Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'There were three in the bed, and the little one said...'

So here we are in that weird bit between Christmas and New Year, and it's time for a caption competition. Here are Tony, Jon and Ian of popular music combo The F.B.I. Band pictured earlier this month relaxing on a four poster bed in a castle in Belgium. Can you come up with an amusing or indeed bizarre way to sum up the situation?

Actually 'Tony, Jon and Ian of popular music combo The F.B.I. Band relaxing on a four poster bed in a castle in Belgium' is fairly bizarre in itself isn't it? See what you can do...

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Excuse me, I said... Shrewsbury!'

The occasional / ongoing obituary column continues with the news that Captain Beefheart has died. His influence on the likes of Joe Strummer and John Lydon (and therefore most if not all of the British punk bands, if only by proxy) has been well documented, and this is surely one of the great OGWT clips of them all. A great artist and a true outsider.

Talking of outsiders (sort of!) Vince Cable has been found guilty of having an opinion (declaring war on Rupert Murdoch is guaranteed to get you in the news, although a lot of people will be buying him a gun as a result!) as the cracks in the coalition government begin to show. Let's see how they decide to paper over them, as it looks like our old friend Jeremy Hunt is about to get involved... and then there's the weather. I've heard a lot of people say things like 'I don't know, a bit of snow and the country grinds to a halt' which may well be a fair point under normal circumstances - but this wasn't a 'bit' of snow. Saturday should have been a very busy day in the shop followed by an Upper Cut gig at The Halfway House in Rickmansworth, and it certainly began that way - but sometime after 10 a.m. it started snowing. By midday Windsor Street was buried under 6 inches of the stuff, and by 1 o'clock our gig had been cancelled. Oh well. Once it stopped actually snowing a few customers braved the Arctic conditions to pay us a visit and the till total at the end of the day wasn't a complete disaster, but for the Saturday before Christmas it should have been so much more. Mind you at one point it was snowing so heavily that you couldn't read the signs on the shops on the other side of the road. Still from the band's point of view Terry the singer has been instructed to call the venue in January for a rescheduled date so at least all is not lost there.

Sunday and with chaos on the roads and absolute insanity at the airports (Pete and Tony played a duo gig in Switzerland last Friday - they finally got back to Heathrow Airport on Wednesday afternoon!) The Chicago Blues Brothers are playing at a wedding reception at The Rowton Castle Hotel near Shrewsbury. (Yes, another castle - none for ages then 2 come along at once...) We'd originally thought the gig was in Roydon (that's apparently where the enquiry came from) which would have been a simpler journey for most of the band; I was travelling up with Big Tel and Dave were D.J.'ing at the event. I spoke to Big Tel on the phone around midday and suggested that it was probably not a good idea for him to bring to van to our house to pick me up as we're at the bottom of a hill amid several abandoned cars which couldn't get back up again. Instead we agreed to meet up on the main road (he lent me his amp and I carried the rest of my stuff) and by 2.10 we were on our way. Within 40 minutes we pulled in to Oxford Services on the M40 as we were out of windscreen washer fluid - a large bottle of screen wash, 3 very expensive takeaway coffees and several Mars bars ('for the journey' - Dave) later we discovered that the washers themselves had frozen. Bah! Still it's interesting to note that in sub-zero temperatures the water fountains outside the main building were still working. Hmm... progress was steady until we passed Bicester where things slowed somewhat due to weight of traffic (strange to see a SKID RISK SLOW DOWN warning next to a sign for Silverstone) although by the time we got to the M42 things were moving well. It started to get foggy near the venue, but the trusty sat. nav. got us there for 7 o'clock where we made our way to (dressing) room 12 to meet up with the rest of the troops. Mike and Mike (just flown in from gigging in Belfast) were in the hats and glasses, Squirrel and Marc are on bass and drums, Dave and Ian on trumpet and saxophone and Steve is on keyboards for the first time in ages, with Phil manning the sound. There are sandwiches and chips (excellent!) with the promise of hog roast later (not too good for us vegetarians!) and it's good to see everyone again for the first time in what feels like ages.
We're booked to play for (gulp!) 2 hours (at least it makes the journey worthwhile!) so soundcheck includes a few 'what other songs do we know?' moments, with 'Superstition' and 'Unchain My Heart' both making an appearance. They both make an appearance in the show too, which begins with the happy couple dancing to 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol (very appropriate!) then our epic performance being witnessed by at best the 20 or so guests that made it along, and at worst by Phil, Big Tel and Dave. Still we played well and did our job as best we could, which on a night such as this is the main thing.
And talking of epic performances Big Tel did a heroic job driving us home - we found ourselves back at Oxford Services over 13 hours after our first visit (the fountains were still working although it was even colder!) and I arrived home at 5.30 in the morning. Several people had told me that we were mad to go at all, and in many ways they were probably correct - but don't you think that it's ironic that I had a gig a few miles from home cancelled then did a 350+ mile round trip to play a gig the very next day?

Since then the shop picked up considerably as all the people who couldn't get in on Saturday found their way to us during the week; we finished for this year at 1 o'clock this afternoon (we're open again on Tuesday 4th January if you'd like to come along and spend all your Christmas money!) and then went down the pub. That's the way to do it... Happy Christmas y'all!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocks away!

An indication of how quiet it's been on the gigging front lately comes with the news that I've just done my first (and therefore only) gig in Europe this year...

After a late night on Monday (as always I blame East, and as always it's his fault...) I managed an early night on Tuesday in preparation for a very early morning on Wednesday. As my alarm went off at 5 a.m. I realised that I'd woken up every hour more-or-less on the hour throughout the night, and felt more tired than ever. Weird... after a cup of coffee and the usual 'I'm sure I've forgotten something' checks the long-suffering Shirley dropped me at West Ruislip Station (it's a bit easier to go from there rather than from Uxbridge) in time for the 5.47 train into London (that's why I call her long-suffering!) With Will Birch's excellent Ian Dury biography for company the journey passes quickly although I couldn't help noticing how many people are asleep on the train at that time of day. I guess they're just used to it? I could almost have gone to sleep myself if I hadn't bee worried about somebody walking off with my guitar, or in this particular instance, someone else's guitar as I've got Miles's Stratocaster (as mentioned a little while ago) with me - I'll have to buy it now won't I? Well I'm going to anyway as it's a good spare for my Relic Strat which I use for quite a few gigs. Actually that reminds me - I must actually get some gigs...
After an equally easy journey on The DLR I bump into Jon and Stuart on the forecourt outside London City Airport - we're all meeting there for a flight to Belgium where we're playing a Blues Brothers show. 'We' in this case are an amalgam of players from the Chicago Blues Brothers band and The F.B.I. Band - Pete (Jake) Dave (trumpet) Chris (keyboards) and myself (guitar, in case you or indeed I have forgotten) from The CBB-er's alongside Tony (Elwood) Ian (saxophone) Jon (bass) and Stuart (drums) from the F.B.I. boys. We're the first there - Stuart's already checked in online (sensible man!) so Jon and myself make a half-hearted attempt at self service check-in before Pete, Chris and Dave arrive and with Tony and Ian close behind we all check-in by more conventional means.
Jon and I took our instruments to the excess baggage area before going upstairs to make our way through security, which is very tight (I don't know about you but I'm glad it is!) but we're through in time for me to spend £7.40 on a vegetarian sausage sandwich and a cup of coffee (!) before we make our way to Gate 2C where the sight of our aircraft - a Fokker F50 - caused some consternation among group members. I must admit I was a bit nervous myself which is silly if you think about it - I mean, they fly all the time don't they? 'There's gaffa tape holding that propeller together' says Chris cheerily as we all tell ourselves that it's not gaffa tape... overall it turned out to be a fairly uneventful flight even if Dave did describe the take-off as feeling like we were in 'a glider in a catapult', such was the ferocity of our ascent. He also said something about 'a dogfight over the Channel' but I didn't catch the context of that comment, which on reflection may be for the best... we had an amazing view of the wind farm off the Kent coast, and the landing at Antwerp was a bit bumpy but not too bad. After meeting up with our driver (didn't catch his name sadly) and minibus we made the short journey to The Scandic Hotel where we check in. I've got (wait for it!) room 101 (oh yes!) and my door key doesn't work; on my way back to reception I meet Stuart who's got the same problem, and by the time our keys were in working order most of the band had turned up in the lobby with their keys. After successfully gaining access to my room I dropped my stuff off and went out for a stroll - not much of any interest nearby - before coming back to find Pete, Tony Dave and Ian in the bar preparing to leave for the local Christmas market. When their taxi turned up I ordered myself some tomato soup (and very nice it was too) before heading back up to my room. By now I'd realised that my phone wasn't going to work - maybe all the shenanigans earlier in the year when I thought I'd lost it and got a new SIM card as a result have come back to haunt me? - so I messed about with the T.V. for a while, eventually finding BBC1 and 2 (strange how you look for things that you know from home when you're away isn't it?) before indulging in a much-needed shower and some equally much-needed sleep.
2.45 p.m. and it's back down to the lobby to meet up for a 3 o'clock departure for the venue. After about 45 minutes we arrived at Kasteel Van Saffelaere, a castle (yes, you read that bit correctly) which some band members found a little disappointing as it was clearly a rather recent structure - 'I didn't think castles had double glazing' was a typical comment, although there was an astonishing bit of topiary in the garden in the shape (literally!) of a bush cut into the shape of a grand piano complete with pianist, which left Ian and Dave unable to resist the chance for some Red Hornz promotional pictures.
The backline is already set up on stage - I've got the ever popular and indeed ever wonderful Fender Blues Deluxe combo to play through, and Jon's got a Trace Elliot combo which sadly sounds a bit rough so the crew replace it with an Ampeg set-up which brings a smile to Jon's face. After a 'which band's versions do we play?' discussion we decide that we'll go for the F.B.I. arrangements, and soundcheck with 'Midnight Hour', 'Soul Man' and 'My Girl'. With everything sounding good it's off to find our dressing room which is actually The Honeymoon Suite (I'll leave you to do your own punchline!) complete with a four poster bed and a toilet / bathroom that doesn't have a door (again I'll leave you to do your own punchline!) On the way there Ian tells me that his band Swagga have just received some money from Strummerville to put towards recording a single - excellent! They're playing at The Dublin Castle on January 15th which I must try to get along to.
After some food (pasta and tomatoes for me, pasta and prawns for everyone else followed by chocolate pudding) and drink it's back up to The Honeymoon suite to hurry up and wait, or in my case to doze off on 3 giant cushions. 'It looks like you being eaten by 2 giant lips' said Dave as only he can. We're eventually on just before 10 o'clock for 90 minutes of studied indifference, wild acclaim, and all points in between - a classic corporate gig then. Generally it's a good show with the odd mad moment here and there, and we're back at the hotel just in time to discover that the bar had closed. Bugger!

My alarm goes off at 8 a.m. - after a few faltering attempts I get Breakfast T.V. on the telly and reflect on how odd it is to watch British T.V. when you're abroad. It's not that long ago that it would have been unheard of - then again when I got back to my room the previous night I'd found a subtitled 'C.S.I.' and found myself attempting to understand the subtitles rather than listen to the dialog. I think I may have been a little tired... at breakfast Pete, Dave and Chris report on their failed attempts at getting a sauna while I completely failed to see the 'use sliced bread only' sign on the toasting machine and so put some (very) roughly hand sliced bread into it - I don't think too many people smelt the burning...
In the minibus on the way to the airport the radio bursts into life with some accordion music and panic grips the band - 'you hum it, I'll leave' says a clearly disturbed Dave, and Tony says 'it's the sort of music you play when you want your guests to leave' just as a track that Pete thinks sounds like The Mike Sammes Singers comes on. 'We'll Meet Again' is playing as we arrive at the airport and everyone quickly gets out, grabs their things and heads for check-in. There's not much to do at the airport - actually there's pretty much nothing to do at the airport - but there's not too long to wait for our flight. 'There's gaffa tape on these propellers too' says Chris cheerily as a clearly unamused Pete asks Tony if he'll swap seats with him so that he can sit by the window. I spent most of the flight talking to Dave about subjects as diverse as boxing and Stephen Fry (the two weren't linked in case you were wondering) and musing on whether we'd ever see anything other than cloud out of the windows. Back at the airport it's goodbyes to all and sundry although I end up travelling a fair bit of the way home with Jon who I leave at Finchley Road. I was back serving in Balcony Shirts by 1.30 - 3 1/2 hours earlier I was in Antwerp, and my journey from there to London had taken less time than my journey from London to Uxbridge. Back to work eh?

Sorry this posting is a day later than it might have been. As always I blame East, and as always it's his fault...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Looking through Charlie Gilmour's eyes

Another week, another riot (now there's something you never think you're ever going to type!) and what better image to be left with from the protest against the increase in tuition fees than Charlie 'son-of-David' Gilmour hanging from the Cenotaph? Well actually there are probably quite a few better images, not least the hilarious interview he gave on the London news programme when whilst carrying a false leg that one would imagine came from a shop window dummy (let's hope it didn't belong to a disabled person!) he slurred his way through a few sentences (given the amount of photographic evidence he could find himself slurring his way through a very different type of sentence fairly soon) before saying that he'd only 'borrowed' the leg and was intending to take it back, honest. Excellent! But of course there are any number of serious points to be made here, not least the irony that many of the M.P.'s voting for the increase went to university in the days before student loans and therefore received a full grant. How soon they forget - 'we don't need no education' as someone once sang... and of course the right wing media can have a field day at the 'troublemakers' as indeed can the Conservative and Liberal politicians, therefore obscuring the fact that many people will be put off from continuing their education simply because they can't afford it, and that many of the people who voted in favour of that happening signed a pledge to say that they opposed it. Does this mean that we can never believe anything that they say again - or does it mean that we never could in the first place? It looks as though we do need some education after all... and before we leave the glory of the Tories Jeremy Hunt has been in the news again after his name was mispronounced on the radio - apparently he was more amused than offended, 'though I'm sure he's heard the word on many occasions (and if you want to hear it click here!) not least because his nickname around the Ministry of Culture is apparently 'corrible'...

In the meantime Friday evening saw The Upper Cut return to The Bell in Ruislip for a show that got off to a less than ideal start - I walked in just as Watford scored their second of three goals against Queens Park Rangers amid scenes of great distress among the assembled multitude. The pub guv'nor appeared wearing a Q.P.R. shirt and a less-than-happy expression, and by the time we went on (after the match had finished at nearly 10 o'clock) there was very little interest in what we were doing. The pub is L-shaped, and we played down one end whilst a few people came around to watch us for the most part everyone stayed in the other part. Bah! Still we used the opportunity to play some of our newer material as well as bringing back a few songs that we'd not played for some time, and while it would be easy to moan or be cynical (oooh imagine that!) we had a good time even if nobody else did. As we were leaving the landlady told Terry that she'd be in touch as they'd like to have us play there again so I guess we must have done something right?

Saturday it was time to see a couple of bands in a couple of venues - Substance at The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge and Sociology at The Bell in Ruislip. Yes that's right, The Bell in Ruislip again. Before our gig there the previous evening Terry the bass had noticed a poster advertising a gig on Saturday and observed that Sociology feature his mate Steve on guitar who has depped for me in The Upper Cut when I've been unable to make a gig. It seemed a good chance to catch them, although as I'd already intended to get along to see Substance for the first time in something like 15 years (I think one of the last Price gigs in our original incarnation was with them and we certainly played with both Need and Babapapa, the two bands that they'd all originally been part of) we hatched a plan to get along to both gatherings.
We made a quick visit to the C & T to check when they were on (11 o'clock) then headed for Ruislip. As we arrived at The Bell it was clear that there was no one on the stage yet we could hear live music - yes, you've guessed it, they'd set up in the end where all the people are. 'You lot should have played down this end' said a cheery chap who struck up a conversation with Terry. Well, yes we should, and no doubt we will next time... I'd not met Steve before but he seemed a very nice chap, and his band played a good mix of material, even gamely responding to a request for a Roy Orbison song. Good stuff.
Meanwhile back at The Crown and Treaty Substance were storming through their set - well I think it was them, it was difficult to tell as there were no lights on the stage at all while they were playing. Still it was good to hear (if not see) them again, and if anything they sounded even better than they did back in those dim and distant days. They finished at midnight and I'd intended not to be out too late, but as both Terry and myself bumped into several people that we'd not seen for a while we were still there nearly 2 hours later. What a way to carry on eh?

Having spent much of Sunday stumbling around thinking 'I really should go back to sleep for a while' I eventually admitted defeat and went back to sleep for a while, and woke up feeling a whole lot better for it. I'm sure hangovers didn't used to last as long as they do these days? But it was good to be feeling better as the evening saw this year's last 'Acts Less Ordinary' gig at The Load of Hay, and what better way to end the year than with the legend that is John Otway. I'd spoken to him about a possible Uxbridge show back in September when T.V Smith and myself played at Attila The Stockbroker's anniversary gig in Shoreham, and was well pleased when he came up with a gig date for us as well as being more than a little intrigued when he announced his intention to do 'John Otway's Christmas Lecture' rather than a normal gig, although 'normal' is the last word that you can use when Otway is involved... myself and East arrived at 7 o'clock to find Grant the landlord lighting the fire in anticipation of a busy evening; Otway himself arrived shortly afterwards to set up his laptop and projector (!) and opted to use the pub's T.V. screen rather than his own. He then sat down to sew the buttons back on his white shirt (in case you're wondering why he'd do such an apparently odd thing before a gig, have a look at the 'Bunsen Burner' promotional film - around 50 seconds in you'll get your answer!) telling me that his mum used to do it for him right up until when she died last year aged 89, 'a button sewer until the end'. I took the opportunity to ask him about Pete Townshend's involvement in the early part of his career - he recalled 'standing as far away as I am from you' (i.e. about a yard) from Townshend as he recorded the guitar part for 'Louisa On A Horse' and thinking 'he's good'; he also told of recording the vocals for 'Misty Mountain' at Olympic Studios - he was on his way back into the control room from the recording area when 'a little man' stopped him and told him that it sounded good, and when he got to the control room the engineer asked him what Mick had thought of it...
9 o'clock and with a good crowd in it's time for the lecture to begin. Unsurprisingly given Otway's self-deprecating sense of humour the subject was his failure in the music industry, and very funny it was too with plenty of graphs and charts on the screen as well as live and interview clips and much more besides. I won't give any more away in case you go to see it (I wouldn't want to ruin the surprises!) but it left me with the thought that he isn't a failure at all - after all you don't accidentally get a 35 year career do you? An absolutely brilliant evening, and a fine end to a year of Sunday night gigs at the venue. I'm not sure how I'm going to top this one - maybe Charlie Gilmour would like to do something for us? Well, it's a thought.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

'There are places I remember...'

John Lennon died 30 years ago today, shot by Mark Chapman outside The Dakota Building in New York. He was 40 years old.

It is said that everyone who was old enough can remember the moment that they found out that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Maybe for people of my generation Lennon's death is in a similar category, and I can certainly remember where I was...

It was a very cold morning - maybe our central heating had gone wrong? - and I was reluctantly getting ready to go to work. I'd started at the E.M.I. factory in Ruislip only a few months earlier, and had quickly realised that the world of 'conventional' work was a very real threat to my sanity. I stumbled downstairs and into our kitchen where my mum was sitting having breakfast with the radio on. (No Breakfast Television in those days!) Before I'd even said hello to her she looked at me sadly and said 'something terrible's happened - John Lennon's been shot'. 'What?' was my confused reply, before I made an exclamation along the lines of 'ARRRGGGHHH!'

My right big toe was caught in a mousetrap.

We had a mouse in the house at the time (fairly obviously!) and I was walking around with no shoes or socks on. Well we all do, don't we?

I went to work in a daze. (Actually I often did, but that's another story!) So - Lennon's dead and I feel like I've got a broken toe. Not a good start to the day. When I got there one of the women came up to me and said something along the lines of 'you like music don't you? That John Lennon bloke's been shot hasn't he? Good. Me and my husband hated him, all that peace rubbish and that weird Japanese bird. The World's a better place without him'.
I though for a second or two about how many times I'd had to listen to her bleating on about how she thought that 'Hitler was right about a lot of things' and other such right wing drivel, then gave the rather non-committal reply of 'it's a pity it wasn't you and your husband that been shot, then the World really would have been a better place' before shouting 'I'm going home' indiscriminately across the office. My boss immediately threatened me with the sack, to which I replied 'like I care'. And, at that moment, I didn't.

I walked (hopped?) back along the High Street in a different daze. I heard 'Strawberry Fields Forever' playing in Lightning Records, went in and stood there listening - what a voice, and what a song. As it ended I looked around - there were several more people just standing there, listening. One of them was crying.
I just played it again now - what a voice, and what a song. And what a man, and what a loss. I didn't think the World was a better place without him then, and I don't think it is now. Dr. Winston O'Boogie, fab forever.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Good times are back

A good gig for The Upper Cut at the Load of Hay last night, a bit under-attended (well it was cold outside and in, at least until Grant the landlord lit the fire) but great fun nonetheless. And it had been a good 3 days before that, playing gigs in Wellingborough, Ipswich and Shoreham with T.V. Smith. Here's what happened - well, here are the bits that I can remember, it seems ages ago now...

It being busy times at Balcony Shirts your humble narrator did Thursday morning behind the counter before buying a mobile phone charger (you always forget something don't you? Well - I do!) and heading off on the Metropolitan Line towards Kings Cross Station. Progress was slow but steady (anyone would think it had been snowing! Actually most people that I spoke to in the previous few days didn't think I'd make it as far as the train let alone going anywhere on it; why do we always think that everywhere grinds to a halt just because the media says it does?) and I was there around 20 minutes early for a projected 'about 1.45' meeting at St. Pancras with the man himself. I was just spending far too much money in The Camden Food Co. when T.V. arrived, and we were on the 2 o'clock Corby train with a few minutes to spare. My guitar wouldn't fit in the overhead racks (surely it's not that big? come to think of it my bag wouldn't fit either - maybe the rack was small? Mind you T.V's guitar fitted! Help!) so the nearby unreserved seat 53 became it's resting place for a journey that saw some beery blokes attempting to explain why their tickets weren't in order to a clearly unimpressed inspector (one of them said 'don't worry mate that's mine' when my guitar fell out of the seat; when I said that he didn't have to worry as it was actually mine he said 'well, you've got to try haven't you?' I despair of people sometimes) but was otherwise uneventful. As we stepped off the train at a freezing cold Kettering Station T. V. smiled and said 'welcome to the T.V. Smith touring experience'. Excellent!
We were originally booked to play at Sawyers in Kettering but sadly the venue has just closed; however promoters Bambi and Trina (both members of the excellent 'urban rail punk' band Eastfield) found an alternative venue in the shape of The Horseshoe Inn at nearby Wellingborough. Bambi met us at the station and we went back to his and Trina's house where support act and Blyth Power guitarist Steven Cooper was already present and correct. A couple of hours of coffee and television followed (I nearly typed 'Coffee and T.V.' there! Ooops!) with England's ill-fated bid to host the 2018 World Cup caused particular merriment, not least when Martin Peters said 'I'm gutted' just as T.V. said 'he'll say ''I'm gutted" in a minute'. As the commentator put it, 'the paint's hardly dry on the announcement yet!'
6 o'clock and with Trina staying at home nursing a bad leg it's off to the venue for the rest of us. The poster behind the D.J. booth said 'THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES' and although they seem to put bands on regularly at the venue it seems unlikely that they're of the punky variety. 'There'll be no one here so I'm applying the 5 pint rule' says Steven cheerily as he ordered his first drink, promising 4 more before his appearance - T.V. and myself soundchecked with 'Third Term' (T.V. noted that he was plugged into P.A. channels 2 and 6 - 'half a crown') before Steven sets up his amplifier ('I've hired it for £6!') and I walked down to the nearby kebab shop for some chips in a pitta bread. Well - you're allowed to eat stuff like that when you're on tour!
9.15 and with considerably more people in that he'd anticipated (many of the old Sawyers crowd had made the journey) Steven rather unsteadily took to the stage for a fine if rather, shall we say, loose set of original material. 'Am I slurring my words?' he asked smiling broadly; 'I was the 60th Whiskey Priest, the umpteenth Blyth Power guitarist at least' - now there's a chorus that only he could write! He also referred to T.V and myself as 'Jedward' on a number of occasions...
10.15 and we're on with 'No Time To Be 21'. We'd not had chance to rehearse together so had decided to stick to our 'chronological set' of the last few gigs, and with only a few moments of madness it all went rather well. I'd hoped to use my MXR Micro Amp pedal to boost the volume of my solos but that had refused to work at the soundcheck (good job I'd tried it then as it had worked fine at home) so I used the tried and trusted 'hit the stings harder during the solos' method - still I use it all the time when playing electrically so I'll have to either fix it or buy a new one. Bugger! Our set finished with the 'Adverts trilogy' of 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes', 'Bored Teenagers' and 'One Chord Wonders' to plenty of applause and at least one cry of 'awesome' from a younger audience member. A good first gig of 3.

I woke up the next morning at 10 o'clock, though I think that I'd have slept a lot longer if I hadn't set an alarm. I'd taken a sleeping bag and there were 2 quilts on the bed since there was no radiator in my room - I wasn't cold in the night but I guess with that lot on I shouldn't have been! When I went downstairs Bambi was loading footage of our gig onto his computer; whilst doing so he showed me some Sawyers footage, it looked like a really good venue but as he said, 'it's time to move on' Let's hope it works out for them in Wellingborough.
'What was going on at the end of 'Gary Gilmore' last night?' said T.V. rather pointedly; well I don't know so let's have a look at the footage... one too many riffs from the guitarist. It's a fair cop!
A thankfully recovered Trina dropped us at the station at 1 o'clock ('one down' said T.V. as we walked away from the car) where we learned that our train was delayed by 15 minutes. This gave us time for coffee and a scone (punk rock eh?!?) before heading over the bridge to catch our train back to St. Pancras. Yes, St. Pancras - strange as it may sound it's easier for us to go back to London then up to Ipswich than to cut across country directly. Given my storage problems on the way there we opted to use our reserved seats as luggage space and sit in nearby unreserved seats - T. V. produced a book written in German as I caught up on phone calls. From St. Pancras we made our way to Liverpool Street via the Underground where we checked the departures board - ominously there was no platform indicated for our train - and stocked up on caffeine. At 3.25 and with our train due in 5 minutes there are still no clues as to where we're leaving from - an announcement says that the 3.30 train is about to leave from platform 10 and panic grips the assembled multitude. Somehow we get on board just as the whistle blows - as the train pulls away I make vain attempts to store my guitar on the crowded carriage, eventually (almost) wedging it in a luggage rack with my bag and sitting as near as I can to it so that I can keep an eye on it. We had reserved seats elsewhere on the carriage (mine was C60 - one for the cassette users among us!) but the ensuing chaos meant that things had descended into a free-for-all with people saying things like 'there are no reserved seats on delayed trains' as they elbowed people out of their way. As I say, I despair of people sometimes... 'welcome aboard the delayed 15.30 train to Norwich' said a cheery voice, before saying something about 'signaling problems at Ipswich'. At least he had his seat.
As we pulled in to Ipswich Station T.V. phoned the venue to tell them that we'd arrived. He came off the phone with the words ' look out for the blue Escort'. Outside the station the snow was thicker than we'd seen up until this point on our travels, and there were cars, taxis and buses everywhere in a 'it's-nearly-5 o'clock-on-a-Friday-evening' state of near-emergency. We managed to signal our presence to the blue Escort before it got caught in the chaos, and we arrived at The Steamboat Tavern a few minutes later where Val the landlady showed us to our rooms (to be precise she showed me as T.V. has played and stayed there many times before) then offered make us some food which we were both very grateful for - it had been a long time since the scones.
Soundcheck time - Rikki from Red Flag 77 is running the gig, and also on the bill is the splendidly named Ed Ache (yes!) and local poet Rowan. I lent Ed a lead so that he could use an in-line guitar tuner, and with him due on at 8.30 we're given a stage time of 9.45 with Rowan doing a set inbetween our 2 acts. With quite a few people in Ed in onstage on time, he's got dreadlocks down to his knees and uses a ukulele for the first few songs and an acoustic guitar for the rest, both of which sound like a chainsaw as he roars through his material with great energy. 'Here's another song about having no money, it's called "£12.50 a day" - he's going down well and the atmosphere is good with a great evening in prospect, when suddenly the lights go out, the P.A. goes off and the initial audience cry of 'Whay-hay!' is replaced by confused murmurings. I look out of the window at the flats opposite, there are lights on so it can't be too bad - or is that emergency lighting on the stairs? Bar staff with torches eye the fuse box warily as Val produces a bewildering amount of candles and people wonder if they can still get a drink or not. Ed carries on singing then Rowan bravely begins his set, gripping his pint glass like his life depended on it as people struggle to hear him. Meanwhile people are asking how come the lights are still on in the toilets as T.V. and myself wonder what to do - do we go on or do we wait to see if the power returns? We're at the bar speculating furiously when there's a sudden burst of light, then darkness again, then light again with another cry of 'Whay-hay!' - people start blowing candles out as we get ourselves ready to play. 'No Time To Be 21' ends to relieved applause, it's all going to be alright and everything's going great until 'The Suit' when the power suddenly dips for a split-second, then again a few seconds later, no 'Whay-hay!' this time but we get to the end of the song in one piece. 'Runaway Train Driver' sees a conga around the pub (Val banned them from going outside as it was too dangerous!) and the Adverts Trilogy sees more than a little pogoing. Great stuff, although I can't help wondering what I would be typing if the power hadn't come back on...
After the show it's time for a drink, and with Me First and The Gimme Gimmes on the Cd player everyone seems relieved that it all went well in the end. T.V. and myself sign birthday boy Stalkie's gig poster as an 'are Gogol Bordello any good?' debate begins and Rikki attempts to tell us about his 'other' band The East Town Pirates - 'we get called ''The East End Pirates'', I mean what's that all about, do people think we're going to go "da da da da daa daa daaa" then shout "OOO AH ME HEARTIES'?'

Saturday began with coffee and Marmite on toast - a good start. T.V. sits changing his strings as we talk through the day to come - catch the train down to Stratford, then from there T.V. is off to do a late afternoon solo gig in Hove before meeting myself and the long-suffering Shirley in Shoreham for our evening show there. Baz gives us a lift to the station, it's busy as Ipswich are at home to Swansea but we get there in time for the 12.08 to Stratford - which is of course delayed to 12.30. A man asks me if I'm 'on the fiddle' as I'm getting my ticket out, I misheard him and thought he'd said something about the football but he points at my guitar case and looks pleased with himself. I smile and join T. V. on the platform, pausing to read the 'leaf fall update' by the ticket machines - it seems that they've 'implicated an extensive line side vegetation management programme' which I guess means that it's not leaves causing all these delays then... on the platform the '2010 Timetable Change Surgery' notice sits next to the 'New Footbridge and Lift' information which thanks us all for our 'support and co-operation while we undergo the enhancements'. Hmm...
With the platform full of Swansea City fans our train arrives in the nick of time.It's not too full so we anarchically choose seats in coach F instead of our allotted coach C (punk rock eh?!? Mind you T.V. was now reading Steve Ignorant's book so maybe anarchy really was in the air...) and, passing through T.V.'s birthplace Romford on the way, arrive at a busy Stratford Station without any problems. The Central Line train back into town is full as quite a few of the other lines aren't running due to maintenance work (how annoying is that every weekend?) and I'm very relieved to meet Shirley at West Ruislip Station where we make a detour to drop some posters off at The Bell in Ruislip for the upcoming Upper Cut show there this Friday before coming home. A shower and some food are both much needed from my point of view, and at 6 o'clock we leave to wind our way down to Shoreham. As we pull up outside the Duke Of Wellington it's pouring down with rain, we're steeling ourselves to get indoors as quickly as we can when a bedraggled Attila The Stockbroker arrives on a bicycle carrying a violin. We go inside to find him and T.V. ordering drinks, the pub has an excellent selection of real ales which Attila is something of an expert on. We set up and soundcheck in no time, and Peter from Peter and The Test Tube Babies arrives just as we finish. I attempt to describe his band to Shirley but give up after telling her the title of their first album... by the time we go on there are a few people in including ex-Blyth Power guitarist Wob who I'd not seen for ages abut who now works behind the bar at the pub. Attila is right at the front for most of our set singing along, he joins us on violin for 'Lion And The Lamb' and 'Runaway Train Driver' in the middle of our set and 'One Chord Wonders' at the end, he speaks emotively about how T.V. inspired and continues to inspire him, eventually persuading T.V. to play 'Not In My Name' to end a great gig, in fact a 3 great gigs which I'll remember for a very long time. And talking of remembering things...

I was at an Attila gig sometime in the late '80's, I think at the Mean Fiddler Acoustic Room although I could be wrong there; Attila said something like 'I'm going to play a song by one of Britain's greatest ever songwriters' before performing 'The Suit' on mandola. One of the people I was with asked who T.V. Smith was - I turned to them and said words to the effect of 'you must heard of T.V. Smith, he was in The Adverts, a great songwriter, a genius in fact...' and as I said it I realised he and Gaye Advert were standing right behind us. I think I managed an awkward hello and then said 'well - you are!'

He doesn't remember it happening, but I do. I've just played 3 gigs with him, and as I say, I'll remember them too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Green is the colour

Two posts in a row get a comment. Excellent! Thanks Snaggletooth - it's always nice to know that the people who read this blog are far far wittier than the guy writing it... and it's good to see 'Socialist Worker' warming up for next year's festivities with an article that reminds us all just how lucky we are to be part of the 'Big Society'. Or not. And then there's The Daily Mash - well, like I said last time, just because something is an easy target it doesn't mean that it shouldn't be hit...

Well it seems that it's not just the gigs that I play that clash - this Friday I'd like to have gone to see Slim Chance at the 100 Club, and Saturday The Newtown Neurotics and Attila The Stockbroker played at The Gaff, not to mention The Lee Ryder Band (featuring Upper Cut drummer Roger) at the Load of Hay. Mind you this gives me chance to mention something that bought a smile to my face for obvious reasons - there's a Facebook campaign to make 'Kick Out The Tories' by Harlow finest the Christmas number 1. Now that's got to be a good idea hasn't it? Click here to get involved... but it was a roaringly good night on Friday when local-lads-made-good Awaken played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge. Myself and East stumbled through the front door in a 'oh-gawd-my-glasses-have-steamed-up-'cos-it's-so-cold-outside' haze just as 'Free Fallin'' came to a close, with Martin the singer saying 'hello Philip - oh sorry Leigh' as I made my way unsteadily to the bar. Pete's on guitar, Ken's on bass and with regular drummer Russell off with a bad knee Drew's depping on drums. A few songs into their second set Martin said something like 'We're going to get our friend Leigh up to do a couple of songs with us after this one' - I thought Pete had been joking when at halftime he said it would be good to get me up to play. He let me use his very - make that very - nice Les Paul; when I put it on I realised that he uses a much - make that much - shorter guitar strap than I do which felt really awkward although the guitar was so good to play I didn't notice after a while. Martin introduced 'Sweet Home Chicago' then said 'over to you Leigh' - after that it was 'Play That Funky Music', and after that it was back to the bar. I was just getting going! Still the return to the bar saw much merriment with myself and East eventually leaving sometime after 2 o'clock in a state of no little confusion...

I woke up at 8.30 Saturday morning realising that (a) I'd forgotten to set an alarm, and (b) I didn't feel very much more sober that when I went to bed. Not good frankly. I must stop doing that! Still all things considered I didn't feel too bad although was flagging by the end of a day in the shop that was more than busy enough to take my mind off my rather fragile condition. No time to worry about that though, as myself and former Price manager Eddie were off to The 100 Club (let's face it, I couldn't have gone 2 nights running could I? Actually my mates The Sex Pistols Experience were there on Sunday so I could have gone to that too!) for a tribute night dedicated to the memory of the late and undeniably great Mick Green who sadly died earlier this year. And a cracking evening it was too, with spirited performances from The Animals (drummer John Steel was snowbound up in Newcastle so Dylan Howe depped) and a predictably brilliant Wilko Johnson (joined by Johnny Spence on vocals for 'Going Back Home', a song Wilko wrote with Mick Green) ushering in the main event of the evening - The Green Brothers. Mick's sons Brad on guitar and Lloyd on bass were joined by drummer Mike Roberts and Johnny Spence on vocals for a blast through some of the best loved Pirates material. And 'blast' was very much the operative word for a thunderous performance with Brad reproducing his dad's guitar parts with unnerving accuracy and Spence in full Sweeney villain mode throughout. At one point he said that Brad had only started playing in January, which if true is absolutely astonishing - maybe that's when he started taking it seriously but I think he must have picked one up before then?!? But it was weird to see so many of Mick's mannerisms both while he was playing and at the end of the gig when he shook hands with members of the front row just like his dad used to. A great evening, and a fitting tribute to Britain's greatest rock ' n roll guitarist. And The 100 Club is still one of the great London venues - surely it's not going to close?

And now for something completely different, as Squirrel and myself braved a journey to Birmingham on Sunday evening to catch a show at The Alexandra Theatre by - wait for it - Marc Almond. Yes it does look like it just said 'Marc Almond' doesn't it? As often happens the explanation is a simple one - Dave Ruffy is on drums, and invited us to the gig. Oh and Carl who plays bass for The F.B.I. Band (who both Squirrel and myself have depped with) is in the band too. And I have to say - and I'm only going to say this once - it was a great show; not really my type of thing but you can't deny Mr. Almond's considerable stage presence and indeed vocal prowess, despite suffering from laryngitis. A fine version of Scott Walker's 'Jackie' closed the first half, and the night ended with a brace of solo and Soft Cell hits. A good gig all round. No really!

Right- back to work, or to be exact, an Upper Cut rehearsal due to start in just over an hour. We're playing at The Load of Hay this coming Sunday (5th December - Terry the bassman's birthday gig!) and I've got 3 gigs with T.V. Smith (details on his website) before then. That's more like it!

Monday, November 22, 2010

God only knows

Well I certainly wasn't expecting the comment that the last posting received - is that religious spam? I actually thought someone might have a go at me - reading it again I'm not sure that they didn't! And yeah, I know it's a cheap shot to have a go at the Royal Wedding, but just because something's an easy target it doesn't mean that it shouldn't be hit. Which reminds me, Lord Young has become the latest top Tory (a bit of a contradiction in terms?) who's had to resign after his remarks regarding the 'so-called recession'. Remind me again why any working class person thought that it would be a good idea to vote Conservative?

Ok, more moaning - I tuned into one of the music channels that we all seem to have on the T.V. on the other day to be confronted by the sight of the excellent - maybe that should be formerly excellent? - Roy Wood in seasonal mode. Could the man who wrote all those great songs with The Move and Wizzard really do a medley of 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' and 'Wombling Merry Christmas' with those rock gods The Wombles? Sadly he could, and even more sadly he did. Awful. Awful. But not as awful as the next song, 'Firework' by Katy Perry. The combination of intelligence-insulting lyrics and banal half-finished sounding music might actually be the worst recording I've ever heard. It makes 'Mull Of Kintyre' sound like 'My Generation', and Keane sound like The Clash. I would have switched channels or left the room but it was so terrible that I felt as though it was something I needed to endure as some sort of bizarre rite of passage before I could listen to something decent. Even the bit in the video where her chest emits sparks couldn't rescue it. Totally and utterly appalling.

Then again, what do I know? I'm supposed to be a musician but I'm only playing a grand total of 2 - count 'em, 2! - gigs this month, and one of them was a short notice 'can-you-lot-fill-in-for-a-band-that's-cancelled?' show with The Upper Cut on Saturday at After Office Hours in Barnet. Our first set saw dancing in the first song and a fair amount from then on in - a guy out of the audience kept asking us if he could sing 'Brown Eyed Girl' with us - Terry the singer let him have a go and he made a reasonable job of the bits he knew; sadly for the rest of the time he was reduced to roaring 'I DUNNO THE FARKING WORDS TO VIS BIT' which his mates found hilarious. Maybe it was? I'll never know why people like him do this sort of thing to themselves. Mind you I'm not entirely sure why people like us let them. Still, a good gig overall and we were offered a return date next month which I sadly can't do as I'm gigging with T.V. Smith that night. It's always the same isn't it? - none for ages and then 2 come along at once...

Sunday it was time for a return visit to The Load of Hay for the ever-excellent Kris Dollimore. Since his last visit he's been spending a fair bit of time playing out in France (click here for a clip of him on French T.V) as well as recording a new album which judging by the new songs played at last night's performance will be his best yet. In a new departure he used a looper pedal to create drone effects during some of the songs, which he'd been apprehensive about before the gig but I thought sounded terrific particularly on 'The Mercy Man'. I've never seen him do a bad show but when he pronounced himself happy with his performance I knew that this one had been outstanding. Wonderful stuff - I think he could have made even 'Firework' sound like a classic. Well maybe not, but you get the idea.

Right, time to stop moaning (for once!) and to get practicing some guitar. When there are not too many gigs about it's important to stay match fit for when the phone rings. Assuming it does of course...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The more things change, the more they stay the same

So - there's going to be a Royal Wedding. That's nice.

In these days of cuts 'n' clampdowns the putdowns are obvious, so I'll stick with the 'Socialist Worker' headline from all those years ago :-


I thank you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From Breakspear to Bethnal Green

And the obituary column continues - my mate Tony has died. I met him through Stuart the guitar repair man, he was a very clever chap, a bit of a boffin who worked at the BBC, played some guitar and liked motor sports among other things. Shirley and myself went to his funeral at Breakspear Crematorium last week and she realised that she knows his son Richard through her work. Stu tells me there might well be a memorial gig for him with donations to Cancer Research UK, and there's an interesting idea for people to play his guitars rather than their own. I'll do my very best to be at that one.

Talking of guitars (for once!) the excellent Steve Simpson (aided and abetted for some of the show by his brother Bruce on guitar and mandolin) gave a splendid performance at The Load of Hay last Sunday. He's playing some shows with the reformed Slim Chance in the not-too-distant future which should be well worth catching as well as continuing to play with Roger Chapman (we're thinking of playing the Family classic 'Burlesque' in The Upper Cut - Steve showed me the 'correct' way to play what is a very tricky song on guitar. Top man!) but it always seems to me that his solo shows are a chance for him to play what he wants rather than what he plays as part of someone else's act. Highlights were many and varied 'though I have to mention his version of the Meal Ticket song 'Golden Girl' (here is a recent version that also features fellow ex-Meal Ticket man Willy Finlayson - good song don't you think?) and the Bob Dylan song 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' as standout songs. A fine performance.

Sunday night gigs for the rest of the year feature the wonderful Kris Dollimore this coming Sunday (21st) then The Upper Cut 'pre-Christmas / Terry the bassman's birthday' gig on December 5th followed by the legend that is John Otway on December 12th - that's not a bad line-up is it? And my fellow blogger and Blue Five member Voltarol is on the radio at 8.45 tomorrow evening playing some of his beloved Brazilian music - click here to join him!

An interesting Wednesday saw your humble narrator accompany Stuart the guitar repair man (him again! - now there's a name that's been absent from these hallowed pages for a while; remind me to tell you why sometime...) to Westmount Music, a new instrument shop in Marlow Bottom. Paul the boss seems a nice chap, and the shop's an interesting mix of stuff so let's hope they can make a go of it. I was left thinking was that they should play some music or show some DVD's in the shop as the atmosphere was a bit 'cold' although maybe that was just me? In the meantime it was off to visit Miles (a longtime customer of Stu's who features in this posting among others) where we dropped a guitar off and where I, after a look at his rather mind-boggling collection of instruments, somehow ended up taking one of his guitars back with me with a view to possibly buying it off him. How did that happen? 'Try it at your gig on Saturday' said he cheerily. Ok, I will... from there we made our way to a farmhouse near Cobham for a visit to Electric Wood, the home of Wal bass guitars. Stu worked for them a few years ago, and Paul the luthier had asked him to come across to have a look at a MIDI bass that wasn't working properly - while he looked at that I spent a bit of time in the spray booth where a badly damaged 1959 Gibson Les Paul Special was being refinished. All very interesting stuff - no, really, it was. Well, I liked it!

The Good Old Boys returned to The General Elliot in Uxbridge on Friday evening, and gave a suitably boisterous performance in front of a suitably boisterous audience. The twin guitar attack of Pete and Simon sounded as excellent as ever, Hud and Nick didn't put a foot wrong all night and Alan sang as well as I've ever heard him - and if you ever wanted to see Nick Simper play 'Hush' then here's your chance. Afterwards East and myself ended up discussing life, the universe and everything with Hud, who regaled us with tales of touring Christian venues in America with Rick Wakeman and much more besides. As I stumbled off homewards at (gulp!) 2.30 a.m. I said something along the lines of 'I've got to be in Balcony Shirts in 6 1/2 hours' (well, that's what I intended to say; it probably sounded more like 'I'f gotta being Bacony Shirs in sis anna haf ours'. Mind you, East understood me although we can only wonder what his reply of 'Warrghh!' was actually intended to be...) and realised that maybe, just maybe, we should have left when the band finished at midnight as we'd originally intended...

Considering the previous evening's antics Saturday at Balcony Shirts could have been a lot more difficult than it turned out to be, although judging by the increase in customers Christmas is definitely on the horizon - mind you I did have to have a sleep pretty much as soon as I got home. All this 'getting older' stuff isn't all that it's cracked up to be I can tell you... still it was back to The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green for the latest Upper Cut gig, and a very enjoyable one it was too - we went on after the boxing for 2 well-received sets with much dancing and general jollity, although I did wonder what was going on when a large chap walked past carrying a tall blonde lady over his shoulder... I used Miles's guitar for the first set and mine for the second - the general consensus was mine sounded better (it should, it's a lot more expensive!) but that the other one could be a good addition to my guitar army. Oh well - there go the wages. Again. Perhaps I should sell something first... hmm... I'll have a think over the next few days...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

'Vinyl Rules!' Episode One - The Chairs

Proof (were it needed) that I've had far too much time on my hands this week comes with the news that I've bought myself one of those turntables that allows you to convert records into mp3's which you can then make into CD's, put on an iPod and probably do lots of other things with that I'm not clever or indeed young enough to know about. I've been thinking about getting one for a while, as there are quite a few records in my collection that are sadly unlikely to ever emerge on CD and this seemed to be an obvious way for me to transfer them across to the digital world. It's also a chance for me to re-discover some of these recordings, and in doing so it occurred to me that it would be fun to write about them here. So let's start with a band that could have been, and indeed were contenders - I refer of course to The Chairs.

I think I first saw The Chairs at the late and much-lamented Fulham Greyhound (well it's certainly lamented by me although I can't find much on the Internet about it!) sometime in 1988. I guess they were supporting someone but I can't for the life of me remember who, a fact which amply sums up the impact that they had on the evening. They were simply tremendous. I'd been a huge fan of much missed Medway magicians The Prisoners who I'd seen many times and who I always thought should have been massively successful, but here was a band who had all their best elements (great songs, loads of energy and a Hammond Organ that sounded like the loudest and therefore greatest thing on Earth) but who somehow seemed to be an altogether more commercial proposition. They looked good, sounded great and such was their overall brilliance that I somehow overcame my innate shyness and struck up a conversation with one of them, who directed me to their larger-than-life manager Jim - I left for home that night with a copy of their first single and a masterplan that somehow meant that The Chairs and The Price were somehow going to take over the World together. I may have been a little drunk...
The next morning (afternoon?!?) I played the single - the A-side 'The Likes Of You' was brilliant, the b-side 'Something's Happening' was if anything even better, and the band were clearly as wondrous as I'd decided they were the previous evening. By the time their second single came out (the magnificent 'Size 10 Girlfriend' / 'Cut 'n' Dried', probably my favourite of their releases) they'd established themselves as a popular live act and were in hot pursuit of a record contract. Over the next couple of years this became something of an obsession within the band, as there always seemed to be a label or labels interested but no one would bite the bullet and sign them. I remember singer / guitarist / songwriter Paul Sullivan once saying to me words to the effect of 'all that matters is us getting a record contract, we can work everything else out from there', which is a measure of how much it meant to him. Their third single 'Honey I Need A Girl Of A Different Stripe' / 'I Can't Say I'm Sorry' kept up the pressure, as did their live shows which continued to be superb although by their fourth and last single 'Crestfallen' / 'Sometimes It Takes A Hammer' I remember thinking that the atmosphere in the band had changed - the music was still excellent but the mood seemed somehow darker. And then, suddenly, they were gone, leaving just 4 singles and an almost limitless amount of potential that appeared to evaporate almost overnight. Paul went on to play with The Crowd Scene and The Liberty Takers as well as making some solo acoustic appearances but I'm not sure what he (or indeed the rest of the band and their mercurial manager Jim) gets up to these days. I hope they're all still involved in music, but in the meantime there are any number of unreleased songs that remain in the memory banks from live shows - 'Boys From Slumberland', 'Brave Little Soldier', 'All I Need To Know' (inspired by Albert Goldman's controversial book 'The Lives Of John Lennon' - Paul's a huge Lennon fan, and judging by this song is not too enthusiastic about the book) and 'Neck Of The Woods' among them as well as a cover of Elvis Costello's 'Beaten To The Punch', all doubtless destined to remain unheard unless a retrospective compilation magically appears.

Well I've made my compilation from the singles and I've hardly stopped playing it since - 20-odd years on they sound as great as ever. It's good when that happens. Sit on that music!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Another blog posting, another death to report - this is getting depressing! However I can't let Reg King of mod legends The Action leave the building without a show of respect in these hallowed pages. I've just played the 'Action Packed' compilation CD and can only join the likes of Monkey Picks in lauding him as one of, if not the greatest, British soul singers. If you're not familiar with him or the band then (a) shame on you from a great height, and (b) have a listen to 'I'll Keep On Holding On' and 'Since I Lost My Baby' and see what you think - you are very unlikely to be disappointed. Another very sad loss to the music world.

Friday evening saw an ever-improving Upper Cut play The Dolphin in Uxbridge. We appeared there back in the summer at Horsepower Hairdressing supremo Adam's birthday party, and reaction among the locals was positive enough for Noel the guv'nor to offer us a date in our own right. In an ongoing quest to decide which is the best guitar for me to use in the band I'd opted for my Relic Stratocaster this time (I've been using the SG for most of our gigs although the FMT Telecaster has made a few appearances) which took a bit of getting used to from my point of view, although by the end of the first set it seemed to be making sense so maybe I've found the right one for the band. I've always tried to avoid changing guitars during gigs if possible especially in small pub gigs - there's often no stage which makes any instrument vulnerable to being knocked over by passing punters, so having more than one out increases the risk - and while it's very difficult to find one guitar that'll cover the material that a band like our plays the Strat seems to be the closest one yet. I'll try it at again at next month's Bethnel Green bash and see how it sounds then. In the meantime our 2 sets caused an increasingly good reaction from the assembled audience, and a euphoric Noel offered us a return date next year. Excellent! And once again Pete from Awaken joined us for a couple of numbers - he's playing there with his band on the 26th of next month so maybe I'll get up and do a couple of songs with them that night.

Back in September a commercial to raise funds and awareness for this year's poppy appeal was filmed in Windsor Street in Uxbridge. Some (actually rather scary) soldiers marched up and down the street as your humble narrator and the rest of the Balcony Shirts team (they were filming right outside the shop) joined the locals in forming a mock-Remembrance Day parade. In a moment of amusement / madness Scott and Dave attempted a high-five (I believe that's what the young people call it - and no I didn't join in, not least because I kept doing it wrong!) every time the camera panned across the shop. It's perhaps for the best that none of these gestures are visible in the finished article, which you can see if you click here - the shop in the background as the main character stand on the mini-roundabout looking around. Which reminds me - I must buy a poppy. Well, you should shouldn't you?

As mentioned last time it was the first anniversary of the Balcony shop opening yesterday, and myself and Scott spent the first hour of our day putting up balloons and the rest of it dispensing cake and Cava to the customers and selling an inordinate amount of stock, much of it at reduced prices. We took delivery of a Danelectro Pro earlier in the week - judging by the amount of attention it's been receiving it won't be in the shop too long, and it's great to see the musical equipment side of the shop developing so quickly. And given the success of the day there's a good chance of mince pies in the shop in the run up to Christmas...

No gigs now for 2 weeks. I wish I was doing the '80's Rocked' shows. Actually I wish I was doing any shows. Boo hoo. Then again Shirley and myself are celebrating 6 years together today - yes I know, on Halloween! We've spent the afternoon at The Westfield Shopping Centre, buying all sorts of things that we didn't know that we needed. Ahhh...

Monday, October 25, 2010

More is more

This is my 400th blog posting!

As befits something as self-indulgent (and indeed self-obsessive) as the unprompted writing of a seemingly limitless series of missives about yourself (ME ME ME IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!) I thought this would be a good moment to include this page from 'Vive La Rock!', the first issue of which also includes articles on the likes of The Ruts, Motorhead and The Ramones among others, as well as this rather splendid revue of T.V. Smith at The Load of Hay. It's all good stuff, but given this excerpt it's fairly obvious that I would say that...

Let's set the controls for number 500 shall we?

And if you're anywhere near Windsor Street in Uxbridge this Saturday 30th October then why not set your controls for a visit to the Balcony Shirts shop, which opened exactly one year ago - there might well be a bargain or two to be had, and there's a fair chance of some live music from various members of staff. Acoustic guitar in a t-shirt shop? Anything's possible...

More sad news - Ari Up from The Slits has died. I well remember the outrage that they caused, four (un)typical girls daring to call themselves musicians in the face of the 'they-can-hardly-play' / 'they're-awful-even-for-women' opposition from the grown up's who preferred to listen to 'real' music. I saw about half their set at The Lyceum in late 1978 when they were supporting The Clash, when their defiant, dub-powered mischief-making was both embraced and rejected in more-or-less equal measures by the Clash-hungry hoards - when I said to my school friends that I'd seen them and they were nowhere near as bad as most of them thought that they were most of them were horrified. I just decided that they'd grown up already... I bet they didn't like Norman Wisdom either, but I remember laughing at his onscreen antics when I was a lad. Another mischief maker, and he's gone now too. Shame.

And it was a shame that there weren't more people in The Directors Arms in Borehamwood on Saturday when The Upper Cut gave an energetic show to a handful of diehards including 2 lads who alternated between dancing wildly (and occasionally just a little bit too close to the band) and playing pinball (yes, one of them did ask for the song!) while most of the audience sat at the bar listening. It can be somewhat soul-destroying to play to an almost empty room, but I thought we didn't let it get us down and as a result played a lot better than we might have under the circumstances. Paul the guv'nor was philosophical, saying that he was trying live music and would 'see how it goes from now until Christmas' as well as promising us a return date if he continues booking bands - he used to run The Heath Tavern in Hillingdon back in the dim and distant past (Terry, Roger and myself played there a few times when we were in The Informers back in the 1990's 'though he wasn't running it then) and seemed like a nice chap so let's hope it works out for him.

And it was shame that there weren't a few more people at The Load of Hay last night, where Zarbo's spirited performance went down well with the dozen or so people watching. They're a difficult act to categorise (never a bad thing methinks - check the 'movies' section of their website to see what I mean) but Andy and Paul play everything live (i.e. no backing tracks) and produce an implausible amount of sound for 2 people. It's all original material too, (apart from a version of 'Personal Jesus' and the closing number 'Old Man River') which is a good thing to see. Talking to them afterwards they seem quite self-critical about their act - neither feels as though they've really 'got going' yet - so it'll be interesting to see where they take it from here.

The Upper Cut will be taking it to The Dolphin in Uxbridge this coming Friday evening - that should ensure a bleary shop Saturday for your humble narrator - and I found out today that Dave Sharp is playing in the ''80's Rocked' show that I mentioned in the last posting and that I'd have been playing in if I'd been able to learn the songs in time. I'd love to - no make that love to - have been playing alongside him. If you can make it along to our gig it'd be good to see you - I could do with something to cheer me up...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

At least he didn't say Little and Large...

I was saddened by the news that Malcolm Allison has died. I remember him on telly when I was a kid, back in the days when football managers wore fedoras and were allowed to smoke huge cigars during the game. And Solomon Burke died too - he was great wasn't he? I thought of him during The Chicago Blues Brothers' performance of 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' last Thursday, as three screaming teenage girls tried to pull Pete and / or Mike into the audience. I hope the great man would have approved... we were playing at Wymondham College in Norfolk, at an event organised by trumpeter Dave Land who teaches at said establishment. I'd travelled up with dep saxman Jimmy Cannon, who I'd met just after 11 am outside Jacksons Lane Studio in Highgate - I'd gone up on the tube to meet him as Pete was taking my old Laney combo up for me to use so I'd only had to take a guitar with me - his first words as I got into his car were 'you don't happen to know where we're going do you?' It turned out that his sat. nav. had broken, leaving your humble narrator with the task of using a big paper thing with colourful diagrams all over it - it's been ages since I'd seen one if them, oh, what's it called? Oh I remember - a map... incredibly we arrived at the venue just after 2 pm, and with the P.A. all set up and the band ready to soundcheck I went over to Pete to ask him where my amplifier was - the look on his face told me that it was still at his house... after asking around a Marshall combo was produced from one of the music rooms and it was soundcheck time. We were playing in the sports centre and the sound was, well, terrible - very echo-ey and indistinct, not to mention rather loud. As I looked out from the stage at the basketball hoops on the wall opposite it reminded me of the gigs I used to go to at The Sports Barn at Brunel University all those years ago. Some of them sounded pretty bad too... in the meantime there time for a rehearsal with the dancers who were joining us for several numbers, as well as the 20 (count 'em, 20!) of Dave's pupils who are joining us for Minnie The Moocher. It all sounded better after a while - or maybe I was just getting used to it? After soundcheck there was an informal workshop where the college's music students had some time to ask the band members questions - I was surrounded by guitarists, most of whom seemed to be able to play much better than I could at their age (and that's not false modesty, they really could!)
In addition to the usual suspects on stage Dave had arranged for a very special guest to join us - Roberto Pla on percussion. Being the sad man that I am I was aware that he'd once worked with Joe Strummer, who he described to me as 'a sweet man' which was good to hear; mind you he also worked with Motorhead in the film 'Eat The Rich', and the mere mention of their name bought a broad smile to his face. He's an extraordinary player, and it was a real pleasure to be able to spend a bit of time with him, and indeed to play some music with him.
We've got a squash court to use as a dressing room - really! - and with the venue rapidly filling up the mood is good, not least because all those people in the room should soak up some of the echo. The gig began at 7 o'clock - 10 minutes into it I looked out to scenes reminiscent of 'A Hard Day's Night' with teenage girls (and indeed boys) screaming, dancing, trying to get on stage - I am of course a serious artist who could never normally condone such trivialising of my life's work (ahem) but I'm bound to say that I absolutely loved it. With a couple of hundred people in the sound had improved no end (thank God!) and the 20-trumpet version of 'Minnie' really was something to behold. A great gig.

The idea of spending Friday evening in Croydon might not be everybody's idea of a good time but on the evidence of the show that I played there with T.V. Smith last week a rethink is definitely in order. The Scream Lounge is a fine venue, and given that the evening also featured ex-Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp this was a night that I'd been looking forward to for quite some time. The gig was organised by Tony a.k.a. Fleagle, a long-standing member of the TUTS ('T.V. Smith's United Tour Supporters') and all-round good bloke - myself and the long-suffering Shirley arrived to find him and Sharon a.k.a. Mrs. Fleagle on the door and quite a few people already in the venue. By the time we'd said hello to T.V. and got some drinks from the downstairs bar (which itself is another venue) it was more-or-less time for Dave Sharp to start. I remember seeing The Alarm sometime in the 1980's and it was obvious then that he was a great player, but he's now re-invented himself as a solo acoustic performer and sounded absolutely excellent. Some great original songs alongside a version of Little Feat's 'Willin'' had me thinking that if an early-era Bob Dylan had come from Salford he'd have sounded like Dave Sharp. How cool is that? I spoke to him and his manager Mike after the gig and they were both really nice chaps and very passionate about what they're doing which, considering The Alarm were a stadium-straddling rock band was great to see - I've met people who have had a fraction of the success that Dave's had and they've been jaded and miserable about the whole thing. And if that's not enough he's interested in playing at The Load of Hay! Top Man!
As I was setting up T.V. remarked how good Dave's show was and added 'maybe we should have rehearsed!' Well maybe we should but I'm not sure the evening would have been much better from our point of view, as it was one of the best shows I've played with him. That said it was not without a couple of amusing incidents - TV. began introducing 'One Of Our Missiles Is Missing' with a story about 'going around blowing up rich people's bomb shelters' - as he was talking I remember thinking something like 'this doesn't sound quite right', and sure enough it didn't, as he was talking about a totally different song! I must find out which one as it sounded really good... then he broke a string during 'Expensive Being Poor'; as he got a new one out of the packet he said 'normally I'm the one that has to think of something to say when this happens, but tonight it's Leigh's turn to be humiliated'! And it was - I've got very little idea what I was going on about other than (a) T.V. thought I sounded like Dick Emery at one point (which gave me chance to say that I met his son once - bizarre but true!) and (b) T.V. announced that if he had a time machine he would go back in time 10 minutes so that he could play 'Walk The Plank' in it's correct place in the set (we've been playing shows that feature his songs in chronological order) which struck me as an interesting thing to say, as if you had a time machine you could go anywhere at any point in history... I received an e-mail from Fleagle the next day that referred to us as 'The Morecambe and Wise of Croydon so I suppose we must have been entertaining if nothing else! (Here is the story from the TUTS point of view - I always did enjoy a good lurk...)

Saturday saw the first Upper Cut gig since August, at The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green. Myself and Roger (drums) arrived to find the 2 Terry's (vocals and bass) more-or-less set up and ready to go; I was surprised and indeed delighted to see 2 old Price fans in attendance - local lad Colin Gibbons (some very famous faces lived near him!) and arch Godfathers disciple Andy Knight, and it was great to see them both again. They both seemed to enjoy our efforts, as did the locals, some of whom danced which is a hitherto unseen occurrence in the venue (well, unseen by me at least!) but most of whom roared encouragement which is always a good thing to be met with. I thought we played well but sounded a bit, for want of a better word, 'subdued' - both Terry the bass and myself thought our instruments sounded as though they didn't have any treble to the sound, and Roger wasn't happy with how his drums sounded either. Mind you both Colin and Andy said it sounded ok so maybe I'm getting a bit over-critical. (Oooh, imagine that!) We're there again next month - and why not?

After 3 nights playing 3 gigs with 3 different acts (and Friday and Saturday in the shop) I spent a fair bit of Sunday asleep. I guess it's an age thing! Still I made it across to Tropic At Ruislip in the evening to see Pat McManus, and I'm glad that I did as it was a chance to see a bona fide guitar (and indeed violin) hero in a local venue. He's a great player with every trick in the book (playing the guitar behind his head, leaning it against the bass drum to play slide, right hand tapping - you name it, he can do it! I found it a bit too 'rock' for my tastes, although there was no denying his prowess or indeed the musicianship of the rest of the band; that said the highlight for me was his acoustic tribute to Rory Gallagher although the encore of 'Black Rose' ran it close. A good gig by a fine player - although when it finished I half expected George McFall to appear next to me asking what I thought and to take me over to meet Pat (they were good friends) but of course that was not to be. A sad moment in an otherwise enjoyable evening.

Last night saw the last CBB gig for a while (nothing now until December - what's gone wrong?!?) at The Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire. I met dep saxman Ian (another one!) at Willesden Green tube station - the Nest cafe intriguingly offers an evening class in 'Laughter Yoga' - and we arrived at the venue in good time to soundcheck. Steve's depping on drums (I played an F.B.I. Band gig with him once before but it's his first outing with us) and he proves himself to be extremely adept - we're playing in The Carden Suite at the Annual Bathroom Conference of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (I'm not making this up, honest!) and we've got The Bridle Room in The Saddle Suite (or this!) to use as a dressing room. I've got another Marshall combo to use, it's not the most appropriate piece of kit for what we do (they're generally more suited to heavy rock) but it sounds pretty good to me. After a meal in the brasserie (steamed vegetable pudding - excellent!) 'it's hurry-up-and-wait' time - we go on just after 10 o'clock for what turns out to be a definitive corporate event, with most people going to the bar as soon as we start although by the end there was a good few on the dancefloor and we even got an encore, something of a rarity at these gatherings.

On the way to yesterday's gig I received a phone call offering me some work in this show - our singer Matt got a similar call and it looks like he'll be doing next month's gigs although sadly I won't, partly as rehearsals start next Tuesday and I physically don't have the time to get the 32 show songs learned, and partly because, well to put it bluntly, I'm not a good enough guitarist to play this stuff. Well, I don't think I am anyway - I could practise forever but I doubt that I'd ever be able to play the solo in this song, let alone this one. When I said this to some of the lads in the band yesterday they all assured me that I'd be ok and that I should do the shows which was really good of them (thanks boys if you're reading this!) but let's face it, I haven't got the hair for it. And I definitely don't have the trousers... maybe it's not the band for me after all? Still with very few gigs in the diary I can ill afford to turn work down - but I just have and I feel terrible. Terrible.

There are times when I'd swap some I.Q. points for a bit of confidence and this, my friends, is one of those times...