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?

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