Monday, July 26, 2010

7 x 7 year itch

Well, look what I bought myself for my birthday. One for the collection methinks... in the meantime it's been a good birthday week:-

Myself, Shirley and my Dad spent Monday Tuesday and Wednesday up in Merseyside. We dropped my dad off in Bromborough (he was staying with his brother George and his wife Joyce) before we journeyed through The Mersey Tunnel to spend 2 nights in Liverpool. We'd hoped to do a spot of Beatle-related tourism on Tuesday by going on The Magical Mystery Tour but it was raining so hard that we couldn't get to the bus stop. Really! It was like something out of The Bible! Shirley took advantage of the situation by spending much of the day in the Liverpool One shopping centre (she bought 4 umbrellas!) although we did at least make it to The Cavern so I guess that's something. We also managed to spend some time with various family members which is always a good thing to do. My Auntie Emma is 84 in September, and she nearly reduced Shirley (and if I'm honest, me) to tears when she said that she'd 'had a wonderful life - I've been so lucky as I've been loved all my life, there's not always been much money but that's not important if you've got people you care about and who care about you is it?' Indeed.

Thursday morning and it's back to work (as I rather euphemistically like to think of it) with Stuart the guitar repair man, attending to the 'We Will Rock You' guitars at The Dominion Theatre. For once there wasn't too much to do which is unusual at this time of year - sweaty hands can wear strings out very quickly - although now I've said that we'll probably be there all day next week... after a few hours at home it was time to return to London to see Wilko Johnson at Rough Trade East. (Yeah I know I could have stayed up in town but I'd have had to spend about 5 hours looking around. It could have got expensive!) I'd not been to the shop before (and hadn't been to Brick Lane for many years - how can all those curry houses make money?!?) and I must say it didn't disappoint, with an amazing selection of stuff - in addition to picking up 2 'Oil City Confidential' DVDs (I got a copy for East as well) I found a copy of 'Ou Est La Maison du Fromage?' by the mighty John Cooper Clarke for a mere £5.99. And they gave me a Rough Trade badge as well. Excellent! And talking of excellent things Wilko was, well, excellent, giving a cracking 45 minute performance to an ever more appreciative audience. Norman Watt-Roy was as mind-boggling as ever on bass, Dylan Howe played a rock-solid drumkit, and Wilko played his old Black Stratocaster (I think it's the one that he used to use when he was in The Blockheads?) which he seems to be using all the time these days. Where's the Telecaster gone? Afterwards he signed DVD's for all and sundry, and looked increasingly awkward as he did so - by the time I got to the front of the queue he looked to me like he'd more-or-less had enough. I've spoken to him here and there over the years, sometimes at (fairly) great length, but this encounter was to be brief; when he asked me what I'd like him to write I said 'put anything you like' - so he did! Mind you he wrote 'UBIQUITY!' on East's copy so maybe I got off lightly?

Friday night should have been reasonably straightforward - an evening at The Laurels in Ruislip where I was due to play a couple of songs at a jam night. Leaving aside the fact that I've never actually played at a jam night before this one was rather different than the usual type of gathering as it was organised by Andy and Jon Tuck, 2 brothers who played in The Flame with Nikk Gunns and myself back in the late '90's/early '00's. Jon's getting married soon and decided to have a jam night instead of a stag night - top man! So far so good, but sometime in the early part of the week The Upper Cut were offered a (very) short notice gig at Sweeney's in Ruislip, which, as luck would have it, is about 100 yards from The Laurels. You can see where this is going can't you...
9.15 and we're all set up and ready for a 10 o'clock start; myself and Terry the bass walk down the hill to The Laurels where Jon, Andy and co. are playing 'Vertigo' to the general approval of all and sundry. I say hello to Nikk who tells me that 'we're on after this one' as 'Basket Case' begins in the background. E-mails have been e-mailed and everyone knows what songs they're playing - as we ready ourselves I realise that there's a Flame re-union on the horizon, albeit with the addition of Steve on guitar... I'm just about to start the opening riff to this song when Jon says 'oh, you do know we're tuned to E flat don't you?' No, I didn't - but I do now! (If you're wondering what I'm rambling on about here - and I wouldn't blame you if you are - then here is an explanation. Don't say you never learn anything here!) After a swift tune-up (maybe that should be tune-down!) Nikk asks me to tell him where the vocals start (never a good sign!) but I'm more worried about whether my guitar will stay in tune... he disappears before our second song (this one in case you were wondering) so Ray takes over on vocals - and that's my appearance over. Nikk re-appears for 'It's So Easy' but I've got to go as it's 10 minutes to showtime at Sweeney's...
As I re-tuned my guitar I looked around the bar - the atmosphere isn't exactly hostile but it isn't exactly friendly either. Our first 2 songs are met with indifference and one of the bouncer's tells us we're too loud. It feels like it's going to be a long night, although after a few more songs there's a bit of dancing and by the end of our first set we're getting a fair bit of applause so maybe it's going to be alright after all? I go to the bar and given how busy it was a few moments earlier it's surprisingly easy to get served - I soon realise that most people have gone outside to watch a fight... a young lad tells me it's his birthday then asks if he have a go on the drums - it's tempting to say something like 'it's my birthday too, can I have a go on your girlfriend?' but I heroically resist the temptation (for once!) And anyway, he didn't have a girlfriend, or at least didn't have one with him. Roger gives him 30 seconds or so behind the kit, he soon runs out of ideas and leaves the stage, just as another guy asks Terry if he can have a go at singing... our second set gets a more positive reaction although it still feels like it's hard work. They'd originally wanted 3 x 45 minute sets from us but in the end we did 2 hour long spots which we just about had enough material for - an attempt at 'Stand By Me' was rather more successful than 'Sweet Home Alabama' although both went down very well. Not the worst gig we'll ever do (hopefully!) but not one to shout too loudly about either, although since we played through midnight I guess it was the first gig of my 50th year? Hmm - maybe it wasn't so bad after all?

I was saddened to hear of the death of snooker legend Alex Higgins on Saturday - I remember him on 'Pot Black' when I was a kid when he always seemed to me to be so much more, shall we say, interesting than the other players. We need more characters like him in the World don't you think? In the meantime it may be better to consider Saturday night's Chicago Blues Brothers gig in Hitchin as the opening salvo in this year's musical journey. Shirley and myself arrived around 6 p.m. to find most of the band congregated in the driveway of a large house - we're playing in a tent in the garden at Mike and Denise's wedding blessing. Chris is on drums for the first time in ages, Pete and Mike are in the hats 'n' glasses and Chris in on keyboards - when the speeches end we take our gear through and get set up. Richard's bought his son's Epiphone Les Paul for me to check over (it's exam time on Monday!) so when we're all ready to rock I have a look at it - there's nothing too much to do although the strings were getting on a bit (as indeed am I!) so I change them for him. Our first starts with 'My Girl' and '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' (their first dance was to a slow song so Pete decided that they might stay on the dancefloor if we played something similar. It worked!) before we moved on to familiar CBB territory. Chris did a great job on drums despite the fact that (a) it was a very - make that very - bouncy stage and his drums were moving around all over the place, and (b) the string holding the wires on his snare drum in place came undone and he was unable to fix it until the interval. After a break of an hour or so (during which much food was consumed) our second set went even better than the first, although the moment in 'Sweet Home Chicago' where Pete got them all singing 'Happy Birthday' to your humble narrator was, for want of a better term, humbling. A good gig. That's more like it.

And last but by no means least, Sunday saw The Upper Cut play at The Load of Hay in a 'it's-the-day-after-Leigh's-birthday' gig. East filmed it, Big Tel recorded it and I didn't play a single song correctly all the way through. Bugger! Still it was great fun, and definitely worth the headache that I'm currently battling my way through. I'm 50 next year. Now there's a headache to look forward to...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Welcome to the family

Shameless self publicity time again - The Upper Cut play The Load Of Hay in Uxbridge this coming Sunday (the 25th if you're counting) which happens to be the day after my 49th (49th!) birthday. If you're in the area why not come along and help me begin my 50th (50th!) year in the way that I'm hoping to begin every year - with a guitar in my hand...

And 'Oil City Confidential' comes out on DVD next Monday. At last! I've written elsewhere in these hallowed pages of it's excellence, and it'll be great to finally get a copy - hope the extras include this recently discovered footage (only seen briefly in the film) and the classic 'Geordie Scene' live performance. I bet it doesn't though... and Wilko Johnson and Julien Temple are signing copies at Rough Trade East (with Wilko is also playing live - oh yes!) on Thursday - I'm hoping to get to that to buy myself a birthday present!

Talking of birthdays, Friday saw a visit to The Marriott Hotel in York to play at Anna's 30th birthday party. She's a friend of Matt's who, when asked to perform at said event, put together a one-off band that he called THE SICILIANS - joining himself on vocals were myself on guitar, Squirrel on bass and ex-CBB and current T. Rextasy drummer John Skelton - with the intention of playing 2 sets of rock covers mixed in with a few standards and songs for our Blues Brothers-based repertoire. However as the gig came in at short notice we had no opportunity for formal rehearsals so Matt came up with a list of songs which we all practiced separately with the intention of getting to the venue as early as possible so that we could run through the songs that we weren't sure of. A situation like this can be a recipe for disaster - thankfully it wasn't (I wouldn't be writing about it here if it had have been! Ha!) although traffic chaos - maybe that should be insanity? - meant that we didn't get chance for much of a run through... John had enlisted the help of T. Rextasy van driver-cum-roadie Dave to get him, Squirrel and myself to the gig, and we agreed that the long-suffering Shirley would drop me at Birchanger Green Services on the M11 where I would meet up with the van and we could wend our way up to Yorkshire. So far so good, except that the M25 was at a virtual standstill, meaning that we had to cut across country in the direction of the service station. Of course we weren't the only people to have that idea, and progress was slow although probably still quicker than if we'd have attempted to continue on the M25. (After dropping me off Shirley headed to Watford for a spot of retail therapy - when I spoke to her later she said that the queue that we'd avoided was still very much in place for 'several miles') Meanwhile Birchanger Services wasn't much easier to negotiate - John called me as we were approaching it to say that they'd been there over 10 minutes and still hadn't found a parking space. Eventually an alternative plan formed, and we ended up meeting them in a lay-by on the A120 just outside Bishop's Stortford - where would we be without mobile phones eh? The rest of our journey North was uneventful in comparison (an excellent Bruce Springsteen interview in this month's 'Mojo' meant that I stayed awake for longer than I otherwise might have!) although with all the earlier delays we ended up arriving just before 6 o'clock - Shirl and myself had left home around 11.30 so a journey that might normally take 3 and a bit hours had taken the best part of double the time that it should have. Bah!
When we arrived Matt was on hand to direct us to The Classic Suite - we loaded in, set up and used what little time was available to us to run through some potential hot spots. Matt had bought us all while ties to wear (if you don't know the material then at least make it look good!) as well as bringing his acoustic guitar with him so that we could continuing rehearsing in The Close Room (our allotted dressing room for the evening) before readying ourselves for a 9 o'clock kick-off. Opening with the inevitable 'Happy Birthday' we played a first set that wasn't without a shaky moment or two but included it's fair share of highlights - when Matt suggested 'The Seeker' I must admit that I wasn't sure that it would work but it sounded good to my ears, and with John behind the drums 'Get It On' couldn't really fail could it? After availing ourselves of a small portion of the mountains of food available in the interval our second set started as the first one had finished - with a full dance floor. It stayed that way pretty much all the way through to our final song (Joey Ramone's arrangement of 'What A Wonderful World' - good choice Matt!) and we all agreed that it had been a great gig. There was even talk of a re-booking at the venue, but even if that doesn't happen we really must do this or something like it again.

We met the long-suffering Shirley just before 4.15 a.m. (that's why I call her 'long-suffering'!) at South Mimms Services; just under 5 hours later I was behind the counter at Balcony Shirts, where a somewhat bleary day ensued. Actually I didn't feel too bad - I'd managed to get a bit of sleep in the van on the way back although I could hardly keep my eyes open by the time I got home. There was time for an hour or so's sleep and a quick plate of food (thanks Shirl!) before it was time to leave for St. Albans where The Upper Cut were making their second appearance at The Mermaid. Last time we had Geoff depping with us on drums, this time Roger was available - we arrived just before the two Terry's and after a quick set-up we were ready for our first set at half past nine. It's only a little pub and in many ways is not an obvious live music venue, but somehow it works well - although fairly sparsely populated when we started by the time we finished our first set with 'Sweet Litttle Rock And Roller' there were a fair few in. Terry the singer was somehow befriended by a chap called Darren (or was it Daryl? I didn't take much notice of him, especially when he continually referred to Terry as 'Tony'. Rule number one - when you meet someone GET THEIR NAME RIGHT. Mind you that means that I've just broken rule number one! Bugger! He kept trying to tell me how good 'Amused to Death' by Roger Waters is - I'm sure it's excellent, but why did he feel that he had to tell me that? Hippie!) who Terry, for reasons best known only to himself, invited to sing a number with us. He had a go at 'Can't Get Enough' - it started off ok but he'd picked a hard song and he was reduced to screaming by the end; I guess he made a better job of it than I would have, but then again I wouldn't have presumed myself able to sing it in the first place... after encoring with 'Sweet Soul Music' there was time for a drink during which I got chatting to some members of local band The 20th Century Boys (good name - I'd suggested that for The Sicilians!) who told me that they 'play the same sort of stuff that you do, but you lot are great!' Nice chaps... meanwhile Mr. Hippie is asking where Richard has gone (he meant Roger - see rule number one above) and increasing the bitterness factor as he bemoaned his fate at the hands of a 'woman' he'd been 'roofing' (I guess the poor little bunny had been supporting her by paying for her to live somewhere - or if she was really unlucky with him - but as you can imagine I wasn't in the slightest bit interested by then) before setting off to bore some other unfortunates leaning on the bar. Overall a good night despite Mr. Hippie, and it should be a good night next Sunday in Uxbridge - oh, did I mention that it's my birthday next weekend?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Turn the volume up, turn the temperature down

And so the heatwave continues, and the same people that were moaning that it was too cold a few months ago are now moaning that it's too hot. Oh well, I suppose it gives them something to do. Maybe I should start?

Mind you it was hot last night. Really hot. I don't actually remember the last time I was so hot on stage - there was a moment during 'Green Onions' that I went to move up the neck during my solo and the palm of my left hand stuck to the back of the guitar neck, causing an extremely peculiar set of notes to emerge. I'd like to think it gave my solo an avant-garde flavour, but I think it was actually just out of tune. Mind you the same thing happened during my 'Sweet Home Chicago' solo so at least there's a chance that it was starting to sound deliberate - that said by then there was so much sweat on the lenses of my glasses that I could hardly see where I was intending to play. See how I suffer for my art? And see how the audience suffers in return? Actually the audience were a game bunch, bravely occupying the dancefloor for much of our 90 minute sweat-fest, at a benefit evening for The Johnson Community Hospital held at The Castle Sports Centre in Spalding. Well to be pedantic we were actually playing in a tent inside the sports centre, a set-up that no doubt contributed to the temperature on and indeed offstage. Steve was on drums, Neil played Jake for the first time in 18 months (he did it really well too) and Steve was on trumpet for a show that contained a version of that well known Blues Brothers classic 'Long Train Running' that was described by Squirrel after the show as 'the strangest that I've ever played'. It was probably the strangest that I've ever played too. Still they all kept dancing so it can't have been that bad. Hopefully.

Friday night was a hot one too, at The General Eliott in Uxbridge where a rare-ish 4 piece line up of The Good Old Boys (Alan on vocals, Nick on bass, Pete on guitar and Richard on drums - find out more about them here) played 2 rockin 'n' rollin' sets to an appreciative audience. Alan seemed fully recovered from a recent leg operation, Nick and Richard were as solid as ever and Pete put aside a technical problem in the first set ('I set up too quickly and didn't plug a lead in properly') to deliver some splendid solos. I felt they missed the extra guitar here and there (Simon was off gigging elsewhere and as Alan put it, 'there's not much room in these little pubs so we thought we'd keep it as a 4 piece') but it was great to see them play. Then again, it usually is.

Thursday night didn't seem to be quite so hot, but it was a very strange gig all the same - following on from our show at Le QuecumBar in Battersea earlier this year one of the oddest line up's of The Chicago Blues Brothers Band made another appearance, at Cambridge Cottage in Kew Gardens. Matt and Mike are Jake and Elwood, Richard's on sax and I'm on guitar with backing tracks providing the rest of the accompaniment, at an evening for the Hillingdon Hospital Consultants Association. So far so good, but now the fun starts - there's a volume restriction device in the room we're playing in, and it's set at a very low (make that VERY low!) 85 decibels. How low is 85 decibels? The short answer is 'very', but as this chart shows, it's actually not much louder than a telephone dialing tone. Yes you read that bit right. And what happens if we exceed 85db? The power gets cut for 20 seconds. Bugger! While we're setting up we realise that we can quite easily shout loudly enough to cause the power to be cut, and all ask questions like 'why do they bother with live music here at all?' to little or no avail. The staff are as helpful but there's an air of 'we don't normally have people like you in here' about proceedings - well, I thought there was anyway. After setting up Mike, Matt and myself (Richard arrived around 8.30 as he was busy elsewhere) went over to The Coach And Horses Hotel to meet up with Simon Small who's a mate of Matt's and who I've depped for several times in Mario's Blues Brothers show but have never actually met - we've talked on the phone but fairly obviously are never on the same gig together! Suitably refreshed it's back to the venue for some food and to await the call to arms. We play a 50-ish minute set which understandably never really gets going from our point of view - the power goes of during the first song and it's a struggle from then on in, with Richard and the BB's eventually using unplugged microphones and myself scratching away on barely audible guitar. Then again there was much merriment from the audience and, incredibly, enquiries for band bookings so I suppose it all went well - I always feel like we haven't done our jobs properly in circumstances like this, but I guess it's the audience reaction that's important and they all seemed very happy with things. Oh well - time for me to start moaning about the weather then...

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The National Trust disco

Sorry about all that ranting last time - it was the heat I tell you, the heat... but you can click here for the last word (in these hallowed pages at least) on England's calamitous World Cup campaign courtesy of the excellent Monkey Picks blog. I couldn't have put it better myself, as they say...

Funnily enough my phone came back on a couple of hours after I finished the afore-mentioned cyber-rant; I'm not sure it's working properly (a NETWORK LOST message keeps appearing which is a bit of a worry) but at least I could see if Macca or E.C. had left me a message. They hadn't. Oh well - maybe next time?

Meanwhile back in the land of the gigging The CBB roadshow rolled in to Surrey on Friday for an outdoor show at Polesden Lacey. Bev's in for Richard on sax, and with Ian away with Ray Davies Chris is on keyboards; the voice on the entryphone on the outskirts of the property sounds suspiciously like Stephen Hawking, and when the long-suffering Shirley and myself arrived at the stage ('just drive up to it' said Pete - so we did!) everything was set up and ready for soundchecking. Quite how we managed to attempt versions of 'All Right Now' (I made a right mess of the solo!) and 'Brown Sugar' with Pete on bass (Squirrel was due along later) and Matt on drums is a bit beyond me (thinking about it how '2-4-6-8 Motorway' made an appearance is a bit of a mystery too) but we eventually got back to the script with 'Sweet Home Chicago'. It sounded good to me but since I've still got the hearing problems that I mentioned last time I'm probably not the best person to judge things - monitor problems for Tracy and Pete (both on backing vocals) persisted all the way through the gig so sadly it wasn't all good news. Backstage before the gig Matt got a bit confused as to whether he is a member of The National Trust or The National Front (definitely the former!) and some very helpful staff bought in copious amounts of sandwichs and organic lager - excellent! The show itself was a bit of an odd one - we played well but it all seemed a bit, for want of a better word, 'muted' although the fact that there was a large dip in the ground (which would have made a good mosh pit although the only people I saw in it all night were bored-looking security men) between us and the audience could well have contributed to this. Not a bad show by any means but there was a bit of an odd feeling at the end, if you know what I mean.

One of the people who'd been trying to contact me in the earlier part of the week (actually he was pretty much the only person trying to contact me, but obviously I'm not going to admit that here) was Pete Kerr, guitarist with local heroes The Cane Toads and all round good bloke. He'd had a call from Caithriona at The Half Moon in Harrow who needed a band for the coming Saturday evening, and, confirming his 'all round good bloke' status, Pete suggested The Upper Cut (and yes, we're definitely called that now!) After a quick (landline) ring-round everyone - Terry on vocals, Terry on bass and Roger on drums - confirmed their availability, and the gig was on. We all turned up at the venue in the midst of the Spain vs. Paraguay game (everyone seemed to be missing penalties in the bit that I saw!) and attempted to set up as unobtrusively as possible. Terry the bass was on fine if rather surreal form - his opening comment of 'I think I've had flu all week - well I haven't had all the symptoms but it did take me 4 hours to put my socks on' will stay with me for quite some time... since Pete depped for me at a recent show we invited him along to join us for a few songs, and he ended up doing 5 or 6 with us all of which sounded good to my admittedly still-ailing ears. There was the inevitable exodus at the end of the game but those who were there saw the clock above the stage fall off the wall and nearly land on Terry the singer's head just a few moments after Caithriona had asked us to turn down a bit as they'd recently had complaints about volume levels from the neighbours. We weren't that loud! Terry the bass uttered the immortal words 'I was playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order' at the end of 'Layla' (he was right, he was!) and there were a few, shall we say, unusual arrangements here and there but overall we were pretty good even though I say so myself, and we've been asked to play there again next month (on Friday 13th!) so we must have done something right. It's good when that happens - I'll be cheering up if I'm not careful...