Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fair exchange?

A fine gig last night, depping with The Ali Mac Band at The Drill in Worcester Park. Myself, Ali (vocals) and Bill (bass) managed a quick rehearsal without an unavailable Hud (drums) where we ran through the band's two sets- I'd depped with them before (click here for the story of a particularly eventful gig that I played with them last year) 'though this was the first time I was due to play with them for a whole evening rather than just playing a short set. The Drill might be a candidate for the 'scariest pub name ever' award (can you think of any genuine pub name that's scarier?!? Leave a comment if you can!) but it turned out to be a friendly place that's trying to get established as a live music venue and as such is well worth supporting methinks. (Hmm... I wonder who else I could play there with..?) There were a few dodgy moments not least during an unscheduled attempt at 'Sweet Home Alabama' (they've clearly heard a completely different version to the one I know!) but overall it was a great gig.

And it was an excellent jaunt up to Inverness on Wednesday where The Chicago Blues Brothers played a very enjoyable show at The Eden Court Theatre. As we (the A-Team with Chris depping for Ian on keyboards) amassed for breakfast at Luton Airport we speculated on what sort of flight awaited us given the almost biblical weather conditions that had befallen much of Scotland and the North of England over the previous few days. I was stopped by security as I'd forgotten to take the change out of my pockets- perhaps I'd been distracted by being asked to take my boots off, or maybe I was a bit nervous of the upcoming flight? In the event it could all have been a lot worse, especially considering the 'bumpy weather' warning issued by the captain as we began our decent; then again maybe the stunning rainbow visible over the water as we came in to land took our collective minds off the severity of the wind as we landed. Pete picked up the minibus and with Mike donning a hat that prompted Matt to dub him 'The Laird of Primark' we set off for the local Travelodge. We arrived to find only one room ready and with Tracy flagging (she'd flown in from South Africa the day before and was due to leave for Germany on Friday- other people's lives eh?) she opted to take the available room and see us at the theatre later.
We arrived at The Eden Court just after midday. As we pulled up we saw Phil loading in his P.A. in the pouring rain- he'd left the day before to drive up from Nottingham and 'couldn't believe' how far it was. As I headed into the venue with my guitar and bag I discovered to my dismay that my left boot was leaking- don't you just hate it when that happens? We're playing in The Empire Theatre which was soon to feature 'Jack and the Beanstalk' as it's Christmas pantomime (cue cries of 'oh no it isn't') and much of the scenery could be found backstage- I saw both Richard and Dave separately observing the giant's costume with a 'what mayhem could I create with this?' look on their faces- in the event neither of them did, at least not while I was around. With soundcheck not due until 5 o'clock there's plenty of time available to us- after lunch in the restaurant (10% off for performers- excellent!) most of the band opted to go to see 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' at the venue's cinema, but I rather wildly decided to brave the weather (it had stopped raining when I left!) and go for a walk. The River Ness looked to me to be a bit higher and faster flowing than perhaps it normally is, but I took the opportunity to catch up on a few phone calls as I walked alongside it- the rain didn't start again until I was nowhere near anything that even resembled shelter, but that always happens doesn't it? Well, it does to me!
Soundcheck went well with none of the monitor problems evident at the Dunstable gig (well, not to many of 'em anyway!) although I'm sure I heard Chris playing the chords to 'Killer Queen' at one point (never a good sign in my opinion!) and with the best part of 700 tickets sold the scene was set for a good night. The show's going well when I hear a whistle from the side of the stage to my right during 'Hold On, I'm Coming'- I go over to Pete who tells me that I'm too loud on stage and could I turn it down a bit. Bah! I must admit that I'd struggled a bit during the soundcheck as the amplifier that I'd been provided with (an excellent Fender Hot Rod Deville) was a bit powerful for the situation (it's a 60 Watt valve combo, I normally use a Blues Junior in theatres which is only 15 Watts but more than loud enough when put through the P.A. system) but I ended up with it turned down so low that I could hear the strings of my guitar louder than the amplified sound! Fortunately Phil put some guitar in my monitor so that I could hear what I was playing without it being too loud out front. (If you can't hear what you're playing it's easy to break strings by hitting them too hard!) It felt a bit like a waste of a fine amplifier, but it's the overall sound that's important don't you think? The show went very well indeed with many band members wishing we could have an audience like this one at every show- then it's a mad dash to the Jeera Indian Restaurant where Pete had booked a table for the band. I didn't have anything myself (I don't like eating late at night) but judging by various band members reaction (and by some of the online reviews!) that may have been a wise decision... back at the Travelodge Matt asks me if I fancy 'swapping that guitar of yours for some Stella Artois and having a drink' which sounded oddly appealing in a mad sort of way- I must have been tired! I'm sharing room 209 with Squirrel, there's no bed linen for the sofa bed so I go back downstairs for some- the night porter tells me that the rooms had all been booked as double rather than twin, and by the time I get back to the room to tell Squirrel he's already asleep. I don't blame him- it'd had been a long day.
Thursday dawned a lot brighter than Wednesday had ended. We got to the airport at 9.45 to check in for our 11.35 flight, and with few if any vegetarian options available at the cafe I went to Starbucks for a coffee. As I sat there I realised that I'd normally be sitting in Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road with Stuart the guitar repair man at 10 o'clock on a Thursday morning, a slightly surreal moment which hopefully made for an amusing text message to the man himself. Security's tight- my bag gets searched (nothing too embarrassing, honest!) with other band members also getting the once-over, and the flight home was thankfully uneventful despite the severity of the wind as we walked out to the aircraft. As I say, an excellent jaunt- and we're off to Switzerland next month! Hurrah!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

From 'W(h)icker's World' to 'The Gong Show'

I was sad to hear of the death of the great actor Edward Woodward- I remember him in 'Callan' when I was a lad, and he played the lead role in 'Breaker Morant' which is one of my all-time favourite films 'though I guess he'll always be best remembered for his extraordinary performance in 'The Wicker Man', not least because of that scene with Britt Ekland...

Time to catch up on the last few days in mad-guitar-land:-

It was a funny old night last night, when I wended my weary way across to Northwood Hills for the launch night of Stompbox, a new shop specialising in guitar effects pedals although from what I can gather they're hoping to move more into selling instruments in the new year. (Didn't I used to work in a shop that did that? Hmm...) The event actually took place a few doors down from the shop in Woody's Bar- I was given a goodie bag as I arrived which momentarily distracted me from the appalling version of 'Killing Floor' emanating from the stage. Was it really necessary to have a bass solo? And was that really my old mate Paul on drums? Oh dear... (incidentally if you're interested you can find a really good version of 'Killing Floor' here, and another one here; it's a pity these idiots hadn't heard them as they might have put them off trying to play the song, or if we'd been really lucky, any songs...) Both the guitarist and bassist kept telling us which instruments they were using to get their 'great sound' (their description, not mine) with- at least we all know what to avoid buying now. Their unrehearsed 'performance' featured more overplaying than pretty much any show I've ever seen (never play one note where ten will do eh lads?) and did nothing to disguise their contempt for the music (as though it was all beneath them if you know what I mean) as they proved time and time again that sarcasm is indeed the lowest form of wit- or maybe they weren't being sarcastic enough? At the start of the last song ('Alright Now' in case you were wondering) the bass player made a 'joke' about 'not having much to do in this one' (there's no bass in the verses) and then came in with a badly played slap bass line before his instrument went wrong- like I say, at least we now know which ones not to buy.
The main band of the evening were The Tin Spirits who featured the excellent Dave Gregory of XTC on guitar. I'm a big XTC fan, and after the cretins that preceded them they sounded all but magnificent with 'The Mayor Of Simpleton' sounding every bit as good as I remember it. I was hoping for more from Swindon's finest but after they followed a Genesis song with a Yes song we (Stuart the guitar repair man, Pete from The Cane Toads et al) decided that we'd had enough and opted for a visit to The Half Moon in Harrow where Pete thought there might be a trad jazz band playing- sure enough The Bearcat Brawlers were on after the football although their drummer had got fed up with waiting and gone home. Pete introduced me to Al the cornet player who's over 80 years old- it turned out he might well have been one of the youngest members- excellent! Oh and he also introduced me to my new friend Katrina who books the bands there- she's from Dublin, her surname's Hegarty (only one 'g'- I told her my lot are greedy) and she'd like to book The Flying Squad and Youngblood sometime soon. A funny old night as I say...

Time for some live music of a rather higher quality; if you've seen the popular television programme 'True Blood' then you've no doubt heard the theme music but if not, check out 'Bad Things' by Jace Everett- it's a brilliantly haunting piece of country rock that should be better known in it's own right. The man himself (aided and abetted by the excellent Dan Cohen on occasionally-malfunctioning guitar) played a low-key show at The Water Rats in King's Cross on Tuesday evening and very good he was too; with a splendidly grim line in between song comments ('this is not an image, it's a personality disorder') and a voice that reminded me of Johnny Cash one minute and Mick Jagger the next (strange but true!) he gave a great performance that made me resolve to find out more about him and make sure that I catch a full band performance if they come over here. The support act Honey Ryder were worth a look too, with two acoustic guitars combining to great effect and a girl singer that was so good looking that I almost didn't notice how obvious some of the lyrics were. And I saw my old mate Pete Hobbs for the first time in ages- he now has long grey hair and a beard that gets him called Santa at Christmas and Gandalf the rest of the time. Excellent!

Sunday and Monday were spent in Merseyside as the long-suffering Shirley and myself took my Dad up to visit our family. Shirley wanted to go on The Mersey Ferry and I hadn't been on it this century (!) so much of Monday was spent over in Liverpool alternately marvelling at the new architecture and (in my Dad's case at least) ranting about how inappropriate they looked next to the older buildings. I did the 'Beatle-tourist' bit and went to Mathew Street for the first time since the 'new' Cavern Club opened (my Auntie Joyce assures me that it's 'exactly the same' as the old one, and she should know) and Shirl set her sights on a return visit to the recently-opened Liverpool One shopping centre. And it was good to see some of the family again for the first time since my cousin Gary's funeral 'though it was strange to see his brother Steve without him by his side as they were almost inseparable, like 'proper' brothers if you know what I mean. My Auntie May (his mum) showed us the last picture taken of him just a few weeks before his death, he was smiling- but then again, he usually was. And my Auntie Emma is 83 and fitter than all of us! How does she do that?!?

Two very different gigs on Friday and Saturday, the first of which saw The Chicago Blues Brothers return to what's becoming a regular haunt for us, The Grove Theatre in Dunstable. Chris is on keyboards as Ian's away in the U.S.A. with Ray Davies but other than that it's an A-Team gig; monitor problems plagued the soundcheck and indeed the first half of the show- as we started 'Peter Gunn' the keyboards were literally deafening in Squirrel's monitor (well, that's what they were from my point of view, they must have been all but unbearable where he was standing) and when he and Tracy sang in 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' their voices were so loud in my monitor that they nearly knocked me over. It all seemed ok by the second set although I can't decide whether that's because the levels were adjusted or if we just got used to it... that said the evening went very well 'though we were a little loose in places (I guess we've not been playing together enough lately sadly) and the audience reaction was enough to convince even the most sceptical band member (i.e. me!) that it had been a good gig.
The next night saw a very different and indeed unexpected show. East and myself were in The Load of Hay on Thursday evening (well- we had to drop off some posters for the upcoming Kris Dollimore gig; that's our excuse anyway! And we forgot them so we'll have to go down there this week too! Hurrah!) when Grant the landlord came over to say that the act that should have been playing on Saturday had lost their voice and did I have any ideas for a replacement? Leaving aside the obvious 'how did they tell you?' gags (sorry!) I had a bit of a think about it before sending Terry the Youngblood singer a text message... so it was then that while everyone else was watching 'The X Factor' in the other bar myself and himself found ourselves setting up a P.A. system and scribbling song titles on a piece of paper trying to come up with 2 45 minute sets to be started less than an hour later. He rather gingerly produced a harmonica- 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You' and 'Baby What You Want Me To Do' were added to the list immediately. I rather wildly suggested 'Stay With Me' as 'about the least likely song to be performed on just an acoustic guitar' (it went straight on the list as did 'Alright Now' for the same reason) and as we began with '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' I don't mind admitting that I was wondering if we'd bitten off a bit more than we could chew but all things considered it went very well- we even got a request for 'anything by Gong' from a particularly enthusiastic (if rather misguided) chap who spent half of our first set bellowing things like 'you've gotta come down here, they sound like they should be playing Wembley' into his mobile phone and most of the second set asking for Led Zeppelin songs. Terry sang excellently and Shirley got him back to West Ruislip station in time for his last train home- definitely the mark of a good gig don't you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Commercial time

People keep telling me that I could/should 'monetise' this blog i.e. earn a bit of money by selling advertising space on it; in some ways it's a nice idea (it does take quite a bit of time to do and I'd theoretically get 'paid' for writing it) but overall I've decided it's better to remain independent (for want of a better term, although I have started adding labels to the posts now that I've realised what they're there for!) and rather self-indulgently continue to occasionally mention things that I think are worth checking out.

So- time for a couple of adverts!

Back in the 1980's The Price often found ourselves on the same bill as The Neurotics- that's if we weren't in the audience- and one of the shows we supported them at has just been made available as a download here; it's a fabulous performance recorded at Brunel University in April 1987 and is highly recommended if you're a fan of the band. And it's my fault that it exists at all, as I was the person who asked the soundman to record the show (yeah I know it's bootlegging- but when you hear it, you'll thank me for it!) Great stuff, and a reminder of what a fabulous live band they were; they're reuniting next month to play a tribute show in memory for Steven Wells (details here) which should be well worth catching, but in the meantime get the download- you won't be disappointed...

And talking of The Price- if you've bought yourself one of our splendid new t-shirts (you haven't? Shame on you!) then I'm sure you've thought to yourself 'I wonder where they got these made'. Well wonder no longer, as Balcony Shirts have just opened a shop in Windsor Street in Uxbridge. Stocking everything from trapper hats to desert boots, and having a new 'British towns & cities' t-shirt in honour of Ickenham which includes the slogan 'the pump don't work 'cos the vandals took the handles' (yes!) they're hoping to have a section devoted to t-shirts and CD's from local bands- so if you haven't got your Price t-shirt yet, you may well be able to get it there soon. Hurrah!

Monday, November 09, 2009

From vibrators to stockbrokers

Well- that was a busy 4 days in mad-guitar-land...

it was time for a Flying Squad gig in previously unchartered territories, supporting The Vibrators at The Beaverwood Club in Chislehurst. It's a gig promoted by Pete Feenstra who I first met sometime back in the 1990's when I was playing in The Flame; he promotes at a lot of venues- have a look at his website to see what I mean- and has done a lot of work in keeping live music happening at a time when it wasn't a particularly fashionable thing to be involved with. Bearing in mind that it was Guy Fawkes Night myself and Andy (vocals) set off early, but I don't know how early we would have to have left to avoid the traffic chaos that we encountered in the course of our 3 1/2 (yes, three and a half!) hour journey...
We'd just about got out of town when Dave (drums) called to warn us against using the M25 as it was at a standstill from junction 10; we got to junction 12 before turning off and trusted the 'avoid congestion' option on the sat nav. which did a pretty good job until we neared Wandsworth Common where there were literally thousands of people on the streets, presumably on their way to a fireworks display. Traffic was at an almost total standstill and it took quite a while for us to discover the reason why- the cars couldn't move as there were so many people were on a Zebra crossing. Surely a policeman or even a lollipop lady could have prevented this from happening? Or would that be too simple?
We eventually arrived at the club not long after 8 o'clock. Fortunately Dave and Mike (bass) had been there for a while and were all set up and ready to rock- by the time I'd said hello to Eric on the door (I hadn't seen him for 10 years or more!) and introducing myself to Al the soundman I had something like 15 minutes to set up for an 8.30 start. Easy! Soundcheck consisted of checking that my amp worked (it did) and Al telling us that he didn't think the monitors were working properly (he was right, they weren't.) It took a song or two to get used to the sound and to get going for want of a better term, but we played well and went down a storm with the audience.

How well did we play? Click here to find out!

And The Vibrators were excellent too- they're another of those bands that an old punk like me watches and thinks 'oh I'd forgotten about this one' rather more times than he thought he would. With frontman/guitarist Knox still recovering from an accident ex-Members guitarist Nigel Bennett was the sole 6-stringer and very good he was too; he also did a good job of remembering the time I saw him play 'Babylon's Burning' with Ruts D.C. at The Fulham Greyhound all those years ago when I spoke to him afterwards. A top evening- and it didn't take us quite so long to get home (thank God!)

Friday and myself and East (who's asked me to mention that he was called a 'horny little devil' by not one but two ladies at last weekend's Bucks Golf Club show- well, he was wearing a pair of red horns for much of the evening...) spent the evening at The Dolphin in Uxbridge checking out The Side Project. They're a band made up from students at Brunel University who are interested in playing at The Load of Hay so we went along to see what they were like. Maybe the best word to describe them is 'quiet' as they didn't use a P.A. system (they sang through their amplifiers!) 'though anyone who plays 'Dreaming Of You' by The Coral is alright by me- I guess that means they get a gig then...

Saturday saw something completely different- a gig at The Old Bell in Enfield for a new band consisting of your humble narrator on guitar, my old mate Terry on bass (we played together in The Informers sometime in the 1990's) and ex-Chevrons Terry on vocals and Mick on drums. Currently rejoicing under the admittedly rather ironic name of YOUNGBLOOD we've managed a couple of quick rehearsals before this short notice gig came in. With a set that makes the most of Terry's excellent voice (somewhere between Rod Stewart and Steve Marriott in my not-so-humble opinion- yes, that good!) we managed to get held up on the way to the venue by, you've guessed it, a large number of people on a zebra crossing (presumably going to a bonfire party?!?) and we definitely need a bit more rehearsals if this gig was anything to go by (a couple of songs ground rather unceremoniously to a halt amid some confusion) although there was still a lot to enjoy (let's face it, if it had been really bad I wouldn't have mentioned it here!) and it'll be interesting to see how it all shapes up over the next few months.

Sunday and it's time for another Acts Less Ordinary night at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge, and they don't come much less ordinary than Attila The Stockbroker. John (his real name- yes I was a bit disappointed too!) was in fine form especially considering that he and his wife Robina have spent a great deal of time recently caring for his mum (who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease) and step dad (who's been diagnosed with bowel cancer and has recently broken his hip.) Indeed myself and himself spent a fair amount of time in an in depth discussion on the subject of caring for our mums (I spent years with my mum when she had Motor Neurone Disease) at various points throughout the evening.
East (yes, the horny little devil himself) was at the bar for much of the gig and reported 'jaws dropping' at strategic points during the show; this happens a fair bit at Attila's gigs- as the man himself says on his MySpace page, 'I don't mess about. I've got lots to say and I'm out there saying it' 'though the person who said to me that they thought he was 'politically incorrect' had surely got their wires crossed although I guess it depends on what you consider to be 'correct'! We could have done with a few more people in (don't come moaning to me that there's nothing to do when gigs like this are happening!) but it was still enough of a success for Grant the landlord to invite Attila back for a return gig next year. Excellent!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Denham United

Two very different shows this weekend-

Friday it was off to the Black Country for a CBB show at Andy's 30th birthday party at Brookfield Farm near Wolverhampton. With Richard flying in from a gig in France with Martha Reeves (lucky lad!) myself and the long suffering Shirley were traveling up with Tracy- sadly traffic conspired against her meaning that she was something approaching 2 hours late meeting up with us, resulting in a will-we-make-it-time-for-the-gig race against time. Thankfully luck was on our side and we had a clear run until only a few miles from the venue- at which point our sat. nav. sent us in completely the wrong direction and we had to call for help. 'It's got a big white sign outside saying STUD FARM' offered Matt helpfully- well we'd definitely have noticed that, so we were definitely lost. Eventually a young lady who worked at the venue talked us in on the phone, and we arrived at about the same time as the first guests- rarely a good sign if you're in the band... after a quick (very quick!) set up there was time to sample the buffet before throwing ourselves at a 90 minute set at the rather early hour of 8.15; sadly it was one of those shows where the guitar seems to feel heavier than it normally does, and where try as we might we couldn't get through to the audience. Maybe they were more interested in the upcoming karaoke, or maybe we were just on a bit too early- who knows? We left for home less than 4 hours after we'd arrived- it was that kind of night...

On the other hand- Saturday saw the first PTX gig for some time, at Buckinghamshire Golf Club in Denham at a halloween party that's also a birthday bash for my mate Cliff- that's how a bunch of herberts like us came to be playing at it! The Pete Tobit Experience is, shall we say, a loose gathering based around Pete and whatever song he decides to sing that night (!) and soundcheck saw us running through a few songs that we'd not played before (it normally does!) as well as discussing which songs from the CBB theatre show could be corrupted to suit our needs as a 5 piece. Pete's on vocals and acoustic guitar with Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums and Ian on keyboards; he'd missed the previous night's gig as he'd been playing in The Kast Off Kinks (Chris depped for him) and, odd as it may seem, he ended up on stage with one of his band mates at this gig too... in total contrast to the previous night's show this one saw the audience ready to rock more-or-less from the word go- our first set was mostly songs from the theatre show whilst the second saw us reaching into somewhat less familiar territory, not least when Mick Avory joined us to sing 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion'- he was a guest at the party and performs the song with The Kast Off Kinks, and Ian suggested he did it with us. Excellent! In the meantime 6 foot tall women dressed as fairies mingled with men who looked as though they should have been in 'The Long Good Friday', and by the time Big Tel and Dave wound up the disco at one o'clock it had definitely been a good night all round.

Time for a quick advert- this coming Sunday (the 8th if you're counting) Attila The Stockbroker visits The Load of Hay in Uxbridge. It should be a great night!