Wednesday, September 28, 2011

R.I.P. R.E.M. / T.O.T.P. / O.G.W.T etc

Well I for one was sad to hear that R.E.M. have decided to 'call it a day as a band'. I've not always liked their music but I've always liked them if you know what I mean - given their immense level of success they seem to me to have remained as independent as possible (always a good thing don't you think?) as well as supporting environmental and human rights causes (something that's often a controversial move particularly in the U.S.A.) and, let's not forget, producing some very good music. For what my opinion is worth I think Peter Buck is one of the great alternative rock guitarists - his anti-guitar-hero approach to playing (perhaps best summarised as 'do what's right for a song rather that what might make you look good') is something that a lot of musicians could learn from; Michael Stipe has always been a fabulously eccentric frontman as well as being a brilliantly original singer (not sure what some of those lyrics are about though!) while the original rhythm section of Mike Mills and Bill Berry are as good a combination as any that you care to name. Since Berry's departure due to illness in 1997 the band have perhaps struggled to reach their earlier heights (although I personally think that 'The Great Beyond' is as good a song as anything from their earlier catalogue) but they remained a classic live act, and as their comments on their website regarding their decision to disband confirm they're a band that will be missed in a rock music world that sadly often devoid of the kind of principals and intelligence that they had in abundance.

No gigs for me this weekend (and none next weekend either - bah!) which meant I was able to catch a typically splendid performance from The Good Old Boys at The General Elliot in Uxbridge on Friday evening. Alan, Pete and myself all agreed that The Rikardo Brothers should chase some more gigs (we haven't been able to get together through the summer due to us all having other work etc) so we're all going to get busy looking for gigs. I've also had time to catch a bit of music on the television - B.B.C. 4 have been re-showing episodes of 'Top Of The Pops' from 1976 over the last few months and I've seen as many of them as I can and apart from the odd appearance from the likes of T. Rex it's been as dreadful (make that dreadful) as you might think it would be. But this week it featured none other than Eddie And The Hot Rods whose barnstorming live performance of Bob Seger's 'Get Out Of Denver' was witnessed by your humble narrator back in the day. I witnessed it again on Thursday night and it was simply fantastic, and a portent of punkier times to come over the next couple of years. I really hope that they continue to show further programmes as some remarkable performances could well be on the horizon. And the same station also showed a compilation of 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' footage this weekend too, some bad, some good, all of it a priceless reminder of the role played by the show in giving many people their first television exposure. And if that wasn't enough 'Later... with Jools Holland' last night featured Wilko Johnson - yes, the King Of Canvey Island live in your own front room. If you missed it then here it is - and there's hopefully more from the great man and his cohorts on Friday evening's show! Maybe I should watch the telly more often!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Double Trouble

A coupe of contrasting gigs for your humble narrator since the last posting :-

Saturday night it was time for The Uppercut to return to The Misty Moon in Bethnal Green. As Roger (drums) and myself pulled up outside we saw the two Terrys (vocals and bass) talking to a young man in a suit - Terry the bass greeted us with the words 'double booked' which are never good words to hear when you arrive at a venue. It turned out the young man was Ian March and it was indeed his name on the poster on the pillar which presumably holds the pub up; a quick conversation between Terry the voice and Gerry the guv'nor ended with the news that both acts could play 'on full money'. Oo-er! Oh well - this should be an interesting evening...
We set up in the alcove as we normally do then Ian set up his P.A. and MiniDisc player in front of our gear. The pub has a 1.30 a.m. licence so it was decided that Ian would do 45 minutes from 10 o'clock then we'd go on for the same length of time; he'd then do another set with us finishing the evening. As we got ourselves some drinks we noticed that there was a poster advertising future gigs - we're due back there on October 15th but, you've guessed it, it wasn't our name on the poster, it was Nataya... Terry came back from another conversation with Gerry saying 'he's not got his laptop with him, I've got to call him Monday'. Hmm... by now Ian had started - there are a few likely lads who look and indeed behave as though they've been drinking all day, dancing comically in front of Ian as he forces a weak smile in their general direction. His Buble - inspired act goes down well enough with the barflies although he looks as though he'd be happy to be virtually anywhere else in the World.
We start our first set with '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' to general indifference - we sound good but somehow different to the other times that we've played there. I'm wondering if it's because I'm using my spare amp (a Fender Blues Deluxe) as Roger the amplifier repair man hasn't been able to look at my main amp yet, but it's the overall sound that's changed... eventually we realise why - there's a curtain around the alcove that wasn't there before (presumably to keep the sound in the building rather than it escaping and annoying the neighbours) and it's deadened the sound considerably, with Roger being particularly bemused by the 'new' drum sound. Still we're playing well although no one seems to be interested in our antics. Nights like this can be very hard work, although sometimes they improve for no apparent reason - sadly this wasn't to be one of those nights, and I reach the end of the show without breaking sweat. I don't like it when that happens, it feels like I've not tried as hard as I can and that's a bad feeling to have. Still, I guess you can't win 'em all.

Last night's show on the other hand couldn't have been more different, when the Chicago Blues Brothers visited The Queens Theatre in Hornchurch. A nearly-sold-out crowd saw a nearly-the-A-team band (Matt and Mike as Jake and Elwood, Squirrel and Marc on bass and drums, Tracy on vocals, Ian on keyboards and Dave on vocals with Ian depping on sax for Richard being the only interloper) deliver an energetic show which definitely made me sweat. That's more like it! And if that wasn't good enough I noticed when I walked along the High Street that the Hogshead pub was advertising ROCK 'N' ROLL BINGO - you can imagine the caller can't you? Well I can - U2, Alabama 3, Mega City 4... excellent!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Time gentlemen please

Bad news - it wasn't 'a bit of a cold' it was manflu, that most terrible of illnesses. Many are the ladies that say that manflu doesn't exist, but they are of course sadly deluded - I didn't feel too bad on Monday but by Tuesday I was in it's evil clutches with a headache from hell, all sorts of nasty stuff pouring out of my nose and a voice that sounded like I'd been gargling with paint stripper. Not good frankly. After taking mountains of paracetamol and drinking gallons of water (I only exaggerate a couple of million times a day) throughout Tuesday and Wednesday I heroically dragged myself down to The Crown And Sceptre for the Good For Nothing performance by Scott from Balcony Shirts - as I stumbled around trying to plug my acoustic guitar into the P.A. system Scott asked me if I would like to play on the whole set rather than just the bread and Q.P.R. songs as we'd originally planned. I thought I'd said something like 'I would if I was feeling better, and anyway I don't know your songs' although I think I actually said something more like ' Argh were ef Iwa fellin bitter' then coughed for about 40 seconds; either way he played a couple of his own songs (and very good they were too) before beckoning me up to join him. The bread song went well before he introduced another of his own songs -pausing to say 'it's just C, F and G with a capo at the second fret' to your humble narrator he launched into a song that I'd not heard before. After listening to the first verse I started with a few tentative notes; by about halfway through I'd more or less got the hang of it and would have tried a few more bits than I did if my nose hadn't started running during the last verse. Then he started strumming with the words 'Chas And Dave' - I recognised 'Ain't No Pleasing You' but made a dreadful mess of the chord sequence. Bah! Still never mind, it's time for the Q.P.R. song, he's changed the key (actually come to think of it he changed the key to the bread song too!) but I can play this one and it ends to cheery applause. Excellent. Even though I'm feeling rough (did I mention that I had manflu?) it was good fun although it would have been good to have been familiar with the other songs. Still if I've learned anything from playing this music lark it's that once you've made a mistake then it's gone forever and there's not much point in worrying about it. Time for a drink then...

'Last orders at the bar'.

The manager (I think he's the manager, he seemed to be running the place) walked around to tell everybody personally. It was just after 10.30. We hadn't been that bad had we? Mind you there weren't many people in... looks like I'd attended the only two Good for Nothing club nights at the Crown And Sceptre. Shame. Oh well, it might be a good thing to go home early, after all I'm not feeling too well... as I was leaving Darren thanked me for playing then added 'Simon bootlegged it'. Bugger! What was that I was saying about mistakes being gone forever?

P.S. - I found out on Saturday morning that they will be carrying on with the club night on Wednesdays after all - good news!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tools of the trade

I take a lot of things with me when I play a gig. Well, I think I do. If I'm using an electric guitar I take a guitar (or two) along with an amplifier (obviously!) and several leads (you've got to have some spares haven't you?) along with effect pedals if needed; I also take some tools (screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters etc) along with things like spare fuses and valves. I've only got one acoustic guitar so as there's no spare for that I always make sure that I've got plenty of strings with me - mind you I take plenty of strings with me even when I've got a spare guitar. Part of this neurotic attention to detail is probably that I'm neurotic (!) while the rest is the ever-popular 'if I take it, I won't need it' syndrome - a bit like thinking that if you take an umbrella with you it won't rain... and normally that line of thinking seems to work, as I rarely need to use any of the myriad spares that I take with me. I'd like to think that I look after my equipment, and generally I try keep everything in good working order - which is why when something does go wrong it comes as something of a shock...

I was halfway through my solo in 'Maggie May' (the first song of The Uppercut's second set at The Halfway House in Rickmansworth) on Friday night when a very strange sound came from my amplifier - a kind of spitting, crackling noise which lasted a few seconds then stopped. On the one hand I was pleased that it had stopped, on the other hand I was somewhat dismayed to find that everything had stopped and no sound whatsoever was forthcoming. Not good. Worse still, the little red light on the top on my amplifier (a Fender Blues Deville in case you were wondering) had gone off. Not good at all. I took my guitar off as the rest of the band ground to a halt; I made a quick 'erm, my amplifier's gone wrong' announcement, and then made myself concentrate on the optimistic thought that 'it must be the fuse' - which was 'optimistic' because that was pretty much the only thing that I knew how to fix...
As I undid the screw on the plug I wondered what I would do if changing the fuse didn't solve the problem; when it didn't solve the problem I swore a bit. Quite a bit if I remember rightly. When that didn't make the amplifier work it was time for another approach. In one of the compartments in the top part of my toolbox (which is so unfeasibly large that I can also keep all the leads and pedals in it) were some other, smaller fuses. I remembered buying them from Maplin in Uxbridge, ooh, 15 years ago, maybe more, they're for the fuse that's inside the back of the amplifier where the valves are. I'd better try that one then.
I took the fuse out of the amplifier and held it up to the light. It's one of these little glass ones that you can see through, and even through the tinted glasses that I wear when I'm gigging I could see that the wire in the fuse had broken - in other words it had blown. Great. I'll replace it and then we're back in business - provided of course that there isn't a fault somewhere in the amplifier and it blows the replacement fuse. If that happens then we're in trouble.
As I went to switch the amp back on I looked around to the rest of the band, all of whom were looking at me with what I took to be a mixture of apprehension and optimism; I said something like 'as Dave Allen would probably have said, if you have a God then hope that he is with you now' and switched the amp back on. The red light lit up, a beautiful sight. I waited a few seconds... it was still on. Now the moment of truth - try the guitar... I thought it crackled a bit, but maybe that was just me. The red light was still on. Good.
We debated what to do next, eventually reaching the slightly bizarre decision that we should restart the song from the guitar solo rather than from the beginning. So we did. The guitar sounded great, better than before. Surely a fuse can't make any difference to the sound? Of course it can't.
'That was a good fuse that you put in there' said Roger cheerily. We'd finished a fine show and were feeling great. He went on to say that he thought the guitar had sounded better than before the fuse had blown. I told him that I thought it sounded good too. Strange. I looked at the control panel on the top of the amplifier. The volume was higher than I'd had it earlier in the evening. A lot higher. I must have knocked it when I was leaning over it to change the fuse. So that's why it sounded better!

I was in the shop all day yesterday and didn't feel too well when I got home; I woke up today with what feels like a bit of a cold. Bah! Still I thought I'd plug my amp in this afternoon to see how it was sounding - it made a horrible high pitched screaming noise, and that was before I'd even plugged a guitar in! Looks like I'd better ring Roger the amplifier repair man in the morning...

In the meantime a splendid time was had at The Crown And Sceptre in Uxbridge (now that's something that I never thought that I'd ever write!) on Wednesday evening when Darren and Simon hosted their first Good For Nothing club evening. I met Esso from The Lurkers there just after 9.30; sometime after 10 o'clock Colour Me Wednesday played an excellent acoustic set to an increasingly appreciative audience. The rest of the evening saw slightly bewildered pub regulars recoiling in confusion as their requests for tracks from the likes of Pink were met with replies along the lines of 'sorry we haven't got anything by them'; Esso and myself were approached by a less-than-sober chap who asked us to feel his biceps (I'm not making this up, honest) and when the music was over the pub guv'nor seemed optimistic about upcoming Wednesday gatherings, which should hopefully bode well for the future. This week Scott from Balcony Shirts is playing an acoustic set, aided and abetted by at least one other member of the shop staff. It should be fun.

Monday, September 05, 2011

'In other news...'

No gigs for your humble narrator this weekend (although I did manage to catch a fine set from Larry Miller at Tropic At Ruislip on Friday) so it's time for another commercial break :-

Following on from their Ace! club night a couple of months ago Darren and Simon have started GOOD FOR NOTHING at The Crown And Sceptre in Uxbridge. They're looking to be there every Wednesday evening starting this week playing 'pop, soul indie and rock 'n' roll from the '50s to now' (sounds good doesn't it?) with occasional solo live music sets (Scott from Balcony Shirts is playing at next week's gathering - I might even do a bit myself!) with full details to be found on the ever-excellent 'What's On In Uxbridge' website.

There's also time for a quick plug for my good friend and Blue Five partner-in-crime Pete a.k.a. Voltarol who is promoting (and indeed performing in) a series of shows featuring Brazilian singer Silvia Nicolatto and a band of Anglo-Cornish musicians put together especially for the project. They're gigging throughout September and October in Cornwall and Dorset, and full details of the gigs and their progress towards them can be found here. They're writing songs over the Internet and everything!

Keith Moon died 33 years ago on Wednesday; he would have been 65 last month and to mark that occasion the mod-tastic Monkey Picks blog featured some previously unseen pictures of the great man. I've written of my admiration of The Who in these hallowed pages many times so I won't do any of the usual over-emotional dribbling here - instead I'll just point you to these three clips of the Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band In The World (quote unquote) at their incomparable, untouchable best. Nobody did it better, nobody does it better and I personally don't think anybody ever will. Cheers Moonie.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cool Britannia

So let's start as we mean to go on, with a sneak preview of something that should be happening in 2012 if not before. 'COOL BRITANNIA' will (ahem!) attempt to tell the story of British rock music from the 1960s to the present day. Myself and some very familiar faces (Matt on vocals, Squirrel on bass, Chris on keyboards and Dave on drums - trivia fans may be interested to know that the drum kit in the photo is the one that he used on all the Ruts and Ruts D.C. recordings among many others. Oh and that's my Lemon Drop guitar just visible on the corner of the drum riser, and Pete Townshend on the back projection - not sure we'll get away with that!) spent much of yesterday at the excellent Clifftown Studios in Southend running through several songs with the intention of making a promotional film for the show. I'm sure that it will make it on to YouTube at some point in the not-too-distant future, and when it does I'll put a link on here. There are already theatre shows booked for next Spring (it seems a long way off but it'll soon come round!) and I for one am really looking forward to it.

And talking of YouTube links, click here for a Rebellion Festival video diary courtesy of Louise Distras - the short clip from our gig gives me chance to mention that I'm playing with T.V. Smith at the 12 Bar Club on Friday 4th November. Again it seems a long way off, but it'll soon come round...