Monday, April 30, 2012

Alternative arrangements

Time for the second of two gigs depping on bass with Department S, this one on Friday night at the loftily-named Great British Alternative Music Festival taking place at Butlins in Minehead.I took the (delayed) train from Paddington with Eddie and Sam while Mike and Stuart drove down with the drums and amps - by the time we arrived (after a £50+ cab ride from Taunton, which incredibly was the nearest station to the venue) they'd got our room keys and were making plans for soundchecking. We were the first act on Centre Stage, followed by Hazel O'Connor and Ex-Simple Minds while The Anti-Nowhere League, The U.K. Subs and Sham 69 were playing at Reds. As we got to the venue Hazel O'Connor and band were preparing to play 'Decadent Days', they sounded a bit untogether so maybe it's a new line-up? Our soundcheck went without too much incident, although as we were leaving the stage Mike looked out with the words 'this is a big room - I hope there are a few people in it when we're on'.
He needn't have worried - by the time we went on there were people everywhere. We played a better show than in Belgium earlier in the month, and the inevitable 'Is Vic There?' bought the proverbial house down.It's good when that happens. From my point of view I found it quite tough going - maybe I'm hitting the strings too hard or something, but I my right hand was really suffering by a half an hour or so into the set. If I'm going to play bass more often it's time for some practice to build up some stamina; either that or I've got to calm down a bit! That said I'd do it again any time that they ask as I've really enjoyed playing with the band.
By the time we'd put our gear away and got changed The Anti-Nowhere League had finished their set next door, a shame as I've always found them to be an entertaining bunch (either that or my brother playing their records endlessly when we were younger has brainwashed me!) and so would like to have caught some of their set. I did however manage to see a half hour or so of The U.K. Subs who sounded as reliably punky as ever as well as meeting up with T.V. Smith stalwarts Fleagle & Mrs. Fleagle and Steve The Fish (not their real names sadly!) as well as Fast Tony and the man forever known in Price circles as 'Mark-from-the-football-club' before going back to Centre Stage where Hazel O'Connor sounded much more assured than her soundcheck might have suggested that she would. Ex-Simple Minds sounded good but are not really my kind of thing, while Sham 69 (the 'Tim V' version of the band in case you were wondering) sounded, well, good but are not really my kind of thing. However with both bands it was amazing how many of their songs were recognisable even to the likes of me let alone to their fans. And I'm told that  the event was sold out with over 6,000 people in attendance, which just shows what a market there is for this type of thing these days

And you can click here to see some more photos from the show in Belgium earlier this month - excellent!

Saturday morning began with everyone meeting on the main concourse for some coffee before going up to the dressing room to collect our gear from where we'd left it the night before. As I was ordering my drink I heard exactly the same songs from Marillion and Catatonia playing in the background as had been playing the night before when I braved a veggie wrap from Burger King. It must drive the people who work there crazy, or maybe they just don't notice it after a while?
With the financial terror of another cab ride looming large we decided to catch a bus back to the train station, which proved to be a nerve-racking experience as the journey took over 1 3/4 hours rather than the expected 40 minutes. In the event we made it to our train with just 5 minutes to spare, which was fortuitous to say the least as the next one would have been in a couple of hours time. The lads took the train all the way to good old London town whilst I changed at Castle Cary for the Weymouth train where I met the long-suffering Shirley who had gone down the night before. We'd decided to have a couple of days away in Dorset, partly because we like to go there and partly because Wilko Johnson was playing the last show of his Spring tour at The Electric Palace in Bridport on Sunday night. 
The Electric Palace is, I think, an old cinema; it was certainly an impressive place with seats from about halfway back and a dancefloor in front of the large stage. Maybe the seats go all the way to the stage when they show films or have less dance-orientated bands on? Either way it had an atmosphere that a newer venue will never have, if you know what I mean.
Support came from Virgil and The Accelerators. I've seen a few very excitable reviews of this combo, most of which comment on how young they are and what a great musician Virgil is. Both observations turned out to be correct although he's a bit too much like Stevie Ray Vaughan (yes, be influenced strongly by someone, but draw the line at adopting the same mannerisms) to yet have an original style or sound. Maybe that'll come one day, but until then I'm sure that he and his band will be able to carry on doing what they're doing without too many detractors.
Opening with 'All Through The City' (the fact that it's the title of the very-recently-released Dr. Feelgood box set could be significant!) and 'If You Want Me, You've Got Me' Wilko Johnson was clearly not intimidated by what had gone before - indeed he and the band (the always-astonishing Norman Watt-Roy on bass and new-ish drummer Dylan Howe) seemed to be really enjoying themselves as they roared through their set with an infectious energy that had the up-until-that point seated audience on their feet from the word go. I don't remember the last time that I saw Wilko in a seated venue (if I ever have!) and I also don't remember the last time there were so many people turning up to see him - it seems that after years of slogging around in pubs and clubs he's finally getting through to a bigger audience. This is good news, and thoroughly deserved, as he's still playing with as much energy as ever, and you'll rarely see a better band on any stage, big or small. In a way it's a shame that it'll be unlikely that we see him in the smaller venues again, but when he gives a show as good as this it hardly matters. As a guitarist and a live performer he remains an industry standard - miss him (and his band) at your peril.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

'This is a public service announcement...'

I received an email from the venerable East the other day - the subject matter simply said 'beware' and the email itself just contained a web address that takes you to an Amazon product review for Veet hair removal cream. I thought I'd put a link to it here - I know you shouldn't laugh at other people's misfortune (although I think it's safe to say that the pain was self-inflicted in this case) but I defy you not to read it without at least chuckling, or indeed laughing yourself senseless like I did.

The long-suffering Shirley has just told me that you can use that stuff to clear a blocked sink. Enough said I think!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

500 not out

This is my 500th blog posting!

As I've said elsewhere in these hallowed pages that I actually started this blogging lark to learn to type and to get better at using a computer, rather than to just wallow in egotism and self-publicity and to scream on and on about myself in cyberspace; I'm still only using two fingers to type most of the time, and I still don't know my way around a computer as I well as I would like, but I'm miles ahead of where I was all this years ago as I typed the words 'please allow me to introduce myself' (that took me about a minute-and-a-half, or it certainly felt as thought it did) to begin my first posting. I suppose you could argue that it would be a bit of a shame if I'd make no progress in the interim period, but the other thing to say is that I thoroughly enjoy writing it, and as long as I feel that way I'll continue to do so even though I often wonder if anybody is actually reading it...

In the meantime the egotism and shameless self-publicity is about to take on new heights, as I've now got my own website. Oh yes! Of course I couldn't even begin to do something like this without the help of people younger than myself, and it's at this point I must thank Dave from Balcony Shirts, his good friend Greg and Ace! DJ chap Simon for their assistance in the creation of something that gives me even more chance to scream on and on about myself in cyberspace. Well, no one else is going to do it are they? If you'd like to have a look then click here - it's work in progress as all of these things inevitably are, but it's been good fun to put together and I'm looking forward to seeing where it all goes in the future.

In the meantime the second 500 blog postings start here...

I was in the middle of a Skype conversation with the Cool Britannia crew on Friday afternoon (lots to talk about with the first show only three weeks away, but more about that another time) when my phone rang - it was my Dad, telling me that Bert Weedon had died. Often considered to be 'the first British guitar hero' thanks to singles like 'Guitar Boogie Shuffle' and his work backing everyone from Tommy Steele to Frank Sinatra, his tuition books 'Play In A Day' and 'Play Every Day' were read and studied by a generation of guitarists. It was all a bit before my time ('Play In A Day' was first published in 1957, 'Guitar Boogie Shuffle' was a hit in 1959 - I'm old, but not that old!) but his influence cannot and indeed should not be denied, as tributes from the likes of Eric Clapton and Brian May show. And Levon Helm has died - like most people I'm more familiar with his work with Bob Dylan and The Band than any of his subsequent projects, but for that alone he is guaranteed a place in music history. And away from music Jack Ashley died at the weekend - I met him once, when The Price played at The Middlesex Show in aid of The Royal National Institute for Deaf people (do your own punchline!) and he seemed to be a very nice chap, very committed to the cause of disability rights (I talked to him about my mum who had MND) and of improving the lives of deaf people. We could do with a few more MPs like him don't you think?

Saturday night it was time to return to The Feathers in Staines for a show with Big Al Reed. We began to an audience of around 10 people including the bar staff (or as Al put it - 'I could have invited you all round and done the gig in my front room') but by a few songs into the first set people were pulling up chairs and enjoying a show that could perhaps politely be described as 'loose in places'. Al had obtained some new backing tracks which we sadly hadn't had chance to practise with, but although a couple of the songs went a bit wrong it just seemed to make people warm to him (he comes over very well on stage) and by the end of the show people were dancing and demanding encore after encore. A good gig, but maybe not one to over-analyse, not least since the evening ended with a young lady in perilously tight red trousers taking severe exception to the barman refusing to serve her after closing time - if there is a World record for swearing I think we all saw a new champion.

And much of today was spent at Jamm in Brixton with Segs running through potential new additions to the Ruts D.C. live arsenal - with new album 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2' nearing completion and 'Animal Now' about to be re-issued there were plenty of songs to consider, and we came away with around a dozen of ifs, buts and maybes to start working on at next week's band rehearsal. Now there's something to look forward to!

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some work to do on my new website. Now there's something I'd never thought I'd be ever be typing, especially in my 500th blog posting. Strange days indeed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The moon's a balloon

Fantastic news - Keith Moon has been approached to make an appearance with The Who at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. At last it's the reunion that we fans have been waiting for! I can only hope that doesn't prove to be a rather late April Fool joke, as The Who's manager Bill Curbishley doesn't appear to be taking it very seriously - either that or as this story shows he's trying to ruin everything by suggesting that Moonie has been a little difficult to contact for the last 30-odd years. Surely the Olympics committee concerned wouldn't have made the laughable, tragic, pathetic error of inviting a dead person to participate in their ghastly charade would they? Of course there is always a chance that it's actually an indication of spectacular incompetence on the part of the organisers - after all, it's hard to think that with someone like Jeremy Hunt on the team they could be anything less than excellent isn't it?

Mention of the man they (allegedly) call 'Corrible' remind me that it seems customary for an ill-informed politician or celebrity to put one or more of their feet squarely in their mouth around the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, and this year it's the turn of 'comedian' Alan Davies who clearly used every last iota of his intellect and wit when he observed that it 'gets on his tits' that Liverpool F.C. choose not to play on April 15th as a mark of respect to the 96 fans who died on that ill-fated day. He then went on to make several other similarly well-argued observations (click here to find out what they were and some of the reactions to them) and was then amazed when some people found them offensive. I don't know very much about him as a person but pretty much every time I've seen him on shows like 'Q.I.' I've thought him to be smug, self-obsessed and above all unfunny (not exactly a career move for somebody who appears to consider themselves to be a comedian) although I suppose that somebody must like him; I also believe that he's something of a football fan which to me make his comments all the more unfathomable. Anyone with even the remotest interest in the game is aware of the ongoing sensitivity of anything to do with Hillsborough; also surely the point here is that Liverpool F.C. choose not to play on that day i.e. it's their way of honouring the people who died and the others who were effected by the tragedy, and as such that should be respected. Apparently Davies has a show booked at The Liverpool Empire in September - now that should be a very interesting evening, and probably quite an easy one to get a ticket for...

In the meantime much evidence of last weekend's Department S show has surfaced by the magic of the Internet - click here for a YouTube interview with guitarist Mike followed by 'My Coo Ca Choo' (the interview explains why that song is in the set!) as well as these four more clips, while the evocatively named 'Peek-A-Boo' magazine features these photos taken at the show. All good stuff, although I might wear a different hat next time!

Time for another F.B.I. Band gig on Saturday night, at Harry and Clemmie's wedding reception at Boodles Club in Central London. With a membership that has included people like The Duke Of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and David Niven this is another of those 'they-don't-normally-let-people-like-me-into-places-like-this' gigs that your humble narrator participates in from time to time; these generally end with me uttering oaths and curses in these hallowed pages followed by me suggesting insurrection and class war at the earliest possible opportunity. To be honest as an evening this one went along similar lines to all the other ones (i.e. a bunch of toffs take virtually no notice of us until some of the more drunken among them accidentally start dancing recklessly and a bit too close to the band for comfort; suddenly loads of them start doing the same in case they were missing out on something and the show ends with scenes of general mayhem and them barking their demands for more in the general direction of the band before lurching off in the general direction of the bar) so I don't feel as though there's too much to say that I haven't said on similar occasions. However the band (Tony on vocals, Richard on keyboards, Mark on drums and Jon on bass - more about the horn players in a minute) did manage a drink in the nearby Red Lion before the show which was most enjoyable; at the club I braved a look in the 'Members Requirements' book (essentially suggestions and / or complaints) which regularly featured Henry Blofeld musing on subjects as diverse as digestive biscuits (he wanted McVitie's rather than the non-descript brand that he'd been served) and who he sat next to at breakfast (he wasn't too happy about being seated next to a stranger) among other similarly life-threatening incidents. But probably the oddest incident occurred shortly before 9 pm, the allotted time for our first set - Jim the trumpet player arrived with minutes to spare (as usual! How does he do that?!?) and asked where Ian the Sax man was; when Tony said that he wasn't doing this show and he believed a dep had been arranged Jim sat down with the words 'oh, is this the one that he can't do?', pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and began dialling. Within a few minutes he said 'Howard will be here around 10.30' than asked if there was any food... with no sign of any guest or indeed the bride or groom we were led down to the staff canteen where food was indeed available, before going back upstairs just as a chap wearing a saxophone strolled in, introduced himself as Howard ('I've been doing ''Singin' In The Rain'' around the corner') before blowing a few notes to check if his microphone was working correctly. We began 'Soul Man' a few minutes later to an empty room; it took 4 or 5 songs before the dangerous dancing started - and you know the rest...

And yesterday saw an all-day Cool Britannia rehearsal at Ruff Rockers in Uxbridge. We'd all been a bit disappointed with last month's Southend session as we felt that we didn't sound as good as we might have, but fortunately it all went better this time with everyone playing well and pretty much all the songs sounding like they should. With not long to go before the opening night this can only be a good thing!

In the meantime I'm off to play 'Live At Leeds' (and indeed to watch the only footage of that incredible show) and to wish that I'd seen The Who with Keith Moon behind the kit. After all, that opening ceremony story surely must have been a not-particularly-good-taste joke - mustn't it?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Marshall arts

Jim Marshall, 'The Father Of Loud' (well, of Marshall amplifiers anyway) has died aged 88. I met him once, at a trade show - he could regularly be seen at such events, sitting behind a table with a mountain of soon-to-be autographed posters, shaking hands and exchanging a few words with people like me; I got an autographed poster, shook hands and exchanged a few words. He seemed like a nice enough chap, if somewhat detached from the event although he'd obviously seen it all before on any number of occasions. The contribution made by Marshall to the sound of the electric guitar (and therefore the sound of rock music in general) is almost impossible to quantify; it's hard to imagine the average or indeed above-average heavy rock guitarist without a wall of Marshall amps and cabinets behind them. And would Jimi Hendrix have got that sound without them? Probably not. And then there's the 'Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton' album - the images of E.C. with a Les Paul on his lap and a Marshall combo in the background have become so iconic that the combo is now simply known as a 'Bluesbreaker' in honour of the monumental sound created by Clapton on the album. And that's only a couple of examples, and there are many many more. Thanks for doing it all Dr. Jim - it really wouldn't have been the same without you.

I wrote the above paragraph and indeed am writing these very words on the 5.10 am Metropolitan Line train going into London. Have you ever tried to write anything while you're on a tube train? It's not easy is it? Reading the Marshall stuff back it's a peculiar mixture of seemingly random hieroglyphics (I guess that'll be where the train was moving) and my usual handwriting (from the oasis of calm where we were stopped at a station) which is pretty rough at the best of times. It all just about makes sense although the words 'just about' are very important in this sentence - maybe writing on trains isn't such a good idea after all... but it's been a while since I've been up this early to travel to a gig, and I'd all but forgotten how nice (for want of a better word) it is when you're out and about at this time of day. As I stumbled towards the ticket hall at Uxbridge Station it was dark (obviously!) cold-ish and quiet. The Plough could be clearly seen overhead (I can never quite work out where The North Star is, can you?) and despite the early hour it's very hard not to feel good about things.
I'm on my way to the Eurostar terminal at Kings Cross St. Pancras where I'm due to meet up with Sam and Eddie from Department S; from there we're off to Belgium (meeting Mike on the way and Stuart at the other end) for an appearance at The Rewind Festival in Ghent. In the interim period since the previous weekend's rehearsal I'd had precious little time to review and run through the material, aside from playing along with it all on Wednesday and treating the shop customers to regular airings of it on an iPod. I was a little concerned that I hadn't done enough work, although there was obviously no point in worrying about that now. Instead I find myself musing on the unlikeliness of the situation; I bought their singles all those years ago, have a dim recollection of playing 'Is Vic There?' in a band once (maybe at a gig, maybe at a rehearsal?) and I now find myself on my way to playing a gig with them. And if that wasn't a strange enough thought, I'm playing bass guitar. Curiouser and curiouser.
The band's changed a bit since I bought those singles - original members Mike and Stuart are still there on guitar and drums respectively but Vaughn Toulouse (original vocalist and owner of one of the great stage names of all time!) is sadly no longer with us so his place is taken by Eddie the original keyboard player; his replacement Mark now plays bass (I'm depping for him - keep up at the back there!) and former Back to Zero and Rubella Ballet guitarist Sam Burnett is the newest member of the band. I occasionally muse in these hallowed pages about how lucky I feel to be doing what I do with the likes of Ruts DC and TV Smith, but playing bass for Department S - now there's something that I'd never have never have predicted in a million years.
'Well I'd never have predicted this in a million years' I thought to myself as the lights of Northwick Park Hospital went by in the middle distance and the chap in the seat in front of me ate what I think was a biscuit. What had began as an all-but-empty train when it left Uxbridge had been gradually filling up as I scribbled, as I suppose the first train of the day always does. I wonder where all these people are going at this time on Good Friday morning?

After meeting up with Sam and Eddie we made our way to Eurostar security - much like an airport - before moving through to the chaos of passport control. I'm not sure what was causing the problem but there were clearly too many people trying to get through, with members of staff shouting things like 'any more for the 6.50 to Brussels' inciting near panic among the assembled multitude. We made it to our seats with less that two minutes to spare - I wonder how many others weren't as lucky.
With Mike joining the train at Ebbsfleet the rest of the journey went smoothly if a little blearily from my point of view. At Brussels we caught the train for Ghent (a bewildering amount of bicycles parked outside the station!) where we met up with Kika (who's worked with the band in Belgium before) who took us to the Hotel Ibis where we met up with Stuart, checked in and then set out in search of food. After walking around town for a while (and a very nice town it is too) we settled on the Ankara Turkish restaurant - as our meals arrived my phone rang meaning that I found myself saying 'well you won't believe this but I'm in a Turkish restaurant in Belgium' much to the amusement of all concerned.
With the venue just a few minutes walk from our hotel it was time for a shower and to catch up with a bit of sleep. At around 4.50 I set out for The Concertzall; within five minutes I was back in my room picking up some plectrums (I'm not sure I was as awake as I might have been!) meaning I arrived at the venue a few minutes late for our 5 o'clock meeting. Our expected soundcheck didn't materialise, but we did get to look over the gear - a new looking drumkit for Stu, Vox AC30's for Mike and Sam and an Ampeg SVT stack (oh yes!) for me - and were told that we would have a soundcheck prior to our performance. Unfortunately this meant playing 'Monte Carlo Or Bust' to the audience that would be watching us a few minutes later; even more unfortunately Sam's guitar sounded crackly, like a lead was going wrong. He and a couple of the sound crew attempted to solve the problem with limited success, and suddenly we were starting our show with a somewhat chaotic 'Clap Now'. By 'Lucifer Sam' (there's one for you Syd Barrett fans!) things were sounding better and the audience were starting to get into it - or were they? It was all feeling a bit too much like hard work, and when I lost my way a bit in 'Cause' I was starting to get a bit annoyed with myself. Then with three songs left on the setlist we're told that there's only time for one more, and 'Is Vic There?' finally gets a reaction from the crowd. We're off the stage almost as soon as we've finished the song, everyone in the band is a bit disappointed with the show but we're told that we sounded good so perhaps we're just being over-critical. Ah well. After a couple of drinks backstage Kika takes Stuart to the airport (he flew out to meet us and is flying straight home to go to a wedding the next morning) and we take our guitars back to the hotel before walking back to the venue to watch some bands, have a few drinks, talk to other band members, talk to each other, have a drink or two, wonder what to do next... eventually Sam and myself head back to the hotel where I sit in the bar scribbling yet more blog notes, half-listening to a chap from Chesham trying to chat up the Russian barmaid and having a text message conversation with Stuart the guitar repairman who's watching The Uppercut at The Half Moon in Harrow - judging by his comments Pete is doing a good job in my place!

Saturday began around 8.45am with a shower and breakfast with Sam, Eddie and Kika with Mike yet to make it back to the hotel - this lead to much speculation as to where he was (I'll leave you to guess what it was about!) although when he arrived back the story was somewhat unexpected. He'd come back to the hotel but had been unable to get his doorkey to work and so had gone back to the venue and had ended up sleeping on someone's sofa. The strangest part of the story was not that he hadn't gone to reception and got a new key (although that is a bit strange if you think about it) but that he was sharing a room with Eddie who was adamant that no one had tried to open the door. So - who's door had Mike been trying to open?

We weren't due to leave for the train to Brussels for a couple of hours so there was time for a very enjoyable wander around town before collecting all our gear and setting out towards the station. 'It's only 10 minutes walk' said the cheery receptionist, who I've since decided likely to be representing Belgium in the 20Km walk at the upcoming Olympics. Our train journey was enlivened by Mike producing a copy of 'The Chap' magazine which is always a good read - by the end of our journey the views from the train windows had let us to propose 'The Pylon' magazine - 'for the electrical enthusiast in us all'. Well, you had to be there.

The Eurostar train journey took longer than it should have, with a long stay at Lille station being the main culprit. I walked through passport control at St. Pancras around 4.20pm which meant that I had around an hour-and-a-half until my next adventure...

On Thursday afternoon I'd had a phone call from Mike Hyde; he's Elwood in the Chicago Blues Brothers and he'd called to see if I was available for a just-come-in-at-short-notice playback gig on Saturday evening. Well, I would just about be back in time, although I'd be tired... oh, alright then!
I was home for long enough to get changed and for the long-suffering Shirley to hand me some crisps and sandwiches before the doorbell went - it was my new friend Luke, and within a couple of minutes we were on our way to The Slug And Lettuce in Solihull. Neil is joining Mike in the hat and glasses, and Luke is joining myself on guitar, meaning that it's the first time I can remember playing a Blues Brothers show with another guitarist. Our journey saw much guitar talk (the lad really knows his stuff!) as well as a few thoughts on how we were going to approach the show. When we arrived Mike and Neil were more-or-less set up and ready to go; Luke was using a Line6 amp and Bognor cabinet with a Fender Road Worn Stratocaster, I stuck with my Telecaster and Fender combo (not least because I haven't got any other types of amplifier!) and we soundchecked with 'Soul Man' before getting some drinks and talking through the set.
As we go on at 9.30 the place is full and people are still arriving - we play two sets to scenes of general mayhem with gangs of lads circling gangs of lasses and few if any of them being particularly bothered whether we were there or not. It was more fun than that description makes it sound (you might argue that it couldn't have been much less fun than I've just made it sound, but it wasn't that bad, honest!) and it was great to have a short notice gig rather than to not have been working. No, really it was, although Mike's comment as we were getting changed after the show ('right, we've been off 15 minutes, they'll have forgotten about us now so we can go and pack the gear away') more-or-less tells you all that you need to know.

And last night I had an absolutely splendid time on Music Scene Investigation - definitely the best show of the three that I've been involved with, and the music was of such a high standard that it was very hard to decide on the winning song. I'm back on the show on July 15th, and there's talk of there being a one hour special on your humble narrator in the meantime. A whole hour about me - that's about as likely as, well, me playing bass for Department S isn't it? Oh, hang on a minute...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

That petrol emotion

You see some funny things when you work in a shop, especially an 'outside-of-the-mainstream' place like Balcony Shirts. Last week saw Iain Lee make a visit to do some filming - he's long been a Twitter acquaintance of the shop, and rather splendidly agreed to do some promotional work on our behalf. You can view that results on YouTube here - aren't Chris and Scott good actors?

Continuing the theme of strange things there's an upcoming election for the position of Mayor of London - on Thursday a large red bus with the words 'BETTER OFF WITH KEN' emblazoned along it's sides blocked traffic in Windsor Street and indeed blocked the daylight in the shop. Ken Livingstone was in town, accompanied by film crews, clip-board carrying young assistants and probably more besides. I always rather liked him, not least because I believe that he's something of an expert on newts; I also saw him respond to being asked how much alcohol he drinks with the answer 'I've no idea how much I drink, but I can assure you that it's nowhere near enough' which made a refreshing change from the whiter-than-white answers most politicians give to questions like that. You may argue that these are not the best reasons for voting somebody into power, but in my view it puts him light years ahead of Boris Johnson, who also found his way to Uxbridge this week, presumably by accident although I guess you never know. The sight of a bunch of fat deformed sycophants plying him with compliments and requests for photographs was nearly enough to cause my breakfast to make a return appearance.
We had a budget last week, which gave the coalition Government another chance to reduce the tax burden on the richest members of society by victimising the least well off and the old age pensioners. And then there's the petrol 'crisis' - did YOU fill up your jerrycan with fuel that you didn't know you needed just because that nice Mr. Maude told you to? After all you don't want those nasty smelly loony-lefty tanker drivers ruining you Easter driving for you now do we? Ah - there's nothing like a bit of panic buying to take the country's mind off the fact that it's just been ripped off left right and centre, and of course to turn everybody against the unions in the process. In the event it all seems to have backfired on the Government for once and they're now saying that there's was no need to top up on petrol after all, which presumably means that they've raised in increased duty revenue from the last few day's hysteria to fund another tax cut for the wealthy. The next thing they'll say is that they never said that we should buy extra petrol in the first place - after all, Francis Maude still seems to have a job, and surely he'd be out of office if he'd made a mistake like that - wouldn't he?
And then there's VAT on hot takeaway food - who'd have thought that politicians would be so serious about pasties? I hope that next time some chinless wonder on the election trail in Cornwall is forced against his will to eat some of the local produce for a photo they're given a freezing cold one because it's cheaper.

Cynical? Me? Maybe - but I've mused here before on how I can never see how any working class person can vote for the Conservative Party and I still can't, although I'm beginning to apply the same criteria to the Liberal Democrats too.

Meanwhile The Uppercut gave a riotous performance at The Kings Arms in Harefield on Saturday evening. The band played there back in October while I was away - my good mate and ex-Awaken guitarist Pete filled in for me then and by all accounts a splendid time was had by all then, and it certainly was this time. That said things began badly for your humble narrator when our opening number 'Dock Of The Bay' was interrupted by some particularly unpleasant buzzing and crackling sounds from my amplifier. It got so bad that I had to leave the lads to finish the song without me while I attempted to discover what was going on. I thought that perhaps a valve had worked loose so pushed them all back into their sockets; sadly the same problem remained. Out of increasing desperation I unplugged my guitar lead from the amplifier and the noises stopped - I'd never heard a dodgy guitar cable make a sound like that before but replacing it seemed to do the trick. That said I'll still check the amp over in the next few days. Our first set built up well, with a chap doing some particularly animated dancing in front of us and more and more people coming in from the front bar to have a listen; the second set really took off with much dancefloor action and a great reception for our efforts with the only downside coming when our singer Terry was hit in the teeth by his microphone when the particularly animated dancing man got even more animated and bumped into him. Ouch!

Sunday I made my way over to Loughton to rehearse with Department S, who I'm depping with on bass for two gigs this month. This may sound an unlikely state of affairs and indeed probably is however you look at it, but as often happens there's a simple enough explanation. The 'new' guitarist in the band is Sam Burnett who I played a gig with on bass a couple of years ago. (Click here for the story.) When regular bassman Mark said he was unavailable for these shows Sam suggested me - top man! So it was then that I joined him, Mike (guitar) Stuart (drums) and Eddie (vocals) at Soundlab Studios for a very enjoyable blast through the songs for the gigs. I borrowed Sam's Tokai bass which sounded great through the Ampeg set-up in the studio - I hope it sounds as good on the gigs, and I hope the band sounds as good as it did in Loughton where we got on so well that we finished 90 minutes early. Now that's something that doesn't happen in rehearsals too often.

And last night I saw Public Image Limited at Heaven in London's Charing Cross. At times the 2 1/2 hour set often trod a very fine line between repetition and monotony, although somehow they always seemed to be on the right side of the line. John Lydon was as engaging a performer as ever - in other words, one of the very best you're ever likely to see - and the band played with skill and precision throughout. The new songs sounded every bit as good as the old ones, the old ones sounded every bit as good as I remember them sounding and the capacity crowd loved them for it. Great stuff all round -and if I see as performance as intense as last night's version of 'Religion II' ('turn up the bass' said Lydon repeatedly - it ended up being so loud all my clothes were vibrating. And I've just shaken off an earwax problem... mind you it gave me some ideas for the Dept. S gigs!) then, well, it'll probably be PiL playing it somewhere else, if you see what I mean.
As the show ended an chap stopped me, told me to take no notice of him as he was drunk, then said that he though Lydon was 'turning into Yes, turning into everything he hated'. I took no notice of him - he told me not to after all - and anyway, he was wrong. Very wrong.

And there's just time to mention that I'm guest panellist on Music Scene Investigation this coming Sunday 8th April at 9pm - let's see what songs they throw at me this time!