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...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shepherds Bush city limits

I met Kirsty MacColl once. I was at a music trade show at, I think, The Wembley Conference Centre sometime in the mid-1990's when I ran into ex-Ruts drummer Dave Ruffy who was playing for her at the time - we were talking and she sort of appeared from behind him if you know what I mean (he's a big chap, she was a small lady) and said hello. She seemed to be a very nice person, and we had a mock-argument over who would buy the last guitar stand from one of the stalls there (there was no argument, I let her have it of course!) as well as talking for a couple of minutes. I always enjoyed her music - great songs don't you think? - and was very saddened to hear of her untimely death back in 2000. On Sunday night I missed Delta Echoes at The Load Of Hay (I'm told they were excellent so we'll have to get them back so that I can see them!) as myself and Squirrel attended the Kirsty MacColl tribute concert at The Shepherds Bush Empire, and a very fine evening it was too. With a house band that included the excellent Gary Sandford on guitar the highlights were many and varied - I thought Alison Moyet was particularly excellent as was Billy Bragg who despite suffering from a heavy cold bought the house down with 'Free World' and 'A New England'. Compare Phill Jupitus sang 'Fifteen Minutes' and 'There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis' (!) although probably the most unlikely vocal of the evening was the duet between Amy MacDonald and Mr. Ruffy on 'Fairytale Of New York' - Phill announced that Shane MacGowan was 'ill' whilst barely able to keep a straight face before recounting how the event organiser had answered his mobile phone earlier in the day with the words 'oh it's Shane's agent, I wonder what this could be about?' Great stuff. We were invited to the aftershow party at the nearby Shepherds Bar (oh it's wild'n'wacky showbiz world dah-ling!) where Dave revealed that he'd been singing 'Fairytale' at rehearsal all week - just as well under the circumstances - while ex-Ruts bassman Segs sported a fine line in gangster suits and everybody ran off when Billy Bragg approached for fear of catching his cold. Oh and they didn't serve coffee which was a shame as Squirrel wanted one. Nice bar though!

Last night it was back to Shepherds Bush for an Upper Cut rehearsal, at Bush Studios on the Uxbridge Road. We've not played together since August so in addition to trying a few new songs we went back over some nearly-new material and ran through a few old favourites. For the second night running there was no coffee (maybe it's a 'Shepherds-Bush-thing'?) but the band sounded good, and with a worrying lack of Chicago Blues Brothers gigs next month it'll be good to get out and play something a bit rockier for a change. If you're in the Uxbridge area we're back at The Dolphin on Friday 29th October so come along and see if we've learned the songs properly. And is it just me or is there always a police car racing around Shepherds Bush roundabout with it's siren blaring?

Talking of gigs this Saturday 16th October sees the 3rd annual Paul Fox tribute night at The Breakspear Arms in Ruislip - I can't be there myself as I'm gigging elsewhere but I've provided some CD copies of some rare singles that Paul played on which will be played over the P.A. in between the bands, and if you're a fan of all things Ruts-related it should be a good night. Maybe I'll make it along next year? I might even take my guitar...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Bye George

George McFall died yesterday. He was 62 years old. Through his work promoting gigs at venues in and around London he was a tirelessly enthusiastic supporter of live music in it's various forms, and, most importantly, was a very nice guy. I last saw him at The Ali Mac Band gig at The Bulls Head in Barnes back in August, where he recommended an upcoming Pat McManus gig in Ruislip; when I said that I'd do my best to get along and that Shirley might come with me he smiled - 'the glamour quota of the evening will go up by 100%'...

Thanks for doing it George - we'll all miss you.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Dubai? Us?

As I sit here typing this, my latest missive to the masses (I wish!) I'm very aware that I shouldn't be sitting here at all. This is not an admission that I've finally realised that I could be doing something more worthwhile with my time than ranting in Cyberspace (as if!?!) but that I shouldn't actually be here - I should be in Dubai... Pete, Mike and myself (along with a band made up of local musicians) were booked to play at a festival in said far-off land this coming Friday, but sometime on Monday afternoon Pete finally pulled the plug on the whole increasingly dubious affair. It had been shaky for a while, with arrangements changing all the time and all too ominously - first we were flying out on Wednesday, rehearsing Thursday, gigging on Friday then home on Saturday, then we were leaving on Tuesday to rehearse Wednesday with a possible extra show on Thursday although no flight details were available for either of the options. Suspicions were further raised when Pete Googled our hotel and found that it wasn't due to open for several weeks; I spoke to him Friday and we had a 'cut-off point is Monday' discussion, although with hindsight I think cut-off point had already come and gone - when we spoke Monday afternoon he sounded at best jaded and at worst furious with the whole thing. I've never been there so speaking personally I'd like to have gone, not least to see what the place is like - you hear so many conflicting reports don't you? - but strange as it may sound I don't feel too bad about it not happening. Maybe it's a case of 'what you never had, you never miss'?

Still there was a bit of time away from home last week - having not had anything approaching a holiday in what feels like ages myself and the long-suffering Shirley managed a few days away in Dorset, and very enjoyable it was too - we managed a return visit to The Town Mill Cheesemonger and bought far too much of their wares (always a good thing methinks!) as well as visiting Monkey World which we'd not managed to get to on previous holidays. Excellent. It stayed dry for most of our time there although the last day saw rain like something out of The Bible; that doesn't necessarily explain how I ended up at the excellent Nevada Music in Portsmouth (it was 'kind-of-on-the-way-home', honest!) trying out Blackstar amplifiers so I'll attempt an explanation another time, although it might have something to do with last month's 'rock classics rehearsal'...

Saturday night it was time for something a bit different - appearing with Awaken at The Old Fox in Ickenham. Pete (guitar) and Martin (vocals) played a few songs with The Upper Cut at our Uxbridge gig back in August, and they invited your humble narrator to reciprocate by joining them alongside Ken (bass) and Russell (drums) for 'a couple of numbers' at this show. Never being one to turn down a chance to show off with a guitar in public I of course said yes, and I'm glad that I did since it turned out to be a highly enjoyable evening - I ended up playing rather more than a 'couple' of songs, including a few with a friend of theirs who they described as 'tiny Tina Turner' (guess who she sounded like?!?) and any number of songs with Martin at the helm. Great stuff. And I spent a fair bit of time talking to ex-Lurkers guitarist Pete Stride who I'd not seen for a while, not least about GLM - check out their latest song 'Chemical Landslide' in the Downloads section of their website - it's brilliant!

Sunday saw the first Sunday night gig at Tropic At Ruislip since, well the last one that I played there (!) back in June; that one was with The Flying Squad (it's about time they reappeared don't you think?!?) and this one featured The Ali Mac Band in the extended line-up that Ali refers to as The AMT Band. ('Ali-Mac-with-a-twist') They'd rehearsed in my absence while we were away and I'd done some work on my own with the songs while we were away - sometime in the course of our holiday I made what for me is the radical decision of playing slide guitar in open E tuning for some of the songs. I'm not sure this was the best decision that I've ever made as I don't think I did it particularly well (maybe a bit more practice is in order?!?) but it was a good gig with Ali in fine voice and the band playing well throughout. And it was good to be back at The Tropic - there are some great gigs coming up there, not least Pat McManus on the 17th of this month which I must do my best to get along to. And talking of gigs The CBB's are in Norwich next Thursday, I'm in Croydon with T.V. Smith next Friday, and The Upper Cut have their first gig for a while next Saturday in Bethnal Green so that's something to look forward to - but in the meantime we're here instead of there and as a result I've got no gigs this weekend. Bah!