Sunday, June 26, 2011

Let it bleed

Did you want to be old when you were young? I don't mean 'old' old, like your nan or grandad or the people who lived a few doors down, I mean old as in 'grown up' so that you could do the things that the grown ups do, like stay up late. I certainly wanted to stay up late when I was a kid, although thinking back I don't know why I thought that would make things better or more exciting. Strange... maybe one of the differences between being old and young is that when you're young you want to be older and when you're old you want to be younger? Anyway when I was about 8 or 9 I had a nosebleed. It was a Saturday evening and I had really bad hay fever (still have!) I blew my nose rather a lot before I went to bed, and I woke up a little after going to sleep thinking that my nose was running. When I looked down there was blood everywhere. Everywhere. It literally felt like it was pouring out of my face, which I suppose it was if you think about it. My mum screamed when she saw me. She and my dad tried to stop it with all the usual methods - cold flannels, holding the bridge of your nose etc - but to no avail. After about an hour things were getting serious, and mum called the doctor out. He was an old (and therefore allowed to stay up late) chap called Dr. Fenton - when he examined me he said that I'd burst a blood vessel in my nose and that it would eventually stop and that I'd be 'ok in the morning'. I think it finally stopped after just over 2 hours. I still get nosebleeds today, in fact I had one earlier this week. Horrible things.
So - why am I telling you this? Well, by the time the nosebleed had stopped, 'Match Of The Day' was about to start on the television. This was a mythical programme to me as some of my school mates were allowed to stay up late enough to watch it, and they said that it was better than 'The Big Match' which was the Sunday afternoon football programme that I used to watch with great enthusiasm. Anyway because I was still awake (and feeling rather weird as I recall) I was allowed to watch 'Match Of The Day'. It was good, but not worth losing half of the blood in your body for.
I had another nosebleed on Friday morning. It was nearly 6 a.m. and once again I'd woken up thinking that my nose was running; it wasn't anywhere near as bad as the one I've described above but it was still pretty unpleasant. By the time it had stopped I realised I wasn't going to get back to sleep and so decided to go downstairs for a cup of coffee. After I'd made it I decided to put the telly on, which caused a moment of mild panic as the volume was quite high and I had to turn it down quickly so as not to wake anybody up. When the picture came on 'Columbo' was playing - strange, why is that on at this time of day? It's normally shown in the afternoon on one of those weird channels that never seem to work properly. You know the ones. When I was a lad I remember avidly watching 'Columbo' on television, where the scruffy little chap in the raincoat would outwit the bad guy every time. I loved the way that he'd zero in on the murderer, seeming to be naive or even stupid then wearing them down with his peculiar mannerisms and stories of his wife, or his cousin, or his wife's cousin, or Burt who serves him chili, then leaving the murderer (who therefore thought they'd got away with it) before reappearing with the words 'just one more thing...' when they thought they'd seen the last of him. Great stuff. I even enjoyed the later episodes although the '60s and '70s ones are still the best for me. It was and remains one of the best television series ever created, and as such it was sad to turn on Breakfast Television on Friday morning to see a clip of it being played, because that could only mean that Peter Falk had died. Shame.

Last night I depped in The Repertoire Dogs. I'd been looking forward to this gig since I got a call a while back from Good Old Boys / Ali Mac Band guitarist Simon Bishop, who asked me if I'd be interested in playing with said band. Well of course I would, not least because their regular guitarist is none other than Mick Ralphs. Yes, that Mick Ralphs, the bloke out of Mott The Hoople and Bad Company. Strange but true. Anyway not long after this I got a call from Nick the singer who explained the situation - Hud's on drums, Nigel's on bass, Freya and Ann are on vocals and it's a 50th birthday party somewhere near Harlow. 'Simon will go through the set with you as I'm not in the least bit musical' he said cheerily, before going on to be very disparaging about his own vocal abilities. He then revealed that he'd 'started the band for a bet' after going to a Bryan Adams concert with a friend - 'and here we are, 11 years later'. Like I say, I was looking forward to this one...
As we arrived in Hastingwood I realised that this was a rather different area to the one that The Price visited on numerous occasions when we used to play at The Square in Harlow. We're playing in a marquee in the garden - maybe that should be 'grounds' - of a rather large house, and the first thing we notice is that there's a generator humming rather noisily nearby. 'I bet that's a note that's just out of tune with us' says Nigel as we're setting up; we decide that if we play loudly enough then it won't matter. I'd only met Nigel briefly a couple of times before, he's just finished a tour with comedian Rich Hall (where he was known as Horst Furst II - excellent!) and plays regularly with Half A Meal Ticket among others. We run through a few beginnings, middles and ends before the guests start arriving, it's all sounding good and a fine evening is in prospect. There's an acoustic duo on before us, they've both seen us 'playing in local pubs' and really like our version of 'Don't Stop Believing'. No one in the band reacts although I expect they were all thinking roughly the same as me - 'perhaps there's another band with the same name around here then. And they must look like us as well...'
After a search for an appropriate lead Freya's iPod provides some background music as food and drink starts to appear; we're all sitting around a table near the marquee when a loud POP comes from with general direction of the marquee; the music stops, the lights go out and quite a few people make a noise along the lines of 'OOOOH!' Investigation reveals that someone behind the (makeshift) bar had plugged a fridge in, causing a current surge large enough to melt the extention cable. With people complaining that were no lights on in the portaloos things are unplugged, the generator turned back on and everything returns to normal.
We start 'Jumpin Jack Flash' at 9.15 to what might best be described as 'polite indifference' from all concerned - a shame as I thought we were sounding good. When someone comes up to me in the interval as says words to the effect of 'everyone's enjoying it, they're just not dancing' it makes me feel a bit better, and our second set gets a bit more of a reaction although there are no demands for an encore at the end. As we turn our amps off Nigel said 'well played that man' which means a lot to me coming from a player as good as he is; I think I did ok but a few of the songs were in unusual keys which threw me a bit - if I get chance to play with them again I'll make a better job of it. No really, I will. And it was a shame that the audience were a bit subdued as I really had been looking forward to the show. Oh well. You can't win 'em all. Unless you're Columbo of course. 'Oh sir, just one more thing...'

Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Come on up for the rising...'

It's a funny old life sometimes isn't it? One minute you're on stage with a songwriting genius, the next you're selling flip flops emblazoned with the image of a snooker legend. Or maybe that should be snooker giant? - after all Bill Werbeniuk was a big lad... that's Scott taking the photograph with Dave just visible behind the 'portable white background' that is actually the back of a sign that needs to go up on the front of the shop one day. And it will go up on the front of the shop, just as soon as one of us works out the best way to hang it. It's advertising the fact that we're now stocking more and more musical instruments and accessories, and to this end Chris and myself travelled up to Yorkshire last week to attend the John Hornby Skewes trade show - we met Mr. Skewes (it seems that's what everyone calls him!) and managing director Dennis Drumm, and I briefly met acoustic guitar maestro Gordon Giltrap as well as spending 20 minutes or so talking to Trevor Wilkinson, designer of Vintage and Fret King Guitars as well as various pieces of guitar hardware. We also ordered a fair amount of stuff from Dave the rep - it'll be very interesting to see how the next few months at the shop goes.

In the meantime there's more sad news with the death of Clarence Clemons. I saw him play with Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band on several occasions - the first time was in 1981 at The Wembley Arena on their tour to promote 'The River' album which remains probably the greatest rock performance I've ever seen and indeed am ever likely to see. (I've considered writing a piece on it here several times but never feel as though I can put into words what the evening did for for me. Maybe it's time I got on with it!) As well as being a fine musician he always seemed to be a great character - the sight of him and Springsteen together on stage is one of the iconic images of rock music don't you think? - and it's sad to see him go. First Danny Federici, now The Big Man - these are bad times for The Boss and his band.

Last Friday Awaken played at The Dolphin. I arrived just as their first set was ending to find the place full of people - normally a good sign from a band point of view, but since most of those present had spent the day at Royal Ascot and were therefore both over-dressed and overflowing with alcohol it made for a rather strange evening. There was much dancing and general merriment although it all reminded me of those corporate events that I sometimes find myself playing at - you just know that they're not actually taking very much notice of the music and will forget that you even played virtually as soon as the show finishes, the lads being more concerned with looking down the front of the ladies' dresses and the ladies being more concerned with whether or not they liked the lad that was doing the looking. The band played well but nowhere near as good as they can - it all looked a bit too much like hard work. Maybe it was?

Sunday evening it was time for Pimp My Jazz at The Load of Hay. Now I must admit that since seeing 'Jazz Club' on 'The Fast Show' I often find it hard to keep a straight face when I hear jazz musicians (and indeed fans) talking - it all gets far too serious (not to mention pretentious) for me. Then again most of the musicians involved are much better players and a great deal more successful than I am so what do I know? Anyway Pimp My Jazz are based around the songwriting talents of Gavin Sparkes and Kay Shelly, both of whom I first met when I was working in The Music Shack in Uxbridge back in the late 1990s; the shop was run by Terry Peaker who in addition to playing fretless bass in Pimp My Jazz is also in The Uppercut with your humble narrator. Small World eh? Their two set show included most of the songs from their self-titled debut album alongside a few standards ('Fly Me To The Moon', 'Autumn Leaves' etc) and if nothing else they made me realise that no, I don't know enough about the style of music involved and no, I probably never will. Still they went down well with the jazz fans and that's what matters. Nice!

Incidentally Sunday 10th July sees Blyth Power main man Joseph Porter and acoustic troubadour Wob visit the Load of Hay - it should be an amazing evening!

And the last few days in Balcony Shirts have mostly been spent unpacking and displaying (and indeed selling) the musical merchandise that we bought last week - as I say, it'll be interesting to see how the next few months go...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Not a bad day revisited

Back in May last year I wrote a typically over-emotional piece in these hallowed pages relating to 3 gigs in Yorkshire with T.V Smith. In it I recalled a moment during 'Borderline' at The New Roscoe in Leeds when I felt that it might have been the best piece of music that I'd ever been involved in. I wasn't relating to my or T.V.'s performance - it was the song my friends, the song. You remember songs don't you? They were things that people used to write, back in the days when people who had something to say for themselves chose to use 3 or 4 minutes of pop music to express their feelings. These days I'm not really sure what people do, but that's more my problem than yours, or indeed theirs. But I remembered that moment last night, on the stage at The 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street, next to the afore-mentioned T.V. Smith, playing the afore-mentioned 'Borderline'; as we swung into the first chorus and T.V. sang 'on the borderline, why don't you get on my side?' that feeling returned. You don't get moments like that very often, and I'm sitting here struggling to find a way to describe it. Again I looked out from the stage - there was a small oriental lady at the front, Gaye Advert behind her to the right, some punky lads in the shadows, all eyes on T.V. with the song building and building, bringing all the outsiders like me... you... us... together - '... it's not just you, sometimes I feel it too... look your enemy right in the eye, and say ''stay away 'cause I keep my monsters tied''... on the borderline, where the rules do not apply... you'd better steer wide...

I closed my eyes and played. And played. And played. And suddenly, everything - everything - was alright.

I'd not played at The 12 Bar Club before and I'd love to play there again as it's a great little venue, although the word 'little' is very important in this sentence. There are tables that are bigger that the stage, front rooms that are bigger than the audience area and I'd imagine that one person with flu could very easily infect everybody in the building with one sneeze. It's murky, dank, seedy - in other words, it's fantastic. I travelled up on the tube with Esso; as we arrived '1-2-3' by The Professionals was playing in the bar and club manager Barnet was anticipating a good evening. Esso went to The Angel to meet up with John King just before T.V. arrived; soundcheck was straightforward enough with John the sound man getting everything right in no time. I bumped into Brian from Wunjo Guitars as I walked around the corner to the Nunu takeaway (falafel and salad - excellent!) who I'd not seen for a while - when I said I'd been in a few times and he'd not been there he said he'd been 'working on his golf'. Business must be good then... after catching up on a few phone calls I met Esso and John for a drink then went back to the venue to catch a few songs from gig organiser Brandy Row - anyone who plays a Johnny Thunders song is alright by me - and to get ready for the gig. We were due on at 10.15 but went on a bit later than that, and 'No Time To Be 21' kicked off a set that for me surpassed the 100 Club show earlier this year in pretty much every way. I've dribbled on about 'Borderline' already, but there were more than a few 'can this get any better? Yes it can!' moments for me; that said I also played a couple of absolute howlers during my solo in '21', forgot the extra beat of silence in the last chorus of 'Worn Once', messed up a chord change or two in 'Bored Teenagers' - well, you don't get something for nothing do you? Our set ends with 'One Chord Wonders' and general audience mayhem, we encore with 'Good Times Are Back' and 'Runaway Train Driver' before T.V. sets up shop at the front of the stage and does a roaring trade. Excellent!

It's a late bar and people are everywhere, it would have been great to stay for a drink but Esso and myself have got a last train to catch. Oh well, maybe next time. As we're leaving a chap called Martin stops me to say that he still has his old Price singles and that it was great to see me playing, was the band still going, when was I playing with T.V. again, while we were talking a couple come over to ask the same questions- for a few seconds I think about taking up Esso's idea of getting a cab home later, but times are hard and it would cost too much. Oh well, maybe next time. And once again another one of those amazing songs says it all - it's expensive being poor, these days more expensive than ever. And you don't get something for nothing do you? But for evenings like this, it's all worth it, every time. See you on the borderline sometime...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Operation Ivy

Towards the end of our (ahem) illustrious career myself and my buddies in The Price did a few gigs with a band called Blue Wail. They were very good - a bit rockier than us, very much aimed at the American market. They were often joined on backing vocals by their producer, a bearded gentleman who'd previously produced quite a few other bands including Dr. Feelgood, The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks. As you might imagine I found Martin Rushent to be a very interesting person, and he was also a very nice chap so it was sad to see that he'd died last week.

Meanwhile The Flying Squad supported Treason at Tropic At Ruislip on Friday night. We were a bit under-rehearsed (the gig came in at short notice and it was a chance for us to give new drummer Andy a run out) but our set that went down well with the audience although I felt we were a bit too loose to deserve such a good reaction. Still the customer is always right so I'll stop moaning (for once!) and just say that I'm really looking forward to our gig there next month (the 15th since you've asked) supporting The Small Fakers. I hadn't seen Stuart Monks (or 'Stuart the guitar repair man' as he's often known in these hallowed pages) for a while and he was on good form as ever, and I bumped into Chris from The Members at the bar who said some very complimentary things about our band so maybe it was a good gig after all? I don't know enough about the type of music Treason play to be able to say whether they're good at it or not and it was all a bit heavy for me, but there was a fair amount of headbanging going on down the front so I guess they must have been doing something right.

Saturday saw The Upper Cut made their first appearance at The Uxbridge Ivy Leaf Club. It was one of those strange gigs where you're seemingly ignored all night then 4 numbers from the end people start dancing, demand encores even when you're packing your gear away then tell you that you're the best band that's ever played there and offer you another gig. Weird. We hadn't played together since the Dolphin gig last month so were a bit shaky to begin with but got it all together in the end. As we arrived there were three police cars outside, with a young man clearly the worse for wear having trouble standing up and several people hanging around and talking to the policemen; as I carried my amp through them they were wrapping the young man in that silver foil that you see marathon runners being wrapped in at the end of the race. Like I say, it was all a bit weird. Oh and Stu turned up again - none for ages and then two come along at once, as the old saying goes.

There's a T.V. Smith gig to look forward to this week, on Thursday at The 12 Bar Club (T.V. gigs are always events to look forward to in my little world, but I've not played the venue before so that's another reason to look forward to it) and Awaken are playing at The Dolphin on Friday. Oh and we've got Pimp My Jazz at The Load Of Hay on Sunday. Come on down, as another old saying goes...

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Local lad makes good?

And the madness continues to continue - here's the Uxbridge Gazette article on Balcony Shirts. We actually look like a band don't we? That's John in the middle of the back row, The Price played a few shows with his band Hector's House in our early days and very good they were too; he wrote the song with Chris and Scott with Dave and myself playing on the recording with them. We've now had over 16 thousand hits on YouTube - how on Earth do we follow this?!?

Staying local for the moment, Midnight played a fine show at The Dolphin on Friday evening, with the 5 man horn section sounding good and a fair sized crowd showing no little appreciation. I saw Ace Club D.J.'s Darren and Simon at the bar - Darren made the observation that The Dolphin was turning out to be a really good venue that he's 'never seen a bad band at'. It does seem to be going well there, which is good news for the area as it's another place for bands to play - which reminds me, it's time for another plug for the excellent What's On In Uxbridge website... there we are, that should do it...

Saturday it was time for my first gig in ages with The Briefcase Blues Brothers. Now this could get confusing so pay attention. Mario who used to be Jake in the Chicago Blues Brothers show runs The Briefcase Blues Brothers - he did before he was in our show, and he still does now. Matt who is currently Jake in our show used to be Elwood in Mario's band, and with regular man Chris unavailable is depping at this gig. So the B.B.B.'ers are one ex-C.B.B.'er and one current B.B.B.'er, except when Chris the real B.B.B.'er is available. Got that? Good. Perhaps you can explain it to me... on my way to the gig I got a call from Pete from The Rikardo Brothers telling me that our projected gig the next day at The Unicorn in Abbots Langley had been double booked and so we weren't playing. Bah! I was looking forward to that - oh well, they've apparently promised us a replacement date so we should play there sooner or later. In the meantime Adam's on drums, Kylan's on bass and (another) Matt is on keyboards for a gig in a tent in the garden of a very nice house near Swanley. It's Dylan's 40th birthday, he's a friend of Wayne who sometimes plays keyboards in the B.B.B.'s (I did say earlier that you had to pay attention!) and who is joining us for a few songs. When I got talking to him he said that his surname was Lee, which would make it easy for him to remember my name - I later found out that this is his dad - how cool is that? The show turned out to be a good one although it took me a few songs to get back into B.B.B. mode - they play some of the songs faster and some slower than we do, and in different keys and with different arrangements, all of which takes a bit of getting used to. For this reason I felt that the first set went ok but by the second set really took off with Wayne joining us for 'Shake A Tail Feather' and 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' and a full dance floor throughout. A good evening's work.

And this posting finishes on a local note, with The Flying Squad returning to Tropic At Ruislip this coming Friday; we're supporting Treason who sound like a very - make that very - heavy rock band. It's our first gig with our perspective new drummer Andy who I last played with back in September 2009, at a wedding with me on bass guitar. That was a good gig, and as we sounded good at Ruff Rockers last night hopefully this one will be too - although Treason do look a bit scary... and The Upper Cut make their first visit to The Ivy Leaf Club in Uxbridge on Saturday (we're gigging there, not just going for a drink, honest!) making it two local gigs in a row for your humble narrator. There's something that doesn't happen too often...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Presence of the lord

Eric Clapton. Now there's a name that splits the guitar-playing jury. For some he's the greatest ever exponent of the electric guitar, for others he's an overrated plagiarist who should have retired 40 years ago. I first became aware of him when 'I Shot The Sheriff' was a hit single when I was at school; as my interest in the electric guitar increased I obtained a copy of the 'History Of Eric Clapton' double album which I didn't realise it at the time was a compilation album put together by his record company while he was in the grip of heroin addiction and so wasn't recording new material. I couldn't work out how the guy who by then was releasing albums like 'No Reason To Cry' had also played on tracks like 'Sunshine Of Your Love'; nevertheless I went to see him at The Hammersmith Odeon in 1978 when at the height of my interest in punk rock I saw support act Muddy Waters deliver an astonishing set, followed by a performance from a guitarist who seemed a little, shall we say, confused as to where he was and what he was doing there. I didn't realise that he was completely drunk (have a look at the clip of 'Badge' from the same show as 'Sheriff' - see what I mean? He was worse than that!) and just decided that he was an example of the kind of bloated dinosaur rock star that punk was trying it's best to make redundant. However spurred on by the Muddy Waters show my interest in blues grew, and as a result I eventually heard the 'Beano' album by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers which contains some of his most revered playing and made me realise that all those people that were saying that Clapton was the greatest guitarist ever might just have a point. By then I was playing guitar myself, and when I would say to people that I liked his playing I would often be met with blank stares from people my age who thought I'd gone mad. This of course made me like his playing even more, although I was selective in my listening - Cream, Derek And The Dominos, The Yardbirds and The Bluesbreakers with the odd later track here and there. In the meantime Clapton gave up drinking alcohol and re-emerged in the 1980s wearing Armani suits and making slick, modern sounding records that fitted in well with the then-current music trends. I thought they were ok although listened to now they confirm what we all knew all along - no one should ever have anything whatsoever to do with Phil Collins... he also began playing at The Royal Albert Hall on a (very) regular basis - I saw him there a couple of times and he was a very different player from the one that I'd seen stumbling around the Odeon stage all those years before. He'd been astute enough to move with the times and his success reflected this, although I don't think I was the only person who thought that it was all a bit too slick and polished and who'd have liked it to be a bit rougher around the edges.
Then, from nowhere in 1994 he released an album called 'From The Cradle'. I was astonished when I heard it - the guy that played on all those great records in the '60s and early '70s was back with a vengeance. I saw him around that time and it remains one of the greatest electric guitar performances that I've ever seen. I also saw him play brilliantly with Cream when they reformed and last night saw him at The Albert Hall with Steve Winwood. Also in the band were Chris Stainton on keyboards, Willie Weeks on bass, Steve Gadd on drums and Michelle John & Sharon White on backing vocals - but more about them in a minute.
Support came from Andy Fairweather Low and The Low Riders whose excellent 40 minute set reminded everyone that although he's turned up as a sideman with a great many people over the years he's also a great guitarist and artist in his own right. Like most people my age I remember him best for 'Wide Eyed And Legless' but '(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice' was a good 'ooh he did this one as well' moment, and he warmed the audience up well for what was to come...
Opening with 'Had To Cry Today' Clapton and Winwood's 2 1/2 hour set included 4 songs from the Blind Faith album alongside blues standards, Traffic tracks and much more. Highlights were many and varied although an acoustic version of 'Can't Find My Way Home' has to be mentioned as has an astonishing rendition of 'Voodoo Chile' that featured some jaw-dropping guitar soloing and, it has to be said, a rather scary eye looking down from the screen above the stage. The band were predictably brilliant - Steve Winwood sounded great on guitar and excelled on Hammond Organ, Willie Weeks and Steve Gadd were the very definition of a 'rock solid' rhythm section and Chris Stainton's playing showed why he's been at the top of his game for 40-odd years; I especially enjoyed his avant-garde solo in 'Cocaine', it bought to my mind Mike Garson's astonishing piano break in 'Aladdin Sane' which in my World is never a bad thing to be reminded of. And as for Clapton - well, he was fantastic. Fantastic. There, I've said it. But I wouldn't say it if he wasn't. His performance featured some of the most blistering playing that I've ever heard him deliver, as well as being an absolute master class in taste, phrasing and guitar sound - that's why he's so revered, and that's why people will tell you that he's the best. And on the evidence of last night's show, it's very hard to look them in the eye and tell them that they're wrong - although that still doesn't excuse all that stuff with Phil Collins...