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...