Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Turn on, Tune in, Drop out...

The occasional ongoing obituary column continues with the death of Poly Styrene. I remember hearing 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' by X-Ray Spex for the first time - it sounded like it had come from another World and instantly became another record that divided the school playground at lunchtime and contributed to the ongoing momentum that punk rock was by then enjoying. I preferred 'The Day The World Turned Dayglo' myself, and 'Identity' was a great song, and 'Germ Free Adolescents' was a terrific album especially 'Let's Submerge'... let's face it, she was great wasn't she? Another sad loss.

And Steve Marriott died 20 years ago last week - can it really be that long ago? I remember him playing with The Packet Of Three at The Red Lion in Brentford (click here for a clip of the band around the same time, along with links to many other fine clips of the man) where his voice was so powerful that the room hardly seemed big enough to contain it. I saw him in the bar afterwards and he was tiny - how on Earth did a voice that size come from such a small man? The Upper Cut played the old Small Faces classic 'All Or Nothing' for him at last Friday's Rickmansworth gig (we didn't bother the next night!) and a couple of people came over afterwards with some nice comments which was great.

Closer to home I spoke to Esso from The Lurkers yesterday who gave me the very sad news that his brother Dave has died. I had some good times with Dave over the years at gigs, in the pubs of Ickenham, and lately in Balcony Shirts where he bought himself a 'What A Difference A Dave Makes' t-shirt amid much merriment from us both. He was a massive fan of '60's pop music and I had many long conversations with him about the likes of The Move and The Kinks on many occasions. He was a great bloke, and I'll miss him.

And if things weren't bad enough there's a Royal Wedding on Friday, although discerning folk will of course be ignoring it and instead tuning into The Source FM between 1 and 3 p.m. to hear the first broadcast from my old Blue Five buddy Voltarol. You can listen online here - I suspect there will be more than a little Brazilian music involved, although the man himself has such wide tastes that he could play almost anything... hmm... I wonder if he'll play X-Ray Spex, Steve Marriott or The Lurkers if I ask him nicely?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Third time lucky?

What better way for your humble narrator to continue the euphoria of the previous evening than with an impromptu gig at the Load of Hay last Sunday, when I joined Alan (vocals) and Pete (guitar) from The Good Old Boys for a spontaneous acoustic set. Actually it wasn't totally spontaneous - Grant the landlord had been running a weekend in aid of the Help For Heroes campaign, and had asked The 'Boys to play; when only Pete and Alan were available we came up with the idea of trying something a bit different. With no rehearsal possible due to time constraints we met at the bar around 7.30 to see what we could come up with to play - we decided to start with a couple of Good Old Boys numbers then see where it took us, a policy which could have all gone horribly wrong... it turned out to be a really good gig (I wouldn't be writing about it here if it had been terrible!) with us playing for much longer than we were originally supposed to. Alan came up with the name The Ricardo Brothers (or is that Richardo or even Rikardo?) for reasons best known only to himself and Grant offered us a gig at the end of May. Excellent!

Monday evening saw the first Upper Cut rehearsal for some time, at Bush Studios in Shepherds Bush. Our drummer Roger has been out of circulation for a while so it was a chance to get some new songs together as well as running through a few flash points from our standard repertoire. Of the new material 'Hold Back The Night' turned out to be the surprise of the night; we based our version on the Graham Parker and The Rumour recording which features a horn section as well as an introduction played on two harmonised guitars - I managed to find this clip of them playing the song on YouTube the next evening which enabled me to see what Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont were playing, as well as making an attempt at playing something that suggested the horn parts especially in the run-up to the chorus. It turned out well enough for us to try it out at the weekend's gigs, the first of which was on Friday at The Halfway House in Rickmansworth. We were due to play there back in December but it got cancelled because of the snow - judging by Friday's gig it could turn out to be a good venue for us, with Rusty the guv'nor promising us 2 more shows this year after a performance that wasn't without it's shaky moments but that received a good audience reaction and even a fair bit of dancing. When a band hasn't played together for a while there are always going to be a few things that go wrong - we started 'Knock On Wood' before Terry the bass was ready (he was blowing his nose!) and missed a couple of cues here and there but overall it was a good show for Roger to return with.

Saturday saw us brave Sweeneys in Ruislip for a show that was nowhere near as enjoyable as the one the previous evening. We've played there twice before and there's been a fight both times - this time that thankfully didn't happen (or if it did then it happened outside or before we got there) but the atmosphere was as unpleasant as ever. When we got there we were told that '2oo drunks' had just left (it was St. George's Day after all) and most of our first set was played to a sparse but actually quite appreciative audience, although an odd moment occurred during 'Knock On Wood' (again!) when a chap from the audience invited himself up onto the stage to sing a few lines then walked from the stage straight out of the front door. Maybe he had a cab waiting? By the time we started our second set the place was full (and I mean full) of impressively built young ladies looking for a footballer or two to help them start off their modeling career, alongside any number of less impressively built young men anxious to assure them that it actually them that they were looking for. A couple of girls get on to the stage (why do they keep doing that?) during 'Maggie May' - I think it was more of a case that they wanted everyone to see them rather than thinking that they could somehow contribute to the performance - which set the tone for the rest of the gig, with people walking up and talking to Terry while he was trying to sing and a clearly totally out-of-it guy with a rather disturbing Afro hairdo deciding that he knew all the words to 'You Really Got Me' (he didn't) then spending most of 'Hold Back The Night' attempting to remove my glasses from my face. Moments like this are always very difficult - I'm not a violent person (although I've a funny feeling that I'm about to sound as though I am!) but I just felt as though I wanted to flatten him; the problem with that is that his 40-or-so mates who are laughing at his antics will then of course want to flatten me, which is obviously not a good position to be in. I looked across at the bouncers - they weren't even looking at the stage (and of course if I'd have walloped Mr. Afro they'd have clobbered me, not him - funny old life sometimes isn't it?) so I did what I've had to do in every other situation like this - humour him and wait until he gets bored, all the while thinking 'WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?' Not a good moment, and not a good gig. Our set ended to no audience reaction whatsoever - we packed our gear away then braved the pavements outside, threading our way through young men swearing on their mother's life and young women swearing generally. Roger and myself both declared that we wouldn't care if we never set foot in the Godforsaken place again, and I still feel the same now. This really upsets me as I love to play the guitar and whatever else Sweeneys might be they are a venue for live music at a time when such places are disappearing left, right and centre - but I can't help thinking that the people who go there would still do so whether there was a band on or not... and maybe that's the problem here; in a place like Sweeneys people aren't there to see a band so they consider it to be just something to be toyed with (let's face it, anyone who wears glasses is there to be laughed at, right?) like everything else that magically appears in their little World. And anyway, I'm sitting here agonising over the evening's events whereas they've long since forgotten it all. Perhaps I should do the same?!?

Then again I've just (just!) got back from playing an informal show at a party in Horsepower Hairdressing supremo Adam's back garden - myself and the two Terrys ran through a fair bit of the Upper Cut's material with Adam's mate Steve playing along on a cocktail drum kit. Great fun, friendly people - in short it was everything that Saturday's show wasn't. Ah well - you can't win 'em all, but at least the ones that you do win make up for the ones that you don't. Well, I think they do.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coming In To Land at The 100 Club

Behold this photo of your humble narrator, taken in the dressing room at The 100 Club last night - as you can see, it's all glamour in the wild 'n' wacky world of showbusiness... my brother Terry took the picture 10 minutes or so after myself and T.V. Smith had finished soundchecking. I don't remember the last time I'd been so nervous before doing something as routine as that, but I suppose it's an indication of how important - maybe how over-important? - the evening was to me. Put simply, I've seen many brilliant shows at the venue, but had never played there myself; I was also aware that there were people coming down to see T.V. play songs from his new album 'Coming In To Land' which was available for the first time at the gig. This had to be - make that had to be - a good gig, and I'm pleased to say that it was...

Terry and myself arrived at the club around 6.40 p.m. to find Kid Vicious (Nigel) and Paul Crook (Dave) of The Sex Pistols Experience cheerily munching their way through some takeaway food. I hadn't seen them since I depped with them back in 2008 and it was good to catch up - while we were talking a text message arrived from T.V. to say that we'd been asked to go on last at 11 o'clock rather than last-but-one at 10 o'clock as the Experience were filming the show for DVD release and it would save them money if the film crew could go home early; co-incidentally I was talking to them about that very subject... I meet T.V. and we both say something like 'it's nice to be nice isn't it?' and so agree to move our slot to later in the evening. Meanwhile it's impossible not to notice how different the club looks when the lights are on and there's no one home, although that's the same for most venues... I'm introduced to Ray the soundman and with the stage clear we do the afore-mentioned soundcheck before Terry and myself head off down Oxford Street in search of some food. When we return we say hello to Vince who used to run Released Emotions Records back in the '80's and '90's and released a single and a mini-album by The Price all those years ago. Pretty soon it's time for the opening act of the evening Shag Nasty to take to the stage, they sound ok although I'm not sure I'd have attempted a cover version of 'Bodies' on a night such as this.
When they finish Terry, T.V. and myself walk down to Hanway Street when T'V. is meeting up with Gaye Advert and some of their friends at Bradley's Spanish bar; the road is very narrow and with people drinking outside on the pavement there are more than a few near-misses with uncompromising taxi drivers. When we return to the club L.A.M.F. UK are blasting their way through a set of Johnny Thunders songs, they're led by Mark who will transform himself into Steve Clones later in the evening, T.V. and myself agree that it all sounds a bit 'English' to have the Thunders swagger but the songs sound as great as ever.
An intro tape of patriotic music topped off with the unmistakable tones of Rotten and Vicious heralded the appearance of The Sex Pistols Experience - Johnny Rotter (Nathan) is uncannily like the real Rotten and although the crowd take a while to get going the atmosphere hots up as anthem after anthem roars out. The set finishes with 'God Save The Queen' and 'Anarchy In The U.K.' before Kid Vicious takes over - there are many like me that would argue that they should stick with the recordings made by the 'real' band but judging by the audience reaction the likes of 'My Way' and 'Something Else' certainly have their fans. Then it's announced that a 'legend' would be joining them on stage - T.V. fails to recognise Steve Dior who played with Sid in the post-Pistols bands but his version of 'Chinese Rocks' is arguably more convincing than the L.A.M.F. UK version earlier in the evening. Nathan appears to be ready to return but suddenly there's music over the P.A. and the show's over - which means it's our turn...

As we're setting up we both agree that it's been a long evening - some of the audience are leaving in search of their train home, although thankfully most stick around for our set. Those who are still there see a 13 song set that features 5 songs from the new album alongside 4 Adverts songs with the rest coming from T.V.'s solo career. From my point of view the nerves have all but gone although me until the end of the opening song 'No Time To Be 21' to get used to the sound - it's always different when there's an audience than when the venue's empty! - fortunately by the time we get into the new songs it's all more-or-less making sense to me. The new album is uniformly excellent, and despite the songs being unfamiliar to most of them the audience are appreciative, although you can feel the anticipation as the older songs grow ever nearer. Suddenly it's the 'Adverts Trilogy' ending of 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes', 'Bored Teenagers' and 'One Chord Wonders' and the crowd have got their reward for being good - our show ends with tumultuous applause and a shower of beer from the punks at the front. Clearly at £4 a pint they've all got enough money to literally throw it away.

Back in the bar it's just gone midnight and the bar's still open - Rikki from Red Flag 77 says hello with the somewhat insane news that when he first saw me earlier in the evening he'd thought I was Dave Ruffy! Strange but true... it being Record Store Day it was good to see the merchandise going well, and the evening ends with photo opportunities galore, most of which proved that I don't know how to work Gaye's or Nigel's cameras. But it had been a great evening, which ended for me with me back at home around 2 a.m. cleaning beer off my guitar- as I say, it's all glamour in the wild 'n' wacky world of showbusiness...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

100 punks rule

No gigs for your humble narrator last weekend - bah! - but there's a potential classic coming up this Saturday, at The 100 Club with the mighty T.V. Smith. It's the first time I've ever gigged at the 100 Club - I've always wanted to play there, and what better night to be part of as The Sex Pistols Experience are headlining with Johnny Thunders tribute band L.A.M.F. UK and original punksters Shag Nasty also on the bill. It'll be my first gig of 2011 with T.V. Smith and I've just - just! - got back from rehearsing with him; we'll be playing several songs from his excellent new album 'Coming In To Land' alongside earlier solo songs and a few Adverts classics. It should be a great night, so come on down...

Talking of The Adverts an amazing bit of footage from Sussex University near Brighton back in 1977 has surfaced on YouTube - click here to see the band in all their glory roaring through 'New Church' and 'Bored Teenagers'. Great stuff - and here are The Damned, here are The Slits and here, here and here are The Clash at the same venue - how much more of this astonishing footage is hidden away somewhere? I said in the last posting that life is all questions sometime, but that is one question that I for one would love to get an answer to!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Seasons in the sun

It's been a lovely day today - sunny, warm and looking like summer is here early this year. It wasn't perhaps the most appropriate day to hear a busker playing the jazz standard 'Autumn Leaves' on an accordion - but there he was this morning outside Poundland, being all but ignored by pretty much everyone except a man in a light-coloured suit that appeared to be trying to talk to him while he was playing. When I walked by a bit later the man in the light-coloured suit was still there and was still attempting some form of conversation with the busker, who by now had moved on to 'Hava Nagila' and was still showing no sign of replying. It was rather quiet in the shop today although overall it's been a busy few days with plenty of custom orders as well as new shirts like this one needing website copy from your humble narrator, and with a bit of luck it should get even busier over the next few weeks.

Music-wise it's back to basics after the two best gigs I've seen in ages - Friday night it was down to The Dolphin in Uxbridge for the first time in a while to see Awaken. When East and myself arrived they were halfway through 'Come Together' which is never an easy song to play but they were making a very good job of it. Guitarist Pete cajoled me into making a 3 song appearance during their second set ('Play That Funky Music', 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Hard To Handle' in case you were wondering; incidentally he didn't have to try too hard - I even took my own guitar this time!) in what was overall an excellent performance that easily wiped out the memory of last month's rather peculiar evening in Ickenham.

For the first Upper Cut show since February we journeyed to Richmond on Saturday evening for a gig at The Fox and Duck (you have to be very careful how you say that haven't you?!?) With Roger busy elsewhere Geoff 'Rockschool' Nicholls returned on drums for a show that was understandably a bit loose in places but which overall went very well. Pete from Awaken turned up with his wife Elaine, Big Al Reed joined us for 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and 'Sweet Home Chicago' and the landlady celebrated both her own birthday and 5 years of live music in the pub - a fine night all round.

And on Sunday The Duplicates made a very welcome visit to the Load of Hay; featuring the drumming talents of Dave Ruffy alongside Seamus Beaghen on Hammond Organ and Matt Percival on guitar they gave a fabulous show that featured an amazing selection of material ranging from the theme tune to 'The Dave Allen Show' (do you know the title? Answers on a postcard please, usual address) to the Jimmy Smith classic 'The Cat' with a healthy amount of Booker T. and The M.G's thrown in for good measure - all witnessed by something like 20 people. Ok so it was Mother's Day - but I don't mind admitting that it's starting to get difficult to keep up the enthusiasm for putting shows on when so few people turn up for a band that's as good as this one. Then again look at the two gigs I saw last week - both The New York Dolls and The Adverts faced adversity, even hostility from an audience, yet both came good by keeping going - after all they'd have got nowhere if they'd have just given up would they? Hmm... life is all questions sometimes isn't it? See - there's another one...

As I was walking home from the shop I saw the man in the light-coloured suit, looking a bit lost. There was no sign of the busker.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Do you feel lucky, punk?

I spend a fair bit of time in these hallowed pages musing on the subject of punk rock, and rightly so in my not-so-humble opinion. Whilst it would be churlish to suggest that early-to-mid '70's rock music had nothing to recommend about it there can surely be no doubt that it needed shaking out of it's complacency by a music and an attitude more reminiscent of the early days of rock 'n' roll rebellion than by that shown by bands wearing capes and singing about goblins. I've been lucky enough to see two shows this week - one featuring one of the foremost figures of the British punk scene and the other from a band without whom that scene might never have existed - that have reminded me just how much that music, and indeed that attitude, can still mean to me...

Tuesday it was time for T.V. Smith's 'Best Of The Adverts' tour to come to London - to be precise, The Underworld in Camden Town. Backing him on these dates are Italian punk heroes The Valentines, and judging by this performance they're doing an absolutely brilliant job - but more about them in a minute. As we (myself and Dave from Balcony Shirts) walked through from the bar into the venue Condition Dead were roaring through their set - well, most of them were, as one of the guitarist's guitar strap came off his instrument just as the song started. Get some strap locks young man! They sounded ok if a bit 'identikit punk' to my old ears, although to someone hearing this type of music for the first time they probably sounded wonderful. The Hi-Fi Spitfires were up next, with a set that won over most the people who had bothered to come through from the bar. They reminded me of Stiff Little Fingers which is no bad thing in my world - and let's face it, any band that finishes their set with a rendition of 'I Got A Right' by Iggy And The Stooges have to have something going for them haven't they? Worth keeping an eye on for the future methinks.
Opening with 'No Time To Be 21' and Safety In Numbers' T.V. Smith and the Valentines were clearly in no mood for anything other than getting on with the job in hand. Adverts songs are tricky to play (trust me, I should know! Which reminds me, I'm playing with T.V. at The 100 Club on Saturday 16th April, which I'm sure I'll mention again between now and then!) but the band handled them brilliantly, and it was wonderful to see T.V. fronting a band again. They featured all the songs from the first album, quite a few from the second, and in doing so they reminded everyone just what a criminally underrated band The Adverts remain. The last encore of 'Lord's Prayer' and 'Good Times Are Back' bought everything up to date, and when the lights came up more than a few people looked almost shell shocked by what they'd seen. And rightly so, as they'd seen a fine show by a great band fronted by one of the best songwriters of all time. It doesn't get much better than that does it?

Or maybe it does, as last night I saw The New York Dolls. Rather like The Sex Pistols any number of words have been written about The Dolls, many to their detriment and often along the lines of 'they can't play'. And, rather like the stuff that gets written about The Pistols alleged lack of ability. it's all absolute rubbish. Of course it is. Somewhere in the last 30-odd years The Dolls have been somewhat re-evaluated, and their influence and importance in the grand scheme of things has been acknowledged - these days surviving original members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain lead a band whose current line-up features the mighty Earl Slick on guitar, and if last night's performance is anything to go then the best from the band may be yet to come. That said the venue didn't do them any favours - The Old Vic Tunnels is an extraordinary labyrinth of (you've guessed it!) tunnels which provided a clammy, dank atmosphere that no doubt reduced anybody unfortunate enough to suffer from asthma or a similar respiratory complaint to a pile of clothes on the floor. It also contributed to a muddy, indistinct sound mix that rendered the opening number 'Looking For A Kiss' almost unrecognisable. Fortunately by the time they'd got to 'Cause I Sez So' the sound had improved sufficiently for it to be obvious that the band were playing brilliantly, and that we were all present at a classic gig. An almost casual rampage through 'Who Are The Mystery Girls?' stood out in the middle of the set among songs from their latest album 'Dancing Backwards In High Heels' ('Funky But Chic' and 'I'm So Fabulous' from said album were also real highlights, showing that they're certainly not finished as songwriters) and the set ended with 'Jet Boy' re-confirming it's status as one of the greatest rock 'n' roll songs of all time. They encored with a careering, chaotic 'Personality Crisis' before 'End Of The Summer' finished a unforgettable show. Two fabulous, inspirational performances - like I say, it doesn't get much better than that. Now, where did I put that guitar..?