Monday, March 26, 2012

Sideways promotion?

Time for another mention for something that's getting closer by the day - COOL BRITANNIA. We've got a set list (at last! - although I bet there are still a few changes to be made...) we've got a website, a poster (that's it on the left, sorry it's a bit small but despite Gawd knows how many years doing this blogging lark I still don't know how to make these things different sizes either before they get onto this page of after they've got here. Still, size isn't everything...) and we've even got one of those Facebook pages that everyone apart from me seems to have these days (yeah, I know I 'should' have one, but this takes up enough of my time - and besides, have you seen the unmitigated cobblers some people write? Don't they realise that it's out on the Internet? Don't they realise that people can actually read that stuff? Argh!) so things are getting serious. There's an impressive list of gigs from May through to July, and with that in mind the band convened at Mushroom Studios (which used to be mushroom barns! Really!) near Southend yesterday. We managed to run through around two-thirds of the show, and despite the odd mad moment here and there we sounded pretty good, and I for one can't wait for the shows.

Talking of rehearsals I've spent a fair bit of this week attempting to decipher the bass lines on the excellent new Department S (you remember 'Is Vic There?' don't you? Of course you do!) album 'Mr. Nutley's Strange Delusionarium'. Why? Because I've got two gigs depping on bass with them next month, and I'm due to rehearse with them somewhere in Loughton next weekend. Strange but true - more news as and when I have it.

And talking of rehearsals (again) The Uppercut found themselves re-visiting Bush Studios in Shepherds Bush on Wednesday evening for a 'we-haven't-played-together-for-a-while-so-let's-see-what-we-remember' session, which rapidly turned into a 'actually-why-don't-we-try-some-new-songs?' session. As a result 'How Come', 'Monkey Man' and 'Crossroads' found their way into our set at The Dolphin on Friday evening, a show which I felt was a bit on the scrappy side, but which everybody I spoke to afterwards thought was great. The customer is always right, so I made no attempt to dissuade any of them - after all we were asked to play at a birthday party, Noel the guv'nor loved it and I got told that I'm 'the best guitarist in West London' by Simon of 'Ace!' club fame (that's a weird thought isn't it? I mean, has he seen all the other ones?!?) so I guess we couldn't have been that bad.

Saturday in the shop was one of the busiest ever, good fun but with lots to do (obviously!) and after a fairly late night I was certainly feeling it by the end of the day. No time to worry about that though as I was depping in The F.B.I. Band at Lillebrook Manor near Maidenhead. It was Rebecca and Luke's wedding reception, and it took place in a converted barn which to our collective horror had one of those volume restriction devices fitted - you know, the pnes that cut the power if you're playing too loud. Bah! Still the DJ's soundcheck didn't set it off which gave us all a bit of encouragement; not so encouraging from my point of view was seeing 'Celebration' on the setlist. 'We haven't played that one for a while, we used to play it all the time' said Jon the bass player cheerily; 'I've never played it before in me life' said your humble narrator not-quite-so-cheerily. 'You'd better tell Tony then...' Yes, I better had. He just laughed - 'remind me not to do that one then'. I've worked with less co-operative singers!
Halfway through the first number I looked at the band - everyone was looking up at the volume restriction device up to the left of the stage. We weren't playing loud and everything was working fine - then suddenly the power went off. But we weren't playing loud, honest... thankfully it was the only time that it went off, and despite the band being a little short of match practice our efforts were well received.

After the Cool Britannia rehearsal I made it down to The Load of Hay in time to catch the ever-excellent Kris Dollimore. Sadly one of the best guitarists that any of us will ever see began his performance to a mere five (count 'em, FIVE) people, an audience that would fit comfortably into most people's front room. There were a few more watching him by the end, and the man himself was philosophical about things, even offering to return in the Autumn - but as he left I realised that my time putting gigs on at The Load of Hay was very likely over. It's a shame as I've (mostly) enjoyed my attempts at being a promotor and I'm really proud of the shows that I've been involved with there, but audience apathy means that it's time for a rethink. I might put the odd evening together, but it a lot of work for something that I don't earn anything out of, and hopefully I'm going to be busy gigging from May onwards. Oh well - I guess nothing good lasts forever... mind you nothing bad lasts for ever either, so I'll hopefully be involved in putting gigs on again somewhere at some point in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime you must excuse me - I've got to practise some bass guitar...

Monday, March 19, 2012

'It's music based on fear...'

So - I still can't hear very well, but things do seem to be improving. Good! It's definitely a case of 'it gets worse before it gets better', but at least it does seem to be getting easier to hear. It's been a busy week in the shop and at times I've had real difficulty hearing customers but most people have been very understanding - indeed many have their own 'oooh that's horrible isn't it?' story of the times that they've had a similar problem. And I managed to play a rather muffled gig on Saturday night, with Big Al Reed at The Feathers in Staines. It's not the biggest pub in the World and we were a bit cramped to say the least, but the people there were friendly and seemed to enjoy our efforts. It being St. Patrick's Day I'd expected there to be Guinness posters (and indeed drinkers) everywhere but there were none to be seen; there were a few likely lads who thought they could put Al off with a bit of heckling but he was having none of it (he's also a stand-up comedian and as a result is pretty fearless once he's in front of a microphone) and our second set saw Barry joining us once again to play some slide guitar blues and tables being moved to give people more room to dance. A good gig - well, the bits I could hear of it were anyway.

An interesting evening at The Load of Hay last night saw the first public performance in many-a-year from Graham Barnes, and the first public performance ever from a Brunel band led by Michelle De Jong.
I remember Graham from way back in the late '70s when his band I Jog and The Tracksuits (oh yes!) released the 'Red Box' single on the short-lived Tyger Records which was based at the Unit One youth club in Uxbridge. John Peel played it often, and the band got to the stage of playing venues like Dingwalls before it all ended; he went on to take a more folkier path musically, including a stint in The Ministry Of Humour, who I remember seeing at The Load of Hay when it was home to Uxbridge Folk Club in the 1980s. His pre-match nerves were not helped by his electro-acoustic guitar not working ('I haven't plugged it in this century!') which meant him having to sing and play with just a vocal microphone set up in front of him rather than D.I.-ing his guitar and using the microphone solely for vocals; however his times in the folk clubs stood him in good stead, and his 20-odd minute set managed to more-or-less hold the attention of the assembled student multitudes. No sign of 'Red Box' (shame!) and he did make the grave tactical error of including a song by the hopelessly - make that criminally - overrated 'songwriter' Robb Johnson (*who I believe is still pedalling his overwrought, arrogant, self-righteous twaddle to the sheep who are scared to criticise him for fear of being called 'politically incorrect' by the hopeless sycophants that surround him; still, you can't fool all the people all the time...) but he has every reason to feel very pleased with his comeback to showbusiness.
Michelle De Jong introduced her band - an engineering student on cello and two fellow music students on guitar and keyboards - and began her first song, very laid back, very quiet, with vocals that a local wit back at the bar later described as being high enough to shatter the glasses behind the bar. Before the second number an audience member (presumably studying sound engineering) took it upon himself to adjust the P.A. in some way which made no audible difference to my ailing ears (mind you I suppose it wouldn't - maybe they were deafening!) and my fears that their material was sounding 'samey' by the third song were confirmed a few seconds into the fourth. As the keyboard player smugly took the cello from it's owner and played it like a bass guitar in their last number the afore-mentioned local wit groaned the words 'multi-talentless' before gleefully returning to his hobby of confusing the barmaid. He had a point - he usually has - but I've no doubt that their SoundCloud (whatever that is) has infinitely more followers than this blog will ever have, and that they'll all go on to have musical careers that will dwarf mine, so what do I know? Perhaps I should cheer up and leave the overwrought, arrogant, self-righteous twaddle to the Robb Johnson's of this world?

Either way let's finish this missive with some words of wisdom from the legends that are Spinal Tap. Click here for their thoughts on music played quietly - many a true word is spoken in jest, as they (whoever 'they' are) say...

*Sorry about the ranting about Mr. Johnson - I'll tell you where it all stems from one day. He's not that bad really... actually thinking about it, he's probably worse!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Senses working overtime

So - I just manage to shake off the nasties in my stomach, and then I wake up on Friday morning unable to hear out of my right ear. Not a good situation at the best of times, and definitely not good for somebody attempting to make a living playing music. I know what the problem is - it's earwax, and rather a lot of it. Urgh! Given the abuse I've subjected my hearing to over the years I suppose it's all but inevitable that I get periodic problems of this nature, and this is certainly one of those times. I've bought some of that stuff from the chemist that's supposed to get rid of it, and at the moment it's one of those things that gets worse before it gets better, meaning that I had bad hearing yesterday and I've got really bad hearing today. Rather ironic don't you think?

I've managed to stumble my way through two gigs in this disadvantaged state this weekend, the first of which was depping with The Briefcase Blues Brothers at The Seacombe Theatre in Sutton. As soon as the show began I realised that my ear was making me feel as though I had a bell jar in my head - not that I've spent much time with a bell jar on my head, but you know what I mean. Not only was it was hard for me to hear what I myself was playing (a recipe for breaking strings if ever there was one, as you start hitting them harder than you should) but I could only hear the band as a muffled, rather distant whole as opposed to being able to hear the instruments individually. I was just getting used to watching rather than listening to what people were playing when all the stage lights went out during 'In The Midnight Hour' - at first I wondered if it was an attempt on the part of the lighting man to reflect the idea of it being dark at midnight (I spoke to him afterwards - it wasn't!) but fairly soon realised that not being able to hear or see the band was a particularly perilous situation and one which I was only able to get through by mostly using open chords which can be found by feel. After what felt like ages (but was probably only a few seconds) the lights came back on again to the collective relief of all concerned, and the rest of the show proceeded without to much incident. I hadn't played with The B.B.B.'s since before Christmas, and it was good to catch up with them all again - I had a good chat with keyboard maestro Wayne 'son-of-Albert' Lee afterwards who told me that his dad is doing some shows with James Burton later this year which could be well worth catching for a blitz of country rock guitar.

Sunday night The Rikardo Brothers returned to Uxbridge for a gig at The Load of Hay. As we started our first set there were a grand total of four (count 'em, four) people watching us; by the second set that had risen to eight which I suppose if you look on the bright side means that our audience had increased by 100% during our performance but realistically is at best disappointing and at worst utterly depressing - as Alan put it, it was 'a bit like playing to a furniture exhibition'. Still we played well and I for one thoroughly enjoyed myself although I sadly can't see shows continuing at The Load of Hay if audience numbers don't improve. Shame... but if they do stop and people then moan at me about there being no music on there Sunday evenings then I may not be responsible for what I say next.

Talking of saying things I've just spent the last two days in Balcony Shirts turning my left ear towards customers and asking them to repeat what they'd just said. Incredibly some people still bought things. Good! Now if you excuse me I'm just off to put some more of that stuff in my ear...

Monday, March 05, 2012

'Adios to the Manchester Cowboy'

I used to love the Monkees television show when I was a kid. Well I think I did - I was about 5 when it started so maybe I remember it more from later repeats? In any case, I loved it. Maybe you did too? Along with the Beatles films 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help!' they showed your (young) humble narrator what fantastic fun it was to be in a pop group. Well, they just muck around all day in cool clothes don't they? No arguing, unlimited money and the odd bit of singing - now that would be a job worth having wouldn't it?
Years later I realised that their records were some of the greatest examples of 1960s pop music. Detractors said that they were just manufactured by a television production company and called them 'The Pre-Fab Four' as they were originally intended to be an American rival to The Beatles; they also derided them for not playing on their early records. The same detractors no doubt hail 'Good Vibrations' and 'Pet Sounds' as works of genius - but they also featured session musicians and was recorded while the 'real' Beach Boys were away on tour. The Phil Spector productions of the time also are held up as works of art, yet again they are pure products of the studio rather than being a group performance - but of course Wilson and Spector were to cool to be criticised, while The Monkees were 'just' actors playing the part of a pop group. Well they may have started out as that, but they became one of the most iconic examples of '60's pop culture (you could of course argue that their 'manufactured' status also contributes to that title) and, I say again, made some of the greatest records of the era. Davy Jones's death means the end of The Monkees - I for one are very saddened by that news, and I happen to think that any pop music fan should be sad too.

And Ronnie Montrose has died - hardly a household name to many (although I guess that depends upon your house!) but a great guitarist none the less. I first heard of him when my older cousins Steve and Gary played me 'Bad Motor Scooter' by Montrose way back in the mid-'70s (it was on 'The Warner Bros Music Show' sampler album) which for me remains one of the great American rock recordings of the time. Here is an OGWT clip of the band from 1974 playing said song, featuring a young Sammy Hagar on vocals who of course went on to bigger but not necessarily better things. Great stuff. No really, it is. Ronnie himself went on to play for all sorts of people and remained an excellent and well-regarded musician who was still out gigging until recently. He is a sad loss to the guitar-playing World.

When last we spoke your writer wasn't exactly at the top of his game; fortunately things have improved and I'm more-or-less back to (ahem!) normal. I still haven't worked out if my sickness was caused by something that I ate or one of these bugs that we all hear about - I suppose it doesn't really matter although it would be nice to know if a weird way. Anyway I still felt a bit shaky several days after the incident last Saturday in Ascot so for once it was probably a good thing that I didn't have any gigs over the weekend. I did however see Chicken Legs Weaver at The Load Of Hay on Sunday evening - it was the first gig for Andy with a new band line-up and overall went very well, with excellent versions of 'The Israelites' (slower and heavier than the Desmond Dekker original, with barely a hint of ska) and 'When The Levee Breaks' (similar to the Led Zeppelin version, maybe a bit bluesier) standing out. I'm playing there with The Rikardo Brothers this Sunday, then Kris Dollimore returns on Sunday 25th March. Now that's something to look forward too!

In the meantime I'm off to listen to The Monkees and, er, Montrose. 'Here we come, walking down the street...' 'you get on your bad motor scooter and ride...' Hmm... I wonder how many other people are playing those two songs back-to-back?