew away, but it didn't follow him. We wondered if the kebab shop was still open.

We'd been to see Grapevine Blues at The Load of Hay. They were ok, a duo playing songs by the likes of Freddie King, Peter Green and T-Bone Walker to a small but appreciative audience, at least 2 of which asked me if I thought that you could play blues along to a drum machine. Well Grapevine Blues clearly think that you can although it all sounded a bit nice to me, like 'music that you'd hear in a hotel lounge' as East put it. The splendidly-named Dr. Ika is obviously a very good player but played a few too many notes for my tastes 'though it was undeniably very impressive. Then again they had a gig on a Saturday night and I didn't so they must be doing something right?

At least I'd had a gig the night before, with The Chicago Blues Brothers at an open air event at The Lensbury Hotel in Teddington. With the weather currently rather unpredictable it was good to see blue skies as myself and the long-suffering Shirley left for the show; we've not replaced our recently stolen sat. nav. yet (they're expensive!) so rather wildly decided to try using the GPS facility on my iPhone. It got us there with no trouble at all- I spent most of the journey saying things like 'we'll be turning right soon' and 'this thing's amazing!' which I thought was ok 'though Shirley's enthusiasm for finding the money to buy a new device seems to have grown exponentially since Friday. The hotel's on the same road as Teddington Studios; after asking at reception we were directed to the goods entrance where Howard the security man asked us to unload our equipment then bring the car back to park it at the front of the hotel. (We never did, and nor did any of the rest of the band! Sorry Howard!) It's a A-Team gig although Tracy's in a bad way- she's cracked her right elbow and is obviously in a lot of pain. After a recent discussion with sound guru Ian Bond I'd decided to use a bigger amplifier for outdoor shows, a Fender Blues DeVille (60 watts) instead of the Blues Junior (15 watts) that I use for theatre shows- I'm glad I did as I've had problems hearing myself at events such as this and this seemed to cure the problem. Soundcheck included a go at 'Show Me' (haven't played that since the days with Dave Finnegan's Commitments) and less successful attempts at the likes of 'Walk This Way' and 'Rock and Roll'. It sounded great, so much so that Squirrel says something like 'outdoor gigs, that's the way to go' as we leave the stage to make way for the other act on the bill, a Tina Turner tribute act known as 'Totally Tina'. She's actually called Paula, and within a few minutes of meeting Pete a plan had formed for her to join us during 'River Deep, Mountain High' near the end of our set.
After a visit to The Thames View Restaurant (jacket potato for me, lasagne for everyone else) it was back to our dressing room (actually a tent) to await Paula's set. The hotel grounds back onto the river (the Thames in case you were wondering) where herons and cormorants survey the famous lock in search of unsuspecting fish, and 2 policemen spend ages questioning a young man on the bank opposite. Paula's show takes a while to get going, she's got a quick-change area set up on the stage and wears a series of increasingly outrageous costumes throughout her set. By 'Simply The Best' there's plenty of dancing and the atmosphere is good which bodes well for our show. We start on time (8.30) just as it's beginning to get dark, the stage is big enough for Matt and Mike to cover enough ground to be soaked in sweat earlier in the set than usual and the audience respond in kind. Halfway through the show I look around to see Pete's wife Jayne on stage looking at the horn player's setlist, an odd moment 'though it turned out that Paula had asked her to find out how many songs there were until she was due to join us; 'River Deep, Mountain High' goes well with Tracy and Paula trading lines and hamming it up furiously. A highly enjoyable gig, and I must remember to use my bigger amp at these sort of shows again- I loved it! Ian said it sounded good from behind the keyboards too; then again he had just poured himself a glass of red wine with the words 'I've got wine flu' so I guess his judgement may have been a little unreliable.

This week among other things I've got to fill in an online tax return, and have a final look at the songs for an upcoming Madness tribute show. Which reminds me- what's the first sign of Madness? Suggs knocking at your front door...

The Price / Colour Me Wednesday gig in Cowley a couple of weeks ago was reviewed in the local paper- check out the Price website to see what the mysterious Samantha Stevens thought of our efforts...