Thursday, December 29, 2011

'Charlie! Help!'

Sad news - Cheeta, the chimpanzee in the original Tarzan films has died. Or has he? After all the 'character' was apparently played by several chimps, and on at least one occasion by a child in a monkey outfit...

In the meantime the YouTube clips just keep on coming - East found this extraordinary item which is simply too good not to post here. If you cancel out the onscreen advert you get subtitles for the lyrics, thereby ensuring that 'Start Me Up' will never sound the same again... I first encountered StSanders back in November 2007 when their spoof videos managed to annoy the people parodied in them so much they they were removed from YouTube by the powers that be; maybe all that money and acclaim takes away your sense of humour?

And I've even managed to do a couple of gigs in between watching YouTube clips -

Christmas Eve gigs are almost always a bit weird. I think there's a sense of anticipation that almost always isn't lived up to; either that or people just get too drunk too quickly... I've not played a Christmas Eve gig for a few years but this year saw your humble narrator appearing with Big Al Reed at The Kings Arms in Harefield. Al's pretty fearless when it comes to material - he phoned me the day before to ask if I 'could have a look at that Joe Jackson song, you know the one...' that'll be 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' then. And he hasn't got a backing track 'but you'll be ok doing it on guitar won't you?' Yes Al, of course I will... in the event it sounded rather good somewhere towards the end of our second set, which also included another guest appearance from Pete from Awaken on several songs, any number of people asking for 'Mustang Sally' (Al couldn't get the backing track to work so me and Pete played it) and a young lady asking for us to play 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' - we didn't know it so Al put the track over the P.A. while we were packing our gear away, and as we were leaving she came over and thanked us for 'singing it for her'. Oh and the fight that everyone thought was going to happen didn't happen - until right at the very end when a father and son squared up at each other. Happy Christmas Harefield.

The Uppercut played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge on Boxing night - Noel the guv'nor had originally intended it to be an 'invite only' show for pub regulars although somewhere nearer to the day it became a 'standard' gig. And a good gig it was, with the band playing well (I thought it was a better show than the one at the Load of Hay the previous weekend) and our set including a few new songs and a couple that we hadn't played for ages. It's always a good band to play in so let's hope we can get a bit more work next year.

Talking of work (or at least what passes for work in my little World) I have spent much of today revising songs for an Utter Madness gig on New Year's Eve; I've not played with them since July so there's been a fair bit to get through. I'll let you know how it goes... and I don't remember the last year that I gigged on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year's Eve - if only the next couple of months were as busy as this!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who'll love Aladdin Sane?

Hmm... I don't remember this photo being taken. And who's that guy on the far left?

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the Balcony Shirts Christmas card. And why not?

It's been very - make that very - busy in the shop, not least on Saturday when your humble narrator found himself to be more than a little worse for wear after a night at the General Elliot watching The Good Old Boys. My condition had little to do with the band (who gave a typically excellent performance) but was more to do with the oceanic quantity of lager consumed by myself and East - perhaps his one word text message to me the next morning said all that needs to be said... and we've continued to be busy all week, which is good news in these troubled times.

The Upper Cut played at The Load Of Hay on Sunday for the first time since my birthday back in July. From my point of view we took a while to get going, with our first set feeling a little bit too much like hard work although the audience reaction suggested otherwise. Pete from Awaken joined us on guitar for several numbers, and with us being called back for several encores even I had cheered up (a bit) by the end of the show. We're playing again on Boxing Night at a secret regulars / invite only show in Uxbridge - it's like being in the Pistols!

And following on from the last posting's YouTube-fest a momentous televisual event occurred during a Top Of The Pops Christmas special broadcast on Wednesday evening, when footage of David Bowie performing 'The Jean Jenie' was shown for the first time since 1973. It was thought to have been lost forever thanks to the BBC's ridiculous policy of wiping recordings, but cameraman John Henshall kept a copy so that he could show how a camera lens that he'd developed was working. The story even made the evening news, and you can see why here - it features Bowie and The Spiders From Mars playing live, with the band in their glam rock finery and the mighty Mick Ronson at his magnificent best. Boy could he play guitar. It doesn't get much better than this - but I wonder what else Mr. Henshall has in his loft?

Well that clip is enough to give me a happy Christmas! I hope that you have one too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'And oh I don't know why...'

No gigs for your humble narrator this week, which is not a good situation for someone who's attempting to make a living out of playing the guitar. Bah! I can't remember a December that was this quiet... anyway here are a few YouTube clips that I've seen lately - after all, who wants to play the guitar when you can watch other people doing it? (Well, actually, I do... which reminds me, The Uppercut play an 'it's-nearly-Christmas' gig at The Load of Hay this coming Sunday - if you're in the area why not come along?)

When I was a lad there was a band called The Clash. They were very good. Very good indeed. In fact I've been known to say that one of the best things about being old is that you were able to see The Clash play. (On bad days I've been known to say that one of the ONLY good things about being old is that you were able to see The Clash, but that's another story...) Some amazing film of the band at The New York Palladium in 1979 has recently surfaced - originally silent, it has been painstakingly synced up with a bootleg audio recording of the show, the full story of which can be found on The Clash Blog along with the footage which is also on YouTube here. It's a famous show in the history of the band as it's the night that Paul Simonon smashed up his bass guitar, as immortalised on the cover of their 'London Calling' album. While it's not the greatest quality it captures the fearsome power of the band at their brilliant best, and I for one wish there was more of it, not least for the rare sight of Mick Jones playing 'English Civil War' on acoustic rather than electric guitar.
(Incidentally if you've never seen the electric version then here is - I told you they were very good...)

If you've ever been mad enough to attempt to learn to play a musical instrument then you'll know that it can be a very rewarding experience; you'll also know that it can be extremely frustrating, not least when you know what you're supposed to be playing but can't quite manage to get the sound out of the instrument. My good friend and Awaken guitarist Pete sent me a link for a clip of 'The Angriest Guitarist in the World' - it seems as though he's known as The Treeman and has been getting quite a lot of attention on YouTube. I of course have never heard of him before and therefore can heartily recommend this clip of the man himself in action - the moment at 2 min 18 sec where an edit cuts to our man holding an acoustic guitar that's being held together with what looks like masking tape is well worth savouring. There's a second clip here, and various other links to actual songs (as opposed to violent sweary rants) including the one that he's attempting to get right in the first clip can also be found - I'm not sure that it's not all a little bit contrived here and there, but it's certainly very entertaining.

I found this extraordinary clip of an English language class at The Sullivan School Kindergarten in South Korea on the ever-excellent Monkey Picks blog; I wish this sort have thing had gone on at our school, although of course when I was their age The Ramones were still several years in the future. I guess we could have had a teacher with an electric guitar leading us all in Beatles songs? Anyway it's a brilliant clip, especially the bit where the kids at the front can't wait to sing 'third verse, different from the first' and get back to the pogoing... and here are Da Brudders themselves playing the same song 'Judy Is A Punk' on The Don Kirshner's Rock Concert TV show in 1977. Analysis is futile my friends, other than to say something along the lines of 'that's rock 'n' roll'...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sittin' on top of the world

I've just found out that the great Hubert Sumlin died on December 4th. It's his funeral today.

If you don't know the name then buy yourself any compilation album of recordings Howlin' Wolf made for Chess Records in the 1950s and '60s. That's him on lead guitar. Put simply it's some of the best electric blues guitar playing of all time. He also worked with Muddy Waters, but it's the Wolf's recordings that have won him a place in history - and rightly so. They are fabulous.

In latter years he's been a regular contributor to the Crossroads Guitar Festivals organised by Eric Clapton, who has made no secret of his fervant admiration of Sumlin's playing. (Here is a great clip from last year's festival - note E.C. singing along!) And the fact that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards paid for his funeral speaks volumes for his influence on them and therefore subsequent generations of musicians.

I met him once. I never tire of retelling the story, as is evidenced by the fact that I told it here as early as October 2006, just after I started blogging. You can read it here if you like - I hope my writing has improved since then... but the profound nature of his comments have never left me, and in times of self doubt (of which there are many) they come back to me along with his enthusiasm for music and the kindness and encouragement that he showed to me, a total stranger among the many that someone like him must have met. My brief encounter with him showed him to be a absolute gentleman, and I've not heard or read anything anywhere that contradicts that.

His importance in the story of the electric guitar cannot and must not be underestimated.
Thanks Hubert.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

One step backwards, two step forwards

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of it's noisiest authorities insisted on it's being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only'
- 'A Tale Of Two Cities' (1859) by Charles Dickens

Back in the Middle Ages it was illegal to use the musical interval of a tritone in a composition. Medieval ears liked to hear perfect intervals when listening to music (for an explanation of the musical terms used in the ranting that follows then please click here, and I apologise in advance if I'm even more pretentious than usual in the next few paragraphs) so the sound of a flattened fifth was considered to be the most dissonant of them all as it split the octave exactly in half and therefore was as far away from home as could be imagined. Some (so-called) learned folk found the sound so offensive that they named the interval in question diabolus in musica - the 'devil in music' and wanted anyone who used it in a composition to be put on trial for witchcraft. It sounds crazy, but, incredibly, it's true.
Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1960s and the sound of the flattened fifth has been picked up by those well-known purveyors of witchcraft The Jimi Hendrix Experience whose classic single 'Purple Haze' starts with a tritone between Bb on the guitar and E on the bass; soon after Black Sabbath are using it in songs like 'Symptom Of The Universe' and 'Black Sabbath' itself, and bands like Metallica and Slayer use it extensively to this day, with Slayer even going so far as to name one of their albums 'Diabolus In Musica'. I suppose heavy metal musicians and indeed fans like the idea of being allied to Satan and all his little wizards although as far as I know no one involved has ever been put on trial for witchcraft; I must admit I always thought was a rather extreme thing to suggest for simply putting two musical notes next to each other, but what do I know?
Well I thought it was a rather extreme thing to do until sometime around 9.30 pm last Wednesday, when I found myself gripped by an unreasonable desire to inflict pain, torture, painful torture, even death on Phil Collins and Lamont Dozier for writing 'Loco In Acapulco'. If you've got five minutes have a listen to it here and tell me if I'm being unreasonable. You might disagree but I cannot for the life of me work out how The Four Tops, one of the greatest Motown acts of all time, managed to get involved with such unspeakably unlistenable tosh. Or am I wrong? Is it actually better than classics like 'Reach Out I'll Be There', 'Standing In The Shadows Of Love' and 'Bernardette'? What do you think? There's not a flattened fifth in sight but as far as I'm concerned it's proof that The Devil exists. No punishment is too great for anybody who had anything to do with the production of this song. Kill 'em all! Now! Argh!
In case you were wondering what I was up to as I contemplated such murderous violence, I was on stage with Pete and Matt (Jake and Elwood) and Richard (saxophone) playing a Chicago Blues Brothers playback show in front of a room full of people who couldn't have cared less whether we were there or not. I've more or less driven from my mind where we were and what we were doing there, and I have absolutely no idea why we were playing the song in question as it's got about as much to do with the Blues Brothers as, say, 'I Can't Help Myself'. Mind you we played that as well. As I put my guitar down at the end of the show I thought to myself 'that was my least enjoyable show of 2011'. And it was. It was horrific. The only thing that got me through it was the thought of the next two nights with Ruts D.C....

...which thankfully didn't let me down. (I don't know what I would have done if they had!) The Bournemouth Academy show was great but the London show at The Forum in Kentish Town was something else again. We'd bought 'In A Rut' into the set at Bournemouth - when we ran through it at the soundcheck we got a round of applause from The Alabama 3 members and crew who saw it, which bode well for the performance of the song that evening. The show was the best one so far, but the next night pushed things to greater heights; with the venue pretty much full before we went on we started well with 'Whatever We Do' followed by two songs from the new album 'Mighty Soldier' and 'One Step'. Molara's fine vocal on 'Jah War' got a great reaction from the dancefloor before a medley of a new song 'Smiling Culture' and the old Ruts classic 'S.U.S.' led us into 'Fools'. Next it's the afore-mentioned 'In A Rut'; Segs had invited Ainsley (who sings on some of the new album) to join us for the middle section which you can see here - he's very good isn't he? We prefaced 'Babylon's Burning' with a short section from 'Weak Heart' - as I put my guitar down at the end of the show I thought to myself 'that was my most enjoyable show of 2011'. And it was. It was terrific. Does that mean that I've just proved that God exists?!?

Back to basics on Saturday night, with The Uppercut returning to The Dolphin for the first time in a while; the evening marked the 24th anniversary of Noel and Bridie first taking the pub over, and was a suitably wild 'n' wacky affair. We hadn't played together for a while (they'd played some shows while I was away in Dubai with Pete depping on guitar) and so were a bit loose here and there but the energy of the performance more than made up for the odd mistake. Well, I think it did... Noel took to the microphone towards the end of the evening to thank everyone for coming and then to lead everyone in what he referred to as 'the universal football song', 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. A cracking evening.

My third Sunday afternoon gig in four weeks (I don't think that's ever happened before!) saw myself and Big Al Reed return to The Feathers in Chalfont St. Giles. No sign of the chap with Tourettes Syndrome this time (apparently he'd been out the night before) but everyone there seemed to enjoy our efforts despite Al suffering from a bad throat. He's invited a mate of his called Barry along to play a few songs on slide guitar - when I asked him what he was going to play he didn't really know as he was not used to playing solo, and would I like to join him on lead guitar? Of course I would... as he started the first song I realised that I had no idea what he was going to play, or indeed if he was able to play at all - fortunately he was excellent, and it was really good to play some blues with him.

With Christmas looming it's all systems go at Balcony Shirts, meaning that I've been in the shop every day this week. But The Uppercut were out again last night, at The Six Bells in Brentford celebrating bass maestro Terry Peaker's 60th birthday. He'd invited a lot of his musician friends along, many of whom got up to play a song or two - it all got a bit chaotic in places with far too much hippie-ish jamming for my not-at-all hippie-ish liking, but everything went well and Terry was well pleased with the evening.

So there you have it - in the course of this posting I've played my best gig of the year, my worst gig of the year, and proved that God and The Devil both (probably) exist. Not a bad week's work then...

Monday, November 28, 2011

The director's cut

I was saddened by the news that Ken Russell has died, aged 84. Always a controversial figure, he turned the already reasonably bonkers story of 'Tommy' into one of the maddest films any of us are ever likely to see; mind you most of his films managed to annoy people in one way or another, but it always seemed to me that said people either wanted to be annoyed, or indeed deserved to be annoyed by them. In these days of mediocrity we are sadly unlikely to see his like again, which is a great shame.

On a lighter note I had an absolutely splendid time on Music Scene Investigation last night - Tom, Ian and Rich were all on good form and I managed to ramble on about all sorts of things for what seemed like ages. If you'd like to see the show then click here but be warned - I've got those big headphones on again, and I still can't hear the bass... I could definitely hear the bass at The Load Of Hay where I managed to catch the last few numbers from Pimp My Jazz who feature Terry from The Uppercut on said instrument - you can always hear him! From what I saw an heard the band sounded tighter and more together than their first show there back in June (which was their debut gig) and it'll be interesting to see where they go from here. It's The Undersound this Sunday 4th, then The Uppercut on December 18th - come on down, as someone once said...

Time for another Ruts D.C. gig supporting The Alabama 3, this one on Saturday at The Academy in Bristol. The Static Jacks started the evening, and from what I saw of them they started it very well indeed; they certainly got the energy level up and got a lot of attention in the rapidly-filling venue. We walked out onto the stage to a fair amount of applause (and at least one shout for 'Babylon's Burning' - we finished the show with it) and played a tighter set than in Manchester, with audience reaction building up to the extent that we probably could have done an encore. It's good when that happens! Both Dave and Segs seemed to be pleased by the way things went for us, which bodes well for this week's shows in Bournemouth and London. And I managed to see most of the Alabama 3's set, and very good it was too.

It was my first Uppercut gig for what feels like ages on Friday, at The Half Moon in Harrow. The gig was originally supposed to feature Awaken who have since broken up in the interim period between booking the gig and now leaving guitarist Pete (who deps for me in The Uppercut when I'm elsewhere) with a gig but no band. Rather splendidly he suggested that we could do the show, which I'm pleased to say that our new friend Hetty (who books the gigs at the venue - she's Ginger Baker's daughter! Really!) thought was a good idea. To repay Pete's generosity in putting us up for the gig we invited him to come along to play a few songs with us, and with this in mind he and I got together on Thursday evening to see what songs would sound good with two guitars rather than one. In no time at all we'd written ten or so songs on a piece of paper - at which point we decided that we'd done enough work and went down the pub. It could all have gone tragically wrong at this point, but it actually went very right indeed (I wouldn't have been writing about it here if it had been terrible!) with Pete ending up playing with us for most of the evening, dep drummer Geoff excelling himself and Hetty offering us three gigs in the new year. As I said earlier, it's good when that happens!

More gigs this week, then it all get worryingly quiet...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

'Well begun is half done'

This guitar-lark is a very strange job sometimes. Thursday night I'm with Ruts DC, Sunday afternoon I'm at the Village Hall in Lockerley, Hampshire with The Briefcase Blues Brothers. The event was a 'combined 100th birthday party', a concept that I hadn't previously encountered although it's apparently becoming quite popular. Well, the BBB band had played one before... anyway the idea is that the couple in question (Sue and James) are aged 51 and 49 - a total of 100. Clever huh? Well I though it was! We were to be a surprise to all apart from the couple's 4 daughters and so were secreted in The Reading Room until it was time for us to go on - judging by the looks that I saw as the curtains opened at 2.15 pm and we swung into 'I Can't Turn You Loose' (probably best described as ranging from bemusement to horror) I think we'd certainly remained a secret... our first set actually went down very well all things considered, with a bit of dancing and not too many people leaving the room with their fingers in their ears. We returned to The Reading Room for the interval to be met by the daughters telling us that we were 'really brilliant' but everyone was going home now as they weren't expecting the event to go on past 3 o'clock so we might as well not do our second set. We'd had plenty to eat, been looked after really well, they'd all been really nice people - oh well, off home then! In the meantime Adam the drummer told me that I should try crunchy nut cornflakes with banana for breakfast ('with a cup of coffee it's like banoffee pie!' I tried it - he's right!) and everyone realised that several hours in an area where there's no mobile phone signal for anyone happens very rarely these days.

I was expecting to have to rush home and then on to the Load of Hay for the Steve Simpson gig, but sadly Steve had to cancel the show due to illness. Let's hope he's ok and we can get him to play in the new year. In the meantime it's Pimp My Jazz this coming Sunday (27th) evening, which I'll be late for as I'm making my second appearance on Music Scene Investigation. Full details can be found on the MSI website, and it all starts at 9 pm; they're currently having a poll to find the 'best guest of 2011' in the MSI awards - if you feel like voting for me (or indeed anyone else) then you can do so here Excellent!

Last night myself and the long-suffering Shirley attending the 2011 Prince's Trust Rock Gala at The Royal Albert Hall - not the type of event that your humble narrator would normally attend (you'll see why in a minute!) but the lure of a solo performance from Pete Townshend proved too much for me to resist. The man himself was on good form, playing a 5 song set (since you've asked - 'I'm One', 'The Acid Queen', 'Corrina Corrina', 'Drowned' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again') and sounding great to my admittedly rather biased ears. He seemed to be in a good mood too (for once!) explaining the meanings behind the songs more than he normally does, and previewing his version of 'Corrina Corrina' which is due to be released next year on an Amnesty International benefit CD collection of Bob Dylan songs. The rest of the evening was a (mostly) enjoyable mixture of stuff from a suitably eclectic mixture of performers - I must admit I'm normally not really a fan of this type of thing as there's far too much fawning to the Royal Family for me, but that was minimal here. And Shirley had a good time, and I liked a lot more than I thought I would... I think I'd better stop now before I start slagging off some of the other acts... there, I've stopped. Trust me, it's for the best. No really, it is.

Friday, November 18, 2011

21st Century Ruts D.C.

Last night, Thursday 17th November 2011, I played with Ruts D.C. at The Ritz in Manchester.

How the hell did that happen?

I last saw Ruts D.C. in 1981 and 1982. It was the same show as it was New Year's Eve (clever eh?) at The Fulham Greyhound. It was an incredible evening. Details are a bit sketchy here and there (you know why...) but I'm pretty sure the support band were Auntie And The Men From Uncle (very strange but oddly compulsive, with Esso on drums) followed by Captain Sensible, Segs and Rat Scabies giving an impromptu performance of 'What Do You Give The Man Who's Got Everything?' from the Captain's solo single 'This Is Your Captain Speaking' before Ruts D.C. came on. They were amazing. Amazing. AMAZING. As good as any band I've ever seen. I've got a signed setlist somewhere. And that was almost exactly 30 years ago. Amazing.

I was a fan. I'm still a fan. But now I'm playing in the band. How the hell did that happen?

I asked myself that very question as I sat in Frank's Cafe in Uxbridge Station at 9 o'clock yesterday morning. The waitress had just bought me some beans on toast. I'd asked for brown bread, but she'd bought white. It didn't matter.

'When I'm up North I like to spend a couple of hours in a Little Chef - you know, extra beans, do a crossword or two, let my food go down and then get stuck into the Arctic Roll, you know what I mean'.
We're on the M40 - Seamus is less-than-seriously planning the next few hours while attempting to make sense on the passenger seat climate control, Dave is behind the wheel being highly amused by Seamus's comments and I'm sitting behind Dave reading the latest edition of Guitar and Bass magazine. Manchester is around 3 hours away; it's a lovely bright afternoon, we've got the soundtrack to 'Pulp Fiction' on the CD player and the mood is good - and why not?

So how the hell did that happen? How the hell am I playing for a band that I used to follow 30 years ago? Well for a start there was the rehearsal for the Paul Fox benefit show with Henry Rollins on vocals, when I discovered that all those hours playing along with 'The Crack' and 'Grin And Bear It' (and indeed 'Animal Now' and 'Rhythm Collision volume 1') meant that I could play the songs almost without thinking. I discovered I could do the same thing for the same reason with The Sex Pistols material when I depped with The Sex Pistols Experience and The Pistols. And The Commitments and Blues Brothers stuff wasn't hard either. Weird. Some people would call it wasted youth - but what do they know?

I used to talk to the band members at gigs. They were always friendly, always had a bit of time for the fans. I liked that. It stuck with me. I decided that if ever I was ever lucky enough to be in a band then I'd talk to anyone that ever wanted to talk to me. And I've been lucky enough to be in quite a few bands - I hope I've always been as friendly to people as Ruts D.C. (and indeed The Ruts) were to me.

Somewhere on the M6 Dave's car started playing up. A barrage of swearing from all concerned wouldn't make the dashboard light go off - 'they said that they'd fixed this' said Dave as we shuddered towards the hard shoulder, 'it's done this a few times, it might clear in a minute...' As he said that, it cleared. Good.
We arrived in Manchester just before 5 o'clock. We passed the Peace And Love Barbers (run by Mohammad Ali) and The Red Sea Coffee Shop; as we turned into Whitworth Street Dave gestured - 'The Hacienda - I remember it well'. After a bit of manoeuvring we parked on the double yellow lines outside the front doors of The Ritz to unload after which Dave went off to park the car as I ask Seamus if he'd played at the venue before - 'late '80s I think, with Iggy Pop'. I'd been watching The Stooges on DVD earlier - a good omen.
The Alabama 3 are soundchecking - a sample of Ray Winstone's voice booms out into the cavernous auditorium as I'm fixing the guitar strap in place. Segs is on bass, he makes a comment that it's 'time for the support band to have a go, after all we don't want any trouble from them now do we?' He smiles at me, a bit weakly, he looks as nervous as I fell i.e. a bit but not too bad.
We set up across the front of the stage. My amp is on the keyboard riser and I'm standing next to Steve the guitarist's pedalboard. London Transport still haven't found my pedalboard (and I fear they never will) so I've borrowed a Carbon Copy delay pedal from ex-Awaken guitarist Pete (thanks mate) and I've dug out a Bad Monkey overdrive pedal (which I have as a spare for the Tube Screamer that I use with the Blues Brothers shows) and a Micro Amp as a volume boost for solos. They sound good, but I really miss my old Boss Chorus pedal. If I don't get the board back, that's the one that I'm going to have to replace first.
I'm stage left (on the right as you look from the audience) with Molara in front of me - she suggests that I move a bit to the right so that people can see me, which I do. Segs is on my right, Dave is next to him and Seamus is way away from me on the other side of the drum kit. We're using loops on two tracks so Dave has his computer on a table to his left, after a bit of monitor adjustments it all sounds good. We also run through 'Babylon's Burning' with John Robb on vocals who's joining us for that number, it goes a bit wrong at the end with John saying that he was waiting for a guitar cue that's on the recording and Segs saying that I'm playing it just like the recording, we try to run through it again but there's no time as they're about to open the doors...
In the dressing room there are a few cans of coke and bottles of beer which go down well with all concerned. With Dave suggesting that we dress 'in suits, a bit gangster-ish' there are hats to try on, I settle on a flat cap which John describes as having 'an Andy Partridge look' - I thought he said Alan but cheer up when I realise he didn't.
Suddenly it's 7.30 and we're on stage - I'm sure they didn't used to go on that early when I used to watch them. It's a breathless 30-odd minute performance to a room that looked fairly full by the time we finished. We played well - there was a real 'first gig feel' about the show but it was still a great thing to be part of. Well it certainly was for me.

How did we sound? Click here to find out!

It would have been great to stick around, have a drink and a chat, see The Alabama 3 - but Dave had to get back so we had to leave promptly after the show. Shame. As we pulled away the touts were touting, the queue was queueing - oh well, there's always the Bristol show next week. I'll see them play then.

The dashboard light came on again on the way home but I must admit I'd dropped off to sleep at that point. During the course of our journey Dave and Seamus bought far too many pork pies (the sight of them scouring a service station for mustard was something to behold, particularly when they were advised to try W.H. Smith...) and I'd bought some chocolate that was on a special offer, then didn't eat any of it. Rock 'n' Roll eh? In the meantime an ecstatic Segs had roared his approval of the show to us all on the speakerphone and we all agreed that although our first show had indeed been a good one, the best is very definitely yet to come. And that's a really good feeling to have.

Well I'm still not sure how the hell it all happened. But I'm really glad that it has.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I swear I was there

I'm bound to say that the worst thing about leaving something on a train isn't leaving something on a train - it's feeling like an idiot. Well, it is for me anyway. On Monday morning I called The 12 Bar Club to check that I hadn't left it there (even though I have a recollection of struggling through the front door with both hands full and my bag over my shoulder) and then attempted to call the London Transport Lost Property Office. After what felt like ages on the phone waiting to get through I decided to try their website - it didn't take too long to fill the form in so let's hope it's as easy for them to find my pedal board...

In the meantime I spent most of Sunday attempting to do very little - I actually managed to run through a fair few songs for next weekend's Ash Bash show so it wasn't a completely lost day although I also fell asleep on the settee... I felt a bit better in the evening and so made it down to the Load of Hay to see The Bullet Blues Band, and very good they were too. I even managed to join them for a few songs at the end of their performance - I got up from my seat to go to the bar and Eddie the singer said something like 'let's get Leigh up to help us with this one'; it's difficult to say no in situations like that (well maybe it's more accurate to say that it's difficult for ME to say no in situations like that...) and it was good fun to say the least. They're a great band, and they deserved a bigger audience than the one that they had. It's Steve Simpson on the 20th then Pimp My Jazz on the 27th - if you're in the area why not come along?

Tuesday it was back to Brixton for the last Ruts D.C. rehearsal before the upcoming gigs. I arrived at Jamm just as Dave was finishing setting his kit up; Seamus arrived soon after me (Molara sadly couldn't make it) and with Segs marshalling the troops we were set up and playing in no time. There were a few last minute arrangement changes here and there but it all sounded good to me - the first show is in Manchester this coming Thursday followed by Bristol on the 26th then December 1st in Bournemouth and Kentish Town on the 2nd. With the album still to be finished Dave from Balcony Shirts has done some design work on the 5-track sampler CD that will be available at the gigs, and we're also making some t-shirts to sell at the shows - it's all getting nearer by the minute. Excellent!

A long day Wednesday saw The Briefcase Blues Brothers return to Bibi's Italian restaurant in Leeds. I travelled up with Adam the drummer - we arrived to find Rob (keyboards) and Kylan (bass) more-or-less set up, with Mario and Matt (Jake and Elwood) getting the P.A. system up and running. After a quick soundcheck it was time for some food - I certainly ate far too much but it was so nice I couldn't help myself! We then walked around to Becketts Bank for a drink (As we passed The Queens Hotel Matt and myself reflected on the fact that if we'd been there a day earlier we could have seen Jimmy Saville lying in state) before returning to the venue for a boisterous show in front of an audience that danced a lot more than I would have been able to after the amount of food that I'd eaten. A good gig.

A fairly quiet Saturday in Balcony Shirts (the calm before the storm methinks... hopefully...) was enlivened no end by a visit from Big Al Reed who (a) bought some strings and (b) asked the ever-interesting question 'are you working tonight?' When I said that I wasn't he said he needed someone to do a duo gig with him in Chalfont St. Giles - was I interested? Of course I was...
When we arrived at The Feathers we were greeted by a barrage of shouting and swearing from a chap sitting at the bar. 'He's a bit loud' said Al, eyeing him suspiciously. Well that was one way of describing him. Meanwhile a somewhat over-refreshed but very cheery Irish lady asks if she can sing a song - we're hardly set up before she's wowing her friends and the sweary man with 'Summertime'. Al takes it all in his stride, singing a few swing numbers before inviting me to join him for a few songs. He plays some on acoustic and others on electric guitar, some with backing tracks and some without, and he was excellent. I don't think he needed me there, but I'm glad he invited me along. Then again we were invited back in December so we must have done something right.
As we were leaving we met the over-refreshed but very cheery Irish lady out at the front of the pub. She loved us, as did John, one of the locals. 'Did you meet ''Tourettes''?' he asked with a smile. It was fairly obvious who he meant. 'We call him "Tourettes" 'cos he's got Tourettes'.
Ah, that explains it.

And Sunday it was Ash Bash 5 - as previously mentioned I'd missed last weekend's rehearsal so had been attempting to learn the songs on my own but was glad to have a run through with Simon on drums and most of the band (fellow Flying Squad members Andy on vocals and guitar and Mike on bass with Tina on vocals; Max joined us on keyboards at the venue) before heading off to The Forest Suite at Bracknell Leisure Centre. After loading in and setting up we had a quick (and I mean quick - a verse or two at most) soundcheck with each student before Simon introduced the show. The idea of the event is that some of Simon's drum students get chance to play one or two songs with a live band (us!) and as such it's a very enjoyable event to be part of. In all too many cases the students knew the songs much better than the band (!) but we managed to get through it all without too many mishaps; at the end Simon joined us for a very enjoyable romp through 'Children Of The Revolution' (oh yes!) to bring a splendid event to a close. Great stuff.

Right. My next gig is with Ruts D.C. Here we go...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Anarchy in the uke - eh?

As the Autumn nights draw in it's time for another song from Balcony Shirts - having shown us all how to bake bread and extolled the virtues of the then-recently promoted Queens Park Rangers our resident songwriting genius Scott has turned his attention to the humble ukulele. He's written a song to show you how to play it, and he's somehow got Iain Lee to appear in the video - it's on YouTube now, so click here to see all sorts of people strumming in the shop, Scott Dave and Chris trying their best to look bored while standing in a line pretending to play, and your humble narrator in an undersized lab coat showing you 3 chords. They're the only 3 that I know, so it's fortunate that they were the ones that the song needed. Perhaps they're the only ones that Scott knows too?!?

Incidentally we've just made some t-shirts for the afore-mentioned Mr. Lee, and they're currently available from his website. We're also producing some shirts for the upcoming Ruts D.C. gigs, but more about that next time.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Pedal to the metal

I'm not well. I've got ManFlu. Again. Bah!

How rough do I feel? Well earlier today I asked former Awaken guitarist Pete to stand in for me at tonight's Upper Cut gig at The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green - I don't remember the last time I missed a gig through illness... and I was due to be rehearsing tomorrow for Ash Bash 5 (I played at Ash Bash 4 back in June 2008, you can read about that by clicking here) but I'm not doing that either. The show is next Sunday afternoon so I'll do some work on the songs in the meantime.

I started to feel unwell yesterday - by the time I got to The 12 Bar Club where I was playing with T.V. Smith I was feeling rough and it got worse as the evening went on. As soon as the show started I felt fine then within a few minutes of the last song finishing I felt terrible. This can only mean one thing - T.V. Smith cures all ills! We'd not had chance to rehearse together but despite the odd mad moment it was a good show in front of an enthusiastic audience of familiar faces and new converts. I'd like to have seen a bit more of Eastfield who were on after us as they sounded really good so I must make an effort to catch them next time.

I've spent much of this week rehearsing with Ruts D.C. at The Music Complex in Deptford. Even though I say so myself it's sounding good - we're getting together again next week for one more session before Segs begins rehearsing with The Alabama 3 for the tour. I guess going to South London and back every day with little time for a decent meal or much sleep most days has contributed to my downfall? Still at least I was able to leave my guitar and effect pedal board at the studio for most of the week although I took my electric guitar (the Lemon Drop) home on Thursday evening and took my acoustic guitar with me yesterday for the T.V. gig so Segs leant me his (excellent) Gibson 335 for the rehearsal. It still seems a bit unreal to be playing with Ruts D.C. - there were a lot of people there last night who are looking forward to the shows almost as much as I am!

After last night's show I got the tube home; as it was late I had to get a train to West Ruislip then a U1 bus rather than getting a train directly to Uxbridge, I felt so awful when I got home that I didn't bother putting any of my stuff away, I just left it all in the front room with a view to sorting it all out in the morning. As I was in the shower this morning I realised how ill I was feeling - I also couldn't recall seeing my effect pedal board when I came upstairs last night. I went downstairs fearing the worst - I couldn't see the board anywhere. I must have left it on the train. Or the bus. Or something. Bugger.

It's Sunday morning and I've just read this posting through; sorry that it's not very well written but I really wasn't feeling too good last night... incidentally the Misty Moon gig didn't happen as it was double booked again! And I asked at Uxbridge Station about my pedal board - they told me that I'll have to call the lost property office on Monday morning...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dubai blues

I have just - just! - returned from doing 5 shows in Dubai with The Chicago Blues Brothers! We nearly made it there around this time last year, and to be honest I was half expecting this to be cancelled right up to the moment we walked on stage for the first show, but it was all ok in the end. Full story to follow as I made diary-style notes throughout our time there which I intend to reproduce here in one form or another in the not-too-distant future. But there's a more important thing to write about today...

We left Heathrow Airport last Monday afternoon; as we were walking towards the departure lounge CBB mainman Pete suddenly stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.

He looked serious. He was serious.

'I need to talk to you mate - about something bad... I was on the phone to Paul Cope yesterday - who links me, you and Paul?'

As I said the name John Saxon I had a horrible feeling that I knew what was coming next.

'He's...' Pete hesitated ' longer with us.'

When I asked what had happened he just said 'he walked into the sea.'

I first met John in the early 1980s, around the time that I first met Pete. They were in a band called The Immediate - Pete was on bass, Paul was on guitar and Alan was on drums. John sang and played occasional lead guitar. He was amazing. He and Paul were a fine songwriting team and the band were good but with no disrespect to them it has be said that it was John that you had to see. For a start he looked great - with his collar-length hair, leather jackets, beaten up jeans and scarves he was completely at odds with the fashions of the time but looked so cool that it didn't matter. He was good looking (as someone put it to me once, 'he could win a Mel Gibson look-a-like contest; Mel would come second') with a cheeky chappy grin that had woman literally falling at his feet - even my mum fancied him! Of course none of this would have mattered if he couldn't sing, but he had a voice that was somewhere between Paul Rodgers and Rod Stewart. Yes, that good. He liked blues, soul, rhythm and blues, even '60s pop and he could sing any of it. In short he was brilliant. We got on well (and it must be admitted that not everyone did get on with him, or he with them...) and he seemed to like me, possibly because then as now I was something of an outsider and so was he. We got talking one day about guitar players and he revealed that he'd been a friend of the late and undeniably great Paul Kossoff, a player who has always loomed large in my record collection. When said that I was a big fan he'd met him when Koss came up to him one day to ask him where he'd got his jacket from. If ever you needed to sum John up in one line it's that an internationally famous rockstar guitar hero had asked him where he got his clothes from rather than the other way around. John was very proud of his friendship with Paul.

There was an aura about John that I've rarely if ever encountered before or since. If you ever asked him how he saw himself he'd invariably give you a very simple answer. He was a bluesman. And he was. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and the people who made it. Put simply, he loved it and indeed lived it, maybe even lived for it. Maybe that's why he was so good. He looked like a rock 'n' roll star, sounded like one, acted like one - but if I've learned anything in this life it's that you don't get something for nothing, and John was living proof of that. He suffered terribly from anxiety, depression, lack of confidence - I talked to him about that almost as much as I did about the music. While I was in The Price he, Paul and I (later with Simon Thompson on harmonica) formed an acoustic trio called The Diving Ducks, who regularly confused and confounded folk club audiences for a few years in the late '80s. Working with him I saw first hand just how hard he sometimes found performing, how it could leave him crippled with insecurity while all those around him including the band told him how great he was sounding. And he did sound great - if I've ever worked with a better singer than I can't think of their name at the moment. I'll let you know if I ever do... later he sang with The Chain Gang, Raw Deal and M.G.M. (including a show at The 1987 Reading Festival) and it looked as though he was going to get the success that he so richly deserved - but for whatever reason it was not to be. He formed an alliance with Duffy Power, another great talent who never fulfilled his potential, but then drifted away from performing and disappeared from view.

And then, suddenly, out of the blue sometime in the mid '90s he got back in touch with me, writing letters that showed that he'd lost none of his humour (there are off-the-cuff recordings of him from the Immediate days as 'Art Vincent' a bizarre comedy character that defies any attempt at analysis here!) and intellect, pouring scorn and derision on the then-current music scene (we never could quite agree on Oasis!) as well as sending me compilation cassettes and later CD's of everything from song demos to rare blues and soul recordings that meant so much to him. I would occasionally suggest that we could get together and play some music, but he never said yes. Shame. The last time I saw him was when he and his wife Cathy came to a Chicago Blues Brothers show in Rochford back in December 2006 - he looked apprehensive as we shook hands but within a few minutes the old John started to return. After the show he told me that I was playing 'better than ever' which was a compliment and a half coming from him. I said how great it would be to see and hear him singing again and he looked sad, saying 'no' with a resigned shrug before cracking a half- smile - 'well, you never know...'

Alongside old blues material The Diving Ducks played a version of 'Ooh La La' by The Faces. John was a massive fan of the band and always loved to sing the song - but he would never perform anything by Free. It always got the impression that it was almost too close to him, or something. One day in his flat I was doodling on my guitar as he left the room, I think to get a drink. When he came back in I happened to be playing the riff from 'Be My Friend' - he looked a bit shocked so I stopped but he said 'you play that really well, do it again'. He then sang the song beautifully; I started 'Love You So', one of my favourite songs of all time, I thought he stop me but he joined in and gave one of the most emotional performances that I've ever been part of, just me and him in a small room. We never played either of them again but I'll never forget it.

As I type this sentance The Faces's live version of 'The Stealer' by Free is playing in the background. I first heard it on one of his compiliation tapes so it seems appropriate. I love it, but it'll never sound quite the same again.

My little world is sadder for knowing that John is no longer part of it. God bless you Jonno - I hope you've found some peace at last.

And here is Cathy's very moving tribute to him.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cool Britannia rehearsal photos

Here are a few shots from August's Cool Britannia rehearsal -going from left to right in the last picture that's me with Chris Teeder on keyboards, Matt Hewitt on vocals, Dave Ruffy on drums and John Sorrell a.k.a. Johnny Squirrel on bass guitar. There are theatre shows being booked for next year but I for one hope we do something before then - after all if we sound half as good as we look here it should really be something to look forward to...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The tracks of my tears

I've just had a message from Kris Dollimore to say that he won't be able to do tonight's gig at the Load of Hay due to family illness. Curses!! There was a lot of interest in his performance and I was really looking forward to it - oh well, it's more important that his family are well don't you think? We'll reschedule the date as soon as we can; in the meantime the next Sunday night show there features The Bullet Blues Band (guess what type of music they play?!?) on November 6th - they feature The Chicago Blues Brothers band's very own Johnny Squirrel on bass alongside the vocal and harmonica talents of the excellent Ed Stacey, and it should be a cracking evening.

Thursday night saw myself and Matt from The Chicago Blues Brothers appear at the Bacchus Bar in Bishop's Stortford as The Rock Show. We've talked about doing something like this (a duo with backing tracks) for a while so when the opportunity arose (thanks Mike!) it seemed like a good chance to try the idea out. We'd talked through some song ideas over the last few weeks; we then set about obtaining backing tracks and working separately on the material. Unfortunately we didn't get chance for a rehearsal (we tried to arrange something but time and circumstances conspired against us as so often happens) which was a shame as we got lost here and there, although in our defence your honour the onstage sound was a little unusual... actually the stage itself was pretty odd, being set back into the wall several feet up in the air. This resulted in the music being for want of a better word 'contained' in the alcove making it extremely loud and overpowering (well that's what it was like where we were, I've no idea what it was like out the front) which took a few numbers to come to terms with. Mind you I'm sure every other act that appears there has the same problem and they no doubt cope with it so I'll stop making excuses and just say that it's given us a few things to think about if we're going to take the duo idea further. From my point of view I'm going to have a think about guitar sound - I used a Pod plugged straight into the P.A. system which didn't sound too bad in itself but had to be played back though the monitor for me to hear what I was playing. All well and good - except that it's been ages since I played a show with that sort of set up and I found it difficult to get the balance between the guitar and the backing track right. This also made timing difficult (hence my comment above about getting 'lost here and there') as well as making it hard for me to hear my backing vocals (I'm not the best singer and I need all the help I can get!) In the future I think I'll use an amplifier - I'm just more used to hearing the guitar coming from behind me! - although I guess the use of the Pod is another thing that could be sorted out at a rehearsal. In the meantime we've got to find some higher quality backing tracks, I've got to get more confidant with the backing vocals (this could take some time!) and, let's face it, we've got to learn the songs better, as the sound balance wasn't the only reason we 'got lost here and there'. Nevertheless every journey starts with the first step, and The Rock Show have made theirs. Let's see where we find ourselves next.

Friday it was time for another Ruts D.C. rehearsal - myself, Segs and Seamus spent a few hours in the latter's kitchen (rock 'n' roll eh?!?) running through quite a few of the songs from last week's Brixton bash. Seamus sounded great and Segs and myself were so enthused that we had to go to the pub afterwards to, er, discuss tactics. Everything's moving in the right direction, interest in the shows is starting to increase - good news all round!

Following on from the (ahem) success of our bread and Q.P.R. songs the next Balcony Shirts song extolls the virtues of the ukulele - to this end yesterday morning your humble narrator found himself in a several-sizes-too-small lab coat playing the only 3 chords that he knows on a SpongeBob SquarePants ukulele (yes, you read that bit correctly!) for the benefit of Scott's video camera and to the bemusement of several customers. I'll let you know when the finished film is available for viewing - in the meantime I'd better stop blogging and start phoning people who might be coming along tonight... bah!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


And so it begins - I spent much of Tuesday in the labyrinth that is the Jamm club in Brixton with Segs running through possible songs for the upcoming Ruts D.C. shows. With the new Alabama 3 album being mixed in the studio a few doors down he occasionally had to leave to listen to a possible finished track, which makes the fact that we managed to run through something like 14 perspective numbers all the more remarkable. I left with a CD of 6 rough mixes of new material and some scribbly notes that detailed key changes, endings, segues and other possible arrangement ideas. I'm likely to be back over there for some more work sometime this week - I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime the return of Ruts D.C. has made it onto the Alabama 3 website, and the Aural Sculptors blog currently features a downloadable gig from 30 years ago in Edinburgh - excellent!

Last night saw an extended Chicago Blues Brothers band play at a very large house in the splendidly named Weston-Under-Lizard. We were playing for the Earl of Bradford at a party for his wife Penny's birthday; normally I end up coming away from events like this spouting left wing rants about the British class system (click here to see what I mean!) but I don't feel too bad about this one. Perhaps it's because I'm really tired as I didn't get in until after 4 a.m., perhaps it was because they all seemed like nice people - who knows? Mind you I didn't like the 'too many cats, not enough recipes' sticker on the back of a Land Rover that I saw on the way into town so maybe it's best that I keep this posting short... band-wise Andy joined us on trombone with Dave on trumpet and Jimmy depping for Richard on saxophone; Pete was added next to Tracy on backing vocals and Steve was on drums with Marc on percussion. Other than that it was business as usual with Squirrel on bass, Ian on keyboards and Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood - add me on guitar and there was a mighty twelve (twelve!) of us on stage with Big Tel and Dave DJ-ing. Apparently the organisers wanted a 'big' line-up on stage - who said size isn't everything? We were due on at 10 o'clock but finally went on 45 minutes later - our 75 minute performance included rarely-played versions of 'Superstition' and 'Hard To Handle' and saw a fair amount of dancing from the assembled multitude. Big Tel and Dave saw the evening out until 1 a.m. with what sounded to me to be a good selection of seventies disco material although they told me afterwards that they were a bit put out by people requesting Blues Brothers material. Maybe we should have played for longer?

Well, maybe. Again.

And there's just time to mention that Kris Dollimore returns to the Load of Hay next Sunday 23rd - if you're in the area it'd be good to see you...

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Eton Rifles

It was the 75th anniversary of the Battle Of Cable Street on Tuesday - given some of their more dubious links there's a peculiar irony about it taking place during the Conservative Party conference don't you think? I somehow doubt that there were any commemorative events being held at the conference... still I did see an item on the London News about it, and The Mirror had quite a big article on it so at least it wasn't completely bypassed by the media. Back in the late 1980s The Price did a few gigs for Cable Street Beat (perhaps best thought of as the musical arm of Anti-Fascist Action) at a time when it seemed that extreme right wing politics were everywhere; at a show at The Electric Ballroom in Camden Town (we weren't playing - I think it was The Men They Couldn't Hang among others?) I met Solly Kaye whose memories of the day itself really were extraordinary and whose speech from the stage redefined the word 'inspirational'. In the meantime the ever-excellent Daily Mash summed up the Tory gathering better than I ever will - many a true word spoken in jest, as they say...

In the meantime 2 great - make that great - guitarists have recently left the building -

I only saw Bert Jansch play once (at a blues festival in Oxford since you ask) but I'll never forget it. I'd heard his name a million times but had not really heard him play - as he hunched over his acoustic guitar playing finger-busting chords whilst singing with a chilling other-worldy voice I realised why the likes of Jimmy Page always name-checked him as one of the all time greats. Along with Davy Graham he defined acoustic guitar playing for many, and he'll be very sadly missed.

I never got to see Marv Tarplin play but I've certainly heard him. And so have you although you might not realise it - his work with Smokey Robinson And The Miracles mark him out as one of the great players and indeed songwriters of what for many was Motown's golden era. That's him on 'Tracks Of My Tears' and 'Going To A Go-Go' for instance, and if that's not proof of his brilliance then I for one don't know what is. Another sad loss.

And away from music Steve Jobs has died, although I'm sure that you're aware of that as it's been in the news rather more than the above two stories. As I sit here typing on my MacBook I feel that even I owe him something, although I'm not really sure what. I'll have a think about that and let you know if I come up with an answer!

The Chicago Blues Brothers returned to The Theatre Royal in Windsor this weekend for 3-shows-in-2-days - previous visits have been for longer which I guess is indicative of how quiet things are for the band these days compared to the last few years. Still they were 3 good shows with Friday evening probably just edging Saturday evening in the 'best of the bunch' stakes; the Saturday matinee (hey, that rhymes!) was a bit odd to say the least, with only a hundred or so people in the audience and although we still gave a good show it was difficult to 'get going', if you know what I mean. Ben was depping for Dave on trumpet on Saturday (it was the A-Team all round apart from that) and he did a wonderful job, particularly on 'Minnie The Moocher'. Around halfway through the second Saturday show Squirrel and myself both realised that the black dots that were appearing on the stage were sweat that was dripping from Matt - that man's energy never ceases to amaze. After Friday's show Mike, Matt and myself decided to go for a drink - sometime after 2 a.m. we left The Old Ticket Hall in a rather more confused state than the one we had arrived in. Maybe that's why we decided to walk though Eton to the Slough Travelodge where we were staying rather than get a cab? Maybe that's why the matinee show was a little odd? Maybe that's why the last section of this posting is somewhat disjointed?

Well, maybe.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The dreams of children

Back near the start of July I mentioned in these hallowed pages that I'd recorded some guitar for somebody but didn't say who - this was because I'd been asked not to say what I was doing and who I was doing it for by the people that I was doing it for. Confused yet? But now dear reader the story can at last be told...

I was recording with Ruts D.C. - or to be pedantic, Segs and Dave Ruffy. As mentioned in the last posting the band emerged from The Ruts after the death of singer Malcolm Owen; they released a single 'Different View' / 'Formula Eyes' and an album 'Animal Now' for Virgin Records followed by a dub album 'Rhythm Collision Volume 1' for their own Bohemian Records before calling it a day in 1983. Now nearly 30 years after the first installment it's time for 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2' - incredibly I was asked to contribute to the album (I think I'm on about half of the tracks) and from what I've heard I can honestly say that it's going to be a great album. It's being mixed at the moment (literally at the moment as I type this!) and should be finished shortly. But the really exciting news is the prospect of some live shows in November and December as special guests of The Alabama 3 - well it's certainly exciting from my point of view as I'm in the band for the gigs! No, really, I am! Joining Dave on drums and Segs on bass are Molara on vocals, Seamus Beaghen on keyboards and me on guitar. Me!

The full story (and indeed the gig dates) can be found in an excellent article on John Robb's 'Louder Than War' website. To say I'm looking forward to this is the understatement of the year. Rehearsals are due to start next week - I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

'Vinyl Rules!' Episode 3 - Laurel Aitkin / The Screamin' Lobsters / Choir Militia

Time at last for a very belated episode 3 of 'Vinyl Rules!' - here are three 7" singles, all of which feature the talents of Paul Fox on guitar.

Spring 1980, and with The Ruts in limbo as singer Malcolm Owen battled heroin addiction Paul, Segs (bass) and Dave Ruffy (drums) backed Laurel Aitkin on two singles - 'Rudi Got Married' / 'Honey Come Back To Me' and 'Big Fat Man' / 'It's Too Late'. The band were credited as The Unitone, and both were released on Secret Affair's label I-Spy Records; I've not got the first one but I have the second one, which was produced by Paul and John Sparrow. It's something of a curio from my point of view (I'm not much of a ska fan to be honest) but the band play it well, and if nothing else it shows that they were capable of turning their hands to pretty much any style of music with ease. They also recorded a John Peel session with him around the same time, although things changed irrevocably for the band in July when Malcolm died from an overdose. They regrouped as Ruts D.C. and made some very fine music - but that's another story for another time...

When Ruts D.C. finished in 1982 Paul formed the splendidly-named Foxes And Rats with Rat Scabies from The Damned on drums and Martin from Watford (!) on bass; I saw them at (you've guessed it!) The Fulham Greyhound where their psychedelic power trio set (think Hendrix, Cream and, er, Steppenwolf and you'll get the idea) left the mainly punk-powered audience somewhat bemused. After that he and Martin stayed together in The Screamin' Lobsters, who were basically a rock'n'roll band that mixed a few original numbers among the old classics. One such original song was 'Lobrock' which emerged on a single in 1983. It rocks along in a suitably cheery 'we're-not-taking-this-too-seriously-and-nor-should-you' manner as did the doo-wop styled B-side 'Oh Oh I Love You', and as such is a good representation of the band. I saw them a couple of times (I bet you can guess where!) and they were an entertaining bunch although once again Ruts fans were seen leaving the venue with furrowed brows.

Paul's next move was to team up with the Lob's singer Harry Matthews to form a rather more commercially orientated act which went through several names (The Cut, Wildlife and The Big Boys among them) before settling on Choir Militia. Their only single 'Sharpen The Knife' / 'Nothing That Would Interest You' came out in 1986. The A-side is interesting in that it's a re-write of an unfinished Ruts D.C. song that was colloquially known as 'Jangly Boo' when it opened their live sets in an instrumental form in late 1981. The single itself follows the same basic structure (it's since been issued as 'Last Exit' on various Ruts compilations) and sounds very much 'of it's time', with slap bass, string synthesizer and a huge 'gated reverb' drum sound that could only have been recorded in the mid-80s. To my ears it sounds a bit dated next to the stripped-down sound of 'Lobrock' which ironically hasn't dated quite as much, but it's still a pretty good record with some great playing from Paul. The b-side's not bad either, although the band had several better songs like 'Bombs Away' and 'Take It Out On You' that would have made better records in my opinion - I remember hearing studio recordings of them at the time but I fear they'll never get heard now. Shame! Oh and before you ask, yes I did see them at The Fulham Greyhound (and very good they were too) and indeed The Price supported them a few times early on in our (ahem) career which meant a great deal to me personally as Paul was and indeed still is one of my all-time favourite guitarists. (I stayed in touch with him right up to his untimely death and was involved in his final gigs, the story of which can be found in the July 2007 section of these hallowed pages.) In the meantime these singles show a very different side to his playing in than was heard in The Ruts, and are all far better than their current obscurity suggests.

And it's the 4th annual Paul Fox tribute night at The Breakspear Arms in Ruislip on Saturday 15th October - I can't be there myself but it should be a good night...