Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No time to kill

It's my 51st birthday today. Leaving aside the fact that it only seems like this time last week rather than this time last year that I had my 50th birthday this means that I'm now officially in my early fifties as opposed to, well, being 50. Again it doesn't seem that long ago that I would have considered that to be an impossible distance in the future; time flies as I said in the last posting, whether you're having fun or not.
I started my 51st year with an Upper Cut gig, and I'm pleased to say that I'm starting my 52nd year in the same way - we're at The Dolphin in Uxbridge this Friday, the same night as the opening ceremony of The London Olympics. I guess this means that everybody will be at home watching it on television (well, let's face it, no ordinary person can afford a ticket to be there in person can they?) and so there'll be no one at the gig. Bah! Oh well - we'll have a good time anyway!

The festival poster.
In the meantime the last gig of my 51st year (keep up at the back there!) was the first Ruts D.C. show of 2012, headlining the Thursday night of The Seasplash Festival at Fort Punta Christo in Pula, Croatia.
Sometime around 7.25 a.m. my Metropolitan Line train sat for just that little bit too long at Harrow On The Hill station. I exchanged a few nervous looks and bleary smiles with my fellow passengers until the tension was broken by a disembodied voice over the speakers telling us that the destination of the train had changed, and that it was now terminating at Harrow On The Hill. Relative disinterest immediately turned into panic followed by a near-stampede to get on to the train waiting on the adjacent platform - I soon realised that as I was carrying a bag, guitar and (for the first time on an excursion such as this) a pedalboard there was no way that I was going to get on board the already-congested train. Curses! Resigning myself to waiting for the next arrival I stumbled somewhat dejectedly back towards my original train, whereby I heard the driver saying something along the lines of 'well I don't know what that was all about but we're definitely going to Aldgate' and instigating another stampede in the process. I nearly got stuck in the doors, but even got my old seat back. An annoying little incident, which pales into insignificance compared to what happened next... 
The Adriatic Sea as seen
from Fort Punta Christo.
After getting a grown-up to help me to get my ticket for The Stansted Express (a rather optimistic name under the circumstances as we shall see...) I was directed to platform 2 at Liverpool Street station where said train was ready to leave. I always think it's good to be early getting to airports, and the 8.25 train should get me there with plenty of time to spare. Within a minute or so I was on my way - or was I? Looking around the carriage it was very quiet - where were all the people carrying baggage for their flights? And shouldn't this be a newer, more luxurious train? Hmm... after a couple of stops a chap got on and sat opposite me; I swallowed hard and asked the question - his reply of 'Enfield' was definitely not one that I wanted to hear... 
To cut a long story short (for once!) I eventually made it to Stansted Airport at 10.40 - the gate for our flight was closing at 11.05. Tour manager Pablo had left my tickets with in his words 'a very helpful lady' at the information desk in Area A, the Ryanair last minute check desk was suitably (and surprisingly) swift, the lady at the outsize baggage section took her time a bit under the circumstances and the £5 that I paid for priority security clearance proved to be well worth the money. When I got the gate 41 (they're always a long way off when you're late aren't they? Still at least I now hold the World land speed record...) I found everyone waiting to get on board, and then waited for 15 minutes before the queue started moving. What was all the fuss about eh?  
The view from the stage
during our soundcheck
After a thankfully uneventful flight we arrived at Trieste Airport (yes, I know that's in Italy, but this is Ryanair remember) where we met our driver Al and made the 2-and-a-bit hour journey from Italy to Croatia, passing through Slovenia on the way. I'd never been to any of the countries before, and so would have liked to have seen a bit more of them but found myself drifting in and out of consciousness as we travelled. Well, it had been an early start and a somewhat stressful morning so I guess that was to be expected, but what I did see was often spectacular, and the weather was absolutely splendid.
Seamus and the ill-fated
Hammond Organ
When we arrived at Fort Punta Christo another band was soundchecking so food and beer were both located (and were both excellent) before we set up our gear - I had a Fender Super Reverb combo which I'd not played through before, and I hope I get to play through one again as it sounded terrific. I was also rather relieved that my effect pedals all worked on 110 volts - I'd chosen the power adaptor as it specifically said that it worked on any voltage, but you never know do you? Seamus was well pleased (initially at least) with having a real Hammond Organ and Leslie speaker to use and Segs got a bass sound pretty much straight away; Dave had a bit of work to do before the drums were to his liking but everything looking good it was time for us to try a song... everything went horribly wrong immediately - the organ was flat by nearly a semitone. Attempts to rectify the situation (turning it off and on again - apparently there's not much else that you can do!) proved fruitless, the most likely cause seeming to be that we were running off a generator rather than mains electricity. Fortunately one of the other bands lent Seamus a keyboard and everything sounded good at last.
Here's where we stayed.
Nice isn't it?
There was just time to go to our (excellent) apartments to change and sample some locally distilled beverage courtesy of our very friendly hosts before getting back to the venue around half an hour before showtime. This was to be our first 'full' show following our 35 minute sets supporting The Alabama 3 last year - we played an hour-and-a-bit long set to an audience that increased in both size and appreciation as our show progressed. On the downside my guitar went off momentarily a few times before eventually going off completely - the pedalboard seemed to be the problem, which was cured by, you've guessed it, unplugging it and plugging it back in again. Then the vocal monitors stopped working. Bah! Despite the technical problems it was a great gig, and afterwards Pablo seemed particularly overwhelmed by our performance. Or maybe it was the free beer? 
With the next band starting their set in the background Segs, Dave and Molara gave a television interview; there's more alcohol and the promise of some Mexican food but Seamus and myself decide that it's been a long enough day and ask Al to drive us back to where we're staying. As we're getting into the van an enthusiastic young man stops us and says that we were amazing. It's good when that happens!

And we made the newspapers too -

I wonder what the headline says - any ideas?

Monday, July 16, 2012

'If you must write prose and poems, the words you use should be your own...'

Sad news - Tim Cross has died. In addition to being T.V. Smith's long-time musical collaborator (an association that goes all the way back to the second Adverts album 'Cast Of Thousands') he also worked with artists as diverse as Fleetwood Mac, Mike Oldfield and The Skids. There's an excellent Louder than War piece on him here, and a thread on T.V.'s website forum here shows just how much the fans thought of him. A very sad loss.

Malcolm Owen died 32 years ago on Saturday (32 years! Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? Actually it still flies when you're not having fun as well...) so this seems like a good time to mention that a Facebook page has been set up as a tribute - you can find it here, and although I'm not the World's biggest Facebook fan I must say that it's great to see that one of the greatest punk rock frontmen of them all hasn't been forgotten.

In the meantime your humble narrator has been guilty of the sin of counting his chickens before they were hatched (I'd changed my guitar strings and everything!) by saying in these hallowed pages that he had a gig with Utter Madness this week; it was due to be an outdoor show (you know what's coming next now don't you?) at Cliveden House on Friday, and it was cancelled on the morning of the event due to the house grounds being waterlogged. Bugger! Now I really am taking this personally... given the atrocious weather we've been having lately I guess it's hardly surprising, but it's disappointing all the same. And that means I've had getting on for 30 shows cancelled in the last couple of months! No wonder I've got no money... still Wednesday's Flying Squad rehearsal went well (we've got a show next month with Clash tribute band The Clashed at Tropic At Ruislip) and I'm gigging with Ruts D.C. this coming week (indeed I'm leaving for rehearsal when I finish typing this) so that's something to really look forward to. As I said last time - you have to stay optimistic...

And last night it was time for my my latest stint on Music Scene Investigation. I made a 'surprise' appearance last month (it was the night England played Italy in the European Championships which might have had an adverse effect on their ability to get a guest that night?!?) and I always enjoy contributing to the show as if nothing else it's helped me more-or-less understand what a podcast is! The three songs presented to us this time were probably the most, shall we say, challenging ones that I've yet encountered:- 'song 1' was instrumental apart from a voiceover in the middle and sounded like it had been mixed by Beethoven, 'song 2' featured a woefully out of tune guitar and 'song 3' was of such poor audio quality that it was hard to tell exactly what was going on*. By default we voted the first one 'Song Of The Week' but it was very much the lesser of three evils. Still it was an enjoyable show (from my point of view at least!) and plans are afoot for me to make more contributions to the website - more news as and when I have it, as they say...
*And we've since discovered that this track contained a sample from an Adele track, and as such was illegible for inclusion in the programme. We were trying to work out what it had reminded us of! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

'Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself'

Well it seems as though television wasn't quite over after all, as John Lydon made an extraordinary appearance on BBC1's 'Question Time' on Thursday evening. Overall I thought he came over reasonably well, especially his rant against bankers which got probably the most enthusiastic applause of the evening. As I fan I wish he hadn't interrupted people quite as often as he did as I think it turned people who might otherwise have found his point of view interesting against him; I also wish he didn't play to the gallery quite as much (did he really shout 'UP THE PARATROOPERS!' at one point? Yes, amazingly, he did..) although whoever thought of sitting him next to Tory temptress (it says here) Louise Mensch clearly had a good sense of humour. I read somewhere that Morrissey has been approached to appear on the programme - could this be the start of some even less likely appearances in the not-too-distant future? 
And I remember seeing Eric Sykes on telly as a youngster, and indeed even recognised some of the clips shown in the wake of his death this week. As a kid I saw him as a man who could be funny without really doing very much if you know what I mean - and although I don't remember 'The Plank' from when it was first shown I remember my pre-teenage self laughing uncontrollably at it a few years later. Have a look here and see what you think - it might not look as funny as it did to me all those years ago, but I bet you still smile. I've just watched it, and although I'm not laughing uncontrollably, I'm definitely still smiling...

Time for a gig at last, with The F.B.I. Band in their guise as The Blues Brothers Experience at 'Groove At The Grove' in the grounds of The Hall Grove School in Bagshot. In previous postings I might well have ranted and raved about the British class system and all that sail in her, but as all the remaining Cool Britannia gigs have just been cancelled I'm so relieved to be actually playing a show that I can't really find it within myself at the moment. Maybe on another day... well let's face it, definitely on another day...
Given the extraordinary weather that we've been having over the last few weeks an open air event such as this could have gone either way - fortunately the rain held off for most of our set, and as a result we went down well with the assembled multitude of parents, teachers and pupils. Dep drummer Mark coped well with what I believe was his first gig with the band as did Blues Brother Austin (that's the same Austin that I used to work with...) while Chicago Blues Brothers stalwart Dave Land teamed up with F.B.I. regular Ian in the horn section alongside Jon on bass, Richard on keyboards and Tony as always on vocals. As I said above it was something of a relief to be playing a gig again - I've spent much of today putting my accounts in order and filling in my tax return, and have realised that my earnings in the last tax year are my lowest for a very long time. Oh well - it could be worse... just... still there's a rehearsal with The Flying Squad and a gig with Utter Madness this week, then next week Ruts D.C. play a festival in Croatia with The Upper Cut gigging perilously close to my birthday the week after that so hopefully things are about to improve. You have to stay optimistic haven't you? Well - haven't you?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Television's over

Another gig-less weekend means another chance to watch television - normally I'd be moaning (as usual!) by now but since this week saw the first screening of a new documentary on one of The Who's finest works 'Quadrophenia' I'm nowhere near as miserable as I might normally be. The show in question was 'Quadrophenia: Can You See The Real Me?' and I'm pleased to say that it more than lived up to expectations, with new interviews from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey alongside archive contributions from John Entwistle and Keith Moon and some astonishing hitherto unseen footage (by me at least) of the band playing at The Belle Vue in Manchester in 1973 among the highlights of an absolutely excellent programme. It was particularly interesting to hear the multi-track recordings of the original album in isolation, with Entwistle's horns shadowing Townshend's guitar part on '5.15' and Daltery's end-of-the-World scream at the end of 'Love Reign O'er Me' both sounding even more incredible than ever. Around half of the album received a song-by-song analysis - one can only hope that there's a longer Director's Cut of the show that looks at the whole album in the same detailed way. Great stuff, as was the previous weekend's 'David Bowie and the Story Of Ziggy Stardust' which as it's name suggests took a look at Bowie's classic album. Once again contemporary interviews with some of the key contributors sat alongside some fine archive footage, with The Spiders From Mars (featuring the mighty Mick Ronson on lead guitar) sounding as great as ever. Maybe staying in watching television isn't so bad after all?

And maybe things are starting to improve a bit generally, as I managed to get out and about with a guitar in my hand this week - albeit for rehearsals rather than shows, but at least this means that there are some gigs on the horizon. Monday evening saw The Flying Squad get together for the first time this year (well, there's no need to rush into things now is there?) as we have a show coming up supporting The Clashed at Tropic At Ruislip at the end of August. As expected there were a few cobwebs to blow away but all things considered the band sounded good, running through songs from previous sets as well as a few new numbers. And on Wednesday I met up with T.V. Smith to discuss tactics for two festival shows that we're playing this summer (more about them in the not-too-distant future) and to look at possible additions to our repertoire. It was good to be working with both acts again, and it was good to get along to the afore-mentioned Ruislip venue on Friday evening to see Who tribute band Who's Who. Heavy hay fever meant that my eyes and ears weren't at their best (I often get earwax problems when I get a cold or hay fever, and this was one of those times; itchy eyes are of course a more general symptom of the condition) so maybe my thoughts that the band took a bit of time to get going sound-wise are due to me not hearing properly rather than their performance - either way the audience seemed somewhat subdued for the first part of their 2 hour show, although by the end things were suitably raucous all round. An enjoyable evening.

I've got a gig next weekend. Time to play the guitar rather than watching other people playing it on stage or on television. Good.