Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hey Joe

Well it's the morning after the night before, and I've woken up with a cold. Don't you just hate it when that happens? I felt fine last night - let's hope it doesn't turn out to be the dreaded Manflu... but it was a good evening for The Upper Cut at The Dolphin in Uxbridge, which unless something comes in at short notice will be my final show of 2012. Still it's been a good few days in mad-guitar-world, and last night's gig was definitely a fine way to end the year. Roger returned on drums for a show that could have been tighter (the four of us hadn't played together for just over a month due to illness and other commitments) but that felt good and went down well with the assembled multitude. A young lady kept asking us to play 'Fairytale Of New York' - despite repeated 'we don't know it, and we don't really play stuff like that'-type comments from all the band members she persisted until long after the band's equipment had been packed away. As I was leaving she stopped me to ask if we could learn it for next year!

Rewinding back to last Friday Big Al Reed And The Cardiac Arrests played at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham. We had a rehearsal the previous Tuesday (the 18th if you're counting) where we attempted a fair amount of unfamiliar material - Al is very good at finding songs with titles like 'Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy'... the gig was good but we took a while to get going. Al likes to start the show with a couple of slower songs to warm his voice up, but personally I wonder if we have too many ballads in our repertoire for pub gigs, particularly in the first set when it felt hard to keep the audience interested. Still we made up for it in a more rock 'n' roll-orientated second set which went very well indeed, especially when Chris the keyboard player suggested 'Green Onions' which we'd not played before but that I for one will be hoping that we play again. Al was pleased with the way things went, and with more rockier material promised things should hopefully go well for the band.

And then there was Saturday's Ruts DC show at The 100 Club. I'd been looking forward to this show since it was first booked several months ago, and I'm pleased to say that it didn't disappoint. We had a day in The Music Complex in Deptford on Wednesday running through the songs that we played at the October gigs, looking at some more songs from the band's back catalogue for next year's gigs (more about them another time) and working up a version of 'Bank Robber' to play as an encore at The 100 Club - Segs worked with Joe Strummer in Electric Doghouse and as the show marked the 10th anniversary of his death it seemed like a good idea to play a Clash song for the occasion. 
The evening itself was enjoyable but rather long - The Sex Pistols Experience sounded as good as ever (Dave the drummer told me that he's playing with The Godfathers next year - good man!) and Clash tribute band Rebel Truce played the band's first album in sequence with a couple of singles at the end. By the time we went on at a quarter past eleven many of the audience were leaving to catch their trains home which was a great shame - I know it makes it better value for money if there are lots of act on but surely it would have been better to finish the live music at say half past eleven then play music over the P.A. for the people who were able to stay late? Nevertheless we played well and the people who were there seemed to love it, although there wasn't time for an encore which means that 'Bank Robber' went unheard. Shame! 

Here are It Was Cold and Smiling Culture from the gig, and the Aural Sculptors review mentioned last time has a few other tracks as well as some photos from the show. Hurrah!

I returned to The 100 Club on Sunday to catch some of the second night of the Remembering Joe weekend, but not before I'd journeyed to Breakfast Studios in Clapham Common for an Atlantic Soul Machine rehearsal. I'd managed to get a copy of a DVD of their November show at The Bulls Head in Barnes which was a great help in learning their material, as although many of the songs were familiar to me they have a somewhat jazzier approach to things than most of the bands I play with, and I've always been lousy at jazz... still the band were very helpful, and I left there looking forward to the next night's show.
I arrived at The 100 Club just as T.V. Smith was going on. I don't mind admitting that I'd loved to have played the show with him, but I'd had a great time the night before so I guess it's best not to be greedy! He was as excellent as ever, and set the scene for Glen Matlock And The Philistines who gave a great show including 'Keys To Your Heart' in their encore. I knew it was a good idea to play one of Joe's songs... The Price played quite a few shows with an early version of The Philistines back in the nineties, and I managed to get a few words with Glen afterwards. When I said that I was playing in Ruts DC and that I used to watch the band back in the day and sometimes can't quite believe that I'm doing it he said that he could relate to that, as it was the same with him and The Faces. Strange but true! I also met Philistines guitarist James Stevenson for the first time who seemed like a very nice chap and who invited me up to Angel Music (he's a partner in the business) to check out some guitars and amplifiers. That could get expensive!

Christmas Eve it was time to see how much I'd learned the day before, as I was depping in The Atlantic Soul Machine at The Bulls Head in Barnes. All things considered it went very well, with a fair few people in attendance (Christmas Eve can be one of 'those' nights where you can find yourself playing to a near-empty room) and a good performance from the band. I remember seeing them back in the nineties at The Rayners in Rayners Lane - Pete the trombone player was there back in those days, and he's put together a good line up for this new version of the band. They all seemed pleased with my efforts, and Pete said he'd be in touch if they needed me again so I guess I did something right. 

Then it was The Upper Cut in Uxbridge last night - and that's it gigwise for me in 2012. A strange year. Some very good bits, some all-too-bad bits... which reminds me, it's time for some more paracetamol...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Careful with that axe Eugene!

Before I leave for tonight's gig with The Atlantic Soul Machine at The Bulls Head in Barnes there's just - just! - time to post this splendid image of Santa Claus doing what all of us guitarist types have felt like doing at some time or other... it was sent to me by my mate Adrian who writes the excellent Aural Sculptors blog; this is usually devoted to live performances by The Stranglers, but his latest posting is a very enthusiastic (I wouldn't be putting it here if it wasn't!) review of the Ruts D.C. show at The 100 Club the night before last which you can read here. I'll be ranting and raving about that and all the other shows that I'm in the middle of playing at the moment sometime in the next few days, but in the meantime I hope you have a very Merry Christmas. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

A guitar's not just for Christmas...

It occurred to me that I finished Monday's post by saying that there were gigs coming up and then committed a cardinal sin in the world of shameless self-publicity when I didn't say where they were or who they were with. So - tonight Big Al Reed and The Cardiac Arrests play at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham then it's Ruts D.C. at the 100 Club on Saturday (Glen Matlock and T.V. Smith are there on Sunday) as part of the Joe Strummer tribute weekend. On Christmas Eve I'm depping in The Atlantic Soul Machine at The Bulls Head in Barnes then The Upper Cut play The Dolphin in Uxbridge on Boxing Night. In the meantime Happy Christmas y'all - let's hope it's a good one, without any fear...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Can't pay, won't pay

Ravi Shankar, master of the sitar, has died. His influence on George Harrison and The Beatles (and therefore on The 1960s generally - witness the reaction to this performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival) has been well documented, but how many of us have actually heard one of his albums all the way through? I must admit that I haven't... still it's always sad to loose a musician of his stature, and it's certainly sad in this case.

Two gigs for your humble narrator the weekend just gone, the first of which was the much-looked-forward-to (by me at least!) Flying Squad show at Tropic At Ruislip with Dr. Feelgood. Since we usually play a fair few Feelgoods songs (to the extent that we're often billed as a tribute to them) we worked up a different set of songs especially for this show - indeed of the 11 songs played we'd only played 3 of them in public before. As such it was a very interesting show from our point of view, not least because a couple of things didn't go according to plan... 
As we carried our gear into the venue Dr. Feelgood were soundchecking with 'Down At The Doctors' and were sounding, well, pretty much exactly like Dr. Feelgood. When we went to set our stuff up we discovered that they didn't want to move any of their gear, meaning that Andy was obliged to set his drums up stage left rather than in the centre; a bit annoying, but worse still his snare drum wires worked loose as we soundchecked. Attempts to secure them proved at best semi-successful, and as a result our set was something of a nightmare for our drummer man with him having to attempt a repair after virtually every song. That said our efforts went down extremely well with the assembled multitude, to the extent that we even played an encore. And Dr. Feelgood were good too - I know there is a certain amount of controversy about the band continuing to play with no original members, but they're still a great night out and that's all right by me. And this was a great night out, right up to the point where I asked Dave the co-promoter about the band's money - as he said something like 'you'll have to talk to Philip about that' I got a bad feeling about what might be coming next...
'I never said there was any money in the gig' said Philip, sounding less-than-friendly. I hoped he was joking. He wasn't. He went on to say that he'd had to pay Dr. Feelgood a large percentage of the door money, then pay for the P.A., and reiterated that he had never said that he was going to pay us anything. Well that may or may not be the case, and maybe I was naive for not checking exactly what was going on - but he definitely didn't say that the band wouldn't get any money for the show. I got the feeling that we were supposed to feel honoured that we'd been allowed to play; what he didn't (and indeed doesn't) know is that I'd turned down a well-paid Blues Brothers show as this one had been in the diary for a long time and I hadn't want to let him and the venue down. Add to that the fact that the band (the other members of which travel a fair distance to play in Ruislip) had scheduled extra rehearsals to learn the afore-mentioned new material and you have an idea of how badly this went down with The Flying Squad. Maybe a bit of petrol money could have been found from somewhere? 'I'll make it up to you next time' said he walking - make that scurrying - off. Next time? We'll see if there is one.

On a more positive note Saturday evening saw myself and my good mate and former Cane Toads guitarist Pete journey up to Solihull for a Blues Brothers playback show at The Slug And Lettuce with Born In Chicago. Odd as it sounds the venue had specified two guitarists for the show (well I think they had - I can't think of any other reason that we were both there!) which is an especially strange situation as there were already guitars on the backing tracks. Weird! Tony and Guy (they're really called that!) were checking the P.A. when we got there - after running through a couple of tracks we were all ready to rock, and with a couple of hours to go before showtime we decided to go out for a look around. After walking through the Touchwood shopping centre we found The Mason Arms where drinks were ordered and stories were told. We also chanced upon the extremely interesting-looking Sporting Barbers... 
9.45 pm and our first set begins with Pete and myself strumming along with 'I Can't Turn You Loose' before Tony & Guy join us for 'Gimme Some Loving'. Playback shows are generally a strange affair from my point of view - add in the fact that there were two of us on guitar instead of just me and this should perhaps have been doubly strange but it was actually really good fun, not least due to T&G's fearless performance which saw them spend almost as much time in the audience as on the stage. A chap asked a girl to marry him, we sang 'Happy Birthday' a couple of times and a lot of people looked as though they were very drunk indeed - a good gig.

And it was a good if somewhat surprising gig (I didn't know I was going until around 4 pm in the afternoon) last night, when I accompanied Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes to The Forum in Kentish Town to see Rancid supported by Cock Sparrer. Pete was going up to meet Lars Frederiksen of Rancid to give him a copy of the GLM album 'Chemical Landslide (incidentally here is a review of said album on Louder Than War, and a very good review it is too) as Lars is a big Lurkers fan; he invited Pete to the gig, and he asked me if I'd like to go too. Result! 
We'd just ordered a couple of drinks in The Bull And Gate when the familiar figure of Attila The Stockbroker approached us. Yes, him again! The next 40-odd minutes saw Esso and Attila debate everything from The Velvet Underground to Rock Against Racism with great gusto - I even got the odd word in here and there myself.
We met Lars outside the backstage doors where he was making himself available to sign posters, tickets etc. He seemed like a nice chap, and Pete delivered the GLM album which Lars was very interested in. From there it was back into the venue where Cock Sparrer were beginning their set. I'd not seen them before, not least because they seemed to have a rather dubious right wing following, but that didn't seem to be in evidence at this show. I enjoyed them although they played for a bit too long in my opinion, and I for one could have done without 'England Belongs To Me'... Rancid on the other hand were excellent, and I for one was amazed by the fanaticism of the majority of the audience, most of whom seemed to know every word of every song. A great show.

Right - three rehearsals and four gigs on the horizon over the next week or so. That's the way (uh huh uh huh) I like it...  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Carry that weight

When I was a lad - and believe it or not, I was once a lad - pop music was a lot more exciting than it is now. I sound really old don't I? Well - I am! But I genuinely think that it was - in my early teens the likes of T.Rex, Slade and The Sweet were topping the charts on a regular basis, and leaving aside the fact that I have absolutely no idea who is at number one as I type this (there's nothing like shouting your mouth off without knowing the facts now is there?) I very much doubt that it would sound anywhere near as exciting as any of these three tracks, all of which made it to the top of the pile. But here's a record (I still call them records, don't you?) that definitely deserves to be this year's Christmas number one - released this coming Monday 17th December 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' by The Justice Collective aims to raise money for The Hillsborough Justice Campaign which does stirling work for the victims of The Hillsborough Disaster. I'll spare you my usual ranting on the subject and just say that if that isn't a worthwhile cause then I for one don't know what is. Here's the story courtesy of The Liverpool Echo (which my Dad used to deliver when he was a lad, as he never tires of reminding me!) where you'll also find the promo video and links for downloading the single from iTunes and Amazon. The recording features the likes of Mick Jones and Shane MacGowan alongside Liverpool artists like Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden and Melanie C.; at the very least it's a great song (here is the classic version by The Hollies just in case you've forgotten it) and let's face it, it's got to be better than the X Factor winner getting the Christmas number one spot hasn't it?

Monday, December 10, 2012

'The better it gets, the better it gets...'

It's six years last week since Wiz from The Mega City Four died, and by way of a tribute Louder than War have posted an interview that the band did with the much-missed 'Sounds' magazine from June 1989. I saw them play many times (and indeed The Price played quite a few shows supporting them) and at their best they were one of the most uplifting bands that I've ever seen. I can't pretend to have been Wiz's best mate or anything like that but I did know him quite well around that time, and I last saw him at an Ipanema gig many years later when he'd lost none of his enthusiasm for playing music. You can read the interview here; it's good to see him being remembered by tributes such as this - and we could really do with a band as passionate and exciting as The Mega City Four these days couldn't we?

And Patrick Moore and Huw Lloyd-Langton have both died - both travellers in outer space!

Two good gigs for your humble narrator last weekend :-

My name's on the poster! Yeah!
Friday saw the much-looked-forward-to (by me at least) show at The 12 Bar Club with T.V. Smith. Also on the bill were The Lost Cherrees, Root Awakening featuring Pascal Briggs, Louise Distras, The Crows and Texas Terri, and although I didn't manage to see any of the acts all the way through from what I did see everybody played really well. I saw Dermot from The Charred Hearts for the first time since The Rebellion Festival back in August (he was present when I somehow managed to knock a parasol over in the backstage catering area!) and also bumped into Attila The Stockbroker who was supporting The Men They Couldn't Hang over at The Borderline; by the time we went on at 10.45 pm the place was absolutely packed - it's only small but it's a great place to play, and with Pascal joining us for the last few numbers of our set (these three clips give you a good idea of how it all looked and sounded - that's Pascal in the middle) and us encoring with 'Runaway Train Driver' to an incredible reaction it has to be one of my favourite gigs of 2012. I'd loved to have stayed around afterwards to talk to some people but I had to leave to get the tube home; after I'd missed the last train because I had to go back to the club to get my bag which I'd forgotten due to rushing to get out I of course had time to talk all night... bugger! In the end I got home via two night buses which put a bit of a dampener on things, but let's face it, that's not the worst thing that will ever happen!
Saturday saw The Upper Cut visit The Armoury in Wandsworth for the first time. Sadly Roger was unable to make the show due to illness so Geoff 'Rockschool' Nicholls once again depped on drums, for a show that went well despite a rather low turnout - when we started there were only a handful of people in the building, although it did fill out a bit as the evening went on. Terry the bass introduced me to Pete from The Atlantic Soul Machine - I'm depping with them (Terry plays with them all the time) on Christmas Eve at The Bulls Head in Barnes so it was good to meet him. Geoff played well - actually we all played well - and Paul the landlord said that he'd like us back next year, so it was definitely a good night all round.

And it was definitely a good night all round at The Load Of Hay in Uxbridge on Sunday, when Steve Simpson (ably aided and abetted by his brother Bruce on mandolin and guitar and Bob Pearce on drums) played a superb show. I've not been involved in putting on gigs there for a while - to be honest I got a bit disillusioned with audience apathy - but this event reminded me why I did it in the first place. That said there could have been more people there (lots of folk said they'd come along, few actually did) but those who were there saw three superb musicians playing at the top of their game. A fine evening.

And I have just - just! - returned from rehearsing with The Flying Squad; we're supporting Dr. Feelgood at Tropic At Ruislip this coming Friday 14th December, which really should be a night to remember...

Monday, December 03, 2012

None more black

Is it just me or do the baby's eyes
follow you around the room?
Christmas is coming (I just thought I'd mention that in case you hadn't noticed) and what better way to usher in the festive season than to spend Thursday evening attending the opening night of an art exhibition. (Go with me on this, it does get better!) 'Black Xmas' is at The Signal Gallery until December 21st; it's curated by Gaye Black and as you can no doubt tell from the flyer it's a rather darker gathering than many at this time of year. I arrived just in time to get one of the last bottles of lager (thereby avoiding the somewhat scary-looking cocktails) from the bar and to bump into punk promotess Sarah Pink just as she was leaving. 'Lovely to see you dahling!' said she (as only she can) as she disappeared up the stairs and into the night. After saying a quick hello to Gaye (not an easy task, she's very popular!) I saw Ian from Damaged Goods Records who I last spoke to at The Rebellion Festival back in August. 'You remember this chap don't you?' said he, smiling broadly as Neil from Shelly's Children put his right hand out in my general direction. Yes, indeed I do, but I hadn't seen him for, oooh, nearly 20 years. He's not playing anymore - a shame since they were a great band who The Price played quite a few shows with back in the day. Still it was good to see him again.
Meanwhile The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing ('grammatically incorrect but historically accurate') took to the stage. They're a Steampunk band ('don't worry if you haven't heard of it, it isn't anything...') with a fine line in top hats and handlebar moustaches; if you've ever found yourself thinking along the lines of 'there should be more bands singing songs about Charles Darwin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the 1832 General Election' then these boys could be just what you're looking for. Very noisy in places, very entertaining pretty much all the time and definitely worth keeping an eye out for, although I'm not really sure why.
As things drew to a close we did the decent thing and went to the pub next door. 'It's not cheap in here is it?' said a rather rueful Mark (a.k.a. Barnet, boss of The 12 Bar Club) as he returned from the bar. No, no it's not. Still the atmosphere is good, and when a chap called Tom comes over and joins our conversation we both agree that we know each other from somewhere... ah, of course, he used to be in Big Boy Tomato, another band that The Price used to play with all those years ago. It was that kind of evening...

In a vague attempt at continuity this seems like a good opportunity to mention that Gaye has designed the front cover of a tribute CD to Paul Fox which has just been released - 'See You On The Other Side' features 24 tracks, and all proceeds are going to The Michael Sobell Hospice where Paul received treatment towards the end of his life. You can find out all about it and indeed order a copy on Foxy's Website - it's well worth getting, both as a musical artifact and as a way of supporting a very worthy cause. And continuing the continuity (!) I'm playing at The 12 Bar Club next Friday 7th December with the mighty T.V. Smith, on an extraordinary bill that also features Texas Terri (she was at 'Black Xmas'  too) Louise Distras, Pascal Briggs, The Crows and probably some other people as well. It promises to be a fine if rather long evening, but I guess that's what the night buses are for. Excellent!

I'd thought about going up to The Half Moon in Putney on Friday night to see Slim Chance (incidentally the excellent Steve Simpson from said band is playing at The Load Of Hay in Uxbridge on Sunday 9th December) but instead found myself at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham on witnessing a performance by Midnight. Big Al Reed played a mean saxophone and Terry from The Upper Cut did a good job depping on bass but to be honest it wasn't the best performance I'd ever seen from the band, although it went down well so perhaps it was me rather than them if you know what I mean. 
Things were far better on Saturday though, when The Upper Cut played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge at a party for Noel and Bridie's 25th anniversary as landlord and landlady. Geoff 'Rockschool' Nicholls depped on drums (Roger was away gigging with Lee Ryder) for the first time in a while and was as great as ever, and with the place absolutely packed it was a suitably raucous evening. Pete from The Cane Toads joined us for a few songs, Noel and Bridie were very pleased with our efforts and the party was still going strong when we left sometime after 1 am; I suspect there were more than a few sore heads on Sunday, a condition which for once I managed to avoid. Good! 
And Sunday evening saw the last open mic night of the year at The Swan in Iver. Confusion reigned over when proceedings had to finish - having been told that things had to end at 9 o'clock we were then told to 'play for as long as you like' by the landlady. Myself, Pete and Big Al (I'm really getting the hang of this continuity lark aren't I?) joined Tony on bass and Bob on drums to play four songs, the last of which was an ambitious-for-a-jam-night attempt at 'Born To Run' - I don't think we'll worry The E-Street Band too much but considering how difficult to song is we didn't do a bad job. Well, I don't think we did anyway.

Right- time to revise some T.V. Smith songs. I'm really looking forward to Friday night...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'If I don't see you no more in this World...'

Jimi Hendrix would have been 70 years old today. I wrote a piece on him in these hallowed pages on the 40th anniversary of his death (you can read it here if you'd like to) and I don't have too much to add to that except to say that I've got 'Electric Ladyland' playing in the background at the moment and despite many people's attempts at emulate it over the last 40-odd years it still sounds like nothing before or since. Who knows what further greatness he would have gone on to produce? As it he left behind an amazing legacy of music that continues to influence people today - how many of us will do anything that even approaches that?

It's hard to imagine the music world without Jimi Hendrix, but we might never have heard him without Chris Stamp who together with Kit Lambert ran Track Records, the label that released much of Hendrix's music during his lifetime. Lambert and Stamp also managed a little group called The Who, so you won't be altogether surprised to hear that I was very saddened to hear of Chris Stamp's death this weekend - my music world certainly wouldn't be the same without him or the acts he was involved with. 

Two gigs from The Upper Cut along with a day in the shop and a Flying Squad rehearsal made for a busy but very enjoyable weekend for your humble narrator :-

Friday night saw another Upper Cut show at The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge, and bearly a month on from our last appearance there we made a much better job of it this time. Good! Maybe it was because I could hear better (I had an earwax problem last time) or maybe we just had a good gig - either way we had a great night. It was a late one though, and the start of the next day in Balcony Shirts was more than a little bleary from my point of view. Still, that's what they sell coffee for... no time to worry about that though, as we're off to The Burnham Beeches Hotel (they don't normally let people like me into places like that!) to play at Nick and Emma's wedding reception. They come to see the band on a regular basis, and it was great to be invited to play for them. Wedding shows can often be rather strange affairs; I've realised over my time playing them that it's a mistake to think of them as a gig as the band is a really a minor part of the event, often being all but ignored by the assembled multitude. No danger of that here though, as people were on the dance floor almost from the word go - there was even a complaint when we went off for a break to allow Nick and Emma to cut their wedding cake! Terry the bass's night was made when he met Simon Nicol from Fairport Convention (he's a family friend of Emma's) in the interval, and our second set went even better than the first. We could even have played an encore (again often something of a rarity at a wedding) but instead handed our instruments over to Nick's old band The Frantix who played 'Town Called Malice' and 'Mirror In The Bathroom' before DJ's Simon and Darren took over for the rest of the evening's festivities. Great stuff all round.

On Sunday The Flying Squad returned to Ruff Rockers Rehearsal Studio (which for reasons best known to themselves has changed it's name to RnR Studios) for an all day session in preparation for next month's gig at Tropic At Ruislip with Dr. Feelgood. We worked on a Feelgood-free set for December 14th, and even though I say so myself we sounded good, especially considering that we were almost exclusively working on material new to the band. All in all a good day's work which hopefully bodes well for next month's show. And talking of rehearsing I have just - just! - returned from a session with T.V. Smith; our upcoming show at The 12 Bar Club promises to be a classic evening - but more about that next time... 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Leave them wanting more!

It's nearly time for The Flying Squad to return to show business - as with most of our shows it's at Tropic At Ruislip where we're supporting Dr. Feelgood. Since our set usually features a fair few of their songs we're obviously been obliged to have a bit of a rethink, and to this end emails have been er, emailed between band members over the last few weeks with song suggestions a-plenty - I think we've come up with some great songs for the show, which will be taking place on Friday 14th December. I for one am definitely looking forward to this - while there may not be any original members in the band these days The Feelgoods are an institution in British rhythm and blues - and maybe most importantly as far as this gig is concerned they're still a very fine band. We'll have to be at the top of our game for this one...
I went to the afore-mentioned Tropic at Ruislip on Friday night, partly to talk to promoters Philip and Dave about the upcoming gig and partly to see Bootleg Blondie. I first saw many years ago at The Rayners in Rayners Lane; I remember them being good then but I have to say that they were great this time, and it must be said that you forget how many Blondie songs you know (I'd totally forgotten 'Maria' for example) until you hear them played. Debbie Harris (I'll be really disappointed if I ever find out that's not her real name!) does a splendid job as the lovely Ms Harry, and the band were absolutely excellent. (Yes, I noticed them as well!) A recent addition is bassman Russ Strothard a.k.a. Russell Strutter who played in Tonight all those years ago before going on to play with Eddie And The Hot Rods, Wilko Johnson and Lew Lewis (I think that's where I first saw him) and who depped with us in the Chicago Blues Brothers several times a few years ago. I managed to grab a few words with him at the end (the gig was sold out so there were a lot of people about) and he seems to be really enjoying being in the band, which is good news.

Last night saw The Upper Cut wend our way to Windlesham for a show at The Windlesham Club. (How do they think of those names eh?!?) Bob the guv'nor was friendly as were the locals, and the band played well despite there not being much of an audience to play to. Apparently everyone was at home watching The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing - well that's what the ladies who arrived halfway through our second set said anyway. Still the people who were there enjoyed the show (I should know, I spoke to most of them!) and the afore-mentioned ladies were so disappointed that they'd missed us playing 'Maggie May' that we played it again for them. Well, it seemed like to best thing to do... one of them asked if we could do 'Itchycoo Park' - when we said that we'd already played it they tried to get us to do that one again as well. We might have done if we hadn't already ran well over time! A fun if slightly odd evening.
And there are two shows from The Upper Cut this coming weekend - we're back at The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge on Friday then we're playing at the wedding of two of our regular gig-goers on Saturday. Now that should be interesting...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The shapes of things to come?

I was saddened to hear of the death of Clive Dunn this week - if you're my age you remember 'Dad's Army' very well, with catchphrases like 'don't panic!' and 'you stupid boy!' being part of your growing up. Well, they were in our house!

The light pours out of me
Although I didn't have any gigs last weekend I did attend the open mic night at The Swan in Iver on Sunday evening, and very enjoyable it was too. I ended up playing in the house band (John the organiser asked me if I'd do it, and I'm just a boy who can't say no...) where I found myself joining Tony on bass and Bob on drums to accompany, well, anyone who wanted a backing band. A chap asked if he could sing 'Feelings' by Morris Albert - not an easy song as it's got more than a few tricky chords (which I looked up on the Internet with my phone - what did we used to do in the old days eh?) but we managed to stumble through it. Big Al Reed was as excellent as ever (I'm not just saying that because he gives me gigs, he really was good) as was Les Payne, and after years of not going to jam nights I now seem to have found myself to be a regular at this one. Mind you, I did have another reason for going along this time...
For a while now we've been stocking some musical instruments and accessories at Balcony Shirts; these days we've not got many guitars (as they weren't really selling - sad but true)  but the accessories side of things is doing well. We get them from the John Hornby Skewes (JHS) distribution company - to this end Dave the rep visits us regularly, and on his last visit we got talking about my then-upcoming gigs with Ruts DC in Birmingham and York. By then end of our conversation the subject had come around to the possibility of an endorsement deal for me with Vintage and Fret King Guitars. I've been using a Vintage Lemon Drop for some time (that's what got us onto the subject) and have tried and liked some Fret King instruments, so it all got quite interesting quite quickly... to cut a long story short (for once!) Sunday was an opportunity for me to play a Fret King Yardbird on Sunday evening which Dave had provided for me to try; it's based on the guitar that Jeff Beck used when he was playing in The Yardbirds and while I don't own it (yet!) it's certainly a very impressive instrument. I've always had a bit of an aversion to maple necks (I generally prefer rosewood fingerboards, but it's a subject that doesn't have an simple answer as this clip shows...) but this felt and sounded great - we'll see what happens next but you just might see me looking out from an advert in the pages of the guitar magazines sometime in the not-too-distant future!

In the meantime The Rikardo Brothers played at The Bedford Arms in Chenies last night, at Paul and Cathy's wedding reception. We'd not played since way back in February (they - Alan on vocals and Pete on guitar - have played without me when I've been gigging elsewhere) when it was the day after a night that saw me indulge in what could politely be described as projectile vomiting (urgh!) and although I'll be honest and say that my fragile condition that day means that I hardly remember playing we must have done something right as we were booked to play this show as a result of our performance that afternoon. Judging by the condition of some of the guests by the time we arrived at 7 o'clock festivities had clearly been in full swing for a number of hours (I'll leave you to think about that for a moment..!) and by the time our first set started there were more than a few people who looked unlikely to last the rest of the evening. We'd had a rehearsal on Wednesday evening and I for one was glad that we did as I'd all but forgotten some of the material, but despite the old dubious moment the show went well and was rapturously received by all concerned. Cathy started our second set by singing 'Little White Bull' accompanied by Pete (I hadn't got a clue how it goes, but the fact that Pete managed to busk along is a measure of just how good a player he is...) while Alan completely forgot the words to 'Mustang Sally' and ended up singing 'In The Midnight Hour' instead! Overall however we enjoyed ourselves to such an extent that we've all resolved to make an effort to get more gigs for the group and even are looking to do some recording. Excellent! 

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a Yardbird guitar to play - that sound must be on there somewhere...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

'And we don't care...'

'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols' was released 35 years ago this week. It's hard to explain to people that were too young to understand (or indeed not even born) at the time just what an astonishing event the release of this album was to disenfranchised teenagers such as myself. For me it remains the ultimate 'you're-either-with-us-or-you're-against-us' moment in popular music, an event that polarised the classroom, the playground, the kids that you played football in the park and in the street with - everyone. Listened to now (and I've been listening to it rather a lot this week) it still sounds extraordinary, a 12-track blast of punk rock adrenalin that never fails to astound and amaze. Well, that's what it does for me anyway! Inevitably it's been re-issued in various formats, not least a 'Super Deluxe Box Set' which will set you back the best part of £100 and which includes previously unheard outtakes, a DVD of footage from the turbulent year that was 1977 and a book that looks so big and heavy that it'll probably fall through the average coffee table. I keep telling myself not to buy it, but we both know that I will in the end don't we? I must have the album in various formats, oh I don't know, 6 times at least - which reminds me, I wonder how much my '11-track-album-with-the-one-sided-single-of-Submission-and-a-poster' is worth? Maybe enough to buy the box set? Then again surely the fact that I'm even thinking of spending that much money on something that I've basically already got is keeping the great rock 'n' roll swindle going into the 21st Century? Malcolm McLaren, take a bow!

Meanwhile the first album by GLM is released this week. 'Chemical Landslide' features Pete Stride (guitar and vocals) Nigel Moore (bass) and Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes (drums) and while it's 14 tracks sound quite a bit heavier and indeed darker than anything that they produced together in The Lurkers there's still plenty there to keep us old fans happy. Esso and Nigel thunder along in time-honoured tradition, and if the Stride guitar is more metal than punk these days his haunting vocals balance it all out well. The best track for me at the moment is probably 'Beyond The Pale' with it's amazing 'can you turn the lights down' refrain although the opener 'Every Night's A Story' and the title track are running it close, with 'Crash Landing' probably the nearest to the old Lurkers sound. It's always hard to be objective when it comes to music made by friends but I think they've really got something good here so let's hope the album gets heard by enough people to make an impact - it seems to me that with all the social media at our disposal these days it's relatively easy to have an Internet presence but it's harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. It's available now from their website for the very reasonable price of £8.99 - go on, you know you want to...

In other news Ruts D.C were due to play at The Islington Assembly Hall on Tuesday, but sadly the show was cancelled as The Mayor Of Islington is using the room. I will heroically restrain myself from saying anything at this point other than to observe that judging by the comments on the band's Facebook page (and indeed on The Ruts's page) I'm not the only person that's disappointed... still there have been some good reviews of last month's shows in Birmingham and York, and we're playing at The 100 Club on Saturday 22nd December (hopefully!) as part of a Joe Strummer tribute weekend (it'll be the 10th anniversary of his untimely death) as well as lining up some gigs for next year so it's not all bad news by any means.

And on the subject of everybody's favourite social network I've been musing on whether or not to keep the Facebook page that I started back in September. Yeah, I know, things must be quiet if that's all I've got to think about... anyway after talking to a few people (not least the legend that is Voltarol - once again the winner of last month's caption competition was the only entrant! Mind you, it was a very good caption!) I've decided to put my reservations to one side and to keep it for the moment at least. You can find me here if you want to - with yet more shameless self-publicity in mind I'm basically going to use it to publicise upcoming gigs, post reviews and YouTube clips of old gigs, plug my mates when they're doing something interesting and maybe even include the odd lefty rant. So - pretty much the same as on this here blog then... incidentally I put up a note about the GLM album this week and someone 'unliked' me! It's a good album, honest! 
And things are quiet in more ways than one, as I'm still suffering from earwax in my right ear; indeed if anything it's got worse. Maybe it's just as well (for once) that I've had no gigs this week? 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Satellite, Pretty Vacant, Did You No Wrong...

And now for something completely different - The Afton Satellites at The Half Moon in Putney on Wednesday evening. The venue has changed a bit since I was last there; always a great place to see a band, it's still pretty good but it's now brighter, more... touristy if you know what I mean. Then again it nearly closed a few years ago so it's great to see that it's still in business and putting live music on regularly. The Afton Satellites an interesting bunch - formed by ex-Hamsters bassman Andy Billups they feature Gary Fletcher from The Blues Band on guitar and bass, Tom Leary on fiddle, Ray Brown on vocals and Andy's nephew Matt Billups on percussion. They also have Chris Teeder on keyboards who played on the ill-fated Cool Britannia shows earlier this year and who deps with The Chicago Blues Brothers Band on a regular basis (he's playing with The Flying Squad in this clip - now you know what I was doing at the gig!) They reminded me of The Band both musically and because of the amount of instrument swapping going on - plenty of 'this one's from my solo album' moments made for a varied set, and with cover versions as varied (some might say bizarre) as 'What A Wonderful World' and 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' it was definitely a good first gig for the band. And it was great to see Chris play - I've done many shows with him over the years but hearing him from the audience perspective reminds me that I'm very lucky to play in bands with musicians of his calibre. 

Talking of playing in bands The Upper Cut returned to The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge on Friday evening for what for me at least was a rather strange show. The previous few days had seen me attempting to clear my right ear of a bout of earwax that had developed around the time of the Ruts D.C. show in York last weekend. Sadly my ear was still blocked throughout the show which made it difficult for me to hear exactly what was going on (obviously!) and which resulted in some rather peculiar guitar work and indeed backing vocals from your humble narrator. There was also the slightly odd situation created when Hughie the D.J. asked me for a setlist so that he wouldn't play anything that we were likely to perform - and he then played several of our songs, and even played 'Babylon's Burning' in the interval. Very strange. As I said to a couple of people after the show 'I just couldn't get hold of that one'. And I couldn't. Still it all went down well with the assembled multitude and we're back there next month (on Friday the 23rd since you've asked) so we must have done something right.

And last night saw the fifth annual Paul Fox tribute night (or 'The Paul Fox Social Club' as it's less formally known) which this year was held at The Ruislip Social Club (also the home of Tropic At Ruislip) in, you've guessed it, Ruislip. A highly enjoyable evening featured The Dirty Strangers, The DubCats, Scabies And James and The Moonstompers and raised a substantial sum for The Michael Sobell Hospice at Mount Vernon Hospital. I must admit that I'd feared that I might get a bit of stick from the Fox fans but the only real incident occurred when I was introduced to a ridiculous hippie who said something like 'so you think you can fill Foxy's shoes then do you?' No, actually I don't, and that's not what I'm trying to do, but I don't think that there's much point in trying to explain that here... still it was good to see The Dirty Strangers again (I don't remember when I last saw them, but it wasn't this century!) but somewhat inevitably the highlight for me was a blistering performance from Scabies and James - Texas Terri great on vocals, Austin rock solid on bass, Rat Scabies as astonishing as ever on drums and Brian James re-affirming his place as one of the definitive punk guitarists - which didn't go down too well with some of the attendees, many of whom seemed shocked and even horrified by the band. It seems that even 30-odd years later punk rock can still offend the hippies. Good!

No gigs for your humble narrator this week. Bad!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New York

Well I may not have played any gigs myself last weekend but I did manage to get out to see a couple of very-different-from-each-other shows...

Friday night was punk night at The Peel in Kingston courtesy of Rat Scabies and Brian James playing 'Damned Damned Damned'. I saw them at The 100 Club back in June which was a great night but this show was if anything even better, despite James breaking a string a couple of songs in and his replacement guitar having what sounded like a problem with the jack socket. None of this stopped his playing sounding like an air raid - which brings me to the ever-amazing Mr. Scabies, who battered the hell out of his kit as he only ever does, and distinguished himself by counting as least one song in with the words 'one-two-three-GO!' Texas Terri handled the vocals well, Austin made a good job of the bass parts (and I managed to find his name this time, when I bumped into him outside!) and the audience loved every minute of it, as did I. Great stuff - and they're playing at the upcoming Paul Fox tribute night as mentioned in last week's posting, which should be one to remember.

On Saturday evening I ventured across to Tropic At Ruislip to see Irish guitar hero Pat McManus. As I arrived support band The Southern Rogues were roaring through 'Walking By Myself' - they played material by the likes of Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher but also had a few of their own songs which is always a good thing to see. And Pat McManus was as good (actually thinking about it he was probably even better) as when I saw him at the same venue two Octobers ago, still a bit 'rock' for my tastes but he's an undeniably excellent musician and one that I'm glad that I made the effort to see again. His band are pretty good too!

Only one gig for me this weekend, but what a gig it was, with Ruts D.C. at Fibbers in York.

We had a rehearsal at The Music Complex in Deptford on Friday afternoon - Segs had just flown in from America (he'd been back in Britain about five hours when we started at midday) and Dave had been away on holiday so it took a while to get going; that said we ran through our hour-and-a-bit's worth of live material as well as trying 'Dope For Guns' as a perspective addition to the show so we didn't do too badly. 
The journey up to York from London took us about five hours including a couple of coffee stops. We had a splendid eleven seat bus which gave me plenty of space to change my guitar strings on the way up (I really must be more organised mustn't I?!?) and for everyone to have a bit of room to themselves meaning that when we arrived at Fibbers the mood was good and spirits were high. 
We pulled up at the backstage area and those of us who hadn't been there before (including me) were immediately confused by there being two venues right next to each other. To the left it's Fibbers while to the right it's The Duchess which was playing host to Hazel O'Connor - a bit of a shame that the two acts were playing on the same night don't you think? Segs was just telling me that they'd played together at The Nashville Rooms (apparently the evening was interrupted by nazi skinheads) when Hazel herself came over and recounted the same story, adding that she'd got the part in 'Breaking Glass' after her performance that night. Interesting!
With everything soundchecked it was off to The Golden Fleece with Matt from The Chicago Blues Brothers (he lives nearby) for a pre-gig drink before going back to the venue to meet up with Jennie from The Rebellion Festival and Pascal Briggs and to see a few numbers from the support band Copasetics who sounded good, with some excellent trumpet work complementing their ska sound well.
9.15 and it's showtime - we sound very different with some people in the room (some venues are like that, I'm not really sure why) and it takes a song or two for us to adjust to things. Well, it certainly took me a while to get used to it...  by the time we got to 'Staring At The Rude Boys' (roughly the halfway point of the set) things were really taking off - as we left the stage after 'Babylon's Burning' the place was going wild, and we encored with the afore-mentioned 'Dope For Guns' before finishing with 'In A Rut'. It was maybe not quite as euphoric a performance as the Birmingham show earlier this month, but the comments from people afterwards made me realise just how much the songs mean to people, and how excited people are to see Ruts D.C. back on the stage.
From there it was back to London (amid much jollity including Dave showing us how a monkey peels a banana - really!) where we met the long-suffering Shirley at South Mimms Services around 3.30am (it's been a while since myself and herself been there at that sort of time!) and I spent much of today asleep. Rock 'n' Roll eh?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Take no heroes, take only inspiration...'

I have just - just! - returned from The Old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane, where Pete Townshend has been promoting his recently-published autobiography 'Who I Am'. He was interviewed by Will Hodgkinson, participated in a question and answer session with the audience and signed many-a copy of said publication.

I arrived at the venue at almost exactly 6.45pm, fifteen minutes before the event was due to begin. I'd walked a quick walk from Aldgate tube station as I didn't know how far along Brick Lane I was going to have to go; as I passed Rough Trade East on my left I saw a large chimney with TRUMAN written on it in front of me to the right - a good sight. The Old Truman Brewery is another one of those undeniably impressive buildings that would probably have been demolished by now if someone hadn't come up with the idea of using it for something other than the job it was originally intended for, and walking in you have to think that it's a good job that they did. To the right was a Waterstones stall piled high with books, to the left an audience of maybe a couple of hundred with a small stage in the centre facing the assembled multitude. I bought a book (you just knew that I would didn't you?!?) and found a seat next to a studious-looking chap who looked to be making short work of The Times crossword. A live recording of The Who could just be heard over the massed mumbling. Good.
Around ten past seven a ripple of applause found it's way around the room as a young lady attempted to introduce the evening. Sadly her words were hardly heard, as as her microphone either let out a wall of feedback or didn't work at all. This situation continued throughout the first few minutes of the Townshend / Hodgkinson exchange which annoyed large sections of the audience (which I think is rather ironic, given Townshend's pioneering use of feedback on guitar, and indeed the row that his band were capable of making!) although things were more-or-less sorted out (PT apologised for being late as he'd travelled by train meaning that there was no time to check the microphones) in the end. The interview went well and was very interesting, with Townshend giving some typically involved answers and swearing a bit too much for the people in front of me - again, a bit ironic don't you think? After 45 minutes or so of regaling us with tales of Moonie and The Ox, his ongoing relationship with Roger Daltrey and more it was time for questions from the fans - again the microphones went wrong, again Townshend didn't scrimp on the answers - before the previously calm and genial audience became a seething rugby scrum hell bent on destruction. This could only mean one thing -  yes, it was time to get your book signed... confusion reigned for a few minutes as no one seemed to be sure where Townshend would be sitting - I found myself near the back of the queue (I always seem to find myself near the back of the queue!) as order was restored. Judging by the number of people in front of me the Waterstones stall had clearly been been very busy - as we shuffled our way towards our quest people wondered if he'd sign all the books or if he'd get bored and leave early. 
After a half an hour I was a few people away from the front of the queue. The staff were friendly, asking us to have our books open ready at the title page and smiling cheerily as we all complied. I gave my (open) book to the gentleman to the left of where Pete was sitting and suddenly I was face to face with the man himself, the nearest I have to a hero. Oo-er... he looked up at me, smiled (a bit) and signed the book with a black felt pen and a large flourish. Excellent. He looked up and smiled (a bit) again and I suddenly thought that I could say something like 'hello Pete, I'm Leigh, you're the reason that I play guitar, no really you are, and I play guitar with Ruts D.C., you know, Segs and Ruffy's band, you used to know Paul Fox as well didn't you? Can we have some gigs with The 'Oo please?' I decided against this (a wise decision don't you think?) and instead said 'brilliant, thank you'. He said 'thank you' quietly and smiled (a bit) again as he gamely shook my hand.

I walked away, putting my book back into the Waterstones plastic bag provided as I did so. I then realised that I was dying for a pee. 
On my way to look for the toilet I bumped into Mark of Monkey Picks fame. After exchanging hellos he asked if I'd got my 'bit of scribble'? 'Yeah' I said, rather more nonchalantly than I thought I would. And why not? They (whoever 'they' are) say that you should never meet your heroes, and 'they' may well be correct. And I haven't met mine have I? - well, not really anyway. But I'm well pleased with my book. I might even read it one day!