Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The long and winding road

So - 'Christmas is years away' as the Mega City Four once sang, and it's back to 'normal', whatever that is...

The year at Balcony Shirts has started fairly quietly - somewhat inevitably it's not as busy as it was before Christmas, so it's time for some new t-shirt designs, and indeed a new website devoted to custom t-shirts. I've been spending a fair bit of time writing copy for that and indeed the 'standard' website which I must say I really enjoy, not least because it's interesting to try to write 100-150 words on subjects as diverse as ukuleles, psychology and bread, all of which feature on new Balcony shirts. And talking of writing Dave from the shop has started a blog about... well, have a look here and you'll find out!

Friday night and (pausing only to see if there was anything on television worth staying in for) it was off to The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town for afore-mentioned Peart promotion. It was originally due to feature 3 bands, but The Meow Meows pulled out as their drummer has broken his foot (ouch!) meaning that Dirty Revolution headlined with support coming from Colour Me Wednesday. Ex-Ruts bassist Segs was D.J.-ing when I arrived (Andy had asked him to, he hadn't just barged his way into position!) and was playing 'Fever' by Junior Murvin when I went over to say hello; there was time for a few words before Colour Me Wednesday took to the stage - or rather 3 of them took to the stage, as singer Jennifer was nowhere to be seen. She eventually ambled up to the microphone, took off her glasses which she placed (rather riskily I thought) at the base of the mic stand and the show began. They've improved immeasurably since I last saw them, and their punky pop sounded good to me although it's still a bit hit and miss in places - a false start here, a botched ending there - and Jennifer the singer looks at the floor a bit too much to really draw the audience in, although maybe that's just me that thinks that? And let's face it, any band that has a song called 'Purge Your Inner Tory' must have rather a lot going for them.
Coming on stage to the strains of 'Bankrobber' by The Clash isn't something that most bands would relish (nice one Segs!?!) but Dirty Revolution seemed to take it in their stride, roaring through a breathlessly efficient set of ska-crossed-with-punk that went down well with the assembled multitude. Two guitars clashed over a thunderously tight drums and bass, while an almost cheerily melodic vocal floated over the top tying everything together. Good stuff, and although I'm never going to be the biggest ska fan in the World I'll be keeping an ear out to see what they do next.
Afterwards Fast Tony took over the job of the D.J. and there was time for a chat with Segs (remind me to tell you his hilarious 'Rat Scabies at Paul Fox's funeral' story one day!) to bring a highly enjoyable evening to a close. And it was great to be back at The Bull and Gate - always a classic indie venue, it's still a stage for original bands to perform on which is sadly something of a rarity these days.

First gig of the year for your humble narrator on Saturday, with The Chicago Blues Brothers at Butlins in Skegness. We did the same show at the same time last year - it's a brass band weekend! - and once again it was a great gig. Myself, Richard (sax) and Graham (depping with us for the first time on trumpet) made the epic journey without too many problems, although as always the last 20-or-so miles seemed to take forever - the road winds it's way through The Fens and some very picturesque countryside but time seems to stand still when your on it. I'm always half-expecting to see Doctor Who somewhere along the way... we arrived about 7 p.m. which was just in time for Richard and Graham to do their soundcheck with The British Philharmonic Big Band (modestly named don't you think?!?) who they were playing 2 sets with in Reds (the smaller of the two venues) before joining us for our show at The Main Stage at 11 o'clock. I watched a bit of their soundcheck, made some phone calls and generally hung around - the rest of our band we're due to arrive for quite a while yet - then went to get something to eat. I saw a couple of numbers by the band (very good they were too) before going across to The Main Stage to see if any of the band had arrived yet - they hadn't but The Central Ohio Brass Band were on stage for the first of their 2 sets, a young man played a euphonium at mind-boggling speed as the man next to me said 'very difficult that' to nobody in particular. Back at Reds The BPBB are still going strong when my phone rang - it was Mike to tell me that I should join them all in the main building for a free pizza. Oh well... I had a pint of lager instead!
Matt 'n' Mike are Jake 'n' Elwood, Ian's on keyboards, Squirrel's on bass and Marc's on drums for a show that started a bit strangely from my point of view - my guitar sounded out of tune but was fine when I checked it on the tuner, then sounded bad again in with the band, then three or four songs in it suddenly sounded good. Nobody else said there was a problem so maybe it was just me? And we went down excellently well with the audience, with much dancing and merriment more-or-less from the first number so I really should stop moaning. There - I've stopped moaning. For the moment at least...
The long drive home is enlivened by Whispering Bob on the radio - we got back to Richard's at 4 a.m. to find the long-suffering Shirley waiting to take me home. That's why I call her long-suffering...

Nothing much happened on Sunday. Well, it probably did, but I slept through it... a day in the shop yesterday was followed by an Upper Cut rehearsal in the evening - as I say, back to 'normal, whatever that is...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Killing in the name of...

No gigs with the guitar yet this year for your humble narrator, so it's time to do some watching rather than playing - which reminds me, my old mate and ex - Sounds scribe Andy Peart is involved in putting on a show next week in Kentish Town. Details are here, or at least as far as I know they are - I called him the other night to check I had all the information only to be told that he was watching the football on T.V. and so wouldn't come to the phone; let's hope there's nothing good on telly next Friday eh?

There wasn't a guitar in sight (for once!) on Monday night when the long-suffering Shirley and myself went to see 'The 39 Steps' at The Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus. Based (rather loosely in places!) on the book by John Buchan it features 4 actors playing over 100 parts (I didn't count them but that's what it says on the poster!) and was brilliant, one of the best things I've seen in ages. It's very funny, very clever, and I won't say too much more as it'll ruin it for you if you're going to see it - suffice to say that if you're thinking of going along then you're unlikely to be disappointed. Excellent!

Lots and lots of guitars (which redresses the balance nicely!) last night at The Hammersmith Apollo for A Concert For Killing Cancer, a benefit show in aid of Photodynamic Therapy (P.D.T.). The first half of a roaringly good evening saw acoustic performances from Richard Ashcroft, Roger Daltery and Bryan Adams - Ashcroft solo, Daltery with a band that included Simon Townshend, Jody Linscott and Danny Thompson, and Adams solo with a bit of help from a member of the audience who had recently benefited from P.D.T. - while the second half saw sets from Jeff Beck and Debbie Harry (backed by The Who minus Daltrey and Townshend) before The Who took over. Highlights were many and varied - no one played badly although Ms. Harry's songs could have been better rehearsed - and The Who's C.S.I. - tastic 3 songs had a lot more energy about them than last year's Albert Hall show. Jeff Beck was as astonishing as ever (a strong version of 'A Day In The Life' and a version of 'I'm A Man' with Daltrey were particularly good) and the last-song-of-the-evening jam on 'Join Together' was a good way to end things, as this clip shows. A fine evening, at the end of which it was announced that the show raised 'between 160 and 180 thousand pounds' which will go towards funding research and treatment - good news of course, but that's a fraction of the money that's going to be wasted on this year's Royal wedding, money that we as taxpayers will be liable for. Am I the only person that thinks that's wrong? No, I thought not. So what shall 'we' do about it? What can 'we' do about it? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

'Vinyl Rules!' Episode Two - The Gas

Time for another look back to those far off days of 7 and 12 inchers (oo-er missus etc) with a chance for your humble narrator to rant and rave about one of his favourite bands of all time - ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Gas.

If ever there was a band that should have been massive - and I mean MASSIVE - it was The Gas. I'm fairly sure that I first saw them supporting Ruts D.C. at The Lyceum although I'd already got their first single 'It Shows In Your Face' by then, not least because it had been produced by Paul Fox which was more enough to recommend it to me. It was and indeed is a fabulous piece of power pop, and their second single 'Ignore Me' was even better; add to this the fact that they were signed to a major record label (Polydor) and World domination seemed to be almost a foregone conclusion. So - what went wrong? To be honest, I don't really know. They seemed perfect - a trio of fine musicians (singer / guitarist Donnie Burke and bassist Dell Vickers had previously been together in Sneeky Feelin's while drummer Les Sampson worked with Noel Redding) who when equipped with Burke's brilliantly catchy songs combined to create an absolutely dynamite live act also capable of subtlety in the studio. Their first album 'Emotional Warfare' received good revues (rightly so as it's a total classic from start to finish) and their radical-for-the-time move of making a video version with a hired camcorder got them an amount of positive press attention (and therefore publicity) that most acts would have killed for - but the album was all but ignored by the record buying public. Listening too it now (and I mean now as it's playing as I type this) it sounds superb - producer Nigel Gray got both a great sound and some fabulous performances out of the band, and it's certainly stood the test of time. Maybe Donnie's lyrics were a bit too embittered, a bit too personal - the opening lines of 'Wasted Passion' are 'if our two heads collided, you would not bat an eyelid', which more-or-less sums up the tone of things - either way it got nowhere near the sales that it deserved and after a single 'Breathless' they left Polydor. Their second album 'From The Cradle To The Grave was recorded in Canada and emerged on Good Vibrations Records in 1983, although by then good reviews had turned to bad (I remember a particularly nasty one in, I think, Melody Maker) and the album remains something of an obscurity. It's not as good as the first one, but it's not a disaster either, although by now the band were falling apart. Burke and Vickers re-emerged in Boy Cry Wolf (I saw them at The Fulham Greyhound and they were really good) although I don't think that lasted very long - these days Donnie can be found in The Roadhouse Dogs and Doc Bowling and his Blues Professors (great names!) both of whom who I must get around to checking out one day.

When I played 'Emotional Warfare' through for probably the first time this century (shame on me!) I realised just how much of an influence The Gas were on The Price - and yet I'm fairly sure that no member of our band apart from me has ever heard them, or indeed heard of them. Being great doesn't guarantee success, but The Gas were definitely great - it's such a shame that they didn't get the recognition that they so richly deserved. Still I don't think they've been totally forgotten - certainly not by me anyway.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

So - 2010 then...

If there's been a reoccurring theme among musicians this year (at least among the ones that I've talked to, although I read in the latest issue of the M.U. magazine 'The Musician' that even neo-legendary function band The Dark Blues have seen their bookings decrease) it's that there aren't as many gigs around these days as there were last year. Maybe the much-vaunted recession has hit us a year later than it hit everyone else? I haven't counted the shows but it certainly feels as though The Chicago Blues Brothers worked less than we ever have. Theatre work has all but dried up at the moment (although there's some in for next year) and corporate work is thinner on the ground; then again it was a great gig last night at The Pizza Express in Maidstone, a riotous show or as Squirrel put it, 'just like the old days'. Again I know a lot of people who didn't have a New Year's Eve gig this year so maybe we're not doing too badly after all?

On the other hand it's been a good year for The Upper Cut. We're playing well and getting gigs although we've got to somehow figure out how to get more - there's talk of doing some recording and getting a website sorted out, both of which should go some way towards getting more work. It's a great band to play in, and judging by the audience reaction we're doing something right - hopefully a good year is in prospect. And The Flying Squad should make a return appearance in the scheme of things at some point in the not-too-distant future - well we've got a gig in July!

On a personal level my most enjoyable gigs have probably been the ones with T.V. Smith. From playing a couple of impromptu numbers at The Load of Hay a couple of years ago we've developed a 90+ minute act that runs more-or-less chronologically through his songwriting career - and what songs they are. I wrote elsewhere in these hallowed pages of standing onstage in Leeds playing 'Borderline' and thinking that it just might be the best song that I'd ever played. Sitting here now it seems like a mad thing to say - there can't ever be a 'best' song can there? - but it was a real 'goose bump moment' if ever there was one. He's about to embark on a 'Best Of The Adverts' tour with The Valentines as well as releasing a new solo album so it's unlikely that we'll perform together until the summer at the earliest, but that's really something to look forward to, as indeed are the new album and the Adverts tour. And I enjoyed depping in The Ali Mac Band, Utter Madness and The F.B.I Band too - all totally different from each other, all good stuff all round.

Talking of The Load of Hay there have been some remarkable shows there in the past year - the ever-amazing Kris Dollimore continues to, well, amaze and Steve Simpson played a great show in November. But the most memorable night has to have been courtesy of John Otway 3 weeks ago, when he delivered his 'Christmas Lecture' to a packed audience, many of whom told me that it was one of the funniest things that they'd ever seen. Otway may have made a career out of (apparent) failure, but he certainly knows how to put a show together. Absolutely brilliant. I don't mind admitting that it often feels like something of a thankless task putting the gigs on there, but when you get nights like these it all feels worthwhile. And it was great to get The Blue Five back together too - we really must do that again sometime!

And then there was The Price. Sadly the word that comes to my mind here is 'disappointment'. It was our 25th birthday this year, and I for one had hoped that we'd have been able to play as many gigs as we could as well as writing some new songs and doing some recording - but it was not to be. In the last few months I've turned down some potentially great gigs and had to attempt to explain to gawd knows how many people why we're not playing at the moment ('but I thought you were going to be gigging a lot this year?') with the words 'have a look on the forum on our website'. I'm not known for quoting from The Bible but in this case something that I remember from one of my favourite ever films comes to mind - the 1980 Boer War film 'Breaker Morant' features an extraordinary performance from the late great Edward Woodwood in the title role; when asked what he'd like for an epitaph the character references Matthew 10:36 - 'and a man's foes shall be they of his own household'. I think I know how he felt... and yet The Price refuse to go away - when I played in Ipswich with T.V. Smith Rikki from Red Flag 77 to told me that we were one of the bands that inspired him to get a band together in the late '80's 'when there wasn't much good stuff around'. It sometimes felt as though no one was listening, but comments like that make you realise that they were, and that's something to be really proud of.

So - 2011 then...