Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy holidays!

You join your humble narrator in a post-Christmas (purple) haze of YouTube clips and scribbled chord sequences as he attempts to learn the songs that he's playing on New Year's Eve- I'm guesting with Price bassman Huggy's band Sweeney (isn't there another band called that?!?) at Buckinghamshire Golf Club. They're playing some really good numbers so I want to get them right!
As December arrives people often say things like 'I bet you're getting really busy with gigs now aren't you?' Well you might think so but it's not always the case; I think that with the advent and subsequent popularity of karaoke coupled with the fact that many acts have slimmed down to a duo-with-backing-tracks rather than a band it's now quite a hard time to be a gigging musician; 'though the last thing I'm going to do is sit here complaining- I'll leave that to everyone else... this year your humble narrator has managed to stay reasonably busy (for once!) to such an extent that the last week or so has been a bit of a blur...

Friday 18th I depped with The F.B.I. Band for the first time since September, at a Christmas party for Boehringer Ingelheim at the Bracknell Hilton. It's an event that the band's played at for the past 3 years 'though with upcoming redundancies this might well be the last one; joining the ever-present Tony (vocals) and Ian (sax) are Jon on bass, Paul on drums, Gabriel on trumpet and after a somewhat impassioned phone call from Tony on the previous Tuesday ('you don't know any keyboard players do you?) we've got the excellent Dave Dulake on keyboards. I met Dave several years ago and he struck me as a good person to contact for the gig as we'll be playing a mixture of soul, Blues Brothers and Madness material and Dave scores very highly on all accounts. Oh, and he runs a pub which is always a good sign...
Myself and the long-suffering Shirley made the journey through a snow-covered Windsor Great Park (which looked amazing) and arrived at the venue just as Tony and Ian were setting up the P.A. system- we're playing in The Wentworth Suite and have time to set up, soundcheck and run through a couple of songs before it's time for food. 'Welcome to the F.B.I. Band Christmas party' said Tony waving his lager in the air as Gabriel and Paul blew up those long balloons that fly off into the middle distance when you let go of them- no, I don't know what they're called either but you know the ones that I mean don't you? A suitably festive atmosphere meant for a well-received show that saw Tony battle his way through the set despite has voice gradually giving out ('I had a cold a week ago and it seems to have come back') to such an extent that by the end of the show he could barely speak let alone sing. As we were leaving the alcohol seemed to be taking it's toll on some of the party-goers- one young man appeared agitated as he loudly described himself as being 'like an octopus'- an evocative image I'm sure you'll agree.

Saturday 19th saw a Youngblood gig in The Elizabethan Barn at Ferny Hill Farm near Barnet. We were playing at a horror themed 25th wedding anniversary party (hmm...) and when Terry the bass and myself arrived it was cold, dark and seemingly deserted- calling Terry the singer revealed that we were at the wrong part of the farm which was something of a relief as it looked like the sort of place that gangland executions might have taken place at. Mick had set his drums up underneath a ghostly apparition, I had an upside down hanged man above my head and the bar consisted of cans of beer floating in a bath which also contained a skeleton in a deep sea divers outfit. Excellent! We were due to play 3 30-minute sets and the first one started earlier than expected as the belly dancer was late (yes, you read that bit correctly!) It was cold- so much so that I had to walk around with my hands in my pockets while we were waiting for the heaters to warm the place up for fear of my hands being too cold to be able to play- see how I suffer for my art? It warmed up a bit as people got into the evening with a fair bit of dancing ensuing though this might have been due to some of the cake on offer... a good night all round even though it started snowing just as we were loading our gear back into our vehicles at the end of the evening. Real horrorshow don't you think oh my brothers?

It was Chicago Blues Brothers time again on Monday 21st and Wednesday 23rd, the former being our last visit to The Pizza Express in Maidstone this year. With Ian back from gigging with Ray Davies and Marc returning from panto ('oh yes he is!') it was the first A-team gig for a while; with the weather still pretty rough Shirl and myself set out early, not least as we'd seen on T.V. how Operation Stack had effected traffic in that part of the country. In the event our journey was uneventful until we got to Maidstone itself when an articulated lorry clipped us as we waited to change lanes. When he eventually stopped and got out the driver's first words to us were 'which part of my lorry did you hit?'- when we pointed out that we'd been stationary when the incident occurred and so it was probably him who had hit us he looked disappointed to say the least. Silly boy.
The gig itself was an odd one- it being only a few days before Christmas you might have expected something of a raucous evening but it was probably the most restrained audience that we've ever played to there. That said we played well and there was a fair amount of dancing by the end of our show so maybe I'm being a bit over-critical?
Mind you if that was an odd gig the one in Wolverhampton 2 days later took things to another level. In no lesser venue than The Civic Hall (the 'home of rock' according to the poster at the side of the stage) it was a Christmas party organised by Beacon Radio (more about that in a minute) and it took Richard, Ian and myself (joining us on baritone and alto sax for a rare 3-man horn section with Dave and Richard) a mighty 3 1/2 hours to battle our way up the M1 and M6. We parked in Corporation Street and phoned Pete to come out and let us in- since it had been snowing Richard and Ian readied the snowballs which were duly dispatched as the stage door opened; sadly the first person through the door wasn't Pete but was a burly security man who fortunately saw the funny side... Bootleg Abba were doing their stuff as we loaded our gear in, they sounded ok to my 'I-never-liked-Abba-much' ears. With Marc off elsewhere Paul is back on drums and Pete is in for Mike in the hat and glasses; when Bootleg Abba finished their set I went on to the stage to set my gear up, only to be told that there was another band on, they featured the radio station boss and were called Bad Radio, I said to the stage hand that I'd get off straight away- his reply of 'BOSTIN'!' reminded me which part of the country we were in. (If you're wondering what on Earth I'm going on about click here.) As they began their first song I realised that they were aptly named- then again it's the 'as a matter of fact I do own the company' moment... with things running late we opted to play one set rather than the two that we'd originally planned, and a strange set it was- onstage sound wasn't brilliant (very echoey and indistinct) which contributed to some timing discrepancies here and there although it all went down well with much merriment all round which I guess that's the main thing?

It's rare to have a gig on Boxing Day but this year I depped with The Cane Toads at The Half Moon in Harrow. With regular band members Malcolm (guitar) and Bruce (drums) away elsewhere original drummer Russell joined myself, Pete (guitar) Ken (bass) and Martin (vocals) in two 45 minute sets of rock covers in front of a small but appreciative audience who included my new friend Mick who's in a band called Harmonica Lewinsky (oh yes! I'd put a link here if I could find them; I did however find this chap, this band and indeed this band- I guess it's too good a name to only be used once!) and a Scottish gentleman called Swindell who is a bagpipes instructor. I like this venue!
Incidentally Russell, Ken and Malcolm used to be in a band called The Attendants who were well known in our area when I was a lad; plans are afoot for them to make an appearance with The Price at some point in the not-too-distant future- remember where you heard it first!)
And if that wasn't enough last night The Flying Squad played their final gig of 2009 at The Load Of Hay in Uxbridge. (Sometimes booking gigs at a venue really does have it's advantages! Incidentally the extraordinary John Hegley will be there on Sunday 10th January...) We were a little loose in places- it's been a while since we last played- but all agreed it was a good way to end our year. And it was great to see some friendly faces, not least legendary Price fan Mark Delderfield (a.k.a. 'Mark-from-the-football-club') who bought along a collection of Price videos dating all the way back to 1988-91, most of which I've never seen. It'll be very interesting to see what they look like!

So that was Christmas- well it was from my point of view anyway. I'm sure I had a day off on or around the 25th but can't really remember...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anger is an energy

Public Image Ltd. (Pil) were never the easiest band to like. A brilliant eponymous first single was followed by an album 'First Issue' which could politely be described as 'challenging'; it's follow-up 'Metal Box' was if anything even more uncompromising and the third 'Flowers Of Romance' blew away pretty much any fans of the lead singer's first band who were still gamely hanging on in the hope that he'd return to a sound that approached that band's former glories. Me? I loved the first single (I bought it in it's mock newspaper sleeve) but struggled with the first album (I bought it anyway) 'though I made more sense of the second album (which I bought in it's original, er, metal box format) and I liked the title track of the third... as the 1980's progressed they moved through various line-up changes with the aforementioned lead singer as the only constant member, releasing some excellent singles and some fine albums along the way before winding up in 1992. Against most if not all of the odds they've just reformed for a series of live performances, one of which I saw at The Electric Ballroom in Camden Town last night. Opening with 'Public Image' and playing for over 2 hours they (John Lydon, Lu Edmonds, Scott Firth and Bruce Smith) touched all parts of the band's catalogue in a fine set which showed the diversity of their material, from the synth-pop of 'This Is Not A Love Song' to the near metal funk of 'Death Disco'. And Lydon was, well, Lydon with all that that entails- with a voice that literally went from a whisper to a scream via all points in between and an unrivalled line in dealing with the inevitable hecklers and missile throwers ('you are in a house of friends here, do not make yourself into an enemy') he remains a total one-off, as brilliantly captivating as the band itself. It really wouldn't be the same without him, and after Pil's performance last night it wouldn't be the same without them- let's hope they don't leave it 17 years before the next gigs...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friends reunited

2 good gigs from the ever-improving Youngblood this weekend- Friday at The Bell in Ruislip Gardens and Saturday at The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green. The Bell is a local gig for me and always had a bad reputation for violence 'though these days this thankfully seems to be a thing of the past. Terry (vocals) and Mick (drums) played there several times when they were in The Chevrons and they certainly seemed to have something of a following there which contributed to a rather boisterous evening which included some very well developed ladies showing off their dancing skills (I'll leave you to think about that one for a minute shall I?) and an extremely drunken lady telling us her life story in an attempt to get us to play 'Valerie'. We didn't know it (although we now know her life story!) so we didn't play it... The Misty Moon show was the better band performance but to a smaller audience (it's always that way round!) 'though it did include the 'very-drunk-man-in-a-bright-red-jacket-who-thinks-he-can-sing' (haven't had one of them for a while!) whose rendition of 'Ain't No Sunshine' had to be heard to be believed; we also had audience requests of 'The First Cut Is The Deepest' and 'All Shook Up', both of which we gamely tackled 'though I'm not sure we did them justice. Oh and Terry the bassman provided on of the evening's best moments by answering Mick's observation that his car needed washing with the brilliantly mad comment 'I never wash my car- so it never needs washing.' Hard to argue with that one don't you think...

On the other hand Thursday saw the next installment of the ongoing saga that is 'The Chicago Blues Brothers go to Switzerland', this time to play at The Durachpark in Schaffhausen at a corporate event for Unilever who have an office in town (although I remember Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight when I was a lad.) With Marc off in panto ('oh no he isn't' etc) and Ian still away with Ray Davies we had Chris depping once again on keyboards and my old mate Paul on drums. I first met Paul back in the mid-'90's, and got back in touch with him after I saw his unscheduled appearance with Spinal Tap earlier this year; when it became clear that we were going to need a drummer for this show it seemed a good idea to put him up for the job, and to this end we met up a couple of weeks ago to give him a DVD of our Hayes gig from a year or so ago (a bit risky since the show's changed a bit since then but it was the only one I had!) so that he could learn our material. (Rehearsals? Pah!) The long-suffering Shirley dropped us off at Heathrow at 7.15 a.m. (why does it always have to be so early?!?) where we checked in (I don't remember getting my return ticket at outbound check-in before?) then went through security to meet the rest of the troops in the departure lounge. A relatively uneventful flight was enlivened no end by us being able to watch take off and landing on the in flight televisions via a camera at the front of the aircraft. I'd not seen this before although I'm told it's quite commonplace these days- what will they think of next eh? The take off was... well, mad is a good word for it I think- you really get a feeling of the speed the aircraft reaches just before the horizon abruptly disappears from view, And the landing was extraordinary- as we descended through the clouds towards Zurich Airport a small reddish light appeared in the centre of the otherwise grey screen (so grey that I wasn't sure if it was switched on or not!) which gradually metamorphosed into the runway lights (Squirrel- 'well you wouldn't miss those would you?') They got larger and larger before they eventually filled the screen, an oddly comforting sight as we touched the ground. Sadly the return take off and landing went, for want of a better term, unbroadcast which was a shame since I'd liked to have seen the approach to Heathrow although since it was foggy we probably wouldn't have seen anything anyway. Oh well- there's always next time.
Once on the ground Squirrel and myself had a problem locating our guitars- having walked around for ages trying to find the outsize baggage section we eventually spotted them sitting next to belt 22 where the rest of the baggage from the flight had emerged. With everything (and indeed everybody) in one piece we met Marcel the driver and loaded everything into the minibus for the journey to the venue. Marcel had made up a CD to play on the journey as he thought we might like it- I'd just recognised 'Lawdy Mama' by Cream when half the band (possibly rather ungratefully) called for it to be turned off. The 40-odd minute journey passed in a bit of a daze from your humble narrator's point of view (the early start was beginning to catch up with me!) and we arrived at the venue to be met by Ronnie the promoter and CBB supremo Pete who had flown out the previous day to get everything sorted out for the show. The stage had a large image of Al Capone suspended behind the drums (why?!?) and petrol pumps and speed limit signs everywhere- soundcheck showed that Paul had certainly got the hang of the 'Midnight Medley' (4 songs for price of 1!) and 'River Deep, Mountain High', and with everything sounding good (including the excellent Fender Hot Rod Deville provided for me to play through) we went to the dressing room for some takeaway pizza (excellent!) and to draw up a plan for the rest of the day. Since we weren't needed at the gig until 8.30 we went to our hotel to check in (I'm sharing room 121 with Paul) and to catch up on some much needed sleep before all meeting at 6 p.m. for some food.
When we returned to the venue things were clearly in full swing, with an act that I think were called Beatz on stage- they're similar in concept to the 'Stomp' theatre show in that they hit lots of things very loudly, in this case to the bemusement of much of the audience, many of whom were dressed in 1930's style clothing (I'm not sure where the Blues Brothers fit into that but at least the Al Capone picture makes a bit more sense!) By the time we went on at 10.15 the free cocktails were clearly doing their job judging by the audience reaction which was a bit muted at first but seemed to get going as our set went on. Paul did a fine job- he's very self-critical but it's a hard show to walk into with no rehearsal and all agreed that he did a fine job. A quick encore of 'Jailhouse Rock' and 15 minutes after leaving the stage we were already on our way back to our hotel, one of the quickest post-gig getaways that I've ever been part of. Al Capone would have been proud of us!
Back at the hotel Paul and myself decide that even though it's late and it's been a long day there's still time for a drink (there's always time for a drink, or if there isn't there should be!) and so make our way to the downstairs bar which thankfully is still open. We reflected on our first show together for over 10 years, and Paul observed that his last live show was at Wembley Arena (the Spinal Tap gig) with the one before it at The Nag's Head in High Wycombe; we laughed at the fact that my next one was to be at a small pub in Ruislip less that 24 hours after the one that we'd just played and what a strange set of contrasts this job often throws out. Paul said how he doesn't get to play live anywhere near as much as he'd like (he teaches drums privately and in schools) and I reminded myself how lucky I am to be able to play as often as I do- although I didn't feel quite so lucky as I got up at 5 a.m. for the flight home...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Happy birthday Tel!

It was my little brother Terry's birthday last week, and what better present could an old punk like me get an old punk like him than a ticket to see The New York Dolls at The Forum in Kentish Town on Friday...
Support came from The Urban Voodoo Machine who in addition to having the scariest drummer most of us will ever see (he's green!) include ex-Godfathers guitarist Paul Ronney (he played in one of the later line-ups) and ex-Blubbery Hellbellies accordion man Slim in their ranks. They're a very visual act, and describe themselves as 'bourbon soaked gypsy blues bop 'n' stroll' which strange as it may seem is a pretty good description of what they get up to on stage. Well worth keeping an eye out for methinks.
The Dolls kicked off just after 9 p.m. with a chaotic 'Looking For A Kiss' (you'd think that the P.A. would have been switched on when they started wouldn't you? Well- it wasn't!) before blistering versions of 'Cause I Sez So' and 'We're All In Love' made it obvious that we were going to see a classic gig. 'Yeah London' drawled David Johansen as he took off his scarf- yeah London indeed... no one drawls like Johansen and no one teeters quite so close to the edge of chaos like The Dolls- Sylvain Sylvain (Johansen- 'London's own Sylvain Sylvain; let's say his name backwards shall we- oh, it's Sylvain Sylvain') counted in 'Pills' which ground to an almost immediate halt when his guitar malfunctioned, then seconds later he counted it in again as if nothing had happened. And when a guy got on stage and danced around between Johansen and guitarist Steve Conte the band just laughed; I've seen incidents like these send primadonna ain't-never-beens into a petulant frenzy but The Dolls hardly seemed to notice that anything untoward had happened. In my not-so-humble opinion The Dolls play some of the greatest rock'n'roll any of us will ever see or hear. It really is magnificent stuff- and Conte signed my copy of his latest album when I bumped into him by the merchandise stall. Top man!

I'd originally had no gigs this weekend and had intended to go to see local heroes The Cane Toads at The Old Fox in Ickenham on Saturday evening, but I received a call from old drumming mate Roger Brewer earlier in the day to see if I was available to play guitar alongside him in The Lee Ryder Band at The Sportsman in Croxley Green. Much as it would have been good to see The Toads (I'm playing with them in a few weeks time so could have got an idea of what songs they're playing these days!) in my world it's always better to play than to listen... myself and Roger arrived just as Lee (vocals and guitar) Vince (bass) and Paul (keyboards) were loading their gear in (their regular guitarist is Simon who also plays in The Ali Mac Band among others, and who I depped for last week in that band- weird!) I set my amplifier up in front of the entrance to the gents toilet ('don't worry, they close it during gigs' said Vince, adding 'and anyway, it's obvious that it's your territory isn't it?' Hmm- let's hope so, and let's hope there's another toilet somewhere in the building!) and then joined the rest of the band for a tactical discussion. The Lee Ryder Band don't bother with silly things like rehearsals or setlists (good boys!) so it's follow-the-leader time with Lee asking us if we know a Peter Green song called 'Love That Burns'- Vince mumbled something like 'is it a good idea to start with a song we don't know?' Good question- but we did it anyway! I used my Gibson Les Paul Standard for the first time in ages which took a bit of getting used to- it's quite a bit more powerful than the Telecaster I use with the CBB show and feels a lot different too. I used a Marshall BB-2 Bluesbreaker pedal in the first set as a volume boost for solos but it made things sound a bit compressed so I switched to my MXR Micro Amp for the second set which seemed to do the trick. I'd not met Paul before (and if you've not either you can click here to find out how he usually occupies his time!) and thought he played some excellent solos, and Lee himself was on fine form throughout a highly enjoyable evening with the only really odd moment from my point of view occurring during 'Little Wing' when a guy walked past me and climbed over my amplifier on his way to the toilet...

Last night saw Kris Dollimore return to The Load of Hay for his second show there this year. Since then he's released a new album 'Now Was The Time' (some of which was recorded in his cellar!) which is every bit as good as his first release '02/01/1978'; he arrived just as I was setting up the P.A. system (I book occasional Sunday night shows there, the next one being John Hegley on January 10th) and it was great to be able to spend a bit of time talking with the man himself. The first time I remember speaking to him was at a Godfathers gig at The Town and Country Club back in the mid-'80's when I think we discussed Zemaitis guitars- he played one at the time, the lucky lad! These days he's playing an old Gibson 330 electric and a new Martin acoustic, both of which sounded fabulous during a show that was even better than the one back in May. Showcasing a fair few tracks from the new album he also played a cracking version of 'She Does It Right' (slower than the original, with a much bluesier riff) and his own extraordinary instrumental arrangement of 'Jolene' which he's considering renaming 'The Bastard Son Of Jolene' as he's changed it so much! As with last month's Attila gig I heard every excuse imaginable from people who couldn't/didn't come along ('I'm going out for a curry', 'I'm at a jam night' etc) and like then I despair of people who complain about how there's never anything to do but who didn't make the effort to see what turned out to be one of the best gigs that I've seen this year. Oh well- it's their loss, as they say... he'll be back at the same venue in around 6 months time- let's see what excuses they come up with then shall we?