Thursday, December 29, 2011

'Charlie! Help!'

Sad news - Cheeta, the chimpanzee in the original Tarzan films has died. Or has he? After all the 'character' was apparently played by several chimps, and on at least one occasion by a child in a monkey outfit...

In the meantime the YouTube clips just keep on coming - East found this extraordinary item which is simply too good not to post here. If you cancel out the onscreen advert you get subtitles for the lyrics, thereby ensuring that 'Start Me Up' will never sound the same again... I first encountered StSanders back in November 2007 when their spoof videos managed to annoy the people parodied in them so much they they were removed from YouTube by the powers that be; maybe all that money and acclaim takes away your sense of humour?

And I've even managed to do a couple of gigs in between watching YouTube clips -

Christmas Eve gigs are almost always a bit weird. I think there's a sense of anticipation that almost always isn't lived up to; either that or people just get too drunk too quickly... I've not played a Christmas Eve gig for a few years but this year saw your humble narrator appearing with Big Al Reed at The Kings Arms in Harefield. Al's pretty fearless when it comes to material - he phoned me the day before to ask if I 'could have a look at that Joe Jackson song, you know the one...' that'll be 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' then. And he hasn't got a backing track 'but you'll be ok doing it on guitar won't you?' Yes Al, of course I will... in the event it sounded rather good somewhere towards the end of our second set, which also included another guest appearance from Pete from Awaken on several songs, any number of people asking for 'Mustang Sally' (Al couldn't get the backing track to work so me and Pete played it) and a young lady asking for us to play 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' - we didn't know it so Al put the track over the P.A. while we were packing our gear away, and as we were leaving she came over and thanked us for 'singing it for her'. Oh and the fight that everyone thought was going to happen didn't happen - until right at the very end when a father and son squared up at each other. Happy Christmas Harefield.

The Uppercut played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge on Boxing night - Noel the guv'nor had originally intended it to be an 'invite only' show for pub regulars although somewhere nearer to the day it became a 'standard' gig. And a good gig it was, with the band playing well (I thought it was a better show than the one at the Load of Hay the previous weekend) and our set including a few new songs and a couple that we hadn't played for ages. It's always a good band to play in so let's hope we can get a bit more work next year.

Talking of work (or at least what passes for work in my little World) I have spent much of today revising songs for an Utter Madness gig on New Year's Eve; I've not played with them since July so there's been a fair bit to get through. I'll let you know how it goes... and I don't remember the last year that I gigged on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year's Eve - if only the next couple of months were as busy as this!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who'll love Aladdin Sane?

Hmm... I don't remember this photo being taken. And who's that guy on the far left?

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the Balcony Shirts Christmas card. And why not?

It's been very - make that very - busy in the shop, not least on Saturday when your humble narrator found himself to be more than a little worse for wear after a night at the General Elliot watching The Good Old Boys. My condition had little to do with the band (who gave a typically excellent performance) but was more to do with the oceanic quantity of lager consumed by myself and East - perhaps his one word text message to me the next morning said all that needs to be said... and we've continued to be busy all week, which is good news in these troubled times.

The Upper Cut played at The Load Of Hay on Sunday for the first time since my birthday back in July. From my point of view we took a while to get going, with our first set feeling a little bit too much like hard work although the audience reaction suggested otherwise. Pete from Awaken joined us on guitar for several numbers, and with us being called back for several encores even I had cheered up (a bit) by the end of the show. We're playing again on Boxing Night at a secret regulars / invite only show in Uxbridge - it's like being in the Pistols!

And following on from the last posting's YouTube-fest a momentous televisual event occurred during a Top Of The Pops Christmas special broadcast on Wednesday evening, when footage of David Bowie performing 'The Jean Jenie' was shown for the first time since 1973. It was thought to have been lost forever thanks to the BBC's ridiculous policy of wiping recordings, but cameraman John Henshall kept a copy so that he could show how a camera lens that he'd developed was working. The story even made the evening news, and you can see why here - it features Bowie and The Spiders From Mars playing live, with the band in their glam rock finery and the mighty Mick Ronson at his magnificent best. Boy could he play guitar. It doesn't get much better than this - but I wonder what else Mr. Henshall has in his loft?

Well that clip is enough to give me a happy Christmas! I hope that you have one too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'And oh I don't know why...'

No gigs for your humble narrator this week, which is not a good situation for someone who's attempting to make a living out of playing the guitar. Bah! I can't remember a December that was this quiet... anyway here are a few YouTube clips that I've seen lately - after all, who wants to play the guitar when you can watch other people doing it? (Well, actually, I do... which reminds me, The Uppercut play an 'it's-nearly-Christmas' gig at The Load of Hay this coming Sunday - if you're in the area why not come along?)

When I was a lad there was a band called The Clash. They were very good. Very good indeed. In fact I've been known to say that one of the best things about being old is that you were able to see The Clash play. (On bad days I've been known to say that one of the ONLY good things about being old is that you were able to see The Clash, but that's another story...) Some amazing film of the band at The New York Palladium in 1979 has recently surfaced - originally silent, it has been painstakingly synced up with a bootleg audio recording of the show, the full story of which can be found on The Clash Blog along with the footage which is also on YouTube here. It's a famous show in the history of the band as it's the night that Paul Simonon smashed up his bass guitar, as immortalised on the cover of their 'London Calling' album. While it's not the greatest quality it captures the fearsome power of the band at their brilliant best, and I for one wish there was more of it, not least for the rare sight of Mick Jones playing 'English Civil War' on acoustic rather than electric guitar.
(Incidentally if you've never seen the electric version then here is - I told you they were very good...)

If you've ever been mad enough to attempt to learn to play a musical instrument then you'll know that it can be a very rewarding experience; you'll also know that it can be extremely frustrating, not least when you know what you're supposed to be playing but can't quite manage to get the sound out of the instrument. My good friend and Awaken guitarist Pete sent me a link for a clip of 'The Angriest Guitarist in the World' - it seems as though he's known as The Treeman and has been getting quite a lot of attention on YouTube. I of course have never heard of him before and therefore can heartily recommend this clip of the man himself in action - the moment at 2 min 18 sec where an edit cuts to our man holding an acoustic guitar that's being held together with what looks like masking tape is well worth savouring. There's a second clip here, and various other links to actual songs (as opposed to violent sweary rants) including the one that he's attempting to get right in the first clip can also be found - I'm not sure that it's not all a little bit contrived here and there, but it's certainly very entertaining.

I found this extraordinary clip of an English language class at The Sullivan School Kindergarten in South Korea on the ever-excellent Monkey Picks blog; I wish this sort have thing had gone on at our school, although of course when I was their age The Ramones were still several years in the future. I guess we could have had a teacher with an electric guitar leading us all in Beatles songs? Anyway it's a brilliant clip, especially the bit where the kids at the front can't wait to sing 'third verse, different from the first' and get back to the pogoing... and here are Da Brudders themselves playing the same song 'Judy Is A Punk' on The Don Kirshner's Rock Concert TV show in 1977. Analysis is futile my friends, other than to say something along the lines of 'that's rock 'n' roll'...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sittin' on top of the world

I've just found out that the great Hubert Sumlin died on December 4th. It's his funeral today.

If you don't know the name then buy yourself any compilation album of recordings Howlin' Wolf made for Chess Records in the 1950s and '60s. That's him on lead guitar. Put simply it's some of the best electric blues guitar playing of all time. He also worked with Muddy Waters, but it's the Wolf's recordings that have won him a place in history - and rightly so. They are fabulous.

In latter years he's been a regular contributor to the Crossroads Guitar Festivals organised by Eric Clapton, who has made no secret of his fervant admiration of Sumlin's playing. (Here is a great clip from last year's festival - note E.C. singing along!) And the fact that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards paid for his funeral speaks volumes for his influence on them and therefore subsequent generations of musicians.

I met him once. I never tire of retelling the story, as is evidenced by the fact that I told it here as early as October 2006, just after I started blogging. You can read it here if you like - I hope my writing has improved since then... but the profound nature of his comments have never left me, and in times of self doubt (of which there are many) they come back to me along with his enthusiasm for music and the kindness and encouragement that he showed to me, a total stranger among the many that someone like him must have met. My brief encounter with him showed him to be a absolute gentleman, and I've not heard or read anything anywhere that contradicts that.

His importance in the story of the electric guitar cannot and must not be underestimated.
Thanks Hubert.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

One step backwards, two step forwards

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of it's noisiest authorities insisted on it's being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only'
- 'A Tale Of Two Cities' (1859) by Charles Dickens

Back in the Middle Ages it was illegal to use the musical interval of a tritone in a composition. Medieval ears liked to hear perfect intervals when listening to music (for an explanation of the musical terms used in the ranting that follows then please click here, and I apologise in advance if I'm even more pretentious than usual in the next few paragraphs) so the sound of a flattened fifth was considered to be the most dissonant of them all as it split the octave exactly in half and therefore was as far away from home as could be imagined. Some (so-called) learned folk found the sound so offensive that they named the interval in question diabolus in musica - the 'devil in music' and wanted anyone who used it in a composition to be put on trial for witchcraft. It sounds crazy, but, incredibly, it's true.
Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1960s and the sound of the flattened fifth has been picked up by those well-known purveyors of witchcraft The Jimi Hendrix Experience whose classic single 'Purple Haze' starts with a tritone between Bb on the guitar and E on the bass; soon after Black Sabbath are using it in songs like 'Symptom Of The Universe' and 'Black Sabbath' itself, and bands like Metallica and Slayer use it extensively to this day, with Slayer even going so far as to name one of their albums 'Diabolus In Musica'. I suppose heavy metal musicians and indeed fans like the idea of being allied to Satan and all his little wizards although as far as I know no one involved has ever been put on trial for witchcraft; I must admit I always thought was a rather extreme thing to suggest for simply putting two musical notes next to each other, but what do I know?
Well I thought it was a rather extreme thing to do until sometime around 9.30 pm last Wednesday, when I found myself gripped by an unreasonable desire to inflict pain, torture, painful torture, even death on Phil Collins and Lamont Dozier for writing 'Loco In Acapulco'. If you've got five minutes have a listen to it here and tell me if I'm being unreasonable. You might disagree but I cannot for the life of me work out how The Four Tops, one of the greatest Motown acts of all time, managed to get involved with such unspeakably unlistenable tosh. Or am I wrong? Is it actually better than classics like 'Reach Out I'll Be There', 'Standing In The Shadows Of Love' and 'Bernardette'? What do you think? There's not a flattened fifth in sight but as far as I'm concerned it's proof that The Devil exists. No punishment is too great for anybody who had anything to do with the production of this song. Kill 'em all! Now! Argh!
In case you were wondering what I was up to as I contemplated such murderous violence, I was on stage with Pete and Matt (Jake and Elwood) and Richard (saxophone) playing a Chicago Blues Brothers playback show in front of a room full of people who couldn't have cared less whether we were there or not. I've more or less driven from my mind where we were and what we were doing there, and I have absolutely no idea why we were playing the song in question as it's got about as much to do with the Blues Brothers as, say, 'I Can't Help Myself'. Mind you we played that as well. As I put my guitar down at the end of the show I thought to myself 'that was my least enjoyable show of 2011'. And it was. It was horrific. The only thing that got me through it was the thought of the next two nights with Ruts D.C....

...which thankfully didn't let me down. (I don't know what I would have done if they had!) The Bournemouth Academy show was great but the London show at The Forum in Kentish Town was something else again. We'd bought 'In A Rut' into the set at Bournemouth - when we ran through it at the soundcheck we got a round of applause from The Alabama 3 members and crew who saw it, which bode well for the performance of the song that evening. The show was the best one so far, but the next night pushed things to greater heights; with the venue pretty much full before we went on we started well with 'Whatever We Do' followed by two songs from the new album 'Mighty Soldier' and 'One Step'. Molara's fine vocal on 'Jah War' got a great reaction from the dancefloor before a medley of a new song 'Smiling Culture' and the old Ruts classic 'S.U.S.' led us into 'Fools'. Next it's the afore-mentioned 'In A Rut'; Segs had invited Ainsley (who sings on some of the new album) to join us for the middle section which you can see here - he's very good isn't he? We prefaced 'Babylon's Burning' with a short section from 'Weak Heart' - as I put my guitar down at the end of the show I thought to myself 'that was my most enjoyable show of 2011'. And it was. It was terrific. Does that mean that I've just proved that God exists?!?

Back to basics on Saturday night, with The Uppercut returning to The Dolphin for the first time in a while; the evening marked the 24th anniversary of Noel and Bridie first taking the pub over, and was a suitably wild 'n' wacky affair. We hadn't played together for a while (they'd played some shows while I was away in Dubai with Pete depping on guitar) and so were a bit loose here and there but the energy of the performance more than made up for the odd mistake. Well, I think it did... Noel took to the microphone towards the end of the evening to thank everyone for coming and then to lead everyone in what he referred to as 'the universal football song', 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. A cracking evening.

My third Sunday afternoon gig in four weeks (I don't think that's ever happened before!) saw myself and Big Al Reed return to The Feathers in Chalfont St. Giles. No sign of the chap with Tourettes Syndrome this time (apparently he'd been out the night before) but everyone there seemed to enjoy our efforts despite Al suffering from a bad throat. He's invited a mate of his called Barry along to play a few songs on slide guitar - when I asked him what he was going to play he didn't really know as he was not used to playing solo, and would I like to join him on lead guitar? Of course I would... as he started the first song I realised that I had no idea what he was going to play, or indeed if he was able to play at all - fortunately he was excellent, and it was really good to play some blues with him.

With Christmas looming it's all systems go at Balcony Shirts, meaning that I've been in the shop every day this week. But The Uppercut were out again last night, at The Six Bells in Brentford celebrating bass maestro Terry Peaker's 60th birthday. He'd invited a lot of his musician friends along, many of whom got up to play a song or two - it all got a bit chaotic in places with far too much hippie-ish jamming for my not-at-all hippie-ish liking, but everything went well and Terry was well pleased with the evening.

So there you have it - in the course of this posting I've played my best gig of the year, my worst gig of the year, and proved that God and The Devil both (probably) exist. Not a bad week's work then...