Friday, January 27, 2012

Ruts DC revisited

With no gigs this week (bah! Again!) I thought about doing a belated look back at 2011's high and lows but decided that (a) I'm still trying to forget that horrific Chicago Blues Brothers show at the end of November and screaming on about it here won't exactly help me drive it from my mind, and (b) Ruts D.C. have been confirmed as appearing at this year's Rebellion Festival in August, and that seems a much better thing to write about. So here's a look back at last year's Alabama 3 support shows with backstage passes, a setlist and a few pictures from the Forum gig taken by Abbie Jenkinson mostly from the photography pit in front of the stage. They're good aren't they?
The setlist managed to survive all 4 shows without getting lost / ripped / trodden on (delete as applicable) although it was only correct for the first two gigs (Manchester and Bristol) as 'London Dub' was dropped (it's on the forthcoming album) with 'In A Rut' coming into the set after 'Fools' for the Bournemouth and London shows.
The photos show Molara on vocals and percussion, Segs on bass, Dave Ruffy on drums, Seamus Beaghen on keyboards and your humble narrator (wearing Dave Ruffy's hat!) on the electric guitar. I still can't believe it sometimes but, yes, it's really me.
The splendid Aural Sculptures blog has a favourable revue of the Forum show (Adrian has also given a plug for these hallowed pages - top man!) although I'm pleased to say that I've not really seen or heard any bad reports from any of the gigs. Good!

Incidentally I'm also playing Rebellion 2012 with the mighty T.V. Smith; this is more good news as our show there was my next-favourite gig of the year, and it makes the festival something for me to really look forward too. So I'm really looking forward to it!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'I'm so mean I make medicine sick'

Muhammad Ali was 70 years old on Tuesday.

I'm too young to remember him as Cassius Clay but I remember Ali's omnipresence in the late '60s and throughout the '70s very well. My dad and my brother are both big boxing fans (and I often wonder if I would be if I hadn't been surrounded by it at home, or had to endure my would-be-World-champion brother offering me out every 5 minutes or so) which meant that his fights with the likes of Henry Cooper, Joe Frazier (The Fight Of The Century and The Thrilla In Manila) and George Foreman (The Rumble In The Jungle) assumed legendary status in our house almost before they had taken place. And not without reason - watch the amazing 'When We Were Kings' and you'll see Ali in his element, with everyone from the local kids to the World's media falling under his spell.
As a man he was a sports reporter's dream, being charming, witty and erudite with a quote for every occasion - but none of this would matter if he wasn't a great sportsman, a fearsome fighting machine who's outrageous predictions of which round he would knock his opponent out in earlier in his career only made his achievements in the ring seem all the more extraordinary.
Then there was his stance against the Vietnam War - his refusal to be drafted ('I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger') cost him over two years of his boxing career but made him a hero to anyone who shared his point of view. It's difficult to realise now what a powerful statement it made.
For what my opinion is worth - and as I said earlier I'm by no means the World's biggest boxing fan - he had a few fights too many (which may or may not have contributed to his ongoing Parkinson's Syndrome) but if you look at footage of his earlier bouts it's hard not to believe that he wasn't indeed 'the greatest'. And let's face it, anyone that can deliver a line like 'I'm so fast that last night I turned of the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark' is more than a little bit ahead of the game...

And Etta James died on Friday - I must admit that I knew her name but didn't know much about her until I saw her fabulous rendition of 'Rock And Roll Music' in the film 'Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll' I soon realised that her Chess Records recordings were what her legend was based on. There was much more to her than 'I'd Rather Go Blind' and 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You', although if she'd only released those two recordings she'd still be one of the most important blues artists of them all. Another sad loss.

No gigs for your humble narrator this week (bah!) but I did see two great shows, the first of which featured the mighty Henry Rollins at The Academy in Oxford. I last saw him way back in August 2008 (doesn't time fly when you're having fun?!?) and if Wednesday's show is anything to go by he's showing no signs of slowing down, with his astonishing work schedule giving him even more subjects to comment upon. Bizarre tales of eating rats (urgh!) sat alongside hilarious stories of shopping in Costco with his scary-sounding assistant Heidi during a 2 1/2 hour show (imagine standing on a stage and talking for that length of time!) which had the capacity crowd enthralled throughout. I managed a few words with him afterwards and he was as courteous as ever - rather than get straight onto the tourbus after talking to me he stood out in the rain signing autographs and chatting to fans. Top man.

And last night myself and the long-suffering Shirley made our way over to Sutton to see The Kast Off Kinks at The Boom Boom Club. Chicago Blues Brothers keyboard maestro Ian Gibbons is a member of said combo, and it was great to see him play from the audience perspective rather than from a couple of yards away on stage. He's very good you know!
The first person we saw as we walked in was Steve Simpson, a very welcome sight since the last conversation I had with him was when he phoned to cancel his appearance at the Load Of Hay back in November due to ill health- he's still not 100% fit but is back playing again which is good news. And The Kast Off Kinks were terrific - I last saw them in Ruislip back in July 2009 when I thought they were excellent, but they've got even better in the interim period. Mick Avory prefaced his vocal performance of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' by holding up a pint of beer which he proclaimed to be 'vocal petrol' (I'm definitely stealing that line!) and much audience dancing and merriment ensued throughout. A fine evening.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

His-tory repeating

I was stumbling around first thing on Thursday morning attempting to wake up when an item on Breakfast TV caught my (half open) eye. It seems that some local ladies had led a protest outside a cinema in Chesterfield that was showing 'The Iron Lady' - they were angry at the film's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher as some sort of feminist icon rather than as the inhuman monster that she so obviously is. They had one of the protesters in the studio, along with a film critic - the protester admitted that she hadn't seen the film which unfortunately weakened her argument somewhat, but the item raised some interesting points about the re-writing of history that seems to be happening around the dark days of the '80s. I must say that I haven't seen the film either (mostly because the clips that I have seen show Meryl Streep's performance to be such an uncannily accurate recreation of the harridan herself that I wouldn't be able to watch it without breaking something) but in my not-so-humble opinion the Conservative government of the time all but destroyed this country, and any attempt at recasting the leader of that government as a hero has to be spoken out against. Chesterfield was very badly effected (and indeed continues to be effected) by the closure of the coal mines in the mid-'80s, hence the protest there - it'll be interesting to see if there are any other protests along similar lines anywhere else.

Time for the first Uppercut gig of 2012, and it's at a new venue for us, The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham. It's one of those pubs that seems to reveal a new part of it every time you turn a corner (if you know what I mean) and from our point of view the show was very definitely a game of two halves. We began uneventfully enough with '(Sittin' On) Dock Of The Bay' (we find that it's often a good idea to start with a relatively laid back song, especially at somewhere that we've not played at before) but during 'Under My Thumb' some very strange noises started coming from the P.A. system. And no, I don't mean my backing vocals - more like a high pitched foghorn which we assumed was feedback and which had at least one audience member putting his fingers in his ears. It got so bad that we had to abandon our third song 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' to try to find out what was causing it - by a process of elimination (plugging and unplugging things!) it revealed itself to be coming from my microphone. Bah! We unplugged it, re-started the song and played the rest of our first set without incident to the increasing approval of those present. Good.
In the interval I decided to put some music over the P.A. for a bit of atmosphere - when I plugged my phone into the same channel that my microphone had been in the high-pitched foghorn noise re-appeared. So it wasn't feedback... time for a visit to the repairman then!
The second set went better than the first, helped by the boisterous presence of a bunch of lads who sang along lustily at every opportunity (often into Terry's microphone) and a fair bit of dancing from the locals. We even played a request of 'Johnny B. Goode' as a second encore which we don't normally play but managed to get through without too many problems. A good gig - in the end.

And it was definitely a good gig last night, when The Good Old Boys returned to The General Elliot in Uxbridge for the second time in less than a month. The show before Christmas was enjoyable but this one really was excellent - Nick Simper returned on bass meaning that 'Hush' was back in the set, and the whole band were on top form throughout the show. Alan, Pete and myself have a couple of upcoming gigs for our acoustic trio The Rikardo Brothers which I'm really looking forward to; various rehearsal dates and perspective new songs were discussed before myself and East joined Hud at the bar for a few drinks and a discussion that went on well past my bedtime - details are sketchy but East's declaration of intent to form a band called Ned's Acoustic Dustbin to play a song called 'Kill Your Tunnel Vision' shows that the producers of 'The Iron Lady' may not be alone in rewriting the history of the 1980s...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Occupation : unemployed

Bob Holness has died - shame. Let's face it, we all loved 'Blockbusters' didn't we? And I was particularly fond of his sax solo on 'Baker Street' by Gerry Rafferty - well, I'm particularly fond of the story anyway...

Three excellent birthdays today - Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Stephen Hawking. Not a bad day to be born on then? And talking of Mr. Bowie the 1977 Top Of The Pops stuff on BBC4 was most enjoyable, capturing the flavour of the times well. I remember my mum used to say 'those girls are too thin' whenever Legs & Co. appeared on screen - looking at them now (ahem!) I can (almost!) see what she was getting at!

My first gig of 2012 took place yesterday evening, with The Chicago Blues Brothers at The Pizza Express in Maidstone. We've played here many times before - it always seems an unlikely venue for us, and it always goes better than I for one think that it's going to. I'd been working in Balcony Shirts all day and so didn't arrive until about 6.30, by which time everyone else was set up and ready to rock. It's A-Team band - Marc on drums, Squirrel on bass, Ian on keyboards, Richard on saxophone and Dave on trumpet, with the only dep being Pete in place of Matt as Jake, with Mike as Elwood as always. I set my gear up as quickly as I could and we soundchecked without too many problems - it's always hard to get the volume right, and this time we tried to play as quietly as we could which meant that neither Squirrel or myself were miked up. I'm never sure that this is a good idea as when the place fills up with people the sound changes dramatically but this time it all seemed to work well.
With everything sounding good it's time for pizza (obviously!) and to catch up on what everyone has been doing since we last all saw each other. It's been quiet. Very quiet. No one seems to have been working very much at all. Bah! Still the pizza is good as is the mood - Richard triumphantly brings out a birthday cake for Dave, who thanks him then says that it's not his birthday until March. Richard says that he knew that, but he doesn't know when he'll next see him, and he didn't want to forget it then. Hmmm...!
The show is nearly sold out, and considering that we haven't played together for ages the band play well. Pete forgets a few words and takes a few wrong turns here and there (I can't remember the last time he fronted the band) which lead to a rather peculiar performance from him, but the audience love our efforts, and after the show there are enquiries for booking the band from several people. This is good news, as we have no other gigs booked for this year. None. Not good frankly. First gig of the year, only gig of the year - surely not?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

T.V. on TV

I don't know about you (obviously!) but I've been really enjoying the BBC re-broadcasts of 'Top Of The Pops' from way back in 1976. I'm surprised at how well I remember some of the shows - I used to watch them every week in the increasingly vain hope of seeing something interesting, a rather rare sight since the glory days of glam rock a few years earlier. Easily the best clip so far has been Eddie And The Hot Rods playing 'Get Out Of Denver' live in the studio - but all of that is about to change as the shows now move into 1977, a landmark year for rock music as punk rock reared it's spiky head. On BBC4 this Friday at 9 pm 'Top Of The Pops : The Story Of 1977' focuses on the year that the likes of The Jam and The Stranglers made their first appearances on the show, and when people like The Tom Robinson Band and The Saints made people like me go 'ARGH!' (or words to that effect). I particularly remember a blistering live version of 'Lights Out' by Dr. Feelgood (not exactly punk I know, but it was my first sighting of then-new guitarist Gypie Mayo) all but blowing the roof off the studio. The documentary also features interviews with the likes of Paul Cook and John Otway as well as T.V. Smith and Gaye Advert, which means we should hopefully see 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' and / or 'No Time To Be 21' by The Adverts; then again if we don't see them in this show we should see them sometime in the not-too-distant future when the 1977 shows are repeated.

Good news all round then!

Sunday, January 01, 2012


My last gig of 2011 was with Utter Madness in Cardiff headlining The Calennig New Year celebrations. It's a yearly event (obviously!) held outside The City Hall - the band played it back in 2001 when according to Ian the saxman there was 'horizontal rain' and freezing temperatures; he suggested 'a hat, long coat, fingerless gloves if you've got them' as stage wear... in the event the temperature was a lot higher than freezing and the rain had stopped earlier in the evening. Good!

We'd soundchecked at 5 pm - lots of echo from the cold concrete in front of us. 'Don't worry' said Matt the stage manager, 'there should be thousands of people here by midnight'. And there was - when I left the stage with my amp and guitar after the show an impressively long conga line was. er, congaing to 'Enjoy Yourself' by The Specials. And why not?

We were all staying at The Holiday Inn (I dread to think how much 7 rooms on New Year's Eve cost the organisers!) where food was served at 7.30; as I made my way up to room 329 Batman and Robin were haranguing guests in the bar while scantily-clad young ladies mused on the festivities to come. I got changed for the show then met everyone (Tony on vocals, Jon on bass, Dan on drums, Richard on keyboards, Ray on vocals and the afore-mentioned Ian on sax) in the lobby to head back to the City Hall. When we arrived Botown were halfway through their set; they mix soul classics with Bollywood songs which is an interesting idea although the audience reaction generally consisted of recognition for the soul song ('Sex Machine' for example) and confusion for the Bollywood song (sadly I've no idea of the title) that it morphed into. The massed dancing and singing along that accompanied their last number 'Valerie' was all dissipated by 30 or so seconds into the unidentified song that it became. Like I say it's an interesting idea but I'm not sure how it will work in practical terms, although now that I've said that they'll no doubt now sell millions.

'Don't watch that, watch this!' Tony started 'One Step Beyond' to a huge cheer from the rapidly-swelling crowd; I dropped my plectrum a few seconds into the song which suggested that my hands may well have been colder than I thought that they were. I wonder if my moment of madness (sorry!) was seen on the big screens that were either side of the stage? It's probably on YouTube by now... (well if it is I haven't found it yet - but I did find this!) As the clock at the side of the stage showed 6 minutes of 2011 left we swung into 'Baggy Trousers' - when the song ended we downed tools as chap from S4C and the compare (sorry I didn't catch either of their names) came on stage and counted down alternately in English and Welsh; fireworks heralded the start of 2012 as band members made good use of their mobile phone cameras. It all went out live on TV - you can see it here on the S4C website for the next month, we're on from about 16 minutes into the clip and the picture you can see me taking at midnight is the one at the start of this posting. Really!
We came back on to a jammed version of 'Auld Lang Syne' (I found this and the countdown on YouTube too - there are more clips appearing all the time!) and few more songs before 'Our House' ended a great gig. I'm told there were around 10,000 people there at midnight - now that definitely counts as a happy new year! I hope you have one too.