Monday, December 30, 2013

The end of the pier show

Well considering that it's the holiday season I've had a busy few days. I prefer that to having nothing to do though - don't you?

When last we spoke I was just about to leave for a Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks show at The Crown in Cowley. Gigs at this time of the year are always a bit of a lottery - they can go really well or be something of an anti-climax. (Some might say that the same situation applies to Christmas!) This one was definitely more of the former than the latter although from my point of view it was somewhat coloured by the fact that I'd been for an end-of-year-drink at The Queen's Head in Uxbridge with the Balcony Shirts team. I only had a couple of beers (honest!) but it seemed to hit me harder than it might (drinking during the day can be a bit perilous can't it?!) and I felt that I didn't play very well as a result - mind you no one else seemed to think that there was a problem so perhaps I was worrying over nothing? (Again!) We certainly went down well which I guess is the main thing.

I spent much of Christmas Day in the company of Wilko Johnson, Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe - I'd bought myself the recently-released 'Live At Koko' DVD for Christmas and had saved it to watch on the day, and I must say that it was well worth waiting for. A live DVD of the great man has long been overdue, and this is an absolutely superb release that captures the band in all their not-inconsiderable glory. Brilliantly filmed and well recorded, it's a fitting tribute to the mighty Mr. Johnson and his band.

The Upper Cut have played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge many times, including the last two Boxing Day evenings; I was a bit surprised when Noel the guv'nor asked us to play again this year as I thought he might have wanted a different band this year but I'm pleased that he did as it turned out to be a very memorable evening. Back in the 1990s Roger (drums) Terry (bass) and myself had a rhythm and blues band called The Informers with singer Bryan Byford - the band dissolved when he and his wife Judy moved to Ireland and none of us had seen them for around 15 years, so it was a great surprise when they turned up at the gig. Bryan joined us for 'Shaking All Over' and 'Baby Please Don't Go' and sounded in fine voice as did Big Al Reed who sang 'Hoochie Coochie Man' with our singer Terry on harmonica; we were a little shaky to begin with (we'd not played live for a couple of months) but all pulled together after a couple of numbers and our show ended with much dancing and merriment all round.

The next day (Friday I think - am I the only person who loses track of what day it is at this time of year?) saw Utter Madness play The Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mere. When we arrived the tide was out, and there was definitely something rather bizarre about driving along the pier in the dark with no water either side of us. The venue itself was rather bizarre too, with a stage and PA system set up among the fairground amusements. Very strange. With it being a blustery and rainy evening we all wondered if there'd be anyone at the show, but over 200 people turned up. Excellent! Our two 45 minute sets of Madness and ska classics got the general approval of all concerned, although our surrogate Suggs Tony thought he heard someone shout 'you're the worst Madness tribute band ever' at one point. I didn't hear it myself so am going to say that he was mistaken... and anyway, we were good!

And yesterday Big Al and the band played a 5pm show at Ye Olde George in Colnbrook. There have been no gigs there for a few months as it's been undergoing a refit, and I must say that they've made a very good job of it. We made a very good job of our show too, playing 3 sets and then being offered more money to play for longer. Oo-er! A good 'last-gig-of-the-year' for the band, and with shows already booked into the middle of next year it's looking good for The Blistering Buicks.

Ok - I've got to spend the rest of today going through the songs for tomorrow's New Year's Eve gig with Mr. Tibbs at The Greyhound in Chalfont St. Peter. I did some work on them on Saturday, and there are the best part of 40 songs to be played - better get on with it then...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Teenage depression

Sad news - Dave Higgs has died. As guitarist with Eddie And The Hot Rods (and principle songwriter for the early part of their career) he helped bridge the gap between pub rock and the souped-up rhythm and blues of Dr. Feelgood and the punk power and perfection of The Sex Pistols, and as such it could be argued helped to change the face of rock music - no mean feat if you think about it. I bought their 'Live At The Marquee' EP (remember EPs kids?!?) when it came out and can honestly say that at that point I'd never heard a record like it - an energy overload with Higgs's brilliant guitar work driving it all along. The show I saw the band play at Brunel University in Uxbridge way back in 1977 remains one of the most exciting musical performances that I've ever been lucky enough to witness (here's the band with one of Dave's best songs 'The Beginning Of The End' from around the same time - great stuff!) and 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' is a genuine rock classic. Cheers Dave - it wouldn't have been the same without you.

Coincidentally I saw the current lineup of Dave's old band at Oceana (an unlikely type of venue for such an evening, it used to be the 'Bailey's' nightclub) in Watford last Tuesday evening, as part of a 'dream bill' that also included Nine Below Zero and Wilko Johnson. The Hot Rods were as great as ever, with Barrie Masters in fine voice and the band matching him blow for blow. When they encored with 'Get Out Of Denver' it almost felt as though the headline band had been on - but no, 20 minutes later it's time for Nine Below Zero, another band that I saw play an incredible Brunel show back in the day. I think they played eight encores, and when we came out it had been snowing - not quite nine below zero outside, but enough for an old (then young!) romantic like me to remember forever. With Brendan O'Neill on drums and Brian Bethell back in the fold Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham gave a masterclass in rhythm and blues, with original songs easily holding their own next to the old classics and Feltham's harmonica sounding as amazing as it ever did. I'll bet I wasn't the only person who dug out their copy on 'Live At The Marquee' the next day... and what can I say about Wilko Johnson that I haven't said before? The man continues to defy medical science and is still delivering the goods. Wonderful stuff. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I saw him at Brunel University too. Perhaps I should have just moved there?!?

Wednesday night I rehearsed with Mr. Tibbs - I'm playing with them on New Year's Eve at The Greyhound in Chalfont St. Peter and as you can imagine there were quite a few songs to look at. There won't be a chance for another rehearsal before the show so time was at a premium, and while we managed to play through most (but not all) of the material that we're intending to play I can still see myself having to do a bit more homework before the night...

On Friday I found myself at The 12 Bar Club with Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes. We'd gone into town to spend a bit of time in The West End as it was Pete's late brother Dave's birthday in the week (I played guitar at his funeral, you can read the story here if you like) and the area was a great favourite of his; when I saw that Pope were playing we decided to end our evening in Denmark Street. I was always a fan of The Chords, and hoped that Chris Pope's latest band would be in the same vein - I'm pleased to say that they were absolutely excellent, loud and brash and with great songs. And if that wasn't enough they ended with 'Maybe Tomorrow'. I'll definitely be looking out for them in the future.

I played my first show with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks since mid-November on Saturday night, at The Three Mariners in Bagshot. I managed to spend a bit of time on Friday afternoon running through some of the songs, and I'm very glad that I did as I still had the odd blank moment. It's weird - it's only been a few weeks since I last played with the band, but given what I've done in the meantime it almost feels like a lifetime ago. Nevertheless it was a good show, not least given the fact that Al had been in hospital earlier in the week with an injured leg and so was in a fair bit of pain throughout the show. I thought that he did well to get through it at all.

Talking of bands that I haven't played in for a while - The Upper Cut gathered at RnR Studios on Sunday afternoon to rehearse for our upcoming Boxing Day show at The Dolphin in Uxbridge. A most enjoyable 4 hour session saw us running through a fair bit of our repertoire, as well as learning a couple of new songs and tightening up arrangements of some of the older ones. It's always a great band to play in, and it's a shame that we've not had many gigs lately - let's hope that we can get a bit more work next year.

And last night I went to the jam night at The Three Wishes in Edgware. I haven't been there for a month or so as I've been away gigging, and it was interesting to find myself being blanked by a couple of people - surely they're not jealous? Ooooh... I really must write a piece on jam nights one day!

Right - I'm off to play at The Crown in Cowley with Big Al and the boys - have a happy Christmas y'all...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'Back to life, back to reality...'

The Damned at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge, December 5th 2013
'Information is not knowledge, 
Knowledge is not wisdom, 
Wisdom is not truth, 
Truth is not beauty, 
Beauty is not love, 
Love is not music, 
Music is THE BEST'

                           - from 'Packard Goose' by Frank Zappa

So. How do I even begin to sum up the last 2 1/2 weeks in a few hundred words? I suppose that the short ideologically unsound answer is - I don't. there are so many magical moments that I will remember forever (and quite a few that sadly I won't - what on Earth did I say to that oh-so-beautiful girl in The Red Squirrel after our Edinburgh show?!?) but unfortunately I don't think that I have the writing skills to convey them here. Suffice to say that while I'm not going to say outright that it's the best musical adventure that I've ever been involved in, the fact that I've even considered saying it probably tells you all that you need to know. Still, let's see what comes out next...
Ooh look -
it's the size of a door!

Firstly, the shows. Without exception they were all very enjoyable from a playing point of view, and in some cases were absolutely extraordinary. Wolverhampton was a mid-tour highlight - there just something about that area, which has given us so much wonderful music over the years (Led Zeppelin, The Move, Slade, Black Sabbath, The Wonder Stuff, The Idle Race and many many more) that always seems to be conducive to a good show. We seemed to fly from the very first moments of the very first song (possibly fuelled by Ruts D.C. - branded Werther's Original - infused vodka that our good friends Annette and Phil presented us with before the show) and things just got better and better, with the last few songs seeing scenes of audience hysteria that wouldn't have been out of place in 'A Hard Day's Night'. Then again thinking about it pretty much the same thing happened the next night in Edinburgh (without the vodka, that had all gone by then!) and at quite a few other shows. Amazing.
And then there was The Roundhouse. My day began with a trip to Denmark Street to buy a replacement valve for my amplifier (one blew the previous night - I got through the show but felt like I was on tiptoes throughout, if you know what I mean) and ended with my dad meeting Dave Vanian. Strange days indeed. In the meantime we played one of the best shows that I can ever remember being part of - and then the next night in Manchester was if anything even better. And did we really finish the last show of the tour in Northampton by both bands together playing 'Merry Christmas Everybody'? Yes, incredibly, we did. Me playing guitar with The Damned? Who'd have thought it eh?

The Damned crew -
a fine body of men,
with very strange hands.

And talking of The Damned - what an absolutely amazing band. I've always been a fan (except perhaps for their mid-'80s non-Captain Sensible phase where it all got a bit too Goth for my not-particularly Goth tastes) and these shows have reminded me just how great they really are. Yes they had a shaky start in Bristol (in-ear monitor problems I'm told) but they rarely if ever slipped up for the rest of the tour. Dave Vanian remains The Prince Of Darkness, one of the great frontmen of the punk or indeed any other era; Captain Sensible is a woefully underrated musician and songwriter who kept up a consistently high standard of playing ever night, and with Monty, Stu and Pinch matching them every step of the way I've come away from this tour with even more respect for them as players and people than I started it with - and that's saying something. And their crew (from left to right in the accompanying photo)guitar tech Jon, sound man Martin, lighting wizard Todd and drum tech Alex, not forgetting Chris the tour manager - are some of the friendliest, most helpful people that I've ever encountered in the wild 'n' wacky world of rock 'n' roll. They're good to drink with too...
This is Jed.
Be afraid -
be VERY afraid...

...which brings me on to the audiences. I've shaken so many hands, heard so many tales, been in so many photographs (I never ever thought that people would want to have their picture taken with me - amazing!) and shared so many laughs that I'm really not sure how to make sense of it all. Maybe I should stop trying to find some sort of higher meaning to it all (I'm really not sure that I am, but you know hopelessly emotional I get about this stuff!) and just say again what I said earlier - that this tour has given me so many magical moments, whether it's the looks that I saw on people's faces as I looked out from the stage, speaking to fans from behind the merchandise stall (and at this point I must say a very big thank you to Jed, the high priestess of The Damned's merchandising, for all her help - if I don't she'll probably wallop me! - and to Mayumi who does the good Captain's merch) or having many-a drink with people in the venue bar or a local hostelry. I guess I'll always be a fan at heart, and so will never tire of hearing people's stories of when the first heard the band on The John Peel Show, or when they saw them first time around with Malcolm and Paul, right through to their thoughts on what the band is doing now. I've always said that I'm very lucky to be able to play music of any kind, and I'll keep saying it for as long as I'm able to say anything at all.

So what next for Ruts D.C.? Well we've got some German shows coming up in February, and before that there are new songs to work on. Excellent. And for me - my next gig is with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks this coming Saturday at The Three Mariners in Bagshot, and I'm really looking forward to it. No, really, I am. It may not be playing in front of thousands of people at The Roundhouse, but there will be people there who want to be entertained, and we will be doing our best to send them all home happy. And I want to go home happy myself, and hopefully I will - because music is good. Oh yes my friends, music is good.

And in case you thought that I made it up, here is 'Merry Christmas Everybody' from the Northampton show - that's me on guitar on the very far left. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Where am I?' 'In the village...'

Have you ever seen 'The Prisoner'? Of course you have. You know the opening sequence where Patrick McGoohan / number 6 wakes up in what he thinks is his home but then looks out of the windows and discovers that he's somewhere that he doesn't recognise? Well I know how he feels...

As you may be aware Ruts D.C. are currently supporting The Damned on their U.K. tour. We've been travelling on two tour buses (us and the crew on one, The Damned and co. on the other) with 12 bunk beds on each. We generally leave the venue at 2 am and travel through the night - meaning that you wake up somewhere new each day. To begin with I found this rather disorientating, but it's amazing how quickly you adapt to it. Well, I've found that I've adapted quickly, to the extent that as I write this I'm wondering how I'm going to return to a 'normal' life. Mind you, I don't really have a normal life, so I think I'll stop wondering how I'm going to return to it... but a few people have asked me how this touring lark all works, so I thought I'd have a go at writing about it here. The day generally goes something like this :-

Wake up. That's a relief, as it means that we got there in one piece.
Clamber out of the bunk and attempt to find your clothes. They're exactly where you left them last night, but where was that? You could do with a bit more light sometimes; well I certainly could - either that or I need to get some glasses that I can actually see though instead of the ones that I've currently got.
Time for some breakfast. This generally involves stumbling into town (I've often teamed up with Captain Sensible's guitar tech Jon) and trying to find some food that you like the look of and, maybe more importantly, can afford. As a namby pamby poncey vegetarian this often means that I eat too many eggs (and we all know what that can cause now don't we children?) and / or beans on toast (and you know what that can cause too...) Hardly the end of the world, but you do find yourself wishing for something different sometimes. Still there's always the porridge at Yates's - which reminds me, have you ever noticed how many of the young ladies who work behind the bar in Yates's have tattoos on their hands? You haven't? Maybe it's just me.
With load-in due at one o'clock most afternoons you then (depending on what time you got up of course) have a choice. I generally try to have a look a round town (is there a guitar shop? There go the wages!) as it's nice to get an idea about where you are, and then see if the venue is open; there's no shower on the bus but there's usually one somewhere backstage. I generally try to have one as soon as I can - there are a lot of people in the buses, and most if not all of them will want to use it at some point. In the meantime you can read, go back to sleep, make phone calls, catch up on emails, try to write a song, have some more food, hurry up and wait...
The Damned soundcheck usually starts at 4pm. I tend to check my guitar and equipment around this time, and if necessary change the strings (perhaps it would be better to do that earlier in the day Leigh, it might stay in tune better during the show?) as well as checking that all the leads on my pedal board are plugged in and in good shape. Our soundcheck is at half past five so I've got a fair bit of time to check things over, which is good as you don't want things going wrong during the show. We've been going on between 7.45 and 8pm each night, so after the soundcheck is over there's time to get changed for the show (if you're getting changed for the show) and work a set out, unless we're using the same one as the previous show. I'm pleased to say that the gigs have been going really well for us, and after in-ear monitor problems somewhat scuppered their first show of the tour in Bristol The Damned have been on top form with their shows getting better and better. I've always been a big fan, and this tour has done nothing to change that. Nice chaps too.
After their set I generally find myself behind the merchandise stall; Dave, Segs and Molara have been joining me to sign stuff and talk to people, and sometimes Captain Sensible shows up too. Good fun. Meanwhile the crew (Martin, Jon, Alex and Todd) put the gear away and into the respective tour buses and trailer, then if there's a local hostelry open it's time for a drink or two. And why not?
2 am and the buses leave for the next venue. Time for some sleep before the theme from 'The Prisoner' plays again... 

And don't forget that Dave and Segs have been writing a daily tour diary for Louder Than War; it's also on the band's Facebook page which you can find here...

Monday, December 02, 2013

The story so far - so far...

'It's all glamour this touring lark' thought Leigh as he sat attempting to superglue his glasses back together. 'Shouldn't a guitar hero like me have somebody to do this for them? And for that matter shouldn't I be able to afford a new pair?'

Actually I didn't think anything of the sort. It was just another unlikely thing that I've been surprised to find myself doing over the past five days on The Damned / Ruts D.C. 2013 British tour. Expect the unexpected, as the old saying goes.

The Damned and indeed their crew are all very nice chaps, and after a sticky start in Bristol (Dave Vanian's in-ear monitors failed for the first three songs of the show meaning that he couldn't sing until they were fixed) they've been playing brilliantly. And our 50-ish minute set has been going down very well with all concerned - I was particularly pleased with Captain Sensible's comments to me after the aforementioned Bristol show ('your tone is immaculate - you're playing's shit!' I've taken it as a compliment!) and the next night in Portsmouth ('load of bloody rubbish!') especially since he spent much of our set in Leamington Spa on Saturday heckling Segs from the side of the stage. All good humoured stuff (I hope!) and a fair indication of the overall atmosphere of proceedings. I've been putting a daily photo up on my Facebook page, Dave and Segs have been putting reports up on Louder Than War (they're also on the band's Facebook page here) and there's already a fair bit of stuff already appearing on the Internet (for example here are three songs from Portsmouth from YouTube, and here's an audio clip of 'In A Rut' from last night in Buckley) so it's all going well. Today is a day off in Leicester (we're at The Academy tomorrow) and I've treated myself to a hotel room to have a break from the tour bus (the bunk beds on the tour bus are just about / not quite big enough for someone of my height!) and to spend a bit of time working songs that I've got to learn for a New Year's Eve gig depping with Mr. Tibbs (we never close!) In fact I'd better stop typing this and get on with that - more news next time...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The calm before the storm?

Over the past few days I have, among other things and in no particular order :-

Worked at the Balcony Shirts t-shirt emporium in Uxbridge.

Spent an evening with Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes at The 12 Bar Club in London's Denmark Street during which Barnsley punks System Of Hate played an agreeably noisy set.

Rehearsed with Ruts D.C. at The Music Complex in Deptford

Played 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Why Me' with Big Al, Pete and the house band at The Three Wishes jam night in Edgware.

Fought off a painful sinus problem. Hopefully.

Watched The Good Old Boys play a fine set at The General Eliott in Uxbridge.

Seem Lead Shot Hazard (who feature Balcony Shirts t-shirt printer Dave on bass guitar) come third in a Battle Of The Bands competition at Brunel University, also in Uxbridge.

And tomorrow I'm setting out with Ruts D.C. to support The Damned on their British tour :- 

- oh yes!

If you're going to a show then I'll see you there...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At the edge

I've got no gigs this coming weekend - it's been quite a while since I've heard myself say that so I'm not going to complain too much (for once!) as it'll hopefully give me time to get all my stuff together for the upcoming Damned / Ruts D.C. tour. With this in mind Dave, Segs and myself met up on Thursday to discuss tactics for the shows - we also found time to look at some new song ideas, and with Segs and myself trading ideas on acoustic guitars the songs are shaping up to be much rockier than the 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2' material. All good stuff, and lots to look forward to.

Friday night Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks played at The Three Wishes in Edgware. With England playing Chile down the road at Wembley Stadium we didn't start our first set until the game finished as it was on television in the venue and they were hoping for people who had attended the match would be coming down later - in the event we started to a fairly empty bar and finished to a fairly full one, which has to be better than the other way round doesn't it? It was my last show with the band until after the afore-mentioned tour (my good friend Pete will be depping for me in my absence) and it was an enjoyable enough affair without being anything too out of the ordinary, if you know what I mean. Still that's much better than it being a bad show!

I went to Tropic At Ruislip on Saturday evening to see Roadhouse. I've seen their name around regularly over the past few years and had always heard good things about them so it was good to get chance to finally catch a show - it would be churlish to suggest that the inclusion of two female vocalists in their line-up also effected my decision to attend, but I will admit that it didn't count against it... I guess you'd describe them as a 'blues rock' band, and overall it was a good show although it was rather hampered by a less-than-excellent sound - the girls's voices we often far too loud and had a somewhat 'boxy' sound while the guitars were nowhere near loud enough (after all, whoever heard of a guitar being too loud?!?) meaning that the band had less power than perhaps they might. Still as I say it was a good show - and it's always great to see a band that plays mostly it's own songs rather than cover versions. Well, I think that it is... and while I was there I spoke to the promoters Philip and Dave about a Gypie Mayo tribute show that'll be happening on March 2nd. It should feature The Flying Squad and The Band Of Sceptics, with the proceeds going to the hospice that cared for Gypie during his illness. I'm helping to organise it with Band Of Sceptics mainman Pete Sargeant, so expect any amount of increasingly desperate 'please come to our gig'-type publicity from me nearer to the time.

And last night I once again returned to The Three Wishes jam night with Pete and Big Al - this time we corrupted Howard and Andy from the house band into playing 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Jilted John' with us - yes, you read that correctly. It's hard to imagine two more diverse songs isn't it? Well, that was the idea!  

Right - only a week-and-a-bit to go...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Train in vain

Well with the Damned / Ruts D.C. tour approaching there seems to be more and more things to do and less and less opportunities for blogging - so it's just a short missive this time :-

Friday night saw Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks visit The Crown in Cowley. The band had played there while I was away with Ruts D.C. earlier this year - Pete was on guitar then (and he was with the band again the next night at The Paddington Packet Boat which peculiarly is only a few hundred yards down the road from this venue) and he joined us for a few songs at this show, which took a while to get going but developed into a highly enjoyable gig. With Dave away elsewhere Mac Poole did a fine job depping on drums, and the band must have done something right as we were offered four more gigs next year. We're playing there on Christmas Eve too - excellent.

Back to Zero played their first gig since August on Saturday, at The Railway Hotel in Southend. Now I for one had been looking forward to this for quite some time, and while I won't go so far as to say that it was a let down it wasn't quite as enjoyable as it might have been. Maybe I'd been looking forward to it a bit too much, if you know what I mean? When we arrived Daddy Long Legs were roaring through a splendid set of supercharged garage-y blues in front of a fair-sized audience for a Saturday afternoon; things were obviously overrunning a bit as they were still playing as our stage time of half past four came and went, but no one seemed to be too concerned. We were due to play two sets, the first consisting of covers and the second of original songs - the first set was a bit of a struggle but the second really came together, to the extent that we could have done an encore - but suddenly time was tight with The 45s due on at 7.45. Shame - I was really enjoying our show. They played well, very tight and slick - but am I the only person that thinks that covering songs like 'I'm A Man' and 'In The Midnight Hour' can be a risky business? Whilst they sound good in themselves they can sometimes serve to show that the band's own songs are somewhat lacking can't they?

And last night I joined the afore-mentioned Big Al and Pete at The Three Wishes in Edgware for the regular Monday jam night. With Andy from the house band on bass and Howard on drums we played 'Born To Run' and 'Peter Gunn' with Al blowing up a storm (literally!) on saxophone and the audience reacting as if we were the headline band - let's hope they're all there on Friday when the band will be playing our full show there... 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Fight for your right to party

Another busy few days then...

On Thursday work continued on the Back To Zero album. Not for us a multi-million pound budget in a huge expensive recording studio; oh no - myself and Squirrel overdubbed our guitar and bass parts in his kitchen as Sam sat at the kitchen table manning his computer. Isn't technology amazing? We've now recorded all the backing tracks and even though I say so myself it's sounding really good and I for one can't wait to hear the end result.
That evening I found myself at The 12 Bar Club with John King, Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes and his mate Laurent. After a suitably entertaining evening myself and Esso left in good time (we've both missed our last train home after similar evenings at said watering hole) only to be thwarted by problems on The Metropolitan Line. We sat on the (stationary) train for what felt like ages listening to 'we're being held at a red signal' / 'a train up ahead has broken down' / 'there are trains backed up along the track' - type announcements - still it gave us even more time to put the world to rights...

I spent part of a rather bleary Friday running through some songs for the weekend's Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks gigs - somewhat worryingly I found myself with more than a few 'how does the middle bit go?' moments when I played the songs - maybe it was because I was tired or maybe I wasn't quite on the ball? Either way I fell asleep mid-afternoon - not something that I like to do, but sometimes you just have to don't you? Well it had been a long day on Thursday and I was aware that the next couple of days were going to be very busy; also my back was still playing up a bit. Not good!
I'd not been to The Chippenham Hotel in Maida Hill before - according to it's website Joe Strummer's pre-Clash band The 101ers used to play there regularly, and I must say that looking at it on Friday evening you didn't need to use much imagination to see that it could well have been quite a thriving venue back in the day. It's still a pretty good place now, and although there could have been more people in attendance those who were there were an enthusiastic bunch with a fair amount of dancing and general jollity all round. A good gig, made even better by the fact that we were rebooked for January 25th at the end of the evening. Excellent!
There were a lot more people at The Dolphin in Uxbridge the next night - when we arrived the party was in full swing, with plenty of young people looking as though they'd been there for quite a while... I wouldn't say that the atmosphere could have been called hostile but I definitely got the feeling that things weren't quite right. Then again our first set was well received, and I began to think that I was worried about nothing - but three songs into our second set I saw a couple of likely lads squaring up to each other at the bar just a few feet to my right. There were a couple of young ladies trying to separate them and maybe it was all going to be ok - but no, the shouty guy on the left won't let it go, I started to think that maybe I should say to Al that we should stop playing as sometimes these things get worse if people can't hear themselves - but then again if we stop it draws attention to the situation which could accelerate things... suddenly Noel the guv'nor stepped in and removed the shouty guy from the premises in no uncertain terms. It takes a lot of guts to do something like that in my opinion (like all six foot tall men I'm a complete wimp!) and Noel did it in seconds. He definitely knows how to run a pub! Thankfully the rest of our show proceeded without incident, and if anything the band played even better than they did the night before. Good!

It was an early start for your humble narrator on Sunday - after three late nights in a row (and Saturday in the shop) I was feeling rather bleary, and with a 10am kick off to contend with things were only ever going to get blearier. When Back To Zero arrived at Mushroom Studios there seemed to be some confusion as to whether we were booked in or not, but thankfully room 2 was available so we set to work preparing for this coming Saturday's show at The Railway Hotel in Southend. Over the next four hours we worked up a set of BTZ songs and an eclectic selection of cover versions, and by the end of the session pronounced ourselves pleased with our efforts. An amusing moment occurred when Barrie Masters of local heroes Eddie and The Hot Rods suddenly appeared in the room with us - he'd been told that Squirrel was there and as he hadn't seen him to talk to for many years he'd called in to say hello. Good job we hadn't been playing one of his band's songs eh?!?

And last night it was up to Madame JoJo's in Soho for the last of the Monday punk and reggae nights - myself and Esso got stranded in The Ship for rather longer than we thought we would meaning that The Duel were already on stage when we arrived. They were sounding good and there were plenty of people in the club - these nights seem to have been a success, which can only be a good thing for live music in my not-so-humble opinion. We left as Segs was getting going with his DJ set - well after Thursday night we were taking no chances...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Waiting for the man

Well I'm sure that you've heard by now that Lou Reed has died. It's almost impossible to imagine how radical The Velvet Underground must have sounded when they first emerged in the mid-sixties - after all they still sound ahead of their time to me now over 45 years later. There's an often-repeated adage made by Brian Eno that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album started a band (well, I certainly did!) and whilst it's a wonderfully romantic notion - and it just could be true! - it's also a measure of Reed's influence on pretty much all rock music (or at least the stuff worth hearing!) since then. As a result it's perhaps easy to overlook his subsequent solo material, but albums like 'Transformer' and 'Berlin' stand every bit as tall as those legendary Velvets recordings. He leaves behind an extraordinary body of work that will continue to inspire future musicians and artists for generations to come.

Meanwhile with no gigs of my own over the last week or so I've had chance to get out and about to catch a few live shows, although somewhere along the line I've managed to hurt my back (Ouch! This 'geting old' lark isn't always much fun!) which is rather annoying. Anyway Thursday evening The 100 Club hosted a night of acts once associated with Stiff Records featuring The Members, Department S and Ed Tudor-Pole. When I arrived E. T.-P. was already putting his all into his performance, his wild 'n' wacky stage persona every bit as over the top as every other time that I've seen him. Department S were up next, with an excellent set of old and new material which went down exceedingly well with all concerned, while the Members (joined by original guitarist Nigel Bennett for the latter half of their show) sounded as solid and reliable as ever. A good night, as was the following evening at Tropic At Ruislip where Larry Miller gave a splendid performance, ably supported by Gary Moore tribute band Moore Or Less. The Miller guitar sounded as mighty as ever, and his increasingly bizarre between-song-comments had more than a few audience members smiling, often in disbelief... and there were more than a few audience members smiling in disbelief last night at The Horns in Watford where bass legend Norman Watt-Roy played a solo gig, and was joined for the last four songs by the mighty Wilko Johnson. Things had been progressing well up until that point, with Norman's playing as mind-boggling as ever and the band on fine form, if a little too jazzy here and there for my not-very jazzy tastes; however as soon as Wilko hit the stage the intensity in the room and indeed on the stage jumped by several hundred percent and the audience erupted in a frenzy of phone photography and filming (as these clips show!) He played "Everybody's Carrying A Gun', 'Casting My Spell On You' (it's been a wee while since I've heard that one - good choice!) 'Out On the Western Plain' and the encore of 'Roxette', and every moment was one to savour. And if that wasn't enough my new friend Pam the landlady has given The Upper Cut a gig next year and wants to book Ruts D.C. - excellent!

I'm back on the boards with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks this weekend, at The Chippenham Hotel in Maida Vale on Friday followed by a return visit to The Dolphin in Uxbridge on Saturday. And I'm up early for a Back To Zero rehearsal on Sunday morning - but more about that next time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Be seeing you

Sad news - Gypie Mayo died today. He's one of the best guitarists - make that one of the best musicians - that I've ever seen. 

He's probably best known for replacing Wilko Johnson in Dr. Feelgood, but he also worked with The Yardbirds, The Band Of Sceptics, The Practice and many others. I saw him play many times over the years in all of those bands and more and he was always absolutely brilliant, an inspiration to me and many others. I last saw him back in June 2010 at Tropic Of Ruislip when The Flying Squad supported The Wolftracks, who were basically The Band Of Sceptics playing Howlin' Wolf songs. Johnny Squirrel was playing bass for us that night - he knew Gypie from back in the day when Squirrel played with Lew Lewis and Gypie was in The Feelgoods and he introduced me to the man himself after our set; unprompted he told me how much he'd liked my playing in 'Dirty Water'. I could have been happier, but not much. At the end of the evening he and I chatted as he put his equipment away, I'd meet him a couple of times before and he always seemed to be a genuine, humble man who loved to play music. That's a pretty good thing to be don't you think?

A few weeks ago I received a letter from Band Of Sceptics mainman Pete Sargeant; he's been to Gypie's birthday party (he and I share the same birthday, July 24th) and during the course of the evening my name somehow came up - Gypie not only remembered me but asked Pete to send me his best wishes and gave him a commemorative plectrum to pass on to me. Amazing. 
I looked at the plectrum for a few seconds - he couldn't have known it but I was having a bad day. A really bad day. I picked up my Stratocaster, plugged it in, turned the amplifier up and played 'Milk And Alcohol'. Suddenly things weren't quite so bad.

God bless you Gypie - and thanks for everything.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flight of the rat

It's Monday evening and I'm tired - methinks it's time for an early night. Still it's been a busy few days in mad-guitar-land :-

Sometime mid-afternoon on Wednesday I received a phone call from Upper Cut drummer Roger asking me if I'd like to go with him to see Deep Purple at The Roundhouse. Roger used to roadie for the band back in the day - I thought about it for a good second or two before saying yes... we arrived just in time to get a couple of drinks before classical music played over the P.A. system, the lights went down and the band started with what I assume was a new song. 'Into The Fire' and 'Hard Lovin' Man' followed - I last saw them play something like 20 years ago, they sounded great then and they sounded great now. I said a couple of postings ago that I was always a fan of the band, and for me there's something about Deep Purple that I always thought set them apart from many of their contemporaries. They were always amazing musicians, and time certainly hasn't dimmed their powers - I'd not seen Steve Morse before and his fabled alternate picking really was something to behold. I found it impossible not to enjoy 'Lazy', 'Space Truckin'', 'Perfect Strangers' - and let's face it, 'Smoke On the Water' really does have one of the ultimate guitar riffs doesn't it? And it was great to have a word with Roger Glover afterwards - I've told so many people the story of him playing at The Dolphin with us a couple of weeks ago!

Thursday it was off to The Purcell Room on London's South Bank to see Viv Albertine. Arguably it would be hard to find a greater contrast to the previous evening's entertainment - but I've never been one for only liking one type of music, or not liking something because I like something else if you know what I mean. Ms. Albertine certainly looked great (as this clip shows!) and with a band that included two violinists (!) she ran though a compelling set of songs that had the audience - and indeed me - enthralled throughout. Great stuff.

Ruts D.C. played their last show until the Damned tour support in November and December on Friday evening, at The Exchange in Bristol. A raucous performance was bought to an abrupt halt a few seconds into 'Staring At The Rude Boys' when Segs was hit in the face by his microphone. We restarted the song a few seconds later and the same thing happened again - 'once is a mistake, twice is a choice' as the old saying goes, and Segsy wasn't happy, even getting into the audience to try to find the person or persons responsible. I remember things like this happening all too often back in punkier times, and I guess it could then have been put down to youthful exuberance (or immaturity!) but with at least some of the audience being old enough to be grandparents it's a real shame that it still happens now. It certainly soured an otherwise enjoyable show, but with the afore-mentioned Damned dates on the horizon the band is in an optimistic mood and is not about to let something as daft as this change that. Well, I'm certainly not!

Me on guitar,
Rat Scabies on drums.
Oh yes!
I got home around 4am; 5 hours later I was in Balcony Shirts saying things like 'this is the sort of day that takeaway coffee was invented for'. No time to worry about that now though, as it's off to Wealdstone Football Club (better known to many as Tropic At Ruislip) for the 6th Annual Paul Fox Social Club. With both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines off due to 'planned engineering works' numbers were down a bit on last year's gathering, but there were more than enough people there to make the evening work. I made a guest appearance with The Members - playing 'The Sound Of The Suburbs' with Rat Scabies on drums was certainly something for me to remember - and I'm told that the evening raised several thousand pounds for The Michael Sobell Hospice, which can only be good news if you think about it.

The next morning I was at RnR Studios by 10am for a Back To Zero rehearsal. We'd not played together for several months, and with a show coming up at The Railway Hotel in Southend next month a get-together was definitely overdue - pleasingly it only took a couple of songs for us to get back into the swing of things, which was good news as we are obliged to play two sets at the gig and so are adding several cover versions to our repertoire alongside a new song or two. We've got another rehearsal booked before the Southend appearance as well as a planned recording session so hopefully we should be on good form for the gig. 
I don't mind admitting that I was flagging a bit by the end of the session, and when I got home went back to bed for a couple of hours. I'm sure I didn't have to do that when I was younger! Ah well... still I was sufficiently revitalised to return to Tropic At Ruislip for a blues evening that featured Big Dez and Storm Warning - both bands played well but once again there wasn't much in the way of audience numbers which was a real shame. I guess people aren't too keen on 'rail replacement buses'? 

I've got no shows this week so I suppose there will be plenty of time to catch up on some other things... whatever they are...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

He does it right

That's Wilko on the left
and me on the right.
Oh yes!
So then, the morning after the night before. And what a night it was - a great opening set from the excellent Eight Rounds Rapid, an extraordinary and emotional performance from Wilko Johnson (ably abetted by Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe) and a 40-odd minute Ruts D.C. show which I will remember forever. I also went along to the previous night's show, when The 45s opened the evening and I managed to spend an absolute fortune on far too much to drink. I spent a fair bit last night too. But you know what - it was worth every penny. I like most people thought that I'd seen my last Wilko show back in March, but somehow the great man is still treading the boards. I fear time is running out (I suppose you could say that it is for all of us...) but he's remains one of the most exciting and captivating performers that I'll ever see, and a brilliant guitarist who is finally getting the recognition that he's always deserved. And with this in mind it was a celeb-tastic night at Koko (it's still The Camden Palace isn't it? Or The Music Machine?!?) last night, with Rat Scabies in our dressing room before the show and Suggs in it afterwards; I saw Phill Jupitus holding court and posing for fan photos and Chris and JC from The Members in the bar - everyone wants to see Wilko these days don't they? Good! And everyone wants to write about him too - here's a very quick-out-of-the-starting-blocks review of the evening from Louder Than War. Incidentally, we didn't play 'Dope for Guns'...

I've been watching Wilko Johnson for over 35 years and I have never seen him play a bad gig - if these are the last shows that I see him play then he's kept that standard up right to the end, and that should be an inspiration to us all. It's certainly an inspiration to me. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Purple patches, purple prose, purple passages...

Well as you might well imagine the news that Ruts D.C. were to support Wilko Johnson at Koko this coming Monday created something of a stir in my little world. The possibility first arose while we were out in Germany last month, and there have been more than a few 'will we? / won't we?' moments over the interim period until the show was finally confirmed. Under normal circumstances this would be easily the most exciting musical event in this posting - it's still probably the winner in that particular chart but last Friday's Upper Cut gig at The Dolphin in Uxbridge runs it surprisingly close...

One of my favourite pre-punk bands were (and indeed still are) the mighty Deep Purple, whose 'Made In Japan' live double album received many-a spin on my record player back in the day. Upper Cut drummer Roger was a roadie for the band in the 1970s, and as we were on our way to the gig he said that 'Roger' might be coming to the show. Ah - that'll be Roger Glover then. Oo-er... well not only did he come to our gig but he also joined Roger, Terry and myself to play 'Rock Me Baby' and 'Goin' Down' to the incredulity of much of the audience and, if I'm honest, me. It was really him, the bloke out of Deep Purple, playing with us. Amazing. And maybe most importantly he was a really nice chap, without a hint of the sort of arrogance or pretension that I've so often had to listen to over the years from ain't-never-been local musicians who bang on about themselves endlessly and never even ask how you are let alone how your music is going. I'll stop now before I start ranting... but in a celebrity-packed evening we also had ex - Keith Moon chauffeur Peter 'Dougal' Butler, Ali McKenzie of The Birds and the guru of the practice drum kit Bill Sanders in the audience. Strange but true, and definitely a night to remember.

On Thursday Ruts D.C. found themselves back at The Music Complex in Deptford for the first time in a while - with the Koko gig coming up we decided to get together to run through some new song ideas and to work out a set for Monday's show. We spent the first half of the session working a potential new song ides based on a riff from Segs and then floundered for a while as we attempted to put a 40 minute support show together; after stopping for coffee we returned to put a set together in no time and then played through it from start to finish with no breaks and no mistakes. Isn't caffeine amazing?!? Unfortunately during the session I discovered a crack in the back of the headstock on my Les Paul - I guess it received a knock at some point during the previous few days or weeks? Either way I dropped it off to Stuart the guitar repair man on the way back from the rehearsal, and he's just bought it round to me looking (almost) as good as new. Top man!

Friday night Big Al Reed and the Blistering Buicks returned to The Three Mariners in Bagshot. As I picked my guitar up to start the first set it felt like ages since I'd last played with the band although it was actually only at the start of September - mind you a lot has happened since then... my good friend Pete Kerr has been depping for me in the meantime and doing a fine job by all accounts - he played with us on Friday, which was fortuitous from my point of view as I felt as though I'd forgotten most of the set! Mac Poole kept it all together depping for Dave on drums, and the show went sufficiently well for us to be offered two more gigs including next Christmas Eve (!) so perhaps I didn't play too badly after all?

Right - I'm off to Camden Town to see tonight's Wilko gig. We're playing with him tomorrow night you know...