Sunday, September 20, 2009

6 strings good!

Some extra guitar repair work for your humble narrator this week- in addition to working with Stuart the guitar repair man at 'We Will Rock You' on Thursday, I spent Wednesday with him at The Prince Edward Theatre servicing various instruments that are used in 'The Jersey Boys'. Unlike 'WWRY' this show uses several instruments on stage, some of which are played live and some which are purely props i.e. used by the actors who pretend to play them as part of the show. A lack of information meant some confusion over which instruments were which- in the event we ended up spending rather too much time on the prop guitars (many of which were in quite a bad way meaning a lot of time spent was cleaning them before restringing) and not enough on the 'real' instruments which meant that we were obliged to return on Thursday to complete the job. Or so we thought- it turns out that after Stu spoke to one of the guitarists on the show we may well have to go back this week as we still haven't worked on the main instruments. It's weird- no one person seemed to know what we were supposed to be doing! I got to restring a Fender baritone guitar- now there's something that you don't see every day- and might get to work on an electric sitar in the not-too-distant future. Excellent! 

Friday saw The Flying Squad return to the Tropic at Ruislip to support Larry Miller. In the time since our last gigs in July various discussions have taken place within the band which have resulted in us deciding to play a set purely consisting of Dr. Feelgood songs (or songs covered by them) not least because everyone that we spoke to after our first show there thought that it was a good idea! We arrived just as Larry & co. pulled up in the group van; I'd last seen him play around 10 years ago when I was in The Flame and we supported him at The Torrington in Finchley, and always remember him being a very nice chap. In the meantime he's gone on to become a respected blues/rock guitarist, very much in the mould of his great hero Rory Gallagher (always a good thing methinks) and it was good to catch up with him again. He let me have a go on his Rory Gallagher Tribute Stratocaster (superb!) and seemed very impressed with my Relic Strat (us guitar players often do the 'swapping instruments' thing!) In the event there wasn't enough time for us to soundcheck which might have contributed to what I thought was a rather scrappy show although we went down very well (one audience member even asked me for my plectrum! No-one's ever done that before!) so perhaps I was being a bit miserable? And Larry played a great gig- he's a fine player and is also very funny in between songs (maybe he's related to Max?!?) which is a strange mixture in some ways 'though it all works well as part of a show. He deserves to be much more successful than he currently is- let's hope he achieves that one day.

Last night myself and Flying Squad sticksman Dave managed to go to two gigs, (it's amazing isn't it? How many nights do you fancy going out to see a band and there's nothing around worth seeing, and here there's two gigs on the same night within a couple of miles of each other!) the first of which featured The Ali Mac Band at The Abrook Arms in Uxbridge. Having played in the band a couple of times over the last few months when regular guitarist Simon was off elsewhere it was good to finally see the band for myself, and very good they were too; Simon is an excellent country rock style player who also plays for local legends The Good Old Boys, Bill (bass) and Hud (drums) are a rock solid rhythm section and Ali was always a great singer. I must say it was possibly a bit laid back for me (now I know why they thought I was a bit raucous!) but what they did they did very well indeed.
After seeing their first set it was down to The Crown in Cowley to catch the second (and as it turned out, the third) set from Beaky's Band. Beaky (real name Tony) is of course a member of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, and his trio features Geoff (of Rockschool fame) on drums and my old mate Terry on bass. I played lots of gigs with him in The Informers in the mid-'90's, and when we arrived he was talking to our old drummer Roger- I guess that nearly counts as a group re-union? I hadn't been to The Crown for many years and wondered where they would fit a band in (it's not very big!) but it seems they do a lot of live music there, mostly duos and solo acts working with backing tracks 'though they put a fair few bands on too. Beaky's Band remain the only act that I'm ever likely to see play the theme from 'Postman Pat' and a Led Zeppelin medley in the same set (I'm not making this up, honest!) but they went down well with all concerned, and the bar was still open when we left at 2.30 in the morning- I must try to get us a gig there!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

4 strings good, 6 strings bad?

Well if last Friday's gig was in an 'out-of-the-way' place then Wednesday's was on another planet- at South Farm in Shingay-cum-Wendy (and if you think that's a mad name, the village next to it's called Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth!) in Cambridgeshire. It's a wedding with a difference as it's a goth couple getting married; add to this the fact that there's a volume restriction device (why? We're on a farm in the middle of nowhere!) in the venue that cuts the power if the music goes over 90 decibels and the scene was set for a rather unusual gathering, which I'm bound to say didn't disappoint. Some extraordinary hairstyles, tattoos and outfits (some band members were shocked, others rather bemused!) mingled among the more traditionally dressed guests; if that wasn't enough the serviettes were shaped like daleks and there was a model of Stonehenge on top of the wedding cake. Excellent! From our point of view it was only ever going to be a difficult gig- in the end the power went off at least 4 times by my reckoning, and that was with Marc using hot rods instead of sticks in an attempt to keep the drum volume down and Pete manning the P.A. system throughout the show. (He had the venue manager next to him most of the time- no pressure then!) Rather than stopping when the power did go off we kept playing and waited for it to return (systems such as this switch the power off for several seconds, the idea being that it gives you time to turn down before it comes back on again) and with Marc's drums still audible (albeit rather quiet!) the people on the dancefloor kept on dancing. This resulted in a rather strange sight- a bit like one of those silent discos. Maybe that's what they should have booked?!?

Friday it was back to a regular gig for us, at The Pizza Express in Maidstone. We've played here quite a few times, and as I think I've written before it's an unlikely venue for us, but it always turns out to be a great gig. Chris is in for Ian on keyboards and Ian replaces Richard on saxophone but other than that it's the A-Team (minus Tracy) from 2 nights previous; conversation topics during the pre-gig pizzas included a discussion on eating woodlice (apparently they're related to shrimps and have a similar taste- I'm not making this up, honest! If you think you're hard enough click here and here and you'll see what I mean!) and the watercolour paintings on the walls (Dave said he'd drill a hole through the wall under the ones of sea scenes and use a water pistol from next door 'to make them more authentic for the people looking at them') of our dressing room. The show seems deafening compared to the Wednesday gig (maybe it was!) and is a energetic, high temperature affair- I don't remember the last time I was so hot on stage, and Mike and Matt drank what seemed like 100 glasses of water. We went down well, sold many a CD afterwards and quite a few people said that they'd be returning for our just-before-Christmas show- a fine evening.

And Saturday saw your humble narrator wielding a bass guitar in public for the first time in many years- I think the last time was 6-or-so years ago when I was playing in Neck and our bassman went AWOL! Sam's on guitar, Andy's on drums and we're playing at Dave and Suzanne's wedding at Mill Hall in Newbury. Without wishing to sound too big headed I must say that it all went very well indeed, especially considering our limited rehearsal time and the very echoey room (yes, another one! At least we could play at a reasonable volume this time...) The bride and groom had a few requests, many of which we were able to play- I must admit that I didn't think that this was the most appropriate song for a wedding reception although I guess you could argue that this was even more unlikely to work, but they both went down really well even considering the fact that I was singing (yes, singing) them... but the maddest request surely had to be this which implausibly nearly started a riot. Whatever happened to wedding 'classics' like this eh?!? Times have changed... I really enjoyed playing bass not least because it was something different for me and although I don't think that a new career beckons it's something I'd definitely do again if the opportunity arises, especially if I get chance to play this song again...

Don't forget- The Flying Squad are supporting Larry Miller at Tropic at Ruislip this Friday; we're on at 8.30 and you can get cut price tickets from the venue website if you e-mail them and say that you're coming to see us! Hurrah!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Welsh wedding weekend

I had an 8 hour rehearsal yesterday. 8 hours!

Sam on guitar and Andy on drums joined myself on bass (!) at Ruff Rockers Rehearsal Studios in Uxbridge in an attempt to put together 2 sets of songs to play at next weekend's wedding gig (in case you're wondering what the hell I'm going on about go back 3 or 4 postings for the background to this momentous event) and it all went very well in my not-so-humble opinion. Mind you I've just received an e-mail from Andy which contains a couple of suggested songs from a girl singer who's apparently performing with us- with no more rehearsals scheduled (or indeed possible given the obvious time constraints involved) this should prove interesting to say the least... and I'll be in the same rehearsal room tomorrow night with The Flying Squad as we've got a gig next week supporting the excellent Larry Miller- no doubt there'll be more shameless self-publicity for this nearer to the day but in the meantime you can click here for the venue's website where you can get cut price advance tickets if you say that you're coming to see us. Pretty good eh?

The weekend just gone saw 2 wedding gigs for The Bootleg Blues Brothers (i.e. The Chicago Blues Brothers in 'we're-nowhere-near-a-theatre-stage' mode) the first one probably in Wales and the second one definitely in Wales... Friday we wound our way up to the village of Hanmer (near Whitchurch, which is definitely in England... probably...) which is a village that could politely be described as 'out of the way'- there was almost as much grass growing in the roads as in mine or your back gardens! I travelled up with Richard who'd just got a new iPhone- by the time we'd reached the M6 toll road I'd managed to download various applications for him including a metronome, a spirit level and Jazz FM. These things are getting so clever- then again, don't you think that what we really need is mobile telephone that works as a phone rather than some kind of pocket cure-all? Answers on a postcard please... mind you I've got an iPhone too so what do I know?!?
Band-wise it's the A-Team barring Adam who's depping for Dave on trumpet; Phil's back on the P.A., and we're playing in a tent in the garden- maybe that should be the 'grounds'- of a farmhouse. Soundcheck is curtailed when a bedraggled-looking gentleman comes into the tent to tell us that we're upsetting his cows in a nearby field- faced with this frankly unprecedented reason for stopping playing we decide to go into town to check into our hotel, which turned out to be a good move...
As we were leaving for the hotel Richard noticed that his oil light had come on, and so suggested that we went into Whitchurch to look for a motoring spares shop. While we were in the process of doing so I received a call from Matt giving me directions to the hotel- 'you can't miss it, 'though you may wish that you had'- and when we got there rebellion was in the air, with no one too happy about staying there. In the interests of not wanting to get sued I suppose that I'd better not actually name the establishment, so I'll just say that it's named after a large black crow-like bird often seen in the area... there are holes in the not-particularly-clean sheets and a distinct lack of en-suite facilities, and although both Matt and myself both admitted that we'd stayed in worse places we both agreed that it was pretty rough. After much phoning around and contacting Pete about how much money we had to spend on accommodation we found some rooms at The Premier Inn at Oswestry, a few miles South and on the way to tomorrow night's gig.
Back at the gig things are hotting up nicely, and by the time we go on everyone's up for a party. Wedding gigs can often be rather anti-climactic from the band's point of view, but this one was definitely among the better ones for us, with much dancefloor action throughout and the only down point occurring in 'Soul Man' when the P.A. went off (the generator got overloaded and cut out) although no one in the tent seemed particularly bothered by it.
After a short drive and checking in at the hotel (which I must admit was light years ahead of the other one!) we adjourned to The Oswald's Cross (part of the hotel) for a drink- Matt's getting married this month (hurrah!) and was having a stag night last night in London which most of us couldn't make (I'd like to have gone but came in from rehearsing and fell asleep!) so a few beers were even more of a good idea than usual. A good end to a rather unusual evening.

I'm sharing room 201 with Matt, who began Saturday by accusing me of snoring, an outrageous suggestion- which I fear was sadly true. Maybe those drinks weren't such a good idea after all... after breakfast we head off South towards Brecon for another wedding gig, at The Peterstone Court Hotel. Our 2-and-a-bit hour journey takes us through some truly spectacular countryside; I'm travelling with Matt, who plays The Price CD that I'd bought along for him for most of our journey which was a bit weird from my point of view (I hardly ever listen to anything that I've played on) but he seemed to like it. We arrive at the venue just as Phil's finishing setting up the P.A., and there's just time for us to get set up before the wedding party comes in for their meal. With a couple of hours spare we head into Brecon for a look around- many spend some time at The Wellington Hotel while Richard buys a leather jacket at a charity shop and I buy a small adjustable spanner from a market stall. Well, they're always handy aren't they? We return to the venue for a swift sound check before retiring to The Cathedral Room to await further instructions. I read most of the latest edition of 'Guitarist' while 'The X Factor' is on T.V.; fortunately common sense prevails and the telly gets switched over in time to catch some of The Beatles documentaries on BBC2.
The hog roast is served at 8.30- I got some potatoes and coleslaw. At 9.30 we're on at last, and for the second night running the dancefloor is full for the great majority of our show, with much merriment all round and plenty of compliments from the guests afterwards. With my Telecaster still suffering from a broken switch I used my Relic Strat for the second night running- it sounded good but I still prefer the Tele for CBB gigs. I'd better get it fixed then!

Two good wedding gigs in a row- now that's something that doesn't happen all that often often!
Let's hope it's a good one next weekend when I'm on bass...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bank holiday broken guitar blues

Well- did you have a good Bank Holiday weekend? I certainly did...

Friday and it's time for The Chicago Blues Brothers to visit another beer and jazz festival, this time in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace- grand surroundings for what turned out to be an excellent event. Steve's depping on drums (Marc's playing at Blood Brothers in the West End) and Pete's in for Mike who's on holiday but other than that the A-Team's on duty, and everyone's in good spirits despite the slightly unpredictable (maybe that should be 'typical bank holiday') weather- sunny one minute, blustery the next 'though we managed to avoid any really heavy rain, at least while we were there. There were no backstage toilets (is that legal?!?) which meant a trek off site every time such facilities were needed, but we had some food (Pure Pies- excellent!) and drink (not valid for lager- bah!) vouchers which lightened the atmosphere no end. East accompanied the long suffering Shirley and myself to the show, a recipe for chaos if ever there was one (East at a beer festival!) although in the event he confined himself to complaining about the price of the pies- then again he told me the next day that he had gone out to the pub after we'd dropped him home... We generally tend to play one long set at these type of gatherings but this time we went for two 'theatre format' sets which judging from the audience reaction seemed to do the trick. Steve coped manfully despite having no music to follow, Richard inadvertently pulled the mains cable out from the back of Squirrel's bass amplifier during 'Knock On Wood' (which caused a fair degree of consternation from them both as they tried to work out what had happened) and Matt played some excellent harmonica during 'She Caught The Katy' and 'Flip Flop and Fly'. I used my white '60's classic Telecaster which tends to be my 'usual' guitar for CBB gigs, and it sounded great through my Fender Blues Deville combo, although there were a couple of moments where I thought it didn't sound quite right- a bit bassy, like I had both pick-ups on instead of just the bridge pick-up... I decided that it was just my ears. Overall a good evening's work, and we'll hopefully be playing at more events like this next summer.

Saturday and it's off to Cobham Hall (part of Cobham Girls School- cue 'with my reputation' gags) for a show with The F.B.I. Band at Dave and Lori-Ann's wedding reception. It's my third show in a month with Tony, Ian and co. (Utter Madness in Belfast, Blues Brothers UK in Horndean) and tonight we've got Jon on bass, Richard on keyboards, Jim on trumpet and James in at the eleventh hour on drums. We're in a splendidly ornate but inevitably rather echo-ey hall- we've not got long to set up and there's a rather worrying banner above our heads with the words DJ BI-GUY TWIDDLING KNOBS AT AN ACADEMY NEAR YOU emblazoned upon it (I'll leave you to wonder what the accompanying photograph looked like- the groom has changed a bit since then!) Halfway through our first set and my solo in 'Sweet Home Chicago' definitely doesn't sound as it should- bass-y one minute, treble-y the next. What's going on? My guitar seems to be changing pick-ups of it's own accord?!? Good job I bought my Relic Stratocaster with me as a spare...
Halftime and as we're queuing up at the Party Doctors bar Richard compliments me on my lead guitar playing (top man!) so I tell him about the somewhat satanic spontaneous pick-up changing and he says that it sounded great. Maybe I should patent it? James's hi-hat pedal collapsed at the start of 'Do You Love Me?' so Tony filled in time by commenting that it was the first gig that we'd done for ages where there were more Ladies toilets than Gents- 'well, it is a girls school...' James coped well with being thrown in at the deep end considering how unfamiliar he was with much of the material (when he saw the words 'Sweet home' on the setlist he thought that we were going to play 'Sweet Home Alabama'- good job we checked that one don't you think?) and judging by the amount of dancefloor action the wedding guests certainly enjoyed themselves which is always good news.

Sunday and I'm up early to try to fathom out what's wrong with my guitar. It was modified by Stuart the guitar repairman not long after I bought it to include a 4-way switch rather than the usual 3-way that they're usually fitted with (there's loads of stuff out on the Internet about this sort of thing but if you're feeling brave you can click here for a page from a Telecaster discussion forum that gives a pretty good idea of what's involved...) and opening it up there was nothing obviously wrong; after spraying the switch and pots with switch cleaner I'd succeeded in dislodging the neck pick-up live wire (it must have been loose!) which I soldered back on but the problem's still there which can only mean one thing- time to dig out my old Telecaster Custom for the next couple of gigs and call Stuart to discuss tactics.
Tonight's is a very different gig to the previous night- at The Suffolk Showground in Ipswich, at a N.A.S.C. car rally. The long suffering Shirley got myself, Richard (just flown in from a gig in Glasgow with Gloria Gaynor) and Tracy to the showground at 3.45 pm; as we pulled up at the back of the cowshed where the gig was taking place (yes, you read that bit correctly) the band onstage were playing 'Squeeze Box' to a few dozen people in a venue that could easily hold 1,000. The sound is even more echo-ey than last night's show, but we have sound guru Ian Bond on hand to help us conquer the dodgy acoustics. As we couldn't do anything on the stage until they'd finished (obviously!) we wondered of for a look around and to find the rest of the band. Marc's back on drums and Mike's joining Pete in the hat'n'glasses, everyone's in good humour amid the funfair, fast food stalls and the inevitable parade of amazing vehicles (I remember the Ford Anglia being bigger than that when I was a lad!) as well as former CBB (and now T. Rextasy) drummer John Skelton who was there with his girlfriend Trina- it's always good to catch up with him on his Bolan-based adventures.
Back at the venue soundcheck sees Squirrel and myself attempting 'Telegram Sam' with Ian on drums (don't think we'll be bothering John and co. too much!) as well as a fair amount of time spent sorting things out in what is a very difficult building to get a good sound in- as always Bondy gets us all sounding good although both Squirrel and myself are amazed (and indeed amused) at how loud we were playing on stage. We normally get told to turn down!
Time for some takeaway Thai food (3- yes, 3!- Blues Brothers with loudhailers ride by on a golf buggy publicising our show) before retiring to our tent to hurry-up-and-wait for showtime. We're on at 9.30-I go back onto the stage to turn my amp back on and check my gear's ok- the place is packed with over 1,000 people which bodes well for a good show. Mike's back from holiday and sporting an impressive suntan, and Bondy's telling me tales of Porcupine Tree tour rehearsals as well as inviting me to their upcoming Hammersmith show. It takes a few songs for things to get going but get going they do, with giant balloons going from audience to band and back again, and people calling out for their favourite numbers. Suddenly Pete gets called across to the side of the stage where he's told that we've only got 5 minutes left even though we've still got 6 or 7 songs left to do- someone calls out for 'Rawhide' so we play it before 'Shake Your Tail Feather' brings an abrupt end to our set. A quick encore of 'Gimme Some Loving' and that's it. Weird.
(It turns out that we were only down to play for an hour but we thought we were to be on for 75 minutes; we couldn't play for longer as it was time for the karaoke. Oh well.)
With everything packed away Shirley rounds Richard, Tracy and myself up and we leave for home. The rest of the band in a hired van being driven by Pete which it stalls as he goes to pull away.

Monday morning and I'm on the phone to Stuart the guitar repair man, who finds my tales of automatic pick-up selection both amusing and intriguing. 'Sounds like it needs a new switch' is his verdict, 'Sounds like I'm using the Custom again tonight' is my reply. To this end I restring it and get things ready for our first theatre show for a while, at The Swan in Worcester. It promises to be an interesting show as we're using back projections for the first time, as well as filming the gig with a view to putting together a promotional film of the show. Pete's due round in the van at 12.30; just after 12 he rings to say that there are problems with the van's EDC unit (no, I don't know either!) which mean that he can't take his foot off the clutch when the vehicle is stationary for fear of it not starting again. As he sounds rather wound up I decide against the 'what are we going to do when we get to the venue?' question (never mind the 'what are we going to do after the show?' question) and instead hatch a plan for Shirley to drive me out onto the main road where I can load my gear into the van without it needing to negotiate any smaller roads. The plan works well, and our journey is uneventful (although we did see this person- apparently they're quite well known? They must be famous as they've got their names down the side of their van, and Pete had heard of them...) until Richard asks if we can stop at a service station on the M40; Pete stays in the driver's seat looking worried, Richard returns with a burger. There's a nasty looking accident on the A449 into town 'though it doesn't look like anybody's been too badly injured, and the sat. nav. finds the theatre through the Worcester backstreets much to everyone's amazement.
Bondy's still getting set up when we arrive so I decide to walk back into town with Richard and Mike for a look around. We find 7th Wave Music where we're told that we're 'the second, third and fourth customers of the day' (Richard buys a cowbell, I buy a guitar strap- we must have felt sorry for the guy behind the counter!) before making our way back for soundcheck. When I go onto the stage to get set up I see an enormous moon projected onto the wall at the back of the stage, it looks amazing 'though I can't quite work out how it fits in with our show? (Rather well as it happens...) The film crew are busying themselves with all manner of expensive looking equipment (they're film students, one of whom lives next door to Pete!) and with Bondy at the helm we're all sounding good.
It's an early show as we're part of The Worcester Festival and we've got to finish in time for the fireworks- I'd wondered if people would be out as early as 7.15 but as we start 'Peter Gunn' the venue's all but sold out and it's a fine show to end the weekend with. Matt and Mike were reunited as Jake and Elwood with Pete making a couple of cameo appearances, (if you've seen the show then you'll know the ones!) and afterwards all of us admitted that it was hard not to spend the entire show watching the back wall rather than facing the audience, such was the excellence of the projections behind us. Mind you it took my mind off the fact that we were being filmed... if this show is anything to go by then there are exciting times ahead. Excellent!

With the sky alive with light and sound we loaded our gear out and collectively wondered if the van was going to start. It did. Good. That's a relief. In fact it ran so well that when we pulled into a service station on the M42 for some fuel I for one had all but forgotten that there had ever been a problem with it. 'I wonder if they've got any chilled drinks' said Squirrel as he rather wearily regarded the enormous CHILLED DRINKS sign.

I went into the Gents toilet- one of the taps was jammed on full, and the warm air hand drier didn't work.

Well if that's not symbolic then I for one don't know what is...