Monday, October 26, 2009

Had me a real good time

I saw The Faces last night!

Well, to be precise I saw 3 of them- Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Ronnie Wood- who with Bill Wyman on bass played 3 songs at The Royal Albert Hall at the climax of an evening in aid of The Performing Rights Society For Music Members Benevolent Fund. With their former lead vocalist unavailable Paul Carrick sang 'Cindy Incidentally', Andy Fairweather Low sang 'Ooh La La' and Mick Hucknall sang 'Stay With Me'. For a fan like myself it was a great thing to see as in their original incarnation they'd broken up long before I started venturing out to see bands, and it had been a pretty good night all round- fine performances from artists as diverse as jazz guitar hero Martin Taylor and former Spice Girl Melanie C. and with a hilarious performance by Rick Wakeman ('Eleanor Rigby' in the style of Sergei Prokofiev!) being a rather unlikely, not to mention surreal, highlight. But in the end it was all about The Faces and their gloriously ramshackle rock'n'roll riot- they're one of my favourite bands ever, and it was fabulous to finally see something approaching a reunion. Excellent!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

'How many fingers am I holding up?'

Have you ever been to Norwich? It's one of those places that always gets a reaction from people when you tell them you're going there, often along the lines of 'look out for 6 fingers on their hands'- in fact 2 people used more-or-less exactly those words to me. A bit unfair perhaps? Maybe... then again we played 2 shows at The Playhouse Theatre on Thursday and Friday, and after the first of them we had the dubious pleasure of meeting a couple of the locals after the show, and if they're anything to go by all the sniggering asides that you get when you mention the place could well be justifiable...

The long-suffering Shirley got myself, Richard and Tracy to the theatre just after 5.15 pm; we play here each year with a dance troup as part of local lad Dave's support for various local charities, and when we got there the rest of the A-team were all present and correct and everything was more-or-less ready to go. Soundcheck included that well-known Blues Brothers classic 'No Woman No Cry' as well as running through the songs that the dancers were joining us on so that they could practice getting on and off stage at the allotted times. Dave had also got a local crew in to film proceedings so they were setting up at the same time- by the time we'd done all that needed to be done there's not much more than half an hour to showtime- and it's a... well, an odd show. The audience seemed quite reserved initially, which is often the case although it seemed that no matter how hard Mike and Matt tried there wasn't much of a reaction to be had. It took a bizarre second set incident to lighten the mood- Richard's radio microphone stopped working at the start of 'Natural Woman' (the battery ran out!) so he went to the front-of-stage mic for his solo, but just as he started playing the mic stand began to collapse, meaning that by the middle of the solo he was on his knees attempting to play into the microphone and Tracy was in fits of laughter unable to sing when it was time for her to come back in. As often happens this sort of incident lightened the atmosphere and the gig took off from there. Bizarrely while Richard and Tracy were turning into a comedy double act Dave was kicking a door backstage in frustration at the mic going down and having just discovered that he'd got a parking ticket! He had to go to hospital next day to see if he'd broken a toe! Oh and the smoke machine got jammed on at one point meaning that we all disappeared into a fog that wouldn't have been out of place in Victorian London. Strange but true- but not as strange as the incident in the bar afterwards...

Myself and Shirley were sitting with Mike, Tracy and Ian and his wife Nadia when we were joined by Matt who'd been for a drink with an old friend of his; they'd come back along with a couple who were friends of Matt's mate (I can't recall any of their names- or maybe I've driven them from my mind?) who seemed a little peculiar... in fact as the mate of Matt's mate dropped his trousers exposing himself I realised that not only were they a bit peculiar, they were also... just searching for the right word here, and I'm in a good mood so it's not easy to come up with... oh, I know- SCUM. I'll spare you the gory details of what took place as she joined in (and no, I didn't count her fingers!) but when he looked as though he was going to move towards Shirley things got serious- Matt made a comment to him along the lines of 'there's a lot of water around here and you're going to be living in it in a minute' as I looked around for something to hit him with (I have to watch my hands you know!) He backed off, did his trousers up (and before you ask, yes I am well aware of how weird this looks written down!) and then tried to introduce himself and shake hands with me. I tried to make joke along the lines of 'I'd rather not if you don't mind, I've just seen where your hands have been' (and no, I didn't count his fingers either!) but he persisted, leaning closer and closer across the table at me. In the end I said something like 'why on Earth would someone like me want to shake hands with someone like you?' which he clearly didn't like; I don't think I'm a particularly violent person but for a split second I nearly stood up and whacked him, but I could see that Shirley was getting upset and so decided that hitting him wouldn't solve anything. But sitting here typing this now, I don't mind admitting that I almost feel angry that I didn't clobber him after all. So- does that make me a violent person? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't- but if any one deserved a broken nose it was that idiot.

He nearly got one too- Matt told me the next day that he'd been contemplating giving him exactly that. From what I saw it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke...

It was the sort of incident that winds you up all the next day- well, it did me. Still it was good to have a few hours to wander around town- there was an exhibition of Beatles photographs but £5 to get in seemed rather a lot for what we were told was 'only a small exhibition' so we didn't go (told you I was wound up!) but we did hear a busker playing some excellent jazz guitar and see a sign advertising a 'husband creche' at the Sir Garnett Wolseley pub which raised a smile (we nearly went there for something to eat but it looked horrible so we didn't!) along with Shirley launching herself at the local Primark and me nearly buying a box set of mono Beatles CD's- well, I felt bad about not going to the exhibition!

5 o'clock and it's back-to-the-venue time; Matt got behind the drums and we attempted to play Joey Ramone's version of 'What A Wonderful World' (You've not heard it? Shame on you! Never mind- here it is!) with limited success and to a mixture of horror and bemusement from passing band members. It felt to me as though there was an air of 'lets-make-up-for-last night' among the band members, and right from the first number that was what we did, playing a great show which I'm really looking forward to seeing footage of. In fact I enjoyed it so much that it almost made up for the incident the night before, although the word 'almost' is very important in that last sentence...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oil City Confidential

And talking of Dr. Feelgood- I saw 'Oil City Confidential' at The I.C.A. in London last night. Directed by Julien Temple and with some extraordinary live footage amid interviews with all the main players, it's a fantastic film for a fan like me and a pretty good one even if you're not, mainly because of Wilko Johnson's extraordinary onscreen antics- talking after the film Temple suggested that a petition is started to get Wilko to present 'The Sky At Night' when/if Patrick Moore ever retires; suffice to say that it's one petition that we should all sign...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Studio tan

Yesterday saw The Flying Squad visit Roundel Studios in Kent to record 3 songs under the auspices of Roger Cotton. A fine time was had by all, and the results should be available on CD at the band's next gig- we're supporting punk legends The Vibrators (really!) in Chislehurst next month and details can be found here...

In case you were wondering, the 3 songs recorded are the Dr. Feelgood / Wilko Johnson classic 'She Does It Right', 'That's It, I Quit' (a Nick Lowe song also recorded by The Feelgoods) and 'Police Car' by Larry Wallis which I remember buying all those years ago on Stiff Records and which I heard again earlier this year on one of those free CD's that come with magazines these days; back in March we were on our way home from a gig in the early hours of the morning and Brian the driver and myself were listening to said CD when 'Police Car' came on- about 20 seconds into it we both said 'what a great song, someone should do a new version of this'. So we have! (And here is a great clip of Mr. Wallis himself playing it...) 

It's been a while since I was last in a recording studio, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. Time to record that album that The Price should have recorded all those years ago then?!? Excellent!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pictures of matchstick men

Bloody hell I'm tired. And I think I'm getting a cold. Not good, frankly.

I've just (just!) got in from today's re-stringing session at the theatre with Stuart the guitar repairman, which included a visit to The Jersey Boys where your humble narrator got to re-string a Jerry Jones Baby Sitar. Now there's something you don't get to do everyday! Well, I don't anyway... we also dropped a guitar off at Avenue Q (Stu had repaired it for noted guitarist Andy Jones) before stumbling home, or in Stu's case off to the pub. (Good man!) But today's not the reason that I'm so tired...

Yesterday saw the first Chicago Blues Brothers theatre date since the end of August, and it's a great one to come back with- at The Lyric Theatre in Manchester which is part of The Lowry Centre on Salford Quays. Myself, Richard (saxophone) and Tracy (vocals) made the journey North without too many problems, and arrived to find Old Trafford quiet, which was something of a relief since the venue is very close to the football ground and if there'd been a match on we might never have got to the theatre! Sadly there wasn't time for a visit to Lou Macari's Fish and Chip Shop (now there's a name for older football fans to conjure with) as we were running a bit late- we arrived to find everybody else ready to soundcheck. It's an A-team gig- Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood, Ian on keyboards, Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums and Dave on trumpet, with Pete on hand to direct operations as well as making a couple of cameo appearances (more about that later) and his wife Jayne on costume control. Phil's behind the mixing desk, and he's not having a very good day- there are problems with the monitors which will take a while to sort out so we leave him to it for a while and have a look around. The Lowry Centre is a very impressive place- sadly there wasn't time for a look in the Gallery (although it's amazing how many people say things like 'anybody can paint like that' when the name Lowry is mentioned) which was a shame... it was also rather a shame that in my haste to extract my phone from my pocket to answer it I dropped it on the stone floor and cracked the front. Bugger! I didn't have the money to buy a case for it when I got it, but I definitely should have got one in the meantime. Oh well- another lesson learned?
Back on stage it turns out that one of the amplifiers isn't working so I haven't got a monitor which makes hearing Ian's keyboards a bit tricky- we turn them up in Squirrel's monitor which isn't to far away from me. There's not much time left to sort things out as the door's are opening soon as there are over 1,000 people coming to see us...
Back in dressing room 21 there's a visitor, and it's someone that none of us have seen for a while- Dave Finnegan. It was great to see him again after several years of not being in contact (myself and various other band members were members of Dave Finnegan's Commitments- Dave played Mickah Wallace in the film) and he was on fine form. And the band was on pretty good form too as we played a great show especially considering that we've not played together much lately. (In the dressing room afterwards Ian commented that he'd forgotten a couple of things; Marc said that it didn't sound as though he'd forgotten any of the good bits...) Talking of forgetting things Pete had forgotten has stage trousers meaning that he made his appearance as the preacher Rev. I.C. Delight in jeans (I thought it looked alright!) and the back projections that we first used in Worcester back in August looked even more amazing this time. An excellent gig- it's good to be back in show business!

It's a long haul home 'though, with Richard doing a fine job behind the wheel and your humble narrator drifting in and out of consciousness on several occasions; at one point I came round to hear an extraordinary version of 'Wild Horses' on the radio- all 3 of us were astounded when the DJ said that it was the new single by Susan Boyle- you know, the woman off of that TV show? I'd never heard her sing before, but judging by this recording she certainly has an amazing voice.

Tracy was asleep in the car when I made Richard a cup of coffee at some time after 3 a.m.- we both agreed that it had been a great night, and that it was going to be a long day today. Judging by how I feel at the moment, we were both correct...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'I love that dirty water...'

Me and my big mouth- as soon as I say that I'm doing two gigs with T.V. Smith the second one of them gets cancelled. Bugger! What's that saying about counting chickens? Still it was a great gig last night at The Dirty Water Club at The Boston Arms in Tufnell Park where we supported the excellent Goldblade (T.V. has been with them for most of their current British tour; he invited me to join him for the London and Brighton gigs but the latter now features the magnificently named Anal Beard rather than ourselves) with Johnny Casino and The Secrets opening the evening. The Boston Arms is a great venue (The Price played there which shows how long it's been going!) and The Dirty Water Club puts on some fine music, and is something of a labour of love for the organisers and as such seems to me to be well worth supporting. (Rather a spurious justification for buying a venue t-shirt don't you think?!?)

When myself and Big Andy arrived Goldblade were about to do their soundcheck; T.V. arrived just as it began, and commented that John Robb put as much energy into the soundcheck as a lot of people do during a gig. True- he certainly doesn't pull any punches... then it's our turn. As I'm playing a few chords for the soundman I realise that I'm actually feeling quite nervous, we play a verse or two of 'Good Times Are Back' and I almost don't feel as though I know it even though I was playing along with a recording of it only a few hours earlier. As we leave the stage to make way for Johnny Casino and The Secrets T.V. says something like 'a couple of odd chords in there- was it me?' Yes that comment was very diplomatic and no, it was definitely me... I mumble something about feeling more nervous before soundchecks than gigs as Johnny and co. warm up in the background.
We're due on at 10 o'clock and by 9 the place is filling up nicely- good to see Max Splodge along with punk promotess Sarah Pink as well as the legend that is Gaye Advert (soon to have an art exhibition in London- details on her MySpace page here) among the familiar faces. J.C. and the band are on at 9.30, they play great trashy rock and roll and go down well- afterwards I say to Johnny how good I thought his guitar sounded and he replied ' a 345 straight into an AC30, you can't go wrong with that.' He just might be right!
Just after 10.20 it's our turn, and as we kick off with 'No Time To Be 21' I'm still not feeling right 'though I've no idea why; as we get to the first chorus people are moving towards the stage, singing along and nodding approval (thank God!) as they do so. The song ends to tumultuous applause and suddenly, instantly, I feel better. Weird! From then on it's 40-odd minutes of acoustic mayhem with T.V. on top form and the audience response getting better and better. After we play three Adverts songs ('Gary Gilmore's Eyes', 'Bored Teenagers' and 'One Chord Wonders' in case you were wondering) a guy comes up to the stage, he looks a bit out of it and is shouting something at us but we've already started 'Good Times Are Back' and can't hear him. (T.V. was accosted by him later- apparently the gist of his message to us was 'when are you going to reform The Adverts?' Hmm- he might have rather a long wait on that one!) We finish with 'Runaway Train Driver' and the place goes mad. Remind me why I was so nervous again?
No sign of nerves from Goldblade who delivered a thunderous performance with John Robb as deranged a frontman as you will ever see and the band (with only one guitarist rather than the usual two) and audience with him every step of the way. Halfway through their set I go over to see T.V. on the merchandise stall where he's doing a roaring trade; I get my hand shaken by all and sundry and am told it was a great gig by virtually everyone. I really must try to cheer up before shows!

As we're leaving I grab a few words with John Robb- I tell him how I was the rehearsal guitarist for the Ruts/Henry Rollins gig two years ago (he was the compare for the show) and we speak of what a fabulous night it was. As we're talking about it a couple of chaps come over, I recognise them but can't place them- it turns out that they were friends of Paul Fox and that they saw me playing with Foxy's Ruts at The Crown And Treaty in Uxbridge a couple of weeks before the Ruts 'n' Rollins show, and that they're organising a tribute night for Paul (the 24th of this month at The Breakspear Arms in Ruislip in case you're interested) and would like me to come along. I say something about not being 'in with the in crowd' (I stopped any involvement with Foxy's Ruts when they decided that they wanted to continue using the same name after Paul had died; I might have lost a friend or two in the process but I think I made the right decision) but they tell me that I'm in with the in crowd as far as they're concerned and they'd like me to be there. It might not seem like much written down here but it's a subject that's caused me a lot of upset over the last couple of years so it's good to be invited along. I might even go!

It's been a funny couple of months, what with losing the work at the shop, not too many gigs about, money too tight to mention, insecurity replacing what little confidence I have- but nights like last night make it all seem worthwhile As he was leaving T.V. shook my hand and said that he hoped we'll do many more shows together. Perhaps the good times are back, as someone once sang...

And our Adverts trilogy is on YouTube- click here for acoustic punk rock nirvana! Hurrah!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

'Down in the city, just Hoople and me...'

I remember seeing Mott The Hoople on Top Of The Pops in their mid-'70's heyday- I liked the music and I always thought that they looked... cocky if you know what I mean. I thought they were great. And I remember looking at the cover of their album 'The Hoople' for ages one day in a shop in Uxbridge trying to decide whether or not I could afford to buy it or not, after all I liked the singles but didn't know all the other tracks on it and what if it's terrible and I don't like it, 'though I liked the cover but you can't buy an album just because it looks nice can you? After all they're expensive compared to singles, and anyway there's a new T.Rex album out and if I'm going to buy anything it should really be that one shouldn't it? Oh I don't know- if only I could get them both, and all the other albums that I've been looking at today...

Nothing's changed- I still spend ages in record shops (when I can find them!) wondering what I can afford to buy. Isn't there a saying, something like 'show me the boy and I'll show you the man'?

They'd finished long before I'd started going to gigs so I didn't get chance to see them although when I was in The Flame we supported Ian Hunter one memorable night in the mid-'90's; they've just reformed for 5 shows at The Hammersmith Apollo (it's the Hammersmith Odeon!) where I saw them play last night, and very good they were too. In the entrance hall before the show familiar faces were everywhere- Bobby Gillespie, Paul Simonon, legendary Mott fan Mick Jones, all testament to the band's influence on subsequent rock musicians, and the air was heavy with anticipation. Original drummer Dale Griffin was reportedly too ill to play (although he came out for the encores,) but with Martin Chambers behind the kit they looked as cocky as ever and sounded a lot better than many thought they had any right to. The older album tracks kept the audience waiting for the singles for over an hour before Hunter sat at the keyboards and led the way into 'The Golden Age Of Rock'n'Roll', 'Honaloochie Boogie' and 'All The Way From Memphis'- judging by the reaction all were well worth waiting for- with encores of 'Roll Away The Stone' and the inevitable 'All The Young Dudes' (a rumoured appearance by David Bowie didn't happen sadly) upped the hysteria level before 'Saturday's Gigs' sent us all home happy. A fine show.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Down on the farm

The long-suffering Shirley and myself have just (just!) returned from a much needed break in sunny Dorset, hence the lack of blogging for nearly 2 weeks. It's been a fine few days, not least when we went into the Town Mill Cheese Mongers in Lyme Regis (I like cheese, ok?!?) where we were greeted with a comment about 'dead pigs noses'... I was wearing a Blockheads t-shirt, and it turns out that my new friend and cheese monger Justin 'did a bit of work' with Ian and co. back in the late 70's. Excellent!- and proof were it needed that Leigh's mad world of guitars never really closes, it just goes on holiday occasionally... but now it's back to Blighty and to work- 2 gigs this week with the mighty T.V. Smith (oh yes!- details are on his website) as well as rehearsing with The Flying Squad for an upcoming recording session and getting things together for a new venture with bassist and old mate Terry Peaker. Good job I've just had a holiday!

Last Saturday it was all the way up to Low Farm in Dewsbury for a Bootleg Blues Brothers playback gig at a wedding. I travelled up in a hired van with Big Tel and Dave who were P.A.-ing and D.J.-ing for the evening, with Big Tel doubling on sax during our performance. After a 3-and-a-bit hours journey up the M1 we arrived to find Pete (Jake) on hand to direct us to a parking space,and to tell us that Mike (Elwood) was sleeping off the effects of the previous night's festivities- they'd been to regular BB Matt's wedding in York- in the car. Good boy! I must say that when he emerged he certainly looked as though he'd had a good night...
There was a duo playing when we arrived, everything from 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' to 'Dueling Banjos' ('name any Beatles song and I'll give you a tenner if we can't play it' said the one without the hat; I thought of going for 'Revolution 9' or 'The Inner Light' but they seemed like nice enough chaps so I went for 'I'll Cry Instead'. They kept their tenner.) We're playing in a structure that's probably best described as a series of interlocking teepees (!) with the girls from Weddings and Wellies bringing food and drink through from an adjoining tent. As we're setting up it looks as though the bar's been open a bit too long for some people- one guy is shouting (he probably thought he was just talking) about how he's a 'party animal' (half right!) and how everyone else is 'boring' (or just bored by him perhaps?) except for him and his mates, they eventually get more drinks and go outside to watch the bride and groom having their pictures taken in a cart that's being pulled along by a tractor... it's around 5.30 when the first fight starts 'though it's more of a scuffle really, two girls shout and swear at each other as half-hearted attempts are made to hold them back and no one looks too concerned. By the time we've done a soundcheck there's been a more serious incident out in the nearby lane- I went out to get my stage clothes in from the van to see a large shaven-headed man throwing punches and insults at all and sundry, there are quite a few people involved but it ends with the man and his entourage roaring off down the lane, turning the area into a near-dustbowl in the process.
As it turned out I needn't have bothered bringing my clothes in as there was nowhere to get changed so we all ended up doing so in the back of the van. It's all glamour this showbusiness lark I can tell you... by the time we're on for our first set the atmosphere's better- Tel and myself struggled manfully with some unfamiliar songs from Pete and Mike's playback set, many of which stretch the Blues Brothers brief to near breaking point. I was particularly grateful for Big Tel's collection of percussion bits'n'pieces during 'Loco in Acapulco' (is there a worse song than this? I can't think of one- can you?) and there's a full dancefloor by the time we hand over to Dave for the interval. The Weddings and Wellies girls came out to dance to 'Love Shack' as the hog roast was unveiled (potatoes and coleslaw for me again then!) and everyone seems happy... suddenly the party animal from earlier is back, careering and lurching his way towards our equipment, Tel retrieves the microphones as Pete takes the saxophone of it's stand and I move my guitar out of harm's way- with nothing to amuse him there he grabs hold of a girl in a blue dress who'd been standing by the dancefloor and picks her up, he staggers around for a second or two until he looses his balance and she lands on her back with a thud, her head bouncing slightly as it hits the dancefloor. Pete is among the people who go to her aid as the party animal goes back to the bar, no doubt he's forgotten what he'd just done and is wondering what all the fuss is about? She's shaken but not stirred, asks Dave if he'll play a Girls Aloud song for her which she sings along while dancing rather unsteadily...
Our second set sees a perilously full dancefloor and the BB's brief abandoned totally- either that or I missed 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' in the films? (I certainly missed most of it on this occasion as the battery in my Bad Monkey pedal went as I trod on it at the start of the guitar solo and I spent the rest of the song trying to change it- I must remember to change these things more often!) Meanwhile the party animal is back near the bar, he's the one throwing punches around this time but picks the wrong guy and they both go outside followed by their respective followers and I wonder if I'm the only person who hopes that he gets what he deserves. (Yeah I know that's a nasty thing to say- but if ever someone deserved a black eye it's that fool.) Meanwhile our set ends with 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' after which we leave Dave to keep 'em dancing and go back out to the van to get changed. We're told it 'all went off'' out in the lane- don't these people care that it someone's wedding (presumably one of their friends) that they're ruining?

We're all packed up and on the road home not long after 1 o'clock; we stop at the Watford Gap services on the M1 for a coffee and to reflect on the finer points of the evening's work, it's recently been renovated and looks a lot different from the place I remember visiting as a youngster when my Dad used to drive us up to Merseyside to see our family. It had been a long haul but somehow we found the good points among the bad- then as we left there was a large rat on the ramp leading back down from the service station to the car park. It was definitely time for a holiday.