Sunday, August 26, 2012

There's a riot goin' on

So, own up - had you heard of Pussy Riot before last week?

I'd seen their name here and there, usually reporting on their guerrilla-style media events, and I did read something about them being detained for doing something or other (here is the video of what they actually did) in a church earlier this year, although I must admit that I didn't give it too much thought. They've been in the news a bit more lately though, and with good reason - surely that's a very harsh sentence for dancing around in a balaclava and expressing a few opinions about President Putin? Then again, how would the Great British public have reacted if they'd done a similar thing in, say, St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster AbbeyMany people have given their thoughts to the subject, but I think the excellent Louise Distras has made a particularly powerful contribution which you can read here and see her perform here - makes you think doesn't it? Well it certainly got to me. 

On to more mundane matters - I started this blog on August Bank Holiday weekend 2006. What began as an innocent attempt to improve my typing and computing skills has since become a sprawling monster, a leviathan that has all but taken over my God-forsaken life to the point that it dominates what little spare time I still have... well that's probably a bit of an exaggeration but I sometimes wonder if I do spend too much time on it - after all, I'm never really sure if anybody actually reads it or not. That said, maybe that's not the most important thing - after all, my typing and computing skills have definitely improved, I really enjoy writing it and it remains the nearest thing to a hobby that I have outside of music so perhaps I should stop moaning (for once!) and get on with writing the damn thing...  

Two shows with two different bands this weekend, the first of which took place at a wedding reception in a tent at the astonishingly-named Trickley Coppice near Tamworth. (You know, it's almost worth writing this stuff just for sentences like that last one!) Matt's on vocals, Kylan's on bass, Rob's on keyboards and Adam's on drums (all of whom play together regularly in the Briefcase Blues Brothers band) and we're calling ourselves THE 20th CENTURY BOYS, which was a name nearly used for the band in the ill-fated Cool Britannia shows earlier this year. With the nearest thing to a rehearsal being a 10 minute talk-through-the-songs in the field outside the tent to decide on keys and endings (and, since there was no dressing room, to get changed - that's the first time I've had to do that for a while) it was down to us all to have done our homework, and it certainly sounded as though everybody had. There was inevitably a couple of slip-ups but nothing too major went wrong; Matt's occasional Blues Brothers partner Paul sang a few songs, and there was plenty of dancefloor action throughout. Great stuff, even if I did have to spend more time learning 'Mr. Brightside' (bloody hell that introduction is difficult to play!) than I did the rest of our set put together. Oh and talking of slip-ups the torrential rain that fell during the festivities had turned the field outside the tent into something approaching a quagmire by the time we'd finished, which along with the fact that it seemed like no one had thought to provide very much in the way of outside lighting made for a very interesting time loading our gear out. 

And it was a very interesting time on Saturday evening, depping with The Cane Toads in Ealing. I first saw them around 15 years ago when I remember thinking that they mostly consisted of members of local lads The Attendants who I saw a couple of times back in the day. They split up a couple of years ago with guitarist Pete and bassist Ken going on to form the now-defunct Awaken, and Pete deps for me in The Upper Cut from time to time. They reconvened to play at a house party this weekend, and with guitarist Malcolm and the afore-mentioned Ken both unavailable Pete, vocalist Martin and drummer Bruce were joined by Chris on bass (who's in a band with Martin and Bruce - keep up at the back there!) and your humble narrator on guitar. We were playing under a gazebo in the back garden which from what I can gather had tarpaulin sides added to it  earlier in the day; without them there was no way that we could have played, as holding an electric guitar in the torrential rain that fell during our first set would have redefined the term 'danger of electrocution'. As it was some water still got in, and my amplifier fused during 'Dani California' (just as I got to the guitar solo - bah! They played 'The One I Love' without me while I fixed it) and it continued to make some rather dubious noises throughout the rest of the set (nothing to do with my playing for once!) which was hopefully down to moisture rather than the amp being faulty. Overall it was a successful evening with all the guests seeming to enjoy our efforts, and it seems to me to be a shame that The Cane Toads aren't playing together more often these days. A good (if rather perilous) gig - and I've just realised that I learned over fifty songs for the two shows, with only five common to both. Mad!

Sad news greeted me this morning when I saw that Neil Armstrong has died. As a lad I loved everything to do with the Moon landings of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and remember seeing the footage of him and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface with a mixture of excitement and disbelief, dreaming of a day when we'd all be able to go to The Moon and indeed all the planets in the Solar System as a matter of course, for a holiday or maybe even for a day trip. All good pre-teenage stuff, and as I say incredibly exciting. The Apollo 11 mission splashed down on my 8th birthday (nice of them to arrange that I thought) and I followed subsequent missions with great enthusiasm, all the while feeling a bit sorry for the guy up in The Command Module (Michael Collins in the case of Apollo 11) who didn't get to The Moon but circled around it, presumably watching his buddies messing about with flags and golf clubs several miles below. Years later conspiracy theories appeared suggested that it was all an elaborate hoax intended to take people's minds off The Vietnam War (among other things) which as a considerably more cynical grown-up I tried to take seriously - but I always found myself thinking of the little boy who looked at pictures of Americans in outrageous outfits taking 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' and who wished he was up there in space with them. 
Sometimes I wish that I was up there now. Well - who doesn't eh?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

'There's only one word for that - magic darts!'

Sad to see that Sid Waddell has died - his darts commentaries were always entertaining and often hilarious, and as these quotes show he (like the always amazing Stuart Hall) had a way with the English language that most of us can only aspire to. It's a shame to see him go.

Sticking with sport the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games was a somewhat baffling affair for me, probably best summed up by observing that the mighty Ray Davies sang one song while the always overrated George Michael performed (in the loosest sense of the word) two. Mind you I've never been able to take him seriously since I saw Vic and Bob's parody of him... right at the very end The Who roared through a medley which showed that they've lost none of their firepower, and the realisation that Morgan Nicholls was playing bass took me back to the days when The Price used to play with The Senseless Things, and indeed I used to attend their gigs on a regular basis. He was always a great bass player, and he sounded good here. I wonder if he's in line for the upcoming American tour?

Well whilst I generally hesitate to use words like 'normal' here (for fairly obvious reasons!) I guess it's been a case of back to normal in my post-Rebellion Festival World (incidentally here are some Ruts D.C. and T.V. Smith pics - pretty good eh?) and indeed back to the pubs with The Upper Cut, who played two shows last weekend. It's always a bit strange to follow a big show with a small one (or two) as however much you tell yourself that it's all part and parcel of being a musician it's pretty much impossible not to feel a bit deflated. Overall Friday's show at the Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge wasn't too bad although a couple of songs went wrong leaving your humble narrator in a suitably bad mood. That said we were invited back so we can't have been too bad! On the other hand Saturday's show at the Fox and Duck in Richmond bordered on farce, with the landlady attempting to pay us off and send us home early as the pub was virtually empty 20-or-so minutes before our allotted start time. In the event a few people showed up so she started complaining about bands playing too loud - never a good thing before you've even started playing - which resulted in Roger using hot rods instead of regular drum sticks and Terry the bass and myself playing so quietly that we could hear our unamplified guitar strings. Not good frankly, and I for one won't lose any sleep if we never go back.

This Friday night I managed to double book myself for the first time in ages. I'm still not sure how I managed it, but with The Upper Cut due to play at in Twickenham while Ska Madness were onstage in Southend there clearly had to be a bit of a compromise somewhere... in the event my good friend Pete went West (thanks Pete!) while I went East to The Maritime Room at The Cliffs Pavilion. Matt and myself played our first gig in this format back in February - tonight Russ is on saxophone for a show that could politely be described as 'chaotic' in places (I really must have a good listen to the backing tracks one day; mind you, judging by this performance we all should!) but was definitely good fun, and the audience reaction had all three of us and a visiting CBB bassman Squirrel all agreeing that we should form a ska band. I wonder if we ever will?

And last night - well last night, Saturday night, I wasn't gigging. Back to normal indeed. Bah.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rebellion Festival 2012 - with my little stick of Blackpool (punk) rock!

Ruts DC at The Rebellion Festival, Blackpool, Saturday 4th August 2012.
From left to right - Seamus Beaghen, Leigh Heggarty (me!), Segs Jennings, Dave Ruffy, Molara. 

I spent last weekend at the 2012 Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. Between Thursday and Sunday I saw all or part of the performances by The Buzzcocks, The Business, Snuff, The Filaments, The Heavy Metal Kids, Atilla The Stockbroker, Social Distortion, Anti Pasti, Chelsea, The Piranhas, Conflict, Seven Seconds, Citizen Fish, Vince Ray and The Bone Shakers, Eastfield, Kevin Seconds, The Dirty Folkers, Neck, Public Image Limited, Slaughter And The Dogs, The Slackers, Penetration, 999, King Kurt, The Lurkers, The Downtown Struts, Thee Spivs, The Crows, T.V. Smith And The Valentines, Rancid, Argy Bargy, Goldblade, Stiff Little Fingers, Ginger Wildheart, Louise Distras, T.V. Smith (solo), Arturo Bassick, Texas Terri, Henry Cluney and probably some more that I've forgotten. I also caught book readings from T.V. Smith and Esso from The Lurkers and saw John Robb interview John King, former SLF man Henry Cluney, Tom Hingley from The Inspiral Carpets and Gaye Advert. Oh and I played with Ruts D.C. and did a duo show with T.V. Smith. A busy few days then... it certainly felt as though it was a long few days, although that may have something to do with the fact that I was at the aftershow party until gone 3 o'clock on Monday morning then walked back to my accommodation through a raging thunderstorm. My shoes were still soaking wet the next morning. Urgh! But it was also a great - make that great - few days with more than a few magical moments. Rancid were brilliant as were Stiff Little Fingers, The Buzzcocks and T.V. Smith And The Valentines. I also thought The Downtown Struts were absolutely superb, with the Clash-style 'three man front line' reminding me of, well, The Clash such was their excellence. And Ginger from The Wildhearts gave an extraordinary performance, maybe the only time that I'll ever see crowd surfing at an acoustic show (although for an acoustic show there were rather a lot of electric guitars involved!) and with the whole thing being a reminder of just how great so many of The Wildhearts songs are. I don't mind admitting that I had a lump in my throat during '29 x The Pain', such was the passion of his performance. Wonderful stuff. And as I say, I also played a couple of shows myself...

Sometime late on Friday afternoon I decided to go for a walk and get a bit of fresh air. It was rather hot and stuffy in The Winter Gardens, and it was time for a break from things. I was minding my own business eating some chips and musing on how calm the sun's reflection on the sea looked (poetic eh?) when my phone made that annoying honking sound that it makes when someone sends me a text message. It was from T.V. Smith - 

'Valentines delayed. We're playing tonight on main stage.'

T.V. was due to be playing three times at the festival - 8pm on Friday with The Valentines in The Empress Ballroom, a duo show with me at 7pm on Saturday in The Bizarre Bazaar and a solo show on The Almost Acoustic stage on Sunday at 8.30pm. The Valentines were flying in for their show - timings were always going to be tight, and the band were stuck at Frankfurt Airport. Time I got my guitar then!
T.V. and Leigh face the braying hoards.
An hour or so later I'm in dressing room 3 with T.V. and Pascal Briggs. T.V. and myself are considering what songs to play and in what order while Pascal is ensconced in the corner with headphones and guitar. He was due to join us for the last few songs of our set as he done at last year's festival, but thought he had another day to revise the songs, and as we were expecting to play in a smaller room we had planned a low key opening to our show which we decided to reconsider since we were now on the largest stage of the festival. We ran through a couple of songs and checked some endings before deciding that we could do no more, and anyway it was nearly showtime.
Pascal, T.V. and Leigh in
'rockist posing' incident.
I walked up the stairs towards the stage. We were about to go out in front of a couple of thousand people who are expecting a full-on guitar-bass-and-drums punk band playing songs from the Adverts albums armed with just two acoustic guitars. This should be interesting... two songs in and I'm thinking that we're doing well, a few more songs (including 'Ready For The Axe To Drop') and there's every indication that this is one of the best shows T.V. and myself have ever played together, and by the time Pascal joins us and we finish with 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' and 'One Chord Wonders' to scenes of audience pandemonium I remind myself that we're not just playing any old songs, we're playing T.V. Smith songs, and they don't let you down. And they didn't let us down here. A great gig.

Would you buy a t-shirt
from this man?
Ah-ha, an electric guitar.
That's better!
Judging by the comments I received from people at the festival before the Ruts D.C. performance a lot of people were looking forward to it. Some wondered if would we be doing old Ruts numbers, some asked who would be singing? In the event we played a fair few old songs alongside new material and all points in between, Segs and Molara both sang brilliantly and the band rose to the occasion to give a performance that even several days later I'm still trying to think of a way to write about here. The best that I can say at the moment is that it reminded me that music can be such an important thing in people's lives that it catches you unawares sometimes, and we caught quite a few people - including I suspect ourselves - unawares on Saturday. I felt as though I shook hands with half of the audience on Sunday, with people telling me that it was the best show of the festival, even the best show that they had ever seen. They were all correct of course, because that's what it meant to them. I coaxed Dave and Segs out onto the merchandise stand after our show where they were treated like film stars - a lot of people had been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I know I certainly had - I looked out from the stage at a crowd of people who were fans of the band I was playing in, whilst myself also feeling like a fan. It's really hard to describe, it's like you're on the stage but you're also in the audience. Weird... but as I saw people punching the air during 'West One (Shine On Me)' and attempting to stage dive during 'Babylon's Burning' I found myself wishing I was out there with them while trying as hard as I could to give a performance that lived up to their expectations. And I'll be very honest with you here - I haven't had many better feelings during a gig than I had during this one. I always consider myself very fortunate to do what I do - there are a lot of better players than me that never make it out of a rehearsal studio let alone on to a stage, and I've been very lucky to do what I've done with a guitar in my hands. But last Saturday night - well, we did what we did and we did it well. If you were there I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did, because that means you'll never forget how it made you feel. And you can't ask for much more than that can you?

You see - I told you that I'd write something hopelessly over-emotional didn't I? Sorry if it doesn't make much sense, but the whole thing is still sinking in. Maybe I'll manage something a bit more sensible in the future... in the meantime here and here are the Louder Than War reviews of the shows, and I must say thanks to T.V.'s mate Craig Casson for the Pascal/T.V./Leigh photo, Dave of Balcony Shirts fame for the merch man pic and Dave's mate Greg for the others. Well, I couldn't take them myself could I? 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Do you remember rock 'n' roll radio?

It's been far too long since The Ramones have featured in these hallowed pages, and with The Rebellion Festival happening in Blackpool this coming weekend it seems to me to be a good time to feature one of the greatest punk rock bands of them all again - so here they are in Lego form. The more cynical among us may see items such as this as proof that some people have too much time on their hands, but it made me smile so I thought I'd include it here. And since I do this blogging lark maybe I'm one of the people with too much time on their hands? Hmm... Rebellion-wise I'm playing with both Ruts D.C. and T.V. Smith on the Saturday night (thankfully the venues are within walking distance of each other!) with Public Image Ltd headlining. Sounds good doesn't it? It goes without saying that I'm really looking forward to it (but I've said it anyway - see what I mean about time on my hands?) and I'll no doubt write some hopelessly over-emotional piece on it here sometime around this time next week, but in the meantime if for some unfathomable reason you don't get the 'Hey! Ho! Lego!' gag then here is a fabulous clip of  'Blitzkrieg Bop' (and quite a few other songs too) at The Rainbow in 1977. Great stuff. And talking of Ruts D.C. I received an unexpected (and almost definitely unintentional!) birthday present on Tuesday when Steve Lamacq played 'Mighty Soldier' on his Radio 6music show. Excellent! 

In the midst of last week's Croatian adventure I heard the sad news that Jon Lord of Deep Purple had died. I think 'Black Night' must have been the first thing I heard by the band as a youngster, but like many people it was their live album 'Made In Japan' that really did it for me. Yes the songs were a bit too long (well it was the early Seventies maaan!) but the standard of playing was so exceptionally high that it somehow didn't matter. The sound of Lord duelling with Ritchie Blackmore sounded incredible to me (it still does!) although by the time I heard it that line-up of the band had split up - I eventually saw them in late 1993 just before Blackmore left the band for the last time, and although tensions were obvious the band gave a tremendous performance. Here is a clip of the man himself demonstrating his mighty Hammond Organ sound - he was indeed a great musician who leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of work.

Last Friday saw The Upper Cut play The Dolphin in Uxbridge. When I realised that we were playing on the same evening as the Olympic Games opening ceremony I suggested to Noel the landlord that we should perhaps change the date of our show, but he was confident that not everybody would be watching the ceremony on television, and indeed there would be people actively looking to avoid it and would therefore come out to watch a band. I wasn't so sure myself, but it turned out that he was absolutely correct (good!) and there was indeed a good sized audience. I could see the ceremony on the television above the pub fireplace - by the time we got to our second set the teams were arriving in the stadium, which created the slightly unsettling feeing that they were marching to our music. Well, that was how it looked to me... it was our first gig for a while so there were inevitably a couple of mad moments here and there but overall we played well and those present seemed to love it, and after encores a-plenty I finally got to have a couple of belated birthday beers, during which our drummer Roger's wife Jill told me that a fella had just said to her 'that guitarist should be on the stage'. Let's hope he was right! A top evening.
There were more than a few mad moments the next night with Big Al Reed at The Kings Arms in Harefield, where myself and Upper Cut bassist Terry joined Dave on drums and Chris on keyboards (both of whom play with Big Al in Midnight) to form a band labelled by Al as The Cardiac Arrests. Al gave us all a perspective setlist and some CDs to work from, and with no rehearsal it was a case of turning up and seeing what happened... considering how difficult some of the material was (have you any idea how many chords there are in 'Born To Run'?!?) we made a good job of things, and the audience seemed prepared to forgive the bits where it went wrong. Probably the worst aspect of the evening was Al's Egnater guitar amplifier going wrong; his and Terry's amps went off for a second or two (presumably there was a power failure to the back wall where they were both plugged in) and while Terry's came back on Al's sadly didn't. There were no nasty burning smells (!) so hopefully it's something simple like an internal fuse. Overall however it was a good enough show to have us all considering looking for some other gigs for the band, which can't be a bad thing if you think about it.

In the meantime I've just returned for rehearsing with T.V. Smith, and am rehearsing with Ruts D.C. tomorrow. Time to set the controls for next weekend then - and that's not a bad thing if you think about it either.